Diary of a Wimp

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wimp
noun
  1. 1.
    a weak and cowardly or unadventurous person.
    synonyms: cowardnamby-pambypantywaistmilksopweaklingmilquetoastMore

verb
  1. 1.
    fail to do or complete something as a result of fear or lack of confidence.
    “anyone who wimped out because of the weather missed the experience of a lifetime”

I’m a wimp.

I prefer it to namby-pamby, pantywaist or milksop, though they all mean the same thing: I have no backbone or guts.

I wrote a blog post about how difficult it must be for Melania Trump to deal with cheating allegations against her husband in such a public way, and I am afraid to post it because I don’t want to be verbally attacked.

The piece has nothing to do with politics. It’s about couples and the body language between them that tells the world how things are actually going in their marriage. But the mere mention of Trump is enough to stir emotions and make some people very irrational and mean. I don’t need that kind of controversy. I’ve got enough trouble dealing with snide remarks from my 17-year-old daughter.

This is the only time in 18 months of blogging that I’ve had to think about whether something I wrote should be posted. It’s the reason I haven’t posted for awhile – I’ve been thinking things over. Voicing my opinion on marriage body language may not be worth the fallout.

I don’t know when I became so wimpy, but others are feeling the pressure to avoid and close off avenues to rude comments before they begin too. Some non-profit organizations don’t allow comments on their blogs. Many bloggers, including yours truly, require that comments be reviewed before they’re publicly posted. The exception is Facebook, where comments are immediately posted.

Blogging Central is designed to minimize hateful or hurtful responses, and I’m happy to report I’ve never been the target of any trolls or mean comments (and please, don’t start now). The rules of the road are pretty clear: read a blog, comment if you like but try to keep your remarks positive and constructive,

It’s a little like a massive writing group designed to promote good feelings and positive vibes. If you don’t like a blog, don’t say anything, but don’t be negative. Just move on.

Of course, it’s maddening when you see that a piece has been viewed 40 times, and only gotten two likes. I’m sure I’m not the only blogger who’s thought people are stingy with likes, but those are the rules. By and large, people are very good at following them, though I know a few bloggers who have been trolled and had a hard time recovering from it.

Just to be clear, it’s never OK to be mean or spiteful, but people seem to love doing it on the Internet. Hiding behind computer screens, they say things that they’d never have the courage to say to a person’s face. It’s like drivers who hide behind their vehicles and act like idiots, taking out their anger and rage on innocent people. It reminds me of a baby who thinks we can’t see him because he’s hiding under a blanket.

I stopped following our town’s Facebook page because I couldn’t believe how rude some people are. My friend was doing a kitchen remodel and asked for suggestions on the FB community page for an architect for an adjacent mudroom/pantry. What she got were a bunch of snide remarks from people telling her that any home improvement contractor could do the work, and why was she asking about an architect. She eventually pulled down her request.

I resisted the urge to comment on many posts on the same page because people can be brutal with their remarks. I can’t tell you how many times I went to comment and thought better of it. I don’t need to be raked over the coals for my views by people I don’t even know. Some people can be so smug and rude just because you disagree with them. When did we all become so intolerant?

One of my friends was a vocal Hillary Clinton supporter, and was skewered on Facebook by people who disagreed with her. Now running for public office herself, I asked how she deals with such rude remarks.

“I have an incredibly thick skin,” she said. And she does. It’s one of the things I’ve always admired most about her.

The role of wimp is new to me because I’ve always enjoyed stirring the pot, even as a child. I’d ask questions at family gatherings about why certain relatives weren’t speaking to each other, making my mother cringe. At one point, my mother referred to me as “TM” – troublemaker. Given my penchant for being nosy and stirring up trouble, reporting seemed the ideal career choice for me.

As a newspaper reporter, I most enjoyed coming up with story ideas and reporting – digging up facts and interviewing people for a story. What I most dreaded were night meetings of various boards and commissions. The worst were public hearings where people droned on for 20 minutes about various subjects. I began to dread the words, “Does anyone else want to make a comment?” because someone always did. I embraced board chairmen who instituted the three-minute rule, cutting people off after their time ran out.

As much as I loved reporting, I dreaded writing. With only a limited amount of time to write, you were under the gun to write quickly, and often wondered how you would do it under deadline. The good news was you were surrounded by other people under the same pressure, feeding off their energy. After writing the first few paragraphs, things flowed and stories were filed.

Sometimes you got a call from an angry reader – “How dare you embarrass me by putting in that I haven’t paid my taxes in 10 years?” one woman shrieked at me. But direct reader feedback was rare and irate calls could be passed off to my editor, or in some cases, the publisher. As reporters, we had the freedom to go about our business without fearing hateful comments and personal attacks. It was a kinder, gentler era, the days of a million points of light and just say no. Best of all, there were no Internet trolls or fear of being personally attacked for reporting a story.

I wonder how many other people feel as I do, wanting to say something, but opting to stay silent for fear of being rebuked. It’s sad, but it’s the way things are today.

Back in high school, I was in an English class that required us to write a letter to the editor of an area newspaper. I wrote a letter expressing outrage over a cross burning on the front lawn of a black family in a predominantly white section of New Haven, CT. My letter was published along with a file photo of the cross burning.

I remember being thrilled that my letter was published, and then really scared that my family would be targeted because I expressed my opinion. My fears were unfounded, but you get my point: sometimes, you wonder if it’s worth speaking up or keeping your mouth shut.

I’m still weighing the Melania piece. With nearly 35 years of marriage under my belt, I think I’m qualified to write about marriage and body language if I feel like it. But as I said, I’m not as brave as I used to be. I wonder if anyone is.

 

60 Observations

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I turned 60 yesterday. Thanks to all my friends who got in touch with me via phone, text and Facebook to wish me a happy birthday. It’s a simple thing, but so appreciated. In honor of this milestone, here are a few observations:

  1. Floss picks are the 2018 version of cigarette butts. People love to toss them on the ground.
  2. If you see someone driving a convertible in April, the heat is on.
  3. It’s very important to know your fish guy.
  4. Everyone looks ridiculous power walking.
  5. Getting a dog to take a pill is like wrestling an alligator.
  6. No one knows who took your phone charger.
  7. Everyone is annoyed by your crying baby on a plane. Saying “shhhhh” for 45 minutes isn’t helping.
  8. One of the strangest experiences is beer shopping with your child.
  9. Everybody dreads the day their child leaves for college.
  10. If you buy two identical pairs of jeans, one will fit much better than the other.
  11. An airport is a wonderful place to people watch.
  12. Having a party is a good excuse to clean your refrigerator and oven.
  13. One person will drive you insane on a group tour or trip.
  14. When in doubt, deodorant.
  15. Cutting into line is never cool.
  16. The recycling bin isn’t big enough and is always full.
  17. Cleaning your half of the dorm room at the end of the year is not optional.
  18. A glass of wine solves a lot of problems.
  19. If you’re looking for your missing soup bowls, check your son’s room.
  20. You’re I-Phone will run out of juice when you want to take a long walk.
  21. You will discover your Fitbit is out of battery after taking a two-hour walk.
  22. Pot-sized spaghetti is a great idea.
  23. It’s OK to make a fool out of yourself doing a line dance at a wedding.
  24. A professional blow-out is a great investment before a big event.
  25. No one over age 50 really gets the whole destination wedding thing.
  26. A lot of people are happy TLC brought back “Trading Spaces.”
  27. “Naked & Afraid” is the stupidest show on TV.
  28. No one answers their house phone any more.
  29. Whoever invented cordless vacuums is a genius.
  30. It’s impossible to call back the people claiming to have an arrest warrant for you for IRS violations.
  31. The DMV is an exercise in frustration.
  32. People are honored when you ask their advice in the supermarket check-out line.
  33. Eating two cheeseburgers without buns for lunch is not dieting.
  34. I have no idea how to hasten the ripening process for avocados.
  35. Misplacing your credit card is the most unsettling feeling in the world.
  36. A lot of Americans really don’t get the whole World Cup soccer thing.
  37. Watching golf is way more relaxing than playing it.
  38. No one understands why people put swing sets in the front yard.
  39. Sushi is overrated.
  40. There are two kinds of people in this world: those who love curry and those who don’t.
  41. You will see the same woman in the supermarket every time you’re there.
  42. The bagger in the supermarket checkout line will leave the second your order is being rung up.
  43. Marriage is a work in progress.
  44. No one understands why you let your daughter leave the house with her rear-end hanging out of her shorts.
  45. No one over 50 understands the whole fake eyelash thing.
  46. Ice cream solves a lot of problems.
  47. Everyone is shocked by their vet bill.
  48. You will want to go to the dump on the one day it’s closed.
  49. Good friends will buy you lunch, and visa versa.
  50. People get really mad when they let you into traffic and you don’t acknowledge them with a wave or nod of your head.
  51. Your home really is your castle.
  52. You can’t relax until you get the fly out of the kitchen.
  53. Low slung jeans are very uncomfortable after age 50.
  54. Happiness is more important than success.
  55. Smiling at strangers is an amazing ice breaker.
  56. It’s important to make time for family.
  57. Arborists spend their lives looking up.
  58. Losing a tree is like losing an old friend.
  59. Hiking is way harder than walking.
  60. 60 isn’t so bad.

Body Language

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This public appearance got me thinking of the similarities between Melania Trump and Princess Diana.

I started writing this piece about three weeks ago. I wondered if I should publish it, or just keep my thoughts to myself. It deals with President Trump and just the mention of his name is enough to spur intense emotions. I feared being trolled by people who attack others because of their opinion. Yes, I wimped out.

I shared my concerns with my blog followers and was heartened by the response. Many bloggers and readers admitted that they have the same fears, and often can’t or won’t say what’s on their mind because they fear being attacked. They encouraged me to publish the piece, or as John Mayer would say, “Say What I Need to Say.”

As much as I wished this piece would go away, it wouldn’t. I’m not sure why, but I think it has more to do with my fear of publishing it than the actual subject. I have a tendency to overthink, and well, I did with this one. We shouldn’t be afraid to float our theories or comment on issues because we’re afraid of the reaction. As my sister-in-law Sarah said to me over the summer, “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.”

So I’ve decided to say what I think in honor of my faithful followers and free speech. Oh, it’s my 35th wedding anniversary today too. If that doesn’t give me license to share my thoughts on marriage and wives, I don’t know what does.

Melania Trump reminds me of Princess Diana at the height of her troubles with Prince Charles.

It’s nothing she’s said. She’s a master of grace under fire and too much of a lady to sound off amid allegations of infidelity and hush money to cover up indiscretions with porn stars and Playmates.

But her body language speaks volumes. As she walked along the White House lawn toward Marine 1 for a Republican campaign trip to Ohio, she looked wooden and resigned. She waved a few times to bystanders, but kept a healthy distance between her and her husband. She stiffened when he touched her back, as if to say “don’t do that again or I swear I’ll scream.”

Her body language is reminiscent of Princess Di: a woman forced to deal with her husband’s alleged infidelity in front of the world. The difference, I think, is that Princess Diana wanted us to know how much she was suffering, never making a secret of it.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who was happy when Princess Di finally divorced Prince Charles, giving up the fairy tale for her peace of mind and chance at happiness. The tragedy is she was killed in a car crash just as she seemed to be finding the happiness that eluded her for so long.

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Princess Diana made no secret of her feelings toward her husband during public appearances.

I was always struck by Princess Di’s misery because on the surface, she had it all. We eagerly followed Shy Di’s courtship and her lavish wedding, with many Americans staying up half the night to watch the ceremony live. We were all so very happy for her, assuming she’d live happily ever after. It was the stuff of the fairy tales we read about as little girls.

On the outside, Princess Diana’s life seemed perfect: she was a beautiful princess. She lived in a castle, was the mother of two adorable boys, had a fabulous wardrobe and jewels, traveled the world, and mingled with the rich and famous. She had everything, but she was miserable because her husband was in love with another woman. Worst of all, he made no secret of it.

I think we all felt she deserved better. I know it was hard for me to fathom her private misery so soon after her lavish wedding. But we do this, don’t we? We see people who seem to be living the dream and learn that they’re miserable, battling demons we know nothing about. It’s hard for us to reconcile this misery with the public persona because we think, “Well, they should be happy. What aren’t they?”

While some women might have tolerated the situation, Princess Di could not. A child of divorce, she craved love and wanted it more than anything else. I think this is what made her so relatable and likable: a beautiful princess with the heart and desires of the average woman. She was true to herself, and in the end, I think that it her greatest legacy.

‘I don’t want expensive gifts; I don’t want to be bought. I have everything I want. I just want someone to be there for me, to make me feel safe and secure.’ – Princess Diana

I thought of Princess Diana while watching Melania Trump during that recent public appearance. Like Princess Di a generation ago, Melania is under intense pressure to carry out her duties while her marriage is rocked by scandal. Both women assumed their roles by virtue of their marriage, so their relationship is very much part of the equation.

Those of us who have been married a long time – today is my 35th anniversary – know there are ups and downs in every marriage, but most of us have the luxury of working things out in private. I feel for any wife (or husband) who has to deal with cheating allegations in public. Can you imagine everyone knowing your husband is accused of fooling around with a porn star?

It’s hard not to feel for the spouses of famous cheaters – Tiger Woods, Matt Lauer, Ben Affleck, John Edwards, Bill Clinton – because most of us believe wives deserve better. We’re relieved when wives stand up for themselves and show serial cheaters the door, often wondering what took so long.

Like many Americans, I first saw Melania watching “The Apprentice,” which began its run on NBC in 2004. Quiet, elegant and beautiful, the former fashion model from Slovenia was pleasant and seemed to adore Trump, whom she married in 2005. Their son Barron was born a year later. Trump seemed to adore her too. He’d asked her to oversee some tasks and weigh in on show participants and their performance.

I wasn’t surprised when Melania supported her husband’s decision to seek the presidency. She’s seems to be a very traditional and supportive wife. Though she took a more minor role on the campaign trail than some political spouses, she’s stepped into the role of First Lady with her “Be Best” campaign targeting cyberbullying and drug abuse.

So far, she’s been silent on her marriage, leaving us all to wonder what she thinks. But her body language is clear: her walk to Marine 1 defined the term “cold shoulder.” She wore an impeccable white skirt suit with white pumps that flattered her model-like figure. She is a stunning woman, yet there was a hesitance in her step. I don’t think there’s a woman in the world who could blame her.

I’m fascinated with body language and facial expressions because they often say more than words. I can tell when my teen-age daughter wants a favor by the curl of her lips and gleam in her eye. I can tell when the Curmudgeon is preoccupied (often, these days)  by his glazed expression. I can spot a glitch in my friend John’s golf swing or my son’s ball toss in tennis, and am quick to correct them. Sometimes, that goes over better than others.

I assume that other people notice these things, but I suspect some people are more aware of physical cues than others. Some people are so wrapped up in their own lives and thoughts that they’re oblivious to others and how they feel.

But I notice and I suspect a lot of other women do too. We watch Melania and wonder how she feels amid the cheating allegations. We put ourselves in her shoes: could we tolerate it or would we walk away? Most of all, we wonder how we’d manage to put on a brave face and tend to our official duties amid such controversy.

I’m sure this is not what she imagined in her role as First Lady. She has the role of a lifetime, the potential to make great contributions to this country. But I don’t think many women would want to trade places with her right now.

 

 

College Blues

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Things have gotten easier since dropping him off freshman year.

I’m bringing my son back to college on Monday.

He’ll be a junior at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. Though his graduating class is now seniors, he did an extra year after high school to deplete our bank account, gain maturity and improve his grades.

As a late September baby, he was young for his age all through school in a community where most fall babies are held back. We didn’t realize this when we moved there halfway through his Kindergarten year. I happily sent him off to full-day Kindergarten in our previous community before he reached age 5, never giving it a  second thought.

When we moved to our new town, he reverted to half-day Kindergarten and a teacher who greeted us sarcastically with: “Oh great, another boy.” I glared at her, assuring her that our boy would not be a problem. And I don’t think he was – I made sure of it mainly to prevent her the satisfaction of being right.

He was always six months to a year behind his peers. And though it wasn’t always obvious, every few years the age gap reared its ugly head and it was clear he was struggling to keep up with his friends. It usually happened at transition years between grammar school and middle, or middle to high school.

I could tell he was in over his head. The delay was more emotional than academic: six months or a year is a very big deal in the life of a boy. His age – or lack thereof – became painfully obvious as a high school junior. “You really need to bring it this year,” I said, “because colleges really look closely at this year.”

But he didn’t. He got decent grades, but didn’t understand or comprehend the importance of buckling down. Nothing I said or did seemed to help as he floated through junior and senior years. He didn’t seem to understand the concept of bringing it. He wasn’t doing it to be defiant – he simply lacked the maturity to understand this was a big deal.

While his friends and cousins geared up for the college application process, he seemed oblivious and a bit overwhelmed. When we visited a few colleges in the fall of his senior year, he seemed detached and bored.

By late fall of senior year, it became clear that he needed another year of high school or a gap year to mature. He ended up spending a PG year at The Gunnery in Washington, CT., benefitting from small class size and teachers that pushed him to do his best.

He was not ready for college, nor was I ready to send him. I was used to knowing his whereabouts at all times, and the comfort and reassurance of having him home. The thought of him running loose in this big world overwhelmed and terrified me.

I was OK in the fall of his PG year, but deeply saddened that winter when the reality of him being away set in. I missed him terribly and mourned his childhood, wondering how 18 years could pass by so quickly. He was my first child, but he was also my full-time job. What was I going to do with all this free time?

Every other mom I saw seemed to be adjusting well and engaged in jobs or hobbies that fulfilled them. I felt like a loser because I had spent so much time and attention on my son. Why hadn’t it occurred to me to  get a full- or part-time job when this kid was in high school?

I slowly pulled out of my funk, but it wasn’t easy. I took a food blogging class at a nearby community college and started this blog in May, 2017. I took more writing classes last year. I began volunteering and using my spare time to do things that had been shelved for nearly two decades, including my golf game. I got a part-time job doing something with which I’m intimately familiar: driving people to appointments and grocery shopping.

With one child out of the nest, I thought I had to reinvent myself. I realize now that was silly. Few people do that at my age. What they do is get on with things, taking a few classes here and there, finding a part-time gig, picking up new hobbies and connecting with friends.

Like many stay-at-home moms who return to the workforce after their children leave for school, I’m under-employed and can’t find a job in my field. But it’s OK. I’d rather be happy and sleep at night than work for someone I don’t like or respect.

It didn’t happen overnight and it’s still a work in progress, but I got used to my son being away. And though I realize it isn’t easy – in fact, it’s the worst feeling in the world – it’s proof that you can and do get used to things.

It bothers me when I say that you get used to your kids being away and moms say “nope” because it suggests they love their children more than I do or I’m a cold-hearted mom. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I love him with all my heart, but I realize he doesn’t have to be with me at all times for that to be true. Best of all, I know he’ll be back – dirty laundry and all.

Beaches

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Martha’s Vineyard is the beach.

I didn’t realize how much until the beach was removed from the equation. With four straight days of cloudy skies and rain, we were just a family of four at cross purposes and grousing because we weren’t at the beach.

Carly Simon, one of the Vineyard’s most famous residents, wrote a song called “Rainin'” about crappy Vineyard weather https://www.google.com/search?q=rainin%27+carly+simon&o. In it, she lists things her family would be doing at the Vineyard if not for the rain. She was talking about endless days of gray skies and rain that make you want to sleep all day, eat chips and salsa at noon, and drink all night. That kind of weather.

Some people are sunny no matter the weather, but my mood is pretty contingent on the conditions. Sunny blue skies inspire and uplift me, making me want to walk the beach at dawn and soak up the sights and sounds before everyone else. Dark gloomy skies make me want to reach for the covers and sleep a little more, if that’s humanly possible.

I didn’t realize my Fitbit vibrates so often to remind me to move until confronted with four days of foul weather. It buzzes twice every hour to remind me to get up, though I don’t much care. I logged a total of about 450 steps before my afternoon hike every day, struggling to reach my 10,000-step goal. I had no idea anyone could be this lazy, but it’s not only possible. It’s true.

The beach is more than just sun and surf to my husband’s family. It’s the one time of the year he and his siblings come together to meet the newest members of the tribe, and to catch up. My mother-in-law Maureen loved the annual reunion so much that she used a summer group shot for her Christmas card every year. It didn’t matter that we were often in bathing suits and wet hair.

People used to remark on her family’s togetherness, but in reality it was the only time they managed to get together all year, and sometimes it was just for 24 hours. One year, it didn’t actually happen: we photoshopped my brother-in-law David into the shot. But you get the idea: it meant a lot to her that all her kids and grandkids gathered. As a mom, I understand. It’s wonderful to have all your kids in one place, even for just a moment.

Now that my in-laws are long gone, the “kids” have made it a point to keep the Vineyard the family’s touchstone. Two have bought houses on the island, making it their permanent residence. This makes it a lot easier to get together, though it’s different when people live here full time. There is not that pressing need to see each other when you know there are endless opportunities.

My kids look forward to the trip all year because it’s a chance to see their cousins from far-flung places like London. My daughter particularly enjoys it because as the youngest of the cousins on this side, she’s the coddled and indulged baby.

One night as she sat on a couch at my sister-in-law’s house, her cousin Katherine sat next to her, held her hand and stroked her head liked a beloved lap dog. It’s wonderful to feel that special, and I understand her desire to spend as much time as possible with this crew. I have fond memories of spending the last two weeks of August on Cape Cod with my cousins every year.

The beach is sacred in some families. My husband’s family has been going to the same beach on the south side of Martha’s Vineyard since the early ’50s. Their day is built around the beach: people begin arriving about 2 p.m. and stay until dusk. If you’re not there, your absence is noted and occasionally the subject of speculation: is there a problem or are you just having a moment and need a little alone time?

Some of the diehards bring lunches of cold cut wraps, Cape Cod potato chips and Pepperidge Farm cookies, a practice I stopped years ago. It made no sense to make, wrap, pack and haul sandwiches to the beach only to eat them immediately upon arrival. We now skip the picnic, wolfing down our sandwiches in the kitchen before embarking for the beach.

There are walks, books, boogey-boarding, seal sightings, the occasional football toss and sun salutation, but the main point is you’re on the beach with everyone else. You may not talk to anyone, but you’re together and that’s the thing. The beach is the glue that holds everything together, the straw that stirs the drink. Without it, well, we’re just a bunch of people on an island.

I have conflicting feelings about the beach – their beach. It’s deeply ingrained in the Curmudgeon’s past, part of him from long before we met. He spent his childhood on the sand and learned to swim in its surf. He partied with college and neighborhood buddies and romanced other girls before I arrived on the scene. It pre-dates me and always will. OK, I’m a little jealous.

It’s full of rituals that I’ll never understand and sometimes barely tolerate. To wit: after having lunch and swimming in the ocean, the Curmudgeon lays out his towel and sleeps for two or three hours every afternoon. No wonder I call him “Mr. Excitement.” I get it – he works hard and is tired – but there are few things more boring than watching another person sleep.

The beach is an insistent mistress, and at times I’ve rebelled. One year, I rented a bike and circled the State Forest every afternoon ostensibly to get ready for a charity ride, but actually to escape the beach. I was bored with it, with the routine that 30 years of doing the same thing every summer brings.

But now? I realize the beach is a treasure and should not be taken for granted. Perhaps I had crappy Vineyard weather coming to me: Mother Nature showing me who’s boss, so I’ll appreciate the beach in all her glory when the sun is out. OK, I’ve learned my lesson and I’m sorry. Now, can we get on with it?

Family Ties

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The sisters (l-r): Marianne, Patty, Joanne, Diane, Janet, Carolyn and Nancy.

As a regular viewer of Maury, I’m always shocked by much stock people put in family resemblance.

People look at a photo of a newborn baby and determine paternity based on facial features, skin coloring or oddball features like weird toes or extra thumbs. They’re often dead wrong, sending the embarrassed mother running off stage in tears.

Physical features are a great tool for identifying relatives in some families – my cousin Joe’s daughter is the spitting image of my Aunt Joan. But it never was in ours. As one of seven daughters of an Irish American mother and Italian American father, people were constantly trying to figure out which parent we favored, or which sisters look alike.

My mother, who gave birth to us within 11 years, said people used to marvel that we all looked so different. This began in the delivery room: some of us were born with thin faces and lots of hair and others with round faces and no hair. When I came out with a large purple birthmark on my right thigh, my paternal great aunt blamed my mother, noting no one in my father’s family had such defects.

Family resemblance and assigning physical attributes to relatives are great, except when they’re not. As the mom of two adopted kids, I used to dread occasions where families gathered and people crooned over how much kids looked like their parents. I wanted to scoop up my kids and run for the hills because we don’t share the same genes, and were decidedly left out of the conversation.

It’s a natural thing to do at gatherings, particularly when children get a little older and start to resemble parents. But it’s not something you expect or do as an adoptive parent. The comments underscored the lack of biology between me and my kids. It was the only time I was keenly aware that we lacked a biological connection that most parents and children share. 

I didn’t realize people put so much stock in family resemblance because my sisters and I don’t look alike. No one told any of us that we looked like either parent or each other because we didn’t. As my mother says, “You all look like yourselves.”

Anyone who knows us will tell you there are similarities: a tendency to tilt our heads when being photographed, and gesturing wildly with our hands, which the Curmudgeon enjoys imitating to no end. But physically? Not really.

It’s incredible how strong genes are in some families. You can spot the Kennedys from a mile away by their toothy grins and wholesome good looks. Some children look like clones of their parents or a perfect melding of two gene pools: the nose of the mom, the build and athletic prowess of the dad. But more often than not, it’s complicated, with some children favoring the mom, others the dad, and some no one at all.

This came up last weekend at my niece Nicki’s high school graduation party. With all seven of us and my mom gathered at my sister Patty’s house, guests tried to identify siblings. One woman told my older sister Joanne she could tell she was related to Patty because she had the same lips and chin. Another woman asked us and my mother to sit together so she could figure things out.

“There are definitely two different kinds of noses,” she said. “And a lot of you have the same eyes.”

“You look most like your mother,” someone said. “Oh great!” I joked. “I look like an 85 year old woman.” “I’m only 84,” my mother said. I never thought I favored my mother, but what do I know? I may be too close to the situation to judge.

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My sister Diane and I at my wedding in 1983.

Growing up I thought I most resembled my sister Diane, who is 16 months younger than I am. We both have brown eyes, freckles and athletic builds, but Diane was graced with my father’s black naturally curly hair while I got straight brown hair.

Diane’s hair is thick and lustrous, but like many curly tops, she hated it and was always trying to straighten it. While Diane was straightening her hair with Coke can curlers, I was getting smelly perms to get some bounce and body into my mane. This was the ’70s, after all, and I wanted Farrah Fawcett hair like everyone else.

As No. 2 and 3 in a large family, Diane and I were tight. She tagged along with my friends Lizzie and Robin on play dates, which weren’t called play dates back then, and we learned to play tennis, golf, ski and roller skate together. We worked the same summer jobs at a packaging plant, department store and banquet facility, and even went to the same college, Wheaton in Norton, MA.

As her older sister,  I was naturally protective. She came to keg parties with me in high school, but I kept an eye on her. I helped her find a date for the junior prom. I let her have a bender in the basement when my parents were out, serving as bouncer when things got out of hand. I covered her expenses when someone broke into our rental car and stole her wallet on our trip to Florida.

I thought we looked alike, maybe because that’s what happens when you spend so much time with someone. You assume a resemblance because of that sisterly bond and constant state of togetherness. Isn’t that what they say about people who’ve been married a long time – they begin to resemble each other?

Diane reminded me that I used to ask people in high school if we looked alike, and they’d say no. So I guess I’ve been mistaken on this point for years. Silly me.

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Janet, left, and Diane, right. Maybe the do look like each other after all.

I was a little taken back when Patty’s friend announced that Diane looks like Janet, the second to the youngest. “You have the same noses and dark hair,” she said. Both of them seemed very happy with the pronouncement, making those of us who weren’t identified as lookalikes question why they were so relieved.

I never really thought about it, but I guess they do look alike. I was assuming a resemblance based on feelings, proximity, shared experiences and our place in the birth order. More than sisters, we were best buds. 

As teen-agers, we stayed up all night on our last day of vacation on Hilton Head Island, S.C., and walked the beach at dawn, snapping a photo of the glorious sunrise. I blew up two 8 X 10 prints and framed them, giving one to D and keeping one in my dorm room through college. We talked about life and eternity and then had to stop – it was too mind-boggling, but I remember it to this day.

She was my maid of honor and I was her matron of honor. She called me after she was released from the hospital after giving birth at age 26 to her son Eric. What on earth was she supposed to do with this little baby? she asked. I showed her how to change him on a round coffee table in the living room of her apartment. I was thrilled when she asked us to be his godparents, and she let us borrow him and his younger brother Greg on weekends.

It’s a sisterly bond that transcends physical appearance, although I think when you feel so close to someone you assume you look alike. Maybe it’s part of human nature to want an outward physical connection, like sports teams wearing the same uniform, fans donning team shirts and baseball caps, or tribesmen smearing themselves in paint to show unity. As the heart of it, humans want to know where people stand, and we judge a lot by outward appearance.

People assume a lot, seeing what they want to see. At the graduation party, someone remarked how much my son looks like my husband. She was taken aback when she learned that he was adopted. She insisted there is a family resemblance, but I don’t see it.

There is a family bond, yes, but it’s well below the surface, deep inside the heart and unbreakable. It’s proof that biology is one thing, love is quite another. And at the end of the day, that’s all any family needs.

Turning 60

Teddy & Lucy-20

London, 2018 

I’ve never watched any of the Housewives TV shows, and now I know why: these women are from another planet.

I just read about a Orange County housewife who got a facelift at the urging of a friend, who assured her she really needed it. What kind of friend says something like that, even if it’s true? Friends tell friends they need a haircut, are getting a little too thin, or need a bigger kitchen island. They don’t tell them to get a facelift, at least in my world.

I’m never getting a facelift. Many women say never say never, but I’d never do it because: 1. I’m afraid. 2. I can’t afford it. 3. Most facelifts don’t look natural. It bothers me when I see beautiful celebrities with facelifts because in most cases, the results are horrible. To me, nothing’s more beautiful than a woman who embraces herself at every age.

When I see a star who’s had obvious work, I always feel very sad. I’m not sure why because it was her choice to do it, and maybe she likes it. But I always feel she caved to societal (and perhaps “friends”) pressure to look young.

Perhaps this is on my mind because I turn 60 this month. It’s a milestone, to be sure. And though I’d rather be turning 30 and have my life in front of me, I can’t complain because I know too many people who never reached 60.

At my last high school reunion, we remembered at least six girls who passed away. A guy I dated in college died last year at age 59. A former co-worker dropped dead at age 38 from a massive heart attack. I lost two friends to alcoholism before age 50. I’ve known plenty of people – neighbors, friends, relatives – deprived of the privilege of growing old. As you age, I think that’s the biggest revelation: that aging is a blessing not granted to everyone in this life.

I now get my father’s line every year on his birthday: “It’s better than the alternative.” And it is, despite the natural feelings entering a new decade bring.

So how do I feel about turning 60? Here are a few thoughts:

  • I don’t want the senior discount, at least not yet. I know plenty of people who do and that’s cool, but I’m offended when people even suggest that I qualify. I still can’t stand being called ma’am, particularly by men who are older than I am. Keep your discount and let me think I’m fooling everyone, including myself.
  • I’m now calling everyone, even strangers, “honey.” I have no idea why, but I am and they seem to like it. Perhaps this is what happens when you become an elder stateswoman: you bestow terms of endearment on everyone around you.
  • I have no idea how old anyone is. I’ve asked so many kids in their 20s what year they are in high school that I’ve lost track. How did that happen?
  • I’m not ready to go gray. My adorable hairstylist Gina at W Salon in Madison, CT., (yes, that is a shameless plug for my buddies Walter and JoAnne Porta) told me at my last visit that my hair is a pretty combination of silver and gray. Good to know, she said, should I decide to go the natural route.

I’m not ready to do that, particularly since my mother still colors her hair. I know people – my beautiful yoga instructor Ava, my tennis buddy Laury, my former co-workers Linda D. and Linda B – who went gray and look fantastic. This is not me. I’m afraid I’d look like an old hag or a wrung out dish rag. And I don’t want to be mistaken for the Curmudgeon’s mother. That would really send me over the edge.

  • I still care about my body, but I’m more realistic now than I was when I was 40. A few years ago I read a book in which the author expressed surprise and a little disdain for Rose Kennedy still caring about her figure in her 60s “at an age when most women stop caring about such things,” or something like that.

I was offended because it suggested women stop caring about their bodies after a certain age, and that anyone who still did is vain. I’ve exercised since I was about 13 because I’m a sporty girl. I like to work out because it makes me feel good and keeps me in relatively good shape. I wasn’t graced with genes or a metabolism where I can eat everything I want and be thin. I’ve always needed to break a sweat.

To suggest that women would stop caring about their bodies in their 60s (and older) is not only false, but insulting and discriminatory. If you care about your body, that doesn’t change when you reach age 60 or beyond. If anything, you probably try harder to stay in shape because it becomes more difficult with age.

  • Everyone in my age group looks at women in their 20s and 30s and wonders where our waistlines went. I recently went to a wedding where the bride wore a two piece dress that exposed her midriff and couldn’t take my eyes off her tiny waist.

I used to be able to rock a cinched waist with thick belts, but that ship has passed and I’m not sure when or how it happened. I tried to spruce up a T-shirt dress with a thin animal print belt and I looked like a sausage tied in the middle. It would be depressing if it wasn’t so comical.

  • Turning 40 and 50 was a much bigger deal in terms of ego. When I turned 50, I remember thinking, “Well, there’s no denying it now. You’re not young any more.” At 60, that thought doesn’t even cross your mind. You’re on the back nine of life, and you realize it doesn’t matter how you look, but how you feel that’s important.

I’d take 50 again in a heartbeat. I was young, at least relatively speaking. At age 53, I competed in singles for my team at the USTA Nationals. I think I was the oldest woman that year to compete in singles at my level. It wasn’t a feat, just a fact. I couldn’t do it today. I still have the stamina, but I don’t have the drive or patience. I’ve learned there are more important things in life than my won/loss record or USTA rating.

  • By the time you’re banging on 60, you’ve learned to embrace your friends and be grateful that they understand your shortcomings and accept your apologies for being an idiot. You know your limitations, and appreciate the fact that your friends do too and love you in spite of them.

You learn to accept advice with grace, understanding that your friends have your best interests in mind. With any luck, you’ve given advice and taken your share of it. You’ve learned to shut your mouth and listen, realizing a kind ear is really all you can offer in some situations.

You’re not offended when friends suggest your hair is getting too long. You appreciate that they love you enough to be honest – not enough to tell you to get a facelift, but maybe to lop off 3 inches at your next hair appointment.

  • At 60, you’ve been away from little kids long enough to want grandkids, or to piggyback on your friends’ grandkids. You ask them to let you know the next time they’re babysitting to get your baby fix. You’re going to tons of weddings again – this time the children of couples whose weddings you attended. It’s nice, but now you’re part of the older crowd, the crazy woman dancing with the young girls on the dance floor after your spouse returns to the table. Yikes, how did you become that woman?
  • Nearing 60, you look at photos of yourself and see traces of the great aunt who used to say you looked like her. Yes, there’s a resemblance, but then again you’re now the age that she was when she was saying it. You’re upset for a minute – she was not exactly a looker – but you get over it quickly. You can’t change your DNA. The best you can do it work with what you’ve got.
  • By 60, you’ve learned that we’re all graced with certain talents, and it’s best to use them or they’ll wither and die. You’ve learned that money is nice, but it’s not everything, and that ultimately love and happiness are the greatest gifts.
  • When you’re spouse isn’t irritating you  – which is increasingly rare – you are eternally grateful you found each other so many years ago. You still love each other, flaws and all, making 60 not so bad after all.

Good Intentions

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Our first year in the Connecticut Open Family Classic, 2011.

One of the worst fallouts from the Curmudgeon’s foot injury was my son’s announcement that I’d be his partner in the Connecticut Open Family Classic at Yale University.

“Now that Dad is out, you’re playing with me so you better get your act together,” he said.

Um, OK. “I’ll see what I can do,” I said. “Does it matter that I haven’t played tennis in two months?”

I may hold the record for playing the least amount of tennis to prepare for this tournament, which is held as part of the Connecticut Open women’s tournament every year. I did a crash course of lessons, point play and hitting for five consecutive days. I got through the tournament, but my right hand hasn’t been the same since. Note to self: the next time you get roped into something like this, demand a little more notice or at least take some Advil.

I think the organizers behind the Family Classic have great intentions, bringing parents and kids and couples out for a friendly game of tennis at Yale’s sprawling tennis facility.  It’s a lovely concept – a wonderful way to unite families and get the community excited about the upcoming professional tournament.

But over the years, there have been problems. The biggest is adults blasting serves and groundstrokes at tiny kids. Some people will do anything to win. I was happy when officials assembled us and warned us to behave. They weren’t talking to the kids – they were talking to the adults. And though everyone nodded in agreement, some adults still broke the rules while officials weren’t looking.

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Last weekend.

I’m not sure what goes through a grown man’s mind as he cranks a serve at a 6-year-old boy on the other side of the net, but I’m pretty sure it’s not good sportsmanship. The same dad tried to steal all of his daughter’s shots, but I was happy when she ignored him and hit them herself.

His daughter is a terrific player, but the dad missed an opportunity to see her shine by screaming “I got it” on every shot. He also missed the chance to show her the importance of following the rules of the game and good sportsmanship, which at the end of the day is really all that counts.

Our history with this tournament dates back seven years when my son was 13. I thought it would be fun to play with him, particularly when he was pushing me away in every other area of his life. I taught him the game when he was about 4 at a public park in Milford, CT., where I competed for my high school team. I thought it might be a good way for us to connect.

But it was a disaster, mainly because of me. I was furious every time he missed a shot. I don’t know where my anger was coming from, but our partnership was bringing out the worst in me. I decided to step aside and let him play with his father in the father/son draw the following year. We were all a lot happier.

They’ve played in the tournament with varying degrees of success, winning the parent/child division last year. They brought home a nice trophy, but more importantly got to stand on center court with the other winners. It was really a thrill, for all of us.

They were gearing up for this year’s event when the Curmudgeon tore his Achille’s tendon two weeks ago playing in a double’s match. We’ve learned that he suffers from Haglund’s deformity, a painful condition in which bone spurs dig into the the tendon, making it prone to rupture (so this is why he was complaining about foot pain for the past 14 years!) He underwent surgery to repair the tendon last week, and will be in a cast until the end of August.

My son wasted no time telling me that I’d be filling in and I agreed, mainly because I think he enjoys playing in this tournament. I’m not sure why because though I enjoyed playing tennis and golf with my father, I never played well with him when it counted.

I was one of those kids who craved parental approval, and always wanted to impress my dad with my athletic skills, but it often backfired. One of the worst experiences was teeing off before a group of women at my father’s club, and dribbling the ball a few feet off the tee on the first hole, every golfer’s nightmare.

My dad laughed, I think to provide a little comic relief, but I was mortified and hurt that he had a laugh at my expense. I stormed down the fairway (not very far, I might add) to my ball and hit my next shot, but the damage was done. I was really humiliated.

I don’t think any kid enjoys screwing up in front of a parent. At the heart of it, kids want their parents to be proud of them and think they’re great. No one realizes how silly this is until we grow up and become parents ourselves. Our children’s accomplishments are nice, but they don’t affect our love for them.

I felt very sorry for a little guy who lost his match with his father on Sunday, and burst into tears when he got to his mother in the bleachers. I had seen him taking a private lesson on Saturday to get ready for the tournament, and playing with his father, mother and sister after the lesson. He wanted to win, but I also think he wanted to show his dad how good he was in tennis.

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Most people would have changed their broken shoelace. My son chose to wear two different sneakers.

I think this is why parent/child events are doomed to fail. Kids want to show their parents their mastery of a sport, and well, that’s not always possible. In fact, a lot of kids (and parents) play worse under pressure. It’s the same with couples, but don’t even get me started on mixed doubles. There should be a law against married couples playing together. Period.

The parent/child bond puts added strain on athletic performance that in some cases is very toxic and damaging to children. I know one woman who stopped playing tennis for several years because her father put so much pressure on her as a junior player. She gradually returned, but had to learn how to enjoy the sport without worrying about pleasing her dad.

Of course, parents face pressure in these tournaments too. As adults, we don’t want to look like chumps in front of our kids. We want to show them that we’ve got some swag, that we can still hold our own in some areas of life.

I got what I deserved in this year’s tournament: the receiving end of criticism from my son after every missed shot. At one point, I told him to stop or I was walking off and I meant it. His reply?

“At least Dad listens to me when I tell him what to do out here. You don’t listen. You can’t accept criticism.”

He’s right about that. In spite of my feelings about parent/child tournaments, I showed up and played two rounds with him. We won both of our matches, advancing to the finals on Aug. 23rd where we will play a team consisting of a three-time All-Ivy League player and his son.

The Curmudgeon has already proclaimed we haven’t got a chance of winning, so why bother showing up. I’m not really sure, but we’ll be there because my son wants to play and I happen to be is partner. At this point, I’ll take what I can get.

Pleasantries

When you work with the public, you must be pleasant all the time.

I know it’s hard. I spent one summer handling phones for Sears Service Center in West Haven, CT. Part of my job was calling customers at the end of the day, and telling them that the repairman would not be showing up. You want to talk about a tough phone call?

One woman was so mad that she threatened to dump her broken air conditioner on my front lawn. I get it. Waiting around for a repairman who doesn’t show up is maddening. But most people were pretty understanding after their initial outrage, realizing that it wasn’t my fault. And most people were assuaged with the guarantee that the repairman would be at their house first thing in the morning.

What I found even at the tender age of 18 is it’s all in the delivery. People appreciate you understanding their predicament, that they took the entire day off from work to sit home with a broken appliance. They appreciate what has come to be known as “emotional intelligence,” or the capacity to understand how another person is feeling.

We knew that my son was emotionally intelligent when he was about 2. One of his older cousins was frustrated playing a game, and he went up to him and put his arm around him to console him. We looked it up in our toddler book and realized that this was emotional intelligence, or what used to be called compassion.

I’m not sure you can teach compassion, but you can certainly encourage your children to consider other people’s feelings. As a mom, it’s up to you to make sure that everyone is invited to birthday parties, at least until about age 10, so that no one’s feelings are hurt. After that, it’s kids’ stuff and they need to work it out.

Of course, you could get lucky and get a kid like my daughter. When I’d get offended that one of her friends didn’t invite her somewhere, she’d say: “Mom, they probably could only invite a certain number of people.” As moms, we know it’s stupid to get offended for our kids, but we can’t help it. Or maybe it’s just dealing with our own childhood baggage.

Being pleasant and cordial is particularly important in jobs that require dealing with the public. No one expects to be treated brusquely just because you’re tired, in a crappy mood or are dealing with a new computer system. We’ve all gone to work when we don’t feel like it, or would rather be doing other things. The trick is to get through the day in spite of it, faking it if necessary.

What I’m getting at – drumroll, please! – is that there is never an excuse for being rude, and if I was a braver sort of person, I’d call people out a lot more often than I do. I cannot stand confrontation of any kind, so I often bite my tongue. But if I was a little more bold, I’d:

  • Tell the woman in the bank to stop yelling at the tellers because Bank of America got rid of the drive-thru window. No one cares that she’s closing her account because she has to get out of her car to conduct her bank business. Personally, I’m glad they closed the window, because I used to have to wait in line while the drive-thru window customers got instant service. And if the old woman with the cane isn’t complaining about having to come in, neither should she.
  • Tell the young father shopping with his two kids at Stop & Shop to take a chill pill, or arrange for someone to watch the kids while he shops. Seriously, people shop with little kids all of the time, and it’s not a big deal. There’s no need to pull your cap down over your face in frustration because you’re behind an elderly couple who is walking slowly. Your overt exasperation and impatience with everyone makes me wonder how much time you actually spend with your children.
  • Tell the older woman at the optician’s office that there is no need to scream and swear at another driver as she tries to park her car. Her ultimate embarrassment must have come when she realized that she was going to the same place as the other driver.
  • Tell the woman at the bagel shop to use the wax paper to choose bagels instead of her bare hands and to wait her turn before digging in. What in the world is the rush?
  • Tell the woman at a place in town that loans out hospital equipment that she needs to go into another line of work or needs a radical attitude adjustment. This place, let’s call it Chad’s Corner, is not the kind of place anyone is eager to visit. If you are going there, someone in your life is laid up, and in need of equipment you never dreamed you’d need.

People who go to Chad’s Corner need to be treated kindly, or at least with a modicum of understanding. They do not need to be treated like crap, or else they will likely get their feelings hurt and want to run for their car.

I went to Chad’s Corner looking for, well I wasn’t sure. I wanted to see what they have, if that makes any sense. I was thinking about maybe a lightweight wheelchair, something I could put the Curmudgeon in and wheel him down our street until he regains his strength from his surgery last week. I was thinking something I could borrow for a week, and then gleefully return.

Please keep in mind that the idea behind Chad’s Corner is wonderful, and that most volunteers are probably outstanding. Equipment like walkers, commodes, wheelchairs and hospital beds is donated and loaned out to people who need it. It’s a beautiful concept and a wonderful community service.

But the place sometimes needs a little TLC, particularly on a Monday morning with walkers and commodes strewn about, making it look a little like Lourdes with its cast off crutches. It doesn’t help that a sign states that equipment on the porch has not be cleaned.

“What do you need?” a woman said.

“Not sure,” I said. “My husband just had surgery on his foot. Maybe a knee scooter?”

I don’t know why I said a scooter when I was really eying a wheelchair, but she went into the back room to poke around. “How much does he weigh? I’ve got something here, but the wheels don’t really turn.”

I took two steps into the back room to get a look at the scooter and she barked, “Stay outside please!” It wasn’t what she said, but how she said it. She was gruff and scolding, when I needed coddling and understanding. She hurt my feelings when I was feeling very vulnerable. I had no idea that I was feeling so sensitive, but I was.

“You know what?” I said. “I don’t need anything.”

“OK,” she said.

I walked away and got into my car. I sat there for several minutes contemplating whether I should tell her that I thought she was rude. I am a volunteer and would never treat someone like that. As an adult, I don’t think any of us likes to feel that we’re being scolded, even if it’s for our own good. We certainly don’t need to be upbraided when trying to borrow hospital equipment. We are looking for direction and guidance, maybe even a little understanding.

After discussing it with a friend, I decided to sleep on it. I decided to write about it instead. I’ve shared it with you, and I feel better now.

download (1).jpg                                Photo courtesy of the puzzledgiraffe.com.

When my son was little, I often brought him to the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, CT.

The zoo is a mom’s dream: not too big, but enough animals to keep your child occupied for an afternoon. Best of all, it features an old-fashioned carousel where you can rest your weary bones and reach for the brass ring.

As we began circling the zoo one hot summer day, we heard a horrendous howl echoing through the park. It was loud, guttural and relentless, originating from the enclosures where the large cats live. As we got closer, it became louder and more persistent. We’d never heard such a horrible sound before.

“What’s going on?” I asked a zoo worker. “What is that noise?” “It’s a male Siberian tiger,” she said. “His mate is sick, so she’s gone for a few days getting treatment. He’s letting us all know how much he misses her.”

That tiger underscored – quite loudly – the importance and comfort of having your mate by your side. Those of us who’ve been married a long time often joke and gripe about our spouses, overlooking our good fortune in being part of a longterm union.

When my in-laws celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, we presented them with a teak bench with a plaque stating, “Celebrating 50 years of being side by side.” It was fitting because they were always together. When my mother-in-law died in 2004, my father-in-law was like the tiger, but internalized his roar. He never quite recovered from her death.

A lot of people don’t get to grow old together, losing their mates to accidents or disease – never enjoying the fruits of a long marriage. It often takes a health emergency, no matter how minor, to emphasize how lucky we are to have our mates healthy, strong and operating on all cylinders.

I felt a tiny bit like the tiger last weekend when my son pulled into the driveway, handed me his cellphone and said, “Get in the car. We’ve got to go get him. And why didn’t you answer your phone? We’ve been trying to call you for 20 minutes.”

I’d been gardening, or my version of it, finally putting plants into a front bed. Everyone was out, and truth be told, I really didn’t know what to do with myself. I treated myself and bought one of those fancy wands for the hose, but it leaks terribly so my socks and sneakers were soaked. The last thing I needed was a wet phone, so I left it in the house.

My son handed me his phone and the Curmudgeon was on the other end. Four games into a doubles tennis match at a nearby club, he ruptured his Achille’s tendon. He was surprisingly calm about it, but something in me felt like crying. I felt terrible that my mate was wounded.

It’s not the end of the world. It’s inconvenient and a nuisance, requiring surgery and his left leg to be in a cast for about three months. He will heal. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor glitch. But something has been off since the phone call. My mate is injured, so I’m off my game too.

In the animal kingdom, an injury means vulnerability and it’s not all that different in our world. Besides the pain and inconvenience, losing the use of one leg makes you have to depend on others for simple things like getting a glass of milk or carrying your briefcase. This isn’t easy for anyone, least of all someone as independent as the Curmudgeon.

I can’t joke about him or his curmudgeonly ways because he’s injured and has every right to be grumpy and demanding. I won’t kick a guy when he’s down, even if he’s the star of my show. I will have to search for new material, however difficult this may be, during his convalescence.

Well, most of the time. As he hobbled into the bedroom on his metal crutches this morning, I asked if he was trying to look pathetic. “Yes,” he said. He is also using his condition as a platform to show how much he usually does around here, implying the rest of us are slugs.

I’ve come to believe that one of the greatest measures of a marriage is how people behave when their spouse is sick or injured. The “sickness and health” line is part of most people’s wedding vows, yet many people fail miserably in this department, viewing their spouse’s illness as an inconvenience or burden.

You can tell a lot about a person’s character by the way they treat their spouse (as well as relatives and friends) when they’re ill or on the injured reserved list. My mother set an extremely high example, caring for my father with love and grace during his battle with heart failure. When I pointed out that Dad was extremely demanding with his calls of “Gerry!,” my mom noted “all men are.”

It wasn’t until my Dad was ill that I realized how much he depended on and needed my mom. I always viewed him as the strong, independent type, but his illness showed me a side of their marriage that they kept largely hidden from view. Dad really needed my mom, and she stepped up. After he died, she confided that he was quite compromised physically for years, but didn’t want any of us to know how seriously ill he was.

Mom said she’s not surprised the Curmudgeon is barking orders because most men are demanding when they’re sick or hurt. And I can’t argue. The Curmudgeon is having no trouble ordering us around, but it’s OK. It’s the least we can do for him. He takes very good care of us, so it’s our turn to indulge him acting like a dictator. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m giving him a free pass to complain as much as he wants because of the sickness and health clause in the marriage contract. And while I initially vowed not to write about him during his recovery, I’m rethinking it. Some things are just too good to keep to myself.