Archive for the ‘Marriage’ Category

That Old Cape Magic, by Richard Russo
Knopf, 2009

I recently purchased a Kindle for my birthday in September.  This action was both an act of my youth and my aging.  I had long resisted the e-book format as I love books, the heft of the volume, turning the physical pages, the feel of the paper in my fingers.  However, after I spent an entire afternoon reading (a rare luxury with toddlerdom), I discovered that my eyes are not what they used to be.  My husband suggested I get a Kindle so I could read everything in 14 pt font.  So I did.  And now I’m gobbling up the e-books.  Maybe I look hip and trendy reading my Kindle, but no one needs to know that I’m reading it in large print format.

Amazon recently created an e-book lending program with libraries and I wanted to see how it worked, so I checked an e-book out of the library and had it downloaded directly to my Kindle.  Pretty nifty.  The book I chose was Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic.  (I have Russo’s Pulitzer-prize winning Empire Falls sitting unread on my bookshelf, where I have a lot of unread books, thanks to my ailing eyes.)  Now that I am endeavoring to embrace middle-age, That Old Cape Magic turned out to be an appropriate read for me.

Jack Griffin, a 50-something college professor, is about to see his life and marriage unravel.  After a long, successful career writing in the film industry, Griffin snagged his position in academia as a professor of screenwriting.  After all, screenwriting is a young person’s game, Griffin notes, as he made his move out of Hollywood to the tony suburbs of a Connecticut university.  As the only child of neurotic English professors—with whom he has contentious relationships—Griffin seems to have come full circle with academia and he settles into a comfortable existence with his beloved wife in their Connecticut dream home.  This dream home life lasts more than a decade, but the death of Griffin’s father, long divorced from his mother, forces Griffin to face some uncomfortable, unanswered questions.

Much of the novel takes place on Cape Cod, where Griffin’s family spent many summer vacations during his childhood.  Cape Cod signifies his parents’ idyllic dreams, the lazy summers by the sea, the escape from the politics and positioning of academia.  There is the status of having a summer home on the Cape, but the Griffins never owned their summer home.  They always rented a house and bickered over not being able to afford to buy their ideal summer home.  (The ones they could afford they “wouldn’t have as a gift.”)  The Cape was where Griffin and his wife, Joy, honeymooned and dreamed up their life plans together.  Nine months after the death of Griffin’s father, they return to the Cape for the wedding of a family friend, and Griffin has his father’s ashes in the trunk of his sports car (a not-so-subtle cliché of his middle-age crisis).

Russo’s writing is generous to his flawed characters, the kind of people you would like to have over for dinner, but may not know about their inner thoughts.  There are many comedic moments that were both delightful and pushed close to the edge of disbelief.  Griffin’s mother is a piece of work, an arrogant academic who sees herself well above the world and lets the world know it.  She’s a little over the top, calling at the worst times and intruding herself into Griffin’s life.  She is exactly what Griffin does not want to become, but he cannot stop her voice recording in his head.  Mommy issues.  Ah, yes, I know about those.

That Old Cape Magic is not a very “dramatic” novel in the sense that large, dramatic events do not happen, but it is a very human novel.  The crisis that happens in Griffin’s life has been building very slowly over the years, the way a person is formed by the small events that gather throughout one’s life.  This is particularly true of the conflict between Griffin and his wife, Joy, who share over 30 years of marriage that most people would call happy.  While they love each other, they also hurt each other in small, painful, irrevocable ways.  I found this to be an accurate portrayal of “happy” marriage.  That’s as good as it gets—teetering between love and contempt, hope and despair.  Perhaps a good reflection of the tenuous choices we make in life, marriage, and  middle-age.

Middle-aged Mommy and Milo on Cape Cod.

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Yesterday, I had to take my wedding rings off because my fingers had started to plump up.  I will be 30 weeks pregnant tomorrow and the increased fluid retention in my body is causing some achy joints and swelling.  It took me a while to pry the rings off my finger; if I had waited a few weeks longer, they may have cut off my circulation.  It feels strange not to have my rings on my finger.  I typically do not ever take them off, for fear of losing them. 

I’ve recently been pondering my impending motherhood and the roles of women in general.  Taking off my rings reminds me that I was single not too long ago, without my current role as a wife.  I got married at the age of 38 and am now pregnant at 41.  Some would call me a “late bloomer.”  But does that mean that I was less of a woman before I got married?  Was I less of a woman before becoming pregnant?  Will I be more of a woman when I give birth?


I realize these are all rites of passage for a woman in our society.  When I was single, I was bitter about the fact that women are not really celebrated until they get married and have children.  Who throws you a shower when you’re single?  Certainly, you can have birthday parties, but that’s different from a bridal shower or a baby shower.  It doesn’t mean you’re not loved, you’re just loved differently.  I went to so many showers in my 20’s and early 30’s and, as much as I wanted to honor my friends, it was hard not to think of when my turn would come.  And what if it never came?  Did that mean I was less worthy than my friends?

Of course not.  But I am struck by society’s expectation of women to get married and have babies, even in the 21st century, when women are often more educated and capable than their male counterparts.  And single women, especially.  Those who have put their careers before family are often powerful, gifted enough in their activism to help change the world.  Still, single women have a difficult time finding acceptance in the world.   Why is that?

The same goes for motherhood.  I was recently struck by this essay in the New York Times, written by a woman who gave up trying to have a baby after 8 years of infertility treatments.  You feel like you’re not welcome in the club of motherhood, that you won’t ever have that experience of being pregnant and giving birth—rites of passage expected to fulfill you as a woman.  But does that mean that a pregnant 16-year-old is more of a woman than I was at 38, single, but well-educated, well-traveled, and accomplished as a writer and community activist?  It seems an incongruous comparison.

Don’t get me wrong—I am thrilled to be pregnant and excited to be a mother.  It is certainly very different for me to be writing this from my perspective.  But it’s easy for me to have compassion for the single woman with no kids, who I was not too long ago.  And it feels horribly patronizing to tell that younger-me, “Don’t worry, have faith, it’ll happen for you too,” as if the ultimate goal for my life was to get married and procreate.  How that sticks in my progressive craw.

Instead, I think I would tell that younger-me: This is your life.  You have been given great gifts and opportunity.  Live it.

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Four Wheel Drive

We bought the Subaru Forester.  Last weekend, Hubby made an internal list of pro’s and cons of our family car choice and the best value was easily the Subaru.  As much as Hubby had his heart set on a Eurovan, his paternal instinct kicked in at the thought of his wife and child being stuck in a blizzard in a used car that would need regular maintenance.  A brand new Subaru Forester would be the same price as a good used Eurovan, but the Subaru would be solid and reliable.  Plus, it comes in a manual transmission, which both Hubby and I prefer.  (Hubby says this is the reason he married me, because I was a chick who drove stick on the hills of San Francisco.)


latest addition to our family

latest addition to our family


This week, we also heard from our realtor that all our ducks are lined up to close on our house next week.  The plan is to move into the house next weekend.  We’re discussing whether to do a little work on the house before moving all our stuff in, but the move should happen pretty soon.  I think my parents will miss having us in their house, but we’re only a 10 minute drive away.  This is better for everyone’s sanity.

Big life changes all at once.  Does it ever end?  But it’s better for us to get all this stuff done before even bigger changes happen in December.

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Retreat and Planning

Hubby and I are house-sitting over the weekend for some family friends who are visiting China for a month.  These friends live in a beautiful home in Goffstown, NH, about 40 minutes away from my parents.  The house is recently remodeled with high ceilings and large open rooms.  It’s not a tremendously huge house (about 3000 sq. ft.), but it’s laid out well and there are many built-ins, so it’s architecturally comfortable, yet interesting.  Hubby has always liked this house and he’s very particular about his architecture.  Bad architecture makes him feel viscerally ill.

Hubby has spent most of the weekend trying different scenarios in his head to maximize energy efficiency for our new house.  He’s talking geo-thermal and solar (which doesn’t seem like it will work well in the winter) and looking at all the tax incentives we would get for installing efficient green energy systems.  New Hampshire is not like the West in that green energy is relatively untapped here.  Hubby could be blazing a new trail for the region.  We were told, however, that our new town has a reputation of being somewhat more “hick” than surrounding towns; our neighbors may see us as crazy hippie Californians and may not take too kindly to us trying to combat global climate issues.  Change is scary for some.

I have learned to let Hubby think and dream his ideas, no matter how wild and impractical they may seem.  At some point, he will settle on an appropriate, cost effective course of action, which may or may not involve geo-thermal heating and solar panels.  I do sometimes have to remind him that he will probably be less motivated to undertake these house projects once the baby arrives and his parents are not nearby to help him with major construction like moving the furnace and renovating the duct work, for example.

We will be house-sitting in Goffstown for the next few weekends until we close on our house.  We’ll  see what Hubby comes us with in the meantime.

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I have so far avoided blogging about politics, although I have plenty of opinions about politics.  I have been keeping a curious, rubber-necking ear to the political scandal that is Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina.  His initial “disappearance” tweaked my interest only because his staff claimed he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.  As someone who has done long-distance backpacking (250 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail through Oregon in 2004), I was sympathetic to the governor and his need to get away from civilization and the demands of his position, even though I think he was an idiot for refusing federal stimulus money for his state.

But then the revelations started unraveling.  The governor was not on the AT, he was in Argentina.  He was visiting his mistress.  All of this was announced at a rather uncomfortable press conference, during which Sanford gave too much information about the details of his affair and the damage to his marriage.  Sanford, self-professed standard bearer for family values and father of four young sons, seemed a groveling lovesick teenager in the ensuing days.  He described his mistress as his “soul mate” and the pain he felt at his separation from her.  He was trying to come across as a fallible human being.  Good for him, but really do we need to know all the gory details of his personal torture?  Because he’s not coming across as sympathetic.  He’s coming across pathetic.  Please shut up, Governor.

Through all this, it has been very notable that the governor’s wife, Jenny Sanford, has not appeared by his side.  Unlike the pained, somber presence of Silda Wall Spitzer by the side of her disgraced husband, Eliot Spitzer, Jenny Sanford’s absence left her husband to wallow in the full spotlight of his infidelities.  Which is how it should be, in my opinion.  Jenny Sanford has publicly stated that she is willing to reconcile with her husband–IF he demonstrates the true spirit of humility.  But there is no reason why she should have to bear the public humiliation of a press conference while her husband confesses to being unfaithful to her.  Why would a compassionate husband ask this of his wife?  Why would an educated, strong woman agree to this mockery?  And what message does it send to our American ideal of marriage?  That it is the woman’s duty to endure her husband’s inevitable infidelities?  Come on.

I understand that marriage is work and that every marriage may find itself at a breaking point at some point.  I understand that it is the commitment of the partners to work through the difficulties that helps a marriage endure.  I know marriages can survive infidelities and even become stronger on the other side.  I hope the Sanfords’ marriage survives.  But this is a private betrayal and a private reconciliation and should be dealt with in private.  The public airing of the governor’s feelings for his mistress is completely inappropriate.  Perhaps if his wife were by his side, he’d shut up in deference to her grief.  His diarrhea of the mouth is not helping any reconciliation, nor is it helping his political career.

Silence is a virtue, governor, even in politics.  Practice some restraint.  Maybe you should hike the Appalachian Trail.

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Into the Wild

Hubby and I went to the Quaker Center in Ben Lomond, where we rented out a rustic cabin for our anniversary.  It was so quiet and still in the woods.  Hubby explored the land while I stayed inside to a read a book and nurse my cold, which was thankfully not swine flu.

The Quaker Center has a lovely outdoor labyrinth.  The introduction outlined the traditional way to walk a labyrinth (empty yourself of expectation in order to receive, contemplation, and then reunion with the world), but then went on to proclaim that anyone could walk a labyrinth in any way they wanted.  Hubby decided to skip and gallop his way through the labyrinth.  He was very tired when he finished, but happy.  I walked the labyrinth and came up with the following insight: It doesn’t matter how slowly you go, as long as you keep moving so that the bugs don’t get you.

Isn’t nature full of great wisdom?

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Yesterday, we hosted an 8-hour open house to say goodbye to our San Francisco friends.  I made a big pot of posole, which was completely consumed by the end of the evening.  There was plenty of wine and chau siu bao and marsala cake and all around good karma.  It was wonderful to have all these different parts of our lives come together.  There were friends who knew me in college, as well as friends I’ve met more recently in the past few years.  It was almost like our wedding reception.

Appropriately enough, today is Hubby and my 2nd anniversary.  Today, we are going to do no packing, no fretting about the future, no saying goodbyes to friends.  We are going to drive into the mountains and spend the night in a cabin in the woods, which happens to be a recurring leitmotif in our relationship.  

There is something about the silence of the woods that is comforting, centering, that reminds us of places where we’ve been.  Earlier in our relationship, we lived in the Oregon woods east of Portland, in a log cabin without electricity.  We were there almost a year.  I loved it.  We heard spotted owl and watched hummingbirds feed off our kitchen window.  One night, there was a 200-lb bear rustling for food on our back porch.  Hubby scared it off with his massive one-million-candle-power  flashlight.

I was surprised how much I, a city girl, loved being in the woods.  It was a return to simplicity that made life more vivid, more memorable.  It was a stripping away of the distractions of modernity until we reach the core of what is essential in oneself.  It is good to return to the woods.

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Patient Penelope

Hubby is scheduled to return from Sudan tomorrow, but knowing how difficult it is to travel in Africa, there’s a good possibility he’ll be delayed.  I haven’t heard from him in 4 days, which makes me a little anxious.  I tell myself that internet and phones are spotty so that he can’t always get in touch with me when convenient.  Nothing is convenient while traveling in Africa!  So perhaps the earliest I may hear from him may be when he lands in Frankfurt, provided his computer is charged and there’s wifi in the airport.  If none of those things fall into place, then I’ll just show up at SFO tomorrow afternoon and hope he comes off the plane.

I have a very active imagination.  Since I was a child, I would imagine worst case scenarios to test myself, to see if I was prepared for the worst.   If my family got into a car crash and both my parents were killed, would my brother and I be able to hitchhike out of this desert to safety?  Morbid kid, I know.  

I still do this imagining, in situations like this, when my husband has been traveling around Africa and hasn’t been in contact for 4 days.  What if that crickety old propeller plane runs out of gas in midair?  What if he gets eaten by a crocodile?  Could I finish packing up our lives, drive a big truck across the country, help my parents retire, bear and raise this baby completely on my own?

More often than not, the answer to my worst case imaginings is: I don’t know.  

This, of course, makes my imaginings a complete waste of time.  But putting aside my worst case fears doesn’t mean there isn’t still  the hard work of waiting, hoping, and clinging to the faith that Hubby will walk off that plane tomorrow, dirty and smelly and changed by his experience, but otherwise whole.

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Sudan and Solitude

Hubby is in Sudan this week.  He’s with a group of folks hoping to build a school in the village of Jalle, in Southern Sudan, an area devastated by a long civil war which only recently reached a tenuous peace agreement in 2005.  Hubby is volunteering for a group called Rebuild Sudan, founded by one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.  (If you’re not familiar with the Lost Boys, it’s a pretty incredible and tragic history of this region.)  This trip is a short reconnaissance trip to scope out the region and get some preliminary ideas of how to build the school.

It’s Hubby’s first trip to Africa and he’s having a blast.  The electricity and internet access is spotty, so I don’t hear from him everyday, but he keeps me updated as he can to let me know he’s safe.  We were thinking we would spend 6 months to a year in Sudan helping to build the Jalle school, but now that we’re pregnant, those plans have been put on hold.  I was originally suppose to join Hubby on this reconnaissance trip, but now I’m stuck at home packing.  

Actually, I’m procrastinating packing, but the time to myself has been nice.  I’m reading and blogging, I’m seeing friends everyday and people have been buying me lunch (since we’re leaving town in a few weeks) and I get to eat all the foods that Hubby doesn’t like.  Right now, I’m having a peanut butter & banana sandwich and it’s yummy.

In some ways, I’m sad that I can’t be in Sudan alongside Hubby and share this experience together.  In other ways, I really appreciate the separation.  This works well for our marriage.

At our wedding, we had this passage read from Rilke’s On Love and Other Difficulties:

“The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust.  A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development.  But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”

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