Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pilsner Epiphany

I decided to see if, as I suspect of many traditionally bachelor-related things, it was overrated. After burning several hundred calories at my gym and eating a thrown-together dinner of French onion burgers, herb encrusted oven fries and lemon pepper green beans (which, clearly turned out better than I'd planned), I stood in the living room in my clingy, sweaty workout clothes. "So, the beer in the shower thing," I said to The Boy. "What's that all about?"

"Baby," he said. "Once you try it, you'll never go back."

"Well, I certainly hope that's not true," I twisted off the cap of a Miller Lite, "because I generally shower in the mornings.
And they have a name for that."

I locked the dog out of the bathroom. The Boy had explained how to balance the bottle on the towel rack to avoid slippage or compromising the contents, and I followed his instructions. I turned on the shower radio The Boy had to have to one of the three stations it gets, Mix 106.5. I stood there for a few minutes while Rhianna then Madonna summoned various DJs regarding replays and putting records on. It may have been theme night.

In the rising steam, I gripped the sweaty bottle, careful not to drop it. I was pleasantly surprised. I tried to determine what was so great about this phenomenon of beer in the shower. First of all, I noticed (despite my repeated cries during every Coors Light ad last football season) beer in the shower actually tastes cold. I know, I always thought it was a feeling too. But apparently not.

More than that though, I think I enjoyed the feeling of having time that was mine. I wasn't groggy; I wasn't rushed. I listened to music, albeit overplayed and underwhelming. Occasionally, I sang. I shaved my legs without hurrying or feeling guilty for how long my shower took. When I was done, I used the good body cream. The Bath and Body Works "butter," not the Jergens everyday stuff.

So, in fact, it's not about the beer at all. The same bottle sits un-nursed as I type. Obviously I won't finish it now; it won't taste even remotely cold.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Carolina in My Mind

My paternal grandfather, the remaining Pop Pop, has picked up an unusual habit.

"Boop-boop-be-doo!" He said in a sing-song voice several octaves higher than usual. "Christina," he said, rolling the 'r' as if the rest of the sentence were also in Greek, "do you know who says that?"

"Betty Boop," I answered, having already heard how his pastor informed him of this fact, which had apparently been a complete revelation.

"I already told you?" He asked. He seems to be ratcheting up the unintentional comedy factor as he racks up the years. Throughout the week of Family Togetherness in the Outer Banks, this conversation happened even more often than his public service announcements that he wanted to be alive to meet his great-grandchildren, and, at nearly 77, he is not getting any younger. We talked procreation planning with my mother and more reluctant father.

"I don't remember planning any of you guys," Dad said.

"Well," The Boy replied too quickly, "if we get pregnant, it'll be a failure of modern medicine." I'm going to have to warn him against making strong statements about that which cannot be controlled. And also that we will not be pushing the kid(s) out together so we will not claim to be pregnant. I digress.

Stuck in traffic on 95 South last Saturday morning (then 64 East, then every road southeast of that), I wore my floppy hat so The Boy could live out his lifelong dream of driving to the beach with the windows down. Personally, I doubt the alleged longevity of this dream, but that's how important he made it sound.

The traffic didn't bother me, but then I wasn't driving. I had to apologize for not wanting to leave at 5 am because, The Boy assured me, we would have beaten the traffic then. As it was, we beat The Fam by a couple of hours. The Boy suggested I thank him for nixing the family caravan idea with which I had previously flirted. Once we crossed the Wright Memorial Bridge and picked up the keys to the house, he smiled sheepishly. "Okay. I'm getting a little excited."

Turns out there was nothing fake about what I had initially dubbed our fake vacation.

"If this is fake, what would you consider a real vacation?" The Boy quizzed me as we unpacked the car.

"Well, you know, I mean, it's not like one we planned. Not like Tahiti."

"I hate to tell you this, baby, but if Tahiti is your only example of a 'real vacation,' you might never see one of those again."

Perhaps so.

Nothing could have been finer than last week's Carolina. I relished guiding The Boy past Jockey's Ridge, through Kitty Hawk and into Nags Head, where a younger version of me took over. I remember bent-knee cartwheels on those beaches, getting wiped out in that part of the ocean. I'm told I described the taste of the ocean as "wet salty popcorn." I remember hunting sandcrabs at night using flashlights and wearing sweatshirts.

Only the wiped out part happened on this trip, but I still remembered.

We had waves for two days, calm for the rest. The Boy grilled chicken and pineapple for my family who sat at a sunny dining room table with 12 chairs. Everyone fit; my mother glowed.

"What do you call this?" Pop asked, spearing a slice of grilled pineapple.

"Grilled pineapple," The Boy said, choking on his own. Pop was rather taken with The Boy already, but his mastery of unusual fruit preparation seemed to have him hooked.

"You know, Christina," he said, again with the rolled 'r,' "Your husband fits in very well with this family. And how wonderful too, because it's important for him to be around family when his isn't always as close." While his quirks have gotten away from him, his perception has certainly not.

Little Sister was beside herself, as she has not grown up on that beach. She giggled as older boys watched her walk by in the parade of bikinis I never would have been allowed to wear.

I giggled because this was the first vacation I'd brought a boy on. Only he was The Boy, and we got to sleep in the same bed without a second thought. We felt a little awkward anyway.

Wednesday, while our suitcases sat on our shared bed, packed and ready to go, The Boy and I stood on the beach. "We don't have to go, you know," he said, though it felt like a foreign concept. We decided to stay another day. We took turns calling offices from his cell phone, while waves crashed in the not so distant background. I mentioned my guilt as I waited for one of my coworkers to pick up. "It's a rubber ball, baby," The Boy reminded me of our metaphor that keeps jobs in perspective. All the other balls we juggle are glass.

We walked back down the beach instead of back to the house. We drove through Brew Thru because The Boy couldn't imagine having driven by one and not going through. He taught Little Sister to play Texas Hold 'Em and Five Card Stud and came to bed shaken after giving an impromptu lecture on abstinence.

"I know you said sometimes you think it's a little too much," Pop said the next day, "But that husband of yours really does fit in. You have to realize what a gift that is." And I do.

Today The Boy called me from work.

"I think I have to stay late, but I'm just not feeling it. I just want to quit working and go to the beach every day with you."

"We could do that," I replied, "but not without building a lean-to and living off the land."

We've tabled that idea, but only for now.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Oh, The Fam!

We are headed to Costco with a cooler in preparation for the Family Togetherness in the Outer Banks. We're pretty excited, and I managed to say that without dropping an "actually" anywhere in the sentence. We've got a bit of a diverse crowd going, so there will no doubt be stories galore. And also, board games.

I'm burning a cd (legally, of course) for the drive tomorrow, and I'm realizing I'm pretty stoked to (finally) have the opportunity to take The Boy somewhere he's never been . The farthest we've ventured south together (if you don't count the South Pacific) has been Virginia. And, while I've appreciated the time to get acquanited with the Northeast, I'm dying to take over the tour guide duties. We used to spend time on these beaches every year. My hair would be streaked nearly white and french braided; I coordinated my socks and keds to match my shirts. I'd be ridiculously tan and happy, nearly getting lost and always getting shin splints while I walked for miles on the beach. My grandfather, who used to be the king of sandcastles, will be with us. We'll see if he's still got the skill, though I doubt there will be any beach toys. We are at a pause in the family beach trips-- no siblings are young enough and no one has kids. Yet.

There'll be a laptop and wireless internet there, but I'm hoping to stay far away. Earlier this week my little brother called and said, "You know how slowly this week has gone? Wouldn't it be great if our time together at the beach felt the same way?" I couldn't agree more.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Dating Myself

Ever since that sweaty, solitary summer in Shelby, NC a few years back, I have been a firm believer in dating myself. That summer I lived essentially alone in a ramshackle apartment in a dry, brown rural town. The purpose of my lonely stay was to complete the final class of my undergraduate career and to serve a mandatory internship sentence in order to graduate a year early. It seemed worth it at the beginning, and probably it was.

But my then boyfriend lived about 500 miles away for the summer, at the end of which he planned to move overseas. My family lived another 500 miles away, in a different direction; the three of us formed something of an equidistant triangle. My conflicting class and internship schedule precluded me from having a real job of any kind, so I was faced with too much downtime, not enough channels, living on credit. I commuted twice a week to Asheville, 70 miles away to work at an "independent weekly paper." They chastised me for bringing a styrofoam cup to work every day. I bought a Nalgene bottle, but I still didn't fit in.

At school it was pretty much the same story. Desperate for casual and friendly interaction, multiple times I found myself in cars or apartments with a motley crew of individuals with whom I had rarely associated before. We cooked each other dinner. We went to the movies. We didn't speak after that summer.

I took a graduate class on the American Short Story, Tuesdays from 6-10. Though I loved the professor and didn't mind the subject matter, I hated the class. Those familiar with this publication may know that I have more than once referred to some of the students in the classes I've taken as divorcées. This comment refers not to their marital status, rather it is a reference to the group dynamic many of my (usually mostly female) classmates project when together. Much like Cameron Crowe's mom in Jerry Maguire, they talk about "finally, finally" getting in touch with their anger. They discuss the competitive nature among and between women, the unfair advantage males have in the workplace, their good-for-nothing husbands and ungrateful children. And, in this case, they didn't seem to like 20-year-old undergrads. I tried to keep to myself and hope that the longer I listened the later it would get, but the class was brutal. One divorcée in particular, Star, aggravated me so much that I told Tara I had considered writing a story about the class. I would title it, I snickered, "Shooting Star."

Why do I describe this ennui? Because it has served to set up the concept of dating oneself. Instead of hitting the vending machine in the basement of the English building during our break, I would bolt to my Nissan and zip to The Pantry-- the smoky convenience store around the corner. There I would scrounge up enough change for The Big Chiller (a 64 oz, 69 cent Diet Coke) and a pack of Wild Berry Skittles. On the way to Asheville, I occasionally did the same. I took myself to dinner, rented movies, bought myself shoes.

I find myself reminiscing because I'm back to my old habits. Working in a dark and drab environment with loads of techies, sometimes I need to help myself get through the day. So Tuesday I wore one of my cutest matching lingerie sets (under my clothes, of course). Wednesday I wore my favorite pants and peep-toe stilettos that rank in my top five. Today I took myself out to lunch (at Subway, but still). And evidently, I am not alone.

On the exodus to work this morning, I followed a man wearing a shirt with blue flames. He carried a transparent bag with his rations for the day, which included not one but two bananas. Maybe this morning he needed a little something extra to get him there. Maybe the flames make him feel confident. And, apparently, he could tell even this morning that it would be a two banana day.

I've been carrying a half-full pack of Wild Berry Skittles around in my purse for a week. I have a feeling they are not long for this world.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Irony of Progress

On her last night of her second pregnancy, my friend drove me in her Japanese pickup to pick up Japanese takeout she said would remind me of college. It did. But the trip there and back reminded me even more. Talking at the same time about the same things in very different lives. She worried she wouldn't be able to hack it as the mother of two. I knew she would be incredible. She said her husband's joy didn't seem capable of comprehending her fear, even if his title was changing as well. I surprised myself with a tirade on the pressures of wifedom that I never thought I would succumb to. Internal pressures. The kind sleeping on the couch wouldn't chase away, even if I was okay with that kind of thing.

Both of us bled on Friday, my friend and I. Stuffing my purse with tampons in the morning, I did not miss the irony.

I scrambled one egg for the two-year-old who preferred my toast; we brushed her teeth and dressed her in her "I'm the Big Sister" shirt. A ponytail vaguely resembling a palm tree protruded from the top side of her head. This is all "Aunt Cvrissi" is good for. I managed to install the car seat properly, even protecting my leather seats, and we were off to meet Baby Brother.

In the delivery room, I sat beside my friend and tried to make her laugh; I pondered what it would be like if (or when) I were her. Nearly two and a half years ago, when the Big Sister was born, I sat in the same waiting room, more uncomfortably than this time. That time, the rest of our fab four sat with me. After the turbulent birth, we drove North to Maryland. The next day we dressed up, flirted with the new neighbors, and drank mango martinis at Red Maple. I remember falling asleep to lubricated cries from a roommate's friend about lost keys. I fell asleep with my pillow over my head.

This time, I was the only one who could make it, too many hundreds of miles separating our other friends from Richmond. I sat mostly comfortably in the chair beside the bed, and I only left after we feared one of the mothers would have my head for staying too long. We speculated about who would be there if it were me; when it would be me. Based on too many clues, I guessed the baby's name that was supposed to be a surprise. I felt a funny mix when I saw the frustration on the new daddy's face. He called me Rainman-- couldn't believe I had figured it out.

Caden was born, amid the standard screaming from both parties. Perhaps above average pain, but perfectly healthy. We ate cheesesteaks once the digital cameras stopped flashing and the room cleared out. I was pleased that our different stations still seem to connect; I was proud of my friend.

One of the camera phone pictures taken made its way to The Boy. A message not to "get any ideas" made its way back to me. But of course I did. Because of our shared (and sometimes unfortunate) nature to focus on the next big thing, we sometimes miss the present great thing. Or at least rush through it. We are determined not to do this with our current married, childless life. This life is the one we want, at least for now. But lately and only sometimes I get conflicted. Which means at least that I have it in me.

I came home and met The Boy and our friend Ryan in the place where Ryan and I first met The Boy two years ago. We drank microbrews and played the mp3 jukebox, shared and laughed earnestly. I recognized the diversity and complexity of my day, of this place in my life.

So I'm wanting and waiting, but definitely wanting to wait.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Too Hot to Handle

I'm smoldering, yes, but not in the preferred way. The new job presents, with its remote parking, 40-degrees-cooler-than-outside temperature and known sexual harrasser, unique wardrobe challenges. First, footwear. I've cracked. I mean, not to the level that I wear sensible shoes all day long, but I do flip flop across the radiating pavement with a jacket/blazer slung over my bag. I continue flipping into the office, as I haven't yet figured out how to seamlessly change my shoes while "commuting." By the time I reach my second floor desk I'm already cold and donning the jacket. Now, where it gets tricky. In my first seven weeks on the job, despite the at times triple-digit outdoor temperatures, I wore pants. On purpose. I have ventured this week to skirts, capris and even-- dare I admit it-- Bermuda shorts. I hope I'm not too risque.

The weeks have kept us longing and the weekends have kept us moving. I attended my first baby shower as a married woman. I had not predicted the pseudo pressure from strangers, though maybe I should have. I glanced across the room at the adorable girl in the white pants, married just a year. She graciously admitted she and her husband just weren't ready yet, amid increasingly pressing questions. "For one thing," I swooped in attempting to help, "We can still wear white pants." They laughed. I looked around at my friend's happily crowding life. I'm pleased that I don't dread it, but also that I don't need it yet. I asked The Boy if these contradictory feelings were strange. He didn't think so.

We ventured up to Pittsburgh with the Old Roommate. Feeling sheepish about our preconceived attitudes, we couldn't believe how pretty it was. I teared up at the wedding the bride said she thought would never come while my husband squeezed my hand. "You were the most beautiful wife I have ever seen." I smiled at his statement, and not only because he said "wife" when he meant "bride." In the bathroom at the reception, I winced while I peed as I overheard a bridesmaid sniffling that everything had been different since she got married. Because even if it's mostly good, it's true.

I discovered IC Light; The Boy discovered PNC Park. We walked through an unfamiliar city holding hands, looking up, and wondering if our life would ever be set against a completely foreign backdrop. For now, we'll settle for planning frugal and far out visits to our increasingly far flung friends. Something's got to distract us from the thick haze of this Baltimore summer. I may be the only person to utter this, but thank goodness for BGE.
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