Remember how I was telling you my house was on the market? And about what a bittersweet, poignant process letting go was? I mistily recalled all the backyard birthday parties, and admitted to sneaking over to my neighbor Annie’s back porch and spying every time potential buyers drove up.
And remember how I confessed to cracking open a bottle of Cabernet one night and blasting the Billy Joel song “I’ve Loved These Days” over and over when I thought my daughter wasn’t listening? (Well, it turned out she was. Now she thinks I slept on satin sheets and need to change my jaded ways.)
Then I didn’t tell you anything for four months.
Sorry about that.
The thing is, something kind of amazing happened, and as eager as I was to share it, I was even more determined not to jinx it, so I went into stealth mode. Not just with you, but with my real-life best friends, too.
When it comes to real estate, you just can’t be too careful.
It started in January of 2011, when I spotted a house that made my heart stop, and wrote a note to the owner, asking her to let me know if she ever wanted to sell. “Back off, stalker,” she wrote back (except politely). So much for that, I sighed, and resumed logging onto Realtor.com five times a day, searching in vain for a house special enough to wrench me away from the one I was unnaturally attached to.
Over a year later, still conflicted about selling my house, and debating whether or not to list it again in the spring, I did something I hadn’t done in a long time: I asked Michael for a sign. “Not to bother you,” I said out loud in the car, where I knew my daughter couldn’t eavesdrop, and looking heavenward for just a second because I was driving, “but can you figure out a way to let me know it’s time to move on?”
The very next morning — I swear — I got an email from the woman saying she was finally ready to sell her house, and would I like to see it?
I was smitten by every fixer-upper inch. The catch was, she’d already closed on a new place, and was in too much of a hurry to wait for me to put my house back on the market. But it turned out a couple who had bid on my house two years ago — we’d gotten to the point where we were negotiating about the swing set and the extra refrigerator in the basement, when I chickened out — were still interested. Because they loved my house, too.
So they bought it, just like that. And I bought this:
May 30 was the last night I slept in the home where I spent the happiest years of my life, where Michael used to sing Irish drinking songs while he cooked dinner and my children weren’t teenagers yet, so they still thought I was wonderful, and thin. But even though moving was painful, and the process every bit as onerous as I’d thought it would be, guess what?
I like it here. A lot.
When I brought a contractor to the house, he laughed at me. “What did you do, drive all over town until you found something that looked exactly like your old house?”
Well, yes. That’s exactly what I did, I just didn’t realize I was doing it. But now I don’t have a mortgage or an acre of unused lawn to (pay someone else to) mow. And despite the sewage backup in the basement (I know, ewww!) and the fact that when I turned my brand new central air conditioning system on, it caused a power outage on the whole block (“Don’t tell anyone it was me!” I hissed at the startled Con Ed foreman as a workman scrambled down the pole because they were afraid the transformer was going to explode), I’m happy.
It’s really, really hard to move on, but at some point, if you let them, the people and places you’ll carry in your heart forever stop feeling like a weight, and start lifting you up.
Welcome, rest of my life.
I’m not a big fan of Madonna’a music, and the Super Bowl halftime show didn’t do much to change that, despite my grudging respect for her athleticism. (Though for the record, I can do a cartwheel, too.)
But this is the last time I’ll complain that Holiday gives me a headache, because after last night, I actually feel a little sorry for Madonna.
And not because M.I.A. wrung more press from one finger than Madonna did with a throne, gold pompoms and a trapeze, though I’m sure that didn’t sit well.
Madonna, in my opinion, has crossed the line from daring to desperate, and that’s sad to see. She’s a genius who has left indelible marks on music and fashion, a master at reinvention whose confidence and drive empowered a generation of girls. Isn’t going Gaga now a step backward for the star who strode onstage in a rocket cone bra over 20 years ago? Can’t she make 53 look fabulous, instead of like a haggard, albeit highly toned, 33?
Trying too hard is never appealing, whether you’re on a first date or onstage at the Super Bowl, and Madonna is trying too hard to turn back time, if you ask me, like poor Demi Moore partying with Miley Cyrus days before she checked into rehab. It must be exhausting to wage that losing battle, even if you look taut doing it. Because no matter how much you starve yourself, or what you inject in your face, you’re never going to look 20 years younger. You’re just going to look like someone who’s trying really, really hard to.
Embracing your age doesn’t mean giving up; it means not pretending to be something you aren’t anymore. It means loving all the things you are, and being enthusiastic about all the things you still can be. It means having hope, earning grace, and keeping a bucketload of forgiveness handy, because holding grudges gives you wrinkles.
You can still do cartwheels.
And you can definitely play center stage at the Super Bowl, but with enough self-awareness to not look silly. Confidence polished with a little humility is attractive at any age. Insecurity doused with hubris? Not so much.
At the end of Madonna’s performance, lights on the field spelled out “World Peace.”
Yeah, that’ll do it.
I probably shouldn’t feel sorry for Madonna. She’s certainly not worrying about me. I just would hate to see a woman who’s worked so hard for so long and accomplished so much, be tossed in the same category as men who wear toupees because they think it makes them look young, when they just look like old guys who wish they weren’t bald.
In all fairness, if I could do deep knee bends wearing five-inch heels like Madonna can, I probably would find a place to show that off, too.
In fact, I think I’ll go practice now.
Right after I swallow a fistful of preemptive Advil.
I haven’t written about what’s been going on in my family lately for fear of jinxing things. But I’m happy to report that Patrick got into a school he really, really wanted to attend, so his last day of high school was last week.
Getting into this school was no slam dunk, let me tell you.
When we visited in September, I asked to speak to the the admissions director privately, and he described typical applicants: highly-motivated, straight-A students who aren’t challenged by high school work.
That’s not exactly our situation, I said.
“Well, we have had some kids come here who are B students, and they’ve done fine, too,” smiled the director reassuringly.
Um, that’s not exactly our situation either, I said.
Suddenly the admissions director looked worried.
But then Patrick went in to talk to him, and when they emerged from the meeting 45 minutes later, the director patted Patrick on the back and told me what a fantastic son I had.
I didn’t know Patrick had it in him to make such a good first impression — he usually can’t bothered to put his napkin in his lap at the dinner table. But give the boy points for pulling out the charm when he needed to.
Or maybe it was sincerity.
Patrick was accepted, and last Friday we drove up to Massachusetts, with me hoping against hope during that two-hour drive that my absent-minded son hadn’t forgotten anything important. As he unpacked, I was relieved to see he’d remembered to bring his sleep medication, in the locked box his doctor recommended.
But of course he’d forgotten the key.
No problem, I assured Patrick. While he was in his orientation meeting, I promised, I’d find a hardware store, break open his old box and buy a new one. Patrick looked nervous (does he think I can’t handle finding a hardware store? I thought), then went off to learn about where to get free condoms, or whatever they tell kids in orientation meetings these days.
I located a hardware store and explained my problem to the kindly owner.
But just as I raised a borrowed ball-peen hammer with the intention of pulverizing the lock, it occurred to me: What if something else was in Patrick’s locked box? Something he kept locked up so his mother wouldn’t find it?
And what if the kindly hardware owner is the kind of person who would call 911 if something else came spraying out of the box when I smashed it?
Was that why Patrick was so nervous when he left?
There was no going back, however. My final thought, as I swung down on the lockbox, was this: after Patrick worked so hard to turn things around — to the point that he got himself into this school! — hadn’t he earned my trust?
And couldn’t I just use money from his college fund to make bail, if it came to that?
So I smashed the box, and all that spilled out were sleeping pills.
It’s only been a week, but so far, so good. I called Patrick the other night and asked what he was doing, and he told me he was reading his chemistry text.
No, really, I said.
But he was!
You’ll have to excuse me now.
I have a moment to relish.
Remember how I told you Christmas Day was wonderful? It truly was, except for the part about my BMW bottoming out on a rock on the dirt road next to my house.
That’s the last time I will drive down that road, the one that for 15 years I insisted not be paved because “it’s rustic.”
It’s rustic, all right.
After several small parts of my beloved vehicle clattered to the pavement in my driveway, I made the executive decision to be in denial about the incident until after the holidays. I ignored the warning light indicating that the all wheel drive no longer worked, and the message urging me to “drive with caution.” I parked the car behind my house where I couldn’t see it, and drove my mother’s Corolla, the one that squeaks and has roll-down windows, for a week, pretending I didn’t notice the difference between gleaming wood dashboard trim and gray plastic.
But of course I did notice.
So did You Know Who You Are, who insisted I had to address my BMW problem. He even drove (with caution!) my crippled car to the auto body shop, because he’s a gentleman. And because he hates roll-up windows, too.
While my new friend Nino assessed the damage at the shop, I headed to the Subaru dealer, figuring I’d trade in my broken BMW for a new car.
But guilt set in. I asked myself: What kind of person was I, dumping my dented auto just because I don’t have the motor coordination to avoid hitting a rock?
And I answered myself: The same person who once dumped a date because he showed up at my door wearing a sweater made of synthetic fiber.
Not to mention the same person who inconvenienced her neighbors for 15 years by refusing to pave the dirt road.
The joke was on me, and that is not where I like jokes to be. I started thinking maybe I should let my neighbors pave the road, after all.
Then, in a happy reversal of karma, Nino reported that the damage to my car was minimal, dire warning lights to the contrary. By the time my BMW emerged from his ministerings, it was scratched, but not much the worse for wear. And since Nino isn’t a crook like the “repairman” at the gas station, it didn’t cost much to fix, either.
A Christmas miracle!
Nice mixed signals, karma. So — to pave, or not to pave?
But karma’s a tricky thing — open to interpretation, but you can’t ignore it altogether.
So bye, rock.
This is the last Christmas I’m going to overdo it on presents for my children.
But BOY was it fun this year.
The week before Thanksgiving, when Kim started hinting about how her laptop was slow and it sure would be nice to have a new one so she could do a better job on her homework — and did I need any help around the house? — I warned the kids to recalibrate their expectations because I was going to scale way back in the gift department.
Patrick shrugged and said all he wanted was a video game, and it would be fine with him if I bought a used one.
Kim did not react to my Scrooge-ing with her brother’s indifference, but she managed not to sulk in front of me, which is the best you can hope for with an eighth grader, and that weekend, while I was at the grocery store, she dug out all the Christmas decorations from the scary part of the basement and decked the halls with bows of everything. She even found a picture of Jesus in a drawer and insisted on putting it on display next to the stuffed snowmen, because “Christmas is not just about Santa.”
My thrifty Yuletide was off to such a good start!
Then I got an offer on the minivan, and my good intentions went up in smoke. It’s hard to pinch pennies after someone hands you a wad of hundreds, especially right before Apple’s Black Friday sale.
I drove to the mall (not in the minivan, obviously) and grabbed two laptops.
I hadn’t been this excited for Christmas day to arrive since I was ten, and had the sneaking (and correct) suspicion that my father got the hint about the 13″ black and white TV I wanted but didn’t want to be greedy and ask for. I wrapped the Macs immediately and stashed them in the super-secret hiding place in my closet. For weeks, I played out in my head how I would tell the kids, after they thought everything was opened, that there was one…more…thing.
I worried that the real-life scenario couldn’t possibly turn out as well as the ones I kept tweaking in my imagination. That would require 1) my actually keeping a secret for four weeks, and 2) the kids being happy and grateful before they even got the computers, then afterward, stunned and excited and overflowing with gratitude for the most fabulous mother on the planet.
(Of course, I would explain that the computers were a gift from their father, because I wouldn’t dream of spoiling them like that.)
I’m happy to report that the plan exceeded my expectations to the point that my teenagers let me drag them to a 2:00 movie — I’d always wanted to see what it would be like to see a movie on Christmas day — without complaining. I remarked on what good sports they were being. “Of course we’re being good sports, Mom,” said Patrick cheerfully. “We just got new computers.”
They remained in great spirits for days, too, until Kim came down with a splitting headache that the nurse attributed to “too much screen time.”
Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.
Seeing my children genuinely surprised and thrilled is the most beautiful gift I could have gotten for Christmas, though I will admit that using expensive devices to accomplish that was a bit of a cheat. My goal for 2012 is to cultivate the spirit of the season without maxing out my credit cards.
But I have a whole year to figure out how to do that.
I love the holidays, but they aren’t easy for me. (I know, join the club.) But this year is the last time I’ll use my credit cards to make things merry and bright.
Not that ordering piles of presents doesn’t help — those laptops, iPods and especially the BMW (a little pick-me-up for moi) certainly infused cheer into Christmases past. But there are better ways to ramp up the holiday spirit.
Christmas didn’t used to make me sad, but it did wear me out. I’d race around trying to make everything perfect, from the presents to the poinsettias to finding the shining-est star to crown the Christmas tree.
The last Christmas Michael was alive, he said he didn’t understand why I ran myself ragged that way. He did the cooking in our house all year, and more than his share of everything else, but Christmas was my territory, and Mr. Why-buy-a-present-now-when-the-mall-is-open-on-Christmas-Eve wasn’t the biggest help. But that last Christmas morning, as the children screamed and laughed, digging through a pile of packages I needn’t have wrapped with such care, under tree branches dipping with ornaments from blown glass to construction paper and popcorn, as bacon was frying and a frittata I’d forgotten about was burning, and we hadn’t even gotten to the bulging stockings dangling from the mantle yet, which I worried might drop into fire if we didn’t speed it up, Michael put his arm around me, smiled, and said, “I get it now. Next year it’s my turn. I’ll do all the work.”
He would have done a great job, too, except for the procrastinating.
The next year, I had my neighbor Mitch take a photo for our Christmas card of the kids and me laughing in front of our Christmas tree, so everyone would think we were happy and stop feeling sorry for us. And truth be told, we were happy, all things considered.
The next year I took a picture of just the kids and the dog for the Christmas picture, figuring enough time had passed that instead of people saying, “Look how well they are doing, how nice,” they’d say, “Oh my, has Lynn put on a few pounds?”
Because, you know, the camera adds a few.
The year after that, I didn’t bother with a Christmas card at all. Friends were fretting about fresher tragedies by then, ones where the victim perhaps wasn’t fortunate enough to cheer herself up by buying a car.
I did still charge up a storm, though, because I could.
I have to get used to not doing that, though. There are better ways to mark the occasion.
Take my front door. I read an article about sprucing up your house’s entry, and the next day, I painted the door bright red and slapped a wreath on it. Naturally I didn’t do all the sanding that Joe in the hardware store recommended (do you not know me at all yet, Joe?), so it needed five coats of paint instead of two, but that door makes me smile every time I look at it, even with the pine needles stuck in the paint because God forbid I wait until it’s dry.
Life is good, and all it cost was a can of paint.
I have been very busy lately with holiday cheer and whatnot, but I have to take a few moments to share the story about the mysterious noise in my kitchen, before I forget the funny parts.
Foreshadow alert: It involves the last time I will yank the wires out of a heat sensor without calling the alarm company first.
It all started on a Saturday night. I was alone in the house and heard a buzzing noise. I tiptoed all around the kitchen, trying to find out where the noise was coming from, becoming increasingly concerned and eventually convinced the buzzing sounded exactly like a live wire that could at any moment make my house explode.
Except the kids weren’t home, so instead of springing for overtime for an electrician, I decided the most prudent course of action would be to turn on music so loud I couldn’t hear the buzzing anymore, and open a bottle of wine.
That did the trick. But the next morning, the noise was still there, and now I had a headache.
Circling the kitchen once again, I determined the buzzing must be coming from the heat sensor, so I pulled all the wires out. That left it dangling from the ceiling, and set off the alarm. “FIRE! FIRE! GET OUT OF THE HOUSE IMMEDIATELY!” shouted the alarm lady.
That didn’t help my headache one bit.
I hastily tapped in the code to make her SHUT UP, then phoned the fire department to assure them there was no fire at my house, hoping the firemen had by now forgotten last summer’s blackened catfish experiment gone awry.
And the buzzing continued. I finally summoned the electrician, who turned off all the electricity in the house, and when that didn’t stop the buzzing, opened a drawer next to the stove and produced a meat thermometer that was making the noise because its battery was low.
That cost me $100.
The electrician then tried to reassemble the heat sensor, but couldn’t because I had neglected to mark where any of the wires went. On the bright side, he pointed out, at least I hadn’t electrocuted myself.
My next call was to the alarm company, to have someone come and reattach the wires on the sensor. The woman who answered informed me the sensor would never have made a buzzing noise like that, and suggested I call next time before ripping it out of the ceiling, adding that since their system hadn’t been at fault, the repairman’s trip would set me back $157.
Soon after, the repairman showed up, and I told him what had happened. He took a gander at the mangled sensor and asked if I had a service contract. I said yes, but acknowledged I knew it didn’t cover this particular problem. “Looks to me like that sensor just fell out of the ceiling on its own,” the repairman said. When I started to disagree, he winked. “I’m the expert here, and it looks to me like it’s covered under your contract,” he insisted. Five minutes later it was fixed. Then he discovered the alarm wasn’t properly linked to the firehouse, so if I’d had a real fire, they wouldn’t have been notified. He fixed that (for free) too, and told me it was a good thing I’d taken that sensor apart, after all.
And just like that, I went from feeling like an idiot, to feeling happy and grateful for the kindness of strangers, and not in that creepy Blanche DuBois way, but for real.
Talk about your holiday cheer.
Things can turn around on a dime, can’t they, and you never know when it’s going to happen, or how. But it’s been my experience that it pretty much always does, eventually.
Just be patient.
And maybe think twice before you rip anything out of your ceiling.