When Distance Makes the Heart Grow

TAsunsetThe little one wakes up at the same time every morning, give or take 15 minutes. Never mind that it’s the weekend. I long to sleep in, but my internal clock has adjusted to hers, which means I’m groggy but awake when she comes padding into my room.

“I miss daddy,” she says, leaning her face into mine. I run my tongue around the inside of my dry, sleepy mouth.

“I know. Me too,” I say. “Let’s FaceTime him.”

I pick up my phone from the bedside and press “Josh in Israel.” A shrill ring starts up immediately and within seconds we see him on the screen. Thousands of miles away, he sits at a beachfront café, the sun setting over the Mediterranean, his face warm and glowing, grinning. Here at home we are just waking up. My bed-head splayed across the propped up pillows, the sleep still heavy in my eyes, my cheeks not yet rosy. The morning sun comes through the window, weak after a night’s rain, gray tinged clouds hanging in the bluing sky. Continue reading “When Distance Makes the Heart Grow”

The Voice Inside My Head

We’re on time so why do I feel like we’re on the late side?

The dog is out of the car and peeing on the driveway. Does dog pee stain asphalt? I might need to hose that down.

The kids left the car doors open. As usual.

I forgot to pack the jackets. What is wrong with me? For crying out loud. What does that even mean?

I hope it doesn’t get cold. Oh, perfect: rain.

Dinner is going to be Chinese food. No one wants to cook the night before The Big Meal. Continue reading “The Voice Inside My Head”

Happy Anniversary to the Man with the Beard

red rosesLate October in the Midwest can be tricky, but the day was unseasonably warm. Gold and scarlet leaves skittered across the grass. The gray, overcast sky gave off the kind of light perfect for photographs. Really though, the weather didn’t matter – my world glittered. The swirl and rush of the morning – the hair, the makeup, the dress – cloaked me in a fine dust of sugar and spice and everything nice. Clutching an astounding bouquet of blood red roses, I floated down the aisle, the air buzzing with expectation, like in the moments just before the sky lights up with the most brilliant fireworks. Continue reading “Happy Anniversary to the Man with the Beard”

R is for Romance Novel

romance novel: a prose narrative depicting heroic or marvelous deeds, pageantry and romantic exploits, usually in a historical or imaginary setting.

romance1Row upon row of romance novels lined the walls in my high school boyfriend’s basement. After school we’d come through the door, say hi to his mom, then bounce down the stairs with the excuse of doing homework but really we just wanted to make out. We’d curl up on the old, velvet couch to kiss under the smoldering gazes of buxom damsels and dashing buccaneers.

My boyfriend’s mom, Mrs. B, was always reading one of those romance novels with their wafer-thin pages and spines that cracked when you opened them. My boyfriend’s parents had been high school sweethearts. At 21, they married under a heart-shaped canopy of white roses on a humid mid-west summer day. Thirty years later there had to be 200 thumbed through romance novels stashed away in the basement. At the time I didn’t understand the fascination. Why would anyone want to read about love when they could experience it themselves with its sweaty palms, fluttering hearts and constant, delicious aching?

Fourteen years of marriage and three kids later, everyday life with its deadlines and carpools, meetings and bills has elbowed romance out of the way. I can hardly remember what it feels like to be under new love’s spell where every beat of your heart is like the thump of a big drum. Every love song playing on the radio is about you. Every time the phone rings your breath catches. You write a love poem on a piece of notebook paper, folding it again and again until it’s a small thick square that fits quietly into a back pocket or the palm of a hand.

I yearn for the jolt of seeing Josh coming my way, smiling just for me. The charge was undeniable, stealing my appetite, making me want more all the time. We married high on love, believing it would always be that intense. Time, of course, changes everything. Love slips and slides, rushes and retreats, booms and abates. The birth of each of our girls brought me a different, newfound love for my husband. A miscarriage, professional challenges, the frustrations of parenthood – these experiences shaped a new, deeper love between us. Still, I miss the crazy fervor of our beginning, the simplicity of it, its rawness and how we never questioned it.

Maybe that’s where romance novels come in. They offer up the most uncomplicated kinds of love: first love, love at first sight, love despite the odds, overpowering love, undeniable love. The closest I’ve ever come to reading a romance novel is when I devoured the Twilight series. Yes, the story is aimed at teens, but really it’s a classic tale of first love anyone can identify with: innocent girl meets wrong boy, serious romantic tension ensues, danger threatens to tear them apart, odds are overcome, girl dies then comes back to life, girl and boy exist together forever. It’s Romeo and Juliet vampire style.

While the first kiss between the two was the scene that kept me turning the pages, it turns out my favorite scenes in the book are scattered throughout. They are the ones where the vampire boy is full of restraint, worried he might tear her throat out if he follows his desire. Instead of kissing her, he pulls her close, holding the shivering body of his eternal true love in his strong arms. The girl’s cheek rests against his cold, hard chest, her warm breath floating up into a canopy of fir trees.

Those scenes are real love scenes. When Josh holds me closely, I can’t turn my face to look up at him. That’s when I give in, close my eyes and listen to his heart beat. I let myself be exactly where I am, my cheek nestled into the dip just below the front of his shoulder. Neither one wants to break away first. This is what it means to love and be loved.

There are still moments when my heart skips for him, but I’ve traded in new love’s constant jitters for the profound connection that true love builds over time. For days on end of reckless passion and wild abandon, I’m heading for the nearest romance novel. I wonder which one Mrs. B would recommend?

I’m participating in the 2014 A to Z Challenge during the month of April using the very broad theme of LOVE to carry me through the alphabet. Check out writing by other bloggers taking on the #atozchallenge at @AprilA2Z.

M is for Magic

magic: an extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source; mysteriously enchanting, magical.

For days Ella’s top front tooth dangles on the diagonal. Absently she pushes the tooth out with her tongue then cradles it back into place over and over. When it finally comes out, it is both delightful and disgusting.

“Mommy, mommy, I Iost my tooth!” she cries out from the kitchen table.

“Oh good. Finally,” I say, coming over to inspect the bleeding gap.

Soggy Rice Krispies spill out of her mouth as her tongue searches for the uprooted tooth. She is giggling, which sounds more like gurgling thanks to all the milk.

“Uh oh,” she says. “I can’t find it.” Her little face, flushed with excitement a moment ago, now collapses with disappointment. We search the counter and her chair, shake out her shirt and scan the floor. Nothing.

“How will the tooth fairy know to come tonight if there isn’t a tooth?”

Ella is six and I love that she still believes in the tooth fairy, ignoring the sober opinions of her classmates who think they know better.

“Don’t worry honey, we’ll find it,” I say, although I’m not entirely sure about that.

When I was little, I believed the tooth fairy lived at the bottom of the garden at the old Victorian house we rented. Along the wooden fence where the greenery grew a bit wild, long stemmed lavender bent and sighed into the sweet smelling spray roses. Hydrangea bloomed in shades of cream and lilac and just under their bushy stems grew a few toadstools. This is where the tooth fairy lived. Whenever I lost a tooth, I’d carefully, quietly watch the hydrangea bush for a glimpse of her stashing away my tiny lost tooth.

I not only believed in fairies, but also talking spiders, teddy bears that hosted midnight tea and friendly, flying dragons. Why not? Just because I hadn’t actually seen any of these amazing creatures didn’t mean they didn’t exist. In fact, me believing in them made it all the more possible that they did exist.

As I grew older, fairies gave way to grown-up magic: the rush of a first kiss, the glory of the sun setting behind the Oregon mountains, the presence of divine love as I circled my husband under the chuppah on our wedding day, the overwhelming wonder I felt looking into the eyes of my newborn girls. I see magic in the measured unfolding of the roses after a hard winter, the joy in my child’s eyes the moment she “gets” long division, the smile that slowly returns to my dear friend’s face a few months after her mother dies.

Magic is everywhere. You just have to believe it’s possible.

Source: uniquenaturewallpapers.com

After I take the kids to school, I go for a walk in the hills above my northern California town. That’s when I see her. She darts across my path and into the sun-dappled crisscross of bending oak and wild fern. She is about as big as my thumb, her body a reddish-brown. Her filmy wings are a pale yellow dotted in ebony, sprinkled with silver. I watch her flit away, sparkling and spiraling into the woods.

When I get home, I’m still stunned by my magical encounter: was that really a fairy or just a butterfly or a moth? Is it strange that a grown woman is even entertaining the whole possibility of fairies? Feeling a little ridiculous, I distract myself with one more search for Ella’s tooth. Almost immediately I find it on the floor under the edge of the kitchen table. I was convinced Ella had swallowed it or it had ended up going down the drain with the rest of her unfinished breakfast. And yet here it is, in my hand, ready to be hidden under a pillow and magicked away.

The next morning Ella comes running into our bedroom.

“Look, she came!” she squeals waving her dollar at me. “My tooth is gone!”

She grins her silly gap toothed grin looking like a sailor recovering from a bar room brawl. Then her face becomes serious.

“Tell me the truth mommy,” she says. “Is it really you?”

I’m not going to lie, but I also won’t be the one who breaks the magic. “Well, what do you think?” I ask.

Perhaps it’s only in that moment when we convince ourselves that something is impossible that it becomes so. As Ella searches my face for the answer, I wonder if this will be that moment for her.

“Nah, I know it’s the tooth fairy,” she says, bouncing out of the room.

That’s my girl.

Note: this story took place five and half years ago. Ella is now almost 12 — and she still believes in magic.

I’m participating in the 2014 A to Z Challenge during the month of April using the very broad theme of LOVE to carry me through the alphabet. Check out writing by other bloggers taking on the #atozchallenge at @AprilA2Z.

I is for Irreconcilable Differences

irreconcilable differences: any sort of difference between two parties that either cannot or will not be changed.

There’s nothing like spending a little time in the company of our friends’ miserable marriage to make us believe in our own. The slings and arrows of their misfortune seem shot from Cupid’s bow right into our hearts. Each barb exchanged across the outdoor fire pit draws me closer to my husband; I even let him graze my boob with his arm as I snuggle in to him. He strokes my hair. Their pain makes ours seem so mild and boring. In the car on the way home, we debrief, comparing our marital mishaps to theirs: no comparison, they win for most miserable couple, hands down. We pull into the driveway and make out in the car.

Their misery is like a drug for us. The worse their marriage is, the easier it is for us to overlook the cracks and rough spots in ours. When things get really bad, we can always say: “At least we don’t call each other f***ing asshole.” “At least we don’t scream in front of the kids.” (Well, not that much.)

Many months later our friends’ announce their separation. We are sad for them, but also relieved that they are moving through this very difficult space. There is confusion, too, over the relationships among the four of us. I wonder if he and I will still be friends; Josh wonders if he and she will still be friends. Underlying the anxiety over sorting out these new connections, we’re also worried about us, and what this means for our marriage. Without the clearly painful backdrop of our friends’ marriage to make ours look good, will our own union come apart?

It’s a valid question. We’re both pulled in too many directions and definitely take each other for granted more than we mean or want to.  We are a fiery match: we are both very opinionated; we both want to be in control; we are both very passionate and emotional; we both feel overwhelmed by our delightful, energetic children and work and finances. Deep in the stresses of everyday life, we are a challenge. Still, we’ve managed to hold it together for almost 14 years.

sign_here-306x223As my friends contemplate affairs, separation, divorce, I try to imagine throwing in the towel and walking out, but I never seem to get very far. Maybe I have a high tolerance for stress – maybe he does too – but I just don’t see us giving up on us. The love is there, but the truth is, that’s not enough. Staying together is hard work. Now, like a pair of junkies checking in to rehab, we need to own up to the pieces of our marriage that need work and recommit to nurturing the awesome parts we take for granted.

We’re ready. Sign us up.

I’m participating in the 2014 A to Z Challenge during the month of April using the very broad theme of LOVE to carry me through the alphabet. Check out writing by other bloggers taking on the #atozchallenge at @AprilA2Z.