Thursday, September 3, 2015

Saltwater and Gratitude

"The cleaning lady needs to pick up my kitchen," says my three-year-old daughter as she assesses her Fisher Price oven. Never mind that the cleaning lady needs to attend to my big girl kitchen first, but I'm suddenly struck with just how spoiled my child has become.

In a vain effort to thwart Princess Amelia's pampered upbringing, I  had her go through her surplus of toys and loot to find something to re-gift to the less fortunate. After an hour of carefully assessing each and every item in her room and toy boxes, Amelia proudly walks over and hands me a rectal thermometer. "I think Jesus would be very proud of me for giving this to the poor, don't ya think?"

We went on a little road trip this weekend, and by the time we reached the Palace of Versailles, I had simply had it. Who is this misbehaved child on the palace floor, you ask, refusing to move until she meets with the queen? Oh, well that would be my daughter, of course.

I did this. I take full blame.  It's hard to teach a toddler appreciation when I myself have become a spoiled asshole. I spend money like I live in a Monopoly game, and I, too, pout when I don't get my way. I'm a lonely, bitter, stay-at-home mom who keeps forgetting to remember how good I've got it.

On Friday night, at the second stop of our French vacation, I spent the evening slamming overpriced champagne and shoving euros into slot machines. Saturday morning came very quickly, and I found myself fighting off the worst headache on the drive to Normandy. I curled up in the passenger seat and closed my eyes, fighting off nausea from this wicked hangover. I was short with my husband and irritated with my daughter. I was exhausted, hungry, and fed up with Europe, and I kept thinking that I just wanted to go home.

I wish I could describe to you the profound shame and disgust I felt with myself when we arrived at our final destination. Thousands of white gravestones beneath a clear, azure sky.

There, in the quiet of the morning, where the tides once ran red with blood, I placed my hand upon a white cross and tried to conjure up a world where I wasn't free and spoiled and blessed. But I couldn't. 

I had this history teacher in high school--- he was the rare breed of educator whose lessons linger long after the bell rings; an innate, elemental ability to truly get through to those of us blessed enough to sit in his classroom. I could hear his voice as I stood above Omaha Beach; the importance he had placed on June 6, 1944, and the feelings he invoked in us when he taught of that monumental day.

So many of us have forgotten, myself included. I've lived in such haste and self-regard that I rarely think about things like D-Day and white crosses atop a remarkable shore. I'm from an ungrateful, spoiled, hashtag generation where freedom is simply expected and conventional. We sit behind computer screens and cry injustice that the world hasn't given us more. We know nothing of the fearlessness and valor it took to storm those beaches that June morning; the slaughter of the bravest of the brave as they sacrificed it all for humanity and righteousness and freedom. The offering of those men, some just boys really, who never got the chance to go home.

Amelia dug her hands into the damp sand of Omaha Beach; she was transfixed by its beauty on the calmest of days. The tide came in, foamy and muted, and took back with it my tears of guilt and shame. I was left there, ankle-deep in saltwater and gratitude.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Unseeable Housewife

"Do you still find me desirable?" I silently ask my husband as he looks past me in the bathroom mirror to adjust his collar. "Do you even see me anymore?"
     Five years of marriage, twenty pounds, and one child later, I can't seem to relate to the college blonde appearing on my Timehop status.

She resembles me, but her smile is lighter, her forehead smoother, and her chin still singular. She has the glossy eyes of a fulfilling night of tequila and dancing, and her hair is disheveled yet somehow fantastic.
     I remember this night. Yes, somewhere in a dusty catalog of memories, I remember it all. I'm standing outside a bar as a group of cocky guys walks by.
     "Girl, you phat. P-h-a-t."
     "What does phat mean?" I whisper to my friend with substantially more street cred than myself.      

     "Pretty hot and tempting," she laughs, and I feel my ego swell as I stand a bit straighter. One ridiculous, off-colored acronym, and yet I feel validated.
     When did I become this different version of phat---perspiring, hormonal and tired? When did I stop getting stares as I lingered at the bar? Now, the only time my ass gets checked out is when there are Cheerios stuck to it.
     I know that motherhood changes things. I accept that. I should no longer need the whistles and catcalls. My three-year-old tells me I'm beautiful as she hugs my neck. Isn't that enough?
     I'm nervously fidgeting with the collar of my new, sexy black dress, and my husband glances over and says, "Stop already, you look fine."  Fine. I roll the word around on my tongue until a sour taste takes over my mouth. Fine. I don't want to look fine.  I want to look pretty. And hot. And tempting. Come on, hubs. Throw your girl an acronym. Even a MILF will suffice. Can't you tell I'm wilting over here? Why is it that you can't see me?
     I know how ridiculous I must sound. My priorities are out of whack, I know. But my truth is this: aging terrifies me, be it graceful or graceless. Even with each passing year of wisdom, I can't seem to unlearn self-centeredness. I desire to be desired. It's my worst kind of craving.
     If one could overdose from hair dye, it would be me. Those endless commercials for wrinkle creams and lip-plumping gloss? Directed at suckers like myself. My bed sheets have taken on a lovely apricot/rust hue thanks to my bottomless supply of all the newest in self-tanning products. I am a walking, talking, over-bleached advertisement for feelings of inadequacy. I measure my self-worth not in the number of hugs my toddler gives me, but in the number staring back at me as I step onto the scale. I've convinced myself that in order to be seen, I must be first-rate---I must be exceptional. 
     A bad case of the stomach bug runs through our household, and I find myself sweating and bent over the toilet, cramps similar to childbirth taking over my insides. At least I'll drop a few lb's, I sardonically think. That tub of cookie dough may be guiltless, after all. I crawl back into bed and curl up in a ball, and the soothing hand of my husband soon finds my wet, ratted hair. He strokes my head and calms me. "I love you," he whispers. My eyes are glossy again, but not like in that TimeHop photo. I realize I'm crying. 
     In my stained sweatpants and a sweaty tee, he finally sees me.  

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Now I know my ABCs

You know that scene from The Exorcist where the girl's head spins around and she makes those ungodly noises? I think that just happened in my living room.

Heaven help me, I have a threenager.  This miniature human to whom I gave life back in 2011 just said no to orange juice because it wouldn't go with her coffee. I sometimes look at her and think, "Who ARE you??"  She has curly cues and the gentlest blue eyes but she bit a playmate in the face when she tried to take her makeup bag.  She sleeps less than a giraffe, demands filet mignon at least once a week, and uses a proper British accent when she thinks she's in trouble.

I knew motherhood would be draining some days, but I never knew it would suck the life right out of me.  I've pulled college all-nighters that were less exhausting.  At my wits' end, I called my husband to complain, and he dished out some really encouraging parenting advice from the beaches of Ibiza, Spain (a much needed break from fast-paced Switzerland). "Tell her to go to sleep," said Oh Wise One.

I then Facetime my husband later on to confirm that Amelia is going to be an only child, but I'm too distracted for vasectomy chatter.  He's on a lawn chair on the beach, and all I can see are big, bronzed, naked boobies.  Of course Ibiza beaches are topless; why wouldn't they be?  So as I'm eating Oreos straight out of the bag in my stained XL sweat pants with a toddler rolling around the floor like she's having a seizure, my dear hubby is sipping a Pina Colada in Titsville while studying his ABCs (and Ds and DDs). How cute!

How do you women do this? You moms of three or four of these tiny people? Incredible.  I want to shake your hands.

After a particularly awful day yesterday when I wouldn't let Amelia open the straw to my smoothie, she shouted, "I'm going to slap yo face and put you in jail!"  Really? Could it be in solitary confinement? With a bed and three prepared meals a day?  Just tell me what law I have to break.

Maybe I would be more open to future reproduction if I got more than four hours of sleep a night, or if my child didn't cling to me like a stage-five koala bear.

Oh, fellow mothers, what incredible, terrible, sleepless, wondrous beings we've created.  But I need help.  No pride here. I need babysitters and grandmas and wine nights to get me through this.  I need the wisdom of mothers and the pages of self-help books to get Amelia from threenager to four. 

Most days I'm happy if I manage to brush my hair and put on a bra.

Come to think of it, I need a day in Ibiza. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Two's Company

ISO: a cocktail sipping slamming, shoe-shopping, binge-eating, female companion. If found, please deliver to my Swiss doorstep. Pronto.

My three-year-old wants a pet.  I've tried the whole battery-operated dog that walks (shuffles) and barks, and I once painted  a rather believable rabbit face on a decent-sized rock, but my toddler is smarter than your average preschooler.  She wants the real thing. 

This whole pet idea was weighing heavily on my mind.  I don't know how to put this gently, but I dislike animals. Strongly. And the whole notion of having one under my roof was causing me to lose sleep at night.  I made a pie chart (along with an actual pie), of the statistical life expectancy of numerous pets.  If one was shown to live longer than four months, then I removed it from my list.

The only logical choice was a goldfish.  Perfect.  Easy peasy, thought I.

Turns out, I can't buy a solo goldfish in the country of Switzerland.  Or a rabbit.  Or even a filthy, snaggletooth guinea pig.  The only way for me to be a proud owner of one of these varmints is to be a proud owner of TWO of these varmints.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Swiss Companionship Laws.

Apparently it's considered cruel to own a "companion" animal without providing it with a, you guessed it: companion.  There is scientific evidence showing irreparable damage to the psyche of a goldfish if you force him to swim laps alone in his bowl. A rabbit may slip into a deep state of depression if he has no one with whom to share his carrot. 

Here's my problem, guys. Doesn't the animal get any say in this? What if the hamster doesn't want a companion? Or prefers to chew his cardboard toilet paper roll all by his lonesome? What if the koi fish is, indeed, coy?

And to top it all off, what about ME?  I would've given my last bottle of Ranch dressing for a companion when I first moved to Switzerland---all those lonely evenings sipping French wine and watching trashy television without the support of a gossipy girlfriend.  Why is my psychological well-being inferior to that of a hamster?

I will tell you what happened when we gave my childhood hamster a companion.  He ate him.  Yes, Hammy the hamster dined on his associate, Whitey, and left only a bloody head to show for him.  I wouldn't do that to my companion.  I would refill her margarita. I would share my secrets and braid her hair.

I have yet to break the news to Amelia that she will not be getting a pet while we reside in Switzerland.  One goldfish I could possibly handle, but two would certainly send me over the edge. And it's the principle of it all.  Until you show me concrete evidence that Peter Cottontail resorted to Prozac after hopping down his desolate bunny trail, then I am reluctant to believe any mythical studies stating it's so.

ISO: a cocktail-slamming, shoe-shopping, binge-eating, female companion with a pet.  If found, please invite us over for a play date. Pronto. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Nudge

I'm sitting here researching new diets. And eating nachos. It's 2:55 in the morning and Amelia's having a dance party in the living room. I polish off the nachos and raid the pantry, but it's barren from my last new diet.  Damn.

Since I'm sitting out this Mickey tango, I'm binge-reading mommy blogs and trying to understand the mindset of these women:

These first few years go so fast...Blink your eyes and they're grown (I can't blink my eyes right now because they are too swollen from lack of sleep)....Put down your cell phone and read your child 327 books...Remove all television sets from your home and replace them with craft tables... 

Blah, blah, blah, blah. 

I get it ladies. The years fly by. But those twelve hours on a plane with a toddler? They don't.

You'll miss these days, their Dawn baby-soft hands gently type on the keyboard while their organically fed babies nap away the afternoon.

It's been less than 24 hours since we landed back in Switzerland, and already I'm forced to readjust to not only the time zone, but the culture.  Amelia went from eating a two-dollar hot dog at O'Hare Airport in Chicago to chanting, "salmon, salmon, salmon" at an overpriced Swiss restaurant all in the same day.  Forty-five dollars and a "hold the bearnaise sauce" later, my three-year-old was ready for two hours of sleep.

Correct.  You read that correctly.  She slept for two hours. Total.  And now here we are at three in the morning and I keep on reading that I should be savoring every minute of this.  Yeah, okay.  The only thing I'm savoring is this nacho.

I had every intention of sleeping through the night.  My feet swollen from the cramped airplane and a bruised forehead from where I walked into a wall, I hit my pillow and call it a night.  Until the dreaded nudge.

Now most of you moms know this nudge---it's the middle of the night, semi-gentle elbow to the ribs from your husband.  It's the "honey, I expect you to not only bear, incubate, deliver, and feed our child, but also to participate in her three a.m. circus. Oh, and could you please shut the door behind you?"

Ironically, it's also this same nudge that got me into this predicament in the first place.

So I'm stuffing my face and trying to figure out how this tiny human can manage on absolutely no sleep.  She's singing, she's dancing, she's talking a mile a minute about what she wants for next Christmas, and I'm watching the clock since you blogging mommies tell me that time flies.  I'm pretty sure it's in slow motion right now.

I finally get her back to sleep at five a.m., and just as I'm drifting off, I'm awakened to what sounds like a Clydesdale horse trotting around the house.  Turns out it's not a heavy footed stallion, but actually my well-rested husband, and he whistles his way out the door.

Amelia sleeps another three hours, and I get by on two pots of coffee and a whole lot of unconditional love for my husband's mini-me.  I love my life, my husband, my child, but I also feel no guilt in saying that I don't necessarily love these days.  In fact, I hope some of them do fly by.  My eyes can't handle the exhaustion, my brain can't handle the monotony, and my thighs sure as hell can't handle the nachos. 


Monday, March 2, 2015

Lions and Tigers and Balls, Oh My!

Nudity in Europe is like Taco Bell in America: it's cheap, it's everywhere, and it's somehow a combination of awesome and gross at the very same time. The spas, the pools, the art museums.  Switzerland even has "drive-in" prostitution sex boxes (pretty ironic for a country who can't seem to master the McDonald's drive thru).  I kid you not.  Google it. 

People and their nakedness are just accepted here. France gave Fifty Shades of Grey a PG12 rating, meaning thirteen-year-olds can see it! Nothing says bondage and whips like a giggling eighth-grader sitting next to you. 

Coming from a more clothed US, I cannot quite understand the acceptance of the birthday suit but the outright rejection of the frosted birthday cake. See, I'm the girl at the spa who wraps the XL beach towel over her one-piece bathing suit. I will never feel quite right about jiggling my lady bits in public places.

Once, when I was a young sixteen, very self-conscious yet in awe of myself and my new female curves, a very unfortunate occurrence happened to me that perhaps paved the way to my current state of mind. Alone in the locker room at the local YMCA one evening, I found myself solo in the showers.  I wrapped a towel tightly around my naked body and ventured into the changing area, slowing down a bit when I saw my reflection on the tinted glass door of the sauna room. I liked the way the shaded glass portrayed me---sort of like a filter in the pre-Instagram days. I glanced at my darkened reflection and decided to see if my hard work on the treadmill was paying off.  I opened the towel with a little shimmy and I posed for myself.  I then turned around to get a good view of my rear.  I may or may not have even done a little jiggle/sexy pout combo. When I turned back around to admire my front side once again, I stopped dead in my tracks as the sauna door opened.  As it would turn out, I was not alone in that locker room.  A shell-shocked, elderly woman stepped out of the sauna and glared at me. I had given her a private show through that glass door, and she not likey it.  She not likey it one bit.

I think that old bitty forever turned me off from nude beaches.  To this day, I can't walk around a locker room in anything other than a spacesuit. 

And yet I find myself here in Europe, where the boobs and the balls come buffet style.  Life has a funny sense of humor, does it not?

I walked past the undergarment section at the Manor the other day.  To you non-Swissies, the Manor is a respectable, upscale department store, comparable to a Neiman Marcus or Nordstroms.  There, hanging from the ceilings, were plastic chains connected to French copies of Fifty Shades of Grey, baskets of silk blindfolds, beaded whips, and fancy sex toys.  I blushed, then chuckled, then stared in horror as my three-year-old daughter grabbed onto a pearl G-string and said "this one's pretty, mama." 

I need to get back to the USA.  I need some Taco Bell. 

Friday, February 27, 2015


I stood outside and smoked a forbidden cigarette tonight. I found an old, smashed pack from some outdoor barbecue we had months ago, and I knelt by the side of the house and inhaled.

It's this whole exhale thing I'm struggling with.

I'm failing at this mom gig.  My laundry basket is taunting me; it's piled higher than most monuments I've visited in Europe. I kicked some crumbs under the couch today, and I'm using dry shampoo way more often than is socially acceptable.

I live on coffee and unfulfilled dreams. One day, I keep telling myself. One day I will write a novel. One day I will edit a magazine. One day I will pen a column.

One day I will do this laundry.

My husband's a rock star. He works twelve hour days and travels the world.  He speaks business better than most speak English. And he's happy. He's fulfilled. He's an astronomical success; a shining star. I'm just dark matter in yoga pants.

I'm not sure where I thought I'd be at 29. I'm certain if I went back to the halls of grade school and glanced upon my "what I'll be doing in twenty years" poster, I definitely wouldn't have drawn myself crouched down with a cigarette in a tiny Swiss village, hiding from the world's chattiest toddler.  

I am fully aware that Amelia is the greatest thing I have ever done and will ever do. Children are miraculous and wondrous beings. And while I'm proud that my ovaries did their job, and while I value my role as a mother and nurturer, I also wonder who I am in all of this. Being an expatriate has complicated my identity. It's hard enough to find yourself in the places you've always been. I'm in a culture foreign to everything I've ever known, and here, I'm just someone's wife. I'm just someone's mother.

I'm whining; I know this. Amelia's been out of preschool all week for "ski break" (yes, that's a real thing), and I haven't had a break of my own in a while. I'm answering questions like "do piggies eat hot dogs?" and "why don't I have magical powers like Elsa?"

I want to talk politics with someone. I want to engage in a conversation without being called a doody head. I want to get drunk on cheap beer and dance to the Backstreet Boys on the Wharf's jukebox. I just want to be interesting again.

Please don't send me 1-800 numbers for mental health hotlines or lung cancer brochures. I've pitched the pack of cigs and moved on to the chocolate bunnies. Don't gossip to your friends about my deep, dark, depression, or assume I'm holed up by myself on some mountainside. The thing is, parts of my life are so damn incredible that i can't even quite comprehend what I'm experiencing. It's like I am taking it all in through one of those dirty strainer buckets we use in Amelia's sandbox; I'm only getting granules.

I've kissed the sacred ground of Jerusalem. I've traced my name on a bridge in Lyon. I've maneuvered though traffic in Paris and Milan, and I've eaten fondue atop the Swiss Alps. I'm living in such vibrant colors, yet I'm still waiting on something black and white---like a career, or an accomplishment all my own. I'm waiting on me.

I take great pride in my husband's success, but I also know that it doesn't mirror my own. I'm not looking to change the world (hell, I'd be happy to change a load of laundry right now), but I'm looking for something to prove myself to MYSELF.  It's not that I'm lost; I'm just somewhere in-between.

 ...between countries, between careers. Between the inhale and the exhale.