Mr. Mom, Emeritus.

Dear friends,

sinkfix

I dare you to find a maintenance technician with better legs.

In my world, when a distinguished colleague retires, he or she is awarded the title of “Emeritus” if — in fact — the individual’s service and achievements have been exceptionally meritorious.

It’s an honorary title, bestowed infrequently, to only the best.

So imagine my great pride — and melancholy — in telling you Mr. Mom is becoming an Emeritus Caretaker.

In other words, he’s retiring. From Mr. Mom-hood.

Which, in a weird sort of way, really means he’s going back to work. Outside our home.

The transition, which begins today, is more than bittersweet. I’m happy for him because he’s happy for him. He’s been toiling as our caretaker for nearly a decade and with Parker off to college now, there’s only me to care for.

(Not to make light of this. Everyone knows I require a lot of care. And feeding.)

But the last three years in particular have been difficult for him with the Mountain, and he needs both a distraction and an intellectual challenge that doesn’t involve case law or laundry stains. And there’s no denying that with two kids in college, the extra money will be great.

But neither of us made this decision because of money. We made it because — like the last time we transitioned our roles and lifestyle — our careful consideration led us to a mutual conclusion.

We both agreed if we hate it, he’ll quit. I don’t expect him to hate it. I’m not sure about me.

We live in a small town with a first-rate university, a well-respected medical system, and our fair share of manufacturing and scientific industry. It’s a great place to get a job if you’re highly educated. Not so great if you’re a highly skilled tradesman with no desire to work for yourself anymore. So Mr. Mom will be joining the millions of Americans who commute far outside their community to serve as a maintenance technician with a food manufacturing company located an hour away. He’ll be working second shift with a good deal of overtime, which means our evenings watching re-runs of Gunsmoke while enjoying a cocktail are coming to an end. In fact, it means a lot of his free time is coming to an end.

And I’m no dummy, but I think it means some of my free time is coming to an end, too, as we figure out how to divide up responsibility for things like laundry and housekeeping and grocery shopping and all the things he used to handle solo.

It’s weird when I think back about how personally challenged I was by our transition to the lifestyle I now relish. I wrote about it in this essay and, at the time, I really was confronting an existential crisis. (Giving up control of the laundry was a big deal for me, which I’m not proud to admit.) Now — it’s not that I dread stepping back into the role of housekeeper/errand runner, it’s that I’d be lying if I didn’t admit my life is comfortable and I enjoy having Mr. Mom’s full attention and energy. I’m pretty sure evenings at home alone will be lonely until I adjust.

On the flip side, I’m so proud of my mate. Once we made up our minds, he embarked on a job hunt with great enthusiasm, careful research, and impressive results. After being unemployed for what feels like a lifetime in today’s fast-changing world, he found a good-paying job with solid benefits in less than a month. He impressed his new employer on day one, while touring the plant for an interview, when he made several suggestions to improve production efficiency based on just a few tweaks to the equipment.

So . . . that’s my big news. I don’t know what to think yet. Like everything else we’ve tackled, we’ll play it by ear and adjust as necessary. I have butterflies in my stomach, which after 23 years of marriage ain’t a bad thing.

Oh — but there’s this! What in the WORLD will I call Mr. Mom now that he’s not Mr. Mom?

Maintenance Man? Hunk o’ Husband? Hot Legs? I’m at a loss for worthy pseudonyms and welcome your suggestions.

One thing’s for sure. He’s more than deserving of the title Mr. Mom, Emeritus.

With gratitude {for a life that unfolds just as it needs to, just when it needs to},

Joan, who loves that man of hers more than you can imagine

You can call it a mid-life crisis if you want. I prefer an empty nest embrace.

Dear friends,

I think I’ve told EVERYBODY but the readers of this blog that I bought a new car.

You already know about my tragic crash on the ice, wherein I totaled my beloved eight-year-old Honda Accord that was supposed to see me through Kate’s tuition bills.

And you know about the list Parker gave me for car shopping.

Turns out, I bought the third car on his list. And it wasn’t even a close decision.

Here’s why:

2013-Subaru-BRZ-Carscoop2_1

I’ll understand if you want to cry that you have car envy. My Saburu BRZ is a very sparkly charcoal grey (think “glittering slate”), but otherwise looks just like the one in the photo. I’d show you mine but it needs a good wash after picking up a few layers of winter road grime.

My car is a two-seater with a six-speed manual transmission. With a top speed of 140 miles per hour, incredible handling, and enough bells and whistles like XM radio, bluetooth, and navigation to dazzle me, it’s the car of my dreams.

Darn that boy knows his mother.

You know what I love as much as anything? That Mr. Mom loves this car. I think he loves it as much as me and it’s the first time in our lives I’ve seen him like this.

The thing is, Mr. Mom used to design, build and race drag cars. He’s worn a Nomex fire suit and a five-point harness and driven the quarter mile in so few seconds it would make most people scream. In his early 20s, he built the engine and transmission for a 1968 GTO, which for some folks is the holy grail of muscle cars, and he still likes to talk about the charms of that pretty little ride.

At the time, I had recently purchased a used 1982 Nissan Pulsar and I was crushed when he suggested it was a POS. I, of course, thought it was the cutest little sports car ever, but I think he had a better sense of its many design and mechanical failures after replacing the car’s ball joint and brake rotors in the parking lot of my apartment complex on a bitterly cold day in January 1986.

Is it any wonder I fell in love with the man? I mean come on. He did a $300 repair job (in 1986 dollars!) for free after meeting me only 10 days earlier, all because he felt sorry for the college girl working three jobs who couldn’t afford to fix her car or even to tow it to his shop.

Anyway, the man just doesn’t get excited about production vehicles, so when he said he liked this one, a LOT, after I already knew I was smitten, my heart went pitter-pat.

Since I drove it home on December 12th, I’ve taken way too many photos of my BRZ and posted several on social media in ways that would suggest I’m a newly licensed 16-year-old male, not a 50+ female. And I’ve showed it off in person to anyone who will give me a minute.

I don’t even care. I.Love.This.Car.

And I’m shouting it for all the world to hear.

With gratitude {for the car of my dreams that is also loved by the man of my dreams},

Joan, who knows how to get on it, and isn’t afraid to, so drivers in Missouri watch out

PS: Check out this smokin’ cockpit

2013-Subaru-BRZ-interior

Day 20 and 21: Equal time.

Dear friends:

I get the feeling Mr. Mom was a little embarrassed by yesterday’s attention. (Flattered and grateful, but embarrassed.)

Lest you think I’m syrupy sweet (which I assure you I am not, ask my closest friends) or that we are a “perfect” couple (by whatever your definition of perfect is and I assure you, again, we are not), I’ve decided to give equal time to my beloved’s flaws. That’s plural. And he has them, even though I typically talk about my blessings not my challenges.

Here’s a story I wrote four years ago about a habit of his that makes me crazy. It makes me so crazy and I’ve mentioned it so many times that the man now mostly goes outside when he feels an uncontrollable urge to . . . pace!

(Which kinda makes him even more of a saint, but we’re not talking about that today.)

With gratitude {for the flaws that make Mr. Mom perfectly human and, thus, our marriage miraculously balanced},

Joan, aka the Magpie

The Pacer

first published in January 2009

Scene in Magpie Manor last night –

Mr. Mom:    Blah, blah, blah, pointless blah, blah, blah, and more blah.

Kate:            (giggling uncontrollably because she’s too young to understand her father is NOT funny)

Magpie:        (speaking to no one in particular) I abhor him.  I abhor him with my entire soul.

I know . . . abhor is a strong word.  But trust me when I say if you lived here, you’d pull out the A word, too.

Let me explain.  Mr. Mom is a pacer.  Have you ever lived with a pacer?  It’s absolutely unnerving.  He simply can’t sit still.  On an evening like last night, Kate and I are sitting on the sofa, comfortably nestled into furry blankets, savoring every moment of American Idol, and Mr. Mom gets up and starts pacing.

He wanders in the sun room and jacks with the computer for a minute without sitting down.  He steps into the study and does lord knows what.  He circles the dining room table, cutting the corners like he’s a NASCAR driver at Talladega.  He wanders into the kitchen.  We hear rustling but he doesn’t stay long enough for us to ponder what in the world he’s doing.  He steps into the middle of the living room and stares into space as if the purpose of his movement is in the air and is about to land on his consciousness any second now.

HE DOES THIS SORT OF THING ALL THE TIME.

Enjoying some down time, grabbing a little R&R, cooling in the veg lounge is IMPOSSIBLE with him in the room.  And don’t dare sit beside him, even for a moment, because his legs vibrate.  That is, they jitter uncontrollably.  Lying beside him in bed is akin to filling the coin slot in a creepy Best Western vibrating bed.  Several times a week I yell at him to “Stop shaking your legs!!!!!”

I suspect he doesn’t even relax when he sleeps.  He frequently has nightmares, during which he moans and fidgets and occasionally screams.  Ever been awakened from a dead sleep by a 6’6”, 200 lb. screaming man?

Chill, dude.  Seriously.

So after the pacing started last night, I looked up at one point and said “What are you doing?”

This question he interpreted as an unnatural and dangerous interest in his movement, as if some sort of potential infringement on his liberty was lurking behind my question (which was really just a very polite WTH?), because his trademark sarcasm kicked in and he responded:

I’m walking to the basement to fold laundry.  I’m leaving the living room now.  I’m passing through the dining room.  (Louder) I’m in the kitchen now, stepping toward the basement.  (Even louder) I’m walking down the basement steps toward the laundry.

Or he said blah, blah, blah, pointless blah, blah, blah and more blah,  all of which his undiscerning teenage daughter found to be devastatingly hilarious.

Come to think of it, I abhor all of them.

Day 19: Mr. Mom.

Dear friends,

DougJoanStPats

Still crazy about him after all these years.

On the 19th day of this month of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for Mr. Mom.

It’s his 50th birthday. Give him a shout-out, will you?

I have written many, many stories about him. If you followed me over from my former blog, you’ve read most of them. I keep searching for new and better words to capture my enduring affection and respect for the man I met at age 22 and who — nearly 30 years later — still makes my eyes light up and my pulse quicken.

In this space, my favorite posts about Mr. Mom are this one,

and this one

and this one.

Despite continuing attempts, I seem to come up short at expressing what he means to me.

I’ve said he’s my genesis. My steady rudder. My love, my life, and my laughter. The reason I’ve achieved anything worth talking about. The most evolved man I’ve ever known.

And none of that scratches the surface of a man so kind, so thoughtful, so devoid of ego, so generous, so invested in becoming all he can to benefit those he loves that this writer — a woman who thinks she’s pretty adept at stringing words together — quietly contemplates the paucity of her prose and fervently wishes she could do him justice.

Since I can’t, I’ll simply say Happy Birthday, man of my dreams.

With gratitude {for the tall drink of water who took a chance on an over-dressed, under-evolved college girl on a blind date 28 years ago},

Joan, who kind of fancies herself the Diane Cort to Mr. Mom’s Lloyd Dobbler for more reasons than you can imagine, including wild romantic gestures, trench coats, “friends with potential,” and paternal frailties

Day 2: The drive.

Dear friends,

On Day 2 of this month of Thanksgiving, I had the afternoon off. It was a brilliant autumn day. Sunny skies and mild temps and the prospect of the open road called to Mr. Mom and me like a songbird.

We drove down some of our state’s loveliest back roads, where corn fields and tiny towns dotted the landscape. The fall foliage was in full splendor and we couldn’t believe such a perfect convergence of time and opportunity had landed in our laps.

We ducked into an out-of-the-way roadhouse in a town with the proud name of Defiance, where we shared a cup of coffee with the Friday afternoon patrons enjoying their beer and cigarettes and lonely-hearts country songs.

We talked about buying this cottage, then that one, then another, and retiring right here (no there!).

And then, on our way home, we decided to pull over near the top of a ridge so I might snap a photo as a keepsake of our day. We knew there was a view to be had if only we could find the right spot. Mr. Mom, who’s half a foot taller than me, nosed around for few moments then declared he’d found just the place, but I couldn’t see a thing through the dense underbrush. He offered to pull back the branches of an overgrown shrub for me and, there, like Brigadoon, appeared the most magical view in all of Missouri I think:view

It was the perfect Benediction to a perfect autumn drive.

With gratitude {for unexpected gifts born of an everlasting companionship},

Joan, who’s posting this just in time to put on her running shoes and head for the race

Parkie Park and the Blue Moon.

Dear friends,

I had a magical day yesterday.

There was, of course, a blue moon and I stood outside in the cool night air to bask in its rare glow. It was a lovely, peaceful moment, standing in my yard in the moonlight while listening to the quiet hum of my home from just beyond its shadow.

Then I came inside and took this photo of my boy.

parker

He ate an after-school snack then fell asleep on the sofa and stayed there until bedtime. After snapping this photo I rubbed his head because I can’t help it. Rubbing the head of men I love is a compulsion. Then I thought about how when he was seven he used to hold my hand and tell me stories, and now he’s nearly seven-feet tall and still tells me stories but won’t hold my hand. So I rub his head when he sleeps and I touch him whenever I’m within arm’s reach because I can’t help that either. He’s nearly grown and sports a beard but he will always be Parkie Park to me and I can’t imagine not reaching for my beautiful boy every chance I get.

Then we all turned in, and just as I was about to fall asleep, Mr. Mom said very quietly “I love you, Bunny. I figure I ought to tell you at least once every blue moon whether you need it or not.”

It made me smile because we say “I love you” almost every single time we fall asleep together. Sometimes I say it, sometimes he says it, but we almost always say it, one then the other. And not in that perfunctory “luv ya” way you might say as you hang up the phone.  We say it in a quiet, deliberate way. Almost like a prayer because it’s that important.

I fell asleep thinking there’s no greater blessing than loving mightily and being loved in equal measure. Under any kind of moon.

With gratitude {for the magic of big moons and big hearts},

Joan, aka “Bunny,” and various and sundry pet names that shall not be disclosed

On balance.

Dear friends,

ballet-dancer1

I saw a Tweet today that said “You can have it all — just not at once.”

It was immediately followed by this blog post from my friend Sizzle, who was reflecting on the one-year anniversary of the purchase of her first home, which prompted my own reminiscing about the four houses Mr. Mom and I have called home. Each of our houses was in a different city; each holds unique and special memories for our family; and each was perfect (despite its particular deficiencies) for the season of our lives in which we dwelled under its roof.

We have lived in a big-city, post-War cottage with loads of charm; a plain-Jane, suburban 70’s special; a majestic, turn-of-the-century “mansion” on a brick-paved street in the center of my beloved hometown; and a modern and spacious Ranch situated on a scenic Midwest acreage. We’ve clearly had it all (or most) over the course of 20+ years and I’m reminded that all of life is lived “on balance.”

Not long ago I counseled a young colleague who was fretting about “work-life” issues. I shared with her some of the lessons I’ve learned as a working mother and wife and I advised her not to think she could find equilibrium on any given day. I told her that over time I’ve learned to look for “balance” only when contemplating the entire span of my life because in any given hour, any given month, even in periods as long as a year or more, my life has been decidedly off-kilter.

I think about the many years I spent ungodly hours at the office and commuting long distances. I think about the three-year period I completed a Master’s Degree and did absolutely nothing but go to work and go to class. (I even “cancelled” Thanksgiving the year I wrote my thesis. Mr. Mom was a saint during those years, by the way.) I think about the years I fretted I would never again pursue a personal interest beyond raising my children and I thought “Hobbies? What are hobbies?”  I think about the entire year I selfishly focused all my energy on losing weight and getting fit for my impending marriage. (I did look ravishing in my wedding dress, only to get pregnant and gain 50 pounds six months later.) I think about the weeks I spent lying on the sofa eating buttered crackers in a depressed state because Kate had left for college. I even think about recent weeks when I’ve become a crazed and obsessive quilter, rushing home from the office each evening to pursue my latest project into the wee hours of the morning.

Maybe you’ve got a secret for achieving perfect (or even relative) balance on any given day. If so, please share your wisdom! I suspect, though, that most of us do what we must do in the moment we must do it, and find our search for balance fruitless unless we set our gaze on a very long horizon.

And you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing about my life. (Except maybe I would save more and spend less, but good lord, who wouldn’t?) I’ve been blessed with so very much and I suspect so much more is coming my way, including interesting and invigorating new friendships in our (still) new town, new hobbies, new career opportunities, new family members (grandchildren some day?), and certainly new opportunities to grow and learn through the pain and challenge that inevitably beset every soul on earth.

On balance, life’s been good to me (and apparently Joe Walsh) so far. Why crave it all when every single bite is so uniquely flavorful?

With gratitude {for discovering that perfect balance is a rather silly notion except in bike-riding and ballet},

Joan, who invites you to leave a comment about the season of life you’re experiencing right this moment

Oh. Hey. Hi.

Dear friends,

2013

This lovely 2013 day planner is available here.

I haven’t intentionally been ignoring you.

I have been unusually content in some ways, and contentment for me often leads to quiet reflection.

Life has been both perfect and hard, and I’ve been living it instead of writing about it. But I’ve missed you and I thought I ought to pop in and say so.

Our holidays were everything I needed. Kate was home from college for three weeks and I luxuriated in her company. Christmas break was low-key. On Christmas Day, we had a Barbecue feast that was super-simple to prepare and left me plenty of time to laze around with the kids. We dragged an air mattress into the den and piled on blankets and pillows for a marathon movie session. We tackled a zigsaw puzzle. (Who knew CupKate was a puzzle whiz?) We invited friends over and played board games. We had a bonfire. And then we spent New Year’s Eve in Memphis watching my alma mater (The University of Tulsa) kick butt in the Liberty Bowl and enjoying the flavor of Beale Street blues and seafood. The last two weeks of 2012 were so perfect I was lulled into a dreamy stupor, making Jan. 2 a particularly sharp jolt back to reality.

So the hard parts? Well, there’s been more developments on the mountain. Nothing I’m ready to write about. In fact, like most of the saga, Mr. Mom has been handling it alone in quiet frustration because I’ve blocked it out, so I really don’t understand the details of the latest developments yet; mostly I just tried to distract myself while I watched him spend hours on the phone with attorneys and surveyors and adjacent landowners and the dozens of characters that populate this unfathomable story. My most fervent wish is that this chapter of our lives will end in 2013.

Also — I’ve been running, chasing the thousand miles I said I wanted to conquer in my 51st year.  Lawzy, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.  It’s been a mental and physical challenge that I wholly underestimated. The first three weeks almost reduced me to tears several times and very nearly convinced me I could never do this. I have ached. I have been so tired I lost all concentration at work, and I have gone to bed at 7:00 pm more than once. I have mentally shouted at the gods and cursed them for my lack of strength and  stamina. I have found myself hating Missouri and blaming its godforsaken hills for my misery. I’ve sunk to the lowest possible emotional depths a runner can reach without quitting.

I have a glimmer of hope, however, that I’m turning a corner. In fact, I need to wrap up this post so I can head out for a run. I must log a minimum of 10 miles this weekend and I’ve got a hot date with Mr. Mom later this afternoon so I need to get after it.

But, hey, you know what? My waist is making a slow reappearance in my life. It used to be a beautiful thing and it just might be again, who knows? And the other evening my left leg was aching so badly I asked Mr. Mom to massage it. He did two better: He massaged it, he told me how toned my legs were becoming, and he brought me a heating pad. A good man is such a glorious thing and I never fail to count my blessings when I notice them.  Which is one more reason I need to make an appearance here and remind you to do the same. It’s a great way to ease into 2013, friends.

With gratitude {for a sparkly, blessed, challenging, infuriating, totally-normal new year},

Joan, who invites you to tell her how you’re easing into 2013 and what you hope the year holds for you

Some reflections on fifty.

Dear friends,

The author, front and center at a family picnic, circa 1969.

The author, front and center at a family picnic, circa 1968.

I turn 50 on Monday.

1962 seems another world ago. Jackie Kennedy. The Cuban missile crisis. Love Me Do. James Meredith.

I’ve seen so much and so little. My life is expansive and somehow tiny, like a sliver of light that slips under the door of a darkened room and beckons me to cross the threshold into something bright and exciting.

I have so much — and I want so much more. Not things, you know, but moments. Of all sizes and all sentiments, moment after moment fitting into this intricate, zigsaw puzzle I call my life. I’m greedy that way. I want more love, more joy, more reflection, more grief, even the inconsolable kind, more sweat-spit labor and tired bones, more ragged emotion, more evidence I’m here, heart still beating, mattering to somebody, being somebody’s mooring, or if not, at least a bright spot no matter how transient.

I’ve been grumbling about this milestone for nearly a year. In recent weeks my outward angst has magnified, why I’m not sure. Vanity surely plays a role. I’ve said a woman can’t be sexy and 50, but that’s not true and so maybe I think it’s only so for me. Truth is, though, I’m still the apple of the eye of the only man who matters, the one who daily reaches across the gulf that is our king-sized bed just so his hand can rest on my hip. He still desires my glances, my kisses, my laughs, and who can estimate the inestimable value of a man whose affection is so evident? I am still a prize, it seems, in those sparkling blue eyes I first looked into on Christmas Day 27 years ago, a blind date that turned into blinding devotion.

I want to feel alive, pulsing, resisting decay with every ounce of my energy, even as my energy depletes, unceremoniously, unaware of the urgent stirring inside me. It must always be this way, I suppose, this quickening of the heart even as the limbs stall. It is Mother Nature’s great joke, this divergence of passion and intellect from stamina and dexterity. You can have it, sister, but you can’t have it all, not at the same time, she whispers to me.

I seek to outwit her. To fiercely disprove her, and so I contemplate ambitious goals, like running a thousand miles in my 51st year. Who knows if I will or I won’t. In truth, I won’t be better or worse for it, but I might feel a tiny bit victorious in having beat back one more time the crone who seeks to claim me.

So there you have it. My heart laid bare on the eve of an occasion I have dreaded but should surely celebrate given the alternative. We’re going out to dinner tonight and I’m wearing heels and drinking wine as if age has no recourse but to ignore me. Perhaps I’ll ignore it, too, Love.

(Maybe I’ll even start calling everybody “Love” because inappropriate eccentricity is kindly tolerated in women of a certain age.)

With gratitude {for another birthday},

Joan, who has no memory of the family occasion pictured above, who can’t figure out what’s on top of her head for Pete’s sake, and who has recently started seeing in Parker’s profile glimpses of her brother (photographed behind her in the orange shirt and who died four years later), which makes her heart full to bursting

When life hands you lemons, make soup.

Dear friends,

I had a not-so-great day at work Monday.  By the time I got home, I was cranky. In fact, Mr. Mom was on the phone with Kate when I walked in and  interrupted him to ask when dinner would be ready. He said to Kate “Gotta go, hon. Mom had a bad day and her forehead is wrinkly. I need to get dinner on the table.”

I understood the wrinkly comment was about my expression — not my skin tone. And truth is, I felt much better after I ate. We had leftovers from our dinner party Saturday night — roast pork loin with spicy tomato sauce, mashed potatoes, and a lovely balsamic vegetable medley.  I never fail to appreciate the boost that a good meal can give my day.

For that reason, after we ate dinner, Mr. Mom and I spent an hour or so together in the kitchen making vegetable soup. If ever there was a tonic for life, vegetable soup is it.  Whenever life gets hectic, I tend to make bad food choices, especially at lunch. Life has been hectic lately and I have the cheese and bacon fries to prove it.

So after dinner Monday night, I announced that I needed a batch of vegetable soup to right my lunch-ship and Mr. Mom offered to help. There’s something therapeutic about couples cooking together — at least in our home — and the combination of good food on the stove and good company in the kitchen improved my day considerably.

“Honey,” Mr. Mom remarked as he chopped rosemary and I added wine to the pot, “what would you do if I ever got hit by a bus?”

“Holy cow,” I said. “I guess I’d have to get married again right away.” I barely concealed my grin.

“You could marry a famous chef,” he offered.

“No way,” I said. “I don’t think executive chefs take orders well. And you’re my perfect sous chef.”

I measured the spices and he prepped veggies and we continued to chat about our day and fill the pot with whatever caught our eye. By the time we finished, it was brimming with onions and sweet bell pepper and cabbage and garlic and corn and black beans and carrots and tomatoes and wine.

And love. Lots and lots of love.

With gratitude {for times when the best recipe for soup and life are miraculously one and the same},

Joan, who was delighted beyond words when one of her guests Saturday night suggested we name our new group the Gratitude Dinner Club

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