Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Breakable Tradition

Last week many of you grabbed your flashlights, braved the cobwebs
and eased out the wedding china from its hiding place, box by pristine
box, to adorn your Thanksgiving tables. Some of you probably held your
breath each time someone slurped from a precious coffee cup or clinked
a fork down a little too hard on a salad plate.



You might have
counted the minutes until you could wash and dry the whole mess (by
hand, of course) and then return each setting to its proper box –
cardboard dividers and all. Your guests measured the success of your
holiday meal by the quality of the food. You, secretly, used the number
of chipped dishes as your metric: No matter how delicious your
marshmallow yams were, if that cow-shaped creamer broke, the evening
was ruined. 



When we were getting married, Hubby tried to
dissuade me from registering for fine china. He anticipated that people
would shell out a lot of money for a delicate albatross that would lurk
silently in our house, emerging only on the rarest occasions to drive
me completely batty.



Don't touch that! I'll wash that! Don't stack the soup bowls with the spoons still in them; they'll chip! 



He
told me we would likely never use fine china. As it happens, we've used
our pretty calla lily-embossed settings very nearly eight times. Or
maybe it was five.



"Why do we need china?" he asked me back then. 



"Because," was my answer.



In
truth, I had no idea why we needed china, but Mom and the woman at
Macy's told me we did, and I was too young to argue. At the time, they
equated china with the little black dress: You always want to have one
in your closet. But the difference is, I get actual use out of my
little black dress – and it doesn't take up nearly as much room in the
closet.



My girlfriends who waited until after puberty to get
married were a little wiser. They now keep food in their pantries
instead of punch bowls and cake plates. I'm slightly envious of people
who managed to get a marriage license without a gravy boat. These are
people who don't own a single silver napkin ring – and have had no
occasion to learn that I have 12.


Each time we've moved, I've
been the one to pack the kitchen – never wanting Hubby to get a good
inventory of the insane amount of underused stuff we keep hidden away.
 


I know what he'd say after packing his 17th box of fondue sets and caviar spoons: "Why did we register for this again?"


My answer would be the same as it was back then: "Because."
 


Because,
like serving turkey on Thanksgiving, collecting useless table
adornments is a tradition. We load up married couples with plenty to
prepare them for special occasions and precious little to prepare them
for life. Collectively, we perpetuate the myth that expensive stemware
is an heirloom in the making, rather than a thing couples fight about
every time a glass breaks. We all do it. And we will all keep doing it
until civilization comes crashing down in a giant crescendo of broken
pumpkin-shaped soup tureens.


If we didn't keep doing it, if we
gave newlyweds presents they'd actually use – like toilet paper or
groceries or retainer fees for a divorce attorney – then when we went
over to their homes for dinner once every two years, we'd have to pile
food onto everyday plates, covering it with ladled gravy and eating it
with mismatched flatware. Chaos.
 


And worse, the unencumbered
couple would have gotten off scot-free. Babies don't wear handmade
booties, but that won't stop people from knitting them. We will keep
heaping unwanted treasures onto newlyweds because we had this stuff
foisted onto us.


So for those out there who hosted Thanksgiving
dinner this year and hazarded your finest china in the hands of Auntie
Neanderthal and her ADHD-afflicted brood, I raise my glass to you.
And set it back down. Very, very carefully.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Peek-A-Boo! I Can't See You!

I dread The Question.



I dread The Question almost as much as
I dread that puff of air they always shoot into your eyes to test for
glaucoma. Nearly every visit to the eye doctor involves someone asking,
"Have you considered laser eye surgery?" And I just dread it. 



I usually cast a dilated eye downward and mutter something like, "Yeah. I don't think it's for me."



Some docs push it harder than others, but pretty much all of them do a hard sell. Imagine never needing to fuss with contacts and glasses again! Imagine waking up and being able to see! 



And when I resist they almost always think it's because I'm some Luddite coward. The technology has improved dramatically and the results are fabulous!



Truth
is, I'm not afraid of lasers in my eye (though I think hirsute lil' me
would be better served if the lasers were pointed more southward). I
just don't want to give up my bad vision.



I know that sounds ridiculous. That's why I dread the question.



True, I can't see my
own face in the mirror unless I'm so close to the glass that my breath
steams over my reflection. And true, my handicap forever prevents me
from being a pilot in the Air Force or a viable contestant on
"Survivor." But I can live with these limitations.


What I don't think I could live with is a completely altered identity.
 


I've
always been the "blind girl." I was the blind girl when I was 6, and I
had to squint at all the puppets and overhead projections and
chalk-drawn alphabet letters that the rest of my first-grade class
seemed to have no problem seeing. I was the blind girl in the second
grade, when an astute teacher finally figured out what was going on and
mentioned to my parents that I might need glasses. I was still the
blind girl in the third grade, when an overly indulgent teacher let me
stand by the chalkboard during her lessons like some kind of magician's
assistant.


And I was the blind girl in the fourth grade, when I
finally convinced my stubborn father to pretty please let me get some
glasses so I could go to school and, you know, learn stuff.
 


Dad
didn't much like the idea of his pretty daughter covering up her face
with homely glasses, so he built up a cataract of denial around my
deteriorating vision.


"I don't need glasses. Your mom doesn't need glasses. You don't need glasses," he'd say.
 


"OK," I'd answer, before bumping into a wall.


When
he finally did concede -- after a teacher's intervention -- I had to
agree to only wear my specs in the classroom. If I was going to be
ugly, I'd have to do it on my own time.
 


I interpreted his
admonition to mean that I couldn't wear my glasses on the playground,
either. And it was there that my strained vision gave me two things I
love more than anything else: attention and an excuse not to exercise.


Can't
play dodge ball if you can't see what you're dodging. So, instead, I'd
sit on the sidelines and mock the boys until they cracked little smiles
at my jokes or gave up their games altogether to talk to me.
 


Dad
and I reached a d├ętente when contact lenses became more popular and
readily available. He never understood why my vision (and then later my
sister's vision) was bad, but he finally admitted it was and shelled
out the money for my first pair of contacts.


Since then, my
blindness has been less of an attention-getter than an escape. Other
people with bad eyes might disagree with me, but there is something
almost soothing about taking out your contacts and not being able to
see anything. A kind of visual shush that absolves you of the
responsibility of sight. I don't meditate, but a few minutes of blurry
vision every day comes close.
 


So I was relieved the other day
when my new eye doc didn't ask The Question. We talked about changing the
type of contact lenses I wear. We talked about getting new frames for
my glasses. And then, without any mention of lasers, she sent me to the
receptionist to place my order.


"Wow," the receptionist said, noting the prescription.
 


"Yeah," I answered brightly. "I'm pretty blind."


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Broken Bed

I thought I was adjusting well to this new lifestyle. This
one-income, live-in-an-apartment, limit-our-travel lifestyle. Then the
bed broke, and I snapped.



Zev, Hubby and I were all piled on
the bed, and Hubby started jumping up and down, to the delight of our
toddler. I was less thrilled. 



When I first married Hubby, I remember telling a friend that I felt as though we'd gotten away with a spectacular prank.



My exact words were: "Don't they know we're just kids? Don't they know we eat chocolate cake for breakfast and jump on the bed?" 



That
bed wasn't even a bed. It was a box spring and a mattress on the floor.
To compensate for the lack of actual furniture, I hung two rings from
the wall where a headboard would have been and draped a piece of pale
green fabric between them. We called it "the swoosh." It was all the
furniture we could afford, and it was all the furniture we needed.



To
complete the adolescent look, we kept stuffed animals on the bed along
with a pile of seven extraneous pillows that I thought added a
deceptive height to the whole mess. 



Even after we bought a real
bed, after we bought a house and replaced every bit of Ikea furniture
in our home with big-boy-and-girl pieces, we still kept the stuffed
animals where they were. I thought it was triumph of youthful hearts
over encroaching age. But it turns out stuffed monkeys don't a carefree
girl make.



When the bed broke, I grabbed Zev and huffed out of
the room. Hubby lingered in the bedroom for a minute and then met me in
the kitchen. There was a split in the wood. That was his postmortem
assessment. A split in the wood that was probably going to go at any
time.


But it didn't go at any time. It went now. And now, I
feel as though we're back where we were 10 years ago: living in an
apartment and sleeping on the floor. But we're no longer those
wide-eyed kids awestruck by our good fortune. We don't eat chocolate
cake for breakfast. And, clearly, we're too old to jump on the bed.
 


The
dam that had been holding back my insecurities collapsed right along
with that bed frame. What are we doing? Where are we going? Why did I
quit my job? How is any of this possibly in Zev's best interest?


I
was mad. At Hubby. At me. At first I was so mad, I refused to speak.
Then I said a few cruel things that I immediately regretted. In terms
of "in good times and in bad," this doesn't even come close to the
worst we've seen. It's fixable. A not-very-expensive fix at that.
 


The
old me would have found the whole thing funny, really. For one, the
timing was impeccable. Hadn't I just been warning Hubby not to teach
Zev to jump on the bed "because, you know, it could…?"


But I
didn't laugh. It's startling to snap/crack/boom onto a pile of
splintered wood. It's more startling, still, to find out you're no
longer the old you.
 


Eventually I apologized to Hubby and helped
him carry the bed frame into the garage. He said he'd look for a
furniture maker to replace the broken beam, and I'd ask some of my
interior designer friends for advice.


That night, as we were falling asleep, he said, "It's kinda fun. Sleeping like this."
 


I
smiled in the dark at his attitude. He doubts our decisions and worries
about our future as much as I do. But he's able to laugh about it. I
resolved to do the same.


"Fun? I don't know about that," I said. "But at least now we can jump on the bed all we want."


Monday, November 6, 2006

Never Better Late

My belly is flabby. My memory is shot. I'm tired all the time, and
I've been known to slip into baby talk with friends and colleagues.



But motherhood has endowed me with a superpower. A talent the likes of which I never expected I could possess: punctuality. 



I
used to be pathologically late. My husband once asked me if I ate time,
because he had trouble figuring out what else I could have done with
it. I was the person you lied to about movie start times. I showed up
late to Lorene's wedding and gave her a great big hug, only to be told,
"Um, Mayrav, it's nice to see you, but the reason all those people are
looking at me right now is that I'm about to walk down the aisle. So
could you please find a seat?"



Now? Now, I'm not only on time,
I'm the kind of on-time that takes into account parking and slow
elevators. The best thing about my new superpower, though, is that it
has given me the ability to predict exactly how late other people are
going to be.



Mom's hair appointment was at noon in the Valley. She said she was going to come over right after.


"So I'll see you at 5?" I said.
 


"What 5?" she said "My appointment is at noon. I'll be there at 2."


"OK."
 


In the meantime, Keren called to see if I'd be free for a late lunch, "sometime around 3."


I thought about it for about a half-second.
 


"Yeah. I'll be able to make it."


Later, when my mom showed up, I looked at the clock. 4:50 p.m.
 


When
Lisa said she wanted to stop by for coffee in the afternoon, I took
steaks out of the freezer. I figured afternoon on Planet Lisa meant 6
p.m. Earth time, but then figuring for traffic, she could easily be
here as late as 7. And she'd be hungry. Her arrival time? 8 p.m. We had
a delightful dinner.


Former late arrivers are the opposite of
former smokers: We're totally mellow about it. But late arrivers are a
jittery lot, all apologies and overcompensation. In Lisa's case, she
usually buys the first two rounds if she's late meeting a friend at a
bar. (Note to self: Invite Lisa to more bars.)
 


"I want you to know, I'm trying to reform myself," Lisa said, when I called her later. "I've gotten much better."


"Yeah? What are you doing differently?"
 


"I'm trying not to take on too many things."


Lisa,
it should be noted, was talking to me from the self-checkout kiosk of
the grocery store where she was buying a few last-minute items that
she'd forgotten for the pasta sauce that she'd left cooking on the
stove at home.
 


"How's that going for you?"


Lisa
said lateness comes from a desire to please – you don't want to say no
to anything, so you end up taking on too much and showing up late to
all of it. "I don't want to come off looking bad, but I always do."
 


She didn't need to explain. I'm the same way. Or at least I was.


I'd
like to say that Zev has inspired a greater focus in my life. Or that
my desire to spend quality time with him forces me to work faster, more
efficiently and manage my time better. I'd like to say a lot of things
that people always say after they have kids. The truth is, I think I
was zapped with a gamma ray. I'm simply not the same human being I used
to be.
 


But while Lisa was busy analyzing the root cause of her
tardiness ("I always underestimate how long it takes to do anything"),
I was trying hard not to think too much about my new superpower, for
fear I'd lose it. If Lisa wants to reform her ways, I want to help out
– offer some advice from my own life experience. But "have a kid"
sounds as ridiculous as "get bitten by a radioactive spider."


Luckily
I got out of it the same way I got into it: Zev. It was nearing his
bedtime and I had pajamas to put on, books to read and snuggling to do.
So I got off the phone.
 


I didn't want to be late.