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Posts from February 2009

More ENOUGH Beads

Yesterday at seven in the morning my boss came into my classroom to tell me that students have been complaining about me to their counselors. A number of students have said that I am mean and they think I hate them. She then asked, “Do you hate them?” Wow. Glad to see that she knows me. Then she said that they think I’m brusque. To which she added as a statement of fact, "well, you are brusque." Thanks for that support, lady. Some more words of how horrible I am and onto the next topic. Oh, but she did say, in a I-can’t-believe-this tone, that she knows some students like me because they give me cards, but really, what are you going to do to make them think you love them?

Honestly, I have no idea. Some days I feel like a snapping turtle; there I am, calm in my mud and then all of a sudden someone says something, or does or doesn’t do something and SNAP. I know that it is not professional to bring my outside life into the classroom, and I don’t, I don’t talk about my life, but sometimes my nerves don’t realize where they are and SNAP. The SNAP could be a tone that is not the most loving or a comment that is not the most supportive. I’m sorry kids (you boys especially) but honestly can’t you just sit down, stop talking, stop chewing gum like cows, start doing your homework, start doing your classwork, stop talking, stop interrupting me when I’m talking to ask irrelevant questions, stop talking (oh, I said that, but did you hear me say that?), start caring about more than getting out of class to talk to your friends, stop thinking that you know more about everything than me, start paying attention. (That could be an example of a SNAP.)

The next topic was about my colleagues and how she says they feel that I don’t shoulder my weight or I’m not committed enough to the cause. This stems from the fact that I had to cancel helping out at a workshop one afternoon because I had a parent-teacher conference (not for my own child mind you, but at school for a student), and instead of going from person to person to see if someone would cover for me, I just sent out an email. Now I know that that is a big no no. Thanks everyone. One slip-up and you’re on the bad colleague list. Oh, and I came late to the last department meeting, or should I rephrase that as saying I was late to one meeting and poof, I am not a full member of the team.

And with that she left.

At that moment a student walked in (can’t you hang out with your friends and not come to my classroom 20 minutes before class starts?), so I had to pretend that I wasn’t as weak as a 14-year old inside. Then a student, whose sister I had last year and who often comes to visit me, came by herself to visit me. But I was about to cry, especially after I told her that I’m having a bad day and she asked me if I wanted a hug. (I saw her today, and she asked me if I was feeling better. Sweet, sweet girl.)

Then I read an email that notified the staff at school that the mother of two students had died. (I had her daughter two years ago. Another sweet, sweet girl.) I thought, oh no, not another woman dead from breast cancer. But no, I was to find out during my break, this mother of three committed suicide. That information just made me sit, sit with new tears brimming thinking of this woman and how horribly horrible the pit she was living in must have been. Then I just sat some more, unfolded. And there I was, at the wall of ENOUGH, unable to do anything but sit in stillness.

In the afternoon I went to see two short-term rental apartments. One was nice, in that it wasn’t expensive and there was no need to sign a long-term lease. But it really was for a single person, and not one with two teenagers. I imagined the reaction of my daughters if I would take them there: it would be that mom doesn’t want us. It was so obviously a place for one. And it was far, so far from the house, and more importantly from my younger daughter’s school that I wouldn’t be able to drive her in the mornings to school and get to my job on time which would be essential since the house was not in her school district. And the second apartment was actually a wing in a lovely woman’s home. I wish I could have taken it because it seemed that we would get along so well and her daughters are the same ages as mine. But it was too expensive to seriously consider.

And today I am back to wondering how I can save myself and leave them? Yes, I know this situation is unhealthy, but the price that my daughters would have to pay unless I find a place that is really suitable for them would be too high. How good would I feel sitting alone in a basement without exman around if I feel that I abandoned them to him? Would I really be able to start healing? And, would I really be able to start losing weight (thanks for the reminder that I have gotten heavy, mom) and exercise and get my life in order if I thought about them, alone in the house or with his toxic presence.

So this weekend I will be doing the realtor’s “to do” list, and she will help organize some repairs that she thinks will help sell the house. I’m still looking for a short-term rental, but it has to fit us all, hopefully I will find it before my birthday or we will have a contract by then.

Lastly, please drive carefully. In the past two days I have passed three accidents. 

Tidbits from Retired Life in Florida (thanks to my mother)

  • Some men surprise everyone with how caring they are to their spouses. After a lifetime of being the typical taditional-style couple with the husband working long hours at the office and the wife at home seeing to his comforts, in older age and with his spouse’s illness this man has become the caregiver and worrier, seeking to ease his wife through this part of life. Maybe the role he played before didn’t let him express what was always within.

  • An 80-something women has recently married a 90-something man. My mother is prudish enough to wish she hadn’t overheard this conversation, but not so prudish that she didn’t convey it to me: the woman said to a friend on the golf course that now, now she is having the best sex she ever had. Pause for thought, imagery, and surely a smile to know that life does go on, in all its aspects.

  • The control freaks that you try to get away from at work do not change when they retire to the golf courses and tennis courts of Florida. No, they volunteer to help manage things and then turn on the very people who lazily let them rise to the top of the retiree community ladder. You may retire from work, but not your personality, which means that you can’t escape from the personalities that bugged you, they just have more leisure time to annoy you.

  • Take-out is king when dining out. Styrofoam containers are a key part of any restaurant meal. It doesn’t matter how hungry you are, you will take enough food home for a meal tomorrow. Is it because people who don’t like to cook continue to not like cooking? Or is it to stretch the retiree dollar? Or maybe it’s to give yourself more time to do the things you like and less the things you don’t like—finally. 

Life as a Ruffly Dress

Life is like a dress with lovely ruffles. Sometimes the ruffles get flattened, and sometimes they are too poufy. It's never quite right. But it's stunning with the imperfections and in those fleeting moments of exactitude. Even with a wilted ruffle that just won't stand, it can be fun, funny and joyous.

What is your metaphor for life?

I Couldn’t Help Myself

For two days I have been dealing with mr.ex moving my dirty dishes and assorted pots to the dining room table (“my spot”) as punishment because I had the audacity to move his frying pan, that he put in the sink expecting me to wash it, and put it on his table. Childish, yes, but there are some lines that I don’t want to cross, and washing his dishes is one of the main ones. Anyway, there was this movement of dishes and then the requisite curses and insults from him that incorporated the weekend drama, because the rest of the time I was trying to grade 75 papers (all of which were bad, causing me to think what a bad teacher I am and what to do to help those 14-year-olds think and write at the same time).

All of this ridiculousness did prompt me to look for a rental place, which would cost the other half of my salary that my share of the mortgage here doesn't take, which would leave me and my daughters with nothing to live on. But I am determined to be out near my birthday, which is coming up.

Anyway. Back to the drama. While I know that I should not get on Craig’s List personals because it has become a real downer, it has, unfortunately, also become a bit of an obsession for me. I keep thinking that the reality is not the real reality so I keep expecting an actual man with intelligence, personality, and smile that charms me who finds all of that in me to make himself known. Alas, this has not happened. (Duh, for anyone who as read any posts here.) Do I scare them off with my verbal antics? Perhaps my discussion of why drama is an expected part of life scared off one man, while my ability to string sentences together that developed a point could have scared off another. I will not say looks because lately I have been found to be beautiful (YES!), except for Mark. Which brings me to what I couldn’t help doing.

Now mind you I broke a cardinal rule with Mark: I responded to an email that had lol (no, it was L.O.L.) in it—not just in one email, but in two out of three. And since he is not a man of many words, that was a big part of his writing. But I thought maybe I am being too discriminatory in the email part of the dating game, and I would give him the benefit of the doubt that his verbal ability will come out in conversation. DING DING DING. Dumb move. Stick to the rules, that’s why you made them.

Mark: Your very pretty Laura. I'm looking for some one that is height weight Proponent.  ?? Don’t mean to offend you ok.

(I will not even use my red pen to mark all of Mark’s grammatical errors, I will skip right to my response—which I couldn’t resist sending.)

ME:  You're a stupid man, no offense.

For those of you who are not in with this dating term: to be height-weight proportional is a way of saying “thin” or no evidence that you have eaten a Big Mac or M&Ms for the past 47 years. Back to the rules. 

The Art of Sighing

It seems that I have become quite a sigher of late. It’s loud and it’s earnest; I guess you could call it a full-body sigh. I can feel my entire body sinking into that sigh as it exits me. I slump down, I make a full-blown exhalation that is not subtle as sighs are supposed to be, and even my face seems to seep and sink into the sigh. It is a perfect reflection of how I feel.

Sigh. It’s how I feel about everything right now. It’s how I feel about my co-teacher who tries to get into a discussion about everything that I do with the students as if he is the class psychologist and I am there as some kind of non-initiate watching how he intuits all there is to know about a student. The sigh reflects my relationship with my daughters: I am the holder of the keys, the pocketbook, the kitchen utensils and sponge, and occasionally a sounding board, for good and for bad.

A sigh certainly reflects how I feel when I leave work and most interactions with people come to an end. Midlife Slices commented on a post the other day that if something were to happen to her husband, she would be happy to continue her life with just friends and family around. But what do you do, other than sigh, if you don’t have friends and family around to cover that hole? Do you just sit in the hole and keep excavating? And even when you try or hope to get out of it, what if there are no rungs to climb up with? It doesn’t always work that you have family nearby, and it certainly doesn’t always work that you have friends who are nearby and who are available to offer rungs in the form of time together. It just isn’t so easy to fill a life with people and interactions just because you want to.

A sigh. A sigh because sometimes, a writer doesn’t want to express the sensation of being alive in little bits when the totality is overwhelming. A sigh would be the equivalent of that picture that you use to “paint a thousand words.” That is my kind of sigh. It feels good when it comes out. It feels as if mind and body are commiserating together, for the benefit, surely, of the overwhelmed me, helping me overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed. As the heavy, charged air exits in a sigh, I feel lighter and fresher.

This is my kind of therapy: sigh therapy.  

The Symbolism of “Baby”

There are far too many love songs being written, recorded and played that call women “baby.” I fundamentally object to this. It is demeaning, even for a term of endearment. It is not sweet, it does not show or shower affection, it is a put-down. I know what a baby is; I’ve nursed, diapered, burped, and wiped two of them countless times. Babies are helpless; they need help with most tasks, except body functions. So what the heck does calling a grown woman “baby” have to do with her turning your love button on?

Now “babe” is an entirely different story. Call me babe and a bit of the mortar holding up my walls just may crumble. Babe, it’s cool, it’s hip, it’s risqué in a refined way. Babe. I can be a babe. No one would confuse a babe with a helpless infant in a onesie. A babe gets kissed on the neck right before the door is held open for her. A babe decides what movie to see and where to eat after... and even if that’s necessary.

Call me baby and you get a look, maybe even the look. I am not a baby. But if you intuit that I am a babe, my scorn meter might be turned off, at least temporarily.
Songs that refer to women as “baby” should be censored and banned from the air waves. Words matter, and if you call a woman a word that confines her and defines her as a different sort of eye candy, then it should not be used. Instead, try a word that tussles with and challenges perception.

“Baby come back” just isn’t going to happen, but, perhaps “You got me babe” will.

Israel Story: Making Aliya (Moving to Israel)

A few weeks after I graduated from college at twenty, unable to think of what I wanted to do with my English degree and my desire to write but not actually doing any writing, and unable to wear one of those padded suits and string ties that were de rigor for professional women in those days, I took off for my version of a Grand Tour. I lived on a kibbutz in Israel for six months and then travelled in England, Scotland and Ireland for a month before returning to New York.

It was in a college dorm in London where the shape of my life was to find form. As I took a bottle of juice out of the sink which I had transformed into a refrigerator by filling it with cold water, the following thought bubble entered my head: “If I am not going to live near my family [I always knew I would live someplace other than where I grew up], then I am going to live someplace where my living there gives meaning to my life.” And with that my decision to move to Israel came into being.

What’s especially interesting is that my being the dunce in Hebrew classes when I was growing up did not sway me from this decision. For years of twice-a-week Hebrew school classes I was able to retain the ability to read five letters and two words: abba, father, and beit, house. I had friends who aced the aleph-bet, and who had gone on trips to Israel in a kind of perhaps-preparation for moving there if they so desired and if their parents so desired for them, but me, no preparation.

The only reason why I even went on the six-month trip there was because I was too scared and nervous to go to Europe on my own, and this would give me six months without worrying about where to sleep and where to go. I figured that I would find someone to travel with on the kibbutz, or, if I was lucky, someone from Australia with whom I could live back in Australia. (Every since I saw the movie Walkabout I thought that Australia would become my home territory.)

So there I was, at 21 deciding to become a citizen of a country I barely knew and where I didn’t know anybody beyond the acquaintance level. But I did know that I was pushing my life past the “me” expectations that were bogging me down. I was afraid of losing myself in a life devoted to acquisitions and days filled with inconsequential actions and thoughts, I yearned for meaning. Unable to figure out how to create the meaning myself, I did the next best thing and boarded a plane. I found meaning in every word uttered in an ancient language that created a bond going back millennia and in every path traversed that had been the site of defeats and celebrations still remembered. I created myself in a place that comforted me as much as it distressed me.

Growing up in New York City was wonderful, but the experience of living in Israel was different. It really did force me out of myself and my interests (which New York certainly doesn’t do, if anything, it forces you deeper into yourself), and made me see life as a community activity, or rather life as requiring community.
Maybe this is what people experience when they move to their family’s “old country.” They become aware of a duality: self and continuity. This is surely what I needed, and once again long for. But now, now that I am back in the states I don’t expect to act on my wanderlust again, I need to find a way to bring that feeling into my life—and my daughters’.

It’s not just in the foods or the holidays; it’s in a sense of self that is unmasked. Maybe that’s it, being clear that who you are is not just you, it is you as the latest version of those who have come before and who have unwittingly participated in forming you. It is seeing the self as a variation, not a unique model, that brings comfort and the ability to truly create, or to create truly.

Thinking of Midlife Men

The other day, as my daughter was in H&M trying on a dress for a school presentation, I watched as a woman looked for a corset and matching thong for, I assume, Valentine’s Day. Observing her intense scrutiny made me think of the men I have dated since the summer of 2007, when I first hit Craig’s List in search of love, and the fact that I have no need for sexy lingerie. I’ve been thinking about them, not because I fear I made a horrible mistake and nixed a man who I have come to regret nixing, but because it gives me cause for pondering the roads they took to reach their midlife journey alone, and me mine.

  • The first man I dated was pseudo-man, and so far he is the only one who got past three dates with me. His career in the military had been one full of early advances and big expectations, until something happened and instead of being on the road to being a general he left the military and became a defense contractor. That midlife shove off the path of self-esteem seemed to have pushed him onto an emotional seesaw. Too bad. But there's a point when you realize that you don't need to stand by a man you're dating if he doesn't deserve it.

  • There were two single, as in never married, men who I dated. One was a librarian who kept talking about how he was concerned about his and his mother’s health. Then there was the man who talked about things he did in the past. I don’t mean trips down the Amazon River and pottery classes, but dinner with a friend the weekend before and what they said and what they ate. Neither of them seemed to know what conversation is. Not that I didn’t try to help, I asked questions, I worked to get them out of their shells. But if when I said that I lived in Israel for 17 years there were no questions to me, then we have a deep, deep inability to be interested in someone else, which brings to mind the “no wonder they’re still single” thought.

  • There was the man who started off well, what with his raising his two sons after his wife left them because she didn’t want to be a mommy any more. But he lost his appeal when he said he is living in the basement of a friend’s house because he and his second wife can’t decide where to live and she is obsessed with her career. He seemed buffeted by the people in his life and so undefined in himself. One would think that a personality would develop on top of a life, but sometimes that just isn’t the case.

  • Two men told me that their wives were control freaks. One explained how he was required to strip down before coming into the house after working outside. From what he said, he separated from his wife because he couldn’t take it anymore. I can’t remember the specifics from the other man’s issues with his wife, but from what he said she put him down all the time, especially to their daughter. As I told man number two, I don’t date people with worse home situations than mine. And man number one, well, we connected as friends who could commiserate but men don’t want to be friends with women they want to date.

  • The ex-Brit, who was doing well in his career and seemed to have confidence, was too “into” his teenage daughter. This man has done what I have come to find many men who separate and divorce do if they have a teenage daughter: they make their daughter into a kind of surrogate wife. It’s as if they are determined to make a relationship with a woman work, so rather than finding a woman their own size, they focus on their daughter and seemingly woe her. It’s weird, it’s gross, it’s inappropriate. (And yes, exman does it with older daughter.) Yes, I know that we are supposed to put our kids before a person we met a week ago, but seriously, wouldn’t you rather go out on a date than drive your child to soccer practice?

  • Of late there have been two very nice, intelligent, short, dumpy men, but neither pressed the charm button. One’s expression of what he probably thought of as interest seemed to me a tad creepy. And when in the midst of our conversation he implied that I was being too picky in my man hunt, my annoyance button was pressed. The other man, after telling him that I have too much going on to enter into a romance (this was after finding out about where pseudo-man had been for that lost week), decided that if he can’t romance me, then he’s off. Why is it that lonely middle-aged men would rather be alone than friends with a woman who interests them? Or do they want to free up their calendars for the right woman? From this side of the table I can state that I would rather have friends to go out with and talk to than be at home bemoaning my lone status.  

And me, what could be said of me and how I have arrived at midlife alone? That I don’t take enough responsibility for where I am in my life, that I talk a lot and interrupt a lot, that I have not grown past hoping a man will rescue me? I guess. It could also be said that I have had many disappointments, personal and professional. On top of that could be added that I expect a man to be engaged in life, and not be a passerby. That I have arrived at midlife wanting more, reaching for more, that where I’ve been is not where I’m going, and I expect the same in my partner.

I also hope that on one Valentine’s Day a man would wear a man-version of a corset and thong for me, because if I’ve learned anything from this life and dating process, it’s that the adventurous person I was when I was twenty is still in here. And that I like to twist things around.   

Talking to a Mom

"Hi, Laura, it's Karen's mother. Did she tell you that my cancer returned?"

"No. What kind?"


And with that I started talking to the mother of one of my younger daughter's friends (who slept over last night), and who is one of my best front door friends. You know, one of those women who you talk with for an hour when you go to pick up your child or she comes to pick up hers, but it never progresses past that stage.

We talked about her hair, her shaving her head, her inability to look at herself without her hair, her kids wanting her to have her wig on, and the little cap that she wears, and how her older daughter (13) comes home to be with her. Then she asked about my life. And we did a front door talk on the phone.

Now I sit here thinking of her body getting help fighting the cancer from the medical establishment, and her emotional self getting help fighting the cancer from her husband and family and friends, and her strong sense of self. I wish her and all of those fighting cancer and illness healing and health. 

Some People Have Worry Beads, I Have Enough Beads

The string of enough-beads that I have been stringing through the days of late has gotten so long that if I wore it I would be so weighted down that I wouldn’t be able to stand and walk into the next cause for an enough bead to be created and added to that string.

  • mr-ex is still here and as “vibrant” as ever. He has taken to calling my daughters into his room for a conference if voices rise when I am discussing something with them. Having him call them in disgusts me on so many levels: since he is not parenting he doesn’t get to pretend that he is the supervisor parent. He also doesn’t get to be the decider parent telling them what to do and say, especially when they never hurl at him the things they hurl at me because they are scared of him and because he is not involved in their lives, except in this role, while I have to somehow deal with them while they are fuming and spewing.

  • mr-ex appears to be one of the unemployed (he worked for a financial institution), although he seems to be trying to establish some kind of business. Not that that would impact me monetarily since he pays nothing to me for me or for the girls, but it does mean that he is in the home much more often than before--he is there just about everyday when I come home from work. You’d think that maybe he would be more stressed for money now and agree to really reduce the price of the house to sell quickly, but no, he seems even more determined to make the amount of money that he wants from the house.

  • At school I have spent the last week on our new unit, the Holocaust. I spent two days watching a movie (A Survivor Remembers) about a Holocaust survivor five times. Then, I had my students do an activity where they try to identify pictures of people to see if they can figure out if the person was a victim, perpetrator, rescuer or bystander during the Holocaust. That’s not so bad, what’s hard is that five times in two days I needed to read the biographies of Adolf Eichmann, Josef Mengele, and Herta Oberhauser. Don’t bother looking them up, one was the “mastermind” of the Final Solution, and the other two were “doctors” performing “medical” experiments on people. Not a light-hearted way to spend my days at work. And we’re heading into more days of Holocaust and World War II research, and from past experience, I know that I will get upset from insensitive comments from teenagers, or even worse, from uncaring teenagers.

  • After a week of worrying that pseudo-separated man was in a coma or coffin after disappearing for a week after we had been back in touch for a few weeks, I found out that he wasn’t in either place. I did find, though, cause to change his moniker from pseudo-separated man to pseudo-man. Let’s just say that the disappointment that lead to that was utterly disheartening.

  • The other day, after I yelled at older daughter for picking up my laptop by the top when it was open, she actually uttered a word that I never expected to be hurled at me from my daughter. From my ex-husband, been there done that, but not her. Not the c-word from my 17-year old. Yes, I understand it’s a phase, but she just keeps crossing lines that I didn’t expect to ever cross. And since then I have been called that again, and the f-word and even given the finger. Any wonder that I left her at school today when I went to pick her up between her classes and told her I'll come back when her last class is over. (She then called mr-ex to rescue her from her evil mother--he did.)

  • And lovely, sweet younger daughter was mad at me because I went out with a friend the other night and I did not inform her that after dinner I would be going to a movie, because sometimes I need to pretend that I can do that—make a decision without consulting a 13-year old. So after being called the c-word, all that came out of the other mouth in the room was “shut up shut up shut up” aimed at me.

I went into my little room, locked the door (after Poops the maltese came in), and just lay down on my love seat. Sometimes thoughts are pushed aside by amorphous emotions. This was not meditation, this was me hitting the Wall of ENOUGH.

I Have Nothing to Wear: Eyeglasses Department

It is not okay that the head of my department, who just announced that she will be retiring in June, has hipper glasses than me. The one saving grace is that she didn’t splurge and get the progressive lenses so you can see that she is wearing bifocals, while mine are progressives so you wouldn't be able to age me by the horizontal line in the middle of my lenses. Other than that, the woman who wears three-inch bright yellow platform flip flops (and not just during Spirit Week) and colored opaque stockings with clogs and denim skirts is far ahead of the game than me in the “what’s on your face” department.

This is definitely not good. My glasses were hip, when I bought them two years ago. Now they are passé, and that is not making me happy. Especially when confronted with her Dolce & Gabbana’s. So, I decided to get me some hip glasses. I figured if it was one of the girls who needed a new item for her wardrobe I would moan and then buy it, so I decided to do the same for myself. Yes, splurge on myself. Hard to contemplate.

First I went to the cheapo store where I found my last two pairs of hip glasses for a lot less. But there was nothing there: nothing that bespoke “new and improved” and made me feel that I was making a step up the hip-o-meter and not merely treading water. I practically had tears in my eyes when I left that store, where else would I get the look I want at the price I want?

So to LensCrafters I went, which is where the hip soon-to-be-retiree got her glasses. Yes, I was a frame stalker. I found a pair in two different color options that I liked, so over to the saleman I went. He decided to make life difficult for me showing me his cost card for different types of lenses. For goodness sakes I said to him in my New York cum Israel tone (which means, no patience for you) when he showed me his laminated card with lots of columns and rows and numbers, just tell me how much the glasses would cost with the medium-priced lenses.


I felt that I needed to remind him about the 25% off something sale that was advertised all over the store.

“That is with the discount.”

There goes hip. There is no way that I am paying that much money for glasses. So I will need to go to the other cheapo frame stores where I have never found a frame I liked and hope that this time things will be different. For now, you’ll recognize me when I stand next to the retiring English teacher, I’m the one with the glasses that look like the older woman should be wearing, and she’s the one wearing the glasses that I should be wearing.

I wonder who’s going to replace her?