Calm, Cool and Committed

Three Moms and a Dude

Real Men

A few days ago I got a call from a male coworker; I’ll call him J. I wasn’t expecting J’s call, but it was a welcome interruption to my gathering things to take to the dry cleaner. J and I talked for a few minutes about summer break and grad classes, and then I finally asked the question: “So what’s up J?” Translation: why are you calling me? J’s response was simple: “I just wanted to say hi and see how your summer was going.”

Freeze.

Now ordinarily there would be an awkward moment here because J’s response goes against all things masculine in America. Guys do not call each other “just to say hi and see how your summer is going.” Guys call each other for a specific purpose (dude, what time is the barbeque?), and then they get the hell off the phone. When a guy says something like “I just wanted to say hi and see how your summer was going,” the other guy panics. Suddenly thoughts of unstable boundaries run through his mind: Does this mean that my friend cares about me? Can guys care about each other? Is he gay now? Does he think I’m gay? Who exactly is Rupaul? How should I respond to this?

When J told me why he had called, there was no awkward moment. There was no panic or shattering of masculine fortresses. I just said, “That’s awesome man; thanks for callin’.” J is an exceptional man, and I think it’s great that he cares about me.

The problem is that most men are not naturally vulnerable, and yes, this is a problem. Sure, men are vulnerable with their women – baby you know I love you- but the idea of sharing his emotions with another man is not a viable option to the average dude. Throughout the course of American history masculinity has been defined by its refusal to acknowledge, experience, and God forbid, talk about emotions. In America a “real man” watches and talks about sports; a real men does yard work; a real man has it all together, and he doesn’t need anyone’s help. The problem with this approach is that it can lead to a “real man” who can’t communicate with his wife, can’t have a man-to-man conversation with any depth, and doesn’t know how to healthily process what he is feeling. Yeah, he’ll get promoted at work because he knows how to wear the corporate face for the higher ups – but everyone else thinks he’s a schmuck.

Is this honestly what the real man has become? If so, then I’m in trouble because I have a different approach. I’m not great at sports; I hate yard work; I don’t have it all together, and most days, I need help. And I don’t mean that I need help figuring out how to start my damn chainsaw, I need help figuring out how to communicate better with my wife; I need help processing the fact that my boss has never offered me any kind of affirmation; I need help learning how to deal with friendships that seems one-sided. Even with all of these emotions, can’t I still be a real man?

I love my wife, and I revel in saying it to her every day. But I also love my buddies like J – the guys with whom I play golf and eat pizza and watch the new Batman movie – and I’d like to start seizing the opportunities to say it to them as well. For the record, I am not saying that feelings should be the only topic of conversation when a few guys get together to play poker and smoke cigars. Timing does play a role here, lest there should be some campy conversations: Full house, boys! Wow Frank, I’m so proud of you…a full house…I love you.

I’m not saying that my version of masculinity is the perfect one for every guy, for every friendship, or that it’s necessarily the solution to the problem. But I do hope that it’s a step in the right direction. In the meantime, I’m going to call one of my “real man” friends just to say hi and to see how his summer is going.

-thedude

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Mourning the Mertzes

Every television show I can think of has a neighbor. Whether he’s quirky like Cosmo Kramer, nosey like Gladys Kravitz, or wise like Mr. Wilson, the Neighbor seems to be more than a character. He is a slice of Americana. No I Love Lucy episode was complete without a visit from Fred and Ethel Mertz and who would Eric Forman and Kevin Arnold fall in love with if it weren’t for their neighbors, Donna and Winnie?

When I was growing up, my neighborhood was bustling with kids my age. We had the Joneses on one side with four kids and the Smiths on the other with eight. The Turners had anywhere from four to ten foster kids any given year and the Harolds had two of their own and three adopted sons. The Deerbornes, well they had their own colony – 13 kids under their roof and a couple more at college. With all that mischief on the loose, there was always a parent standing on a porch yelling something at someone. Those overwhelmed parents, then, would congregate in someone’s yard and share a laugh over lemonade (that we were never allowed to sip…hmmmm). Birthday parties and Easter egg hunts were always a blast and a simple day of yard work used to turn into an outdoor town hall meeting.

I had a Norman Rockwell childhood. My neighbors and I were always an unidentifiable swarm of children that could be in anyone’s yard or raiding anyone’s pantry at any given moment. My mom used to buy double quantities of Tastykakes and Kool-Aid each summer as it was an unwritten rule that you fed whatever baby birds were in your yard when they started chirping about wanting a snack. My dad used to brag that for not having a garage, he had the most impressive collection of tools and yard equipment in town: Mr. Foster’s snowblower, Mr. Green’s power washer and a half dozen other fancy gadgets were community property. In return, you never knew who may be in the basement using my Dad’s radial arm saw. The kitchen rivaled any quilting bee in varieties of gossip and quiche recipes being exchanged. We had it all and all we had was a good old American Neighborhood.

When my husband and I started shopping around for our first home, the neighborhood played as much of a role in our decision making as the number of bedrooms or square footage of the basement. We wanted Doodle Bug & Sunny to have not only room to play, but playmates with whom they would share their entire childhood. When we picked this house, we scoped out the neighbors’ kids. We smiled when we saw yards that looked like satellite branches of Fisher Price’s R&D department. We walked hand in hand to the local playground and imagined Doodle Bug & Sunny throwing rocks in the pond with a half dozen other giggling children.

Now that we live here, we often wonder if the other houses are even inhabited. Maybe this is one if those nuclear test site neighborhoods like in the movie The Hills Have Eyes. Maybe the “neighbor lady” we saw peering out her kitchen window was an actress hired by the realtor. This is a ghost town. Neighbors drive by and slip into their garages not to be seen again until morning. The Fisher Price playhouse is sun faded but sits unused. My vision of sipping coffee in my brightly lit breakfast nook, chatting with one of the thirty-something women I’ve seen jog by has never come to light.

No one is neighborly anymore. There was no basket of baked goods on our porch when we moved in. No one has asked to borrow Husband’s chainsaw. We couldn’t smell grills firing up on the fourth of July. We ate more Peanut Butter Cups than we handed out on Halloween. I couldn’t even tell you my neighbors’ last names – any of them.

It is not just my neighborhood. My friends claim that they couldn’t pick their neighbors out of a crowd. One friend’s neighbor passed away and his house was sold before half the neighborhood even realized he was gone. What a lonely way to live.

What happened to our American Neighborhoods? Are we too busy? Too wary? Too WiFi? Who sits in our breakfast nooks with us? Who helps us name our treehouse clubs? Who shows up on Christmas Eve to help shovel the driveway? Who still leaves their porch light on for trick or treaters? Where have Fred and Ethel gone?

They are inside their air-conditioned homes watching TV shows and mourning the America that used to be.

–Mamma F

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Between Here and Heaven

Death is horrible. Could anyone really challenge this? It steals time with our loved ones, leaves family with haunting thoughts of regret and is absolutely, 100% final. But, I was raised in a strong Christian family where we believed heaven was the absolute paradise. And I wholeheartedly believed and found comfort in this, until recently.

~~~

The last several years have been a whirlwind. My husband and I had a devastating miscarriage, all of my grandparents have now passed, and my husband broke his back, in addition to several family trips to the emergency room. Let me just say that we were waiting for our luck to change.

The trip to the ER that changed my view of heaven the most, however, was my own. I was nursing my son in the middle of the night and all of the sudden felt like I couldn’t hold onto him anymore. I yelled hysterically to my husband, and he immediately took our son out of my weakening arms. From there, I experienced increasing and eventually almost crippling vertigo (and all the pleasant side-effects accompanying it). I could barely stand, couldn’t focus my eyes on anything, couldn’t think and really struggled to communicate, so we rushed to the emergency room.

While we were waiting for the many test results, the only thing that kept me semi-comfortable was closing my eyes and trying to shut everything out. Anxiety set in, I began to fear all of the horrible things that could be wrong with me, and then I saw it…darkness, nothingness, a deep void, an endless black hole. It horrified me, and then I heard the faint voices of my family. The thought of being separated from them was unbearable, and it shook me to my core. One month later, my husband nearly escaped death when he broke his back and threw 2 large lung clots.

Gone are the thoughts of paradise. I now hate and fear death…on a daily basis.

Although these fears eased slowly as my husband healed and my vertigo eased, my grandfather’s recent passing awoke my uncertainty about what really happens after death.

I see 2 options:

1- Heaven is a paradise where we meet God and reunite with our family.

2- Heaven is a completely fabricated idea designed to ease our fears about death.

I couldn’t shake the second, intellectual possibility, so I decided to share the inner conflict with my husband. In less than 5 minutes, he managed to completely put me at ease. He shared that he believes in heaven, and I shared my experience with “the darkness” and how this caused me to question my faith. Then, he shared that other people have said they experienced the same darkness before they saw the light of heaven. A “darkness” between here and heaven?? I had never heard of this for some reason. And, whether or not what he told me is true, it instantly restored my faith! Does death still bother me? Yes. But, the anxiety seems to have vanished. The darkness between here and heaven is now just a stepping stone to what I always believed existed.

~~~

Heaven and the afterlife are always controversial topics. Feel free to leave your own thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Mea

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Living Vicariously

Lately, a whole slew of Facebook friends have been posting celeb gossip-bashing statuses like “Does anyone with a pulse care whom Kim Kardashian’s divorce lawyer is?” and “I don’t need to know who Britney Spears is dating, I have a life!”

It seems like the current trend is to bash those people who gobble up every bit of celebrity gossip they can find.

Like me.

I admit it.  I love celebrity gossip.  When my husband came home today and told me that Kristen Stewart cheated on Rob Pattinson, I immediately fired up the good ol’ Google search to find out the dirt.  Oodles of my own Facebook status possibilities flashed through my mind, like “If Kristen Stewart is going to cheat with a married Snow White and the Huntsman coworker, why wouldn’t she have picked Hemsworth?!”

I didn’t post anything, though, because I didn’t want those haters to post snarky, “Don’t you have a life?” comments on my page.  Instead, I hungrily combed though all the statuses popping up on my newsfeed.  Nothing.  None of my friends had posted about Kristen’s cheating or Rob’s lack of response.  How was I to speculate if Rob was heartbroken?  Who was I to make my “Hemsworth is much hotter” comment to?

I pulled up a friend-who-loves-to-snark’s page.  I could post to her.  Surely she would want to join in on my rampage about why the director would go after someone half his age.  But no.  She had recently posted that she didn’t know who Tiki Barber was.  She probably wouldn’t appreciate the Robsten drama.

I had another idea.  What about my two bestest long-distance girlfriends?  I could email them and start a chain going about how Stewart thought she could smooch in public and not get caught.  I pulled up my email.  And then I realized that I didn’t get an email from either of them about it yet.  And they both have jobs that require them to work in the summer.  And then I closed my email.

And then I got a little sad.  I had about fifteen tabs open in my browser.  E! Online, TMZ, Us Weekly… and no one to share the news with.  My husband already had given me all the gossip he heard, and I had told him the Hemsworth line.  I closed the internet pages and wished I had a celeb gossip outlet.

My life’s pretty normal.  I have a husband whom I’ve never cheated on.  I drive a used Saturn.  When I buy designer heels at TJMaxx, a passerby will say, “Wow, I didn’t think anyone around here appreciated shoes that crazy.”  Sometimes my mom calls me by my sister’s name – or the dog’s (I’m not kidding, FYI).

I enjoy my life and am happy.  But sometimes, when I’m drifting off to sleep, I pretend I’m a movie star.  I’m the one in the headlines, causing scandals by telling a rogue paparazzo to get out of my face.  I’m the one sporting bodyguards and a $1,000 pedicure.

Until my husband and I sell a big screenplay and move to Hollywood, my life doesn’t have a snowball’s shot of being like that.  So I live vicariously through celebrities.  I speculate about whether or not Tom and Katie had a marriage contract.  I click every link that says “See the Stars Without Their Makeup.”  I gossip about people I don’t know and will never meet.

And you know what?  There’s nothing wrong with that.

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Welcome to Our (Dysfunctional) Family

Mamma F doesn’t eat veggies, doesn’t watch TV and is deathly afraid of sharks.

Mea gets frantic if the bed sheets aren’t crisp, lined up perfectly and evenly spaced.  Watch out if the sheets are wrinkled underneath her.

Molar Mother can spend hours in front of a mirror tweezing her eyebrows (or her husband’s).

The Dude shines his shoes every three weeks, whether they need it or not.

What do these four people have in common?  Not much, other than the fact they’re all a bit unstable. This makes it odd, and a bit scary, that they’re all friends.

These friends (and coworkers) LOVE talking to each other.  And they love debating (and instigating debates).

After a year of getting to be the bestest of work friends who rarely see eye to eye on anything, they decided to take their opinions live.  They created this blog to express their thoughts and their love for each other.

On any given day you can see them using this blog to vent, journal, advise, satirize or try to get a giggle out of you.

Mamma F, Mea, Molar Mother and Thedude hope you’ll join them on this blog journey.  Be sure to leave a comment if you love – or hate – what they have to say.

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Coming Soon…

Stay tune for our blog debut.
Until then, a poem for you.

 

 

Because a Strong Woman, I Am

Indeed I still struggle
Swimming upstream with might
Never giving up on what I care for
Because a strong woman, I am

You might use your jagged tongue
To tear me down for what I do
You are so cruel and judgmental
Is it my strength that bothers you?

I wept from your harsh words
That took me by surprise
In front of other guests
Embarrassed I sure was

Instead of wheeling and dealing,
Writing poems and stories, too
You think I should stop it all
Does my independence bother you?

I work full time at school and in my home
Devoting ample time to my kids every day
Cheering at their sports events, celebrations,
Plus, all the pain and glory that presents each day

Glance at the mirror
Take a good look at your soul
If what you see is perfection
Then gently stroke your sharp tongue

I am a strong woman
I will continue to work hard
My accomplishments and failures
Are what make me who I am

If I ever do it differently
It will be because I will change
For God, my children, and me
Not because I am stepped and crushed

I am who I am, not just anyone to fit in
I refuse to fit the mold and take the easy route
Tenacity and endurance is what I hold
Because a strong woman, I am

Ana Monnar
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