Monday, October 26, 2009

Life Humbles Us. If We're Lucky.

The Fiance went to his 25th college reunion this weekend. Of the stories he told me and the friends he reconnected with, what stands out the most to me is his observation that everyone had been humbled by life.

25 years after college graduation, the kids who knew where they were going and were self-assured that theirs would be a life of success and privilege had evolved into people who had suffered. Loss had come to them in all manner of ways, from death, to divorce to career disappointments. The Fiance noted that even ten years ago all of these folks still had life by the tail, but now they realized that it's life that has us.

It's a humbling thing, this living. When you look back at the plans of your youth, how many of us have followed a straight path from our planned point A to our planned point B? I'm embarrassed to say that I used to tell my friends in high school that my goal was to have a "Jag by 30." This seemed a perfectly reasonable goal, and I was talented enough to get it.

Now I walk around with a banner that reads: "Busted-up Honda by 38."

I laugh to write that, and realize that could really be the banner for my life. My duct-taped Civic is a metaphor for my life. It's got 115,000 miles on it, it still runs, and hell, most of the mechanics tell me, "That's nothing for a Honda."

It's all a matter of perspective.

I may be a busted-up hooptie of a girl now, but I've got a good engine and a reputation for tenaciousness. There are all manner of things I never thought  I would do, endure, survive. I never thought I'd be divorced. You can believe at 21 that you would never get divorced and when you promised through "sickness and in health" you meant it. You meant it like religion, and you would have been quick to judge anyone who failed those vows.

But I did it.

I left him in sickness.

I never thought I'd have a child, let alone a child out of wedlock. Nice girls from Bloomfield Hills don't do such things. I used to joke that my life had become a Jerry Springer show, and the pain of that truth wasn't buried too deeply underneath my bravado.

Strong, feminist, educated women don't let their boyfriends knock them around. Strong women don't disappear under the force of some bully's might. Anyone who has known me, even from our playground days, would never imagine I would take crap from any man. I was always a tough little tomboy. I never knew I would become a cliche.

But I did.

There are all sorts of failings, losses, disappointments and heartaches I never thought I'd go through. And even the ones I have encountered, I didn't handle nearly so well as I'd hoped. I have not gone through life with the poise and grace I'd expected of myself. The rigid expectations and the cocky assurances of my youth have been weathered away by this humbling life.

Though it's taken nearly 40 years, I'd have to say I wouldn't have it any other way. What I have discovered from this life of loss is a capacity for understanding. If I have failed myself and have had to pick up and start all over again more times than I care to admit, I find I am more apt to understand how you could fall. And more likely to help you up.

Some folks don't seem to soften with age, it's true. Some may not be so humbled by life but rage against it still. In their inability to forgive themselves their failings and to recognize their own weaknesses, they'll never acquire the ability to forgive you yours.

I'd take a life riddled with imperfection and messy humanity, if it leaves me sympathetic to yours. At 38 years old, I realize this is what it is to be a good person — not living a life free from mistakes and failures. Recently I'd confided in a friend when I was scared, disappointed and on the verge of castigating myself yet again for the direction my life had taken,  she stopped me in my tracks.

"It is your life, Mandy. And you get to live it exactly how you want."

So yes, it's messy. And yes, it's not ideal. But it's mine, and I'll take it just as it is.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Kindergarten Love

"Mom, I have a girlfriend at school," Cracky announced and then caught himself. "Is it okay if I have a girlfriend?"

"Sure, you can have a girlfriend."

"Remember at daycare Miss Kathy said I couldn't have a wife until I graduated from college?"

"Yes, I remember," I said and stifled a snort. "So who's your girlfriend?"

"Her name is Kate and she is very beautiful." He pursed his lips and then smiled a secret smile to himself — half-pleased, half-embarrassed. And then his little cheeks went crimson.

My god. The boy is smitten, I thought.

"What color hair does she have?" I asked, checking to see if he was staying true to the blondes.


Good boy.

He sat there with the same pleased look on his face and it was so tender, so sweet, I felt I would burst. Did you know five-year-old boys got like this? I didn't.

"Is Kate in your class?" I asked.

"No, she's in the class next door. But I go over there to do the calendar with her. That's our job."

"Oh. Do you get to see her at lunch or on the playground?" I wondered how my little Casanova had wooed a girl from another class. Love knows no boundaries, I guess.

"Yes. I eat lunch with her everyday."

My eyebrows shot up. This was obviously serious.

"She is the most beautiful girl I ever saw."

Because I couldn't contain the adorableness, I immediately texted The Boyfriend to update him on Cracky's new relationship status.

"He's in love," The Boyfriend responded. I paused and stared at the screen. My initial reaction was to laugh, but then I reconsidered.

"Are you in love?" I asked Cracky.


"With who?" I replied, still surprised, half-expecting him to say he was in love with me, his mom, of course.

"With Kate," he said, simply and certainly.

So there it is.

And I won't laugh at it. I still remember the boy I loved in Kindergarten. I was in love with Jason for the first half of elementary school, until he moved away. And then I loved him a while longer — until blue-eyed Eric moved to our school. 

Those childhood loves are still just as real to me as any other I have loved.

Is that odd?

I was always faithful like that. Cracky is too, it appears. He was "married" to a girl in daycare for two years, despite Miss Kathy's Rule.

We are lovers, the boy and I. Romantics, through-and-through. I wonder if Romanticism is Nature or Nurture? Are you born with a willingness, an eagerness to love? Are we all? I do love to see the world through my son's eyes, and to witness the newness and innocence of schoolyard love. As I write this, I remember standing with Jason and Robin in the doorway of the elementary school. Robin had announced her love for Jason, right in front of me, Jason's known best friend and suspected, besotted, unspoken-for girlfriend. 

Robin demanded that he choose.

"I choose Mandy," he said.

And I'm quite sure I stood in that doorway with the same little smile I saw on Cracky's face last night.