Wednesday, January 20, 2010

'Til Death Do Us Part

Til Death Do Us PartThe first time my mother noticed my father he was running barefoot through a field of thistles, playing baseball. He tells me this like it’s a great secret, his grin visible through his tone even though it’s nearly midnight and we’re both exhausted. The Toyota continues to push through the snow but he’s back on campus falling in love all over again.

I have strong images of my parents in their college days, pieced together from old yearbooks and photographs and television reruns from the seventies. He was farm-boy-cute with his thick wavy hair, long sideburns and pale splay of freckles. I can imagine his hair, dusty from the sand around home plate, impatiently pushed out of his eyes, his polyester plaid pants rolled up at the hem to avoid tripping, his feet calloused and dirty. College Father is always in polyester plaid just as College Mother is always in a short checkered dress and thick-heeled Mary Janes. I can’t explain why. That’s just how it is.

The loud crack of the bat is like a gun sounding off as he hits the ball and then there’s his half run, half hop as he tries to avoid thistles on the way to first base all the while trying to catch her eye as she stands with her girlfriends on the edge of the field. Maybe he whistled or winked as he was catching his breath. Maybe he did nothing more than play barefoot to catch her eye. “It wasn’t so bad,” he tells me, “I only had to dig a few spines out of my heel.”

I am convinced that the “eye catching” was not conducive of their love. I think her reaction may have been more of the eye-rolling variety and though she may have giggled at his naked ankles and boyish behavior she had no suspicion that this, indeed, would be the man she would marry.

I see my mother as a calm, gentle girl with Marsha Brady hair and a quick smile. She would like me to think of her as a serious young woman, sensibly dedicated to her studies but I am much more inclined to enjoy the idea of her being a bit sassy and flirtatious. I don’t know what it was exactly that caught my fathers eye. Was it the curve of her hip in that tight checkered dress? Was it the way she chewed her bottom lip as she took notes in class? Was it her obsessive picking of hangnails or her giggle at the sink as she washed pots in the college kitchen? Whatever it was - he was head over heels and had to convince her of the same thing.

To this day I’m pretty sure that my dad looks at my mom and can’t believe he’s so completely lucky to have her in his life. Whether she left that baseball field with good feelings or bad feelings - it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that in the end, once he convinced her that he wasn’t a complete nut, she chose to choose him and I’m convinced that no one could ever have loved her more than he does. I have never witnessed a man more in love with his wife.

I always know when my father is talking about my mother because he loses fifteen years off his face. He softens. He brightens. His voice changes somehow. He cherishes his three daughters. He adores his grandchildren. But, oh, does he love his wife.

As a little girl, my favorite thing about car rides was watching my dad hold hands with my mom. To me, this was the apex of intimacy and I was amazed that they would display this in front of us. Sometimes their fingers were weaved together. Sometimes my father would lay his hand on top of hers and rest it there. Like a voyeur I would study “the art of the holden hand” and was caught in the beauty of this simple act so much that I didn’t dream of meeting a boy and having a first kiss - I was reaching much higher than that. If I could find a boy who would hold my hand then he, surely, would be the one for me. How disappointing it was when my first hand holding experience was an awkward fumbling mess. His name was Nick. He had blond, curly hair. He asked me onto the floor for the couples skate at the roller rink. I went for the finger weave. He went for the clasp. His hands were sweaty. I did not fall in love with him. My belief in “the art of the holden hand” was crushed. For awhile.

Through the years I think my father has only grown to love my mother more - to sink deeper and deeper into his awe of her. While I was in high school she went to England for a week and he missed her desperately. When we missed one of her calls he sat at the phone and played back her message over and over again just to fill his ears with her voice. And this is what I want. To be missed when I’m gone. To be kissed when I am here. To have my hand held in simple moments. To be loved beyond a capacity I have to understand. This is how my father loves my mother. This is how we should all be loved. Completely. Unselfishly. To the hilt. To the max. ‘Til death do we part.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Favorite Pair

It all began with a perfect pair of polyester pants. Before that I was just that friendly girl; kind, sweet, forgettable. Then I discovered mascara and decided to reinvent myself. I knew what I wanted. I wanted to be important. When people remembered high school I wanted to be forefront in their memories; kind, sweet, unforgettable. “Sure, I remember her - she was that hippie chick...”

I was in tenth grade. I wore thick, black mascara and my lashes were so long that they hit my eyebrows. I was at my best friend’s grandmas house digging through moldy boxes that smelled of old person when we found them. They were brown plaid. They were bell bottoms. They stunk of mothballs. I had to have them. My friend, with my best interest in my mind, I’m sure, tried to talk me out of it. “They’ll be so tight,” she warned. I was 102 pounds. I was pretty sure I could pull it off. Her grandma was happy to let them go. It took four washes to replace the nursing home smell with that fresh, traditional scent of Tide.

my favorite pairThey were perfect. They fit like a glove - like they’d been made just for me. I’d never worn pants so fitted. My thighs looked amazing. The fabric itched against my legs. I preened before the mirror. It would be a good day.

My confidence started to wan as I walked to meet the bus. It was 1995 not 1971. I began to worry about what people would think. It was a pretty bold move, if you ask me, showing up at school in something so a-typical of myself that people were sure to notice. And comment. I started to sweat. (May I remind you that polyester is not the material to wear if you’re going to get sweaty.) The bus ride was too short. The school halls had at least doubled. I was sure everyone was staring and whispering. I wanted to fake a stomach ache and retreat to the nurses office but instead I held my head high and marched into first period. That’s where it turned around. My seat was in front of Scott Dolson - who, might I add, I had been secretly in love with since the fourth grade. He was already there, his eyes on me - on my thighs - as I weaved through the desks to mine. “Nice pants,” he said. I offered a half grin, not sure if it was a compliment or a dig. I turned to slide into my seat. He let out a puff of air. “Your butt looks great!” I pretended I didn’t hear him but I felt my face flush and I’m pretty sure I loved him a little more after that.

And that was the beginning of my affair with the thrift store industry. That was the day I dismissed every typical piece of clothing from my seriously lacking wardrobe. That was the day I gained self confidence. That was the day that defined the next half of my life (no matter how trivial and insignificant a pair of pants may seem). That was the day I began the journey to becoming that hippie chick everybody wanted to know (or so I like to think). I started writing poetry. I got a guitar. I wrote things like, “John Lennon Lives Forever,” across my binders. I wore fake Birkenstalks because I couldn’t afford the real ones. I like to say it was me who brought Goodwill awareness to the halls of John Diefenbaker Secondary School. It was I who made it cool to bring a little funk and individuality to the classroom. (Of course this isn’t true, I’m not delusional but let me have my moment - this was my day.)

That was fifteen years ago. Half a lifetime. I am thirty. Three. Zero. 30.

Excuse me, I just choked a little bit.

I didn’t wake up on the dawn of my thirtieth to find some old-person mole had sprouted. I wasn’t overwhelmed with some desperate despair that my life was now somehow over. I did spend an embarrassing length of time in front of the mirror, trying to find those thirty years, satisfying myself in the fact that every line I found was part of my smile. And I did try on those polyester pants. I almost cried. I didn’t - but almost.

I have had three children. When we started talking about having babies I told my husband that I wanted to be done by the time I was thirty. Mission accomplished. I am done. Three babies is a lot of abuse for a body. I’m not the fifteen-year-old who rescued those pants from a cardboard prison. Things have shifted. Some have relocated altogether. I am not 102 pounds. I can no longer pull it off. I took off the pants, sliding them over my (not so fabulous) thighs, feeling the familiar itch of the polyester, noticing the pilling in the crotch as I folded them, feeling a shudder of mourning as I slipped them into a bag bound for Goodwill. Part of me struggled to hang on to them. Maybe someday sew them into a quilt. Maybe kill myself with hour-long daily workouts so I can wear them again. But that’s not realistic - I have three kids, remember?

So this is my rite of passage. This is my journey into adulthood. I am now a grownup. It is time to reinvent myself again. With the death of my pants I have begun a new friendship with natural fibers and real live grownup clothes (mostly). My eyelashes don’t reach my eyebrows anymore - punishment for fifteen years of mascara use. I have to dedicate twenty minutes a day to a ten kilometer stationary bike ride if I don’t want my thighs to rub together when I walk. But here’s what I know: it’s okay. It’s okay to get older. It’s okay to accept where I am as my ideal self instead of wishing for the way I was in the past. It’s okay to feel nostalgic in the vintage section of Value Village as I let my fingers trace along the hemlines of all those fantastic synthetic togs. It’s okay to walk away from that garment rack and choose, instead, a great cotton blouse (which I can still jazz up with a cute hippie-inspired belt or something to make it my own). It’s okay to embrace adulthood because as Zander (my eight-year-old) says, “you’re old, Mommy, but at least you look young.”

And so, to that fifteen year old girl, browsing the racks, stumbling upon that perfect pair of polyester pants I say, “Go for it!” because when you’re wearing them no one’s going to be able to see the pilling in the crotch.