Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Next Thing

Tonight's cocktail, which I had at the Cherry Circle Room at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel in February, is called The Normans: "Rye, calavados [an apple brandy from Normandy], demerara [pretentious brownish sugar], angostura." Yes, please.

A photo posted by Kathleen Gordon (@middletini) on

Last summer, after more than five years together, my then-boyfriend, who promised me many things I now realize he probably never intended to deliver, discarded me like garbage and kept walking. He must have had his reasons, but he never told me what they were other than to say that he needed to find himself and that I had become “more obligation than joy.” I was devastated. There were days when I wanted to die. There were days when I wished he would die. I deleted every digital trace of him I could find, made a bonfire of his letters and T-shirts, and threw his stupid bracelet in the Potomac. As much as I ever loved him (and God knows I loved that man), that is how much I have hated him.

A photo posted by Kathleen Gordon (@middletini) on

I wasn’t raised to trust people. Although I craved the unconditional love I rarely got growing up, I was always such a raw tangle of nerves that I couldn’t bear to let anyone get too emotionally close, so I compensated by letting them get physically close and thought it was the same. With him, everything seemed different. I trusted him completely. He knew the best and worst things about me, and I thought I knew him just as intimately. I would have put my life in his hands. I would have taken a bullet for him without a second thought. I gave him the power to crack me open and bleed me out, but I never dreamed he would use it.

Imagine you have one place in the world where you feel completely safe, where you store all your treasures, and you’re terrified to let another soul inside. Then, imagine that you finally trust one person enough to let him in, and he sets that room on fire, leaving you with nothing but charred wreckage. That’s where I have been for the past year. I have spent a lot of time in therapy trying to get that space back, and while I’ve scrubbed the smoke marks off the walls and assembled a few jagged, rattling shards into a loose sack where my heart used to be, I still feel desecrated. He could not have harmed me more if he had beaten me.

Finally, though, I feel myself turning a corner. A fellow blogger recently wrote about the aftermath of her own breakup, and she used a phrase that stuck with me: “We cannot heal in acid.” As justified as I may be in blaming him, it requires energy he doesn't deserve, which I would prefer to use elsewhere. He wasn't the man I thought he was, but I shouldn't have projected onto him all the things I wanted to see. Also, I'm not perfect, either. I have made bad choices that have hurt people, too. I can’t change what he did or whether he ever takes responsibility for it. I can only move forward and do better for myself while he fades into insignificance behind me. He’s not my problem anymore.

Most days, I am happy. I adore my kids and pets, my urge to write is back, my garden is growing, my body is strong and healthy, I’m financially stable, and most days I like my job. It’s a good life. I do not see myself getting into a serious romantic relationship anytime soon, if ever. I haven’t wanted for company, but I’m too skittish to believe any man who claims to love me. Maybe that will change; maybe it won’t. What I finally understand is this: the best way to be miserable is to live your life waiting for the next thing, thinking that’s when you’ll finally be happy. The next thing is merely the next thing, and whatever that is, I'll deal with it when it arrives.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

By Herself

Tonight's cocktail is a Blueberry Buck, which I had during a recent visit to Atlanta.

Blueberry vodka (I don't really like the flavored stuff because I prefer to infuse it myself, but it was OK), lime, ginger beer, shaved nutmeg.
In the spring, I had the honor of reading an original piece for Listen to Your Mother, a multi-city project that "gives motherhood a microphone" by asking people to present stories about mothers and motherhood. I was in the D.C. show, which you can (and should!) view in its entirety here. Part of the proceeds for every show go to nonprofit organizations that help local mothers in some way. Our show benefited My Sister's Place, which provides shelter, transition, and support services to survivors of domestic violence.

While many of the stories in the show were poignant and insightful and will make you cry when you hear them, mine was not one of those. I was part of the comic relief. Regardless, participating in the show was one of the best experiences of my life. Here's my piece (text below), before which I was announced thusly: "Kathleen Gordon is avoiding a work conference and bringing shame upon her family to read for us today. She deeply apologizes to her beloved mother for what you are about to hear."

My mother is a Southern church lady who would just as soon praise the Lord as bless your heart. She serves on the altar guild, is past president of the women’s service league, and attends weekly Bible study in addition to church services. On her night table is a well-worn, bookmarked Bible, and she is always praying for somebody. Most likely it’s me.

My mother missed the sexual revolution altogether. She grew up in a strict Southern Baptist household and, in the early 60s, attended a women’s college where she wasn’t allowed to wear slacks and had to have written permission from her parents on file to leave campus. When she was 21, she married my dad, her high school sweetheart. By the time of the 70s Equal Rights Amendment movement, she was busy raising me, and she didn’t think much of those “women’s libbers.”

During the Judy Blume stage of my childhood, when I asked my mom questions about periods and where babies came from, she would always answer truthfully - there was no talk of storks or euphemisms for genitalia - but she never mentioned that sex was supposed to be fun. Imagine my surprise when I realized for myself that it really, really is!

Past settling the birds-and-bees issue, I hardly ever talked to my mother about sex again. After I graduated from college, I spent the summer traveling in Europe, and my mom decided to join me for the last two weeks in Italy. Traveling by train to major cities in Europe with a woman who has spent almost no time outside the United States and who does not understand for the life of her why people will not put more ice in her drinks was sometimes a challenge, but we had a good time. We saw transcendent art, strolled through the sun-bathed lanes of history, and ate delicious gelato and pasta. One night, I even got my mom drunk on cheap Chianti to the point where she was giggling and singing a slightly risque song from college called “Minnie the Mermaid” while walking beside the Arno in Florence.

Then, we got to Siena, and awkwardness ensued. It was hot, and after we pulled our suitcases uphill to the hotel, I wanted to take a shower. My mom said that was fine, and she turned on the TV. I didn’t think much of it until I turned off the water and started to hear noises from the TV. Moaning noises. Sexy noises. Wrapping myself in a towel, I poked my head out of the bathroom to see my mother sitting on the edge of the bed, her eyes wide as dinner plates, staring at the quickly turned-off TV.

Me: Mom, are you OK?

Mom: [a little too fast] “Yes, I’m just fine.”

Me: You look upset. Did something happen?

Mom: [reluctantly] Well, I turned on the TV to see if there was any news in English, and I got to this channel, and it was very strange.

Me: How so?

Mom: Well, there was this woman, and she was very … excited. But she was by herself.

Me: Mom, what were you watching?

Mom: I don’t know. But she was REAL excited. And I didn’t understand, because she was by herself.

Me: [horrified, but trying to be soothing] Well, sometimes they put stuff on TV in other countries that you wouldn’t see in the United States, so it sounds like it was pornography. You can just ignore it, don’t worry about it.

Mom: [increasingly agitated] Kathleen! You do NOT underSTAND! She was VERY exCITED! And she was BY HERSELF!

Me: [to myself] Really? Am I really going to have to explain this? Sigh.

Me: [aloud] Mom, some people like to watch women … touching themselves. And enjoying it. So they made a movie of it. But it’s OK, you don’t have to watch it.

Mom: [indignantly] Oh, Kathleen, you don’t understand anything.

I let that one drop like a stone. We changed the subject and never discussed it again.

But, now that I have a preteen daughter, and I’ve had a few sex talks with her, I’ve thought back to that conversation with my mother. I don’t know if my mom was truly unaware of female masturbation or was too embarrassed to admit that she knew about it, but either way, it made me kind of sad for her. So I made sure to tell my daughter that even though sex sounds “so gross, Mom,” that it feels good, and it’s a nice thing for consenting ADULTS to enjoy RESPONSIBLY when they’re READY.

I also got completely indignant when I saw that the American Girl body book doesn’t label the clitoris on its female anatomy diagram, and I made a point of telling my daughter what it is, what it does, and that nobody gets to touch it without her permission. Which she said she is “never going to give anyone, ever, because ew.” That’s fine by me. But at least she knows, and likely the information will come in useful at some point in the future. Even if she is BY HERSELF.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

No Medal Needed

Tonight's cocktail is a blood orange mimosa. Equal parts blood orange juice and prosecco (or champagne, if you prefer).

Image via Pixabay, because I drank mine too fast to photograph it.

Not long ago, I had brunch with a friend and his adorable, well-behaved 4 year old son. My friend is a great dad: attentive, patient, firm, kind, and fun-loving. We were having a lovely time with our shrimp and grits and mimosas (the adults) and quesadilla and milk (the child). Every now and then, the little guy would get a little loud or whiny, par for the course with a child that age, and my friend would distract him with a joke or a question.

I was behaving as I do with other people's children. They're like cats - they have to come to you. So when the little guy wanted to tell or show me something, I was all about that, but if he was into his own thing, that was OK, too. And I certainly wasn't responsible for his behavior. Not my circus, not my monkey. Besides, it was all under control.

Eventually, of course, my friend needed to accompany his little boy to the men's room. After they left the table, I took a long sip of mimosa and was considering ordering another, only to be startled by a little old lady who was up in my grill, grinning maniacally. Confused, I smiled back. She put her hand on my arm. Why? Why with the touching? Finally, she spoke: "Your husband is a GREAT dad! You're SO lucky!" Ummmm, ok?

At this point, many evil possible responses entered my mind. For example:

  • "Well, if you beat a kid enough times, he does start figuring out how to behave."
  • "He's not my husband, but he IS a demon in the sack! Do you want to see my hickey? We also have matching tattoos, but I can't show you where!"
  • "Oh, he's not my husband; he's a paid escort. The service sent him this morning. Do you want his business card? The kid is extra."
  • "That guy? I have no IDEA who that was! He just wanted a free meal. He'll probably bring my kid back, though, right?"
  • "Whose child IS that? I keep thinking someone is going to come back to claim him!"
In the end, I went with my fallback: Southern charm. "What a nice thing to say. Thank you for saying that."

Afterwards, it dawned on me. The waitstaff at the restaurant had directed all child-related questions to me. Did he want a kids' menu? Did he want crayons? Did he have food allergies? Did he need a cup with a lid and a straw? The hell if I knew! His actual parent, who did know the answers to all of those questions, didn't merit a glance. But then when my friend parented in a competent way, he suddenly deserved a goddamn medal. I have NEVER had anyone come up to me in public and tell me what a great mother I was just because I was engaging with my child over a meal and making sure he wasn't being an asshole. I know everyone meant well, but what the hell?

It speaks to the low expectations society still sets for fathers. I can't even count the commercials, articles, and jokes I've seen that portray dads as hapless goofballs who can't be expected to parent or do housework. These things are not badly intended, but they still send a message we should not want to perpetuate. Not only can fathers braid hair, prepare meals, and wipe butts; they should, as a matter of course, be expected to do so. Society makes excuses for fathers who "can't" (read: refuse to learn how to) do these things. It doesn't hold them up for the ridicule and condemnation that a mother would earn if she did the same, but it should. Similarly, when a father is simply parenting, as he should be expected to do, he doesn't deserve exceptional praise, unless you're also going to give those accolades to mothers who are doing the same things.

My ex didn't know anything about babies or children before we had Tweak and Tink. He also didn't know how to cook or clean. All matters domestic were my responsibility, not by design, but by default. I remember one Thanksgiving, leaving a relative's house to make a 4 hour drive home. I was gathering the last of our stuff, and I asked my now-ex to put Tweak, then 2, in his carseat. 10 minutes later, I was trundling out baby Tink in her bucket seat, and my mother in law came up to me, beaming. "[Ex] got Tweak in his carseat, but it wasn't easy. I think he deserves an award!" In lieu of saying something unkind, I rolled my eyes so far back into my head that I had to smack myself to get them facing forward again.

When my ex and I split, Tweak and Tink were 5 and 3. He asked for 50% custody, and I gave it to him, thinking he would change his mind within weeks, but at least in the meantime he would learn to appreciate all the things I'd been doing. It was a bumpy start for him, but I have to give him credit. He kept trying, and he asked questions, and he got better, because he didn't have a choice. Does he always parent the way I think he should? No, but he parents well enough, and I'm sure he doesn't agree with everything I do, either. We love the kids, and we show up. Everything else is details.

I'm an unapologetic feminist. Part of wanting everyone, including myself, to be treated equally is not limiting my expectations of anyone based on gender. The gay dads I know get this - they aren't making excuses, and they're not asking for a commendation; they're simply parenting. What if the term "man up" included participating in all aspects of parenting? From diaper blow-outs to tantrums to bike injuries to dance recitals to the sex talk, nobody should treat these things as optional for any parent of any gender. What if we gave equal respect to parenting no matter who was doing it? What if our children didn't see dads being expected to do or know less than moms? How might that affect them as parents, when it's their turn? How much better off would our grandchildren be? We can make it happen.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Let's Move!

Tonight's cocktail is water straight up, served in the water bottle I got in my swag bag from the White House the other week. Oh, right. I went to the White House the other week (as one does), and now Michelle Obama is my BFF. Or at least close enough. No big deal. Our relationship defies labels.

The Presidential hand towel (left) wasn't in the swag bag. I might have stolen it out of the bathroom. In my defense, it was the disposable kind.
Awhile back, BlogHer/SheKnows Media asked whether I would be interested in going to the White House for a promotional event for the First Lady's (FLOTUS, for those in the know) Let's Move! initiative. I responded "Yes," because "Sweet baby Moses tapdancing on a popsicle stick yes!" was not offered as a choice. After agonizing over what to wear, getting my hair and nails done, and then, on the morning of the event, ditching my cab in traffic to sprint across LaFayette Park so that I wouldn't be late (destroying all my good hair and makeup intentions), there I was, a hot mess, as usual. At least I got a workout in.

Eleanor Roosevelt didn't mind. She gets me.
Like everyone who hasn't been in a coma for the past 7 years, I knew that the FLOTUS had adopted wellness in general, and childhood obesity in particular, as her featured causes. I'd seen that Congress passed legislation (the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010) that changed the nutritional standards for the School Lunch Program (perhaps not enough, but any improvement is good). I'd also seen and enjoyed videos in which the FLOTUS encourages us all to get off our duffs and move around, like this one:

It turns out that these efforts are the tip of the iceberg. My eyes tend to glaze over in shame when people rattle off statistics about how fat we all are and how much it costs society, because God knows I could stand to lose a few pounds, but the message wasn't like that. It was about finding ways to be incrementally healthier in our daily lives and making good choices easy for everyone, not just people who can afford fancy organic produce and personal trainers. It was about a long term national and personal commitment to wellness, not a fad or a cleanse. Like anything worth doing, it takes time and persistence, trial and error, and that's not only OK; it's expected.

For my children, unlike about a third of their peers (in African American and Hispanic communities, the number is closer to 40%), obesity isn't currently a danger simply because they are so active, and because they are at least somewhat willing to eat fruits and vegetables (tremendous progress from when they were younger and would only eat things that were white or beige). Fortunately, in addition to the sports they play outside of school, they have PE in their elementary school twice per week, plus daily recess - unlike 44% of U.S. schools, theirs hasn't eliminated or cut back on PE or recess. I'm thankful for this, because not only is it better for their health, having regular exercise during the school day helps them concentrate and do better in school, plus it enhances their emotional well being by giving them a healthy way to burn off stress. I think all parents should push back against short-sighted and counterproductive efforts to improve test scores at the expense of kids' physical and mental health.

Unlike my children, I didn't enjoy playing sports when I was a kid. I preferred to lounge dreamily in a chair with a book. Unlike the classroom, where I excelled, PE was torture to me. I couldn't climb the rope, catch the ball, run the laps, etc. It felt like drudgery, I was embarrassed, and I didn't want to do it. If they'd had workouts like this one, which Let's Move (and Beyonce!) designed and implemented in 600 schools across the country, I probably would have enjoyed it more:

As I work to motivate myself as an adult to be more active and demonstrate good self-care habits to my kids, I've realized that exercise can be fun, and even if I'm not especially "good" at it, the point is to do it and enjoy how it makes me feel. The rest will follow.

That's why I like the multi-faceted approach of Let's Move. It's not a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather a menu of options that people can try as they figure out what lifestyle changes they need to make. From improving nutrition in schools and daycares, to bringing gardens into schools and communities where fresh produce can be difficult to find and afford, to promoting wellness through faith communities, to encouraging localities to provide low-cost opportunities to be active, to making National Park admissions free for every fourth grader in the country (and their families!), Let's Move aims to reach people where they are and give them the tools they need to become healthier as individuals, families, and communities. It all fits together.

While I didn't get to shake hands with the First Lady after her remarks (which was probably good because I might have embarrassed myself by trying to massage her flawless biceps), I'm so glad I got to attend this event and be inspired to work on improving my family's lifestyle. I encourage you to look at the Let's Move! website to see what kinds of nutrition and fitness programs are going on in your community and how to get involved. Whether it's adding a post-dinner family walk to your routine, planting a kitchen garden, or finding healthy, tasty, recipes, none of the lifestyle changes are particularly difficult or unpleasant. Try things, educate yourself, see what you can do, come back for more.

OK, I know her biceps don't actually light up a room, but that's how it felt to be in the same room with them.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Holidays Didn't Suck and I Don't Know How to Feel

Tonight's cocktail is a capairinha the size of my head, served at a restaurant on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach over the holidays. It wasn't as good as I would make it (muddle a bunch of cut-up limes with sugar, throw in some ice, fill to the top with cachaza), but it did hit the spot. Several times.

What really stood out to me about the winter holidays this year is how much they didn't suck. This is almost unprecedented in my memory, which is sad, but there it is. When I was a kid, Christmas was when people got mad and screamed and threw things, so when I converted to Judaism, I didn't miss it at all. Chanukah is fun with my kids, but it doesn't get me out of schlepping back to my hometown each December, which, given the history, usually leaves me twisted into a ball of anxiety.

As I've written before, my father likes the idea of having grandchildren better than the reality of dealing with them, especially my son, who has Asperger's Syndrome and who does not, contrary to my father's suggestion, just need to have his ass beaten. Though I love my family and look forward to seeing them, some years things have been so tense that I've had panic attacks. Throw in the fact that this is the first holiday season since my shitty shitty breakup, and suffice it to say that I didn't have high expectations.

However, I was pleasantly surprised. The kids and I stayed in a hotel (which I should have started doing a long time ago), and it made a huge difference. I found things for the kids to do so that they could get their yayas out before family gatherings, and of course my cousin's adorable baby girl was a big focal point, with the kids wanting me to smuggle her back home. I felt relaxed and happy. It was weird.

After Christmas, my ex picked up the kids and took them to visit his family, so I was free for a whole week. I spent that time in Miami with a friend, hence the giant cocktail. I got in the sun as much as possible, trying to bank up heat and light to get through the rest of winter. I ate lots of oysters. I wasn't worried or tense. I felt great about my life. What dark sorcery IS this?

When I went to my first therapy session of the new year, I didn't know what to talk about, so I talked about how strange it is not to feel horrible about my life following the holiday fallout. Again, I recognize that this might be rather sad, but it beats another year of ball-sucking. And it means something I'm doing must be working. Here's the list of suspects.
  1. Sleeping. I've been prioritizing getting 8 hours of sleep every night. It's magical.
  2. Drinking less and eating better.
  3. Exercising.
  4. Taking folinic (not folic) acid and vitamin D supplements, on my doctor's recommendation (obviously, people should check with a physician before taking anything).
  5. Not volunteering for things I don't want to do.
  6. Not taking responsibility for other people's choices or moods.
I know, none of this is rocket science, but I never claimed to be quick on the uptake. And some of these things, like sleep, I simply couldn't have done when my kids were younger. I've been thinking of it this way: if I had a friend who struggles with anxiety and depression and whose heart has been put through the shredder, what would I tell her? Those things. If I would want this for a friend, then I should want it for myself. It's time for me to give myself what I want others to have. It's time to be my own friend.

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