Marriages and Safaris: Beauty. Dung. Sometimes Rainbows.

It’s Valentine’s Day and a friend just asked for advice about planning a safari, so it seems appropriate to re-post this meditation on love, marriage, shit, and rainbows. You know, just your basic extended metaphor but with hippos.

One of the gifts, for me, of being on safari, is all the time spent in the jeep staring out at the landscape as we drive around looking for animals, birds, whatever.  Of course, that’s also sort of the downside, too: you spend a lot of time looking for things and sometimes you’re lucky…and sometimes you’re not. It is the proverbial crap shoot, with a literal emphasis on crap (more about that in a minute).

As it happened, this safari of ours happened a week before Husband and I celebrated our fifteenth anniversary. Fifteen years starts to be a rather long time, don’t you think?  Which is fantastic and also means that we are getting freaking old.

The two things started to come together in my mind as we drove around (or actually, as we were driven by our guides–the marvelously named Jelly, in Samburu, and Daniel, in the Mara), and I started to think that maybe safaris and marriages aren’t really that different, when you get right down to it.

Consider: when you first get married, you’re all we’re married! There’s that whole happily ever after thing, which lasts for …maybe a week/month/year and then it starts to be weird toenail clippings, and undone laundry, and why do you have to straighten up when I’m napping on the couch, and whose turn is it to do the laundry, and why am I taking care of the kids, and for the love of god get off the computer, and no we’re too tired/poor/busy to go to a party/dinner/theater/movie, and who messed with my Netflix queue?  (At least, that’s what I hear from other married people. Husband and I have had fifteen years of uninterrupted bliss.)

Life starts to look a lot like this, except without the little birds:

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Consider: on your first day of safari, you’re all safari! And you take pictures of everything, thanking the lord that someone invented digital photography: you’ve got thousands of pictures of the jeep, your camp, the guide, each other, the hotel manager’s pet dog. It’s all vastly, amazingly exciting. You see A LION. You see AN ELEPHANT.  And it’s exhilarating and amazing, until it starts to be a little bit of  LOOK!  A BIG BIRD THAT MIGHT BE AN EAGLE OVER THERE. NO, OVER THERE. And you jounce and jolt along the trails, hour after hour, and it’s mostly amazing…and a lot of grass.  You bounce along, bumpety bumpety, and you get closer and closer to Maybe It’s Something and…it’s a rock. Or a tree. Or a bunch of rocks. Or a warthog. Which is like a rock but with tusks and a little tail.

See the analogy? Bouncing along, never quite knowing what you’re going to find? One day you’re incredibly lucky and fulfill every fantasy you ever had about being a photographer for National Geographic, and then it’s hours of driving along looking at the same trees you saw yesterday and the day before. And they’re very nice trees, you know, and you’re very happy to be on safari but…is this it? Driving around looking for stuff?

Here’s another thing: when you embark on marriage, or on a safari, no one tells you how much you’re going to learn about poo. Whether you’re married with children or without, other people’s poo will become your business. It should be written into all marriage contracts—anyone settling into a long-term partnership, gay or straight, married or just shacking up—that separate bathrooms are a prerequisite. Because really. Do any of us need to know our beloveds that intimately?

On our last safari, we learned a lot about poop, which surprised me and meant that I was a little bit more prepared for stuff that looks like this:

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Those of you with cats might have a sense of what we’re looking at: crap with fur in it. Which is to say, furry shit.  You might think, oh my cat who grooms herself and had a fur-ball left something like that in the litterbox (although actually fur-balls make cats puke, so front end and not back end).  Nope.

That there is lion poop. A lion what ate an antelope fairly recently.  Fur, it seems, isn’t digestible.

Aren’t you glad you know that? You’re welcome.

So yes, you get out of the jeep sometimes, look at poop, or at ants, because hey, that’s what the safari threw you that day. And so it is with marriage: roses one day, yelling about the laundry the next.

But sometimes, just as you’re getting completely fed up, there are rainbows in a cloudy sky.

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Continue Reading · on February 14, 2019 in Abu Dhabi, family, Kids, marriage, Travel

Perimenopause: Nature’s Way of Reminding Us that Adolescence Was Hell

The amazing Viola Davis was on Jimmy Kimmel the other day, talking about, among other things, the care-and-tending of an Afro, the dangers of an MRI, and menopause. Jimmy asked her how long menopause lasts, and Viola said—without missing a beat—that someone needed to tell her, because it had been going on for five or six years with no end in sight. Her interview reminded me of a piece I wrote a while back for You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth, edited by Leslie Marinelli, about life on the floodplain: the endless hell known as perimenopause, the swampy induction to the joy of menopause.  Here, slightly revised, is my paen to the peri.

 

God, I hated my period when I was in high school. It seems to me one of Nature’s cruelest jokes that just when my adolescent body was already subject to veritable tsunamis of emotion, ol’ Aunt Flo ushered in monthly waves of agita that left me wracked and sobbing on my bed at least once a month. Adding to my misery were the cramps that sent me to the school nurse, muttering shame-facedly about “that time” and asking to lie down in her dim, antiseptic-smelling office. And let’s not even mention that every month, like clockwork, one perfect zit would bloom on my chin, like Rudolph’s misplaced nose, gleaming like a beacon beyond the capacity of any concealer ever invented.

The moods, the tears, the zits, all functioned like storm clouds, letting me know that a storm was soon to descend – but like weather, Aunt Flo often took her sweet damn time to actually show up. Other girls my age clocked their periods like trains; a menses express that arrived and departed on regular schedule.

Not me. There’d I’d be, sitting in Earth Science, doodling the name of my latest crush in the margin of my notebook, and then I would have to scuttle out of the room to the bathroom, borrow a maxi-pad from the cool girls smoking in the last stall, then waddle back to class. I didn’t use a tampon until I was almost a senior in high school, for reasons I don’t fully understand–maybe  my  mom didn’t think it was “appropriate” or maybe I wasn’t ready to negotiate the intricacies of my own plumbing until the ripe old age of 17.

Eventually it all settled down and for decades, my lady plumbing has run pretty smoothly.

Until a few years ago.

I’d gone to my midwife, who served as my gynecologist, because I’d gotten worried about the intensity of my periods. Gushers, people. We’re talking entire boxes of super-plus-plus tampons being used up in three days; we’re talking lying awake in bed wondering how long it takes to hemorrhage to death.

“Nope,” said the midwife. “No death, just flooding.” I blinked. Flooding is now a medical term?

Yes, it is: “That’s a sign of perimenopause,” she said. “You might want to buy your tampons in bulk for a while.”

Say what?

No one told me that something happened before menopause. We had this conversation long before Gywneth decided we needed an “aspirational menopausal woman” (she is, apparently the only candidate in the category).

I figured that menopause would just be a few sweaty months and then voila, I’d emerge on the other side of The Change  with gleaming silver hair like Emmylou Harris and extra pocket money from never having to buy tampons again. I’d even thought about putting that tampon money in a jar and saving it up for a little me-splurge, the way people do when they’re trying to quit smoking.

My friends, perimenopause is like Mother Nature ‘s last joke. It’s the swampy marshland of menopause: frequently flooded, difficult to map, and hard to recognize until you’re in the middle of it.

Perimenopause means that your chronological age is maybe circling somewhere around 50ish but your body is behaving like it’s 15 again: hormones carousing through your body like teenagers on a drunken joy ride, causing you to hate husbands, children, careers, even the nice person who ushered you ahead in line at the coffee shop (perhaps afraid of the glower on your face). And it’s not one day of hormonal wackiness, oh no. It’s weeks. Those hormones have developed stamina by this point. They’ve moved in and are hanging out on the sofa of your psyche eating popcorn.

The only good thing is that unlike my teenage self who was sure the world was ending, I know that I should sleep early, go for a walk, and stay away from sharp objects lest I eviscerate my husband because he’s left his socks on the coffee table again. Not that I do these things, I just know that I should.

Perimenopause means you’re not yet a candidate for nicely regulated pharmaceutical hormones (which, probably, you don’t really want anyway because of the whole maybe-they-give-you­ cancer thing, and I’m not sure you want Goop’s zillion-dollar vitamins) so instead you’re subject to periods as erratic as they were when your body was first figuring it all out.

So there I was a few years ago, in that swampy peri-land, hanging out on the sidelines of my son’s soccer practice, half-watching the scrimmage and half-reading my email, when…yep, there it was. Aunt Flo had come to soccer practice. There were 45 minutes of practice left, I was without tampons, and there was nowhere nearby that I could drive to for supplies and make it back in time. The sidelines were mom-less; there were no cool girls smoking in the bathroom who might bail me out. In fact, there was no bathroom, only a slightly glorified port-a-potty.

And that’s why, just as sometimes happened in high school, I became the woman standing (very still) on the sidelines, a wad of toilet paper in her pants, wondering when the joy of womanhood would stop giving.

Maybe, however, the swamps of perimenopause are designed to make us grateful when we finally reach the stable sweaty ground of menopause. Menopause, I figure, is just our bodies off-gassing what’s left of our youth; perimenopause is nature’s way of reminding you that youth was hell.

 

Continue Reading · on February 1, 2019 in aging, Feminism, Gender, health

Happy … Holiday?

As someone who has now lived outside the United States for almost eight years, I’ve (almost) gotten used to living with a different holiday calendar. The UAE just celebrated the Prophet’s Birthday, for instance, but Veteran’s Day, Columbus Day, and President’s Day? Pretty much non-starters here. The UAE has the additional wrinkle of operating its holidays on a lunar calendar (with the exception of National Day), and that means that holidays drift along the year: the Prophet’s Birthday won’t be on the 18th of November next year, for example.

The US is gearing up for Thanksgiving tomorrow and while the stores here have tried to stock up on “American” delicacies, it’s never easy — which grocery store has pumpkin pie filling, where can you find a turkey, what about cranberries? Regardless of the meal, however, it’s still just Thursday, here. No big deal.

Abu Dhabi has, however, adopted one of the US holidays as its own, however: Black Friday.

What’s that you say? You didn’t know that Black Friday was an official holiday? You thought it was just that day after Thanksgiving when people go Christmas shopping rather than sloth around and continue to digest?

Nope. It’s an official holiday. Google tells me so: Capitalism wins again.

 

Continue Reading · on November 21, 2018 in Abu Dhabi, NaBloPoMo, shopping

finishing touches

Older Son sent in his early decision university application the other day; the application to the universities in the UK went in a few weeks ago. There are more applications in the offing, and Husband has racked up any number of marriage points by filling out the nightmare that is FAFSA, and so as they say, shit is getting real. (They also say that marriages shouldn’t be about keeping score, but anyone who has been married for any length of time knows that’s absurd. It’s all about keeping score. Filling out FAFSA puts Husband ahead for at least the next few weeks.)

I am aware that I’m touching Older Son more than I used to; I walk past him and touch his shoulder, his back, his head. It is, I realize, a literalization of how I’m feeling: I’m trying to put my finishing touches on him before he leaves.  He turns 18 later this month and while I know I should be proud of the young man he’s becoming, I am want so badly for him, and his younger brother, to still be the tiny dewy-cheeked, pudgy-footed toddlers for whom I was the entire universe. I watch both boys with eyes that are clouded with nostalgia and a sense of loss. Is that inevitable? When I’m doddering in my dotage and unable to cut my own food, will I still look at them and see the babies they were?  (Or Kit Fisto Princess Star Wars Jedi, as the case may be): Ghosts. I think that aging means learning to live with ghosts, even of those who are still very much with us in the world.

Continue Reading · on November 4, 2018 in aging

In which i get my feet wet

The first time I did NaBloPoMo was the first time we visited Abu Dhabi, in November 2010. We’d told our kids—who at the time seemed so grown up but now, looking back, seem way too young for us to have hauled them around the world—that we were going “just for vacation” and to “see where Daddy had been working.” We didn’t tell them that plans were already afoot for a move the following year.

And now, eight years later, what had been our year-long Big Adventure is just our life; the ten year old is leaving for college next year, the jolly first-grader is now a taciturn 9th grade Marxist.

There seems not to be an official National Blog Posting Month any more, but I’m in need of the exercise, so I’m dipping my feet into the waters of this November challenge to see what happens. And as if to remind me of my first NaBloPoMo, you know what arrived in the mail the other day from my sister in New Jersey? Flat fucking Stanley. On that first trip to Abu Dhabi, we’d not only had the joy of bringing the stuffed crocodile that belonged to Younger Son’s first grade class but also his Flat Stanley. Every outing on that trip meant remembering the crocodile and the paper doll.

Here’s the deal with Flat Stanley: it started as a story, but now kids mail their own Stanley to friends or relatives so that Stan can have adventures that get written up in a little booklet and returned to the kid, who shares the story with her class.  I’m the farthest flung relative, so this Stanley is my second hosting gig. I always feel like this entire enterprise could be kind of a bummer for any kid who doesn’t have a way to get Stanley to somewhere far from home.

And so we’re taking Stanley out: he’s been to the grocery store, thus far, for some portraits near the honey from Yemen and the olive oil from Palestine; he’s going to the beach tomorrow. Not sure if I can arrange a camel sighting, but I will take Stanley to the Mary Mother of Jesus Mosque, which was renamed two years ago, and sits on the same street as St. George Episcopal church, the Evangelical Christian Church, and a few kilometers from the Mormon temple. I will not be bringing Stanley to Ladies Night at my favorite restaurant, where the pink wine is always 50% off.

Welcome to Abu Dhabi, Stan; and hello world of NaBloPoMo. It’s nice to see you all again.

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Continue Reading · on November 4, 2018 in Abu Dhab, Children

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