Friday, July 20, 2012


The quality of a marriage is proven by its ability to tolerate an occasional "exception."-- Friedrich NietzscheLESSATTRIBUTION DETAIL »

 Getting married is a total crapshoot. There’s just no telling at the outset which marriages are going to work, and which ones will circle the drain awhile and go down finally, sucked up by the muck and mire of incompatibility and irreconcilable differences, mid-life crises and communication breakdowns. I think we all start out with the best intentions and a feeling of optimism about the future.

I’ve often wondered if it’s true that we all have one soul mate, and that if you find him or her you’re guaranteed to have a happy marriage. Hmmm…I’m not in the mood for that much philosophical thought. Besides, I prefer to wonder about more interesting things, like if you keep pushing the elevator button, does it really arrive faster?

Ken and I celebrated our thirtieth anniversary this year. Do you know how long thirty years is? It’s a freaking long time. Ken likes to tell people we were babies when we got married. Age-wise we really weren’t babies, but in terms of life experience, I’d have to agree. We were in love and had excellent chemistry, so one sweltering summer day in his attic apartment, when he told me he wanted to marry me, after spending the afternoon in his ridiculously small twin bed, I said yes. We had been dating for a whopping four months.

I figured he must really, truly love me; for one thing, I was dating another guy for some of that whopping four months. I still can’t believe he put up with that situation for as long as he did. Also, the day I brought him around to meet my parents, my then thirteen-year-old brother Michael made the mistake of being a smart-aleck at the dinner table. In response, my very strict father growled menacingly and smacked Michael in the head. Right in front of my new boyfriend. If I recall correctly, Michael sat right next to Ken that night. Naturally I was horrified and mortified, and the aftermath of finishing our meal in silence was beyond awkward.  But it didn’t scare him away. Go figure.

We got all dressed up one day in the month of May, invited a couple hundred people, and said our vows.  When we returned from our Bermuda honeymoon, people would snicker because neither of us was tan. They joked that we probably never left the room. I wish. As it turns out, Bermuda isn’t tropical, something we didn’t know, and it rained the ENTIRE time we were there. You could say that was the first test of our married life. We spent a lot of money just so we could ride around for a week on mopeds in raingear.

But the true tests of marriage vows are inevitable, and we are no different than anyone else in that regard.  There was the reality of raising a child with a disability, a long and difficult bout with infertility, the credit card bills that I racked up, Max and Olivia’s teenage years.  He even stuck with me through my hideous assymetrical hair style in 1991, which didn’t grow completely out until at least the end of 1992.

We’ve taken only one vacation alone since Cliff was born. It was an entire weekend near Cape Cod, when we celebrated our 25th anniversary. People are always surprised when I reveal this fact. It isn’t because we can’t afford it.If you really want to know, I'm afraid to leave Cliff. It’s just something I have a hard time with. Ken has grown accustomed to my anxieties by now, and doesn’t force the issue. Would he like to like to sit at a Paris bistro with me eating a mille-feuille? Sure! Have a picnic of bread and Chianti on a blanket under the Tuscan sun? Sip a Grey Goose martini poolside in Aruba? Gaze out of our tree house on the African savannah? Oh yeah. So would I. Someday. It’s a concession he’s made, one of many concessions and compromises, matched only by the ones I have made as well.  That’s how marriage works. Luckily, according to Redbook Magazine, the first rule of marriage is to not spend all your time together. “Constant togetherness is unhealthy for any relationship,” says one expert from the Redbook Marriage Institute. How far away could we get from each other on the African savannah?

After thirty years, we still love each other. The chemistry is still wicked good too. Once, a long time ago, when I asked Ken why he thought we had a good marriage, he said, “Mutual respect”. I’d have to agree. Love, chemistry, respect. And knowing when to tell the truth and when to just shut up. It was years before I knew how much he really hated that haircut.

I highly recommend marriage, if you really want to know. I mean, what is life after all, if not one enormous gamble?  It’s a beautiful thing. If you have doubts, just remember that the nice thing about a crapshoot is sometimes you do get lucky.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Est. 1962

My sister asked me to write about our childhood home as a way to celebrate the official fifty-year anniversary of our occupancy there. I didn't want to at first because it seemed too daunting a task. Then a writer friend of mine challenged me to write a poem or prayer using the word "let" as the very first word. I decided to join these two challenges and I came up with what I guess I'd call a prose poem. I am publishing it on my blog even though it has nothing to do with what I normally write about, but mom asked me to so...

Let me recall the grace of this house,
the beauty in every arch, crack, and creaky stair.

Let me close my eyes and see all the gathering times

of aunts, uncles, cousins, strangers, and angels we have entertained unawares,

and feel the spirits of those loved and cherished, even in their absence.

Let me look around each shadowy, jumbled closet in which I have hidden,
at the staircase where so many babies learned to ascend and descend in their need to conquer,

and behind each door where children’s voices still echo from fifty years of playing in hushed tones,

or counting in the night when we couldn’t sleep, from fights over clothes and pilfered albums,

and endless games where we each were winners in the end.

Let me stop and listen for the music of my mother, and the laughter of my father,

but also, the remonstrations and the soft crying and the apologies and finally,

the enveloping hugs which have made us who we are.

Let me carry in my heart the light that emanates from this house’s walls, windows, leaky faucets,

the small tables crowded with photographs, and the doors that never did close properly.

Let me gaze outside from windows propped open by fat books, at the trees we climbed,

and at the weeping willow under which old women once sat, watching over us and smiling,

with folded hands over ample stomachs.

And at the concrete steps from which I have observed each season, and shook my fist at too-fast cars,

and orchestrated my sisters’ sidewalk games; those same steps where

my brothers posed for pretty girls, and neighbors stood to pass the time.

Let me recall every sorrow and joy when, in some future time,

I am lonely for what was.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


“This my shit.”—Gwen Stefani, “Hollaback Girl”

In the impossible pursuit of perfection, I am like King Sisyphus, compelled to keep rolling a boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll down time and time again.  Even in the face of the proverbial losing battle, after I’ve picked myself up and patched the bruises, I have to keep trying to fix things I believe to be either wrong or at least in need of renovation. My motivation is a general attitude about wanting to balance out the world, my family, my friends, and my home. As with anything one does to excess, my tendency towards perfectionism is problematic, (just ask my husband!) leaving me at times disillusioned and ineluctably disappointed in the outcomes. But isn’t that the very definition of optimism? To continue to try to make things right despite poor odds?

Still, there are days where I am painfully reminded that there are just some things that are beyond my ability to fix. There are people, I am finally coming to accept, whose minds I can’t change and whose beliefs are too ingrained for me to reform. Perhaps it was arrogant of me to think I could do that in the first place.

After Cliff was born, I began to see people in a different light, to scrutinize and evaluate.  I learned to be perceptive, to cull from a person’s words and actions the answers I needed to find. Some of the friends I had didn’t make the cut. I shed them from my life because I would not compromise the happiness of my son and my own peaceable spirit by holding on to anyone who was not accepting and open to the idea that everyone belongs.  Their ignorance made me sad and angry, and I chose to walk away. Nor did I have patience for pity, because I was happy to have Cliff as my son and I needed, needed, them to be happy too.

In the years since, I’ve developed radar which assists me in surrounding myself and my family with the type of people who possess a like-minded philosophy. It always makes me smile to see them make an effort to talk to Cliff or to engage him in some meaningful way. I love them for their persistence even when Cliff doesn’t answer right away or he decides he doesn’t feel sociable at that moment.

It is sometimes a cruel world clearly in need of repair. I won’t stop trying to fix the things which do not support an inclusive, accepting society, or stop trying to enlighten the people who insist it doesn’t matter if they utter the word “retard” if they weren’t actually referring to my child. I will not listen to or support comedians who equate intellectually challenged individuals with dogs, even if that particular horror occurred eleven years ago (he’s not sorry, as there are other examples of his hate speech since that time). I guess my mistake is in expecting too much, and in hoping the fundamental differences between us are not irreparable. It gets to be exhausting, trying to fix things, but “this my shit”, this is who I am. My love for my son and my strong belief in the value and sanctity of each life compels me to roll that boulder up the mountain over and over, despite its immensity and the challenge of bracing against it in the hope that from time to time it will stay put.

Talking isn't doing. It is a kind of good deed to say well; and yet words are not deeds.   –William Shakespeare