Posts Tagged ‘Commitment’

It only looks like a doughnut

January 30th, 2008    -    14 Comments

I’ve written before about the kind of work my h-u-s-b-a-n-d does. He’s in the long-distance business, the very long-distance business. Outer space.

Specifically, now he’s working on Mars. Seriously. When you work on Mars it involves daily side trips to the far reaches of Pasadena and occasional launches to Los Alamos, Washington and France. Before he worked on Mars, he worked on a couple of asteroids, which was a kind of a code word for Italy and Germany. When we met on that fateful evening in Florence, Italy, 13 years ago he was actually working on Saturn.

So you think it’s a surprise to me that I find myself alone so much? I always say the same thing to my friends in a similar circumstance, although it’s nubby comfort: Every mother is a single mother.

Now careful: I mean no offense to the single mothers who are fathers, or to the single mothers who really are single mothers. I do not know the depth of fear or frustration or anxiety, the financial hardship, the personal sacrifice, the sadness, the isolation or the inconsolable straits you may find yourself in, I only sense that most of us are in these things alone.

To his credit, Ned tries to interest me in the curious question of the composition, age and origin of the dust on the surface of the red planet, but that is not the aim of my life’s mission. My mission is to uncover the truth of my life on Earth, a mission that in my earlier days I had no earthly interest in at all. And so I know that I am indeed lucky to have this field to roam so freely on my own, to resolve my questions, to find the deep source of life and love right where I stand.

Even so, Ned’s absence gives me time and space to make trouble; it lets me boil and burn in my own flaming grievance; it invariably wears out my welcoming heart. He’s always happy to come home, and I am usually quite pissy about it. He has this habit of stopping near the airport and picking up two doughnuts as a coming home prize for Georgia and me. How is it that I can hate when he does that, but love when he does that? I eat mine promptly that night or next morning.

When I eat that doughnut, mind you, it only looks like a doughnut. What I am eating is my own clogged heart and deep-fried resentment. I’m swallowing residual anger and bad attitude. I’m chomping that ever-living ego of mine back to a manageable size so we can start over.

The search for intelligent life involves a lot of starting over and an advanced form of mathematics. As my daughter wrote in an email to her dad last night: YOU + ME + MOM + MOLLY (the dog) = 1.


Join me for more fun with marriage all week. And just for grins, here’s your chance to win an autographed copy of my book, Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood by leaving a comment on Monday’s post. The winner will be drawn after 12 noon PST on Sunday, Feb. 3. Good luck!

Lightbulbs go off

January 29th, 2008    -    17 Comments

One morning last week, on a day Ned was in town, I came into the kitchen at god-awful thirty to start the coffee, breakfast and the slog of getting my daughter fed, dressed and bundled off to school. I found the kitchen nightlight pulled out of its socket and sitting on the counter.

First, you’re thinking: kitchen nightlight? It’s just one of the sweet little things that remains in our home from early parenthood, a beacon of comfort in case the baby crawls around in the dark at all hours.

I had an immediate and vivid certainty about why the light sat there on its side, and how it got there, but I plugged it back in and tested it, and it worked. So there.

The next morning I walked in to find the same thing sitting in the same way and I threw myself right into the investigation, turning on Ned.

Why do you keep taking out the nightlight? I charged.

He backed up a step and stammered. The bulb is burned out and I set it there to remind . . .

To remind me??? I cut in, quick, before he could even recover.

Because he frequently does things like this, you see, to help me out. If we run out of coffee, he leaves the empty canister conspicuously on the counter to call out to me. If his shaving creme is kaput, he leaves the empty aerosol perched on the rim of the bathroom vanity so I’ll notice while I parade through freshening up his towels and sorting his laundry. Some things, you see, just don’t have to be said, let alone done, by anybody but me.

I was going to replace it, he defended himself, but I don’t know where you keep the bulbs.

Where I keep the bulbs?

I pointed him straightaway to the closet two feet from where he stood, the closet devoted almost entirely to lightbulbs of every size, wattage and sustainability, a pharaoh’s tomb of lightbulbs nearly every one of which he bought and put on the shelf.

My first h-u-s-b-a-n-d (Beware: It can be very satisfying to say that), my first h-u-s-b-a-n-d- ran a hotel and he was never home. It’s understandable: we were a childless couple “married” to our careers. Now I never leave home and I feel like I run the hotel! How did it turn out like this? How did the whole thing spin a 180 on me?

Of course I know how, but I still don’t know why. I don’t know why to some people “clearing the table” means stacking the dirty plates on the counter then firing up a video game, and to others it means rinsing them off and loading the dishwasher. I don’t know why. I can never know why because there is no why to how things are done or even when they get done. All I have a handle on is the who. And the only who I have a handle on is me.

There is a mysterious symmetry, a cosmic boomerang, at work in our lives. It delivers us smack back into the scene of every crime from which we’ve ever fled, only with a comic twist, a change in perspective that widens our vision and illuminates, if we’re awake, a tiny nightlight of wisdom on the way to the refrigerator at 3 a.m.

Look who ended up in the hotel business! I run a fine hotel, and most days, I even like doing it. The days my lightbulb is on.


Join me for more fun with marriage all week. And just for grins, here’s your chance to win an autographed copy of my book, Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood by leaving a comment on yesterday’s post. The winner will be drawn after 12 noon PST on Sunday, Feb. 3. Good luck!

Giving yourself away

January 28th, 2008    -    98 Comments

Yes, this is your Bloggy Giveaway. Just scroll down to the comments to enter. Check your entry to make sure that it includes a way I can reach you, or you won’t be included in the drawing.

Shortly after my daughter was born I spent long afternoons in shudders of sobs and laughter.

This was in the year 2000 before I could have entertained myself in front of this here screen for the better part of a day, so I parked my mushy butt in front of the great grandmother of all mommy blogs, the Neanderthal of reality TV, the ancient TLC. I would watch the hypnotic loop of The Baby Story followed by The Wedding Story followed by The Baby Story laughing and crying all the way.

I laughed at The Baby Story because most of these innocent, self-assured first-time mothers were about to give birth to an experience that was unlike anything they had ordered up, so contrary to their expectations, and so screamingly off-script. Then I bawled every time the baby was lifted up into their arms.

I cried at The Wedding Story because the goosepimply sense of romantic destiny, the adoration and most of all, friendship described by these couples was so unlike anything I experienced in my own marriage, either time. Neither time had I married what I would call “my best friend.” My best friend was back in Texas and if I called her and said I had a flat tire in the pouring rain on the 405 Freeway, she would have climbed on a plane with two umbrellas and a jack. If I had reached either one of my h-u-s-b-a-n-d-s, they would have said, “Call Triple A.” There are friends, and then there are advisors. My h-u-s-b-a-n-d Ned is not my most reliable friend, but he is my most consistent advisor.

By the time the happy couple on TV was drunk and dancing at the reception, by the time the wedding gown was stained and stepped on, the up-do coming undone, I would be laughing again.

We’d all better be laughing again, and soon.

Tears give way to laughter, laughter to tears. Marriage, motherhood, life, keeps handing us the opportunity to give ourselves away, and that’s how we become our own best friend and advisor. We marry ourselves for life, and we join Triple A. Everyone else who comes into the picture is there for laughs. The laughs always begin amid the tears.


Join me for more fun with marriage all week. And just for grins, here’s your chance to win an autographed copy of my book, Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood by leaving a comment here. The winner will be drawn after 12 noon PST on Sunday, Feb. 3. Domestic addresses only. Make sure your comment links to your own blog or contains your email address so I can contact you when you win. Good luck!

One unique visitor

January 27th, 2008    -    12 Comments

This post was inspired by Heather Armstrong (yes, that Heather), because I recently read an interview where she estimated that her blog had 55,000 unique site visitors every weekday. The interview was two years ago, so by now she probably has 5,555,000 unique site visitors every day. Can you imagine that? She’s so damn popular, so beautiful, so rich, so thin, so funny, so blonde, so talented, so insanely in love with her man, who seems so dependably to hold her hand and ease her way and make her laugh, that it unleashes in me a depth of awe and adulation that is indistinguishable, at times, from gut-rumbling hatred. Oh well. She has what she has, and I have my one unique site visitor.

One night last week I was checking my sitemeter for the 55,000th time that hour, and I spoke up to my dh, who for the sake of his privacy I’ll call “Ned.”

I said, “Hey Ned, someone just searched my blog for entries with the word h-u-s-b-a-n-d!” For the sake of my privacy, I’m spelling the word out every time I use it from here on out.

I turned to look at him then as he sat behind his laptop all of six feet away from me, and we both knew even before he grinned and said, “It was me.” Ned, sitting in the same house in the same room at the same time with me, searches my blog for some clue about my feelings for him, I suppose. Something unsaid to him but broadcast on and in-between the lines to my readers, a vast and influential audience steadily approaching 55,000.

This, friends, is the nature of our relationship. I’m not so sure that it isn’t the nature of every man-woman relationship, the nature of every marriage. The peculiar distance in sharing life side-by-side; the gulf between interests, feelings and pastimes; the doubt and isolation; the language, the view, the time, the space, the worlds that we do not occupy in common.

I’m dedicating this week to talking about this, this strange and universal phenomenon in partnerships and marriage, this unique visitor that some of us spell h-u-s-b-a-n-d.

Please keep me company. My Ned is out of town, your Ned might be out of town, and either way we always have each other.

One of these things is not like the other

January 8th, 2008    -    9 Comments

For my daughter’s second-grade homework:

The Big Ten
Pretend you are going to be taken by helicopter to a deserted island where you must live alone for seven days. You may take only 10 different things with you. Think before you begin writing. If you forget something important, you may not survive!

1. Nintendo DS
2. DS games
3. Food
4. Water
5. Clothes
6. Toothbrush
7. Toothpaste
8. Floss
9. Bathing suit
10. Sunscreen

As a matter of survival, may I point out that the floss is big number 8.

The good towels

December 31st, 2007    -    17 Comments

It’s a good time of year to institute change. It’s the time of year when change is instituted whether you think it’s good or not. Fact is, it’s always that time.

If you have a particular notion of what Zen means, you might think that we don’t go in for setting high-minded standards such as New Year’s resolutions. It’s true that we don’t go in for setting standards and making judgments. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t see when our favorite pants no longer snap. No one blisses out when that happens and so, resolutions can be useful.

The best resolution I ever made was the only one I ever kept. About five years ago I resolved to floss my teeth every day. My friends got a chuckle over that, thinking perhaps that a Buddhist priest would have a more noble aim. But that’s the problem with noble aims. They rarely hit their mark and you could develop gum disease in the process.

Having spent the greater part of my life as a cynical, wise-ass, know-it-all, I never made New Year’s resolutions before that. I didn’t believe in New Year’s. Hell, for most of my life I didn’t believe in anything, except maybe that hard work trumped all. I believed that at the end of the long, bitter, bare-knuckled crawl up the crest of the rainbow to a better somewhere, there was a pot of gold with my name on it. The name would have been Karen K. Scrooge.

I believed in the reward system, and I held myself to it. I would save today for a rainy tomorrow. I would put the new shoes at the top of the closet, the pricey liquor at the bottom of the cabinet, the jewelry at the back of the drawer. I would save the good towels for company and the good dishes for a special someday. Everything had a better use, a brighter day, some other day.

The thing is, somedays never come, and that’s why we call them someday. I saved my china and crystal in the boxes they came in, and after my eleven-year first marriage, I sold them that way too. In the original bubble wrap. No worthy meal had ever been served on those painted plates; no lips had ever taken a salutary sip from the gold-rimmed stemware.

It’s easy to fall into that trap. That someday trap. Someday have a party. Someday treat yourself. Someday go somewhere. Someday have fun. Someday celebrate. Someday be happy. Someday raise a toast to the life you’ve been saving for.

2008 Someday Resolutions

1. Use the good towels.
2. Get a lot more good towels.
3. Dump all the crappy towels in the house and replace them with good towels.
4. Wear the diamond necklace.
5. Wear the silver locket.
6. Wear the gold chain.
7. Damn it, wear all the real jewelry I keep in the back of the underwear drawer.
8. Wear something else from the back of that drawer.
9. Celebrate with a martini.
10. Use the special martini shaker and glasses we’ve never used.
11. Wow, these are good.
12. Let’s make another batch.

The Morning After Someday Resolutions

1. Blllechhhhhuuuuuhhooowwwwwwhhhhhh.
2. Use the good towels.

And tell my husband every day that I love him.

In love with another woman

September 23rd, 2007    -    10 Comments

Dyson_DC18_All_Floors_Vacuum_CleanerWhen we kids used to ask my mom what she wanted for her birthday or Christmas, she would say something like, “panty hose.” No, she wouldn’t say something like panty hose. That’s exactly what she said. She said panty hose, or stationery, or stamps, or Tupperware lids. (Not needing the bowls, you see, but the lids that always came up missing.) These answers were ridiculous to us. We cracked jokes about them. We cracked jokes about her. We didn’t believe anyone could be so unimaginative, so uninspired by the opportunity to improve herself. She was only interested in the trifling, mundane things she could actually use. Snort.

I’m probably remembering this now because my birthday is this week. Birthdays are rather significant to me. I am of a substantial age. And the product you see pictured here is my heart’s desire. I realized recently that it has long been my heart’s desire, but I have not been open enough with my own heart to express its desire. I am over jewelry; I don’t object to it but I just don’t wear it. Books find their way in and out by themselves. Fine cookware, of late, has energized my meal-making, so I’ve restocked. But otherwise, when I’m asked what I want as a gift, I have to say nothing, in the most sincere way. I’m through trying to dress up the scenery.

Until this year.

So I’m thinking again of my mother and what a mystery she has been to me in so many ways. This anniversary of my birth is the anniversary of her, long ago and far away from her family, barely 23, a good girl, smart, hard-working and fresh-off-the-farm in love with a reckless and insecure boy of 25, giving birth to her second baby in as many years. There would be one more and then she would be 27 and done with the having babies part.

But not done, indeed, never done, with the raising kids, keeping house and doing laundry part; the cooking and cleaning part; the shopping, clipping coupons and scrimp-and-saving part; the worrying night-and-day part; the folding grocery sacks and changing the vacuum filter part; the get-up-and-go-to-work-part; the night school, the ever-onward to the next credential; to overdue promotions; to conventions and committees; to daily troubles and nightly heartbreaks; to writing weekly letters and stamping endless envelopes; and storing leftovers in Tupperware after every meal.

It took me more than 40 years to comprehend a fraction of my mother’s life: the parts we shared and especially the parts we didn’t. But I’ve been coming around on this front, just as you have. We all understand our mothers better now, or so I hope for your sake. My mother wasn’t what I thought she was. She never stopped improving things. She alone kept things going. She took every opportunity to make things better. She knew all along what I’ve only learned lately. Once you put yourself into the effort, your whole heart, your undying love, there’s really nothing else you need.

But the Dyson DC 18 Slim All Floors Vacuum? That little dazzler sure can turn your head.

Written with love to my forever mother.

Your middle one,
Karen Kay

Shoot the moon

July 5th, 2007    -    7 Comments

Tomorrow we leave on a family vacation. Georgia and I fly to meet my husband at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

It will be momentous for several reasons. One, we will all be together. Two, we will (fingers crossed) watch the fruit of my husband’s labor launch into unknown worlds. And three, afterwards we will do what all national heroes do.

Amid all this, the good Zen folks in Cocoa, Florida have invited me to come over on Sunday morning and talk.

And because of all that, it seems a good time to speak a word about a topic that for me is downright unspeakable. Since some people think I have something to say about “Zen parenting” (not that I do) they naturally want to press me for some advice on “Zen marriage.”


I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know about marriage. I can’t tell you anything you don’t know about relationship. Except perhaps this: true relationship is not based on desire or feeling, not on dreams or goals, but on proximity. And it seems few marriages have very much of that these days. No one is in the same place at the same time.

Discovering unknown worlds requires my husband to travel about 50 percent of the time. Since I’m exaggerating, I shouldn’t be so stingy. Make that 60 percent. To me, it seems that everything happens during that margin: things break, babies fall, fevers rise, tires blow out, bronchitis thickens into world-class pneumonia, a little girl grows up. The known world keeps going. Sometimes, my husband comes home to a resentment so chilling, so deep, that it takes days for me to see clearly. Not that we have days.

He is not a religious sort, not a spiritual kind, but rather sentimental and secretly superstitious. No matter what hour of night he lands at LAX, no matter how staggering his exhaustion through multiple time zones, he always stops on the way home at a funky landmark called Randy’s Donuts near the airport and buys two: a frosted, sprinkled kind for Georgia and a plain cake one for me. Mind you, this is usually about 10 or 11 at night that he does this, after 8 or 12 hours of travel. Gone 7 days and he takes the time to stop for a stupid donut? This is me, stiff and brittle, screeching silently into my pillow as he tiptoes into the darkened house.

For all the lessons my daughter gives me in open-heartedness, in acceptance, my husband gives me more.

And so, tomorrow, all his outer searching and all of my inner searching comes together in the most ordinary way. Orlando. And on this eve, I realize that perhaps he is a hero after all. Not for managing forays to faraway planets and stars, but for managing to return, again and again, to an even more foreign and hostile place. For coming home, over and over, to a new and dangerous world – our house – with nothing more than a donut.

Which, in the end, I always eat.

Dog days

June 18th, 2007    -    1 Comment

It is summer now. Will I ever stop crying?

Not for the reasons you think. Sure, summer demands an adjustment of time, energy and expectations. It has its own rhythm; it has its own pace; it has its own flavor. It is immensely full. And although there is an illusion that time stands still in the summer, it’s just not so. Everything goes and grows, leaps and falls and my job is simply to . . . weep.

Saturday was Doggie Day here in our small town. Georgia went to the park with her dad and our dog Molly to run a few loops through the canine obstacle course. So impressed was Georgia with her own masterful handling that she came straightaway home and conceived her own summer enterprise: Doggie Daycare Training, her own dog school, offered every Saturday in our front yard on a training track concocted out of a laundry rack and empty boxes. She drew a flyer, she set the price, she meticulously realized a scheme out of nothing but innocence and self-confidence. And then her dad, motivated by love, stammered a word of caution, dealt the mortal wound of a well-meant doubt, and she fell all apart.

When I came home after all of this had happened, she approached only slowly to show me the poster of her abandoned proposition. Without thinking, I nodded. “Looks good,” I said. Her look of incredulity riveted me as she double checked:

“You think this is a good idea?”

And then it all came back, every moment of trembling dread, watching her wobble toward the stairs, teeter toward the slide, totter on two wheels while I had nothing but my breaking heart to clutch and hold, watching and trusting, letting her go, letting her fall, and dusting her off when all was said and done.

We copied the flyers. Her daddy took her around the block to put them on telephone poles.

“Listen up for the phone!” she called back to me as she headed out. She was twelve feet tall.

These are the dog days of our summer. The risks are greater, the flights are farther, the falling is as hard as ever. I weep even before they’ve begun.

And as instructed, I listen for the phone.

Delinquent to the dance

June 10th, 2007    -    6 Comments

As I start, I am reminded again that I start late. Late to bloom, late to love, late to marriage (the one that counted) late to motherhood, late to life and all its messy lessons. I come around again on things, come around to a different way of looking at them. And so I’ve come around to a different way of looking at this thing here: the blog.

I start by looking at things from the outside. As though it is for someone else, by someone else, about someone else. And then slowly I begin to see that it is not that way at all. You see, I read a lot of blogs. It is me reading, me responding, me concurring, me finding solace in a shared experience, me finding solidarity in a stranger’s familiar story. It is only me; it can only ever be me. Instead of tagging along on the perimeter, poking a poignant comment here and there, wagging my finger fore and aft, it is time that I began in earnest to blog to me. Because I’m the only one here.

We are so slow to commit to ourselves, aren’t we? Looking always for the external acceptance, the validation, the scattered applause rippling to a crescendoed ovation. I’m reminded of a weekend trip to Taos, a girlfriends’ trip over a decade ago. I was single and living in the painful torque between doubt and expectancy that I would love again. My best friend and I stepped into a jewelry shop (every other shop in Taos is a jewelry shop). I studied the rings in the locked cases. “I will marry myself!” I pronounced suddenly, and bought the ring that I wore on my left hand for a scant half-year before the real deal arrived, right on schedule.

“I will blog to myself!” I pronounce.

As writerly self disciplines go, it is as good as any.

So I am late; I am late to the dance. But I am dancing. I am dancing. I am dancing.

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