Confronting the past, in jack-ass form

On a recent spring day, when it was a little too chilly to spend time outdoors comfortably, Joe, Lily, Neve and I headed to a nearby shopping mall to buy a few gifts. Not long into the trip – which involved going up and down escalators several times (escalators are for Lily, as they were for me as a child, a thrilling amusement park ride) – Lily spotted the play area and made a beeline for it. Neve had fallen asleep in her stroller, so we decided I’d follow Lily while Joe finished his errands with Neve.

I halted Lily at the play area’s entry point, reminding her that she needed to remove her shoes. She asked for my help, so I squatted to pull them off; but in that same moment, I also got that feeling you get when you’re low to the ground and someone moves into your line of vision. I looked up. And when I did, I locked eyes with a man I’d known since he was a not-so-nice young boy in elementary school. He hadn’t lost any of his hair (curses!), but had shaved it down to little more than a shadow; his eyes still had that same condescending, humorless, looking-past-you-to-someone-who-might-matter expression; and in terms of his body, this former football player (of course) looked like he was still in rock solid shape.

The two of us stared at each other a beat or two longer than would complete strangers. I was making absolutely sure he was who I thought he was, and vice versa, while in the same moment, we both made a kind of unspoken pact not to acknowledge each other verbally. Why? We weren’t friends; we weren’t going to be friends; and pretending otherwise achieved nothing. So I finished getting Lily’s shoes off and sent her toward the equipment to play, while I settled into a seat on a nearby bench.

While watching Lily trying to walk along the edge of the play area’s rowboat, as if it were a balance beam, I stole glances at this man and his young son, who kept running to his father to eat a spoonful or two of ice cream from a cup. The man was dressed in dark jeans and a dark shirt that flattered his body, and his boy wore a clean, polished-looking play clothes. I started to spin a tale in my head, wherein this was the man’s only time each week with his son, thanks to a bitter divorce. (Cue it: “And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon…”) But who knows? This storytelling impulse is just something we tend to do when a person who was unkind to us during our childhood has the nerve to age beautifully. Continue reading

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Contending with a midlife crisis and pre-partum depression simultaneously: An existential double whammy (or, “Is That All There Is?”)

During the month that this blog lay dormant (and we attended a dozen different events), my general mood and outlook regarding the future took a swan dive and pretty much, on a day-to-day basis, remained 20,000 leagues below the sea.

This is no coincidence, surely. Blogging, and having people read and respond to what I’m writing, is therapeutic and always makes me feel good about the parenting perspectives I’m throwing out into the world, no matter how small my “audience.” Yet when I’m honest with myself, my low-grade depression wasn’t just about missing my creative outlet; it was also a larger wave of “Is That All There Is?”-ness. One that was temporarily threatening to drown me.

Now, for those who don’t know me that well, this is not typical – despite the fact that I’ve long assumed my place in the ranks of neurotic writers. (Yes, the minute any of us hear of the professional/artistic successes of friends and peers, we’re among the first to sincerely, excitedly congratulate them – and THEN we lock ourselves in a closet for several rounds of “Why aren’t I achieving things like this?” self-flagellation.)

Generally, I’m somebody wants precisely what I have. Strong, fun, committed relationship with someone I adore, who prioritizes me and our daughter and makes me laugh? Check. A job involving things I love to do (learning through research, talking to fascinating artists/people, and writing)? Check. A quirky, cheerfully painted old house in a neighborhood that hosts block parties and is footsteps away from a small downtown? Check. Good health? Check. And co-workers, friends, neighbors, and family members (including crazy little Lily) who play a positive role in my life? Check.

So is my problem simply a self-indulgent luxury of white, middle class existence? Which is to say, have I become one of those annoying people whose “problem” is that their dreams came true, for the most part, and now they just don’t know what to do with themselves?

I’ve been tempted to dismiss my ennui this way. It’s an easy explanation, with the added bonus of having a built-in, guilt-riddled “get over it, crybaby!” sensibility. But as is usually the case, things surrounding this funk were, I think, more complicated than they originally appeared. Continue reading