Saturday, February 25, 2012

Two Lines Makes Five

By Terri Lively
Two lines. And for anyone biting their nails perched on the edge of a toilet looking down at a recently peed-on pregnancy test, they know that those two lines can make an enormous difference in the course of your life.

Now let me preface this by saying that this isn’t the beginning of a dramatic, knocked-up-with-no-one-to-turn-to type story.  I’m married. I have two wonderful kids, a mortgage, a burgeoning freelance writing business, and a really old and lovable cat named Smokey. My life is unbelievably stable and contented. My two lines represent an unplanned pregnancy. My story starts a few years ago.

I met my husband on a blind date, the only one I ever had. I was so late he almost gave up on me.  He spilled a 40 oz glass of diet soda in his lap within the first five minutes of our acquaintance. Despite the rocky start to our date, by the end of the night I noticed that my cheeks were cramped from smiling and laughing so much. It wasn’t long before we were madly in love making plans for our future. We were married two years later.

In the early days, we would fantasize about our lives together. We talked about where we would live. What kind of wedding we would have.  What kind of house we wanted to buy. Eventually, we discussed how many kids we would have. Incidentally, that number was always two.

“Even if we have two of the same sex children? You wouldn’t want to go for a third?” he would ask.

“Absolutely” was my unwavering reply. Two was my number.

Two is the number for most every one I know. My brothers both have two kids. My sister has two kids. His sister has two kids. Most of my friends have two kids. “Two and through!” was a phrase I often used as a witty quip to anyone daring to inquire as to whether we were planning on more children. My plan was two. Always.

While my plan was always for two kids, I didn’t always plan my pregnancies. Our first pregnancy was unplanned. We were shocked when we found out.  I took a test on a whim expecting to get only one line. We were ecstatic and told everyone we knew, despite the warnings that it’s bad luck to do so. The pregnancy ended in miscarriage a few weeks later. I was devastated.

Our second pregnancy was planned. We had waited about three years after our first pregnancy before we tried again. After a month or two, we were pregnant with our son.

Our third pregnancy was unplanned. About a year after my son was born, I took a pregnancy test with a girlfriend to bolster her courage and discovered that I was expecting again this time with my daughter. We had two children just like we planned…a little closer together than we were planning, but a perfect set nonetheless. Our family was complete.

After my daughter had her first birthday, we shook the dirt of Babytown off our boots headed on the express to Toddlerville. Right about then, my husband started joking about wanting another baby. He fantasized about naming him after a football coach he loved.  I could tell that deep down he wouldn’t mind having a third child. But I ignored him.

 I, on the other hand, was adamantly opposed to the idea. I had two kids 21 months apart in my mid-thirties that were under the age of four at the time. At frantic times, I wondered if I already had two too many kids. Besides, I had just lost all the baby weight (well, almost all) and wasn’t excited about packing on the 40 or so pounds my body seemed to require to gestate a human child.  When the jokes kept coming, I leveled with him that I wasn’t going to have any more children. It was his turn to ignore me.

Finally, I told him that I didn’t want to have another c-section. Period. He understood that one. He remembered the time he accidentally peeked over the curtain during my first emergency c-section. He told me that he saw all my innards strewn about the operating table and started making plans for raising our first-born all by himself. Apparently, that argument convinced him because he scheduled his vasectomy.

After the surgery, life went back to normal. Content with a family of four, we strategized for our future. As the weeks went by, my husband tried to schedule his follow-up appointment with the surgeon to ensure that the tubes were in fact cut and he was no longer sending little swimmers to mingle in the gene pool. But it was never convenient in his or the doctor’s busy schedules so he gave up over time.

So, now here I am, 38, with two kids under the age of 5 and two lines on my pee-stick. Correction, here I am with two lines on my second pee-stick, convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that I am in fact going to have another little baby. Despite our plans and a surgical procedure to remain a family of four, we were in fact going to be a family of five.

So many questions whiz through my mind. Will it be healthy? Can we afford it? Do I really want to stay up all night again? Geez! We just gave away both cribs…where will the kid sleep? Do we need to move? What’s going to happen to our marriage? Will it be healthy?

It’s not easy to explain how I feel when I see the two lines. The mom in me who knows that little babies are unbelievably tiny and sweet and is delighted to have another chance at that special time with a newborn. The perfectionist in me is already planning how to juggle, manage, and nurture the little soul better, faster, and stronger than I did with the first two. The wife in me is frustrated that I stopped using birth control after his surgery because “what are the chances that it didn’t work, anyway…” (it's one in about 700, by the way). Tears of joy mingle with tears of disbelief and maternal feelings butt up against waves of frustration at the lack of control I have over my plans for the perfect family.

The worrier in me is preoccupied with my age, the age of my eggs, and the insomnia-inducing statistics regarding incidence of birth defects, mental retardation, Down’s syndrome for my age group. Plus, two of my close friends have had terrible infections following their c-sections that required additional surgery and prolonged bed rest.

The accountant in me calculates that the financial consequences of this pregnancy are huge. There are the regular expenses of having another mouth to feed, coupled with the loss of income from me while I care for another baby, and that figure is compounded by the cost of financing another college education. Never mind that we might have to move to a bigger house to accommodate our growing brood and all the costs associated with that process.

And what about us?  The woman in me wonders whether having another child is a relationship risk. As our kids have just grown out of the intensive baby and toddler stages, we had just had time to catch our breath, look at each other, and remember why we had a family together in the first place. I realize, of course, that that’s how we ended up with these two lines.

But the optimist in me knows that chances are very good that it will all be okay. I know that we will adjust to our new addition and never look back. Unplanned is not the same as unwanted. We will welcome our new addition into our family and adjust our parenting style, switching from a man-to-man to a zone defense. And though four had seemed like our number, we will find our stride with five and wonder why we ever worried at all.

These two lines represent the curve balls that life can throw you. Two lines remind me that despite our best efforts to control our circumstances, we can only control our reaction to them. Two lines now represent my letting go of my past perceptions of perfection to allow for new ones to form. Two lines have taught me that taking risks makes me stronger as a mother, a woman, and a wife. Two lines make us equal five, the perfect number for us planned or not.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

My High Adventure

By Terri Lively

The bark is rough on my cheek. I stretch my arms further around the tree, my hands digging into its grooves with my fingers. I am trying in vain to stabilize my precarious perch on the wooden platform that is swaying in the breeze at the top of the tree. I am literally a tree-hugger at this point, but not in the usual sense of the word. It is the conservation of me, not the tree, with which I am concerned…
My husband and I were staying at a camp in the southern mountains of the Sierra Nevadas for a couple of weeks of rest and relaxation. We decided to sign up for the ropes course at the camp we were staying near. “How fun!” I thought. “This will be just like the Amazing Race.”

In all my excitement there is one thing I forgot: I am terrified of heights.

They call it “High Adventure”. You’d think that the name itself would have been enough to tip me off as to what was involved. It wasn’t exactly subtle. It is a ropes course designed to help you overcome your fear of heights and learn to trust your ability to succeed when challenging yourself in the face of fear. Unfortunately for me, I read the course description after I completed the ropes course.

My fear of heights manifested itself during a parasailing debacle years before in Florida. I was vacationing in Naples with my boyfriend at the time. We were up on a cable about a thousand feet, maybe more, dangling from a canvas sling under a striped parachute flapping in the gusty Floridian wind as it was being dragged behind a motorboat.

My boyfriend was swinging back and forth with his hands off the safety chains, head thrown back in wild abandon joyously shouting “Isn’t this great?”  

I didn't answer him, terror rendering my power of speech useless. But I was thinking at him really hard “No. Stop swinging. Not at all… Please stop swinging.”

Of course, he took my white-knuckled grip on the chains and grim silence to mean that I was overcome with delight at our perilous perch high above the blue-green waters below. His lack of perception is one of the many reasons why he is not my boyfriend anymore.

So it was when I was clinging to the parasail dangling over the Gulf coast mentally preparing my last will and testament when I realized for the first time that I was not good with heights.

I seem, however, to have selective memory when it comes to my fear of heights. It’s always after I’m committed to the horrifying situation that I remember how frightened I am in high places. This includes airplanes, but not because I have a fear of flying because I don’t. I have a fear of crashing. 

Regular old smooth, uneventful flights are no big deal to me. But once you hit the Rockies and bounce a little, my illusion of safety is shattered and I am in full-scale crisis mode, albeit internally (mostly). You probably do not want to sit next to me on a turbulent flight. That is, unless we are on Southwest airlines because I have enough drink tickets to make us forget our names.

So because of my fear-of-heights amnesia and poor reading skills, I was halfway up the climbing wall on the High Adventure course when I remembered my fear.  I froze with panic bubbling up in my belly and radiating off me in waves.

Luckily, my husband, far more perceptive than the aforementioned boyfriend, came to my aid by climbing up next to me and encouraging me up to the top of the wall. I was relieved. But since the rock wall was considered the warm-up for the course, I knew I was in trouble.

In the High Adventure course you progress through four challenges. The first challenge was the rock- climbing wall. Next, you put on a safety harness and attach two safety lines with carabineers to the various cables strung throughout the pines and firs of the otherwise serene forest. These lines keep you "safe" while you walk across more cables, balance beams, and other ridiculously high obstacles. After that you move on to the third phase where you climb a telephone pole, hoist yourself onto the top of it, then leap off the pole to grab a trapeze swinging a few feet in front of you. The final phase culminates in an exercise called the screamer, aptly named for the reaction it induces as participants plunge in a free fall from the highest platform until safety gear jerks you back from a game of chicken you are playing with the force of gravity.

Inching across a cable umpteen-something feet from the forest floor in the second phase of the course, I was in full-blown terror mode. Tears streamed down my face unabashedly while my hands shook violently on the cable above. Instructors half my age had to coax me from station to station employing their best positive reinforcement training to keep me from descending into a panic attack. Or should I say, further into a panic attack.

I was balanced on a cable beneath my feet like a tightrope that I was supposed to walk across while my hands were on another cable above my head when I had my epiphany.  

From my vantage point, I could see that the instructors gathering below to discuss the blubbering idiot woman on the second phase. They were all but rock-paper-scissoring to see who would come save my ridiculous heiny from the contraption.  

There was no reason why I couldn't do this. Little kids sometimes do the ropes course. Plus, I was harnessed in by not one, but two safety lines.  And all this shaking and crying and freaking out were just plain embarrassing. I got mad. I decided that I could not let this course beat me. 

Adrenaline coursed through my limbs. My arms shook from the exertion. I looked a lot like a fly caught in a web struggling to free itself with jerky desperate moves.  My fingers and forearms ached from gripping the overhead cables with all my strength. But I finished the second phase without hurting myself, falling, or peeing in my pants.

Next was the telephone pole/trapeze snatch. Many people had attempted it by the time I got there and few had succeeded in grabbing the trapeze. With my newfound determination, however, I was confident that I would not only climb to the top but that I would snatch that trapeze like a circus performer.

The time for tears was behind me. All that was left of the doubt and fear that paralyzed me in the trees was an ache in my muscles. I balanced myself on the telephone pole and focused on the rhythm of the trapeze swaying just out of reach in front of me. I waited until the right moment and then leaped.

I don’t think I realized I grabbed it until I heard the uproarious cheer from my fellow participants who had gathered to below to watch. I was elated. I couldn’t smile any bigger or swagger any prouder after they lowered me down. But I still had one last phase to complete: the Screamer.

I was one of the first ones to drop in a free fall off the super tall platform. Not first, mind you. I had to make sure that I wouldn’t scream louder than the other people and embarrass myself. When I was sufficiently satisfied that I wouldn’t shame anyone I knew, I harnessed up. 

I stepped out to the edge of the weathered planks, staring down at the wood chips sprinkled below to give us the illusion of a softer landing should anything go awry. The point of the exercise was to surrender to your fear. I had done that back on phase two, so I knew I could handle it. As instructed, I crossed my arms and fell back into the abyss.

The free fall was exhilarating. I could still feel my stomach drop and my panic rise, but I could also feel the sunshine and the wind surrounding me. As the safety gear yanked me up in an arcing bounce, my High Adventure was complete. As the course had intended, I had overcome my fear.

But it did more than that. I also felt confident and proud that no matter what challenge life threw at me, I could survive it. It might not be pretty or executed exactly how I imagined but I would manage, perhaps even triumph.

I certainly wouldn’t say that I’m not afraid of heights anymore, but I can tell you that I accept my fear for what it is, an obstacle to overcome. Because of that I wouldn’t change my High Adventure experience.

That being said, I probably wouldn't sign up to do it again either.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Romance Junky

By Terri Lively

I am standing in a church basement in a circle of mismatched folding chairs. The large cistern of scalded coffee on the fold up table behind me burns my nostrils with its harsh, bitter vapor. I clear my throat to introduce myself, strangely nervous, even though I know I am among friends, or at least people who understand. I begin.

“Hello, my name is Terri. And I am a Romance Addict.”

“Hello, Terri!” the crowd echoes.

Okay, so I made that up, and I don’t go to meetings, but I probably should. I am a romance addict.

Romance Addiction is a chronic condition. Symptoms include a preference for fantasy over reality, rashes of unrealistic expectations and a fever for the dramatic. Personally, I blame Walt Disney Princess Movies. All that Wedding-As-Happy-Ending bunk pushed me over the edge.

My addiction started young revealing itself through my Barbie-play.  I constructed perilous situations for my “dream hair” Barbie that would rival the climactic scene from any 70s era Bond picture replete with cackling villains and pools of bubbling lava. Then Ken would swoop down and save the woman he loved. I remember teaching my girlfriends how to tip the dolls’ heads so when they kissed their faces fit together nicely instead of smashing their noses together. You see, Barbie and Ken’s love was hampered by their rigid plastic necks.

Later, I ditched Barbie, taking her place as heroine. I acted out elaborate one-woman stories which varied in details, but essentially created a perfect storm of circumstances so that the “hero” could rescue me.  After the elaborate and action-packed pantomime battles, I always imagined the perfect, starry-eyed imaginary kiss to conclude my epic adventures.

But imaginary heroes can only last so long. Soon, this romantic obsession crossed-over to the real world and I started to crave flesh and blood boyfriends that could live up to the fantasies I had created in my youth. My father never slept well again.

In junior high, I was sure that I would marry the first boy I’d kissed during a Journey song at the roller skating rink after a mock “argument” about the color of my eyes. I wore the big fluorescent shoe string he gave me that night like an engagement ring the rest of the weekend. I was in love. We even had our very own Air Supply Song, Two Less Lonely People in the World. We broke up weeks later. I cannot remember why…but I suspect that I dumped him in pursuit of a new boy.

Eventually, it was my turn to be dumped: A photographer and the first true love of my life. He spent a year trying to convince me to go out with him until finally I acquiesced. Our romance ended when he kissed his co-star for the fall play at the cast party my parents told me I was too young to attend. I was her understudy…I guess in more ways than one.

There were other boyfriends, lots of others (Sorry, Dad.), but never one that I actually loved.   Where was my hero that I had created for myself all those years ago in my backyard? I threw myself into the search, committing to his discovery. By 28, I thought he was late.

It turns out that he wasn’t late. I was…to my one and only blind date of my whole dating career.

I rounded the corner of the building running by the restaurant window 35 minutes after I said I would meet him. I had a sinking feeling as I realized that I probably wouldn’t have waited this long for him. Would he even be there? My steps quickened as I approached the revolving door. How would I know if he was still there?

I released the handle of the revolving door and stepped into the crowded, smoky bar. The restaurant was dark with high ceilings and large front windows. The noisy chatter of the Saturday night crowd flooded my ears as my eyes adjusted to the light inside. Never having met him but familiar with the potential pitfalls of blind dates, I scanned the bar quickly to look for single men with a humped back and wooden teeth.

I spotted him at the bar. He smiled at me confidently. No visible hump.  I smiled back, and we were married two years later. Very romantic, right? But once an addict always an addict. 

A wedding, ten years and three kids later, I fell in love…with a fictional character. A 100-year-old vampire in fact. I read a couple thousand pages of a teen-aged novel series, stopping hardly long enough to sleep or eat. When I closed the cover of the last glorious (and highly ridiculous) novel, I was devastated. Devastated because I would never have first love again. Devastated that all my choices had been made, and now I was living with them. Devastated that the vivacious young heroine of the fantastic stories played out in the grass of my parents’ backyard was now rather ordinary.

The logical part of me knew this was ludicrous. You don’t love fictional characters. The 8-year-old-girl in me knew it was not. And like a junky looking for a fix, I read them again.

Finally, knocking on the door of middle-age halfway through the series for the second time, I recognized my addiction. Clearly I was romance-starved. The reality of marriage and family and sacrifice had worn down the new and glorious love my husband, and I started in that smoky bar. Now instead of roses and weekends away, we had alone time on the couch for a few minutes before we fell asleep. Or we had squabbles over who was responsible for the mess in the garage and how to properly load the dinner dishes in the dishwasher.

My fantasies are very selfish. My needs are first and foremost, and practical matters don’t interfere. The Fantasy Hero is only there to serve me, save me and make me feel beautiful. The vampire is an excellent example. He “lived” for his love’s every need. The vampire didn’t have a job or faults, or terrible laundry etiquette. He didn’t even need to sleep.

Sadly, my husband could never measure up to my blood-sucking boyfriend. For one thing, he rarely can stay awake much past the kid’s bedtimes. He also does have terrible laundry etiquette. And finally, though he might argue with this point, he does not live to meet his love’s every need.

He does love me though and as an adult in a real marriage in the real world, there are practical matters to discuss with your lover. Conversations about how to load the dishwasher or where to store the Christmas lights rarely come up in the fantasy world. While these topics aren’t very romantic, such conversations are the foundation of real love. They are the loving negotiations we have daily to navigate the mundane obstacles we have to endure on this oft-romanticized notion of being on the road of life.

The difference between romance and love is simple. Romance gets you started. Love gets you through. If Romance is the quest, then Love is the navigation to get you there. Romance gives you a thrill while Love gives you a foundation. And loving someone in reality means acknowledging that romance is a state of mind, not a state of being.

So I love my husband and love my addiction. I feed my addiction with a steady stream of romantic movies and the occasional re-reading of a particular series of vampire books. But now when I read the books, I recognize that the beauty of them is that they are ridiculous. Besides, if I wanted reality, I’d buy non-fiction vampire books.

The other day I walked in on my daughter playing with her Barbies. They were getting married. As I saw her twist their faces on their rigid plastic necks, so they didn’t smash noses when they kissed, I sighed. Another Romance Junky is loose in the world. May she be romanced by her prince charming then love him for being real.