Mr. Mom, Emeritus.

Dear friends,


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

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.


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

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

Some unrelated thoughts indicative of my state of mind.

Dear friends,

So I’ve got about a thousand things running through my mind this week, none of which add up to anything meaningful but all of which are eminently fascinating to me.

Such as:

  • Parker got a job. At his parents’ urging. He’s busing tables and mopping floors at a steakhouse conveniently located one mile from our house. He’s making minimum wage. He’s busting his butt and coming home tired. His parents can’t stop smiling. Especially his mother. Especially in response to the statement “It was mayhem Mom! I mean, I worked non-stop for FOUR hours.”
  • I decided that with all my newfound spare time — what with a daughter away at college and a son at work — that I would read. Read books. Books I’ve had on my list for a while but never gotten around to. Right now, I can’t put down Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America. I was looking for an objective treatment of the subject and I’m not sure I found it, but I’m tripping over all sorts of interesting facts I didn’t know. Warning: I’m neither a “gun nut” (read: NRA fanatic) nor a “gun grabber” (read: raging liberal who wants to disarm America) that the author uses as his archetypes, but I am interested in the debate, I’m married to a man with a different perspective on the topic than mine, and I want to be more informed on the facts and not the rhetoric. I’ll let you know if I think the book ultimately has anything to add to the dialogue.  Next up: Fraud and Half Empty, both by the brilliant David Rackoff.
  • My dear sweet Kate is doing just fine.
  • My minimalist phase continues (new books notwithstanding). I spent the last couple of days de-cluttering my master bedroom. There’s now a three-tiered television stand with nothing on it but a television. It’s weirdly . . . vacant looking. But in a really calming way.
  • Does it count if I took some of the clutter to my office? I know. It probably doesn’t, but, among other things, I couldn’t bear to discard my “Tulsa” snowglobe. And yet it was imperative that I get it out of my home. Is this kind of emotional oxymoron (I must get rid of it! I must keep it!) the sign of a breakdown? Or is it merely phased detachment? If “phased detachment” (a term I totally just made up) sounds better, I’m going with that one.
  • When Kate left home, I stopped running. Remember that interval training we were doing? Yeah. I fell off the wagon without the incentive of early morning mother-daughter bonding.
  • I have bitten off every last one of my nails. I do that when I get anxious. I’ve been a nail-biter for as long as I can remember. It drives Mr. Mom crazy. I don’t care because his jittery leg syndrome drives me crazy. It’s an even trade, I figure.
  • Now that I have a daughter at college and a son at work, I joked to a friend yesterday that I would soon have to send Mr. Mom back to work. She looked at me with a furrowed brow and said “Well, you won’t get dinner served at 5:30 pm anymore.” I realized that’s no joke and I zipped my lip.

With gratitude {for my clean house, warm dinner, industrious children and long reading list},

Joan, who hasn’t cried in 48 hours and thinks that must be a good sign

Turns out, I AM Don Draper. And a teenage diary author.

Dear friends,

Tuesday night as Mr. Mom and I were riding in the car, he told me how much he liked that day’s post about Kate. I smiled and said I noticed that he had shared it with his friends on Facebook, which is rare for him.

Then he told me a long story I won’t go into here about some of his Facebook friends and their behavior, which drives him nuts — the bottom line being that he finds it distasteful to engage in showy promotion or affection of spouses while social networking.

I get it. Doesn’t hurt my feelings. (Although I will note that all writers crave the praise of their loved ones more than any other reader.)

Anyway, I was surprised to notice on my Facebook page the very next day that he “liked” my post titled Incarnation. So I asked him about it because, you know, we just talked about his public restraint and here he is liking my post two days in a row. I wondered if he found my prose especially lyrical, my imagery particularly evocative, my phrasing unusually sublime.

Joan: So what was it you liked about my post? You must have considered it special since you hit “like” a day after you told me how you try to refrain from that.

Mr. Mom: I enjoyed how introspective it was and I thought you were really insightful. I mean, a lot of your posts read like “what I did on my summer vacation” diary entries. But in this one, you really seemed to have a clear view of yourself, which is rare for most people. Especially the part about Don Draper. I haven’t watched the show, but you seem to be a lot like him, the way he recreates himself at everyone’s expense. You’re always remaking your life and putting the rest of us through the paces along the way.

Joan: <walks from the master bedroom to her closet because, really, she’s heard enough to get the gist of it>

Mr. Mom: <undeterred by his wife’s absence, keeps talking, only louder> I mean, one day you’re a vegetarian and everybody in the family is eating vegetables. The next day you’re Macrobiotic and everybody’s eating Miso soup. Or you’re on a running kick, or a redecorating kick, or a graduate school kick — whatever it is, you’re putting the rest of us through the paces to keep up with your odyssey.

Joan: <moving heavy things in the closet in an attempt to make noise and drown out her literary and existential critic>

Mr. Mom: So I just thought you really hit the nail on the head.


Here’s to seeing yourself clearly.

With gratitude {for brutal honesty of all varieties including self-imposed and conjugal},

Joan, but you can call me Jo-Don

He said. She said.

Dear friends,

It rained at our place yesterday. Big ol’ buckets of rain poured down for most of the day, including just as Mr. Mom and I were falling asleep. Under the steady drum of rain on our roof in a house that was dark and otherwise still, here’s the conversation we had.

Mr. Mom:  I forgot to tell you. When I was driving to Wichita earlier this week, I drove through the worst rain ever. I could barely see the road and had to slow way down. I’ve never driven through rain that hard.

Joan: That’s not true.

Mr. Mom: What do you mean?

Joan: It’s not the worst rain ever. I was with you when you drove through the worst rain ever — that night we drove from Tulsa to Nowata and I was so scared and made us pull over. Remember? It was raining so hard the water started pouring through the seals of the side windows.

Mr. Mom: That was a function of the windows in that crappy ol’ Ram Charger and the wind, not the rain.

Joan: Not true! When we pulled over, it was raining so hard we couldn’t even see our hood ornament — and the rain was so heavy that RAIN WAS POURING IN our windows.

Mr. Mom: <chuckling> Shut up!

Joan: No! You’re wrong, and you’re trying to blame the windows when in fact it was the heaviest rain you’ve ever been in.

Mr. Mom: <chuckling> Oh, so you’re saying the wind wasn’t a factor?

Joan: The wind WAS a factor.


Joan: But it was still the heaviest rain ever.

With gratitude {for a pillow partner that lets me win all the important arguments},

Joan, who is the Master of Trivial Pursuit in her own life

You can’t take the treadmill to Joyland.

Dear friends,

Wednesday night as Mr. Mom and I were about to drift off to sleep, he squeezed my hand and whispered “Did you find your joy today?”

We both snickered, and I admitted that given a taxing day at the office, I hadn’t even looked for it.  We talked about the thoughtful comments made by readers and the elements of your suggestions that resonated with us.  Finally he said, “Sometimes I think you have to stop thinking and start doing.”

His words echoed many of your comments, which suggested I get busy — responding to my creative urges, rolling out the yoga mat, or even cutting loose and dancing in the kitchen. Simple things, all. But incredibly uplifting things, too, if one does them consciously.

But let me tell you — the conscious part is not so simple.

Haven’t you ever felt like you were going through your days in a daze? Before we moved and I was still commuting two hours a day, there were times when the entire drive would go by and I’d have no memory of it. It might sound like a convenient mental trick, but there were instances when I’d pull into my driveway and “wake up” without any memory of the traffic or the landmarks (or, frankly, of any brain activity) of the prior 60 minutes. The feeling frightened me so badly that sometimes I would feel myself shaking as I pulled into the garage. And it convinced me I had to get rid of the commute.

But getting rid of the commute doesn’t mean I got off the treadmill. And by treadmill, I mean the automatic-pilot state, the sleepwalking trap that all adults but especially working mothers can fall into. I’ve tried very hard since I “remade” my life 10 months ago to stay off the treadmill.  But the truth is that some days I’m more conscious than others. (We humans are all a damn DIY project, aren’t we?)

When I launched this site on a whim in January, I chose the tagline “daily meditations of a mindful mother” for two reasons. First, because I needed a written promise to motivate me to blog daily (and blogging is my chosen method for cultivating gratitude). And, second, because I aspire to be mindful (though I so often am not). Thus, the daily part and the mindful part were at the center of my New Year’s resolution. And yet here I am, in early February, in a self-inflicted stupor wherein I whine publicly about how “I have no joy!”

So, I’m going to stop whining and start doing.  Do I know what my doing will consist of? Heck no! But whatever I do, I’m going to follow this advice:

As you walk, cultivate a sense of ease. There’s no hurry to get anywhere, no destination to reach. You’re just walking. This is a good instruction: just walk. As you walk, as you let go of the desire to get somewhere, you begin to sense the joy in simply walking, in being in the present moment. You begin to comprehend the preciousness of each step. It’s an extraordinarily precious experience to walk on this earth. —Peter Doobinin (from Tricycle: The Buddhist Review)

Don’t worry . . . I’ll report in and let you know how it goes. Because you can bet when I find some joy I’m going to spread it around.

With gratitude {for a husband who cares enough to ask about his wife’s joy and friends with much-needed perspective},

Joan, who wrote this late Thursday night in a hotel room while cultivating a little TGIF-joy at the thought of going home for the weekend

Debunking the 50-50 rule.

Dear Friends,

Last night Mr. Mom and I were in the bathroom together for our nightly ritual of teeth-brushing and other pre-bed preparations. As we finished up and walked toward our bed, Mr. Mom said: Oh . . . I’ll be right back. I think Kate forgot the leftovers on the counter and I’ve got to put the food away.

I said: Okay. I’ve got to crawl into to bed now and get really comfy and warm.

And you know what Mr. Mom did? He laughed. He laughed out loud as he walked out of the room to take care of what is typically Kate’s responsibility but became his on this evening because his daughter wasn’t feeling well and it’s a cinch his wife didn’t think of it.

As I crawled into bed and got busy getting really comfy and warm while he took care of the last of the nightly chores, I thought about the kind of man it takes to not only head to the kitchen while his wife goes to bed, but also the kind of man who laughs when his wife makes a joke about it.

Let me tell you — it takes a man who knows there’s no such thing as the 50-50 rule.

There’s an epidemic of working mothers who spend a lot of time contemplating the 50-50 rule. I know this because the women talk about it endlessly.  And in case you’ve haven’t heard of the 50-50 rule, it’s what I call the myth that married couples, especially working parents, should share “the burden” equally.

It doesn’t matter how you define “burden.” Housework, shopping, laundry, financial planning, child-rearing, pet care, lawn maintenance —  these are all part of the never-ending list of chores every married couple has to face and, more importantly, to negotiate responsibility and accountability for.

A woman I know recently got divorced over the 50-50 rule. Or so said her husband, who felt that his wife wasn’t pulling her fair share (whatever “fair” is). Another woman I know told me not long ago that she and her husband had a “come to Jesus” meeting about his failure to appropriately pitch in.

I mentioned the latter situation to Mr. Mom because the woman is a mutual friend.  After I told him the long version of the story, he said: You know, there’s no relationship that’s ever 50-50. Sometimes it’s 60-40 and sometimes it’s 70-30 and sometimes it switches the other direction 80-20. At any given time, somebody’s always giving more than the other person and somebody else is taking more. It’s never equal.

I thought about this for a minute because – given our long established roles with me as the earner and Mr. Mom as the caregiver/household manager – I hadn’t contemplated equality in a very long time.

Before I could respond, he added: It’s like this. In every relationship, somebody is the quarterback and somebody is the blocker. And, sometimes you’re just the trainer that tapes all the ankles. After all, somebody has to tape ankles. I don’t understand why couples waste so much time calculating and worrying over the percentages.

So now it’s obvious how I’ve managed to stay married for 20 years.   Choice is everything and I picked a good one, even though at the time I wasn’t smart enough to know it; I just knew I was in love.

But it does explain why my friend, the one who thought her husband needed a reckoning, later said to me: “You know, Joan, you and Mr. Mom seem to have the most natural partnership of any couple I know. It just seems like you guys have it all figured out.”

I’d like to think there’s something in this world I’ve figured out but, like always, I chalk it up to the man who’s a whiz at math but has never bothered counting who’s ahead.

With gratitude {for the man whose bedside manner while taping ankles is exceptional},

Joan, who thinks she got a bargain when she agreed to bring home the bacon in this deal

PS: I claim no special knowledge of human psychology or the path to marital happiness. And I understand that relationships are personal and complex and not easily condensed into tidy blog-advice packages, so you won’t hurt my feelings if you think I don’t “get” you or your situation. But I do know this: failure to keep a tally is the key to success in most things, including marriage, but also jobs and friendships and child-rearing and neighborliness and every other endeavor where it is more blessed to give than receive.