SHE WALKED LIKE SHE WANTED IT

One evening near my fifteenth birthday, I was summoned to stand before the Kitchen Tribunal.  My mother was there;  recently widowed, understandably shell-shocked, and exhausted by the demands of a fragile household and three needy teenagers.  Also in attendance were my two older brothers, their adolescent snickering temporarily pushed aside by the weight and severity of the matter at hand, which was this:  A few days earlier, an acquaintance of  theirs (several years older, a bit snarky, and appropriately enough, named Dick) had driven past me as I crossed the Market Street Bridge, then reported to my big brothers that their little sister walked like she wanted it.   The family was solemn and disapproving;  the kitchen smelled of fried egg sandwiches and scandal.

Well, I was affronted!  I was mortified!  I was. . .intrigued.  So after clearing my good name with Mom and the brothers, I retreated to ponder this new development.  I turned it over in my mind:  She walked like she wanted it.  Those words couldn’t possibly apply to me, a self-described wallflower and slow starter who hadn’t yet learned how to flirt.  I mean, I certainly knew what IT was, but I wasn’t sure I wanted IT anytime soon.  To be honest, IT was a little scary.  Besides, exactly how did I walk like I wanted it?  What was happening back there that I didn’t know about? 

Therefore,  I turned to my cultural icons for clues.  The men on Gilligan’s Island (even the Professor!) were dumbstruck each time Ginger walked by, but I’d have described my walk as more . . . Mary Ann-ish.  And there weren’t enough Underalls in the world to make my back porch swing like Ann-Margret’s.  But in the privacy of my room, I had to admit I kind of liked knowing something about the way I walked caused Dick to take notice.  Is this what made Aerosmith’s Walk This Way such a dirty song?

Conveniently placed bamboo conceals Gilligan’s interest in Ginger’s leopard skin swimsuit.

Until that moment, the only womanly walk I’d ever analyzed was my mother’s.  Her long legs moved with quick, purposeful strides.  “Keep up, Lisa!” she’d insist as we rushed from store to store each Saturday morning, trying to get our shopping done before some deadline (Yes, I grew up in a world with downtown stores but no Amazon.com.). 

Mom also instructed me on how to walk like a lady.  “Move your legs from the hips, not from the knees, Lisa.”  And because I tended toward pigeon-toes:  “Point your shoes forward, Lisa.  Don’t let your toes turn in when you walk.”  I assure you, Mom was not being critical;  back in the day, it was a mother’s duty to teach her daughter the finer points of being a woman.   How ironic that the very walk my mom worked to cultivate in me would one day attract the attention of boys like Dick.

I never managed to duplicate my mother’s walk, though.  At 4′ 11″ inches tall, I just don’t have the equipment to cover ground in the same fashion.  Now 79, Mom still out distances me step by step.

But as I made my way through the mall recently, I couldn’t shake the eerie feeling of being stalked by my Great Aunt Lois (May she rest in peace.).  Great Aunt Lois was smart and generous, a veteran school teacher with a no-nonsense attitude, a woman esteemed by the family at large during my formative years.  Great Aunt Lois’s walk, however, was nothing like my mother’s. 

The Grand Dame was short, stout, and plagued by arthritis.  She waddled stiff-legged from here to there with knees and hips that moved like rusty gears.  I imagined her carrying an oil can in that oversized handbag on her arm.  And whoever was caught climbing a flight of stairs behind Great Aunt Lois had better not be in a hurry;  coaxing those creaky joints to rotate in such a manner was a process that simply could not be rushed.

And so it was Great Aunt Lois’s walk that followed me  past each store window— in the form of my own reflection.  Nowadays, I walk like I want some ibuprofin and a nice, long, soak.  And since he’s a grandpa now, I’m pretty sure Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler walks this way, as well. 

Dick, too.

And such, friends, is the walk of life. 

~lisa

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TORMENT ME

Damn you.
And that shirt.
Damn you in that shirt.
Smirk and pretend that you’re unaware,
But I know that you know
What you’re doing
To me.

Careworn,
Threadbare, and
Faded the color of old straw
With a single, ragged hole. . .right there.
How I want to peek behind that
Yellow curtain and see what
It’s hiding.

 The line
It draws across
Your shoulders is wicked.
I would wet my fingertips in earthy ochre
And slowly paint from left to right,
Then stand back
To admire.

My name
Should be written
Across your broad chest,
Scratched there by my own hand
Like limonite on the ancient walls of Cypress,
Claim staked for all to see
Open to none
But me.

Torment me
With that broad chest,
And with those wicked shoulders,
And the way faded yellow tumbles down
From precipice to canyon.
I sing amen
, and again:
Amen.

~lisa

HOW TO DRESS LIKE A PENNSYLVANIAN FOR HALLOWEEN

Autumn in Pennsylvania:  the fiery foliage, the crisp temperatures, pumpkin flavoring in everything from ice cream to toothpaste. 

If there’s one thing Pennsylvanians love more than a garage sale, it’s Halloween— a holiday that’s equal parts cute and creepy.  Well, this year you don’t have to look beyond your back yard  to find the perfect costume:  just in time for Halloween ’11, we offer the finest in scare wear based on surprisingly accurate Pennsylvania stereotypes!

PENNSYLVANIAN LADIES’ HALLOWEEN COSTUMES

It’s hard being a single mom with two jobs.  But ladies, one word makes it easy to dress up for your Pennsylvania Halloween:  slutty.

That’s right, Pennsylvania gals from Jugtown to Intercourse* will be whispering Victoria’s secret on October 31st as they don the lingerie they wouldn’t be caught dead wearing any other time of the year.  Add a halo and wings, and you’re a slutty angel!  Pitchfork and horns?  Poof! you’re a slutty devil!  Switch out a few simple-to-find accessories to transform your look from slutty nurse, to slutty kitty cat, slutty librarian, or a slutty Catholic schoolgirl.  And don’t worry, moms, the irony of attempting to escape the drudgery of your life for a few hours by dressing up as a some man’s plaything will be lost on everyone!

All costumes come in pre-teen and plus sizes too!

PENNSYLVANIAN MEN’S HALLOWEEN COSTUMES

Guys, we haven’t forgotten about you!  And for once, the big fashion choices don’t belong to the ladies!

1) Steelers Fan
The very name—Steelers—evokes hardworking underdogs.  Like the millworkers who inspired their persona, the Pittsburgh Steelers are rough and ready, those f-able action figures that every man wants to be like and every woman wants to be with.**  
You can’t be a Pittsburgh Steeler, but you can be a feral, rabid Steelers fan for Halloween quicker than you can say, “Hey, yinz jagoffs goin’ to da Gine Iggle?”

How 'bout them Stillers?

The Steelers fan costume is easy to assemble and highly customizable.  By October your local WalMart will bleeding gold and black from every department, so just grab a shopping cart and go to town!  Clothing, jewelry, accessories, toys, snack foods, automotives, housewares—the possibilities are endless!  Throw on some face paint, cover up what nature gave you with a Steeler-striped wig, and it’s game on!  If your body is less a temple than a billboard, have your team loyalty burned right into your flesh (see illustration above) —that way you can be the source of sniggering side comments even when it’s not football season. 

Oh, and guys—don’t forget to stop in the pharmacy aisle for some black and gold Steel Curtain condoms in case you end up bobbing for apples with that slutty lady police officer you just met at the Halloween party.

2) Hunter
We Pennsylvanians have never met an animal too beautiful to kill.  In fact, the more magnificent the creature, the deader we want it.  Now, in the grand tradition of Pennsylvania blood sports, you can be a hunter for Halloween.

One of these two animals is having his best day ever.

The color palette for your hunter costume should be Earth tones.  Camo is essential, as it has magical powers.  Pennsylvania hunters are required by law to wear 250 square inches of flourescent orange on their heads and upper bodies, but authentic PA sportsmen interpret that amount to be roughly the size of one knitted ski cap.  More important than protective orange are the heated gadgets hunters must carry:  battery operated socks, gloves, seat pads, coffee mugs. . .Peppering your conversation with hunter-approved bon mots like thinning the herd and Did you hear a buck snort? will guarantee you more tricks than treats.   Sling a grimacing carcass*** over your shoulder and that coveted most disgusting costume trophy is in your pocket!

3)  Redneck
The great state of Pennsylvania is filled with history, beauty, and tradition.  You know what else is true about the great state of Pennsylvania?  It’s Philadelphia on one end, Pittsburgh on the other, and Arkansas in between.****

So if the Steelers Fan or the Hunter don’t meet your costuming needs, you can turn to a real crowd pleaser:  the Redneck.

Someone’s been a very good redneck all year long!

The basics of a good redneck costume can be found in any Pennsylvania home:  the flannel shirt, the Confederate flag, and the ball cap.  What will make your redneck special are the personal touches you add:  How crude is the saying on your ball cap?  Is your t-shirt stained and short enough so that your beer belly is seen hanging over your waistband?  If you can’t grow scruffy facial hair or a mullet, see if you can rent them for the holiday.  Make sure your beer is of the lite variety, and remember that a redneck’s teeth take two forms:  1) missing, and 2) Austin Powers.

 
Above are acceptable looks for a Pennsylvania redneck.
 
4)  Amish Guy
Their culture restricts the Amish from having  photographs taken, so we’ll just substitute this photo of Harrison Ford in the movie Witness.

Not really Amish, but oh, so do-able.

Ahem.

Seriously, Pennsylvania is lousy with Amish people and there’s no reason you shouldn’t celebrate a night of terroristic threats (Trick or treat, yo.) and devil worship by paying playful homage to the plain people of Pennsylvania Dutch Country.  Just know that you’ll end up looking like this as you beg strangers for candy:

Later shunned for allowing themselves to be photographed.

Your Amish Halloween costume begins with a handmade suit in dark blue or black, along with a handmade shirt in a patternless fabric.  How do you feel about suspenders?  Just asking.  And we hope you’re not too dependent on buttons.  But in exchange modern fasteners and the like, you’ll step out into the night wearing a fly straw hat and work boots caked with manure.  Also necessary for your Amish look will be a long beard (Ah, ah!  No moustache!), wire-rimmed glasses, and hands the size of catcher’s mits.*****

How did this picture get in here? 🙂

 –

5)  Former Washed-Up Ex-High School Football Star Reliving His Glory Days While Flying A Bar Stool
Nearly 74,000 baby boys are conceived in Pennsylvania each year.  And all 74,000 of them are told from the post-coital cigarette that, one day, they will be football stars.  Probably going to the pros, yessir.  Consequently, the only thing Pennsylvania produces more abundantly than the hollowed out shells of fallen industries is former washed-up ex-high school football stars reliving their glory days while flying  bar stools.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

A lifetime dedicated to reliving fifteen minutes of fame

Be a sport for Halloween by dressing up as one of these staples of small town America.  If you can still fit into your old varsity jacket or team jersey, that’s the way to start.  If not, cozy up to your local high school’s booster club for some replacement spirit wear.  Keep in mind that FWUEHSFSRHGDWFABS‘s often end up coaching at the community level, so polo shirts or hats embroidered with the word COACH go a long way toward reaching the desired effect.  Accessories would include a middle-aged spread, as many district championship rings as you can fit on your fingers, and a bum knee.  Authenticate your costume by using your beer bottle to gesture as you tell for the umpteenth time the story of how you saved your team’s ass with a miracle play.  The one thing that will put your costume over the top is a son whom you can push into sports and through whom you can live.  Rent one if you have to.

_________________________________________________________

So there you are, trick or treaters, set to rule All Hallow’s Eve in your Pennsylvania finery.  And yinz thought ghosts and goblins were scary. . .

Boo.

* Real Pennsylvania towns.  Also Blue Ball, Virginville, Ono, and Noodle Doosie. 
** Girls, proceed cautiously if your action hero is wearing number 7.
*** Available for a small extra fee, unless you have no problem with poaching.
**** An old joke, but a good one.
***** Missing fingertips are optional.

HOW BABIES ARE BORN

It might have been the watermelon margaritas talking.  It might have been the fact that my son was celebrating his 21st birthday without me.  But whatever the reason, our table conversation at Ruby Tuesday‘s turned to childbirth, and I was the resident expert.  Of the four, I was the only person who had actually given birth.  Two of my companions—a man and a woman—had at least witnessed babies coming into the world, and the third—another woman—made little effort to conceal her distaste for the whole process.  Over our drinks, we all agreed that the miracle of childbirth is one disgusting miracle.

Lately my blog has become the go-to website for people who want their bubbles burst, their rainbows drained of color, and their warm fuzzies strung up by their warm fuzzies.  This I know.  Just a few weeks ago I reduced the charm of my 29-year, happy marriage to nothing but good luck, good timing, and good science  (click to read).  So why not shovel around my observations on having babies?

Before I’d ever considered having a child, I’d watched the Ridley Scott film Alien, with its terrifying, unforgettable alien-exploding-from-a-man’s-body scene.  If you’ve never seen it (Perhaps you were raised by wolves?), or if you just want to refresh your memory, go here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuapyExYJBI

Yessir, that's just fun for everyone, right there.

Anyway, when I imagined childbirth, I imagined it being rather like this.  At least I liked to think this is what it would be like if men gave birth.  Because let’s admit it:  in the battle of the sexes, childbirth is the trump card.  No amount of knees in the nuts will ever top the experience of shooting an entire human being out your boy howdy.  But I digress. . .

Turns out real life childbirth isn’t so much different from the scene in Alien.  Of course the person writhing on the gurney would be a woman, and the baby’s off ramp wouldn’t be her stomach.  And very rarely does the newborn actually bare its teeth and go skittering off the delivery table.  But other than that. . .

Now, before you click  on that response chastising me for sullying the most wonderful day of your life, let me just acknowledge how your own child’s birth was dreamlike and magical, with the clouds above parting for angels to herald little Junior’s arrival into a perfect world and the completion of you as a person.  All I’m saying is my children’s births were loud, painful, and messy.* 

It’s not like I wasn’t prepared.  I’d read every single book I could get my hands on, watched all the childbirth videos, and interviewed every mother I could find.  My wallet still holds the card proving my successful completion of childbirth classes just in case someone attempts to repossess my kids. 

But I don’t care; nothing prepares you for a parade of strangers going in elbow deep to check things like dilation and effacement and denudement and potability.  My own doctor sneezed while he was performing just such an intimate internal exam—now, there’s a moment neither of us will ever forget.  Nothing prepares you for the second when some yahoo holds a mirror between your legs so you can see a crowning head the size of a bowling ball (Aw, HELL, no! were my exact words).  And NOTHING prepares you for the doctor raising a scalpel and announcing that it’s time for the episiotomy (clickety click)

Then there’s the spurting goo, all that cheesy stuff that covers the new baby until someone hoses him down, and the likelihood that he’ll be all cone-headed and scrunched up when he finally makes his appearance.  And don’t even get me started on the afterbirth.

Then, suddenly, it’s all over and everything’s like this:

Awwwwwww

 Come on, now, did you really think this was going to have a bad ending?  

Not only did I have the baby girl in the picture above, but three years later I went back for seconds and ended up with a baby boy.  So it’s all good—all good in a loud, painful, messy, alien-explosion kind of way. But don’t take my word for it:  click here for more info from our friends at Cracked.com.  You’re welcome.

This one I couldn't resist. 🙂

 *Plain, ordinary, hospital birth with no pain meds or epidural.  That’s right, I’m an amazon, and I kick ass.

DAMAGED GOODS (DUCK, OR THE METAPHOR WILL SMACK YOU IN THE FACE)

Damaged goods.  It’s an interesting term, isn’t it—an adjective and a noun that when put together would seem to create an oxymoron.  I mean, if something’s damaged, how can it also be good? 

Here’s a quick story for you:  The home improvement store where I work sells a wide selection of tool chests, including deluxe models for the most serious of handymen, contractors, and craftmakers.  One such tool chest stands nearly six feet tall, and in addition to the usual assortment of drawers and bins, features some pretty sweet perks like a built-in stereo and a mini refrigerator.  Lots of shoppers stop to admire that bad boy, but because of its hefty price tag few of them are actually purchased.

The other day, a customer returned his super-deluxe tool chest and asked for a refund because the item was damaged.  And by damaged, I mean that he bought it several years ago for something like $1,600, used it hard and beat the crap out of it, then decided to Smith the system.  See, the manufacturer has an unconditional lifetime guarantee, so the fact that the owner had covered the tool chest with stickers, broken several drawers, snapped the antenna for the built-in stereo, and left food spills in the mini refrigerator didn’t stop our store from accepting his return.  What can I say?  We have a pretty liberal returns policy. 

But what to do with the cast-off tool chest once it was in the store?  As I said, the chest was pretty badly beaten up.  After the options were considered, it was decided by management to have the tool chest cleaned up a bit, slap a “$200 as is” price tag on it, and roll the dice.

That evening I was fortunate enough to be working in the department where the used tool chest was set out for display.  It looked pretty rugged, and that’s no lie.  But customer after customer stopped to admire the thing.  At one point five men stood there testing its drawers, checking its wheels for rollability, and peeking inside its fridge.  Just pound out that dent, clean it up a bit, get those two drawers back on track; each of them saw the diamond in the rough.  An Amish fellow was especially interested, although he admitted he wouldn’t have much use for the stereo even if he could get it working.   As he walked out, he announced that if the tool chest hadn’t been sold by the time he returned, he’d have to buy it himself, which would probably make his wife furious. When I suggested that if she got mad enough he could always bring out his pillow and sleep in the top compartment of his new tool chest, it tickled him to no end.

Within a few hours  the tool chest found a new home with a gentleman who was able to look beyond its sketchy past to see its present and future value.  Sure, it carried a few scars— but it was still good!

And doesn’t that just describe us all?  Aren’t we all damaged goods

I’m reminded of this scene from Field of Dreams, in which Ray encounters the spirit of his father as a young man:  (click the link below)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cz1TJ4r7bOU&feature=relmfu

Watch it again, and let these lines really sink in:  “My God.  I only saw him years later when he was worn down by life.  Look at him.  He’s got his whole life ahead of him, and I’m not even a glint in his eye.”

 Wow.   Sooner or later we’re all worn down by life, but that doesn’t mean we cease to have value.  I’m surrounded each day by friends who never knew me when I was bright and shiny—they didn’t meet me until life had worn me down and dented me up—and still they are my friends.  Even sweeter are those people who have been with me throughout the journey; my husband, my family, lifelong buddies who can look at me now and see me as the same person I’ve always been:  Lisa.  I’m damaged goods; damaged, but still good.

My favorite Bible story is that of David.  Righteous king, victorious warrior, musician, poet, author of many of the Psalms, a figure central to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. . .what’s not to admire?  But what I love most about David is his fallibility.  David did honorable things in spite of his baser tendencies—he was at times a liar, an adulterer, even a murderer.   Still,  God didn’t wait for David to shape up before guiding him to greatness; God watched with joy as a mere man navigated his own stormy seas and ultimately lived one of history’s most celebrated lives.

Here’s one more quick story:   I hosted a yard sale a few weeks ago, and while all the choice items sold quickly, I was left with a pile of things that nobody seemed to want.  After some time passed, I took those misfit toys and other oddities out to the corner of the yard where I displayed them with a sign that said FREE.  Within a few hours, every single thing had been taken by someone who saw it as treasure. 

From the safety of my porch, I witnessed two teenaged boys pick through the items.  When one of them tucked a couple of cute-but-inevitably-outgrown stuffed animals under his arm, this was their conversation:

Boy #1:  Dude.
Boy #2:  Hey, chill.  My sister’s birthday is this week.
Boy #1:  That’s cool.

Despite the fact that they’ve already lived one life, despite their mended seams and their lumpiness from having been cuddled to sleep or crushed by the weight of backpacks, those stuffed animals still will make some little girl very happy.  

We’re all damaged goods.  Sooner or later, we all fall down.  But we keep on going forward, and that’s called life.

Damaged Goods by Francesca Crescentini

 

The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise. – Alden Nowlan

LIVING JUST TO FIND EMOTION

This story begins with the ending.  Traveling home from a long Labor Day weekend visit, I asked our guest if he’d had a good time.  There was no hesitation whatsoever in his answer:  “Oh, yeah!  Your family’s lots of fun.”

“That’s right,” I wisecracked, “we’re dysfunctional, but in a totally loveable way.”   I was only joking, but my daughter’s response was heartfelt:

“But Mom, we’re not dysfunctional at all.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Just 48 hours earlier, twenty of us gathered around a table laid out with a seafood feast so vast and sumptuous it made our mouths water, our wallets weep, the Atlantic gasp, and the neighborhood crickets quiver in fear that we would run out of things to dip in drawn butter and come after them.  I could almost hear their crickety little admonitions:  “Dammit, Carl, keep your legs quiet—they’re down to their last dozen snow crabs!”

My family builds its calendar around beloved traditions, and the Labor Day get-together crowns our entire year.  Though it’s not a religious holiday, eveyone’s higher power is thanked freely.  And though the atmosphere is party-like, the only gifts exchanged are the gifts of each other’s company.   Gazing from face to face,I tried to define, tried to qualify this group of people each of whom occupies a special room in my heart.  Parent, child, cousin, niece, nephew, brother, sister, boyfriend, domestic partner, fiance, lifelong friend. . .every title an honor and a term of endearment.

By the numbers, we look like this:

2, 564:  the greatest distance in miles traveled to be there
650:  a conservative estimate of the dollars spent on seafood
148:  the combined years of marriage among the spouses
100:  average amount spent per family to make personalized t-shirts for the occasion
28:  the number of cell phones, iPads, and laptops running concurrently
18:  how many years we’ve gathered together for Labor Day
14:  various musical instruments played by attendees
13:  college degrees currently held by the group
12:  number of handmade trophies prepared to be awarded after games
11 – 79:  our range in ages
9 and 11:  the numbers of females vs. males
8:  hours held out until someone proclaimed Firefly to be the greatest TV show ever cancelled
5:  pots of coffee brewed each morning
3:  hours until someone compared our family to the one in the movie While You Were Sleeping; also the number of dogs vying for food slipped under the table
2:  hours until it was noted that the Orioles and the Pirates have lost a combined total of 162 games so far this season
1:  Irish Car Bomb consumed by me to the chagrin of my kids and the delight of my nephews

Demographically, we represent the following groups:
Christian
agnostic
Republican
Democrat
widowed
divorced
married
single
engaged
underemployed
upwardly mobile
recovering alcoholic
liberal
conservative
senior citizen
middle-aged
young adult
straight
gay
athletic
artistic
 

Around the same table each morning we laid out a banquet of a different kind:  tinctures and pharmaceuticals designed to manage hypertension, hypothyroidism, glaucoma, fertility, heart function, depression, anxiety, asthma, allergies, hormone replacement, attention deficit disorder, chronic pain—all of this because life is messy, and we live life.  We go out into the world and take what it has to offer, then bring it all back.  Triumphs and tragedies walk among us like poltergeists until they see that we are humans, whole and actual, because of—and sometimes in spite of—-their presence.  We absorb these experiences and emotions; they become part of our collective history, and then we move on to make even more memories and even more mistakes.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Later in the car, I contemplated my daughter’s firm proclamation, “But Mom, we aren’t dysfunctional at all.”  And here is my conclusion:

Taken as a group, we probably shouldn’t work.  We probably shouldn’t get along as well as we do.  And yet, year after year we seek each other out for company, for recreation, for playful hijinks, for advice, for lively debate, and perhaps most importantly, for emotional support.  In each other’s presence, we are unafraid to be imperfect, we are open to encouragement, and we are guaranteed to feel love—-the kind of love that is apparent even when we don’t like each other very much at the moment.

Every family has emotional baggage, and ours is no different.  We are just devoted to each other,  and through simple acts like cooking and eating together, playing card games, watching movies, making family t-shirts, giving out homemade awards, and somehow managing to keep track of seven rambling conversations at once, we help each other carry that emotional baggage.  Life is a big, old, emotional mess.  And we live life.

So now I amend my earlier comment:  We might be bat shit crazy at times, but we function like a well-oiled and time-worn machine.  As it is now, so shall it ever be. . .

LIFE GOES ON, AND SO DO MY HUSBAND AND I

Despite being an incorrigible flirt and an ardent admirer of the male gender, I consider my long-standing marriage to be the crowning achievement of my time here on Earth.  When I mentioned my upcoming 29th anniversary at work the other day (unsolicited, of course—my coworkers have lives), I was challenged thusly:  “Yes,” asked Doubty Suspiciouston, “but how many years were you happily married?”  My reply, “All 29 years” was met with stunned silence, appreciative smiles, and respectful head nodding.

Couples are expected to sail through the first few years of marriage fueled by sex, stupidity, and dreams (if you don’t, you’re doing it wrong), but when you can mark your relationship in decades, people start to take notice.  How did you do it? they want to know.  Indeed.  How the hell did we do it?  As far as I can tell, marriage—like most of adulthood—is a make-it-up-as-you-go- along sort of proposition. 

Adaptability

Item #1:  He didn’t propose to me, and I didn’t propose to him; we simply realized that marriage was where we seemed to be headed and decided to plan a little ceremony to make it official. 

Item #2:  I was halfway through my first pregnancy before we even realized a baby was on the way.

Item #3:  We spent the money intended for remodeling on a trip to Ireland instead, and used money saved for a 25th anniversary cruise to buy our son a $2,000 musical instrument.

You might say those items simply prove that my man and I are just a couple of flakes.  And although I’m not denying our flakiness, I’d like to offer an alternate/complimentary explanation:  We are adaptable.  We’ve adapted through changes in attitudes, changes in jobs, changes in hairstyles, weight, priorities, goals.  Life goes on, and so do we.

Vive La Difference

A successful marriage might be seen as a living, breathing VENN diagram.  The partners are individuals with their own personalities, ideas, and values—and marriage (won’t? shouldn’t?) change their individuality.   But, oh,  there’s magic in the areas that overlap!  For example, my husband believes in the right to bear arms, and I believe in the right to arm bears.  But we both believe in human rights and civil liberties.  Bingo!  He refuses to acknowledge popular music beyond the 70’s, while I feel absolutely disconnected if I don’t at least give a courtesy listen to what’s currently playing.  But we both love music.  Bingo!  Marriage has to make room for differences as well as similarities.

Scott would walk barefoot for three miles on shards of glass if he were following Emily Dechanel. Lisa could eat David Boreanaz for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Bones = BINGO!

 
Perspective
 
As George Carlin said, “Don’t sweat the petty things, and don’t pet the sweaty things.”   I don’t care how perfect two people are at the beginning, eventually they will start to annoy the bejeezus out of each other.   Take Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie*, for example.  She probably can’t stand the way he slurps his coffee, and he probably hates how she eats in bed.  I’ll bet she despises his growing a long, gray ponytail as much as he despises her wearing pointy-toed shoes.  But are they going to let those little things overshadow years of memories, triumphs, challenges met, crises managed, laughter, inside jokes, and the pleasure of each other’s company?  Hell to the naw.  They find that keeping thunderstorms in perspective assures plenty of strength in reserve come tsunami season.

* You figured out that I'm actually talking about my husband and me, right?

 
  
Logistics, yo.
 
A successful marriage requires the touch of a civil engineer, as it is the construction, manipulation, and maintenance of elements both natural and manmade.  After years of trial and error, my husband and I have arrived at a balance of togetherness and space, bickering and laughter, parry and thrust, allowing and withholding. 

Handy chart for quick reference

There’s much more, of course, but you get the idea.

 
It’s All About the Dopamine, Baby 
 
Warning:  This section will make love and marriage sound about as romantic as a junior chemistry set, so feel free to plug your ears and sing la, la, la if you feel the need.
 
I’m as flowery as the next girl, but I have a healthy respect for the science of love.  As it turns out, falling in love is nothing more than a rush of dopamine** to the brain, a chemical imbalance similar to those which result in feelings of grief, anger, depression, or euphoria.  When such chemical changes occur, the brain struggles to regain its balance by raising levels of serotonin.  We are glad when our rebalanced brain is free of grief, anger, or depression.  But when the chemical reboot lessens the delicious headiness of attraction and lust, we fear we’ve fallen out of love.   Science tells us that partners who remain attached to each other long after the dopamine rush has subsided are also producing significant amounts of oxytocin, a chemical abundant in nursing mothers and especially empathetic males.  
 
 The real cupid.
 
So my long and happy marriage is, in fact, a combination of good timing, good choices, good fortune, and good science.  I can live with that, because we also make each other laugh.  Our marriage started with a belly laugh when the groom admitted to the congregation that he’d never memorized his personally written vows and would be winging it instead.  And we’ve been laughing ever since!  We laugh like fools at puns, dirty jokes, each other’s foibles, oft-told anecdotes, and our childrens’ antics.  In all this time, neither of us has encountered anyone or anything else worth giving up the life we’ve built together.  Here’s to the next 29 years!
 

Freaking adorable.

 
 
 
 
**I’ve simplified things a bit.  Read here and here for more details.