My Friendly Valentine (February 12, 2014)

There are two personal items on which I refuse to spend more than $15 – sunglasses and gloves. The reason is simple. I can’t be trusted to hang onto them. Case in point: today is February 12th and I have managed to lose four pairs of gloves and mittens with plenty of winter left to endure (Curse you Punxsutawney Phil!). At this point I consider it fiscally irresponsible to invest in another set. I might as well just set a stack of dollar bills on fire and call it a day. And since it’s hard to wash the WASPy values of my upbringing away completely, I am doing penance in the form of enduring the rest of the season without finger coverings. Maybe that will teach me to take better care of my things before next year.

While I am careless with seasonal accoutrements, I am pleased to report that a penchant for leaving items behind in cabs, trains and restaurants does not extend to people. With folks I love, I am in it for the long haul. My longest-running friendship dates back to the summer I turned four years old. Bob, the neighborhood boy who lived down the street from my grandparents, anointed himself my confidant and protector before I knew I needed one. 31 years later, he checks in periodically for an injury count (physical and emotional), career updates and wishes for my health and happiness. Bob is a constant, a touchstone when everything else seems to be evolving faster than I can grasp. Then, as now, woe be to anyone caught in the act of inflicting pain in my direction. I can take this for granted, but I don’t. It’s a rare and special gift.

My other best male friend, Gary, I encountered for the first time at age 13, enrolled in a summer school program a few months before making the leap from tiny Lutheran primary to Chicago Public High School. We both sacrificed time at the beach in favor of a full day of French lessons and algebra so we could be competitive in the International Baccalaureate program into which we’d been accepted. I was there under duress – forced into the challenging academic curriculum by a mother frustrated in her own youthful, scholastic ambitions. I was still working out some juvenile delinquent tendencies and didn’t appreciate the interruption. Gary was as good a kid as you could wish, a parent’s dream. I am proud to say that across 22 ensuing years, we’ve rubbed off on each other in mutually beneficial ways. I grew a little more rigorous and studious, while Gary got in touch with his inner troublemaker.

Then there’s the quadrant of bad ass lady pals, gifts presented as I worked through issues with female relationships (courtesy of a competitive, threatened mother and some junior high bullying). Jessica walked into my life at the age of 16 and once we finished our yearlong pissing war, we were emotionally, if not always geographically, inseparable. One tearful “I need you” SOS is all it takes.

Theresa came along at age 18, when I worked my first hourly gig at the Wendy’s in University of Illinois’ Campustown. Unlikely duo were we: me with my big city shoulder chip and bitchy sorority girl looks, she with her light Southern twang, brick shithouse build and black lipstick. It just worked. Nearly two decades later, we both get a kick out of keeping in touch via snail mail, like Hillary and Cece from Beaches.

I met Diane at work in 2007 through another mutual friend and colleague. Immediately taken with her talent, empathy and survivor ‘s biography, she may very well be the most likeable, gifted human being on Earth.

Beth is the latest addition to the BFF roster, making me fall in love with her at first sight in the spring of 2011. I would remark upon the surprising ease and speed with which we’ve become family, but this is no shock to anyone familiar with her humor, generosity and loyalty. After we befriended one another, I told Beth I wanted to be her when I grew up. I still do.

Last, but certainly not least, are the close relatives I’d seek out even without the bonds of blood – my little sister Jenny and my cousin by marriage, Carla. It’s a pretty terrific thing when people you have to engage anyway are those you’d have chosen to be part of your life, if given the opportunity.

I am without a husband or boyfriend this Valentine’s Day, but I have plenty of significant others. I experience more love, joy, companionship and laughter than a body has any right to expect. I’d be a first rate fool to indulge in Hallmark-related self-pity given such a huge portion of life-fulfilling blessings.


The Valentine’s Day KISS Principle (February 14, 2013)

The Valentine's Day KISS Principle



It’s 11:00 am on the morning of Valentine’s Day 2013. Thus far I have suffered a nocturnal bite to the nose from my partner JC (an odd manifestation of some interesting dream) and have had bloodwork done to verify the proper function of my kidneys. Hardly the stuff of traditional romance, yet I’ve never felt happier or more loved than I do this Thursday.

The story of my life so far has taken some unbelievable and heartbreaking turns, yet this is the year I finally feel as though I’m coming into my own. No longer a confused stranger struggling to integrate my consciousness with the maps and scripts presented in girlhood, I reflect a confidence and security that I long believed impossible. Some of this evolution can be attributed to hard, painful personal and professional choices that brought me to the brink of what I thought I could survive. Other parts are owing to years of intensive psychotherapy with a trusted professional. The rest is self-reflection and the clarity of perspective that comes from silencing old, destructive voices. The dependable love of a man who really sees me and still likes the view certainly doesn’t hurt.

St. Valentine’s Day, from the traditional perspective of American consumerism, is a manufactured event with a definite marketing message: to love means to spend. It is only by lavishing trinkets, candies and expensive dinners in crowded restaurants upon our nearest and dearest that we can show the appreciation we are too busy or lazy to express the other 364 days of the year. But this year feels different and it’s not just internally. Friends, colleagues and unknowns alike appear to be, for lack of a batter word, more grateful. Are the root causes grand and general, a sort of collective relief that we’re all still here despite the lingering effects of the Great Recession, the paralyzed toxicity of the nation’s governing processes and a post-9/11 awareness that our lives are no longer insulated from what happens “over there?” In an era of so many big, complex challenges that start from the moment we open our eyes each morning, is it that much easier to notice and appreciate the small things?

Whatever the dynamics, I’ve experienced no small amount of satisfaction today reading open expressions of love from corners often regarded as cynical and jaded. It’s like an unwritten resolution was passed that, at least for today dammit, we’re going to experience joy in the connections, labor and hobbies that make struggling tolerable. There’s something poetic in that.

My contribution is to suspend examining the titular U.S. Navel of my personal blog and keep it simple. I love my life as it is today. I love my career and the direction in which it’s traveling. I love my partner, the one who nourishes my body, mind and soul. I adore the friendships I have built and the reciprocal delights of those strong bonds. I cherish my family, diverse, untraditional and thus, completely perfect. There will be plenty of time for overthinking and strategizing tomorrow and the days to come. Today is about gratitude for where I am and what I experience – in this moment.

Unexpected Valentine (February 13, 2012)

At 33.5 years of age, I have lived long enough to know that both tragedy and spiritual uplift often come from the most unlikely places. One of the supremely terrible and wonderful features of human life is that we can plan all we want, but never quite know what to expect. But awareness of this fact doesn’t always lead to preparedness, a ready script that one can summon in response to these little surprises.

Thus I was left on the street this evening, wordlessly clutching a three-foot tall white teddy bear named Shawn.

As part of my normal routine, I switched from one commuter train to the next, en route to the gym after a long day spent at the office. Upon alighting from the second train, a walk of roughly 6 blocks stood between me and the fitness center I patronize. Typically, I traverse the distance on autopilot, thinking over the day, what needs to be done when I get home, dread of the coming sweat session – the usual.

On this night, roughly halfway through my walk, I was interrupted from a reverie by the honk of a car horn. I looked to my left and it seemed that a rather well-dressed man driving a Mercedes-Benz was trying to grab my attention. Part of city living means coping with unwanted attention from various miscreants, but if Mr. Mercedes was a lunatic or a deadbeat, I had to admire the presentation.

I waved him off naturally, but he persisted. With an angry look on his face, he finally spoke: “Look I know this is weird, but can you just walk over here for a second?”

With that the gentleman thrust the aforementioned giant teddy bear from his driver side window, packaged adorably with a stand, fake roses and a balloon. “Here. Happy Valentine’s Day,” he said rather unenthusiastically.

By now I was running down a mental list of former friends and lovers. Had my memory lapsed completely? No other explanation made the scene logical. But failing to locate even a spark of recognition, I finally summoned the brain power to utter a single word, “Why?”

He sighed deeply before replying, “Because. You are a lot prettier and probably a lot nicer than the woman I just broke up with.”

I wasn’t ready for that at all. “But why me? Don’t you want to give this to your mother, sister or at least a female friend?” [Presumably one that you have known for longer than 15 seconds?]

The man answered, “I really just want it out of my sight.”

Why is that against every inclination I believed I had (I am SO not the teddy bear type), I suddenly wanted this stuffed animal more than anything? This bear represented something to the man – a loss, a broken promise, frustrated hopes. I will never really know the full story but all at once, I saw myself walking away from so many unsatisfying entanglements with nothing more than a box of tsotchkes. Here was someone in pain that I understood, literally asking me to lighten his load by taking a distressing Valentine’s Day gift home. It seemed the least I could do.

By way of acceptance, I asked “May I at least have your name? So I know what to call the bear?”

“Shawn,” was all he said. We made brief eye contact, and I like to believe, exchanged knowing looks. Yes, Shawn, this too shall pass. I was you last year.

Then Shawn peeled off into the night, into a world I never believed existed – where handsome men with nice cars and giant gifts still go home alone.

And I continued my walk to the gym, laden with a symbol of someone’s disappointment. In the same moment that he gifted me the largest stuffed animal I will ever own, (and I WILL keep it because no one’s pain belongs in a landfill), I hope I provided a service in return.

Friday the 13th (February 13, 2009)

Reading Jen’s post this week made me realize again how not ready I am for children. I have enough trouble getting myself (and my impish husband) out of bed in the morning, washed dressed and fed, without adding actual dependents into the mix. I think I have mentioned before that the Husband Unit is presently without a job, and has been for 6 weeks now. We are OK, far luckier than many people for certain, but hubby spends enough time agonizing over his failure to provide as it is without the additional stress of having little mouths to feed. Beyond the economic stressors of parenthood, there are random and sudden bouts of illness or infestation (such as Jen is coping with), the constant lack of sleep or time for oneself. I already have to remind myself on a near daily basis that I am 30, no longer 20 (see Atlanta posts from last week). But as I round the corner toward 31, in-laws foaming at the mouth for the next generation of Boops, I often find myself wondering if I will ever feel “ready” or at least capable. I tip my hat to Jen and all the other multi-tasking super parents out there.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, for some a Hallmark holiday, for others, perhaps the one time a year that they stop and to use a well-worn phrase, smell the roses. The next few days are packed with personal significance for me, so I thought I’d use the occasion to send a couple of blog Valentine’s to my loved ones.

    • To my sister, Jen, who turned 28 1/2 this week: I know you know this already, but it bears repeating. The day you were born was one of the happiest days of my life. Though I was only 2 years old myself, I can recall the day you came into this world with clarity. And that is because there has never been anyone happier to be a new big sister than I was. You may be a career woman, mother of two and all around capable force, but you have and always will be my baby.
    • To my best friend of 17 years, Gary, who is enduring a trying family crisis at this time: you are a rock of good sense and maturity, while still remaining a beacon of good times and belly laughs, the kind that make you feel like you might pee your pants. I don’t know what my life would be like without that.
    • To my husband, who turns 28 years old this coming Tuesday, coincidentally, the very same day we shared our first kiss and I knew I was really in for it. You alternately infuriate, shock, entertain and love me like I have never been loved. You are a maelstrom of chaos and contentment, all in one. I thought I was pretty complex until you and your rock star attitude turned my world on its ear. I have never looked back.
    • To my nieces, undoubtedly the two cutest and sweetest little ladies to ever grace this planet: KK, may you always be the character that has brought sunshine into all of our lives. “Aunt Bucky” felt connected to you from the moment you rained explosive diarrhea on her good jeans at the tender age of three days. Rosebud, thank you for reminding me that if a 20-month old can do 50 squats in a row without fatigue, a full grown woman ought to be able to do 10 pushups without tears. I never imagined a baby could motivate me to get to the gym, but there you go. A big shout out to their father as well, who has more than a small hand in affecting the good natured sweetness of these gals.
    • To all my girls, you know who you are: C, JTho, TWebb, the ghetto fabulous Yee, Di, Jane and the Roux sisters. Holla!
    • To my A.D., who is boy crazy and giggles like a school girl though she is well into her fifth decade. I am without a mother figure and have been some time. Thanks for reminding me to lighten up, and that you will always be there.
    • To Perez Hilton, Barack Obama, Entertainment Weekly, David Sedaris and CNN: I gave up a lot of my spare time and brain power to you folks in 2008, and it was well worth it.