To Tuck or Not to Tuck? How I Found Out That Wasn’t Really the Question….

Posted by Susannah Herrada on Nov 4, 2013 in Girlfriends, Motherhood, Musings
Before the blowout...

Before the blowout…

There comes a time in life when a woman starts to feel a little rough around the edges. A bit raggedy, feeling like she’s losing a little bit of her edge. Maybe it’s after a baby when she’s feeling sleep deprived and a wreck. Maybe it’s when the grocery store clerks stop asking her for ID when she’s buying wine. Or it could be the first time she’s called “Ma’am” (I remember the first time for me—it was at the Perryville Exit tollbooth on 95). Sometimes it’s as simple as gaining a few pounds, going up a size, opening her closet, and finding nothing to wear.

All women go through this, often many different times over their lives. Sometimes it can feel like a mid-life crisis, only you feel like you’re having one every month or sometimes every week.

So that’s where I find myself this month. Up ten pounds (Ack! I’m embarrassed to even write that!), nothing to wear, looking rough around the edges, hair’s a wreck, teeth look crooked and yellow, skin is full of blemishes and scars. I won’t go on, but you get the picture. And for those of you who see me often, you’ll probably assert it’s not really that bad, but for all intents and purposes, this is how I feel.

Regardless of how neurotic and self-damaging this kind of thinking is, the scary part is what I considered doing to try make myself feel better.

This downward spiral started about a month ago at my annual ‘well-woman’ check—you know, what they call the appointment for women who are not going to have anymore kids. It’s vaguely disguised because the doctor doesn’t want to call it what it really is for the next ten years: menopause watch. An hour later, I was dressed, albeit still feeling rather slippery in my nether regions (what do these doctors use, and why is it so persistent?). Walking out of the appointment, it hit me that I had just signed myself up for some elective surgery.

It's not a tummy tuck, but good hair can work miracles....

It’s not a tummy tuck, but good hair can work miracles….

The next week, I was getting my teeth cleaned. I love my dentist. He’s not ten years out of dental school, charming, and never starts a sentence with, “At your age…” Anyway, at my request, this patient young thing spent ten minutes talking to me about cosmetic options—veneers, whitening, gap filling. Sadly, my smile is the one thing I’ve always loved about myself, but it turns out that veneering that big Ronald McDonald grin would cost a fortune. Big teethy smiles equal lots of visible teeth to veneer.

Wondering that afternoon how I would convince my husband that I really needed to spend over $10,000 to get a perfect smile, I recalled a similar conversation with a friend a few months ago. She didn’t seem to have much trouble convincing her husband that a tummy tuck was the way to go. I wondered if I couldn’t get Jorge to spring for the teeth, would he consider some other work? Maybe I’d have more leverage with a lift of some kind since he probably spends more time staring at my butt than my teeth. Actually, maybe not. Maybe like every other man, he spends more time looking at my smiling face when he’s not checking out other women’s rears on the sly. Either way, I think I’d have an easier time convincing him to spring for the lift or tuck. After all, have you ever heard someone say, ‘he’s a teeth man?’

So I found myself in the unfortunate situation this week of feeling mildly depressed over a bunch of silly little things, frustratingly researching the scary downsides of surgeries and procedures and even gel manicures, and knowing in the back of my mind that none of them would really make me happy. I know there should be an insert/sidebar here about self-acceptance, beautiful on the inside, yadda, yadda, but that’s for a different blog. At this time, I just had to get out of my yoga pants and into my jeans.

So I did what any rational woman would do in a similar situation: I ate.

Warm baguettes with soft butter, homemade apple cobbler (for breakfast?!), dark chocolate, or any chocolate for that matter, Ben and Jerry’s Fudgey Candy Bar Cookie Dough Nutty Overload.

Screw the yoga pants. They’re comfortable and trimming with their dark color and flared cut.

Unfortunately, things were going from bad to worse.

By now it was Friday. I had to meet friends for drinks in Georgetown that night. I had to face the reality that yoga pants are just not evening wear, particularly in Georgetown. And even if I had $10,000 to spend…that wasn’t going to do me any good this afternoon.

Nursing my ridiculous woes over a pumpkin latte, I saw a picture of myself flash up on the digital frame in my dining room. The photo was from this past spring, a short six months ago. I looked young. Much younger. And thin. Much thinner. But all that aside, what I really noticed was my hair. It actually was highlighted, cut stylishly and blown out in a smooth, finished look.

I immediately called my stylist. Not deterred by the lack of Friday appointments for highlights, I found myself sitting in a drive-up strip mall parking space, in front of a Hair Cuttery. I knew it was a risk, but I reasoned I had lots of hair. The worst that could happen if this went wrong is that after a repair job at my regular stylist, I’d have a bob instead of hair that fell well below my shoulders. So I walked in. The lady was cranky. She told me about three times in her thick Eastern European accent that my hair had three inches of growth at my roots and looked terrible and needed to be highlighted. Today. By her. It’s one thing to have some random lady cut your hair, but I can’t trust highlights to a stranger. I declined, politely at first and then eventually with a sternness matching her own directness.

After forty minutes, she turned me around in the chair. I looked at the woman in the mirror. No perfect teeth, no nip or tuck, no Botox or peel. Just me, with straight, healthy-looking (highlight-needing) hair. Thirty dollars later, I walked out and wondered if this wasn’t what I had needed all along. It seemed rather shallow, but still amazed me that a $30 haircut and blowout could change my whole outlook.

I know that $30 can’t usually solve life’s problems. In fact, it can often solve very little and sometimes make things worse. Case in point being that between the Ben & Jerry’s and wine, I spent well over $30 this past week. But there’s something beautiful about someone else taking over, doing something for you like brushing your hair, paying attention to every strand, looking at you closely and making you feel beautiful again. No, this is not a promo piece for the Hair Cuttery, but it is a little nudge to every women who reads this to find something to do that’s kind for yourself. And I’m not talking sitting with a cup of tea and reading People magazine. Find some way to really pamper yourself, have someone else care for you, look at you, obsess about only you, even if it’s just for a short time.

And then go home, slip out of the yoga pants for an even more comfortable pair of PJ bottoms, and know that you have great hair (or nails). Know that really nothing that big has changed; you haven’t gone down a clothing size, you don’t have a perfect Chicklet smile. But you do have a quiet message taking root deep down inside that you are worth pampering and that you can pull yourself out of a rut with something much simpler than a tummy tuck.


“There Will Always Be Richard”…And How You Know It’s Time to Bestow Honorary Girlfriend Status on a Guy

Posted by Deborah Huso on Jun 20, 2013 in Girlfriends, Men, Relationships

I love my women friends. They are like my family except for the fact that they don’t make me want to climb the walls and hang from a chandelier when I’m around them. They are also my most trusted advisors, my personal cabinet. Whenever an important issue comes up, I go to them for perspective and guidance, whether the problem is my latest mommy meltdown or the most recent ‘what on earth possessed me to tell my S.O. THAT???’ crisis.

But what’s especially wonderful about these women, three of whom I place at the core of my advisory, is that I know them so well that sometimes I can consult the girlfriend trifecta without actually consulting the girlfriend trifecta.

The other day was a case in point. I was debating whether or not to accept the casual dinner invitation of a guy I had dated a handful of times, wondering if it might send my current romantic partner over the edge to imagine me eating creamy truffle risotto and a chocolate ganache tart in company with a man other than himself. It was not, mind you, that I had any latent romantic interest in this potential dinner partner. It’s just that a writer like myself occasionally likes to interact with someone who can carry on an intelligent conversation about Charles Dickens and William Faulkner, something I knew from experience this potential dinner partner could do.

As I am wont to do with any decision that could potentially screw up the rest of my life, I started to dial my deeply devoted friend of 38 years who has come to my rescue on more than one occasion, holding my hand when I gave birth to my daughter, hosting me for a Christmas Eve meltdown, and handing me her cell phone one day at O’Hare and telling me to just “please shut up and call the love of your life.” So tuned in is she sometimes to my psyche, she often knows what I want or need more accurately than I do.

But before I could finish dialing, I already knew what Sarah would say. She would advise me not to play with fire.  Because she is my mother hen and protector, the woman I can count on to make me feel safe in the most dire of circumstances.  When life becomes too much to bear, it is Sarah who invites me to her wonderfully chaotic house, where I am comforted by the frenetic activity of her chef husband, her energetic two-year-old son, and her teenage nephew who likes to advise me on all the benefits of owning a Droid over an iPhone.

Of course, I also knew Sarah would speak her trademark tagline after providing her advice: “I love you, and I support you no matter what.”

Hmm, no need to call. 

On to the next girlfriend. Shiloh.  Outspoken, adventurous, and irreverent, she is not too difficult to predict either.  I knew without even thinking about it too much that Shiloh would say, “Go for it!”  Ever open to the next adventure, experiment, or big thing, Shiloh has no qualms about risk-taking, even when there is no clear potential benefit. Her life has hardened her against getting wound up about consequences. Though she will admit herself at times, “There are days I consider shots and a round of tennis a viable option for problem solving.” 

Sooo….no need to call her either. I had both ends of the spectrum.

That only left Susannah—the practical psychology major whose husband has repeatedly accused her of having more divorced friends than anyone else he knows.  She is the one worth calling no matter what, at least so says Sarah, who admits, “You know what Shiloh is going to say.  You know what I’m going to say. Call Susannah. She is the only one left with a practical, rational outlook on things. And besides,” she adds, “then you have three different opinions, so likely whatever choice you make will be the ‘right’ one in someone’s view.”

I never called any of my three most trusted advisors that day. I ultimately came to my own decision not to mess with any men’s heads or to potentially play with fire all on my own.  Okay, well, not all on my own. I had the voices and perspectives of those three girlfriends heatedly debating in my head. 

This is the reason why a wise man not only works to win the heart of his lover but also the hearts of her girlfriends. They may be the ones who determine whether he gets ditched or forgiven one day down the road when he responds to a life crisis one too many times with “I love you. I’m eating Go Lean Crunch now. What are you doing?” Um, having a crisis in case you hadn’t noticed.

I know I can count on the women in my life to still be my friends no matter what crazy trouble I get into.  They have this otherworldly power to surround me with a net of kindness and support even when they aren’t actually there. There are occasions when I will call one of their number at 3 a.m. when I wake in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, but more often than not, my awareness that I can call if I need to is really all I require.  I know they’re there, and I will eventually go back to sleep, assured that no matter what happens, these women will be there when things get so bad I have to call.

Men do not always understand this sisterhood among women. Raised to be lone wolves who interact with their BFFs on a whole different level than we do (i.e. intimate friendship means you’re not afraid to get totally toasted in front of the guy and then go play a round of golf and score badly), they may find the close emotional ties the women in their lives share with other women confounding if not downright threatening.

Once when Shiloh and I were jointly in the throes of nasty break-up blues, we seriously discussed the feasibility of buying a farm, inviting other disillusioned women friends, and raising vegetables in company with our daughters and ditching men at least from our day-to-day lives forever. When Shiloh mentioned this idea to a date one night after an especially long “wine flight,” he was appalled and wanted to know if this really was her “five-year plan.” “Don’t you need a man around?” he asked.

His incredulity could only be matched by our own, I must say.  What man asks a woman he’s been dating less than two months what her five-year plan is?  And who discusses a five-day plan, much less a five-year plan, with a woman he is driving home because she has admitted she has imbibed too much wine to drive herself safely?  A man without much experience with women…that’s who.

And so the poor schmuck got what any more experienced gentleman would have known better than to bargain for.  Shiloh responded (and forgive my more formal language here; I’ve been banned from subscribers’ servers because of my occasional use of four-letter words), “There will always be more (ahem!) Richard; good girlfriends, however, are a lot harder to find.”  Richards, you see, come in all sizes and with various levels of proficiency attached to them. But a female friend who will stand by you through everything—if you find her, hang on tight.

I should know.  It’s taken me more than 30 years to assemble my core group of rock solid women friends.

This is not to dismiss the men with whom I am (as this blog attests) so endlessly fascinated. I love men. In fact, I think that is a good part of my trouble.  I grew up the only girl at the babysitter, and once in high school, I found the company of boys far more satisfying than that of silly, boy crazy girls.  Plus, it was my father, grandfather, and great uncles who made much of me when I was a child.  The women were always too busy for me.  All in all, I feel incredibly comfortable with men, far more than I do with women unless those women are confident, smart, and sassy gals whom I can admire and respect and who aren’t threatened by a loud and outspoken woman like myself.

But at the same time, I don’t always understand men (hence the fascination perhaps) anymore than they understand me. I love Mr. Go Lean Crunch with all my heart, and, in the end, it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t always know the right thing to say. That’s what my girlfriends are for.  What matters is that even in complete bewilderment (and sometimes terror), he has stood by me, rock solid as…well…a woman.  I am thinking perhaps we should bestow “honorary girlfriend” status on men like this.

They are more than Richards. In fact, if we want to get truly derogatory, and why the hell not?  They are not Richards at all.  They stand much taller and do not feel the need to flee when things get tough.  They know how to brace for the punch.  Where they learned to do this, I can only guess…probably from a woman.

There will indeed always be Richards. 

Foolish is the woman who risks the trust or gives up the friendship of a solid and committed friend, be that friend male or female, for a mere Richard.  As Elbert Hubbard says, “A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” Banish such a friend from your life, and you may indeed be a Richard yourself.



The Female Brain Run Amuck: A Cheese and Bread Plate Analysis

Posted by Deborah Huso on Jan 26, 2013 in Girlfriends, Men, Relationships

The three ladies who mentally dissected a cheese plate

I have to confess I’ve not received too many extravagant gifts from men. While I know there are women out there who would appear to belong to “the ring a month club” courtesy of their boyfriends and husbands, that has never been me.  The best I’ve gotten from a guy short of an engagement ring is a pair of cross-country skis.  (And let me tell you, that was thrilling enough.)

So I have to admit from the outset I don’t exactly come at the whole “guy showers girl with extravagant gifts” thing with a very clear perspective on the issue.  Which is no doubt why my current boyfriend has thrown me a bit off kilter…and many of my girlfriends, too, who (like me) have never really experienced much in the wine, roses, and diamonds department.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I’d much rather have a kayak or a hiking trip to Peru than a diamond any day, but I’ve not gotten anything along those lines either.  However, I digress….

My new beau is a whole different animal from what I’m used to.  Not only does he have something on the verge of a conniption fit if I try to lift a 40-pound bag of dog chow out of the trunk of my car, but he insists on stopping along the side of the road to adjust the headlights on my car when I complain about them not performing well enough in the fog.  (And yes, he has the tools for things of this nature magically handy at all times.)  He also pulls out my chair at dinner (even when it’s at my own house) and refuses to allow me to stand up to refill my own wine glass.  He is a model of chivalry, and I still can’t quite get used to it.  The attention verges on decadence to my way of thinking.

But one of my well-heeled girlfriends begs to disagree.  She does not find it in the least disturbing that he also buys me shoes, scarves, jewelry, new tires for my car, and anything else he can think of to bring a twinge of a smile to my face.  In fact, she said to me only yesterday, “This is how a man is supposed to treat a woman, Debbie.  He is wooing you.”

If that’s true, what have all the other men in my life been doing the past 20 years?

I’m not the only one asking this question, by the way.

A girls’ getaway to California this last week proved my point…and also proved what I think most educated men already know—that a woman (and a group of women even more so) can take the tiniest shred of an idea and run with it way past left field.

After a day out shopping in Sausalito and strolling through the John Muir Woods, my girlfriends and I returned to our hotel room to find an “edible arrangement” waiting in a refrigerator that the hotel staff had carted up to our room for the very purpose of keeping my chocolate-covered apple slices and pineapples appetizingly chilled. We all knew who the charming culprit was—my boyfriend (whom I will leave unnamed until I am certain I have charmed him to the degree he won’t dump me for talking about him on my blog).

Of course, before any female analysis of the chocolate-covered fruit in the pot could begin, we all set about devouring it as quickly as possible. (I got first dibs on the chocolate-covered strawberries—it was my boyfriend after all.)

Once the four of us were satiated, our bodies strewn across two queen-sized beds, torsos propped on pillows as if we were having a high school slumber party all over again, Sarah piped up, “I don’t think anyone has ever sent me a gift like that when I’ve been away traveling.” I see her cocking her head to the side and getting that slight twitch at the corner of her lip that she gets when she’s about to claim something is suspect.  “Have you, Shiloh?”

Shiloh, whose heart has been recently decimated, shakes her head. “No, never.”

Megan, who is in her third trimester, continues munching her chocolate-covered apple slice and offers no opinion.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this either,” I say, though I can sense I have gained temporary “admired woman” status among my friends.

We make a rather hasty group decision (because it’s almost dinner time) to chalk this up to a delightful form of male chivalry and admiration to which all of us are unaccustomed but which seems…well…kind of nice.  Who doesn’t like to end their day with chocolate-covered berries and pineapples carved into flowers?

So…out we go to dinner at an Italian café, followed by cocktails and bread pudding at the hotel bar.  We return to our hotel room.  We are casually sprawled about the room again in our yoga pants and PJs, and there is a knock at the door.

It’s 10 p.m.

We exchange looks. No one moves.

Then Shiloh, the bravest among us, hops up, opens the door, and a white-coated waiter is standing there with a platter loaded with more chocolate-covered berries, grapes, bread, and half a dozen types of cheese. He presents a card.  Shiloh opens it, reads it, looks at me.

“Holy shit,” I say, nevermind the presence of the room service waiter.

Of course, as with the first delivery, we really waste no time digging into the edible delights, though we conduct our female analysis of the situation in tandem with the devouring of Stilton on rye.

“Um,” Sarah finally volunteers, her lip curling just a little again, “does this strike you as a bit over the top?

Shiloh and I look up in mid-chew.

“It is a little over the top,” Shiloh says.

“Twice in one day,” Sarah adds.

I nod and put down my goat cheese, feeling a bit disconcerted.  Something about the decadence of it all is starting to unnerve me.

I can see Sarah’s brain at work. She is thinking, Is this guy a stalker? Is he marking his turf? Is he just loaded and has nothing better to do with his money?

I decide to take a shower, knowing that as soon as the bathroom door closes behind me, the girls will start analyzing, saying all the things they don’t dare say in front of me…not yet anyway.  (That is how women are. Whoever leaves the room will undoubtedly become the subject of the conversation.)

Ten minutes later when I re-enter the bedroom, all is rather quiet, as if some conclusion has been reached without my consent. “He’s not an idiot,” Sarah says. “He is trying to impress your friends, too. He knows the weight of female opinion.” And Shiloh and I have to admit there is some truth in this. After all, I’ve ditched guys I might never have ditched based on the weight of female opinion. What man in his right mind would dare anger the girlfriend contingent? And, conversely, not try to woo them, too?

There is no more discussion of the edible arrangement and room service cheese plate, however, until late the next day. I am in Macy’s in Union Square, waiting for Shiloh to purchase deadly stilettos and a red coat. I call the man who has been the subject of so much feminine analysis.

After some chatting, I remark that the girls and I will be returning to the hotel soon to eat the remainder of yesterday’s cheese plate.

“Wait a minute. What did you say?” he asks.

“The chocolate-covered strawberries and cheese plate you had delivered to our room late last night,” I say.

“What?” He is a little perplexed. “That was supposed to have been delivered tonight.

I am overcome with relief at these words. I make haste of our conversation and run to Sarah’s side. “Guess what?! The room service was supposed to come tonight. It was a mistake!”

Her face lights up. “Thank God!” she says. “Two deliveries in one day is too much, too much like a cat pissing on his territory.  This is excellent news.”

We share this latest tidbit with Shiloh, who also shows great relief.

And then Sarah says, “We really need to call room service and complain.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Because you might have ended the relationship over this,” she explains. “Remember last night how we were analyzing?  Thinking he was too intense?  Wondering if he didn’t have a screw or two loose in showering you with so much attention in one day?”

“Yes,” I agree, “we did take it rather far.”

“But then it’s also disturbing how much we can read into a cheese plate,” Sarah adds.

“I think we should get a complimentary cheese plate in restitution for the error,” Shiloh suggests.

We all nod, and when we get back to the hotel room, Shiloh takes charge of the situation, calls room service, explains the near-relationship-ending error they have made, and receives a response from the maitre de of “Oh, yes that was shitty of us.”

Half an hour later, we have a new cheese plate along with complimentary spring water. “The berries will be coming later,” says the waiter. “We have to heat up the chocolate. So sorry.”

Even the waiter knows not to mess with a room full of tittering females bent on analysis of male motives. Though in our heart of hearts we also know that to a man, a cheese plate is a cheese plate, and a chocolate-dipped strawberry is just something you give to a woman you love…and her girlfriends you are trying to charm.


Desperate Bus Stop Moms: My Daily 10 Minutes of Therapy

Posted by Susannah on Sep 5, 2012 in Girlfriends, Motherhood

I have a guilty confession to make:  I am hooked on Desperate Housewives.  Though I haven’t faithfully watched every season, for its final spring season, I was glued to my television set on Sunday evenings.  Of course, the joke in our house has always been which housewife I’m most like—I’ll let you draw your own conclusion on that one.  But the more interesting dynamic in this show, and why I am so addicted, is how, in the end, the women stick together and will do just about anything for each other.   Though I’d be hard-pressed to cover up murder for my friends, I have realized that, in many ways, there are a lot of women out there who’ve got my back…and vice versa.

This is how I came to realize that although not necessarily desperate or filthy rich, my friends at the bus stop are my circle, my circle of wagons, that is. They are the ones I go to on a daily basis to cover for me (albeit not for murder).

Last spring, I had the opportunity to go away for six days, leaving my husband at the helm.  I’m at home full-time.  He works full-time.  I’ve been away for girls’ weekends, and we both know that he can take care of the kids for a day or two.  He’s just never had the opportunity to do so for such an extended period.  He was a good sport, and although apprehensive, he was glad to step up to the plate.

My week away went fine.  I returned to find two healthy, if a little bit scraggly, kids.  The house was not up to my comfort level as far as cleanliness goes, but it wasn’t in a state I couldn’t fix within 48 hours either.   The kids seemed more independent, and my ten-year-old son even gave me a genuinely enthusiastic hug when he saw me.  My husband, Jorge, admitted that with all the anxiety he felt before my departure, he actually thought it was good for the three of them to be alone for those six days.  He felt closer to the kids and more appreciative of all I do.

But that’s not the whole story, of course.  The success of the week was in part due to the women that helped him out—maybe not dressed to the nines like Gabby or as wealthy as Bree, but nonetheless they are the women on whom I depend when I  need help, and they were there for my stand-in, too—my husband.  Every afternoon while I was away, a different mom picked up one or both of my kids, gave them a snack, supervised their homework, and often let them stay for dinner.  My husband still had to miss three hours or so of work a day, but he probably could not have pulled off the temporary single parent thing without my women friends.

The most interesting part of this whole story was that Jorge was afforded  a glimpse into the circle of us not-so-desperate bus stop moms each morning.  At about day five, he expressed some concern over what he interpreted as irresponsibility among the bus stop gaggle of women.  I can’t remember his exact words, but he commented about how one mom wasn’t there one of the afternoons to get our kids so another mom took them.  He went on to describe how our kids (8 and 10) were left alone at home for ten minutes while that parent picked up another child.  He was surprised to hear the question one morning at the bus stop: ‘Who will be at the bus stop this afternoon to get the kids?’—in the event that one of the moms couldn’t make it on time.

While to Jorge the idea of a mom just not showing up on time without any advance notice was disconcerting, I thought nothing of it.  I’m constantly late to the bus stop or forgetting that some after-school activity has been cancelled.  Sometimes I’ve not shown up at all, only to realize my mistake when I get a call from Dee or Suzan, who have rounded up my kids on my behalf.

As we stand there in an early morning haze, we pass out tissues or spare gloves and coordinate after-school pick-ups.  We run errands for each other.  We take each others’ kids in the evening.

But our value to one another doesn’t stop with the kids. Often we stand on the corner well after the bus has pulled away with our children, sometimes gripping warm coffee mugs, as we exchange the joys and fears of our lives as wives and mothers.  Not infrequently, it’s my connection with those other bus stop moms that gets me through the day, the week, and even  the year.  Though a few of us are dressed and ready for work, many of us work part-time or from home, so we can frequently be found in slippers and sweats, the raw frustrations of the morning rush still seething in our brains.

One morning, I was so frustrated with my daughter–all forty pounds of her sassy, eye-rolling, foot stomping little body.  What was I doing wrong?  What was wrong with her?  Should I take her to a psychologist?  Would it get better?  What are reasonable consequences? And is locking her in her bedroom for the next 10 years an option?

The four of us who dawdled that morning stood there, contemplating this small crisis.  The other women listened to my ranting non-judgmentally, and all commiserated at some level.  One admitted to having a similar morning with her daughter.  One offered a book suggestion.  Another mom with a teenager gave me the long-term perspective, promising a reprieve for a few years, but then some notched-up intensity later.  This more experienced mom told me it’s almost like her daughter can’t control her wackiness.  So much of these behaviors are spawned by hormones, which makes it difficult to tease out the real issues from those magnified by a body and mind going through puberty.

Of course, intellectually, I knew everything these women told me was true, and I knew it before I ever arrived at the bus stop that morning.  But to have these women reassure me validated my frustrations and made me feel less alone.  I left feeling better about everything, regardless of what might happen with my daughter when she returned home from school that day.  And I knew I was not a terrible mom.  My case was not hopeless.  My bus stop cohorts had assured me my relationship with my eight-year-old was within the range of normal.

That morning was not an unusual experience.

Our bus stop conversations give us the chance to vent about our kids’ slipping grades, to learn which teachers are the best and which are the worst, who to call for evening babysitting help, and what to make for a quick dinner that tastes divine.  We swap diet tips, parenting tactics, and favorite novels. We support job changes, returns to school, career setbacks, and family crises.  We know whose mother has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer, whose child is seeing a therapist, who has tried which anti-anxiety med, and whose husband forgot his wedding anniversary.

On a certain level, my relationship with these bus stop moms is mundane, a completely normal, everyday thing that I think I often take for granted. (That’s why it never crosses my mind to worry when I’m 15 minutes late to pick up the kids.)

But thanks to my husband’s perspective on the bus stop gaggle, I can appreciate the genuine community our little circle provides.  He saw one of the best gifts of my life outside of my immediate family. Jorge reminded me in a way that there are times when the most meaningful part of my day may simply be the ten minutes I stand on that corner with those other moms.


Delving Deep into VPL: Are We Crossing the Line?

Posted by Susannah on Mar 27, 2012 in Girlfriends, Men

I will admit that a few years ago, I didn’t even know what a VPL was.  That’s when I heard two of my friends discussing the issue with the kind of seriousness reserved for topics like the national debt.  After that brief yet impressionable experience, it was all over for me.  Ignorance gone.    Naiveté shattered.  I was faced with the stark awareness that I had long overlooked the power of this small V-shaped indent.

I’ve been confused about it ever since.  Women really think about these things?  I soon had to admit there is a time and a place for everything.  And visible panty lines are no exception.  After all, there’s nothing like a well-coiffed woman dressed in a curve accentuating frock, with puckering lines on her tailend interrupting her sexy lines.

And there are times, particularly when I’ve got a little extra on my hips, that I’ll succumb to wearing pantyhose or other cellulite firming contraptions under a pair of dress pants.  It gets ‘em zippered and avoids the panty lines that seem to be sinking a little deeper into my padding that week.  I guess I’m avoiding SVPL—super visible panty lines perhaps?

My concern is the over-obsession with panty lines.  I was recently shopping with a friend, and she was buying ‘anal floss,’ as she calls it—to wear to the gym.  She literally has specific gym panties.  I thought about how uncomfortable and sweaty I am to begin with at the gym, hemmed in with a tight sports bra and trying to keep my new stylish half-bangs from dripping sweat into my eyes. Then I cringed at the thought of having a permanent thong weggie.

Who cares if I have a panty line at the gym?  I don’t have much make-up on, and I probably vaguely stink of the underside of the gym mat.  Is it actually possible that someone is looking at my backside?  In the off chance that some guy would check  me out under these less than ideal circumstances, might I venture to say that a panty line would hardly make a difference?

This begs the question, however, as to why we have to wear panties at all.  I can understand that with a pair of ‘dry clean only’ dress slacks, another layer between my nether regions and my lined wool pants is totally legitimate.  And definitely in a pair of jeans.  Imagine the chaffing.  But in a pair of Yoga pants?  I’m wearing them for three hours and then tossing them in the laundry anyway.  I’m trying to shed my stress and elevate myself to a higher level of being.  Maybe panties are what’s been hindering my success in reaching enlightenment?   I guess I’d also like to simply offer up the notion that VPL or not, perhaps it’s a bit redundant to have another sweaty layer between me and a breath of fresh air.

Of course, hot and sweaty or not, I still tend to fall on the side of the fence that fully endorses VPL at the gym, as it means that P’s are being worn.  This reminds me of the unfortunate view I had of the woman in front of me at the gym as we were doing quad stretches, derriere extended.  She had chosen to go commando, maybe concerned with VPL? Unfortunately, her pants had gone through a few too many washings and were wearing thin.  Sorry for that mental image, but in the interest of full disclosure, such a fashion faux pas must be acknowledged.  Heck, even with a pair of thong panties, this could be an issue.  Lesson here, gals?  Always check the fabric durability of your workout gear.  Just like changing the oil, be sure to check those pants every 3,000 miles.

I’ve done a little research on the source of VL, and after sorting through the unmentionable riff-raff that came up on my Google search, which would have made Mr. Klein blush, I found an interesting article which cited a book by John Esten called Unmentionables: A Brief History of Underwear.  In it, he claims that panties were developed, in part, “as a Victorian attempt to control and hide genitalia and physique.”  Hmm….

The difference between these Victorian ladies and us is, of course, that they didn’t have an issue with VPL, as most of their lines were well padded, pouffed, hemmed-in, and laced up.   But I’m not so hidden from view. Even modest clothing today leaves very little to the imagination.

The economics of this issue is a whole other side.  In an article printed in The Los Angeles Times several years ago– “The Road to Profit, Paved with Panties”– Leslie Ernest states that the intimate apparel niche is a $9.1 billion industry in America.   We’re spending a lot of money on something that few people see.  It reminds me of the LensCrafter commercial where the old couple is glasses shopping.  After she slips on a pair of glasses, the old woman’s husband is instantly transformed into a svelte, sexy young man.  The voiceover says, “Unless your glasses are this good, you’re paying too much.”  Can I be so bold as to offer the same premise up for panties?  I think we’re paying too much, buying into yet another beauty myth.  Unless it’s taking ten pounds off, we’re being duped.  I would never go so far as to say that there’s not a legitimate time and place for smokin’ knickers.  It just seems like, as a culture, we’ve bought into yet another advertising lie that a few flimsy pieces of nylon, cotton, or lace really do provide an edge.  Sexy skivvies can give change in attitude?  Perhaps.  And yes, sexy is how you feel, not necessarily just how you look.  If panties give you that edge, go for it.  But I’d have to return to my initial gripe—sexy is not the vibe I’m interested in giving off in my mid-morning Body Pump class with a bunch of stay-at-home moms, gay men, and aging mavens.

When I brought this topic up to my trusty bus stop council of moms, there was no consensus.  Some women were legitimately concerned with VPL, and also VBL.  Yes, yet another line to worry about.  Interestingly, in our age group (well over 30), the greater concern was the back-fat induced bra lines (VBL).

I realized it was time to poll the guys. Did they notice VBL, VPL?  Did they care?  One woman went as far as to contend that our concern about VPL is just another example of “Girl on Girl Violence.”  That got me thinking.  Is our obsession with panty lines really just another way that we are undermining each other as women, fearing catty comments and less-than-approving glances at girls’ night?

My next panel included a group of professional men over, well, 40.  Maybe not exactly men on the prowl, but all my girlfriends are married to men no longer in their twenties.  (My other issue with twenty-something’s is that it’s a tough topic to casually drop into conversation with young men—I thought of asking the ruggedly handsome young barista at Starbucks this morning, and it crossed my mind as I was walking the kids to the bus stop and a lawyer-type twenty-something smelling of aftershave wafted past me on his way to the metro.   I’m sure my husband is relieved to know that I held my tongue in both cases.)  So in the interest of what little modesty I can say I have, I hired my friends to bring  the topic up with their husbands.

To our surprise, we found men do, in fact, notice panty lines.  And to them, it’s generally not a value-add for the whole image.  The consensus was that it was all about context.  In the work place and at the gym, it was generally not an issue. These nice men asserted convincingly that they were not really thinking along those lines in either place.   But these happily married men did say that a VPL on a woman in a more sexually charged environment, like a bar, club, or party, was definitely a negative distraction.  They went so far as to say that a VPL on well-dressed woman could over-ride the whole picture.  When we dug a little deeper with these guys, they asserted that VPLs are often correlated with other problems, such as an outfit that fits poorly, inferior fashion judgment, and even hint at a less than classy or even a ‘trashy’ stereotype.  They suggested that a woman who shows her lines is often missing the boat in other areas, too.  They read all this in a VPL? And they think we over-analyze….

Alas, we’re back to my original assertion that there is a time and a place to worry about the VPL.   But I’ll have to retreat on the suggestion that it’s another example of women setting an unrealistically high standard for other women.  If the guys I talked to admit to noticing, then it’s clearly not gender self-imposed.  Although we then have to ask if a married woman needs to worry about looking attractive to a man who is not her husband.  I’ll save that for another blog. Perhaps on Burkas.

So today, in the interest of research,  I’m game for the challenge.   I’m heading out to the gym, panty-free.  I’ve checked the durability and opaqueness of my pants, and I’m ready to buck the system.  I’m saying “no” to the lingering Victorian underpinnings still latent in our society and the rampant commercialism that’s feeding the fire.  And I’m saying ‘yes’ to anyone who happens to be checking me out from behind.  So if you are among the mid-morning crowd at the Ballston Gold’s, please don’t hesitate to notice.  You’ll see I’m ‘line-free.’


Circle the Wagons: The Powerful Love of Women

Posted by Deborah Huso on Mar 10, 2012 in Girlfriends, Relationships

Sarah and I--friends since birth

Sarah and I have been best friends on and off again for three decades. So closely did we grow up together, our mothers trading back and forth sleepovers and marching band pick-ups, that we are perhaps as close as sisters, closer perhaps. When life separated us for several years and we fell out of touch, it was that sisterly, almost clairvoyant love that drew us back together again.

I had suffered a devastating break-up. Sarah e-mailed me the day after the split. Only, we had not been in touch for around five years. To this day, we both believe she had somehow, across time and space, sensed my need of her. And our lives have been thus for years, one of us walking in just as the other is about to break.

This is no ordinary connection.  That is not to say, however, that it is uncommon. Women, at least those among us brave enough to love fully, have an uncanny ability, so it would seem, for knowing just when to circle the wagons.

I have not always benefited from this love. Raised to be independent and distrusting of others, I was always reluctant as a girl and as a young woman to lead myself into vulnerability, particularly the vulnerability that comes of the deeply connected relationships that women often share.

It is no small surprise to me that men resist this kind of all-encompassing love. Some think it is smothering. And it can be. Women learn, over time, not to call on too many friends at once in times of crisis, or they will be overwhelmed with attention. How many nights have I found myself fielding phone calls and texts from half a dozen concerned females all at once after announcing to them some recent family tragedy?  Even worse though is when, in recognition of this, I share a crisis with only one or two to be chastised later by the others for not letting them in to offer succor.

Susannah and I: friends and troublemakers

Circling the wagons is something of a professional calling for us, and it transcends the intimate relationships of tried and true friends, those who have followed us through high school and college, through marriage and divorce, childbirth and death of parents.

I belong to a community dance troupe made up of girls and women ranging in age from six to 60. Every week we engage in what we refer to as “group therapy”—a couple of hours of pulse-pounding dance accompanied by excessive tom-foolery. This is where we (the adult women anyway) let go, beyond the eyes of spouses who may know nothing of this side of us—the practical jokes, the tongue-in-cheek commentary on marriage, sex, and child raising, the posturing in front of dance studio mirrors, the banter over who has the curviest figure, the thickest thighs, the most perfect hair. We are so wild at times that new members to the group often aren’t quite sure what to make of us at first, but we convert them eventually to this gathering of “footloose” women. Here we are girls again, more than girls…because most of us were never confident enough, brave enough to be so ridiculous and fun when we were younger.

But this is also a space of deep camaraderie. When one among us lost a foster child back to her biological mother, we circled her with embraces, then turned her tears to laughter. When we prep for performances, mothers and daughters gather to braid each other’s hair, mend dance shoes with duct tape, and coax one another out of nervousness. Here we find the space to be members of a family where expectations are much lower, where we all recognize the staggering responsibilities of work, marriage, and motherhood, and give one another leave to be silly, irresponsible, and mindless…if only for an hour or two.

My dancing friends on "weird sock day"

I do not know what I would do without these women…any of them…from my most intimate friends to the women with whom I dance each week. They fill my life with laughter, and they prop me up when I am too worn down to stand.

They have been there for me when my family has not been. And they have done all this unconditionally.

Sometimes I lie awake at night wondering why, what it is I have done to deserve the love and kindness of all these women, feeling the powerful blessing of knowing there is this invisible circle of support around me always.

When I feel I have erred foolishly in this life, I turn to my old college friend, Susannah, from whom I know I will always get a refreshingly honest and straightforward assessment of the situation…in addition to ice cream or cheesecake. Yet when I fail to take her sound advice and find myself in a fix, I never fear abandonment. “Friends are not the people who are there only when you do things right,” she tells me on a regular basis.

Retail therapy in Venice with Dorothy

Yet I often wonder how many of us know this, how many of us are brave enough to test the true depth of our friendships, to be who we are without fear among the people we love. It is no easy thing. We are all guilty of holding back, playing games, pretending all is well…even among those closest to us, fearful of the depth and vulnerability we might discover should we let go…and fearful, too, of finding nothing, no depth, no connection, no unconditional love.

Humans are social creatures, and abandonment is one of our greatest primal fears.

It is one reason we are so lucky to be women. It is easy for us to look at men and their easy friendships with other men, their perception of “depth” as an intense conversation about politics, and their ability to compartmentalize pain and fear and envy them. And it is so easy for us to be angry with them, too, for failing to connect with us as our women friends do.

A friend of mine said to me recently, “I cannot help being angry with my husband because he does not know me as well as my best friend does.”

This is not so much a failing in the guy. It’s a failing in expectation. He does not know how, most likely, to know that woman as her best friend does. It is outside his comfort zone to go so deep, as it is with most men. They don’t live in a world of women the way we do. They cannot count on their male friends to protect their weaknesses, honor their strengths, and be there for them no matter the errors they make. It is not the way men are socialized, and it is why they need us so much more than we need them. For most men, it is their wives who serve as their only emotional centers, the only place where they can freely be themselves.

Imagine having only one person who offers you safety. Imagine having none.

New partners in crime in Savannah

I made a new friend recently, as I often do on travels, and as we walked back to our lodgings one evening, discovering, after only a couple of days’ acquaintance that we had much in common, including a similar painful life experience, she said to me with a laugh, “Can I marry you?”

I understood the message behind the joke. Because it took me a long time to stop looking to romantic partners to provide the kind of emotional depth and support that female friends do. I will not over-generalize and say that men cannot provide it. But it is rare to find such a man. As a rule, they retreat into their caves when hurting, confused, or troubled; whereas, women sound the alarm, ask for aid, and let the wagons circle. And when those wagons lock around us in times of trouble, there is no getting through until the danger has passed, chased away by the arrows of shared and recognized grief and the awareness that, with friends, just about anything is survivable.


Feeling Fat? Join the Turkey, Bacon Sandwich and Cheesecake Club

Posted by Deborah Huso on Feb 19, 2012 in Girlfriends

When in Rome, do as the Romans do: Eat pizza...and walk everywhere.

Thanks to all the hoopla surrounding the rising rate of obesity in America and First Lady Michelle Obama’s promise to make us all a little more fit, the media has, of late, been placing a good deal more emphasis on the concept of “emotional eating.”  It’s part of our cultural jargon now.  Though, truth be told, it’s always been part of my jargon and the jargon of a lot of people I know, women, in particular.

When we’re feeling emotionally cruddy, we have a tendency to do one of two things: eat or buy shoes.  I don’t really know where this response comes from.  I can trace it back at least to college, where Susannah and I often found ourselves showering ice cream in chocolate sprinkles at the Gettysburg Dairy Queen following boyfriend break-ups and the other traumas of young adulthood.  Something about sugar seemed to make it all better, at least so long as we kept eating it.

And how do women typically stage “interventions” when one of their number is in crisis?  That’s right.  We bring food or take the victim to the food with a dinner on the town.  Almost anything with a high caloric content will work—soft doughy pretzels made by the Mennonites and drenched in hot cheese, oozing turkey and cheese croissants pelted with crab dip, decadent raspberry chocolate cheesecake.  You name the problem, we’ve got the carb-loaded drug to treat it.

Susannah visits the Cupcake Bus in Nashville: Two Cupakes, Two Bucks

The problem is after we’ve visited the “Cupcake Bus” in Nashville or the “Chocolate Lounge” in Asheville, the thing that has caused the crisis is still there in addition to a couple of extra inches around our waistlines.  Then the food guilt kicks in.  You have one of two options for curing that: eat until you feel good (kind of like drinking until she looks pretty) or starve yourself for three weeks to regain the figure you somehow lost in one sitting at the really delicious bistro by the train station.

I realize I’m covering sensitive territory here.  When I once joked to a friend about her obsession with chocolate (and honestly, what woman with hormones does not have an obsession with chocolate?), she chided me for being a bit too open about “her problem.”  The problem isn’t so much the chocolate obsession…or even the two extra inches around the waistline that the chocolate obsession leads to.

The problem is all in our heads.  (Yes, men, if you are reading this, I really did say that: “it’s all in our heads.”)

Does anyone else take pictures of their food when on vacation? How to eat bread in Kotor...

It’s the food-guilt cycle that’s the problem: have crisis (sometimes about how overweight we are), eat to make it all feel better, then feel guilty for the emotional eating, go back into self-loathing over the crisis or the love handles we’re sure we will develop by the following morning.  In severe cases, women develop potentially fatal eating disorders because of this cycle.

What’s going on here?

I’ll tell you: Jillian Michaels is going on here.  Jackie Warner is going on here.  And countless other hot bods we see on the cover of everything from Women’s Health to Ladies’ Home Journal.  And let’s not even get into the Victoria’s Secret catalog that comes in the mail every week.  (Why I have no idea because heaven knows, there’s nothing in there that would look good on a woman who thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to eat pizza to cure stress.)

But as women, we are inundated daily with what we are supposed to look like, and rarely do our bodies fit the bill.  We chastise our thin and lovely friends who claim to have pot bellies underneath their clothes, but are somehow incapable of seeing our own hypocrisy.  It does not matter what our bodies look like; they are never good enough…at least not to us.  Small-chested friends of mine bemoan their lack of curves.  I bemoan having too many, longing to look like the lithe and thin models I see photographed on Paris runways.  Either that or wishing to myself that the cultural norm of today was that of the voluptuous movie stars of the 1950s—where breasts and hips and curving thighs were perfectly acceptable assets.

You may be smiling now, Dorothy, but you know that frozen cocktail is going straight to your hips, right?

Nothing made it all hit home like a weekend shopping trip with my dance instructor, Dorothy, to buy new costumes for the upcoming performance season.  She is thin as a rail (though, being a self-critical female, she denies it up and down).  I came along, I think, as the representative of the more curvaceous members of the dance team.  And it didn’t take too many outfit “try-ons” before I felt almost as down in the dumps as I do after the yearly quest to update my bathing suit.  I think the last number I tried on was a glitzy lavender and silver piece with sequins that accentuated my curves a little too much. Dorothy remarked on the prominence of my “upper half.”  I looked in the mirror and decided my curves made me look fat, definitely not lovely or desirable.   Yep, I was done and left in no small befuddlement over the weird irony that Dorothy found herself pleased with anything that gave what she claims is the “illusion” of curves, while I was enamored with anything that de-emphasized hips, breasts, and thighs.

We were like two teenagers, one with straight hair, the other with curly, each desiring the perceived better assets of what we ourselves did not possess.  The women in my dance class tend to divide themselves into two self-conscious camps: the “haves” and the “have- nots.”  The “haves” are constantly complaining over their womanly figures; the “have- nots” crack self-deprecating jokes about how they “ain’t got nothing.”

Nobody in the room is happy.  And, I daresay, this phenomenon is all too “normal,” insofar as hating one’s body is normal in our culture.

Curing the blues with a Mexican fried donut in San Antonio: note the powdered sugar, oozing caramel, and dripping chocolate sauce

Dorothy and I treated our onslaught of poor body image induced depression by eating, of course, even though it would have been healthier, if not cheaper, to buy shoes. I drowned my sorrows in a Dr. Pepper and a bag of Cadbury mini-eggs.  She chose a box of donut holes to assuage the pain (though she admitted that the purchase that day of a pair of pants she could actually fit into was making her feel a bit better).

Then we both vowed to start near starvation diets on Sunday and exercise three hours every day.  It’s not that we don’t see the absurdity of our psychology here.  We see it.  We hate Jillian Michaels, not just because she’s a bitch, but because she makes us feel less than adequate.  Nevermind that since our careers don’t involve pumping iron 12 hours a day at the gym, it’s really not possible for us to look like that anyway.  Logic left this equation with the consumption of the turkey, havarti, bacon, and tomato sandwich on foccacia at lunchtime (and it tasted really good, by the way—food orgasm of the highest degree).

But was it worth it?  Was it worth the self-loathing that would follow to eat that decadent sandwich?

Hard call.  There is one woman in our dance class who says she has been advised that the way to eliminate her pot belly is to give up potato chips, pizza, and wine.  She claimed, not without empathy and understanding from the rest of us, that life really wouldn’t be worth living if she had to give up those things.

Food is pleasurable after all, firing off the same areas of the brain that good sex and exercise do.  So one could logically conclude perhaps that we should treat crises with more sex and exercise and less food and shoes.  (And did I mention my closet is overflowing with shoes?  I think great shoes also fire the pleasure centers of the brain.)

But how often do you see a woman trying to comfort a friend who has just broken up with the love her life by saying, “Hey, how about we go for a hike?”  I remember once Susannah and I tried it.  She offered up a hike at Great Falls instead of shoe shopping and eating.  But somehow the shoes and the great chicken Caesar salads at Panera Bread seemed to call us harder.

Gelato in Venice: I'm in heaven...at least as long as my pants still button in the morning....

I wonder how we get this way.  My mother-in-law claims it’s Barbie dolls that inspire all our body image issues.  I think she’s off the scent though.  My four-year-old daughter loves Barbies, and she has the best body image of any female I know.  She loves to admire herself in the mirror, has no qualms about running through the house stark naked, and frequently says to herself, “Don’t I look pretty?”  Then she’ll pick up a Barbie doll, pull out a fantastic evening gown for her, and hand the doll to me with the request: “Will you dress her, Mommy?  I want her to look pretty like I do”

Wow.  Really?

When was the last time I felt sorry for a Victoria’s Secret model and wished she could be as pretty as I am?  Yeah…never.

So I’m guessing we, as humans, have some natural inclination to like ourselves, including the way we look.  And then somewhere around school age begins the slow process of inspired self-loathing.  My daughter tells me the boys at school make fun of her unruly curly hair.  I asked her how she responds to this.  “I take the ‘monster’ clip with the teeth on it out of my hair and pinch them with it,” she says matter-of-factly.  I can’t really argue with this solution, so I say nothing.

I begin to think she is onto something, that maybe the next time I find myself criticizing my body, I should treat my psyche like my daughter does the mean boys on the school bus and snap myself on the wrist with a rubber band or something.

Easier said than done, of course.

But whose standard are we trying to live up to anyway?  It’s certainly not that of our husbands and lovers, most of whom are just happy we’re willing to get naked with them occasionally and couldn’t care less about our love handles, if they even notice them.  And competitive though women tend to be with one another, we certainly don’t dump our female friends because they’re carrying around a few extra pounds.  So why do we ourselves believe we are unlovable unless we are perfect when we have so much evidence to the contrary?  Is it just because an air-brushed model seems to stare at us with condemnation from her place in the magazine rack in the grocery store checkout line?

We have to be careful of this condemnation of strangers, valuing too much the opinion of a culture that asks us to starve ourselves for happiness.

Dorothy said she was feeling particularly bad about herself when she noticed her dance partner was worn out from doing lifts in a song recently.  She suspected it was because she’d put on a few pounds and said to him, “I need to lose some weight, don’t I?”

Gallantly, he replied, “No, no, I just need to do more push-ups.”

This response is not so different from that of my daughter as she watches me curl my hair and put on lipstick in the morning.  “Mommy, you look beautiful,” she says with beaming admiration.  “Like a Cover Girl.”

And I smile a little, thinking she is full of childish misperception of what beauty is.  But then she has always been hopelessly honest, too, a trait she learned from me.  “Don’t wear that jacket, Mommy. It is ugly,” she has said of my choice in wardrobe.  And then sometimes, “Those shoes are great, Mommy.  Buy those.”  And I do.  Trusting somehow her gut reaction to aesthetics.

It is not unlike the reaction of a man to his wife.  He finds her beautiful, not because she looks like a Victoria’s Secret model, but because she loves him, admires him, and is willing to share that most secret part of herself with him—that vulnerable body she is scared to love.


Dance Halls and Cat Calls: The Art(?) of Male Communication

Posted by Deborah Huso on Dec 8, 2011 in Girlfriends, Men, Relationships

Tootsie's Orchid Lounge in Nashville

Being a good seven years removed from the dating scene, I am perhaps not the woman most suited to commenting on how men communicate with women. After all, once you are married, you’re lucky if you get a couple of grunts of affirmation at the dinner table or a passing glance if you walk through the living room with no clothes on. It’s not a lot to go on for figuring out what the man in your life is thinking…though he will claim, if asked directly, that he’s thinking nothing at all.

But that’s doubtful. While the figure has been thrown out there that men think about sex an average of every seven seconds, recent research has shown that’s just urban myth. Men only think about sex an average of 19 times per day. The rest of the time they’re thinking about food and sleep (but sex still tops the list).

So perhaps it’s true men are simpler creatures than we are when it comes to what’s going on with the gray matter, but still, do you ever wonder just what the heck they want? Because if it’s just to get between the sheets, they have an often complicated (and sometimes downright stupid) way of going about it.

A couple of recent trips seem to prove my point because there is nothing to put a woman in the crosshairs of male notice faster than traveling sans male escort. One gets winked at by waiters, kissed by cowboys, and cat called by British subjects at train stations. Is all of this some form of expressing a desire to take a roll in the hay, or is it just a ploy for bigger tips?

If you know, please weigh in…because I’m still trying to figure it out. And sometimes even more intriguing than trying to determine just what it is the guys are after is trying to figure out what it is they don’t understand about the very blunt art of female extrication.

Here’s a case in point: While a girlfriend and I were traveling in Venice, we experienced a fair share of “Mama Mia!” and “Hey baby!” while walking the streets after dark, but it was not until we sat down to enjoy some live music and gelato at a restaurant in St. Mark’s Square that things became really interesting. Just as we were about to leave, an overly jovial middle-aged Italian male came out of nowhere, and he and his more sober companion began begging us to stay for drinks. We politely declined and began gathering our coats.

“No, no, stay!” he says in remarkably good English.

“I’m married,” my friend says quickly.

“Me, too!” exclaims the accosting Italian as if he has just discovered, with delight, that the both of them play golf.

“I have to go,” she says. “I need to call my husband.”

“Let me call him for you!” he bellows undeterred, and then he grabs her around the shoulders, plants a kiss on her cheek, and my friend begins a disentanglement attempt that looks shockingly like Penelope Pussycat trying to escape the embrace of Pepé Le Pew.

“Check, please!” I cry to the waiter, slapping down a handful of Euros, grabbing my friend by the hand, and hurrying out into the streets, where we begin a brisk walk to the water taxi that will take us, along with a wide array of drunken consorts, back to our accommodations. As an American college student heaves over the side of the boat, my friend turns to me and says, “What was that all about? Did he really think that kind of aggressive behavior was attractive?”

I shake my head, “He was drunk.”

But that still doesn’t answer the question of what the man wanted ultimately—a drink with a pretty young American? A one-night stand? A few minutes of Tom-foolery? A shot in the arm of his deflated middle-aged ego?

Susannah Makes a Texas Oil Man's Night in Nashville

Some men are more subtle and, in some ways, even more difficult to decipher. While in one of Nashville’s honky tonks on assignment last week, I had no qualms about dancing with anyone who asked. After all, I love to two-step, and my husband is tone-deaf, has two left feet, and wouldn’t be caught on the dance floor if his life depended on it. A woman does what she has to do.

An older gentleman in a beige Stetson and camel-colored leather jacket approached me gallantly toward the end of the evening and said, “My dear, would you do me the honor of dancing with me? I have to go home to Oregon tomorrow, and it would make my night if you would dance with me.”

Well, that’s almost like making a last request before final unction, so, of course, I agreed. But I wasn’t in his arms more than a few seconds before he pulled me as close as if I was his dearest love and had been for years and years. There was no graceful extrication from this tight embrace, so I endured it, grateful there was no rousing in the gentleman’s nether regions, and let myself be twirled around the dance floor for the length of a gratefully short song.

When it was over, he hugged me close, kissed me hard on the cheek, took both my hands in his and thanked me profusely. Then away he went.

What was that?

And what did it mean when the tall and handsome cowboy from the Netherlands who stood near me and chatted on multiple different occasions only inches from the dance floor declined to ask me to dance? And then when I finally asked him if Dutch boys didn’t dance, he grudgingly obliged me on the dance floor with an anxious grin as I made a vain attempt to teach him the two-step. When it was all over, he gave me the obligatory “cowboy kiss” and never danced again with anyone the rest of the night, myself included. It was obvious dancing was not his forté, but did he really think there was any chance of picking up a girl in a Nashville honky tonk while standing on the sidelines with a beer?

All of this leads me to the question not just of what do men want (even though researchers claim it’s mainly sex, food, and sleep) to do they even know how to get it? And I’m afraid, ladies, the answer is a resounding “no.” They have not the slightest clue and are willing to stare opportunity smack in the face and screw it up or turn it down, leaving women struggling to understand.

Because we will struggle. Unlike men, we won’t walk away and shrug and figure it was never meant to be. No, as my oldest friend pointed out to me last night as we sat awake talking, “We decide to punish them for their infractions by not returning their calls or e-mails, and they think nothing of it. We lie awake stewing while they sleep peacefully and clueless.”

And then when we break up with them, they are surprised. They have no idea anything was wrong, oblivious to the mixed messages they have been sending—their expressions of desire and then their pulling back from it—intent only, apparently, on what’s for dinner, when they get to sleep, and whether or not they’ll get sex the next day.

And we envy their simple-mindedness at first, wishing we ourselves could be satisfied with so little. Until we remember, of course, how tragic it would be to stand on the sidelines of life with a beer for company, to never dance again, as many times as we possibly can, to every song the band is willing to play, before the dance hall closes for good.


“Your Eyes Don’t Look Bloodshot From Here”: The Truth About Female Patience

Posted by Deborah Huso on Nov 26, 2011 in Girlfriends, Men

There is a fair amount of misinformation out there about the female capacity for understanding and patience. Somehow we have become known, even among ourselves, for our willingness to lend a sympathetic ear, a shoulder to cry on, and a plethora of sound advice on everything from birth control to how to handle mothers-in-law. But all things have their limits, including female patience.

What exactly does a woman do when she has reached her wit’s end when it comes to offering consolation? Well, she starts acting like a man.  No kidding.

Ever notice how when a guy is down the first thing his buddies do is offer him a beer?  Why women don’t start with this logical step, I’m not sure.  We tend to use it as a last resort, as if the consumption of alcoholic beverages is only for the completely disconsolate, those too far gone for reason, reassurance, or even hope. 

And perhaps that’s why I’m a bit reluctant to admit that I was offered the alcoholic beverage ticket last night.  Just how far gone was I?  Well, what kind of person devolves into a fit of crying while sitting on an expansive deck overlooking blue fjords plunging into the Adriatic Sea while on a cruise a world away from work, spouse, and children? 

Yes, my point exactly—a very far gone one. 

It was my friend, Dorothy (a contributor to this blog), who was the victim of my sudden onset of despair, and after repeated attempts to console me with hugs, commiseration, reasoning, and even cheesecake, she finally threw up her hands and said firmly, “We’re going out to get drinks.” 

“No,” I said, “I can’t. I look like hell.  My eyes are bloodshot, my hair is a mess, and I’m dressed for hiking, not going out.”

She gave me her cool blue-eyed look of death and said dismissively from her position across the room, “Your eyes don’t look bloodshot from here.”  And then she launched her attack even further, reminding me that the cruise ship’s late night entertainment included a guest trumpet player fromAustralia—hard to resist since my first crush was a trumpet player. (And trumpet players can kiss, too, not that I had any intention of kissing the Australian trumpeter—he was twice my age.) 

But she coaxed me to do what Susannah (another contributor here) always advises—“if you can manage nothing else, at least put on some mascara and lipstick, for heaven’s sake.”

So I did, as Dorothy instructed me firmly on the agenda for the wee hours. “We’re going to get drinks, and then we’re going to the show,” she said. “And if you start crying again in the middle of the show, I’m going to dump my drink on your head.”

Enough said.  Nobody wants to walk around smelling like a martini.

And the truth is, the whole plan kind of worked.  I hate to admit it, but I think the guys are onto something.  Because after you’ve had three margaritas and watched aghast as a 70-year-old trumpet player unbuttons his tuxedo shirt, pretending he’s Julio Iglesias when it’s obvious he hasn’t worked out in at least 40 years, you start to feel better.

I’ve never been one to advocate the use of controlled substances to soothe away pain, but they can be a proper band-aid at times when the point is just to get through the next hour, the next day, the next moment until things turn around, and you’ve had enough sleep, sustenance, and exercise to face your fears without freaking out.

So hat’s off to the men for knowing, better than we, apparently, how to shortcut the blues. Though it’s true denial is not a river inEgypt, it’s a handy tool when life gets to be a little bit overwhelming. One should always take the truth in small doses for best results.

What else do the guys know that we don’t?  Well, based on the ever decreasing neatness of our cruise ship cabin, I’d say we’re also learning the male art of not getting too hung up on disarray either.  I knew the degree to which we had finally devolved when I picked up a pair of black socks from the floor (no small feat when lit to full tipsy following a three for one cocktail offer at the bar), tossed them to Dorothy, and said, “Are these yours?”

In true male fashion, she looked at them briefly, nodded her head and said, “I wonder if they are clean or dirty.”  Hold to nose: sniff, sniff. “Yeah, I think I can get another day out of them.”  Toss back onto floor.

Can’t blame her.  I’m rather sick of washing socks, bras, and panties in the bathroom sink myself, particularly since the stateroom attendant has a mildly disturbing habit of collecting the clothes lying about the room and displaying them in an alluring manner on the bed at night for evening turndown.  Maybe he’s hoping for a big tip.

As for me, I’m hoping to learn whether or not the male denial and avoidance tactics work for the long haul. I’m thinking not, at least not where the female brain is concerned.  We’re hardwired to face reality full on, stinky socks and all.


Naked Spa World: A Day Out With the Girls

Posted by Susannah on Oct 27, 2011 in Girlfriends

So if you’ve been a fan of Seinfeld, you probably know all about good naked and bad naked. Remember when Jerry’s girlfriend did housekeeping in the buff? That was bad naked.

I’ve got a new one. There’s “naked” and “naked naked.” I’ve been naked before–in a communal dressing room or at the gym locker room. But I was “naked naked” the other day, in front of two of my girlfriends. Now before we go completely there, I’ll say there were no tawdry acts involved, and our husbands were safely ensconced in their offices.

It all started as we searched for a special way to celebrate a friend’s birthday. We decided to have a spa day. I’m thinking mani/pedis, foot massages, and maybe even go a bit wild and get cukes on my eyes.

Then one of my friends suggested the infamous “Spa World.” My two friends had been there and vouched for this 24-hour, 50,000 sq. ft. Korean Spa. And for some reason I thought it was just a good joke when the e-mails came flooding in my inbox, saying, “I’m getting naked with my two best friends for my birthday.”

Once we arrived at “Spa World,” which was inconspicuously located in a strip mall well outside the D.C. Beltway, the staff handed us mustard toned shirts and shorts, and we checked our shoes in mini-lockers and donned rubber straps with the corresponding keys. Little did I know that this rubberized bracelet would be the extent of my clothing for most of the day.

Forging onward, we continued down a long hallway to a door labeled “woman’s sauna.” And that’s when I began to delineate in my own mind between naked and naked naked. The woman’s changing area was lined with well-appointed wooden locker cabinets, pristinely clean floors, a well-stocked vanity area, and lots of naked naked women. I consider “naked” to be the women at the gym I go to: minimal cheek exposure in the locker room as a woman is getting dressed from her shower, fully dressed on top, gingerly pulling on her panties while balancing a towel to cover any exposed flesh as she faces the open locker the entire time, and so any accidental flesh view would be considered “partially obstructed.”

There were no partially obstructed views here–just women as naked as Eve before the fig leaf.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I would be one of them in few minutes. I found my corresponding locker, paused for a moment, and started to strip. About to take off my skirt, I blurted out to my friend that once I was undressed I would not be waiting around for her to be ready. “I’ll meet you in the water,” I quipped. With nothing covering me but my locker bracelet (and that made out of vaguely translucent rubber), I made the twenty foot walk across the locker room to the sauna entrance and opened the door.

And then I was in the thick of it. Showers lined one wall (for the more Americanized guest), and small stools with cubbies of low shower hoses lined a second wall (suitable for those interested and able to participate in a more Asian experience). Various pools filled the room, complete with temperature ratings and women hanging along the edges. Very aware of the air between my legs, I searched desperately for the pool entrance, which I soon realized I’d have to walk around half the room to reach.

It was a long walk. I’ve never been vertically naked in front of anyone for such a long period of time, much less in a room full of fifty other naked women.

The next psychological hurdle was when my friends walked in. It’s one thing to have complete strangers see you in the buff, but to be naked naked with the same women you’ll see at the bus stop the next morning was just a little more than I had bargained for.

In they came, one at time, and I waved and smiled, insecure as an awkward adolescent getting the eye of a potential date to the eighth grade dance.

As we settled in the pools and tried out the various jets, which, incidentally, were so strong that you had to hold onto the accompanying handrails, I soon found that it was impossible to sit in the water up to my chin, thereby obstructing any view of my water-jostled breasts. The turbo jets threatened to pummel my breasts.  And worse, the foot jets shot straight up between my legs, propelling me out of the water with an awkwardly uncomfortable feeling and an accompanying look of shock on my face, I’m sure.

Am I crossing the line here? Is this too naked naked? I’m just calling it as it was.

There’s no use beating around the bush (no pun intended) on this one. Watch the foot jets shooting straight up from the bottom of the pool. Mount from the side with your legs together, and lean back against the wall with your feet in front of you to avoid any unseemly surprises.

As we made our way around the pool, trying the various massage jets, I tried to avoid looking in the far corner where a row of padded pink vinyl massage tables were lined up.  I assumed that’s where the body scrubbing happened, and, lucky me, I had a 1 o’clock appointment.

Women as naked as cadavers were lined up, bam, bam, bam, ready for a scrub down. I wondered if they offered sake or plum wine or some Korean alcohol with lunch. I racked my brain to remember the alcohol of choice in Korea, so I’d recognize it on the menu when we had a break for lunch. I thought I could submit to the pink vinyl more gracefully after I had thrown back a few.

To be honest, however, it was fascinating to see such an array of butts and stomachs, breasts and backs. It was a rare one that was seemingly perfect; most were complete with cellulite, scars, and sagging. I started to see a glimmer of acceptance of my own body as I was surrounded by the unadorned reality of everyone else.

After being fully pummeled by the jets, we left the pools, dressed in our unisex spa shorts and oversized shirts, and headed to a lunch of traditional Korean food (though no alcohol was offered to sustain me through the looming pink plastic table). And here’s where I just have to admit it–I’m a little uptight and perhaps slightly vain. I guess you’ve gotten that already. It’s one thing to be naked naked. But here I was eating in a co-ed cafeteria, no make-up, post-sauna hair, in a shapeless mustard sack, and no bra. It’s the “no bra” thing that’s killing me here. I can’t stand going braless. I hate the feeling of not wearing a bra. I imagine my breasts are dropping, centimeter by centimeter, to my navel. I want to hold them, apologize for the abuse and neglect. I’ll admit I even sleep in a bra. It comes off for the shower, and at some other absolutely key moments, but that’s it. I believe in supporting the girls 100 percent.

That being said, lunch was good, but toned with a growing level of anxiety regarding the lack of support, the impending gravity induced droop, and, of course, the pink rack waiting for me.

Clothing off again, we headed back to the naked naked pool area to prepare for the body scrub. After half an hour of marinating in a slightly hotter pool, we were called out by bracelet number to slip onto the pink table. Slip being the illustrative word here, as that is what happens when you’re wet and naked and clambering onto a wet, smoothly padded pink massage table.

And what does the spa woman wear who does the scrub down? Don’t even try to guess because you never will: corresponding black bra and panties. We’re not talking Victoria’s Secret models. Moderate to middle aged Asian women in full coverage panties with tastefully coordinating black bras, all of which could be considered vaguely translucent. It was kind of weird. But what else could they wear? Regular clothing would get soaked and bathing suits would just seem unfair.

My number was up first. Thankfully, I was at the very end of the row, so no one would be walking by me. After lying down, I found myself stripped of my last shred of modesty as the masseuse disrobed me of my locker key bracelet.

I closed my eyes, much like a toddler who thinks, “if I can’t see you, you can’t see me.”  No sooner had I begun to lull myself into this false comfort  than I heard my name called out and a cheerful, “how’s it going?” My two friends were just starting their journey and were still finding humor in all this.

Then the work began. I can only describe it as “work.” This was no Elizabeth Arden gentle sugar massage. Armed with what felt like a brillo pad mitt, the masseuse started on my feet and scrubbed everything. She was going for removal of the top layer. Remember the chart in anatomy class that described the dermis and epidermis with hair follicles and oil glands? I don’t really remember all the specific layers, but whatever that top layer was, she was completely removing it, down to the capillaries. She put me in positions that made me more familiar with her than I was with my gynecologist.

She was a tough cookie.  She slapped my arms up above my head.  On your side? Pat and flip. One knee up, one leg down. I wondered about the necessity of all this.  How much dead skin did I have in these normally hidden places?

On my stomach, I dared to open my eyes. The top layer of my body was there, in little cruddy pieces on the pink vinyl table. Swoosh, another bucket of water washed me away. I felt just a little more naked.

But my skin was so smooth! I was hooked. I would have to do this again! It was like getting your carpets cleaned and then having the guy show you all the dirt he just sucked up from them. You know you’ll be back for more scrubbing.

“All done,” pat, pat. I was led off, with skin feeling as fresh as a baby’s, to the shower, where I rinsed the rest of myself down the drain. I thought perhaps I should tip the scrubber, but I realized that the “tip included” signs made a lot of sense. This was a genuine ‘non-tipping’ situation. After all, where would you stash the cash?

Clean as newborns, my friends and I stood there talking in the shower like we were waiting around at dismissal to pick up the kids, not actually washing our hair and standing naked naked in a room full of other naked naked women.

I went to bed that night with visions of naked women dancing in my head, but feeling like I was a little less uptight and a bit more comfortable with my body. I’ll come clean and admit that I was still wearing a bra. After all, one has to draw the line somewhere.

But as the days went on, I started to feel quite sophisticated and worldly.  After all, with relative ease, I had gracefully partaken in a very Asian (and very non-American) tradition.

You may even say I crossed the line into being prideful over my new spa experience, casually dropping into conversation, “Yes, I’ve had a great week. Thanks for asking. It’s been busy as I spent a lot of time this week helping to laminate the ghost and witch Haiku poems for the second grade bulletin board, though I did finally find time to get the kids’ clothing changed over for the season. It was a lot of work, but it all felt so manageable after starting the week out with a day at Spa World.”

The curious response would often be, “Oh, I’ve heard about that place—I’ve been wanting to go.” This only fueled the fire of my pride.

Graciously I offered, “Next time I go, I’ll let you know.

So, after a few of these interchanges, I was sitting at my son’s Tae Kwon Do class and overheard a woman casually mention to her husband that she had been to Spa World that day.

What!? I thought. How could this be? How could there be another woman who so casually embraces such a touchstone of maturity and sophistication? My touchstone.

It slammed me back in my place, where, apart from shallow pride, I slowly started to grapple with my own deeper issues of body image and self-acceptance. After all, once I’m stripped of all the superficial accouterments of clothing, makeup, and accessories, I’m still me, cellulite, pimples, visible veins, and pasty skin notwithstanding.

And I’m closer to understanding that beauty is only skin-deep.  And a good thing, too, since my skin-deep beauty is most likely stuck in a filter in our local sewage treatment plant.

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