Things That Don’t Matter: My Favorite Jeans

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I am on a quest!  For jeans without stretch.

Last week I found myself in a bit of a panic because my last pair of 100% cotton jeans has reached its last days, and I haven’t been able to find a pair to replace them.  I’ve known the end was approaching for a while now because the denim in the seat of these favorite jeans of mine has begun to whiten and look threadbare, the way it does just before it breaks open. I’ve noticed that there are lots and lots of strings appearing around the hems, and that the top of the waistband has separated from itself in places, like when an envelope has been slit open.  “Can I get away with wearing them today?” I ask myself every time I see them hung, freshly laundered in my closet, all soft and cute and smelling like Tide. “The kids wear jeans with holes in them every day!” I say to myself, rationalizing.  I know, though, that I wouldn’t let the angels wear jeans like these jeans because of the risk of the seat splitting.  Knee holes are okay. Fanny holes?  Not so much.  But… there are no fanny holes yet, so I give in to my urge, and I wear them, just one more time.

The final challenge to my denial came the other morning while I was flipping pancakes for breakfast.   Angel #2 walked by and stuck her finger in the small hole that has begun just above my right back pocket and said, “I can see your undies mom, time for new jeans.”

Here’s what I have to say about that:  NNOOoooooooo!

I love those jeans.  I really really love them.  We’ve been through a lot together, my favorite jeans and I.  I bought them three babies ago at the army surplus store in the next suburb over from where we live.  They were a little loose and a little stiff back then, but I loved them anyway.  That’s just the way new jeans were back in the olden days.  They fit me pretty well back then, even though I was a good deal straighter from waist to knee than I am now.  Now, they fit me even better.  I am fifteen pounds heavier (and almost fifteen years older) than I was before I became a mother, and curvier, and yet my 100% cotton Levi’s somehow adapted to my changes. They are still long enough.  The waistline still sits at the perfect place, just below my belly button without binding.  I don’t have to worry about my unmentionables being seen.  My favorite jeans are a little more snug, to be sure, through the hip, then they were in the beginning, but they still fit like a glove.  They magically evolved with my gradually changing figure.  They molded to my new body and met my needs without question. Who wouldn’t fall in love with that?

They were very dark blue when I bought them, and as time went on they took on the beautiful patina that actual cotton denim does as it gets washed and dried and worn and folded and hung.  Some threads faded faster than others, and what resulted is a soulful cross hatching of a hundred different shades of indigo.  If you look closely, you will see that some of the threads of my favorite jeans are still very dark blue, some are white, and there are threads every shade in between.  They have character, and depth.  They are a work of art.  Who wouldn’t fall in love with that?

Besides, my husband likes the way I look in my favorite jeans.  I’m usually wearing them when he wraps his arms around me at the kitchen sink and whispers that I look nice.  Seriously, who wouldn’t fall in love with that?

I can’t seem to fall in love with stretchy jeans.  I actually hate them, but stretchy jeans are all there is to buy these days, so I have to own them.  I must have ten pairs of stretchy jeans in my closet that won’t work because they don’t feel good or look good. Even though I’ve had some of them for years, they are all essentially new because I never wear them.  I opt instead for my favorite pair.

The thing that drives me most crazy about stretchy jeans is the problem of the seam that runs down the outside of the leg.  They look great in the dressing room.  They are sleek and sexy and hold in all the things that need to be held in, but as soon as they are washed, they betray you.  Something about the water or the heat of the dryer causes the outer seam to turn itself over at exactly the outermost portion of my hip, which causes an extra little lump. You know what doesn’t make a woman happy?  An extra lump on the outermost portion of her hip!  It reminds me of the time I dated a funny, handsome, kind man who chewed with his mouth open.  It’s a small thing that shouldn’t matter, but I just can’t get over it.

In addition to that, my stretchy jeans grow as I wear them.  If I have the bad luck to have to sit down while I have them on, I have to hitch them up every fifteen minutes for the rest of the day. The only way to avoid this is to buy them a size or two too small, which has its own problems, like the inability to breathe, and wedgies.

Stretchy jeans don’t fade right either.  The color they are when they begin is the color they stay, except that after a few washings, they begin to look like you store them in the half-full bag of your vacuum cleaner. Dusty. They look dusty.  What’s worse, they pill.  I’m not sure why, but my stretchy jeans all end up with teeny tiny white balls clinging to the knees and seat.  It’s not particularly attractive.

So I went to the mall, and asked in several stores if they carry 100%cotton jeans, to no avail.  One sales girl, who truly was trying to be helpful, suggested to me that I should shop in the men’s department.  “Why not look?”  I thought to myself. “I had a pair of men’s jeans when I was first married, and they were great.” I walked over there and sure enough, all the men’s jeans were made of 100% cotton!  Hey, no fair! Why are men allowed to wear jeans that feel and look good while we can’t?  But…I put the sexism of it all aside, and tried on a few pairs.  I’m sorry to report that it didn’t work.  Wearing men’s jeans might have been a good option twenty years ago, when my shape was more super-model and less mother-of-three, but my now hour glass figure won’t fit into a pair of straight-up-and-down men’s jeans anymore.  They were funny looking.  I went home from the mall empty handed.  I was starting to get frustrated. 

When I got home, I googled “100% cotton jeans for women.”  I was directed to about a thousand different websites, so I spent several hours shopping online.  I did not find one pair, not a single offering, of jeans made of only cotton.  Still no cotton jeans.  My frustration grew.

 I tried to alleviate it by firing off an angry email to the Levi’s website  explaining my predicament and listing the reasons why stretchy jeans are terrible, and that I would like a pair of 100% cotton, midrise, straight leg or boot cut, dark wash jeans, size six, pronto.  A few minutes later I received a friendly email from a sales rep at Levi’s.  I felt a little flicker of hope.  She said she always enjoyed hearing what customers had to say, and that Levi’s did in fact carry 100% cotton jeans.  The flicker grew a little warmer.  Attached was a photo.  I clicked to see it, and the flicker was immediately extinguished.  They were “low rise skinny jeans.” I started to laugh.  Low rise skinny jeans are worse than just funny looking.  They are ridiculous. There’s no way I could pull off the look.  I’m forty-six years old, and low rise skinny jeans are just not very flattering to a grown-up woman’s body.  Heck, they don’t even look that great on tall, slim, young women.  From the back, the combination of the tight thigh and the low waist create a pocket in the rear end, causing the wearer to look as if she has a loaded diaper.  Also, if I wore this style, I’d have to invest in a few long shirts to go with them, because you could see my crack if I didn’t.  Could someone please tell the fashion industry that at my age I deserve a little dignity?  I obviously didn’t buy the diaper-shaped crack-showing jeans. The email exchange hadn’t helped one bit to alleviate my frustration; it made it worse. 

That night my husband told me that he had found cotton jeans on the internet for me.  They were midrise, straight leg, just like I’d been looking for, so he ordered a few pairs.  I was so excited that I kissed him right on the mouth in front of the children!  I didn’t know how he had done it, but he had found me some jeans!  Hooray!  Three days later, the UPS man dropped them on my front porch.  I ripped open the plastic bag, and I tried them on. Fabulous!  I thought they fit beautifully, and my husband said he liked them, so we pulled off the tags and threw all four pairs in the wash.  Neither of us had bothered to look at the tags.  Big mistake!  Guess what?  When I pulled on a new pair still warm from the dryer, the seam had turned over!  They didn’t fit or look like they had before we washed them.  The jeans had been billed on the website as 100% cotton, but they weren’t.   They were 1% elastine, whatever the hell that is.  I couldn’t return them because they had been washed. My clothing budget is gone for now, and I’m even more frustrated, if that’s possible.

To add insult to injury, I received another email from Levi’s just this morning.  In it they announced the “introduction” of 100% cotton jeans for women!  They are exactly what I wanted.  Now I’m beyond frustrated.  First of all, I think the friendly sales girl from Levi’s could have earned my business for a lifetime if she had only told me to wait, that they were bringing back their cotton jeans in less than a week.  She had to have known.  The whole thing feels a little underhanded.  I can’t reward them for being sneaky by handing over the money for two more pair of jeans, can I?  Second, they are $78 dollars each.  Is it just me or is that a little high?  Can someone tell the fashion industry that $78 dollars is a little high for a stay-at home mom?  I would feel guilty spending that amount of money on a single pair of jeans.

You wanna know a secret?  I’m not proud of this, but I really want to buy those jeans.  But no one needs a fifteenth and sixteenth pair of jeans, do they?  Plus, I’m always telling my daughters that we should buy what we need and maybe just a little bit more, and anything else is wasteful.  “How many video games/t-shirts/stuffed animals does one little girl need?” I say to them over and over. I can’t turn around and buy more than I need, can I?   

And so, I will end my quest here.  I will stay away from the mall and the internet, and I will try to patch my favorite jeans.  I will iron-or maybe stitch down- those stinkin’ bumpy seems I hate so much, and I will wear the jeans I have, until I wear them out.  I just hope it doesn’t take fifteen years.

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Don’t Get Me Started File: The Cookie Sale

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How do you feel about an organization that uses second graders as their sales force?

Yes, we are talking about the esteemed Girl Scouts of America. 

Honestly, I have a lot of nice things to say about the Girl Scouts.  Each of my three daughters has had a great, no, lots of great experiences with their respective Girl Scout troops.  They’ve been to every sort of museum, had every kind of outdoor experience you can think of, and volunteered for deserving charity organizations.  They have learned to work and play with other little girls without the three’s-a- crowd drama that happens between little girls in elementary schools and at birthday parties. This last one is big.  If you have daughters you know what I mean.

The Girl Scouts have also given my daughters excellent female role models. Every Girl Scout leader we have ever encountered has been unbelievably generous, and each has been patient.  God knows they are patient.  Each has been very organized; they have to be.  Most are working mothers who truly don’t have the time to give all they do to my daughters, but they do it anyway.  Girl Scout leaders, I thank you, truly, from the bottom of my heart. 

The only thing that gets under my skin is the annual cookie sale.  And the Cookie Sale REALLY gets under my skin.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m told that learning to sell is a great experience for children, and that it’s a skill that will serve them well in life.  Maybe that’s true, but the annual cookie sale is a gargantuan pain in the neck, and not for the little girls so much, but for their parents. For the better part of four months, we moms and dads are expected to get our daughters to regular meetings, to extra  “cookie meetings” and activities, to find the time, energy, and locations for our daughters to sell, manage the forms, the money, the pick- up and delivery of cookies, and the return of cookies that don’t sell.  I would be remiss, in this rant of mine, if I did not mention how difficult all this is to add to the schedules of other children we might have, the other activities of our girl scouts, and some other stuff we might like to do (like eat and sleep).

Around Halloween the leaders start feeling around to see who might be willing to be a cookie mom.  God bless the cookie mom!  The best advice I can give you is to run and hide.  One year I volunteered to be the cookie mom, not really knowing what I was getting into.  Let’s just say I would have benefitted from a Harvard MBA, which I don’t have, to handle all the money issues that arose.  Sales proceeds were lost and/or miscalculated.   Customers ordered too many boxes of cookies, too few boxes of cookies, and the wrong boxes of cookies.  Customers asked for refunds if they didn’t like the cookies.   All the money problems gave rise to emotional problems.  More than one Girl Scout mom wound up crying in my kitchen.  It wasn’t pretty.   I ended up fifty bucks in the hole, and I was irritated.  Wouldn’t it have been much easier to just give my fifty dollars to the Girl Scout troop?  They would have gotten the entire fifty dollars instead of just a small percentage per box, and I would have been much happier (and thinner).  

Now that I know better, I don’t volunteer to be the cookie mom.  But I still dread selling cookies all through the Christmas season.   Sometime shortly after New Year’s Day it begins:  the first e-mail arrives announcing all the cookie events that are coming up.  Last year my two girl scouts were taught about marketing at one meeting and were asked to make a promotional poster to send to their parent’s job, so their dad could sell cookies at work.  Has it occurred to the powers-that-be that perhaps some employers may not be thrilled for The Girl Scouts to do business on their company time?   If so, they haven’t acknowledged it.   My husband’s company has been extraordinarily understanding. They’ve been happy to allow our little girls to come in for an hour one afternoon every year to do their selling.  They would be well within their rights to say no. One Girl Scout Dad I know works for a company that has banned the sale of cookies in their building. His bosses say that he isn’t paid to raise money for charity.  I’m afraid I agree.

There was also a cookie “rally”, in the tradition of Amway, where the girls go to get all pumped up so they can go home and bug their mothers relentlessly to knock on the doors of strangers to beg for money.  I’m told that many little girls commit at the rally to sell hundreds of boxes of cookies!  I’m opting not to send my daughters to the rally this year.  More pressure to sell is the last thing I, I mean they, need.     

Oh, and don’t forget the booth sales.  That’s four hours selling cookies, in February, outside a grocery store, in Colorado.  It’s just eight more hours in the cold I’d rather be doing something else.  Truth be told, booth sales are the easiest way to sell cookies.  There always seems to be an older gentleman who stuffs a couple of twenties in the jar but won’t take any cookies.  Last year, however, an honest- to-God paranoid schizophrenic glommed onto us (as we froze our brownies off) and told my eight year old all about how she got probed by aliens.  Lovely! 

The absolute worst, though, is that both my second grader and my fourth grader were put on a sales quota!  Each child was responsible to sell eighty boxes.  Turns out they made their quotas, but it wasn’t because we care all that much.  Sure, we’re happy to offer cookies to the friends and coworkers that want them but we won’t be applying pressure or “marketing” to anyone. The kids have school, homework and an array of extra-curricular activities, which is as it should be. Children should be spending their precious childhoods (and I use the word precious in the truest sense of the word) learning and growing, not fueling the huge machine that Girl Scouts has become.

What I don’t get is how competitive some of the parents get about the cookie sale.  I’ve seen numerous cars painted with advertizing.  I’ve seen a sales banner across someone’s front door.  I’ve been told behind the backs of hands that some moms are cheating by selling too soon, or after the deadline, or over the internet (which apparently wasn’t allowed last year, but will be this year).  Accusations are flying around the neighborhood via e-mail about unfairness, and that some girls are selling in someone else territory.  What?  Territory?  Wait just a minute there, mama, calm down and take a breath… aren’t your daughters supposed to be doing the selling?

And another thing, is it even moral to sell Girl Scout Cookies?  A look at the ingredient list will tell you that they are basically chemicals wrapped in transfats and then dipped in sugar.  That’s not healthy for anybody, is it?  I wonder how many heart blockages were caused in part by Thin Mints, which have 25% daily allowance for fat, or by Samoas which have a whopping 30% daily allowance!

Back in the days when Girl Scouts sold cookies to fund their camping trip, it was cute.  Likewise, it’s not a bad idea for children to learn to sell something.  But four months of training, added activities, and relentless pressure to sell, sell, sell, is a little over the top.   It takes over my life.  And the mommies, I’m telling you, seem a little out of control.  Somewhere, a line has been quietly crossed by the Girl Scouts.  This is the line that, when crossed, turns a band of gap toothed smiling little girls with mismatched clothing into an army of a sales force almost solely responsible for funding a very large non-profit organization.  I find it distasteful, at best. 

I want back on the other side of the line.   I have fantasized about taking my girls out of scouting altogether, just to get out of selling cookies, but that isn’t a viable option because they love their leaders and their scouting friends so much.  So, Instead of responding to the pressure by selling more and more cookies this year, I think I’ll limit the selling to an hour or so in the safe, well-known setting of my husband’s office.  That way they’ll have the experience without all the pressure.  I’ll let them off the hook for all the other stuff, stop feeling resentful, and if they don’t make their quotas, I’ll make a donation large enough to cover their activities for the next year.   Bitchy and elitist? Probably.  Go ahead and judge me for having the money to throw at this problem.  It will be worth every penny, I say.  And…. I’ll be so much happier.    

 

 

 

 

An Open Letter

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Just for kicks, I’m posting my response to the now famous article, All The Single Ladies, written by Kate Bolick and published in the November, 2011 issue of Atlantic Magazine. In it she laments the shortage of good men, the obsolescence of marriage, and her decision to break up with a man she loved because of the vague feeling that “something was missing.” She goes on to say that it’s alright though, because women don’t need men anyway. The article is intelligent, well written and thought provoking, but… I happen to disagree with her point.

If you haven’t read it and would like to, the article is available on line for free. Just Google ‘Kate Bolick, All the Single Ladies’. You’ll find a link near the top of the first page.

Married ladies, single ladies, and even you guys, I’d love to hear your opinion on the matter.

To All the Single Ladies, From an Aging Married One: An Open Letter to Kate BolickDear Ms. Bolick,

I read your November article in the Atlantic the other day, and then I read it again. And then I slept on it. In the morning I read it a third time. The whole thing is troubling to me, all the research proving that men are falling apart, and that the institution of marriage is falling apart, and that women must stay single or settle for a financially dependent husband or an unfaithful one. I don’t like to hear it. I don’t like it at all.

I have to say I don’t believe it, not all of it anyway. I reject the assertion that all the good men are gone. I don’t believe beautiful, smart, educated women like you are single because there are no men worth marrying. I believe beautiful, smart, educated women are single because they want to be. I think you are single because you want to be. It’s isn’t that there is no man worth marrying, but that there are no men you want to marry.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that choosing to remain single is a perfectly wonderful way to live. Should something happen that ends my marriage; I don’t think I would ever remarry. I love my husband and he makes it worthwhile, but the fact is: marriage is hard work. I often have moments of jealousy when I think about my single friends, and how they can do whatever they want, whenever they want. I wish I could order in, or go out, or stay out, or paint my bathroom pink, just because I happen to feel like it. Sometimes I fantasize about having that kind of freedom.

I also agree with a lot of what you have to say. I agree the deadbeats and the players exist, and that they are not good enough to marry. I spent the first three semesters of my college career at Florida State, where my freshman class was 80% female. A date consisted of a guy coming over to a girl’s place, eating her chips, drinking her beer, watching her TV, and trying to get lucky. If he didn’t get lucky, she would probably never see him again. Deadbeats! That’s what they were! When I transferred to the University of Georgia, I was delighted to find that most guys would at least take me to the dollar movie or a pizza place once in a while, but then I fell irrationally and unabashedly in love with a player. He was the kind of guy that would take anybody to the movie or for pizza, if you get my meaning, regardless of my feelings. The love affair came to a disastrous end, which I wouldn’t have chosen, but the truth is I deserved better treatment than that, and I am better off because it ended. You’re right, Kate. None of those guys were “good enough.”

I agree with you that there is a group of men who are absolutely unmarriageable. Certainly, addicts and criminals fit into that category, as do gay men, homeless men, mentally ill men, men who are cruel to animals, and abusive men. In my mind the largest proportion of men who are unmarriageable are fine people, but people I don’t happen to be attracted to physically. There’s not really anything wrong with them, they just aren’t for me. I understand that sometimes women marry who they think is the ‘good enough’ man and find out too late that he falls into one of the categories above. To those women-and I count several among my closest friends- I say “I’m truly sorry.” And then I say “get out!” He too, is “not good enough.”

But… does a man have to make more money and/or have more education than a woman to be marriageable? In my considered opinion, no. So, when you throw out all the truly unmarriageable men, a healthy number of “good enough” men are left.

They are everywhere, if you are looking for them. I’ve spoken to many solid men over the years that are looking for good women. There was the guy that used to be on my husband’s bowling team. He wasn’t college educated, but he was a moral man with a dependable income who would worship the steps in which a deserving woman would walk. There are the men my single friends dance with in night clubs, one of whom told me that women weren’t interested in him because he had never been married, and they were worried about why. Then his friend chimed in and told me he had been rejected because of his divorce. “We can’t win,” they said. There was the power company lineman (the guy who climbs power poles to get your power back on after a storm) that married a female acquaintance of mine that happened to be a doctor. They have been happily married for nearly ten years now.

There is the youngish widower that came to fix my air conditioner over several days a few summers ago (it was really really broken). Because it took such a long time to fix the air, he became privy to my lifestyle, and on the third day, because he was stuck at my house, I offered him a ham sandwich for lunch. “Is there any chance you have sister who’s single?” he asked me. “I’m a good man,” he went on to say, expressing his frustration. “I don’t make a ton of money, but I can make a good life for a woman if she’s willing. I’m a good father. She could work if she wanted to, or not. I can take care of a woman.” …and he was handy! He was a pretty good catch, I’d say. Good men can be found if you are open to looking, to seeing, what they have to offer. If you want to.

If we disagree, it may be because I was raised very differently from you, and, therefore, my world view is different from yours. If my math is correct, I am only six years older than you, so the times weren’t drastically different, but our families must have been. I, the youngest of three, was raised in the Deep South by devout Catholics. The women’s movement never really existed for me outside some vague notion of my mom being against it, even though she had a college degree and owned her own business (which is almost unheard of in her age group). I have a distinct memory of the irritated expression on her face when I told her I had heard Free to Be, You and Me at a friend’s house. “Too feminist,” she said. I also remember my sister pleading with my parents for a subscription to Ms. Magazine. She didn’t get it. It too, apparently, was too feminist.

I never really considered not shaving my legs, or keeping my own surname, or staying single. In my family I was expected to grow up and get married. And have babies. I was given a dynamite education, but that was done so that I would have a fallback position, just in case, God forbid, my prince didn’t come, and I’d have to fend for myself. Sexist? Maybe, but that’s how I was raised.

I started dating when I was fifteen. By the time I reached my mid twenties, I had had enough of dating. I wanted to get married, and more importantly, I wanted to be a mother. Like you, I had dated a few men (boys?) exclusively for years at a time. Between those relationships, I dated a lot, sort of falling into whichever next relationship was easiest. One day, when I was between relationships, I had an epiphany. While I pushed a load of towels from the washer into the dryer, I realized that I was really happy just doing the laundry. I realized that I was having more fun doing the laundry than I had had on a date in a very long time. This, coupled with my desire to settle down, made me realize I had to make a change. So I made a vow to myself. I wasn’t going to accept a date unless the man who asked met a few simple criteria. Otherwise, I would stay home and pay attention to the brightness of my whites instead.

1. I had to feel a sexual attraction to him. No “really nice guys,” no “I’ll just go and have coffee with him, I might feel a flicker as I get to know him” kind of dates. If there was no giddy fluttery feeling, no date. Period.
2. He had to be kind.
3. He had to be strong, the emotional kind of strong. I knew from watching my parents, marriage required it.
4. He had to be honest, no matter what. I don’t enjoy being lied to. I learned that from my player.
5. He had to be more fun than the laundry.
6. He had to have a mother already. I was looking for a man to love, not a child to care for.

The man who was to be my husband just happened to be skidding into marriage o’clock just as I finished folding that load of laundry. He asked me out, he met the criteria, and the rest is history. We have been together for nearly twenty years, married for eighteen, and we have three daughters. I’m crazy about him.
I wanted to get married, so I set my goal, I strove for it, I did it. Now I get to enjoy it.

I feel I need to emphasize something about my seemingly fairy tale ending. The guy I married was never perfect, not for one day, not for one minute. There were and are issues on which we will never agree. He was the “good enough” man. According to what you say in your article, he was not marriageable. He wasn’t more educated than me. I have a Master’s degree; he has a Bachelor’s. Nor did he earn a great deal of money. I confess, he did make more money than I did, but then everyone did, even the guy flipping burgers. (My profession is social work). In fact, he earned less than most of the men I had dated, and he certainly earned less than my father.

Consider this: If all the good men are gone, maybe it’s because most men weren’t marriageable, by your definition, when we married them. Maybe somehow, because we wives kept faith and worked hard on our relationships, “good enough” men turned into marriageable men, which is a theory that begs the conclusion: If you wanted to, you could take a “good enough” man, and inspire him with your bountiful and unconditional love, to become one of the marriageable. That’s what I think happened in my case.

When I married my husband, he had an okay job he wasn’t crazy about, he was financially independent, but not rich, and he had his fair share of emotional baggage (but he was smart, good in bed, and I loved him). Why would he need to do any better? Why would he replace his old truck/clean the bathroom/ own throw pillows/move the pool table out of the living room if he didn’t have a woman to please? Why would he learn the names of the power puff girls/make sure there was enough tread on my tires/buy life insurance if he didn’t have a family to worry about?

My husband would grumble if I suggested that I somehow molded him into a better man, and I’m not suggesting I did. What happened is that he took the love that I chose to give him, that I wanted to give him, and he became attached to that love, addicted even. I found that he would strive gallantly to earn more of my approval, to earn more of what you call “adoring gazes.” He really wanted me to stick around, so he cultivated the characteristics that I valued. Now, he is a helpful and contented husband; he’s the sweetest Daddy that ever played hopscotch, he gives us every material thing we could ever possibly need, and he takes out the trash without complaining. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Now, he is imminently marriageable. I’ve found great happiness with the “good enough” man.” See how it works?

I don’t believe for one minute, either, that women don’t need men anymore. Maybe we can (and should!) take care of ourselves financially, and maybe we can have children without them, and maybe the pressure is off to live our lives like our parents did, but…women still need men. Why else would the young, educated, career minded women you describe in your article accept short sexual interludes in a bathroom stall or alley in exchange for a few minutes of being held and maybe a punch in the arm as thanks? They must know that these assignations won’t lead to anything permanent, or even pleasant, other than the occasional orgasm, and we all know that’s possible without a man. I think they do it because they have sex drives, just like us matrons. We all (heterosexual women) need men because they are cute and funny and sexy, and because it’s difficult to stay away from them, regardless of our ideals about who might make a good husband.

We also need men to help us raise our children. I’m here to tell you, raising good kids is HARD, and I’m making my attempt with the economic help and emotional support of a “good enough” man. I have three children. They get hungry three times a day, so I spend about four hours a day, on average, just making sure they are fed. There is a few hours spent on homework daily, and an undetermined amount of time spent attending to their other educational needs. There is laundry, which is incredibly time consuming (but I don’t mind), keeping their home clean enough to maintain their health, and driving to extracurricular activities. This is a long list, but it doesn’t even begin to include all the things my children need. I would be lost without the help of my “good enough” man. There are literally not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything without him. I don’t have a career to speak of, so I have the luxury of catching up on things while the kiddos are at school. How do women who must go to work every day, and don’t have a man they can count on, do it? I honestly don’t know. I don’t think I would advise my daughters to try it. Like my mother and her mother before her, I will encourage them to get married before they have children.

I was stunned to learn that the “Leave It to Beaver-style family model popular in the 1950s and 60’s had been a flash in the pan.” It’s over? Really? I suspect there are different ways to live, but out here in the suburbs, almost all our neighbors and friends live in a Leave It to Beaver-style family model. We live in one now; I’m June. I grew up in one; I was kitten. Maybe this kind of lifestyle is waning, but it’s still around. It works for a lot of us.

The Gen Xers who believe marriage is obsolete may reconsider that opinion when they are up at three am with a vomiting infant, haven’t had a shower in three days, and have lost time at work because of their child’s illness. Not only is it imperative to have some relief in these situations, but the thought that because one isn’t married, that one’s partner can just walk away with no financial or legal responsibility, is nothing short of terrifying. On the really hard days, on the days I just want to run away, I’m glad the legal entanglements of marriage exist. It helps to keep me committed, and I think it helps him too. If marriage is obsolete, then our men can just leave us, which is bad, right? Marriage can be a good thing, if you want it to be.

Finally, I’d like to talk about love for a minute. Where does love fit in to all the statistics about marriage, the declining state of men, the obsolescence of the American family, and women who can’t find a man that suits them? I think the true nature of romantic love has gotten lost in the shuffle, that women have developed a false understanding of how love and marriage is supposed to feel , based on romance novels and movies starring Julia Roberts. To believe that marriage is completely fulfilling, romantic every day, and something other than a constant negotiation between the needs and desires of at least two people is to believe in fiction, like Santa Claus or a man without faults.

I think that love, the feeling, is the reward you get for love, the doing. That is, if you don’t do the work of love (having faith in a man’s potential, forgiving his mistakes, being there no matter what, agreeing to disagree) you won’t get to feel love. If you want it, you can have it. You just have to choose it, and do the work to get it.

Hey! I think I found your something missing.

Small Miracles

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Small Miracles:

There was a little miracle at my house last night.  I caught just the tiniest hint, the smallest breath, of my baby’s infant smell.  You know the one.  Remember when you would hold your baby on your lap and become intoxicated by the air near the crown of her (or his) little head?  Well, my baby is fourteen years old; I had thought her baby scent was lost forever to the ravages of chlorine and basketball practice and scented shampoo. Oh, how I have missed it! 

She is in the ninth grade now, my angel # 1, and a bit of an overachiever.  She was searching the websites of a few colleges she is interested in, perusing the entrance requirements, the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition, whether they offered courses in her interest area, and whether there is a beach nearby.  I was feeling proud of her, really proud, as I chopped vegetables for dinner, and watched over her shoulder as she surfed.  I was so overcome with pride that I felt the urge to give her a hug, and tell her what a great/smart/wonderful/together kid she is.  So I did it, I walked over to the computer table and wrapped my mom arms around her neck.  She sat there in front of the computer, not really acknowledging I was there, and I told her all the nice things I had been thinking.  I kissed her temple, right where her smooth forehead met her perfectly straightened hair, and there it was!  It was part baking bread, equal small portions of Ivory soap and graham crackers, and part indescribable deliciousness that is unique to each child in the first years of her life (designed by God, I think, to keep her mother close).  Last night I got to breathe in this most beautiful of beautifuls, maybe for the last time.  She is nearly grown after all, at least on the outside.

So much of our time, angel #1 and mine, is wasted in pointless arguments over pointless disagreements like whether she has to eat something before she goes to school (she does), whether she “needs” to color her hair (she doesn’t), or who was supposed to do the load of jeans that have been on her bedroom floor for the past two weeks (she was).  She is often sarcastic and nasty for no reason at all, stomping through the house, throwing her attitude around, and making my life generally miserable.  Why won’t she let me enjoy how fabulous she is?   She was such a happy baby!  What happened?    

 Then another something wonderful happened.  When I gave her the hug, she did not wave me away.  She did not make a wise crack or a sarcastic remark.  She did not say “MAAuum, you’re sooo stupid.  She did not slam any doors or yell at me for the fact that I exist, or because I brought her into this world imperfect, which makes me, in her eyes, the source of all her troubles.

She did not remind me in any way that it’s her time to begin to move away from me, to disagree, to make the mistakes that she will cringe and fret over when she is my age.  Instead, she just let me love her for a minute.  She allowed me to kid myself into thinking that I have plenty of time before she leaves us.  She patted me absentmindedly on the arm and said “Love you too, Mom.” It was another little miracle.  Some people might call it grace.

For these miracles, small though they are, I am eternally grateful.  I think I can live on them for a very long time, at least until she brings home a grandchild, when she will finally understand the fleeting magic of the smell of an infant’s precious head, and how fast those infants grow.  Amen. 

A Political Parable

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My children had an argument this morning.  This, in and of it itself, is hardly news.  None of us are morning people, none of us are happy to be awake at such a dreadful hour, and kindness doesn’t come naturally to any of us before, say, nine.  Therefore, arguments are a regular occurrence in my lamp lit early morning kitchen. They will argue over anything at all.  Just this week alone the kids had a heated discussion over whether or not any of the Jonas brothers can really sing, they fought over the last protein bar available for packed lunches, and they nearly went to blows over someone wearing someone else’s hair band.  I wish I was just kidding about all this.

This morning’s argument was about Box Tops for Education, which is a fundraising program for schools offered by General Mills.  The company prints small squares with the Box Tops for Education Logo on the packaging of many of their products, and will donate ten cents for each logo a school can collect and send back to them.  The General Mills product is almost always way more expensive than the other brands, but I am just idiot enough to buy their products to get the dime from General Mills.  In any case, it’s a big money earner for our school, and heaven knows the school needs the money more than ever.

It started while the girls ate breakfast. I was making lunches. I needed a sharpie to write names on the lunch bags, and so I was rifling around in our junk drawer looking for one.  I keep the plastic sandwich bags that house our Box Tops in the same drawer, and my youngest daughter, I’ll call her Angel #3, saw me toss the bags aside in my search.  Her baggie, the one that had her name on it, was nearly bursting, the zip top stretching to accommodate its contents.  You see, my littlest girl is motivated by the contest at school.  The class that brings in the most box tops gets a prize at the end, and she wants the prize. This time the prize will be an ice cream party, which in her eyes, beats the heck out of the extra recess the administration usually offers.  So she has gone to the trouble to search for the packages with Box Tops when she has been to the store with me.  She has spent time after her homework is done looking for any  Box Tops we might have missed in the pantry, and she has dutifully cut them out and put them in her plastic bag to bring into school on the appointed date.

Angel #2 only had two box tops floating around in her sandwich baggie, and I think I put one of those in there because I felt sorry for her.

#3 asked me happily, “when are we supposed to bring in the box tops this time?” I could tell she was excited to bring in her big haul.

#2 looked over her shoulder, and seeing the difference in the number of box tops in her plastic bag vs. the number in her sister’s, said to her younger sister, with her mouth full of toast, “you should share some of those with me. I hardly have any.”

#3 knitted her eyebrows while she missed a beat, considering her answer.  When she spoke, her voice was raised. She was irritated. “But I’m the one who cut them out!  Besides, our class in is second place.  We need every one of mine.”   She emphasized the word ‘mine.’ I didn’t like the tone of that at all. It sounded selfish to me, and I don’t like selfishness in my children.

Angel #2, who didn’t miss a beat, snapped back, her voice a level higher and louder than her sister’s, “No fair!  You guys have so many! We’re in fifteenth place.  Come on! Just give me ten or fifteen of those box tops.  You have a huge pile of ‘em!”  and then in a quiet but firm voice she commanded,  ”Mom, make her share.”

I can’t stand it when my kids order me around, but this time I didn’t scold because I wanted to stay out of the fray.  Oftentimes when they argue, I will intervene, especially if one of them is clearly in the wrong, or if injury is imminent, but this morning I was operating on very little sleep and I honestly didn’t have the energy to deal with it.  I was hoping I could just let them work it out on their own this time.

And then Angel #3 got angry.  “IT’S NOT MY FAULT YOUR CLASS IS SO LAZY!!!”  She shouted at the absolute top of her lungs into the face of her sister.  She nearly lifted herself off her chair with the strength of her emotions.  When I looked at her, though, her face didn’t match her voice.  Her upper lip was trembling.

I groaned inwardly, I’m going to have to get involved in this one.  I opened my mouth to settle the issue, and then closed it again because I really didn’t know what was fair. After I missed my own beat, I dodged the issue altogether and told them to go brush their teeth.  By the time they pulled on their backpacks and we all started walking to the school bus stop, they were great friends again, but I was still thinking about their disagreement.  I know the argument will come up again when the Box Top deadline comes around, and I better have my policy worked out by then.

I watched them each climb up the big step onto the school bus and take their seats, laughing with their friends.  I blew my usual kisses and I waved my usual waves. The bus pulled away in a gaseous rumble, and as I started to trudge back up the hill through the wet grass my thoughts returned to the Box Top situation.

Actually, I thought they both had good points.

My older daughter had good reason, I thought, to be a little short on Box Tops.  She has been working her tail off on homework every night.  Third grade homework requires about an hour. Fifth grade homework requires at least two hours, sometimes more.  By the time Angel #2 finishes, she has to have dinner and shower and go to bed.  She has no time for Box Top hunting like her less burdened third grade sister.  Clearly, Angel #2 works harder than Angel#3. The problem is that Angel #2 doesn’t produce box tops with her work, and today’s argument was about Box Tops.

By the time I unlocked the door to come back into the house I was in favor of making Angel#3 share.  How can I be against sharing?  Don’t all parents want their children to be generous, to help those who are less fortunate than they are?  I do. I’ve probably spent thousands of hours convincing, cajoling, and pressuring my children to share with one another.  We actually have a rule in our family: if you have something good to share, share it!  Besides, what would #3 really be sacrificing?  Another scoop of ice cream?  Scoops of ice cream are in plentiful supply at our house.  Therefore, I should continue my policy, shouldn’t I?  Shouldn’t I be consistent and make her share?

But wait, hold on a minute– making #3 share didn’t seem quite fair to me, either.  Shouldn’t the one who worked so hard to build her resources be allowed to enjoy the fruits of her own labor?  I also want to instill in my children a strong work ethic. I want them to know that hard work pays off.  Forced sharing teaches the opposite.  What if I make her share and her class misses their ice cream party as a result? What would the girls learn from that?  Angel #2 would learn to depend on her sister for her box top supply, and Angel #3 would learn not to bother to collect Box Tops at all.  And the long term result would be that General Mills would donate less money to our school, and then everyone would suffer.

And why do we go to the trouble of collecting box tops in the first place?  Isn’t it to improve the educational opportunities for all the kids in the school, not just the kids who get to eat the ice cream?   It feels backwards to me, but it looks like the immoral choice (not sharing) is actually better for everyone.  Okay then, I won’t make Angel #3 share her Box Tops.

But if I don’t make her share, I know I will have to deal with the accusation that #3 gets special treatment, because she had the good luck to be born last, and therefore doesn’t have to spend so much time on homework.

My mind is spinning in this endless circular line of thinking.  I’m glad I have a little more time to make a decision.

Notes From the Bored Housewives Club: An Overview

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Notes from the Bored Housewives Club:  An Overview

Once upon a time I was a professional woman.  I wore a business suit, jewelry, and pretty shoes.  Long ago, educated people trusted my opinion and followed my recommendations, and sometimes my recommendations changed lives.

My career was social work.  Over the course of ten years I worked in a battered women’s shelter, with the child victims of sexual abuse, and with perpetrators of sexual abuse.  I worked in a non- profit agency whose goal it was to end child abuse.  I worked in a modern day orphanage preparing teenage girls for the world. (It was a great job). I worked for the government finding educational opportunities for kids who didn’t respond to traditional teaching methods. I found foster homes for children who needed them, and I placed abused and neglected kids for adoption (the best job ever).

I had power.  I believe I was able to use it to change the world for the better.  But…that’s all over now.

About four years into my career, I got married (a good choice. I think it’s probably going to work).  Immediately thereafter we decided we would like a baby.  We both wanted to be parents and thought the time was right.  According to God’s schedule though, the time was not yet right.  It took four years, a team of experts, various pharmacological potions, more than a few hypodermic needles, countless hormone induced rages/crying jags, and about ten thousand chats with God to achieve our goal.

When I finally became pregnant, I chose, for a million reasons, to stay home with my baby.  After all, she was so hard to get, I didn’t want to give up even one minute of my limited time, with probably the only child I would ever have, to some child care provider who couldn’t love her like her mama would.  Besides, as a social worker, childcare cost more than my salary. (Sad isn’t it?) How hard could it be?”  I asked myself.  “It can’t be as hard as finding happy, permanent homes for 17 severely disturbed foster children,” I answered myself.  So, completely without trepidation, armed only with an overzealous work ethic and an overdeveloped sense of guilt, I became a stay-at-home mom.

It turns out I was right; being a stay-at-home mom isn’t harder than finding forever homes for severely disturbed children, but it is almost as hard, The challenges are different than I expected.  The most difficult part of my job is boredom.  I mean, how many times can one perform the same task, say, picking up the same tiny pair of shoes, over and over, before life starts to feel a little meaningless?  The next most difficult part is the isolation.  Some days, no, most days, I spend alone with very little adult interaction, and that for me, is hard.

Regardless of the challenges, I’m very glad I quit my job to become a stay at home mom. We were lucky and blessed (and surprised) enough to be able to have two more daughters, which has caused joy beyond my wildest dreams, and the pride I feel in my children is worth all the hard days and short nights.  It’s been fourteen years since the fateful day I began my second career.  It was a good decision.  When I miss the power, my husband lets me boss him around, a little.

To combat the boredom and the isolation, I write. I write about the things I think about, from my perspective as a woman, as a wife, as a mother, and as the maker of a home.  I write about the issues that affect my life, and maybe yours.  I care about education, the environment, the food supply, how to raise good kids, how to keep a marriage happy, and how to keep myself sane, so I write about all that.  When I just can’t keep my mouth shut any longer, which will be pretty often (my husband says), I write about politics.  For fun, I review books and movies; I’m especially interested in the ones that are relevant to family life.  I also write responses to the magazine and news articles that get me thinking.

I fancy myself a sort of Carrie Bradshaw, but for the older and less fashionable, or something like Andy Rooney, but for the younger and more fashionable, or, I know, an Irma Bombeck for the new millennium!

Here’s what it is, basically: smart girl settles down to keep house, and trouble ensues.

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