Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Putting the fun back in dysfunctional

My mother is amazing. She’s five feet two inches, weighs 110 pounds, and has an Executive MBA from one of the top business schools in the country (which she received in 1974 as the only woman in the program). She is incredibly well read and equally well-travelled, and - when you ask her for advice – she’s as likely to quote the Godfather as she is Churchill, both of whom she believes were “brilliant at the art of negotiation.” And though she is the epitome of a White Anglo Saxon Protestant woman, she sent her children to Catholic school because she believed that any curriculum devoid of Latin was not an education… a belief she still holds at seventy.

In short, she’s my hero. And not because her list of accolades is long, distinguished, and well deserved; but because the only two of them that ever mattered to her were the ones she received for being a good partner and parent. In return, my father adored her all of his life, and my siblings and I love her immeasurably - regardless of the fact that she has handed us some very expensive shoes to fill. That said, being her daughter has not always been easy.

However, before I can tell you that part of the story, I have to tell you this part first.

Growing up in Appalachia in the 1970s as the youngest of four had its own unique set of pros and cons. Kids still walked or biked everywhere. Most TVs only had four channels - ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS. And - not only was dinner on the table at 6:00 every night - everyone was around the table to eat it. And it's true that we had a housekeeper/nanny, but only because my father travelled a lot and my mother worked 50 hour weeks. I assure you, our caregiver (Marlene) was not a perk, she was a necessity who became an extended member of our family and deserved EACH and EVERY dollar she made. Not only did she shuttle four kids to and from school and athletic activities, but she cooked and cleaned up after us as well. No small feat, given that my parents' home is a 10,000 square foot Victorian... and we were not good children.

When Marlene was on vacation, the task of watching us fell to my grandmother... who was deaf. And while some of you may think being unable to process sound is a curse, you never got stuck supervising the four of us. To this day, I don't think she ever felt like she "suffered" from hearing loss. To the contrary, I think she relished it, and some days my mother probably prayed that it was hereditary and that she would inherit it. Ironically, it skipped a generation and hit me - but only in one ear. It's the reason I don't have an inside voice (at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it).

At any rate, my mother and Marlene had an understanding - no one was to call her office unless there was blood or vomit involved, and even then - there had to be significant amounts of either before she could be interrupted at work. Turns out, my mother's Administrative Assistant was also informed, on-board, and (as they say in politics) on-message. So, when we would squabble, which we did... all the time, and we called our mom to complain, tattle, or cry, her secretary would say, "You know the rule. Is there blood? Is there vomit?" When we would honestly reply, "no," she would tell us, "Then she'll see you tonight at 5:30."

Clearly, my mother believed that our self-esteem mattered... She just subscribed to the rule of parenting which said that self-restraint and self-reliance were equally important life skills.

And yes, my parents' home is beautiful, I won't lie. As an adult, I cannot imagine owning it, but as a child - I could not imagine growing up anywhere else. We each had our own bedroom, and each bedroom had massive windows the size of patio doors, and each window in each bedroom led to a wrap-around porch - the roof of which occasionally acted as a race track for my brothers and me... but only when my dad was gone... and my mom was at work... and Marlene was on vacation... and my grandmother's hearing aid was off.

As fate would have it, from time-to-time, those planets would align... kids from the neighborhood would assemble... and a second story 100 yard dash would ensue. We called it the Appalachian Games, and thankfully no one ever got hurt... until my mother found out.

You see, one day, half way through the first heat, someone left a window open, and our cat jumped onto the roof, which wasn't really a problem... until the dog ran out after it... which still wasn't really a problem... until we couldn't get them back in. All of a sudden, it was like dog racing meets Jackass - the home edition. After numerous failed attempts, we rock-paper-scissored, and the loser called our mom for help. As I dialed her office, sobbing, I asked my sister, "Why should I have to do it?" To which she replied, "One because you lost, and two because you're the youngest. We haven't had you very long, so we'll miss you the least when you're dead."

She was only half-joking. I really was the youngest.

So there I was... seven years old... wailing... waiting for my mom's Admin to pick up. When she finally answered, we ran through the drill, "Is there blood? Is there vomit?" To which I replied, "No, but the dog is on the roof." After an awkward pause I heard, "The DOG is on the roof?" Then I heard my mother in the background scream, "THE DOG IS ON THE ROOF! PUT THEM THROUGH." Within two seconds, I heard my mother's voice say, "mkromd, why is the DOG on the ROOF?" To which I replied, "Because it was chasing the cat." Then I handed the phone to my sister and walked away.

They said I had to call and tell her. They didn't say how long I had to wait for her response.

It may well be the only time my mother ever came home early. As the four of us and the dog stood on the roof, watching her car come up the front drive, we knew the Appalachian Games would be more like the Olympics... they would be every four years because that's how long we would be grounded.

Talk to you next week.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Where am I going... and why am I in this handbasket?

I have a confession to make. I love Adam Sandler. I've seen every movie he's ever made. I've watched every Saturday Night Live skit he's ever done, and I own every song he's ever written. No, I'm not some crazy stalker chick (unless you happen to own the Indonesian Blog kewtawa lucu - because in that case, yes - I blog stalked you, but only that one time, I promise). I just think he's brilliant, and I love that he can make fun of himself and let us in on the joke, too. And though some people think he's low brow, his album, "What the Hell Happened to Me" falls squarely into the category of possessions you would only get because you ripped it from my cold, dead hands.

But I digress... The point is that this week was one of
those weeks. You know the kind - where God keeps sending hate messages to you but you still somehow think you can "turn it around"... and you can't, so instead - you pull out your sanity toolkit and just try to survive it. Yeah, that kind of week. When this happens to me, I dig deep into my bag of tricks and pull out two staples: Krispy Kreme and (yes, you guessed it) Adam Sandler. The good news is that I made it. The bad news is that my pants don't fit. I look pregnant, which only makes sense, because the second I ate that box of doughnuts, I knew I was fucked. But that's still not the point.

The point is that, as I was driving and listening to "What the Hell Happened to Me," I began to wonder why God hates me and (more importantly) how I ended up as this person. How did I actually become MKROMD? Personally, I believe I should blame my large, codependent family. I firmly think they deserve it. When I ran the idea past my mother, she said, "You read too much into things. Maybe this world is just another world's hell." And while she's probably right, she still didn't answer my question. So I asked my therapist.

Given that I'm a squirrel on Jolt, it shouldn't surprise anyone that I have one.

You see, I got divorced two years ago, and anyone who has ever been in that boat knows you're so mentally and physically exhausted and so emotionally and spiritually depleted because of it that you simply do not have the wherewithal to deal with your own problems. You aren't ready to face your trust issues or answer the question, "Who am I?" So, you outsource it... much like you do your housecleaning and your pet care, and you let someone else do the work for you, at least for a while anyway. As Meatloaf said, “You can’t run away forever, but there’s nothing wrong with getting a good head start.”

And normally, this philosophy has worked pretty well for me… that is until I realized that my life is at a STOP sign, and I can keep looking left - into the past. Or, I can look right - towards the future. I simply cannot look both directions at once anymore. And I'm ready to move forward. When I asked my therapist (Dr. A) "How?" She said, "MKROMD, you're the most guarded person I've ever met. You don't allow yourself to feel anything. Every answer you give is one hundred percent logically processed."

At that moment, three thoughts went through my head:
1) As a highly competitive person, I thought, "Sweet! I just won the MOST GUARDED HUMAN BEING SHE'S EVER MET award."
2) I do too have feelings, because right now I feel EXHAUSTED! And trust me sister, it’s real!
3) My therapist thinks I'm “emotionally challenged.”

So, when I have these revelations or a crisis of conscience, I do what I always do... I call my best friend. Now, you should know something. TB is an amazing woman. And while there are literally thousands of adjectives to describe her (wonderful, gorgeous, logical, brilliant, athletic, funny, and sincere), there are two that have never been used: soft or vulnerable. She is as street smart as she is book smart, and she is the most determined soul I have ever known. And when I told her that I was diagnosed as being emotionally disabled, she said, "I don't disagree. I just don't understand why that's a problem, and I think it's ironic that you FEEL like she THINKS that you're an emotional charity case... Besides, why do you give a shit what anyone thinks about you anyway?"

Clearly, this is why we're best friends.

We also agreed that it was probably for the best that I didn't tell Dr. A, "I have feelings... it's just that when one occasionally pops up, I beat it into submission, shove it into a bell jar, and drown it with tequila. Then, if after ALL OF THAT it still has the nerve to bother me again, I kick it one last time for good measure." I'm joking... I don't really drink anymore.

Anyway, after hearing my best friend's perspective, I was very interested in hearing DB's, and when I asked him what he thought, in his calm, Buddhisty way, he said, "I don't agree that you're emotionally crippled, but you're very guarded. Everyone sees you laugh every day, but I may be one of the only people in this world who have ever seen you cry. Some emotional archaeology might not be a bad thing." Since my degree is in Anthropology, I told him it was my professional opinion that trust was good, but control was better.

Then I realized something... Maybe he's right. You can't trust people you can't trust, but you don't have to distrust everyone, and I actually don't. I do trust DB. In fact, I trust him with my life. He is the one person in this world where I can simply be myself. He is this amazing refuge from the world when it all starts spinning out of control. And for the record, maybe Kandinsky was wrong. Maybe control isn't the counterpart to chaos. Maybe calm is. And DB brings me to that. He takes me out of the storm and pulls me to the center where it's actually peaceful.

He often says, "Just because life gets crazy, doesn't mean you have to be." But he says it far more eloquently than I ever could, and I love and adore him beyond measure for it. And I'm ready to do more than sell two houses and have one home. I'm ready for us to have a life together. So, much to my family's chagrin, I'm going to do a little emotional archaeology. And Mel - you're finally going to get your wish. I'm going to write about growing up in Appalachia. And to my large codependent family whom I also love beyond measure, I hope you laugh as hard when you read it as I will when I write it. And to DB, let's do this.

Talk to you next week.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Woody Allen said it best in Sleeper: This tastes awful! I could have made a fortune selling it in my health food store.

The following is my attempt at a public service announcement. It should be said that I'm not a doctor. I don't even play one on TV, but I recently discovered something important about Addison's Disease, and I want to share it. Please note that, for the record, by no means am I suggesting you should listen to me instead of your own physician, about this or any other topic.

Two years ago, my doctor had me tested for Addison's. As far as diseases go, it's not a bad one to have, so long as you never go into a state called Addisonian Crisis, which thankfully I never have... and that's good considering that I don't actually have Addison's. What I have is a pretty lethal allergy to flax. Yes, flax. And here I thought it was the taste that would kill me... Turns out it's the actual grain itself. All jokes aside, it was poisoning me to the point that, if we were playing Clue, it'd be MKROMD, in the kitchen, from linseed. But I digress...

The point is that it was a fluke we figured it out at all. You see, after several brutal nights of leg cramps, I'd had it and logged on to Google to research my pain management options when I stumbled across an obscure article/blog that said, "Flax allergies can present as Addisons." So I read it and cut flax out of my diet. Within one week, most of my symptoms had gone away; however, because God hates me and trust is good but control is better, I immediately called one of my best friends who is a doctor and called in a favor.

Now, I try to respect that, just because she's a physician, she isn't my physician, but she owes me, and she knows it. You see, after I got divorced and before I started dating DB, she and her husband invited me out on their sailboat. I've known them forever and she's wonderful. She may actually be one of the nicest people I know, and not just because she is professionally obligated to, "First do no harm." But because this woman radiates kindness and warmth.

Clearly we're only friends because opposites attract.

Anyway, you can imagine my horror when she no longer exuded love or had my best interests at heart, and she set me up... on a date... on their boat... where I was trapped... on a lake, but I’m NOT bitter, and I want to officially state - for the record - that I thought it would just be the two of them and me. That's why I agreed to go. But no, it wasn't just the three of us TAKING MY MIND OFF MY DIVORCE. It was the two of them, another couple who had just gotten engaged, and a friend of theirs who was also divorced. It was awkward to say the least, and the second that all of us were introduced, the divorcĂ© and I understood that our marital status and Sunday plans were NOT coincidental. We were being set up. Thank GOD for us the newly engaged couple was fascinating to the point of distraction. He was forty-six and she was twenty-seven. He was also a surgeon, and the closest she'd come to medical school was the boob job he'd given her. A boob job that I couldn't stop staring at! In my defense, we were on a boat.... and it was choppy... and when a woman's very large breasts don't bounce with the waves, you're intrigued. So I'm mouthing to my good friend, "THOSE CAN'T BE REAL" when Barbie catches us and says, "Of course they’re not real. They were an early wedding present. Want to touch them?"

Now you need to know something about me... I am drawn to the bizarre like a moth to the flame. I wish I wasn't, because it NEVER ends well for me, but I am! And it isn't that I wanted to touch them so much as I NEEDED to know what a boob job feels like. So I did it, I touched one. And I’m standing there… on a boat… getting to first base… with a woman who is engaged… in front a man who is my date. Before things could get weird, my friend handed me another Bloody Mary and said, “This isn’t a BLIND date, you idiot. HE CAN SEE WHAT YOU’RE DOING.”

While she still feels awful for trying to set me up before I was ready, we laugh to this day as we wonder if he thought I was a lesbian or just a skank from Mid-Life Crisis Women Gone Wild. And since she crossed the friend line and set me up, I crossed the professional line and asked her for her take on things. At lunch, she agreed and said, "DEFINITELY, but remember what Mark Twain said: 'Careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.' Cut out the flax for a month then go see your doctor." Turns out, we were right! So if you're reading this blog because it appeared as a reference for Addison's, do yourself a favor. Read about flax allergies and go see your doctor, even if he or she isn't a friend of yours who has tried to set you up.

Talk to you next week.

Friday, September 3, 2010

If blogging were an Olympic sport, I'd be losing to Indonesia

I'm officially addicted to blogging. It’s true, I am… I log on every night to see if people post comments for me to read. I'm still learning how all of this works; however, since I never see any - I'm hopeful that I'm not just missing the obvious. And, if I am, then I'm REALLY sorry.

But I digress.

The point is that, a while ago, when I was researching what it takes to "maximize my blogging experience," I stumbled across a tracker that tells me things like how many hits I get every day, the number of new visitors to my site, etc. And this really appeals to me, especially the competitive side of me. So not only do I log on every evening to write, I now also spend time checking out how I'm doing compared to other blogs.

Right now I'm 368, and actually… that’s not too bad considering I started out in 500th place. But the thing that freakishly fascinates me is that I'm always right behind an Indonesian blog called, "ketawa lucu". Now, if you know me, and some of you may, then you know I'm shallow on the surface and curious to the core. Either one of these faults by itself is fatal, combined they're the makings of an Aristotelian tragedy. But I NEEDED to know what they have that I don't, so I checked their stats and I visited their site. Yes, I blog stalked them. And here's what my exercise in futility uncovered: It's not in English, they get more hits every week than I do, and they have a bigger following than MKROMD.

In other words, if blogging were an Olympic sport, I’d be losing to a country who isn't even good at Cricket.

When I met TB for lunch and told her about it, she said, "Jesus, if that isn't a metaphor for your life, then I have no idea what is." I hate it when she's right. And MORE than that, the thing about this self-imposed "cold war" is that I now sit and wonder if there’s a middle-aged, single woman somewhere in Southeast Asia addicted to her “kewtawa lucu” blog, typing into the wee hours of the morning, posting, then tracking her progress and thinking "Aku akan makan anjing Anda.” Which is Javanese for, “You're damn right your karma ran over your dogma. You're going down, and I'll eat your dog, too.” And that makes me like her. It makes me believe that the Internet actually CAN forge relationships between like-minded people, regardless of their geography, and that a little friendly competition is not only natural, it's healthy.

That said, let’s be honest and admit that if blogging can be a unifying force between some people and cultures, it can also be dangerously divisive in others (albeit indirectly sometimes). And to prove my point, one day, not so long ago, when I was completely sleep deprived from working all day and writing all night, I had to call a Computer Help Line because of some software issues I was having (ads about Indonesian women kept popping up on my home laptop). This wasn't the first time I'd been in this boat, and like before - the Asian man on the phone who was trying to help me didn't think this was actually a problem, so he wasn't really going to do much to fix it. And that's when I snapped. I knew I was an addict because I actually heard myself say, "kewtawa lucu isn't the only ass I'm going to kick."

After a brief, awkward pause in our conversation I realized that I had used my out-loud voice, because I heard him say, "It's funny. Laugh."

Once I could regain my composure, I apologized but added that I wasn't amused. To which he replied, "No ma'am, kewtawa lucu means it's funny, laugh." And I did... I laughed harder than I'd laughed in weeks, and I STILL think I should post a comment on that Indonesian woman's blog so that she could laugh, too. Clearly, we have a lot in common... other than the occasional desire to see my destructive, bat-shit crazy dog in a large pot of boiling water.

Talk to you next week.