Thursday, August 16, 2007

I Can Fix That!

The smell of burning rubber permeated the house. The high pitched squealing accelerated higher and higher by the second. The low, rumbling motor struggled to maintain its wheezing efforts at efficiency. The cats, wide-eyed and puffy, attempted a desperate, furtive escape from the living room. The children came spurting down the stairs, holding their noses and loudly voiced extreme disapproval of my continued actions. I, on the other hand, had never been happier. I knew that finally, and with absolutely no regret whatsoever, I had killed my vacuum cleaner.

My vacuum was purchased for $99.99 from the Navy Exchange department store in Orlando, Florida in 1988. This vacuum did not have a HEPA filter or an air flow rating. It could not lift a bowling ball. It did not come with a crevice tool, a telescopic wand or a dusting attachment. It never had an upholstery nozzle, suction control grips or height adjustment. My vacuum did not resemble a wind tunnel nor was it self propelled. And my vacuum was most definitely not a self programming, rechargeable disc that could wander my house, at any time of my choosing, searching for stray pieces of lint to suck up. In fact, my simple, cheap vacuum was so old that it was becoming almost impossible to find the internal bags for the outdated beast. And at last, thankfully, it was dead.

As I opened the windows to get some of the burning rubber smell out of the house I became giddy. I rushed upstairs and started researching new vacuums on the internet. I had just picked out the Cadillac of vacuums, full of spectacular and absolutely necessary features when he walked in the door. The husband was home.

I ran downstairs to tell him the fabulous news. He hung up his coat, went to the bathroom and then walked into the living room to take a look at the vacuum. I assured him that it was most certainly, quite broken. I then proceeded to provide irrefutable evidence by demonstrating the smelling and squealing and rumbling and wheezing qualities our vacuum now possessed. As I started to recount the spectacular and absolutely necessary features of the new Cadillac vacuum I had decided upon as a replacement, the husband got down on the ground and turned the old vacuum over. As I tried to shove a picture of my new beautiful appliance in his face, the husband went to the garage to get a screwdriver…or something. When he returned, he started taking the old vacuum apart. After about 23 seconds he turned to me and said, “Oh! I see what the problem is. I can fix that!”

I had to sit down. I was devastated. The husband then tried to explain to me what was wrong with our vacuum cleaner. “You can see here that the blah, blah, blah has become wrapped around the blah, blah, blah. And it’s obvious that the blah, blah, blah has also come lose and has jammed the blah, blah, blah. So all I have to do is move the blah, blah, blah over here, unwrap the blah, blah, blah from the blah, blah, blah and it should be as good as new.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised. I should have anticipated this outcome. I was feeling fairly foolish for thinking the broken vacuum would be beyond repair. You see, in my house the husband has a history of fixing things up. It started when he was young and found an old, broken TV in his parents’ garage. Before the afternoon was over he had become the only boy on his block with a working TV in his tree house. When he was in college he took a road trip to California. When the throttle pedal unexpectedly dropped to the floor, causing his old ’69 Plymouth Valiant to accelerate uncontrollably, the husband rationally shut off the car and came to a stop. He lifted the hood, retrieved the broken carb return spring, miraculously produced a pair of pliers…or something, bent a new hook in the spring and was back on the road in less than 3 minutes.

The husband’s MacGyver like qualities continued after we were married. It is a rare day when something in our house breaks and needs to be replaced. Over the years I have looked forward to getting many new items only to have the husband fix the broken one so that we no longer could justify replacing it. I’ve been denied the joy of shopping for a new weed eater, a CD jogger, a book lamp, an MP3 player, a backyard fence, a refrigerator icemaker, a dishwasher door, a lawnmower, a lawn sprinkler and a bedroom window. He’s fixed a car CD player, a box fan, a cell phone, a necklace, a garbage disposal and many computer components. And, of course, he has kept cars running for thousands of miles past when they should have died. He’s even denied the children new things by fixing broken Fisher Price toys, slot cars, electric trains, BRIO trains, and has most recently repaired the rivets on the almost a teenager’s jeans. All of these items were absolutely believed to be broken beyond repair-except by the husband who saw them as a challenge.

My vacuum is now fixed and is “as good as new”. I’ve accepted the fact that I may never get to own the Cadillac of vacuums. I’ve learned that with a little searching, I can even find my vacuum bags on the internet. I have also learned, however, that the husband’s ability to fix anything just might work in my favor as well. A few weeks ago, I walked in the door and was greeting by a giddy husband telling me that the old, ugly, boxy TV had finally blown up. He had run downstairs to tell me the fabulous news. I hung up my coat, went to the bathroom and then walked into the living room to take a look at the TV. He assured me that it was most certainly, quite broken. He then proceeded to provide irrefutable evidence by turning the now unresponsive TV on and off. As he started to recount the spectacular and absolutely necessary features of the new, big, flat screen TV he had decided upon as a replacement, I went behind the TV and took a look at the back of it. As he tried to shove a picture of his new, beautiful flat screen in my face, I went into the kitchen to get a snack. When I returned, I put my feet up on the coffee table and started eating. After about 23 seconds I turned to the husband and said, “Oh honey, I understand what the problem is with the TV. But, I have absolutely no doubt that you can fix that!”

Check This Out!

Someday when you aren’t on a diet try Fried Polenta.

Gradually whisk 1 ¾ cups yellow cornmeal into 6 cups boiling, salted water. Reduce heat to low and cook 15 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and stir in 3 tablespoons butter. Spread three cups of the polenta in an 11x17 inch baking dish, sprayed with PAM, to about ¾ inch thick. Refrigerate for two hours. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Cut refrigerated polenta into 1x2 inch pieces and fry in oil, about 3 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in the oven on a baking dish until all batches are done. Sprinkle warm polenta pieces with parmesan and serve with marinara sauce for dipping.

A Pain in the Back

I was sitting at the computer the day my comfortable and predictable life changed. I was checking my blog, desperately hoping to find that someone had commented, when my marriage vows from 18 ½ years ago returned to smack me up side the head. I had my back to my husband the day our marriage went from “for better” to “for worse”.

Never one to pour forth his feelings, it was no surprise to me that my husband handled his part of the incident silently. He simply bent down to pick something up from my son’s bedroom floor and collapsed in extreme, agonizing back pain. He couldn’t move. Apparently, he couldn’t speak either. He had been there a decent amount of time before I found him pale and in the fetal position. In concerned shock, my first words were, “Why didn’t you call for me?”

While on the floor writhing in pain, he had decided he didn’t want to worry me and that he didn’t need any wifely assistance. So, he didn’t get any. I left him there. In the rare moment that he found himself in great need of help from me, he couldn’t bring himself to ask me for it. I was hurt. I was ticked off. I took it quite personally. I stormed out of the room. “What kind of team were we?” I silently questioned. “What kind of marriage was this?” I stewed from downstairs as he lay helplessly on the floor above me.

I would like to say that my failure to rise to the occasion, to be the bigger person, and help out my husband in his obviously distressing time of need was a singular event. It wasn’t. And in the upcoming days I proved even more unsuccessful at supporting him the way I should have. Simply put, my husband hurt his back and it was a big pain for me. It was inconvenient, annoying and so unattractive.

Over the course of the next few days, (or was it weeks?) I did wait on my husband. I got off the couch to bring him his medicine and a glass of water even though I had finally sat down for the first time that evening. I shopped for a back support wrap instead of going for a run. I served him numerous bowls of ice cream to make him feel better. I filled a hot water bottle for him right when my book was getting to the good part. I picked up his book about the arctic explorer from the library when I wasn’t going to be anywhere near the library. I bought him a car magazine that had an almost naked hot chick on the cover even though the hot chick made me feel fat and inadequate. Sadly, however, I complained about all of these things frequently. It wasn’t always out loud. But it wasn’t a well kept secret. It was obvious that I was resentful of my husband and his injury and certainly held him responsible for my current, somewhat exacting and nettlesome lot in life.

Not only was I unhappy helping my husband with the physical demands of his injury, I secretly harbored a few psychological grudges as well. I married a strong, capable and competent man. I was not at all attracted to this vulnerable, needy and silent man. I felt a bit cheated and resentful that he was no longer an unwavering, steadfast constant in my life. He was suddenly somewhat unavailable and helpless. Now, there is no doubt that I am often in charge of many aspects of our daily routine and family life. It was quite a different story however, when confronted with the situation of being forced to be in charge, not by choice, by instead, by absolute necessity. Suddenly, being in charge was not satisfying, predictable and convenient. It was uncomfortable, frightening and nerve racking.

When I muttered the words, “for better or for worse” almost two decades ago, my husband and I were both young and healthy and na├»ve. When actually confronted with a “for worse” situation, however, I quickly became whiny, selfish and mostly unsupportive. My main concern with my husband’s back problem was how it affected me and my life. Of course, my behavior was shocking and disappointing. I was not proud of how I had acted. Even so, I became concerned for the future. Is this what I had to look forward to for the next 40 years? Would we take turns nursing each other, becoming more resentful each time, until one of us finally keeled over? I looked to the example of my older friends and family and found that is exactly what they did. They did help their spouses and other relatives through their “for worse” situations. And sometimes they did get frustrated. It was often exhausting, unrewarding work. But there was a huge difference between them and me. They did it selflessly. They did it with love. They did it remembering that their “for worse” situation paled in meaning and intensity and enormity to the collective “for better” situations they’ve experienced together throughout the years. They seemed so much wiser than me.

“What kind of team were we?” I silently questioned. “What kind of marriage was this?” I felt horrible. I knew then that if I placed any more focus on myself it would be to learn how to be truly selfless. The next time my husband needed nursing I would do it remembering all the good that we’ve had. I would nurse him remembering that the “for better” has always outweighed the “for worse”. I would get him his medicine remembering how grateful I am that he is still with me, no matter how vulnerable he is at that particular moment. Of course, there are still times when I insist on being in charge. I often nag him to do his special back exercises. I nag at him to eat right. I nag at him to drive carefully and put on his sunscreen. Because, while I am determined to be a little kinder and more sympathetic the next time my husband is in need, I’m also secretly hoping that many years that go by before we have to find out if I’m actually capable of that.

Check This Out!
Come Back to Afghanistan: A California Teenager’s Story by Said Hyder Akbar and Susan Burton is a great account of modern Afghanistan through the eyes of an American teenager whose father is instrumental in the rebuilding efforts in post Taliban Afghanistan. It’s a great contrast in life experiences that most Americans will never understand...and probably should.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Reunion Lessons

I arrived at the reunion with my jumping and lurching stomach attempting a violent and twisted escape from my body. My shaking and sweaty hands reluctantly opened the car door. The husband had to drag me in. “This totally sucks,” I muttered under my breath. “What was I thinking? I never should have come.”

Then Barbie said hello to me. Such a simple thing. Saying hello. But it made all the difference in the world. I was still nervous. There definitely were people I didn’t recognize. There were people who didn’t recognize me. But, somehow, it became fun. Everyone was in the same boat. As the weekend went on and I gained more and more courage to speak to my classmates, I became aware that certain reunion moments and circumstances stood out more than others. It was during this microcosm of life that is the class reunion, that I ended up learning a few valuable reunion lessons, and really, perhaps, even life lessons, that form the basis of my fabulous reunion memories.

The Top 15 Ways to Make an Impression at Your Class Reunion
1. Having 6 kids, 2 step kids and 87 animals will most certainly make an impression at a reunion. Your classmates will wonder in awe how in the heck you had the time and the energy to even show up at the reunion after raising all those kids and animals. Some of us still struggle to just get ourselves out of bed in the morning. Wow.

2. Thongs and cleavage and piercings, oh my! Flash your thong underwear to your classmates, show up in a cleavage baring dress that your husband picked out or arrive at the reunion with a nose ring that you didn’t have in high school and your classmates will most definitely be whispering behind your back. And if you surreptitously adjust your adjustable push up bra to the highest level while speaking to your second grade crush, you are guaranteed to start a furor. It won't all be negative gossip, however. Some of us are a bit jealous we don't look like that in a thong or have the guts to pierce something other than our ears.

3. Dance on the table at the banquet and not only will you make an impression on your former classmates but you will earn a mention in this blog as well.

4. If your head looks different than it did in high school people may not recognize you immediately. Your classmates will stand across the room for a long time, casually glancing in your direction, wondering who that is with the shocking red hair. They will make desperate stabbing guesses at who is hiding underneath that bushy facial hair. There will be hushed, critical conjecture as to who in the class had a nose that was that perfectly sculpted and a forehead that didn’t move. Someone will eventually get up enough nerve to ask you your name. Be prepared for looks of shock and disbelief followed by cries of, “No way!”

5. Hold a thoughtful conversation with someone outside of your permitted and expected social circle from high school. At least one of you will walk away shocked, mumbling the words, “She never spoke to me once in high school. Hmmmm……”

6. Exchange furtive glances, subtle touches and personal phone numbers with another classmate and the entire class will know about it within 10 minutes. Gossip travels quickly.

7. Announce to a conservative, religious, Republican classmate that you thoroughly enjoy your new stem cell research job more than your last job at the abortion clinic. Or ask the liberal, environmentalist in the class to help you release all of the latex party balloons into the sky as you tell him all about how you would vote for Bush a third time if you could.

8. Be a jerk to a classmate when you are 8 or 13 or 16 years old. Some people don’t forget. Some people never move on. Some grudges are held for a lifetime. If you find someone giving you the cold shoulder at the reunion, ask yourself if you were unkind to them in 5th grade.

9. Make sure your kid knocks down a few other kids at the class picnic soccer game. If your kid appears to be an insensitive, aggressive bully it will most certainly make an impression on your classmates.

10. Be confident. Confidence is attractive and will be noticed. Whether it be the local radio celebrity or the wheelchair ridden, handicapped advocate, classmates with confidence in who they are stand out.

11. Become responsible. Men, who in high school, couldn’t dress themselves, find their homework, or speak in complete sentences have somehow turned into fabulous husbands and fathers who have no problem holding down a job, changing a diaper or cooking dinner for their wife. This shocks and amazes us all.

12. Live far away. If you travel a great distance to come to the reunion, you will be treated like an exotic celebrity who has an unusual but admirable dedication to your classmates. It helps to have acquired the local accent as well.

13. Overcome a health crisis. This scares us all. We don’t know if we’ll be next. We don’t know if we could do what you have done. You have the respect of everyone.

14. Be on the reunion committee. It is the ultimate thankless job. No one knows how much work it takes to pull off a successful reunion. Almost no one will recognize you for all of your hard work. But people will have a great time. People will enjoy themselves. My reunion was a huge success because of the reunion committee. Thank you.

15. Don’t come. The easiest way to make an impression at your class reunion is to not come at all. It will guarantee days or even weeks of speculation as to why you weren’t there. Your name will be Googled. Websites will be searched. Rumors will start. Before long, your real reason for not coming will pale greatly in comparison to the one created by your nosy, imaginative and curious classmates.

Almost every single person who showed up at my reunion had some issue that made them question whether or not they should go. Somehow though, we all found a way to walk in the door, even if we had to be drug in by the husband. As a result, our reunion was full of people with low self esteem, grey hair, and a few extra pounds. There were people who still looked exactly the same as they did in high school. We saw others with sun damage and wrinkles and age spots. We visited with people who are wealthier than most of us can imagine. There were even a few people that were absolutely, totally hot. We spoke with single mothers, recovering alcoholics and the passionately religious. We compared our adoptions and miscarriages and anti-depressant medications. We were introduced to our classmates’ partners. We saw children with mohawks. We found out someone was a grandparent. We saw classmates who live all over the country and classmates who live 2 blocks from the high school. Our reunion was full of people who brought their old photo albums, shared their story of diving at the Great Barrier Reef, and were able to laugh at their obnoxious ex-husband. What made our reunion great was the people who took a risk, ignored their nerves and walked through the door anyway. They shared their stories with old friends and acquaintances, found things in common with people they had never spoken to before in their lives and maybe even made a new connection or two.

I cannot even begin to guess where the next five or ten years will take us. I can only hope that when the next reunion comes around even more classmates will ignore their nerves and walk through that door--you won’t regret it. So to all my fellow reunion-ites--consider this the first notice for the next reunion. It should give you plenty of time to lose those last couple of pounds, get that MBA and find some inner peace. Then there will be no excuse as to why you can’t come. See you there!

Check This Out!
Definitely rent the movie Goal! The Dream Begins starring Kuno Becker. It's a wonderful rags to riches soccer story. It has great footage and is quite inspirational. Rent it now though, because Goal II: Living the Dream hits theaters in September.