For the few people that have been one of my roommates, they all have one thing in common – wondering why I was so obsessed with The Thorn Birds? Why do I even know about the Thorn Birds is a good start, given it aired when I was not even 2 years old in 1983? I guess you can thank my mom for that and her love of all things TV. And Richard Chamberlain.

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Hey, Boo. (Chamberlain was 49 years old, and FINE.)

How can I describe 10 hours of Thorn Birds to you in a few sentences?  The tagline says it all, “Love. Unattainable. Forbidden. Forever”.  Can you think of anything more glorious for a 14 year old girl (or 37 year old woman) to be obsessed with? There’s a unashamedly handsome priest named Ralph, a beautiful young girl, an Australian plantation and enough secrets to fill the wool shed.  Spanning 60 years, The Thorn Birds tells the story of several generations of Cleary women who seem to all have the same problem – they love men that are too ambitious for their own good.  As the main character Meggie says, “I cried for him all my life, like a child crying for the moon.” I don’t even know what that means or why I would cry for the moon, but my gosh, it sounds romantic.

Richard Chamberlain, Jean Simmons, Barbara Stanwyck, and Rachel Ward in The Thorn Birds (1983)

Father Ralph with The Cleary Women, Fee, Meggie and Mary (from left to right)

Now, add into things that this week in between Thorn Birds viewings I also watched the latest season of Big Mouth, and it all starts to make sense why a 14 year old Marie would love this forbidden story so much.  One of the big themes in Big Mouth is how puberty is so isolating and divides us from the people we care about (friends, both female and male, parents and crazy gym teachers).

Missy, Hormone Monster, Jessi from Big Mouth on Netflix

You know what helps you feel less alone? Seeing someone else suffer.  Enter the Thorn Birds.

Every character suffers in this mini-series. Literally EVERY CHARACTER.  Mary Carson, the matriarch of the family wills herself to die on cue just so she can exact the perfect revenge on her unrequited love, Father Ralph.  Meggie gets laid only like 5 times in the whole 10 hours but has 2 kids she has to raise by herself, plus live with her ornery old mother forever.  The brothers never even get a wife, they just “work and obey”.  One dies in jail, one on the range, one with croup or some other condition that only kills babies in 1912.  Barely anyone gets out alive! Even the most holy character ends up dead, trying to save a stranger’s life, of course.

But I love it.  I still cried watching it this time around, even though I know how it’s going to end.   (Plus I spent another $20 on the digital version through Amazon Prime for the convenience of not having to find my dvd copy (or my VHS).  This thing endures! I now own more copies of Thorn Birds than the White Album.)

The main theme of Thorn Birds is that love is painful.  Sometimes its a sweet pain, but mostly its just plain old torture.  And yet, we continue to press our breast to the thorn trying to achieve that love, even though we know it might kill us.  Yes I swear, this is an actual story from the book.

“There’s a story… a legend, about a bird that sings just once in its life. From the moment it leaves its nest, it searches for a thorn tree… and never rests until it’s found one. And then it sings… more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. And singing, it impales itself on the longest, sharpest thorn. But, as it dies, it rises above its own agony, to outsing the lark and the nightingale. The thorn bird pays its life for just one song, but the whole world stills to listen, and God in his heaven smiles.”

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So naturally, this is great viewing when you’re going through puberty and hormonal, horny and angry all the time – you know, being a teenager.  I have most of the 10 hours memorized, which is not something I’m proud of, but it might be good in the “special skills” section on my resumé.

I’m also sure this would be filed under “guilty pleasure” in the realm of the TV miniseries, despite being the 2nd most watched mini-series of all time.  Roots, it’s not.  And usually I’m all for a guilty pleasure, because life is tough enough, you go Netflix and Chill with your Jane the Virgin on a Friday night after your kids go to sleep, Glen Coco.  What was different this time about watching Thorn Birds was the juxtaposition of Big Mouth along side it.  I was Jessi from Big Mouth when I was a tween/teen.  Divorced parents, depressed, full of shame and trying to find where I fit in.  And how I coped was by watching stories like Gone With The Wind, Thorn Birds, It’s a Wonderful Life, Dirty Dancing and Titanic.  So many stories about disappointed love and a life not lived.  The more painful, the better.  I mean why can’t Jack live at the end of Titanic, it’s just not fair!!

Re-watching it now while we are in the age of really dissecting what stories we want told, I couldn’t help but wonder, Did indulging in Thorn Birds for over 20 years do more harm than good? How many ideas about love and romance did I just steal from a movie?  Maybe Nora Ephron said it best, “You don’t want to be in love! You want to be in love in a movie!”

And well, yeah, I do.  Reality has home work and laundry and toddlers who have meltdowns over Barbie shoes.  Love in a movie is a great distraction and there’s nothing guilty about that pleasure.

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When my son was 4 months old, I decided to do a 30 day Bikram yoga challenge.  I was trying to get back in shape after giving birth.  It was something I’d always wanted to do, but never thought I had the time for (or the commitment).  I remember talking to my husband about it and asking him if he thought it was feasible to go to a 90 minute yoga class everyday for 30 days straight?  I was going to have to go back to work (after maternity leave) in the middle of it, but that didn’t deter me.  I made a calendar and figured out for every day of the 30 days, which class I would go to.  My husband would be on baby duty and if he couldn’t ,I enlisted friends and family to help so I could get to that class.  I completed that challenge and it’s still one the things I’m proudest of completing.  That was 7 years ago.

Somewhere between having a newborn to present day, I’ve lost that determination to do something entirely for myself.  The yoga challenge was great because I got into shape, but mostly it was great because it was just for me.  It wasn’t about being a mom or a wife, it was just about being Marie.  And maybe after having a kid, I realized I needed a bit more of that.

Today I went to Comic Con for the day with my sister.  I’m a huge fan of Mark Ruffalo and he was going to be there so I bought a ticket and planned to spend the day.  It wasn’t for work, or for my family, it was just for me.  And the sad truth is, I felt a little guilty.  Do I deserve a day pass for fun? Is this a waste of money? Can I really ask this of my husband to pick up the kids and let me stay out until 5:30pm?

Writing this out now makes me think to myself, GOD I SOUND SO BORING, LIKE A TWO DIMENSIONAL MOM.

Mark Ruffalo at Comic Con (stolen off twitter because I didn’t have the guts to violate the no photo rule)

But hear me out, with 2 kids and a mortgage and work stuff (albeit only part time) I often feel like I’m just a walking/breathing TO DO LIST.  It’s Monday, get groceries.  It’s Tuesday, cook said groceries into dinners.  It’s Wednesday, do laundry.  It’s Thursday, put away the laundry.  It’s Friday, make play dates for the kids.  It’s Saturday, do more laundry.  It’s Sunday, plan family fun time. Rinse and repeat, every week.  The To Do’s run my life, because when I don’t do them I feel like shit and like a horrible mom/wife/person.  So the stakes are high (for me).

So who’s hanging out with my kids while I’m DOING ALL THIS SHIT? Well, I am. But not the way I want to be.  I’m distracted and annoyed about the kids getting in the way of my TO DO list with their being kids and all.  For the longest time I didn’t want to have play dates because I thought, “But they’ll just wreck the kids room.”  Move over, Donna Reed, here I come.  I really thought I wasn’t sweating the small stuff! But when you live in only 800 square feet a little bit of mess feels like a bomb going off in your living room.

In order to avoid the feeling like a shitty mom/wife/person thing, I basically just stopped doing things for myself.  Stopped the gym (no time for that!), stopped the date nights (gotta save money!), stopped planning girls night with my single friends (can’t leave the kids!).  And you know what’s left? BORING TWO DIMENSIONAL MOM, THAT’S WHO.

Listen, I’m only talking about ME and what’s right for ME.  I’m not passing judgement on how other moms get it done.  Everyone has to find their own special blend of mom-i-ness and me-ness in order to be a satisfied person.  It’s the same with working moms and SAHM, to each her own!

I realized this year that I’d been putting ME on the back shelf a lot.  Not entirely, but way more than usual.  No wonder I was stressed, sleeping with a clenched jaw and craving sugar.  SO I took a day to go fawn over Mark Ruffalo and blow off school pick up.  No one got hurt!  My husband stepped in so my kids were taken care of, and I hope that I showed them that mommy gets to still be Marie every now and then.  I do truly believe that modeling for our kids that our needs matter as individuals is good for them to see.

I never watched Breaking Bad, but from what I understand at the end of the series he reveals why he became a drug lord.  Initially it was for his family to have money after he died from cancer (right?) but in the end he says, “I did it for ME!”  This always stuck with me despite NEVER SEEING THE SHOW, because shit, yeah man, do it! I mean, maybe not the crime part, but yes do something for you!

Ultimately it makes me think about this larger question that I am constantly asking myself “What does it mean to be a mom?”  And 7 years in, 2 kids later, I am still figuring it out day by day.

A miraculous thing happened once school started this year.  It was something I’d been praying for for years.  My husband and I talked about it over and over, we hired specialists, we fought about it, then we resigned ourselves to the fact that even though over couples had it, we were never going to.

But finally, my kids started going to bed at night by 9pm.

That’s right, this is what I’d been praying for.

Friends of mine would say, “Oh my kids are asleep by 7:30” and I would literally smile and think to myself something like FUCK-ME-THATS-NEVER-GOING-TO-HAPPEN-FOR-ME-AND-MY-LIFE-IS-BASICALLY-OVER-UNTIL-MY-KIDS-LEAVE-FOR-COLLEGE.  Something like that.

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All summer it was basically “stay late enough at the beach club for my kids to fall asleep in the car” so that I could avoid the whole bedtime routine.  For the most part it worked. (We stayed out pretty late all summer, it was a blast…also, September sucks.) Anyway, I’d given up because after working a sleep counselor (which helped initially) our kids were sucking the life out of us every night at bedtime.  Dylan, my 7 year old son, was always hard to get to sleep ever since we took him out of the crib.  He slept on a cot on the floor of our bedroom for about a year and half, so the fact that we got him into his own bed when we worked with the sleep counselor was pretty magical.

Unfortunately, my kids share a room and a bunk bed situation is what we’ve got going on.  Daphne, 3 years old, is on the bottom while Dylan is on the top.  I even let the kids pick out the bunk bed at Ikea, which is why it doesn’t match the rest of their bedroom furniture.  I tried taking away their screens 90 minutes for bed – which is what sleep specialists recommend.  I tried reading to them, I tried snuggling them, not snuggling them, the chair method, putting them to bed at the same time, at different times, in the same room, in different rooms, I mean, basically I tried everything.  My husband and I gave it everything we had.  And still, no freaking luck.  Bedtime was in some cases taking 2 hours and stretching into 10:30.

How many dishes do you think I want to load into the dishwasher at 10:30? How many loads of laundry do I want to fold? ZERO.

I had nothing left to give.  Forget about actually sitting down to read/watch tv/write/talk to my husband. I was spent, and the only thing I really wanted was comfort Netflix and a jar of Nutella, with a spoon.

When summer was winding down I knew this chaos wasn’t going to work so I decided to come up with my own method.

We gotta have them in their beds by 9. So working backwards:

First, whoever needs a shower gets one.  Sometimes its both kids, sometimes its just one and hopefully it’s zero, because for some odd reason I hate bathing my kids.

Second, they get one show to watch together in my bed.  Their options are Frasier, Friends, Cheers, or Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (click the links for their favorite episodes).  These shows are interesting to them without riling them up (like a kids show would).  I know it’s not perfect parenting, but I was desperate, OK?!  We all have our dirty little (parenting) secrets!

Then its off to their bunks.  Either my husband or I will sit in the room with them until the fall asleep (usually scrolling our phones or maybe reading on my Kindle).  We try not to snuggle Daphne on the lower bunk because it makes Dylan feel major FOMO.  My ego can’t handle getting up on the top bunk and truly feeling my age/weight, so that’s not an option.

Then we pray. Hard.

Somehow, it worked.  My kids were just tired enough at 9 to want to go to bed, even though I was told (and I wanted) the kids to have a super early bedtime.  Most nights I’m outta there by 9:10.  It’s a miracle.

Now maybe it’s because Daphne stopped napping that’s she’s finally fallen in line.  If so, great! There’s gotta be some upside to having her awake all day!

Then I get to decide what to do for another 90 minutes before I try for my own bedtime.  Housework, writing this blog, tv, whatever – its all available to me!

I’ve been struggling with this bedtime nonsense for about 18 months and I think it’s basically broken me.  But now that it’s over, I’m slowly putting myself back together again.  One unloaded dishwasher, folded load of laundry at a time.

I wanted September to be the month where I shed all my bad summer habits.  No more white bread, no more sleeping late, no more staying out late, no more easy breezy summertime.  Come September, I’m going to be a serious adult.

It was a great plan.  Except, September is just warm up month for the rest of the school year.  And for some reason, I always forget this.  The kids only had 1 full week of school in September, because Jewish Holidays, so every time I felt like I was getting into a groove, they’d be home with me all day and screw it up.

I was going to start going to the gym in September (didn’t happen until 10/1).  I was going to meal plan for dinner in September (hahaha, yeah right!).  I was going to adhere to my excel spreadsheet of a schedule and make sure I had time for all my housekeeping amongst work, kids and whatnot (Ummmm, I think I looked at it once all month).  September, more than January, is the month I make all these grandiose resolutions about the person I am going to become this year (this year!) and then I realize, September sucks.

First reason September sucks, (see above) so many days off from school!  We never get into a flow.

Second reason September sucks, I have to close up my beach cabana for the season and lose my tan.

Third reason September sucks, I can never figure out what to wear! Is it 80 degrees or like 50? I don’t know!! Pack a sweater? Wear a tank top? WHO THE FRIG KNOWS? Forget figuring out how to dress my kids?!?! I’m either sweaty and overheated or freezing – there is literally no in between.

Fourth reason September sucks, packing the damn lunches.  I had to do this most of summer for camp, but in September it just feels more serious.  Like the bento box has to be full of nutritious food and not just cucumbers and some fruit snacks.

Fifth reason September sucks, I can’t just grill dinner every night at the beach.  Damn, I have to actually turn the oven on?  And think of things for dinner besides chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs?? Ugh, so annoying!

Sixth Reason September Sucks, I can no longer justify buying cases of Passion Fruit flavored La Croix for $5.99 a case.  My summertime staple feels like such an indulgence that doesn’t make sense in the world of Pumpkin Spice.

Seventh Reason September Sucks, speaking of Pumpkin Spice, having to listen to people debate the virtues of Pumpkin Spice grates on me, let the people have the Pumpkin Spice that acutalluy doesn’t contain any pumpkin, life’s too short!

 

 

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