Posted by Deborah Huso on Mar 6, 2014 in Mothers and Daughters
Originally published July 24, 2012
I know a lot about guilt, at least when you consider I’m not Catholic. In fact, I was raised Lutheran, and the great thing about being Lutheran, idealistically speaking anyway, is that not only do you not need intercessory prayer to wipe away your sins, your sins aren’t really anybody’s business anyway. At least that’s what Martin Luther said. All that muck is just between you and God.
Or between you and your mother.
If the Judeo-Christian Diaspora had need for a patron saint of guilt, my mother would be it. No improper action is unworthy of her note. Just the other day, in fact, as I sat across the kitchen table from her, to give her 20 minutes of painful and dutiful conversation, she remarked on my use of a four-letter word in referring to a less than ethical colleague. “Do you talk like that in front of Heidi? I just cannot believe the language you use.”
I am 37 years old, and I suddenly decided it was time to grab my four-year-old and hit the road before my mother began remarking on the unusual color of my toenails or advised me it was really not appropriate, given my age (nevermind I have great legs), for me to wear skirts with hems above the knee.
My mother comes by her guilt-inducing tendencies honestly enough. The great-granddaughter of Norwegian immigrants who managed to prosper through dedicated and pretty much non-stop labor in the rich soil of the American Midwest, she was raised on a solid diet of hard work, steel nerves, and eternal faith that anything that could go wrong would go wrong. Leisure time is the next best thing to a sin in this world view, and love is reserved for children who are under the age of back talking. Spouses, adult relatives, pets, and neighbors can fend for themselves unless, of course, they have reached drooling stage at which point you tend to them with a rough and exasperated sense of duty.
When you come of age under this kind of rearing, guilt becomes an everyday thing, hardly noted oftentimes. You think being reminded for the 923rd time that it is all your fault your parents had to sell a quarter of the farm to send you to college is normal. And you really don’t think about the fact that the reason you haven’t told your mother you’re going on a European vacation is because you don’t want to feel bad for enjoying yourself and (God forbid) spending hard-earned money on something frivolous like seeing the palaces of the Russian czars or taking a gondola ride on the Grand Canal.
There is nothing healthy about consuming a steady diet of guilt, however. Guilt represses and controls, which is, of course, what it is designed to do, but most of us who have been raised on a guilt diet, whether it’s one of moderate or gargantuan proportions, end up leading lives where duty (however it is defined by the ones holding the guilt strings) holds sway over everything else…including happiness.
And if you think happiness is for the afterlife and not for the here and now, well, you might as well stop reading. I have no argument for the doggedly, miserably faithful. Ecclesiastes noted that “all is vanity,” and “all go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.” In other words, we’re all headed for the same destination whether we live lives burdened by guilt or not, so why waste time feeling bad for being who we are and for enjoying the life we have been given?
It is a question I have often asked my mother. She has never been able to come up with a satisfactory answer. Perhaps that’s because the answer is ultimately that she, like so many people, from priests to politicians, has found guilt to be a handy way of getting what she wants from other people. If you can make someone feel bad enough for pursuing his dreams, perhaps he won’t pursue them and leave you behind. If you can force someone to be devoted to you by reminding her all the time of all you have done for her, perhaps she won’t abandon you, no matter how horribly you treat her. It is the same thing churches and governments have used for millennia—do the “right” thing, and no harm will come to you; no one will judge you; and life will never be hard. You certainly won’t have to make tough choices.
And, in the end, isn’t that why most of us raised on guilt diets stick to them? Much though we may resent the steady ingestion of our unworthiness, it’s far preferable perhaps to having to put ourselves out on a limb and risk censure or ridicule (or maybe disinheritance) by doing our own thing.
I think perhaps it was watching my father that finally made me ditch the guilt regimen. Raised by a rigidly religious mother and a father who was eternally disappointed in him, my dad ingested guilt almost from the cradle. The result was that he was and still is always trying to please with some ragged hope that maybe one day he’ll be good enough. His parents are long since gone from this earth, but my mother has done a fairly good job of assuming their place and discouraging my dad from following his heart if it in any way leads him away from her…even if only for a day.
Guilt like this is everywhere, and sometimes it’s not other people who impose it on us. Sometimes we impose it on ourselves. How many women friends do I have who are reluctant to go out for the day with friends or to take a vacation without their kids? Somehow they have ingested the idea that they are poor wives and mothers if they give any attention to themselves. So they doggedly devote themselves to their duties—taking care of their careers, their spouses, their children—to the exclusion of caring for themselves. The result is a life of groundhog days.
Not too many weeks ago I was standing in the prettily landscaped backyard of a well-to-do friend who, like so many of us, on the surface has it all. I could not help but remark, as I watched our children playing together and her husband grilling on the deck, “You have a good life.”
She literally guffawed, “Yeah, right.”
I knew what it meant, and I kind of chuckled, now admiring the new deck furniture she had purchased, pretty green cushions and a jauntily tilted patio umbrella. “Well, at least you have great deck furniture,” I said.
We both fell into stitches of laughter. Because it was all too true. When we let duty rule our lives too much, we end up clinging to absurdities for our happiness. Maybe we resent our spouses or hate our jobs, but at least we have a really nice car. Or maybe we’re angry we have to work horrible hours, but at least we have a really beautiful house to sleep in. We cover our guilt with salves of pretense.
I’m not sure when exactly I gave up the ghost and decided to start eating life raw and real. Perhaps it was somewhere between my mother remarking, “well, it must be nice to be rich” and me replying, guilt-free, “yeah, it is,” and walking out at Christmas one year when she told me to “get out,” fully expecting I would never be so lacking in guilt as to actually do it. The funny thing about resisting the guilt diet is that the more you call the bluff of the guilt reapers, the more they back off…or at least keep their guilt-inducing opinions to themselves.
Plus, you’ll find out who really loves you. Trust me, it’s not the person who tries to make you feel bad for following your heart or doing your own thing. It’s the person who makes you feel good for being who you are.
Posted by Deborah Huso on Mar 5, 2014 in Men
Originally published October 15, 2011
Have you ever noticed that men, generally speaking, don’t like to be questioned? And I’m not talking the “Where have you been for the past four hours?” type questions. I’m talking about any questions. Dare to ask, and you’ll get one of two answers: the “oh shit” stare or the “I’ve got it under control” answer. With my husband, it’s usually the latter. “Are you going to change the oil in my car today?” A simple “yes” or “no” answer is all that’s required, right? Not so. “I’ve got it under control,” he says. What does that mean? Does it men “yes” or “no?” Or does it mean something else entirely?
I know I’m not alone here. One of my best friends, who has been married just under two years, has already had this experience. “Men do not like being probed,” she tells me about four months after their son is born. She has contacted me to try to unravel her new husband’s frequent response of “I’ve got it under control.” She recounts to me how she walked into the kitchen one morning to find a bag of breast milk sitting on the counter while her beloved spouse was surfing on the Internet with his iPad, the baby comfortably asleep nearby. Now as any nursing mother knows, it takes a good 30 minutes to pump out four ounces of milk, and most of us are so time-strapped we’ve even been known to engage in the process while commuting to work. You would think men would be cognizant of the sacrifice. As my friend gracefully pointed out when relating this story, “If the damn milk sits out for more than two hours, it goes bad, and you know how freaking time consuming it is to pump that stuff!”
Yes, I do. Her husband, however, does not, or so we think at first.
My dear friend began to question the man: “What are you going to do with it?”
He became frustrated, told her not to worry about it, that he was “handling” it.
And my friend wondered, What the hell did that mean?
Being the direct kind of creature she is (after all, she’s a woman), she said, “What do you mean? Should I warm it up? Where are you going to put it? Do you need an ice pack?”
Of course, that line of questioning, unbeknownst to her, was going to get her nowhere. All he said was, “I’ve got it under control.”
My friend’s response to that was to take the milk pack off the counter and put it in the refrigerator.
So what does the “I’ve got it under control” answer mean anyway? Because it obviously does not mean “I’ve got it under control.” The unrefrigerated bag of breast milk is a case in point.
We must dig deeper because, as my friend noted, “Men are masters of avoiding and diverting.”
And mental sleuths though women are, we really cannot read minds. And how indeed are we supposed to figure anything out if these men don’t answer simple questions?
Never fear, ladies. I have the answers.
Because this phenomenon is not unique to husbands and boyfriends. My dad does it. Hell, my lawyer does it. But the reality is, to a man, there is no such thing as an innocent question. Unfortunately, women unwittingly ask simple things like the following, expecting simple, straightforward answers:
1) Are you going to fix the tractor today?
2) Why is the milk sitting out on the counter?
3) When are you going to remodel the basement?
4) Where would you like to go on vacation?
They seem like innocent questions, yet they can stifle the male brain for hours. Why? Well, the reality is that men, generally speaking, find questions threatening. Though women have often been blamed for “reading into things,” I would like to suggest, ladies, that the gentlemen are projecting. Never heard that term? Time to take Pscyh 101.
The trick is to share information about yourself first. It loosens them up, makes them more comfortable with the concept of talking. Or ask the question in a way that takes their opinions into account, gives them an opportunity to share expertise (i.e. instead of “why are you doing this,” ask “what do you think about doing this.”)
So, let’s try the above questions again, keeping the male brain in mind:
1) I really like the tractor. It’s fun to drive.
2) That’s interesting that the breast milk is sitting on the counter. What do you think about breast milk sitting on the counter?
3) It will be wonderful when the basement is finished. I am dreaming about how it will look.
4) I’d like to go to Egypt on vacation. What do you think about that? What do you think our chances are of getting shot?
Just remember, under no circumstance should you ever use the word “feel” when asking a question. Never ask “How do you feel about going to my mother’s for the weekend?” or “How do you feel about our relationship?” The word “feel” gives men the willies, no matter how it’s used. You will never get any useful information out of man by asking how he feels. Trust me.
If you get the “I’ve got it under control” answer, that’s a clear indicator you’ve just achieved communication failure. Because what “I’ve got it under control” really means is “when you question me, it makes me feel like you don’t trust me and don’t believe I can handle things.” Of course, it might also mean, “I forgot to put the breast milk back in the fridge, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to admit I screwed up.”
So, ladies, remember: share yourself, and give him an opportunity to offer his expertise, and you’ll get a lot farther. He might even take out the trash for you.
Posted by Mollie Bryan on Feb 25, 2014 in Motherhood
, Mothers and Daughters
On the day Shirley Temple died, my daughters and I spoke about her over the breakfast table. We were sad to see her go but knew she had lived a good life. Dying at the age of 85, after living an incredibly full life is not a bad thing.
“Shirley Temple died today and I really liked her,” Tess said. “Class act.”
“Now, there is a child star who didn’t die from an overdose or get all skanky like Miley Cyrus,” Emma said.
“You’re right,” I said. “She went on and did something meaningful with her life.”
“I think Miley will die of an overdose in some cheap hotel room,” Emma added.
“I think she will die by a wrecking ball,” Tess said.
But seriously, Shirley Temple’s life speaks for itself.
And so does Miley Cyrus’—or at least that’s what we think. As I tell my girls all the time, we think we know these people, but we don’t. But what we do know about Miley is that she’s a mixed bag of wasted potential and bad cliché.
When they were younger, my girls loved the show “Hannah Montana,” which starred Miley Cyrus and her dad, Billy Ray. I liked the show, too, even though the premise was kind of silly, wherein a girl lives a double life. Nobody knows who she is except her best friend and family. She is superstar “Hannah Montana” by night and a school girl who hangs out at the beach with her friends during the day. In the show, there was a lot of exploration of what it means to be famous—and what it doesn’t mean. I liked it because of the music and because Miley portrayed a good kid. Billy Ray played an attentive and involved father.
This prompts me to wonder where he is these days in the young star’s life.
Unfortunately, Miley has become quite the teen star cliche. We can see this coming from a distance—yet the people around her seem helpless about how to rescue her. Now is the time for someone in her family or in her circle of friends to step up. Or is so she “powerful” that nobody has the guts to try to help?
The young star “drama” happens so much I think our culture has become jaded about it even when it’s still deeply disturbing. I think of Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, and Justin Bieber. Jail. Drugs. Bad relationships and bringing children into the mix. I also think of Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse. The whole fame at young age thing often leads to tragedy. With Miley, there have been drug arrests, films of her doing lap dances, the horrible music award fiasco, and so on.
My daughters and I watched her latest video together, and Tess said, “That’s so disappointing.” It was great hearing that from my 12-year-old’s mouth.
Miley’s “new act” doesn’t seem to be an artistic exploration as much as it is a privileged young woman profiting from acting like a spoiled brat and flaunting that she can do whatever she wants. She’s also buying into the whole “I need to rebel because I had this sweet image” thing and wants her fans to think she is strong and sexy because of it. And yet it’s unsexy, weak, and seems incredibly fake and gratuitous.
I can see some people pointing their fingers and calling me a “slut-shamer.” I want to be clear my attitude is not about that at all. I’m all for a young woman owning her sexuality, and I don’t even use the word slut when I talk about Miley. (In fact, I love some sexy female singers who strut their stuff–Madonna for one.) It’s not about the sex. It’s about the rest of it.
It’s about how precious this life is and how you can choose to make it matter or not. How if you are born into privilege, it makes the rest of us sick to see you squander it. Not just the money—but the opportunity to make a difference, even if that’s just by way of living a positive example. And what is she rebelling against anyway??
Do you know what would be rebellious for a 20 year-old superstar? To NOT go down that road. Like Shirley Temple. On that, my daughters and I quite happily agree. Shirley Temple, from a cute talented little girl, to a teen star, and then as a woman who served her country on an international scale, is a much better role model—not just for girls, but for all of us.
Posted by Deborah Huso on Feb 19, 2014 in Motherhood
, Mothers and Daughters
A rare moment of traditional motherhood–decorating cookies with Heidi
Have you ever done your kids’ homework?
Come on, I know you have. Sometimes you do it because the project is so clearly over the head of your child or any other child of his or her age on the planet that you question the teacher’s sanity in assigning it. My seventh grade science teacher is a prime example of this. She used to assign the most complicated engineering projects to us that they all essentially became grand competitions between all our fathers to build the best “Rat Mobile” (i.e. the fastest moving object powered by a mouse trap) or strongest structure made out of drinking straws and fishing line. That was when my builder father taught me the power of triangles….
However, I digress.
Last night was my turn to break the rules.
After having been delayed on a return from Chicago for more than 24 hours by bad weather, I finally arrived just barely awake at my daughter’s babysitter just before 10 p.m. I grabbed the already pajama-dressed darling and all her accoutrements, tossed her in the car, and dragged into our house 20 minutes later only to find her backpack full of instructions for school the next day:
“It’s the 100th day of school tomorrow!!!! Please make sure your child dresses like someone who is 100 years old and brings in 100 small items in to count in groups of 10 (like Skittles, buttons, or paperclips!). Also, we are making caterpillars this week. Please send in empty egg cartons for this project ASAP!!!!”
Am I the only one who wonders why kindergarten teachers employ so many exclamation points? Having worked in marketing and advertising for years, I’ve always lived by the anti-exclamation point rule: If you need to use an exclamation point, you’re not actually conveying information effectively. You cannot excite another human being about your product or service by simply employing the use of a line and a dot.
It is at this point in the evening that I realize following the rules is not going to benefit Heidi in the least. It is more than 3 hours past her bedtime, and I already know I’ll be up all night answering work e-mails and writing articles. I put the kid to bed and begin working on her homework myself.
A friend calls just as I am counting out 100 dried beans.
“Hey,” I say, “Can you stop talking for just a minute? I need to count beans.” There is an awkward pause and silence on the other end of the line.
After parceling them out in groups of 10 because even at age 38, I can’t count to 100 effectively at midnight after flying two hours, driving two more, and having about two dozen things on my brain that, awful mother as it may make me out to be, I find vastly more important than bean counting.
“Okay,” I say to my friend, “go ahead. Tell me about your date. Oh, wait, do you have any ideas for how you would dress if you were 100 years old??”
Together we come up with a shapeless sweater dress, shawl, string of pearls, and (courtesy of my friend) a grand idea to draw wrinkles on Heidi’s forehead and cheeks the next morning.
Now it’s time to empty the no doubt already past expiration date eggs in the fridge out of a carton, so Heidi can start making a caterpillar for a science project. For a moment, my brain drifts to the W-2s I’ve not yet sent into the IRS and the feature article I need to write on growing Forest Stewardship Council-certified lumber. “Stop it!” I counsel myself. “Focus on finding Heidi’s missing ‘Dick and Jane Jump’ book.”
“I didn’t realize the 100th day of school was such a big deal,” says my single working mother friend whose daughter is the same age as Heidi. She has called to tell me she must cancel our yoga/meditation retreat weekend because she’s too stressed out to go.
“Yes, the 100th school day thing is quite pervasive,” I remark as I zip up Heidi’s backpack, confident I have accomplished all requisite tasks…that is until I see a stack of permission slips and paperwork I’m supposed to fill out.
“You know, men couldn’t do this,” my friend says. I remember the last time I saw her. She was sitting in her home office in space alien pajama bottoms, hair in a ponytail, dark circles under her eyes, Disney Princess paraphernalia scattered about here and there, losing her shit on a conference call with colleagues after suffering through four hours of sleep the previous night.
“I am exhausted,” she tells me. “I get up every morning, fight with my daughter to eat her pancakes, tell her repeatedly she has six minutes to get out the door, drive her to school while I’ve got my headset on and am talking to a customer halfway around the world, drive back from school, sit on tele-cons for 8 hours, try to squeeze in a trip to the gym, not that I need it since I don’t have time to eat anyway, pick up my daughter, struggle to make something resembling a home-cooked meal with the help of a slow cooker, pull out hot glue guns and colored paper for the latest school project, play games, do storytime, bathe her, get her to bed, back to the office to catch up on e-mails until 2 a.m., then do it all over again the next day.”
This is the life of a working mother. And honestly, it often doesn’t matter if we’re single. I can’t recall my life looking all that different when I was married, despite my father’s injunction, “You need a husband….”
Maybe. What would he do? I suppose he might do a better job than I of reading Dr. Seuss’ What Was I Scared Of? (Though there is something disturbingly entertaining about recounting the story of the glowing green pants that run around all night in the woods.) And no doubt he’d do a better job of cooking dinner. It’s pretty easy to beat rice krispies served alongside raw broccoli and carrots.
But, as a rule, men just don’t take life as seriously as we do. Maybe it’s a gift that they’re okay with the little ones heading to school with homework undone and hair unbrushed. Society is more forgiving of men if they are 10 minutes late to pick up their daughters from ballet. They get accolades galore if they show up for Christmas concerts and school field trips. I show up for parent-teacher conferences, doctor’s appointments, and interviews with clients so that I can pay the bills that cover food, home, and, hopefully, college education. Forget retirement. That’s never going to happen.
And that’s what cuts to the core…when my daughter looks up at me tapping away on my laptop, as she builds castles from Legos on the floor at my feet. “Mommy, when are you going to retire so you will have more time to play with me?”
How does one answer a question like that? The only way I know how is by counting beans at midnight and caring whether or not she shows up at school with her requested Styrofoam egg carton. And sometimes I fail at these things. I drop the ball, fall asleep at the wheel, miss the deadline, forget to send tennis shoes for P.E.
But one thing I never forget is love. The morning hugs and tickles to draw her out of bed. The promises to be there no matter what, even when she’s grown. The good night tuck-ins and the sometimes blissful crawling into bed beside her to hold her sweet little sleeping body next to mine as she clutches stuffed bears and kittens and whispers in her dreams, “I love you. You’re the best Mommy ever.”
And I am. If you don’t measure it in miscounted beans and lost library books….
Posted by Claire Vath on Feb 4, 2014 in Men
Courtesy of Kay Jewelers–What is this supposed to be? A heart? A serpent? Boobs and a butt?
In 2008, one of my favorite authors, Jeffrey Eugenides (“Middlesex”) edited a compendium of love stories entitled “My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead.”
In promoting the then-upcoming book, Eugenides sat down with NPR’s Michelle Norris. I was on my way home at the time and tuned in. A snippet:
Norris: Wait a minute — an author who puts together a collection of love stories has total antipathy for Valentine’s Day?
Eugenides: Oh yeah. Don’t you think it’s the cheapening and commodification of something rare that we’d all like to celebrate in private and on our own time?
Norris: I personally like flowers and chocolate.
Eugenides: Well, your special person, I hope, is listening.
…Did I mention Eugenides is one of my favorite writers?
Last year on Valentine’s Day I was standing in line behind three work-weary men, each wielding tragically sad heart-shaped boxes of chocolate marked 20% off. (I was there for the aisle of more romantic cough syrups and Kleenexes.)
Why, oh why, February 14, you masochistic Hallmark holiday that all the consuming-loving masses hungrily devour?
What is it that makes normally intelligent people purchase a box of crappy chocolates that may or may not have a picture of the men from “Duck Dynasty” on the heart-shaped box? (I saw that one the other day.)
Why heart-shaped jewelry?
Why red roses with sprigs of trash flowers named after someone’s breath?
Why the tacky teddies slumped over warped hangers in the lingerie section of Sears?
Or ugly stuffed animals holding crushed red velvet heart pillows with horrific slogans like “Can’t Keep My Paws Off You.”
Why the need to tell the world—or just all your “friends”—via a Facebook wall how much your significant other means to you? And why on February 14?
Because we all know that nothing says love like telling your spouse who, I’m sure is available by phone, text or likely sitting right next to you, that you love him for all 550 of your friends to see … right? Who are you trying to persuade? But I digress.
Instead of overt calorie-laden or monetary gestures, here are the things I’d appreciate from my spouse on February 14 … or any other day:
The dishes get done.
- Reading to the kids.
- Having an actual conversation that doesn’t involve diapers or finances.
- A trip to the bathroom without kids banging on the door.
- A long, hot bath by myself.
- Clothes folded.
- Floors mopped.
- Dinner cooked.
- Diapers changed.
Something small but significant. I’m lucky. These are things he helps out with on a daily basis—things I desperately need and still appreciate. Chocolates may be sticky and delicious, but they don’t hold a relationship together. Neither do ambiguous-shaped pendants that Jane Seymour hawks at Kay Jewelers.
To the sad sack men in Rite Aid—and any guy over the age of 18—listen up: Heart-shaped anything is ugly. If you plan to go the jewelry route, might I suggest a more tasteful princess cut or oval?
And if you want to celebrate on a different day—you know, a day where flowers aren’t marked up 400%—February 9 is a nice day (nevermind that it’s my birthday).
And maybe, just maybe, if you want to send flowers, pick peonies.
Trust me on this.
Posted by Deborah Huso on Jan 28, 2014 in Men
Originally posted by Deborah Huso on Feb 6, 2012 in Men, Relationships
That dreaded holiday is approaching again. No, not Mother’s Day, though I think Valentine’s Day has got to run a close second. Who hates Valentine’s Day more than a single girl without a date? A woman who has been married more than two years….
And here’s why. It’s not because we don’t like a bouquet of red roses, guys. They’re very pretty and all, even if they are all dead within a week, less if you decide to get the day-after-Valentine’s-Day special at Kroger (um, yeah, I’ve gotten those). There is something admittedly symbolic and decadent about that particular standby gift, if you even bother to get it, which a surprising number of long-term significant others don’t. Some of them don’t even bring chocolate. And if you aren’t smart enough to know there is some consolation for a girl in chocolate, you have no business dating or being married.
You see, we dread this holiday because we resent the fact that it’s so darn easy for the guys. Unfairly so. Order the roses from the florist and maybe add in some artisan chocolates too boot. Bam. You’re done.
Meanwhile, we’ve been sweating bullets for at least a month in advance, scouring all the “what to buy your guy for V-Day web sites,” floored in some way that a silver whiskey flask or a progressive alarm clock are considered romantic gifts…or something he’d even want. How many times does he hit the snooze button in the morning anyway? And would a progressive alarm clock change that for him? And do you really see him standing there pouring his favorite malt into the tiny hole in the top of that flask? That’s the kind of OCD stuff high maintenance women engage in…minus the flask. They’re trying to figure out how not to spill that French martini in the perfectly lovely (but top-heavy) glass they just bought for it.
But where, ladies, is the all-purpose V-Day gift for guys??? Where is our dozen red roses and a box of chocolates equivalent?
I’m fearful it doesn’t exist because, being the research-intensive journalist that I am, I’ve been doing some homework on this subject at the behest of female acquaintances. Now, I haven’t done anything quite on the scale of the Gallup poll (But who answers those surveys anyway? That’s right—little old ladies with too much time on their hands—not exactly an accurate cross-section of America), but I have been polling. And the unfortunate reality is that no two women seem to have the same answer, and most of them have about a dozen “this gift might be a good one if you can afford it” suggestions that don’t even begin to offer the ease and convenience of red roses.
The first person to whom I turned my polling was my oldest and dearest friend Sarah. I knew given the fact that she is married to a chef who has a number of high level hobbies we women don’t understand (like duck hunting and motorcycling…or something along those lines) that she would have to have some good suggestions. This woman has been through the gift giving ringer. As I recall, her husband once requested a very special duck hunting backpack, the only kind of duck hunting backpack with which he could properly engage in the sport, that cost a mere $180 bucks. (And they wonder why we have to buy our purses at TJ Maxx.)
Her top all-purpose male V-Day gift suggestion was a pair of Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones. “Men adore these damn things,” she told me, “probably because they can’t hear their wives bitching at them while they’re wearing them.” A mere $300, ladies, to enable your S.O. to do what he already does so well—ignore you.
Another female friend I posed the “all-purpose male V-Day gift” question to pursed her lips, shook her head, and then said, “Food and sex. Those are the only things I can think of.”
But that’s better perhaps than what fellow contributor Susannah offered up, which was “Do we still exchange gifts after 13 years of marriage?” She never really answered the question exactly, but I’m guessing it was likely “no” after the tirade she gave me on men and flowers.
She did provide one likely suggestion though: “How about I don’t criticize him for 24 hours?” A nice intangible gift that keeps on giving…at least for a day. It would probably outlast a box of chocolates now that I think about it.
But still, I’ve not come any closer to fulfilling my quest. Suggestions of super light kayak paddles, ATV outings, and super-duper hiking boots abound. But we all know, as we’ve all been there, that we’ll purchase the wrong thing no matter how much research we engage in. I tried for years to comprehend my former spouse’s hobbies in an effort to give the perfect gifts. I’m pretty sure I failed every time. I finally just gave up and stuck gift cards to Advance Auto and Bass Pro Shops in his Valentines. Not much thought going into that, but then exactly how much thought is going into the roses? That’s if you even get roses…or a card. I’ve gone plenty of years without either.
So maybe it is back to the old standby. No, not the Victoria’s Secret gift card for him (though it will do in a pinch). I’m talking sex. As a friend of mine said with a shrug, “Sex is easy, but it’s always well-received. I never get any complaints, and it’s the gift that gives back.”
Maybe so. Some guys will do the laundry for it. A few will even mow the grass.
And heck, don’t we have enough to worry about without having to come up with a V-Day gift he won’t return the very next day or stuff into his closet behind all those shirts you’ve given him over the years that really bring out his eyes but which he says are far too feminine? (And since when is forest green a feminine color?)
But you know, there is some small and wicked part of me that just once would like to see men go through the retail gymnastics that we do for them. How do they get off so easy? Flowers, chocolate, a nice bottle of wine, sweet smelling lotion, a pretty necklace—and we smile and tell them how much we love their thoughtfulness. Is it thoughtful? How much thought did they put into it? And maybe we are just too darn easy to please. Um yeah, you read that correctly. Women are very easy to please in the gift giving department, at least those who’ve been around the block a few times are. We’ve decreased our expectations to the point that if a guy even remembers Valentine’s Day, much less gives us flowers, we think he’s king of the hill.
I’m not the only female though that longs to see them sweat as much as we do.
After much puzzling on this whole subject of what to buy the men in our lives, Sarah finally said we needed to start demanding more ourselves, give them a taste of what it’s like to search frantically for the gift that tells them that not only do we love them but we understand them, we get them.
Do they do this for us?
And then inspiration hit Sarah like a bolt of lightning from above, as she came up with a scenario for the women blighted by too much painstaking shopping at Brooktone and Cabella’s to try in an effort to give the men in our lives a taste of what we go through for love of them:
Do you have an iPod? I think you should ask for an engraved one and ask him to make you a playlist that best reflects you and your relationship. Actually, get him to make several playlists that symbolize your time together…. Now that will get him thinking! And doing something besides buying roses or chocolate…
Although I think you should ask for Shari’s Berries, too….
Posted by Mollie Bryan on Jan 21, 2014 in Men
I loved both of Deborah Huso’s posts on rules for dating: “Nine Rules of Dating for Clueless Men” and “Information Control and Perception Management: 9 More Rules of Dating for Really Clueless Men.” I’ve been married almost 24 years, so her posts make me chuckle and cringe at the same time. Sometimes I’m very happy NOT to be “dating.” And to tell you the truth, I was never much of a dater.
But Deborah’s posts take me back to some of the jerks I did date…or almost dated. One guy hounded our mutual friends for my number, and when I finally said I’d go to a party with him, along with some of our other friends, we all went and then he ignored me most of the night, talking with another woman who was at the party. Then he didn’t understand why I wanted to go home. NOW.
Another jerk whose mom was a friend of my mom wanted to take me out. I thought the date went fine—but I was on the fence as to whether or not I’d go out again with him, and he was being persistent. But then his mom told my mom how intrigued he was with me because I didn’t sleep with him on the first date. That was a first for him. Ewww. And really? That’s why he was intrigued with me?
Ah yes, men can be clueless.
But it’s not just single guys—married guys, even after they’ve passed the dating bar—can be pretty clueless as well, especially about dating. (If you’re a married guy reading this and thinking “Dating? We married. We don’t go out on dates anymore,” there’s your first clue that you are, indeed, clueless.) Yes, even if you are married, you should attempt to date.
Here are some tips (Very important disclaimer: My own husband is not guilty of any of these clueless behaviors in husbands. Just in case you are reading, honey.):
- Do take your wife out on a date from time to time. Even if you enjoy the company of your children on outings, it’s so important that you spend time together alone and outside of the house. This is really a no-brainer. But it’s so easy to forget during the craziness of life. Don’t bitch and moan about the money you’d rather not spend. That’s not a good way to start the night.
- Remember your manners. Just because you are married doesn’t mean you get away with not opening doors. It also doesn’t give you carte blanche to pick your nose, burp, and fart in public.
- Make an effort in the clothing department. Your clothes should be clean and wrinkle- free. Don’t blame your wife if they are not. (After all you are a big boy and should know how to tend to these things yourself.) Also, NEVER wear sweatpants outside of the house unless you’re going to the gym or hospital. And please make certain your stomach doesn’t show between your shirt and your pants. I personally have seen married men in public with stomach skin hanging out and over their pants. I don’t like it, and chances are your wife doesn’t either, so cover the gut. (And, as Deborah said, skip jean shorts, pleated pants, and tighty-whiteys, too.)
- Talk with her about something other than the kids, your job, or yourself. Be interested in what’s she’s doing with herself. Married folks sometimes forget what fascinating people they’ve married.
- Let her know what you like in bed. So Deborah mentions that one shouldn’t discuss one’s BDSM proclivities on date one. Agreed. But if you’ve been married awhile and haven’t let your wife know that you’d like a little nipple-twisting, now is the time. But then again, if you have twisted her nipples (or anything else) and she’s told you to back-off, she probably means it. No reason to ruin a night out—so just don’t “go there.”
- Please DO make a move for sex on your date. Speaking for many married women, everywhere, there simply aren’t enough “moves” in our lives. There are plenty of other places you can have sex if you can’t do it at home because of the kids—how about the car or van? How about getting a hotel room for a few hours? Hmmm?
Married guys are pretty lucky. After all, they know their dates will be going home with them for the night. Don’t kill the advantage you already have by overlooking these simple steps for getting her to do more than sleep in bed with you….
Posted by Claire Vath on Jan 13, 2014 in Motherhood
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to flight XXX with nonstop service to XXXX.”
As if flying weren’t panic-inducing enough these days, the laundry list the stewardess off-handedly ticks off is absolutely horrifying if you really listen. “Welcome aboard, here is a list of ways you could die.”
“Emergency exits are located here and here. Each exit is equipped with a safety slide.”
If there’s a fire, you’d better hope to God you’re close to an emergency exit. Have you SEEN how long it takes for everyone to exit the plane at the end of a routine flight?? Let’s hope you even get to the slide before you burn to a crisp inside this metal oven we call an airplane.
“In the event of a water landing, life jackets are located under your seats.”
But when’s the last time you heard of anyone using those things, really? Hope you at least filled up on our complimentary peanuts before sinking to your watery grave.
“In case there’s a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will deploy from the ceiling above you. To secure, pull the mask toward you, secure the elastic strap to your head … Breathe normally. Even if the bag does not inflate, keep in mind that oxygen is flowing. Always secure your own mask before assisting others.”
And there it is. A laundry list of ways you could meet your maker non-stop from Denver to San Francisco, but it gets at some hard truths too: You have to help yourself before you help others.
“So, are your kids still at home with you all day?” my pediatrician asked as she shined a light into the eyes of my shrieking 15-month-old.
“Well,” I said in hushed tones, as though my words would absorb through the walls, “I don’t get all my fulfillment from my kids.”
She nodded understandingly. But people aren’t supposed to admit that, right?
My children are not my whole life. Motherhood is not the ultimate fulfillment. Sure, it fills me up, but I need other things to help make me whole.
But that sounds selfish. Because it’s supposed to be enough. Two gorgeous, healthy children whom I have the privilege of nurturing, and nourishing, and rearing. What more could I possibly want?
Again and again, I find myself straddling this awkward fence of motherdom and … other-dom. I’m no great feminist, but quitting my office job was a no-brainer when I popped out two kids. I wanted the few short, precious years I’d have with them before they were forever schlepping to and from school.
But just because I stay home, that didn’t mean I had to lose myself in the process. I am a mother, yes. Sometimes a good one. Sometimes a surviving one.
But first and most important—and perhaps most selfishly—I need other things too.
So I find things that fill me up and allow me the opportunity to flex the non-mom brain muscles.
I write and edit stories, sometimes slogging through tedious blocks of copy wondering why I accepted a job (money); other times writing story leads and rewriting story structures that I enjoy. I take leisure classes to learn things like calligraphy and photography. I have periodic dinner dates and drinks out with friends. I read at least one book a week. I read critical essays and political columns. I watch trash TV.
And I date my husband. Often, those dates consist of a microwaved dinner after the kids have gone to bed, maybe a glass of wine and a TV show on Netflix, but I never said those dates were perfect. Having children has changed us in ways we never imagined, but we work—sometimes hard, sometimes not as hard as we should—to keep our relationship strong.
And in the mornings, I often get up before the kids have begun stirring and put on a pot of coffee before I get them up. Sometimes I have a bowl of oatmeal before I fix their breakfast.
I spend nearly all their waking hours with them—lots of quantity, frankly, not all quality. With so much quantity, I’ve come to accept that it can’t be all quality all the time.
I need my me time: my outside interests that span beyond the confines of diapers and timeouts and story hours and playtimes.
I need friends and adult interaction and things that challenge my brain outside of the motherhood vortex. Because in the end, it’s all those outside things that allow me to be a better mother to the children who (most days) I’m profoundly privileged to call mine.
It is all those things that fill me up and allow me to feel fulfilled—including, but not limited to motherhood. So when my proverbial cabin loses pressure, I will secure my own yellow mask first, so I can then help my children. Because if I’m not breathing comfortably, they won’t be either….
Posted by Deborah Huso on Jan 5, 2014 in Men
I am writing this post at the behest of numerous girlfriends (and a couple of guys, too, believe it or not) who have indicated my “Nine Rules of Dating for Clueless Men” post needs an upgrade—a serious upgrade. As one of my close girlfriend’s boyfriend put it, “Dating is all about information control and perception management.”
Understand that I am not advocating “game playing.” Rather, I’m cautioning you to remember that first impressions are hard to undo. Very few women will give you a second chance if you roundly screw up on date number one. And pretty much every single one will bail if you continue to screw up on date number two. Because then your understandable anxiousness at meeting a new person is no longer an excuse. If you’re still acting like an idiot on date number two, you probably are an idiot and need to take up rock climbing or something instead of playing Nintendo all weekend and expecting it to improve your social skills. Read on….
- Jean shorts and pleated pants are a no-no. And honestly, this is probably the case for women, too, though I’m still trying to convince a girlfriend of mine that I really can pull off Daisy Dukes. Seriously, there is no man on the planet who looks good in jean shorts (and if you’re wearing jeans, please make sure they are fitted—you are not going to entice any woman to your bed if you’re wearing baggy jeans). And with regard to pleated pants…honey, they make you look fat. Unless you are seriously skinny, you cannot pull them off…or should I say on?
- Toss the tighty whiteys. If I need to explain why, you probably need to invest some time reading fellow contributor Susannah Herrada’s post, “Sex, Suitcases, and Tighty-Whiteys.” Seriously, your date’s only experience of tighty-whiteys is likely seeing them in her dad’s laundry basket in the 1980s.
- No serenading without an invitation, please. I don’t care if you can croon on the scale of Luther Vandross. Do not trap your date in a car in a parking garage and serenade her to the radio if she hasn’t requested firsthand experience of your vocal abilities. It’s awkward, and if she’s polite enough not to bolt at that very moment and make a mad dash for her car, I promise you, she’ll be spending the rest of the evening trying to figure out how to ditch you without traumatizing your ego. If you play guitar, you can get away with a little more, but still NOT on date one, or two, or three.
- Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. Pick her up on time. If you say you’re going to call, then do it. If you make plans with her, keep them. This is just basic respect. And if you don’t respect her enough to do the basics, you don’t respect her enough to be dating her. And if you fail on the basics persistently, any woman worth her salt is going to dump you anyway.
- Save your BDSM proclivities for later…much later. Trust me, you will never have the level of intimacy on a first date that is necessary to make it anything but unacceptable to slide your hand up under your date’s blouse and twist her nipple. As a girlfriend of mine put it, “This is not a radio dial. Twisting it to the right is not going to increase reception.” Or get you another date….
- Don’t regale your date with endless stories about your ex. First, it’s just not polite. And second, it makes it look like you’re still pretty invested in all that baggage you’ve got strapped to your left ankle. As a male friend of mine puts it, “The only time I ever talk to a girl about my exes is when I’m about to have her join their number.” (Note: this rule does not apply once you’re in a long-term, committed relationship and you are into deep sharing mode—but deep sharing falls under the “information control” tab in the initial stages of dating.)
- If you have Facebook pages for your cats, you shouldn’t even be dating. Enough said.
- Do not ever tell your date, “You look really good for your age.” You may think this is a compliment, but it’s not. If you think your 35-year-old date looks like she’s 29, then say, “You look like you’re 29.” It’s all about semantics, gentleman. Learn how to use them.
- If your date has bigger balls than you do, it’s time to reassess whether you should be dating at all. Strong and confident women like strong and confident men. If you aren’t brave enough to be yourself, disagree politely when you think she’s off-base, and stand up for yourself or for her when it’s called for, you should probably go back to building Facebook pages for your cats….
Posted by Mollie Bryan on Dec 18, 2013 in Motherhood
, Mothers and Daughters
, Writer Rants
My daughter hard at work…
My girls are both writers. I’m not sure how I feel about it, given how difficult life can be as a writer. But even though they’ve gotten involved with things like theater, music, and dance, what they do at home when they have downtime is write. For fun.
These days they are both working on entries into a national competition. They both have such different working styles, but it’s been fascinating for me to watch and even learn from them.
Yep. I’ve been writing my whole life, now as a mystery novelist, cranking out a series and, believe me, I still learn things every day. It’s really not so surprising that I’ve picked up some writing tips from my daughters when parenting has been the most learning-intensive experience in my life.
Now, to be fair, these things that I’ve learned are not necessarily new, but they are excellent reminders. That’s one of the best things about parenting, isn’t it? The way your kids remind you, take you back to certain youthful moments—opening Christmas gifts, the magic of birthdays, learning to read, and to write.
Here’s my daughter-inspired writing reminder list:
- Figure out your working environment. Now this may seem simple enough. But working at a desk in front of a computer is not for everybody. Watching my oldest daughter Emma writing brought back a flood of memories to me. She takes a notebook and sits in front of the TV (while it’s on) and writes. Which is exactly what I used to do at her age. She then transposes it on to the computer. My younger daughter, Tess, loves to sit at the computer and write—but she does have notebooks filled with her thoughts as well. There is something about putting pen to page, about the way the pen glides across the page that is meditative for me. I must not forget that, even as I pluck away at the keyboard. But at the same time, writing by hand was a major obstacle for me to overcome in college—learning to write on the typewriter (now computer) and not in the notebook. Tess already has made that leap—but Emma’s process is important, too. In her transposing of text, she is also editing and reworking, and that is a huge step forward for any writer. That first draft is never worth much, so get over it and get on with the work.
- Write what you DON’T know. Writing is the best way for some of us to learn and live out our fantasies and dreams. If you follow “writer’s rules,” one of them is “write what you know.” It always makes me cringe. Part of my process has always been writing to discover, to learn, to communicate, and entertain. One of my daughter’s stories is about a gang. (My first novel was about a gang, too.) There’s something to be said for working that stuff out on the page—instead of real life. Feelings of not fitting in, finding others like you, and yes, even exploring darker, deeper sides of yourself. Writing about it gives you the emotional texture of having experienced it without the real dangers. My other daughter is writing a paranormal story about a young woman with special powers who is facing great changes in her life. Wow. Without the paranormal element of “special powers,” that could be any teenage girl’s story as she faces so many changes every day, right?
- Write what you love. Once again it sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But I think especially as we mature and other things enter into our process—like keeping the market in mind—this might be one of the hardest lessons of all. Our time is finite, and we feel like we need to write what will sell to a publisher. If we are lucky, we hit a sweet spot where we enjoy what we’re writing and can sell it. Some days, I can hardly pull Tess off my computer to eat or watch TV because she says, “I’m writing, Mom.” And I have to tell you the only kind of writing worth doing is precisely that kind of writing. Because if it doesn’t hold your interest, it’s not going to hold your reader’s interest either.
I love what I do. It’s my sanity, my escape, and my work all rolled into one. If I didn’t love it, if I could think of something else I’d be good at, something else that could hold my interest and earn me a living, I’d do it—because writing is also a heartbreaking, lonely, gut wrenching experience. The business is one of the toughest and cruelest. One of the edges I walk is trying to don a vigilant thick skin, while allowing myself to open up enough to write honest words on the page. Sometimes when I read a negative review or I get a rejection, I hibernate awhile and lick my wounds. But the words and the page pull me back every time.
“What if I don’t win this contest?” Tess asked me one morning. “What if I work so hard on it and I don’t win, then what happens?”
“Are you writing the story just to win the contest?” I asked.
She thought for a moment or two. “I’m writing it faster because of the deadline, but I’d probably write it anyway. I like the story, and I’m having fun.”
And that, my friends, is exactly what I wanted to hear.