Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My Last AA Meeting

I went to another AA meeting last week. The last one I’d been to was about 25 years ago and I barely remember it. It was a similar circumstance though: I’d been invited by a friend who’s been doing the program. He was celebrating a year of sobriety and there were several others who were celebrating milestones as well. One woman was celebrating 18 years – 18 years - of doing, as they say, the next right thing. It’s more than a little humbling to witness that kind of commitment when sometimes I feel like I can’t even do the next right thing until bedtime.

After all the celebrants were honored, a woman came up to tell her story. I was happy to see my friend get his sobriety coin, but as far as I was concerned, this was the main event.

The woman told a story that was by turns horrifying, hilarious and astounding. She had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 14 and her life just got worse from there. She did beat that cancer, and eventually got sober, but she could never have children. Then, through the miracle of surrender, she had been in the hospital 8 or 10 years ago for yet another procedure when a nurse came to her bed and told her of a couple in the hospital who had just given birth and were looking right this minute for an adoptive mother. As the woman later told her husband, “Honey, you might be the only man in the world whose wife goes into the hospital for a colonoscopy and comes out with a baby.”

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that the next part of her story eludes me. The part where she had another tragic health crisis and she needed to recuperate for 2-3 months. By this time she had adopted another child, so she now has a husband and two small children to care for. “I didn’t do a thing,” she said. “My AA Group found out what had happened and from that point on everything in my household was handled. Someone figured out a schedule and meals were cooked, kids were taken care of. All I did was get better.”

This is why I love AA. And why I secretly want to be in AA. Weight Watchers meetings are helpful – even inspiring sometimes. But they will always lack the kind of intimate confessions and interpersonal devotion I so crave in a support group.

When the woman was through with her story, I wanted to go up to the mic and say, “I’m Jessica, and although I’m not an alcoholic, I have a totally addictive personality and a lot of mental problems.” And my wish was, at that point they would say “Hi, Jessica!” and, just on the basis of chocolate chip cookie addiction alone, welcome me into their deep, bosomy, smoke-infested fray.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Fourth Grade Teachers Are Sadists

This exact same thing happened to me precisely five years ago. A son of mine was in fourth grade and Women’s History Month reared its ugly head. The fourth grade teachers have been giving this assignment for years, and probably will for years to come: Write a five-paragraph essay about a woman in your life that inspires you.

The operative phrase there is “in your life.” Meaning: you must know her personally.

My older son hated to write nearly as much as my younger son does, so getting down to business on this report is torturous enough from the get go. Three weeks before the report is due, the student must turn in a note proclaiming his “subject.”

Me: “Who do you want to write about?”
Him: “I don’t know.”
Me: “What about one of your grandmas?”
Him: “No.”
Me: “What about one of your teachers?”
Him: “No.”
Me: “How about Nancy? She’s really fun and jumps with you guys on the trampoline.”
Him: “No.”
Me: “Roberta? She likes to go camping.”
Him: silence
Me: “Ok, what about me?”
Him: “You’re not inspiring.”
Me: silence
Him: “What do you do that’s inspiring?”
Me: “I can get a lot of things done all at once. And some people think I’m funny.”
Him: “You’re not funny at all.”
Me: “Ok, how about Mrs. V? She taught you how to read.”
Him: “Ok, I’ll do Mrs. V.”
Me: “Great. Get a list of questions together and I’ll give you her phone number.”
Him: “I have to talk to her?”
Me: “Well, yeah.”
Him: “Fine! I’ll just do you!”

My favorite part of this assignment is where I have to beg to get my kids to consider writing about me. Second only to the outcome – what my child actually writes.

When the teenager was in fourth grade, he wrote that I inspired him because I fed him every day. “That’s how I inspire you?” I’d said. “Any schnook can do that.”

This one wrote a few nice things that I know he thinks are bald faced lies. And then he told a story I told him once about how, when I was six, I’d hid my best friend in my bedroom closet so that she could spend the night. The whole neighborhood and half the police force were looking for her before I finally confessed to her whereabouts.

That story is the only event of my life that my child finds compelling. So it is not without a certain giddy glee, that I bid my final farewell to Women’s History Month.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spin v Doctor

My dentist was recently advising me on a tooth situation. What I’d thought was a simple popcorn hull stuck under my gum turned out to be something more serious. How serious, he wasn’t yet sure. So I made him lay out every possibility and speak at length about the potential pain and discomfort associated with each scenario. When I ask doctors to indulge me in this type of speculation, it’s always because I believe the information will make me feel better. It rarely ever does.

Root canal sat midpoint in the spectrum of possibilities. Simply hearing that phrase leaves me in a cold sweat.

“It won’t be as bad as a spin class,” Doctor G said to me.

“Excuse me?”

“Those spin classes you take. If you can get through an hour of that, the root canal will be a breeze.” This got my attention – the guy used to run marathons.

I’m not even sure how my dentist knows I’ve started taking spin classes. But I’ll tell you this: it’s quite possible that he’s right.

I started spin classes about five months ago. It took me over a year to work up the nerve to show up. I know what you’re thinking: how hard could it be to ride a stationary bike for an hour?


The first class I couldn’t even make it for 30 minutes.

I went into my second class with the goal of simply staying for at least that same amount of time. Which I did. Thirty-two minutes and I was done.

The third time I went, I merely hoped to add another five minutes to my endurance. Eventually I would be able to do an hour. It just might take a while.

It was during this class that I started understanding the infectious and addictive element of working out at that level. I suffered through the first 20 minutes and didn’t think I could even make it to 30. But the music was great, so I just decided to take it song by song. “If I like the next song, I’ll stay through it,” I told myself. And the next thing I knew, we were cooling down. Sixty-minutes was behind me.

The next class, I rode alongside a friend. I confessed to her that I find the workout itself unbearable. That I count down the minutes until it’s over. I expected her to give me some infuriating pep-talk about getting in “the zone” and being swept away by the sensations of pulsating muscle and streaming sweat.

Instead she said, “Yeah, it sucks.”

It does?

“Oh, God, it’s the hardest workout. It’s miserable. But you feel so good when it’s done.”

This is so completely, inexplicably, unequivocally true. I spend a full hour pedaling a bike while saying to myself, “What could I have been thinking?” And exactly 15 seconds after the class is over I’m going over my next week’s schedule to determine when I can spin again. You simply cannot beat the high.

My dental experience turned out to be as pleasant as you could hope for. Xanax. IPod. No root canal. Crowns made on premises in one visit. They all but served me tea and crumpets. Sorry, Dr. G. I still hope to never see you again.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mmmmm....Humble Pie

It’s been four and a half weeks since my husband broke his ankle. It will be another few days until he can put weight on it, use a walking cast. After that, another several weeks until he can walk on his own. Until then, I will continue to minister to him as I have been since mid-February.

Oddly enough, I hadn’t really expected his accident to affect my life to the degree it has. I worried deeply about his pain management those first few post-op days. I hate seeing people in pain; I hate feeling helpless around another person’s suffering. But once those days had passed, I thought it would be business as usual.

Early on, maybe the third day we were home from the hospital, he said something to me like, “So. Don’t you appreciate everything I do around here, now?”

At the time, I said, “Yes. Yes, I do.” But what I was really thinking was, “What on earth are you talking about? I did everything before and I’m doing everything now.”

At the time, I was feeling like his contributions were minimal. He waters the plants. He puts the garbage cans out on the curb. Sometimes, he folds some laundry, empties a dishwasher. The kids can pick up the slack on that, I thought. I won’t even notice the difference.

My head is still reeling from the stupidity of that thought. Having a man down is all consuming – like having an infant again, except without the nine months you have to mentally prepare. In a typical blogpost, it is here that I might start giving examples of all the extra things I have to do. But I won’t now. Because it’s too humiliating for me to list things that other women do regularly (like buy food and prepare meals for their husbands) which, to me, falls into the category of martyred service. I know it’s no big deal to have to change light bulbs. All I’m saying is, that’s not something I usually do.

And there are about a hundred things like that, little and big, that I now do all day, every day. They’re not difficult, and each one in and of itself, is not time consuming. But they all add up to the colossal contribution that my husband typically makes to the household – a contribution that I, for the most part, have taken for granted.

It didn’t take me an entire month to come to this conclusion. But it did take me a while to stop feeling sorry enough for myself in order to be able to write about it. To figure out how to manage his chores and responsibilities enough to find the time to write at all.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Here's Why I Hate Today

I haven't posted in a long time, and this seems a terrible way to get back into it. Nevertheless, I just need to vent. So here I go. This is why I hate today:

1. We have too many clocks to reset.
2. It’s plant-watering day.
3. I can’t find A Beautiful Mind anywhere.
4. Blockbuster rescinded their Grace Period policy – but neglected to mention it the last time I rented movies.
5. My kid’s Science Fair partner just bailed.
6. Our phone is dead.
7. There are too many hungry people around me that insist on being fed.
8. It’s only 6 pm and I’ve eaten all my Weight Watcher points for the day.
9. Everyone seems grumpy.
10. Two of my online Scrabble games have impossibly constipated boards.