Sunday, December 16, 2012

The word you're looking for there is "seasoned"

Today's column in the Times Free Press was prompted, as many of them are, by something I read. The New Republic took apart the growing phenomenon of older parents and came up with lots of really good reasons for older parents to be scared about being older parents.

Some of those good reason were sciencey: Higher incidence of all kinds of physical and mental troubles for the offspring of older parents. And some of those good reasons were situational: Your parents are elderly and dependent, your children are tiny and dependent, you are middle-aged and completely exhausted.

But they didn't spend enough time exploring the awesome things about being an older parent. And since I am married to a man who is the 55-year-old father of two little boys, I just went ahead and wrote the missing part of that article. Because old dads kick ass.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Arts and crafts can suck it

We got one of those letters a couple of weeks ago from the kids' school. One of those dreaded, horrible, infuriating letters that we get a few times a year that always make me scowl and curse under my breath and roll my eyes and say things like this to my husband:

"This is yours. You have to do it. I am out. OUT."

This letter invited me -- in breathless, giddy prose sprinkled with! exclamation! points! and italics -- to get SUPER CREATIVE in helping my kid design his dinosaur costume for the school play. To collaborate with other dinosaur parents! To use my imagination! Feathers! Glitter! Teeth! To get all crafty and shit like that!

In my spare time, right? That's when I will design a damn dinosaur costume -- or, even better, design a damn dinosaur costume IN COLLABORATION with other dinosaur parents? In between working my two jobs and running a household full of grubby boys and OHMYGOD trying to get a little exercise at the end of my 12-hour days?

Right. I will get right on that. In between loads of laundry and PowerPoint presentations, I will form a committee and I will draft a list and we will all drive through the suburbs visiting big box stores, buying glue and glitter and feathers and pipe cleaners and then we will all meet at my house and assemble these freaking costumes and maybe, while we're at it, we can have a theme song! I will write the lyrics! They will include bad words. Bad.

You guys. I hate this crap. (You could not tell, right? Because I am subtle. I know.) I hate crafts. I hate gluing and glittering and cutting and pasting and I especially hate it because my kids don't want to do it, either. They have zero interest. But they're in these damn plays and we have to do SOMETHING, right? We can't just send them to school in their jeans on play day and say, "Just feel like a dinosaur today, OK? Growl a lot. Show the anxiety of impending extinction in your facial expression. Love you!"

None of us wants to do this. You know what my kids really want to do? They want to read books. Do math. Science experiments. History lessons. They want to play on the playground and do SCHOOL THINGS. And, yes, I am aware that many, many people love this gluing, glittering, pipe cleaning bullshit. Those people are everywhere. For all I know, you could be one of them. I mean have you SEEN Pinterest? (I haven't. But I hear stories.)

Speaking of stories, here's a true one. Do you know how much I hate glitter? I hate glitter so much that if someone sends me a card with glitter on it, I open that card over the trash can, read it, drop it into the garbage and then wash my hands.

Look, I do not begrudge the crafty people their crafty time. To each his own, no matter how inane. I'm a total humanitarian, y'all. And I know that lots of things I really like (fashion, art, graphic design) have their roots in grade school craft projects. We all have to start somewhere. I get it. There is value there. (In a kind of roundabout way that does not mean making a damn dinosaur costume means you are an undiscovered Alexander McQueen.)

But I want a check box at the beginning of the school year: Crafter / Non-crafter. In exchange, if you need help with a newsletter or some editing, people, I am there for you. Do you need proofreading? YES you DO! I have seen your emails! I can help you. But I demand crafting immunity. I want special dispensation. I DO NOT CRAFT.

So. Damn dinosaur play. My husband found Ben a green hoody and a green stuffed snake. And he put him in the green hoody and pinned the green stuffed snake to the back of his pants for a tail and said "Hey, you're a dinosaur." And Ben said "OK, thanks," and I said "I love you Jim Fortune," and then we were done.

And maybe you are thinking, Mary, in the time it took you to write this blog post, you could have driven to Hobby Lobby and bought a bunch of dinosaur stuff and turned Ben into something out of Jurassic Park.

To you, dear reader, I say: Shut up. Who asked you, anyway? I write. I DO NOT CRAFT. And get that damn glitter away from me.

Someone bring this woman a beer.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The day after

I am constantly amazed that the good people I love so much love me back. I am daily astounded that my attention, my affection, my laughter, my actions, matter to them and make them feel somehow more whole, more present, more happy, more complete.

I am taken apart by the idea that when they ask me how my day was, they sincerely want to know. Tell me what happened. Tell me what you thought about that and that and that. Tell me what you said. Tell me. I am listening to you.

How did I get to such a miraculous place?

Such good people.

I want to say to them: You know, don’t you, that I am irascible and profane and selfish and volatile and very short and my face is asymmetrical and I am bad at math? You realize, don’t you, that I have uncharitable thoughts and dark moods and a drifting, inattentive mind? That I’m socially awkward and not very organized and consistently inconsistent and terrible at planning anything at all?

You must know that probably I will disappoint you. Almost certainly, I will. I will!

And I am generally just opening my mouth to say that stuff when my sons announce that I am the best mother in the world and my husband whispers that I am beautiful and hilarious and my mom tells me that story about how all she ever wanted was a daughter and look how lucky she got.

And then Marsha emails to say yoga and coffee soon? And Kent says hey, come see me and I will make you a sandwich, and MC stops by to see if I am up for a quick lunch break, and Karyn posts a love letter on my Facebook page, and Sarah invites me out for a run. Michelle texts and says have brunch with me, and Lindsay emails and says when are you coming to California so I can hug you?

And then Autumn and Clint and Ashley and Tamra and Nick and Chuck and Cheryl and Yario say that yes, actually, they would love love love to spend Thanksgiving at our house and no, it doesn’t matter at all that 20 people will have to share a table designed for eight. 

I’ll bring the wine. I’ll bring the ham. I’ll bring some extra chairs. How many kids will this mean? Six? Eight? We'll just eat in shifts. It doesn't matter.

Such good food.

It seems like I am always just gearing up to warn them that I am no bargain when they find some way to let me know unequivocally that they do not care one whit. That they are not keeping count and they are not running a tally and they’d just really like to hang around and maybe have a cup of coffee with me if that would be all right. Would that be all right?

Yes, yes. YES. My god. Of course that would be all right.

My friends thank me for coming to see them, they thank me for calling. They thank me. My mother reads my mind, and brings me what I need when I didn’t even know I needed it. My husband asks me all the time: How’s your day been? Did your meeting go well? How was your class? Do you have to grade papers tonight? What do you want to do for dinner?

Such good luck.

Whenever my incorrigibly wandery mind starts to slide sideways into a place full of shadows, my phone buzzes with a breathtakingly sweet message like this one I got Tuesday night:

You looked upset today. Just let me know if you need to talk or anything. Let’s talk later and I will tell you about something that will cheer you up.

Well, hey. You already did.

Look, all I ever want is to deserve this life, to make sure these people never regret opening their hearts to me. All I want is to be worthy of any of it. I’ll try. If history is any indication, I probably can’t promise much.

But in the meantime, you guys, please know this is true all the way to the heart of the thing: I’m so grateful.

Such a good day.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

It is possible that I do some whining in this column. You don't mind too much, right?

I am here to have a good time, y'all. I am here to play and laugh and jump around and do silly stuff that feels good and makes me and the people around me happy. I am not a particularly spiritual person (understatement alert!) but I have a zealous, near-religious devotion to the idea that we should be having a good time, and if we're not, we should get right on fixing that. Immediately, if not sooner.

That mindset generally makes my life a pretty damn delightful place to be, but it also has an unfortunate side effect: When my fun is thwarted, I become completely impossible. Petulant and impatient and grrrrrrr. 

I may be something of a brat on this topic. (Understatement alert again!)

And sometimes fun gets thwarted. Shit happens, as they so poetically say. It happens, and then you have to slog through some boring, unfun stuff to get to the fun stuff on the other side. Feh.

So here are some pictures of something I recently did that was SO MUCH fun, and here is a column that ran in today's Times Free Press that explains why my fun is temporarily on hold.




Half marathon with my friends. Fun!

Crossing the finish line feeling 10 feet tall and bulletproof. Fun!
Brunch after with the coolest people ever. Fun!
I love him. He is so fun!
I love her. She is so fun!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Stupid jokes that make no sense to anyone else are the best part of being married. Well, that and I never have to kill bugs. I just yell for Jim and he comes and does it.

One of my favorite things about being married to Jim Fortune is this thing he does with his face whenever the two of us are standing around talking to someone, and we are both thinking that what this person is saying is so ridiculous (or so wrong or so one of our pet peeves). And we both know the other person is thinking it, and then Jim’s face does this thing that says: Wife, I will be making a joke later about this conversation when you least expect it, and you might hyperventilate because you will laugh that hard.

I am the only person who can see this thing happen to Jim’s face. To other people, it looks as if he is attentively listening, with the occasional lingering glance at his wife to confirm that she is also attentively listening. And perhaps to admire her beauty.

But I know better, dear reader. I. Know. Better.

Is this nice behavior? Probably not. I mean, definitely not. But guess what? I don’t care. Because it is hilarious and, in the grand scheme of things, pretty harmless. It’s just for us. And stuff that is just for us is the best stuff there is.

Well, I guess now you know about it. So maybe that’s a technical change in the definition of “just for us.” But look, I can guarantee that even now that you know about it, you still would not know it was happening, even if it happened right in front of your very eyes. So no harm, no foul.

Lots of these dumb little inside jokes are at the expense of people we like a great deal, or at least have to talk to regularly, so I cannot share them with you here. One of those people could be you! But I will explain one of these dumb little inside jokes that is broad enough that it could be practically anyone. You may have even done this to me, and it makes Jim Fortune make that face every single time.

Hey, have you always wanted to be a writer? SURE YOU HAVE. Do you know how I know that? Because when I meet people and they ask me what I do and I tell them I’m a writer, they say this: You know, I have always wanted to be a writer. And then they tell me why they never did any actual writing: Not enough time. I don’t understand punctuation. I couldn’t find a pen.

And then OH YOU GUYS Jim’s face starts to do the thing. THE THING.

Because, y’all, let me share a little secret with you about writing: If you want to be a writer, all you have to do is write. And if you had always wanted to be a writer, you’d be one. I mean, you pretty much just write and then BAM you’re a writer. It’s like freaking magic.

Also, the subtext of that statement makes me insane. You would be a writer if only you understood punctuation? If you just had more time? If you had a really nice pen? Really?

No. Here is what you need to know: If you wanted to be a writer, you would be one because you would have no choice. You would be compelled to write all the time. You would be enslaved by the desire to write, and to incessantly read the work of other writers, and to nearly die of envy when one of them wrote something you wish you had written, and that would just make you write EVEN MORE.

It wouldn’t even matter whether anyone ever read what you wrote. You would never stop thinking about writing. Every time anything happened to you, you would be figuring out how to work it into your writing and then, while your family was watching TV or clamoring selfishly for your attention or urging you to flee the burning house, you would say, “Leave me alone can’t you see that IAMWRITING?”

You would have majored in English and minored in communication with NO PLAN for how to support yourself, and then you would have lived in your parents’ basement until you were 25 years old because you HAD to be a writer and your first job paid $15,000 a year but HOLYSHIT you were getting paid to write!

That’s what your life would be like if you wanted to be a writer. Like THAT.

So, no. I’m sorry, but you did not always want to be a writer, person-at-every-party-I’ve-ever-gone-to-who-says-Hey-I’ve-always-wanted-to-be-a-writer. You did not always want to be a writer any more than I always wanted to be a prima ballerina because one time I had a tutu and every morning of first grade I wanted to wear it to school. Not the same thing. At all.

For the record, I never say these things out loud to anyone but Jim Fortune. I am not a complete sociopath. When I get into one of these conversations, I just nod and smile and say SO POLITELY, “If you’ve always wanted to write, you really should! Everyone has a story to tell.”

But if Jim Fortune is standing there with me while this happens, his face will do that thing. And I will be trying so hard not to choke on my drink. And then later, when we’re alone, he’ll slip his arms around me and put his lips to my ear and whisper, “Honey, you know what I’ve always wanted to be? A writer.”

And I will die from laughing, you guys. DIE FROM IT.

It honestly almost makes me HOPE someone will say this dumb thing to me – this dumb thing that makes me crazy and irrational – just because Jim and I have turned it into this funny thing that only we know about.

Well, now you know about it, too. Which is OK, because we also have about 2,487,507 other dumb inside jokes I am not going to tell you about. So you can have that one. You’re welcome.

A couple of years ago, there was this time when Jim and I almost killed our marriage. Just beat it nearly to death. So that was a terrible year, and I’m glad it’s over, but here is the way I really knew we were in trouble: He never made that face at me anymore. Ever.

And the way I knew we were going to be OK, that we were us again, was that he started making that face at me again.

So, apparently, our shared delight in privately making fun of other people is one of the ways I can reliably gauge the health of our marriage at any given time. That may mean we are terrible people. But I’m not too worried about it because if we are terrible, at least we are terrible together, and in very similar ways.

Besides, I know other people make fun of us, too. How could they not? We are ridiculous. Jim, for example, is so obsessed with recycling that he takes trash home from parties. I swear to god, he honestly goes home with bags of empty cans and bottles. Like a goddamned hobo.

But do you know, he has never, ever wanted to be a writer, not even a little? I really love that about him.

This Jim Fortune face is somewhat like the face, but it's not
exactly the face. I can't show you the face exactly because
it's kind of a secret. Trust me, you would laugh.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Do it: Just don’t look down

Fear has been on my mind lately.

Of course, Halloween is coming, so there’s the spooky seasonal atmosphere. And this is the time of year when I have to start figuring out where the money for the Christmas presents will come from, and that’s always frightening.

But it’s more than that. It’s bigger.

Did you watch last weekend as that extreme athlete shattered a whole host of aerospace records? Did you watch as he stepped from a capsule 24 miles above the Earth and then fell for endless, astounding minutes while his body reached speeds of more than 800 miles an hour? Did you see him finish that extraordinary feat by parachuting serenely into the New Mexico desert and touching down with surreal, sure-footed calm?

Yeah, the Fortunes all watched that. We watched every second of it, huddled around the computer in a scene reminiscent of the days when families crowded in front of their black-and-white televisions to marvel at the moon landing.

“Do you think he’s scared?” one of my sons said as the man popped open the door of the capsule, inched forward and contemplated the view from 128,000 feet.

“I’m sure he’s scared,” I said quietly. “But he’s going to do it anyway.” And then I held my breath as that man dropped silently from the narrow step that separated him from 24 miles of nothing.

Three weeks ago, I flew to California. While I was there, my friends and I spent a day traversing a 12-mile Tough Mudder obstacle course featuring, among other daunting things, electric shocks, a jump into water from 15 feet up, sheer walls of timber, submersion in icy water and miles of towering hills so steep they felt nearly vertical.

In the weeks before that day, I made a prediction to the friend who had suggested this adventure: “I bet everyone else there will be dudes half my age and twice my weight.”

“It will be awesome,” she said. “You’ll love it.”

So I added some strength and plyometric training to my running routine, tried not to think too much about how much the course map terrified me and decided I could do it.

And it was fantastic. At the end of that day, I was battered and filthy, exhausted and sore – and utterly giddy. There is nothing like the elation that follows fear overcome. Nothing.

But the truth is, I don’t have to attack physical challenges to meet fear. My everyday life is full of things that scare me. I’m raising sons and juggling jobs and supporting a family that relies on me for everything from income and health care benefits to bedtime stories and homemade soup.

On any given day, I’m not sure I can actually do it all. And, in my more vulnerable moments, I’m not sure how much longer I can keep it up.

I’m finding, though, as I consider the outlines of life in my 40s, that making friends with fear is the key to finding the strength to push always forward. It’s the key to making these words true: I can do this.

So when I watch people do things I am certain they find terrifying, I don’t dismiss them as crazy or reckless. I don’t even wonder why they’re doing it; I know exactly why they’re doing it.

They want to. They have to. They know they can.

Because we can.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


The theme of today's column in the Times Free Press: There are a million ways I do not understand my kids. Do. Not. Get. It. That's OK, though. Hell, it's better than OK. They teach me new things every day. Unexpected things. Odd things. Things I never planned to learn and, frankly, do not really care about at all. (Pokemon, anyone?)

Not to brag, but I am excellent at feigning interest in whatever it is they're talking about -- mostly because I am genuinely interested in them. It works out.

Sometimes I wonder, though, if they'll ever return the favor. Will they, for example, learn to listen attentively while I talk about my training runs and the vagaries of grammar and my endless quest for the perfect black pumps and the poignant, breathtaking humanity that infuses the works of Amy Bloom and Jhumpa Lahiri?

Probably not. That's cool. We don't have to understand each other in order to love each other. And wow, it's a good thing, huh?

This is a big deal. I do not know why. Just looks to me like a white car. I have a
white car. No one ever wants to stand in front of it and have their picture taken.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Yeah, this one is totally my fault

Ben (age 7): Dad, can I say the F word?

Jim (a good and sensible man): No, you may not.

Ben thinks for a minute about this answer. Then he asks: Can I just say it in my head?

Y'all, this kid is all me. All. Me. And it's going to be a big, scary ride.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Bright blue in a red state

I have always avoided the political in my column. I have strong opinions, as anyone who knows me is well aware, but I decided a long time ago that my innocuous little column in the Life section of the Chattanooga Times Free Press was probably not the place for them.

Until today.

Y'all, I've had it. I've had it with trying to be reasonable and respectful and conciliatory in the face of histrionic, ignorant, superstitious bigotry. And I've had it with trying to teach my children to stand up for what's right and then assiduously avoiding these topics in my column.

So, for the first time in 10 years, I'm writing about my political and social views. I'm not sure what took me so long. But I know that if I'm going to help my kids stand up for what they believe, I have to offer them an example of exactly what that looks like.

Read it here.

Scary, scary liberals.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Something isn’t happening to me

I remember in middle school when all the girls got boobs and I didn’t. All around me, shirts were blooming and bulging and boys were walking into walls trying to pretend they weren’t staring. And for months and then years I watched and waited while my training bra remained defiantly flat.

At some point, I decided it didn’t matter much. I have other charms. Besides, boobs totally get in the way when you run for miles and do push-ups and pull-ups and slam yourself headfirst onto a massive, communal slip-and-slide coated in soap. They interfere with the ability to change clothes discreetly in the parking lot after you run a 5k through hip-deep mud, over daunting obstacles and up and down hills carrying lumber with your teammates.

We are close.

Which are all things I’ve done this month. Because here is something else that isn’t happening to me: I’m not turning into a grown-up. Once again, I am watching and waiting and…nothing is happening.

All around me, people my age are starting to seem, well, my age. They are all grown up. They are all calmed down. They have measured tones of voice and reasonable hobbies and minivans and they are super-worried about their kids hearing or (heaven forbid!) saying bad words.

They are almost never shouting laughter or expletives or just pieces of music they suddenly hear in their heads, which I seem to do all the time. They never full-body tackle people just because they’re happy to see them, which I really can’t seem to stop doing. (I’m a hugger! And I’m fast! WHAT?)

I recently called into a meeting at work and, while I waited at my desk for the meeting to start, sang badly to myself – some Death Cab for Cutie, I think. I had my phone on mute, so whatever. I mean, I thought I had my phone on mute. But then a friend of mine emailed and wrote: Is that you singing?

Yeah, she totally knew that was me singing. Because the other people on the phone are grown-ups, Mary. Who wait quietly for meetings to start. They shuffle papers and talk about sports. Like NORMAL PEOPLE.

Yes, I replied, that was me singing. And I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t have any Kanye stuck in my head today, huh?

My best friend from eighth grade recently told me how happy it makes her that I have not changed at all. That I have not changed at all since we were 13 years old. My best friend from college texted me after a recent lunch to tell me how funny and wonderful she thinks it is that I am the same giddy girl she met 20 years ago. Her word, and a perfect one: Giddy. They are both right. I am a giddy, goofy, trouble-making 13-year-old.

Which brings me to my point. Y’all, I am 40 YEARS OLD. I am getting worried.

Is it unseemly that I cannot manage to settle down? Because, look, I have tried. I have tried! I have a grown-up type job and kids and a husband and all that stuff. I have many, many forms of insurance and I know the interest rates and payoff dates on all my loans and for Chrissakes I get a mammogram every year! Y’all, I FLOSS.

But. BUT. I just can’t seem to settle down at all. I want to be moving, and even better if I can be moving and yelling and even better than that if I can be moving and yelling and laughing with a few carefully selected friends who think it’s charming (rather than annoying) that I can’t seem to turn into an adult. And who are braced for high-speed hugs at all times.

I teach a media writing course at the local university. I love teaching that course, even though it’s really one too many things to do. It kind of wears me out every year, teaching that class while I work full time. But it’s also one of my favorite, most fun things because I get to hang out for four hours a week with a bunch of people half my age. I get to hear about the decisions they’re trying to make, the paths they’re choosing, the ways they’re making a place for themselves in the world. They talk to me about what they’re thinking, and sometimes they even ask me what I think about stuff and sometimes they have such good ideas and such funny insights.

One of them wrote on my last evaluation that I handled our class well, even though it sometimes got out of hand. And all I could think was: When did our class ever get out of hand? I mean, my classes are loud. There is a lot of discussion and even arguing about journalism and writing. I pull no punches when I edit and sometimes we disagree and fight about it while we laugh a great deal.

And this, to me, is just the most freaking fun. Are we out of hand? Am I out of hand? I never feel that way at all. I just feel… very alive. I guess an innocent observer wandering into my class might find it a little raucous. But we meet at 8 a.m. I gotta keep those kids awake!

And I guess singing to myself while I wait for a meeting to start is pretty damn goofy, but I am really difficult to embarrass -- and I bet they enjoyed the entertainment. I mean, some off-key Death Cab beats talking about sports while you shuffle papers.

Oh hey, guess what? In September I am going to go to California and do a 10-mile run that involves barreling through fire and mud and icy-cold water and tunnels and electric shocks and climbing rocks and giant walls and jumping off a VERY HIGH platform.

Doesn’t that sound awesome? Sure it does. It sounds totally awesome. It sounds like the best vacation ever. And I’m doing it with a friend who is the best at high-speed hugs and who is almost as loud as I am. So that will be amazing. Well, it will be tough on her husband because he will have to listen to us. But he has done an Ironman, so I think he can take it.

Meanwhile, do you think maybe it’s a good sign that I recently increased my 401k contribution? That is totally the kind of thing adults do. I just know it means something. Maybe I will grow up one day, after all. It could still happen!

Probably it’s too late for the boobs, though.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Crashnastics and doubles manscaping

My friend Lindsay and I have a method of communicating we have dubbed 'yellaughing.' We are probably very annoying to other people, but we make each other flat-out giddy and we are just naturally loud and always have been and the rest of the world can just suck it.

All of that to say: Rejected Olympic events. Lindsay started texting me late one night last week (she lives tragically far from me and is three hours behind) with ideas for rejected Olympic events. The junkstroke. Volleymuffin. Javeljump.

And I immediately began yellaughing and playing the rejected Olympic events game and we texted for DAYS, people. And we yellaughed sitting at our respective desks in our respective time zones. (We also have a name for when we yellaugh at inappropriate times and places: DOAM. As in I just Disturbed Others Around Me.)

So this is our list, and I will assert here that some of this is not as ridiculous as trampoline, which is a legit Olympic event. Also, because any hilarious idea we have the Interweb has already had, I just discovered a hashtag on Twitter: #RejectedOlympicEvents.

But ours are funnier, dammit.


Team napping
Competitive cursing (I am a total contender for this one.)

Rhythmic kickball

Synchronized spooning

Bumper boating


Ribbon curling

Thumb wrestling

Speed gossip

Pole dancing

Roller derby

Cookie toss

Spouse jump

Speed braiding

Relay piercing

Ice cycling

Naked hurdles



Long dive

Emapanadas making

Bigot punching

Message spinning

Synchronized face-slapping

Road tripping

Cycle carry

Doubles manscaping (sponsored by Chik-fil-A)

Grammar slam

The limbo

Women’s beach volleyball watching

Speedo squeeze

Quintuple jump

Synchronized strudel-making

Also, there is a special digital Olympics category that includes:

Cable wrangling

Pretending to listen

Competitive friending



Technical speed walktexting


Speed googling

Excel metrics

You got any to add? This is a team sport, folks!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The kids get bigger, and so do the questions

I love this picture our friend David Andrews (genius) took of my Ben and me. This image speaks to everything I want to be to my boys: a welcoming place to lean, a safe territory from which consider what's out there.

Ben won't fit much longer, though, into that curve where my hip becomes my waist. His older brother is already way too tall for this, and too cool. And I know my opportunities to keep them safe are limited and quickly diminishing.

Today's column in the Times Free Press is a rumination on the challenges of telling my boys difficult truths without making the world seem a terrifying place. And letting them know they'll always have someone to talk to about all of it.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Crazy, stupid fun

So there is this thing about kids that you may or may not know: They are unbelievably, mind-bendingly, laugh-out-loud-until-your-sides-ache-and-you-truly-almost-can't-breathe FUN.

A caveat, though. I don't mean little kids. Toddlers. Babies. Even pre-schoolers. Noooooo thank you to the tantrums and the diapers and the sticky Cheerios and the whiiiiiiiiiining. That's not what I'm talking about at all.

I'm talking about this right here:

How YOU doin'?

These handsome fellows are 12 (Jack in the driver's seat) and 7 (Ben riding shotgun) and dear gah my lawd good grief no one ever even began to prepare me for how much freaking FUN it is to have these half-grown people in my house every day.

So, of course, because they are so much fun, I am busy dreading the day they leave me and I no longer have a license to, for example, ask strangers if we can take pictures of their totally badass cars.

That ride pictured above is a Shelby 289 Continuation Cobra, I am authoritatively told. The sight of it parked at a gas station on Hixson Pike last weekend inspired my (King of Fun) husband to shriek (in a manly way, I assure you) and execute a deft U-turn. Then he and the boys spent 20 minutes chatting up the owner and shooting pictures in and around the car.

"Thanks so much for putting up with this," I said to the grinning owner, as I waited for all of this to be over so we could just go to the damn pool, already.

"I just think it's so awesome how much they love it," he said, laughing and watching the boys mug it up for their dad.

See, this is the kind of thing that kids make it completely OK to do. If Jim and I had been rolling along alone, stopping to talk to that guy and take pictures of his car would have been lame bordering on creepy. But the KIDS love it and everyone loves to see kids getting such a thrill out of something.

This has been the Summer of the Car. My husband, who was a mechanical engineer and car enthusiast in a past life, has taken the kids on a test drive in a Dodge Challenger, and to showrooms to visit and sit in an Audi R8 V-10, a Nissan GTR and a Porsche 911 Carrera. (None of this means a thing to me, by the way. Jim just dictated and I typed.)

Also, while we were in Florida in June, Jack spotted a Ferrari 458 Spider so, naturally, we had to drive down the street after it and force the owner to endure the onslaught of slavering adoration from the three Fortune boys.

Hey, kids, that car costs more than our house. Don't scratch it.

But the Summer of the Car is just one example in the big pile of fun stuff we get away with because we have kids. There are the cartoons we get to watch and the long days just hanging out at the pool doing nothing and the drive-in where we throw blankets on the grass and watch the latest animated brilliance from Pixar. 

There are trips to Target for the sole purpose of looking for new Pokemon cards and bike rides and nature walks and SO MUCH CAKE and end-of-the-school-year trips to Lake Winnepesaukah, where we ride the Scrambler and the Cannonball and the Ferris wheel.

There's also this right here:

Getting ready for the neighborhood Fourth of July parade. That's
our mailman, Gary, who leads the parade every year.

Every year, our neighborhood puts on a big old Fourth of July parade and pool party, and every year we decorate everything and participate. 

The kids get a ridiculous thrill out of the whole thing, and we get a ridiculous thrill out of watching their ridiculous thrill. Left to our own devices, I am pretty sure Jim and I would just sleep in. But we are in the driveway at 9 a.m. every Fourth, tying flags and sparkly crap to the kids' bikes and scooters. It is, as I believe I mentioned, really freaking fun.

A friend of ours recently theorized that this is why grandparents get such a kick out of grandkids. It's a repeat performance of the fun. Because we all know there will come a day (oh gah, so soon) when our boys will be too big and too cool and too busy to spend their days at the pool with us or go on scavenger hunts for awesome cars. They will want some money and the car keys and for us to quit worrying when they get home so late. We will have years of teenagers and young adults, and I am sure that is fun in its own way. 

But, really, no I'm not. Because I was not a fun teenager or young adult. I was an asshole. My parents endured some truly unfun years, and I bet we're in for at least some of the same. 

But right now is pretty much perfect. Right now is our reward for the years we spent wiping noses and bottoms and enduring fussy, nap-fighting toddlers who could not be induced to stop squalling. Our boys are fun and funny and full of ideas and energy and they adore each other and us (and by us I mean their dad, but dammit, I am part of the package and they have to put up with me).

Ben and Jack at the pool. Having fun.

And I'm not saying that adults unaccompanied by minors are not allowed to do all this fun stuff. I mean, sure, we can go to the pool and the drive-in and I guess we could even accost strangers and talk to them about their cars. We could watch cartoons and visit theme parks. I guess.

But, I have to tell you, the idea of doing any of that without the pleasure of watching my boys enjoy it holds zero appeal. None whatsoever. Their fun makes our fun. Seeing the world through their eyes has been one of the greatest privileges of parenting.

Well, that, and getting to see a Ferrari 458 Spider in real life. That was pretty rad, too.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Our fountain of youth

The Stuart Heights pool is the center of our summers, and has been for years. For more than a decade, we've forged friendships from the deck chairs and on the diving boards. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year, you can bet there's a swimsuit and towel in my car so I can go at a moment's notice -- after work, after drinks, before dinner, all day, all weekend.

My kids' memories of their growing-up summers will smell like chlorine and taste like freeze pops. This column is just a drop in the deep end of our shared affection for that place.

Ben (up high), Jack and their buddy Max. (As mom reclines
and chats with her buddy in the background.)

Jack dives into summer.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Secret powers

I am running behind on posting my column because I have been at the beach DOING NOTHING. I am sure the tens of people who read this blog were fretting over the long hiatus, but I assure you I was meticulously perfecting the art of doing nothing and it took total concentration. In fact, I am totally exhausted from the pressures of watching my skin slowly turn brown while I reclined in the sun and simultaneously digested beer.

Hey, someone had to do it.

All that to say, I am home, and catching up by posting last week's column in the Times Free Press. In a way, this column is about the power of doing virtually nothing, but it's connected to the idea that all we have to do is love our kids and we become magical freaking wizards capable of granting them transcendent joy. Which is rad.

Because I am shameless, here's yet another link to the column (and by the way, dear Jeezus why do they have to post my photo so HUGELY MASSIVE on their website? Gah just look at my pores!! No -- wait -- don't.) 

And here's a picture of me doing virtually nothing and making Ben inordinately happy, in keeping with the theme of the column:

At the beach house expending virtually no effort, yet
somehow accomplishing everything really worth doing.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

We run funny

Today's column in the Times Free Press is one I wrote in the painful, giddy aftermath of the St. Jude half-marathon in Nashville last week. I have a ridiculous amount of fun with my running buddies, despite the fact that we spend a lot of time suffering together. Or maybe, as I theorize in this column, the pain and the humor are connected.

(Side note: Sarah ran that race in a super-human time. Most of us came in over our goal times. But Sarah, as it happens, is super-human.)

Here's a little collection of photos from the event, and here's another link to the column. And now I'm going for a run...

The female contingent of our fast, funny crew.
Marsha, Mary, Sarah and Autumn.

The kids in corral 13, featuring the irresistible Kent. Kent is the most
adorable man in the world, with the exception of Jim Fortune.

The half-marathon finishers. Autumn is still running. She did the full.
She is even crazier than us, and that is saying something.

I highly recommend the post-race blanket. I always carry one.

Icing our knees post-race. Those are some tired legs right there.

Did I mention that 31,000 people ran this race? Because they did.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Going home together

We met the pastor just inside the front door of the church so we could talk about the services. My husband Jim came in with his brother Chuck, followed by their brothers Jack and Tom.

The pastor shook hands all around, repeated everyone’s names, then took in the sight of the four Fortune men, and my own two sons standing with their father and their uncles.

“Well,” he said, chuckling. “There’s a whole bunch of you, isn’t there?”

Oh, yes, there is a whole bunch of them. And I love nothing more than to see them all together – all those smart, good men I love so dearly. But this was a hard, hard day. Their mom died. She died on March 7, and I can’t yet type those words without feeling the sting of tears behind my eyelids.

My friends sometimes tell me stories about their frustrating, meddling mothers-in-law. I never have any helpful advice to offer. My mother-in-law was a woman I would have ordered straight out of a mother-in-law catalog. She’s the one I would have picked.

It stands to reason; she raised the man I picked. She was the heart of a family I feel lucky to have married into. She was terrifically smart, sharply funny, but also gentle and loyal. She was open and loving and genuinely kind.

So are her sons. So are my sons.

So we all met in Augusta, Ga. -- one of the Fortune boys coming from as far away as Oregon -- to say goodbye and to reconnect with the people who remember their mom best and will miss her most.

The stories were really something. I learned a lot about her over those days in Augusta – about a woman I’ve known for 16 years who welcomed me like family back when I was just the 24-year-old girlfriend she had no good reason to believe would stick.

I heard about her years raising her four rowdy, funny boys in a three-bedroom rental house on Fleming Avenue, and I heard about the career she launched at the elementary school once her youngest started kindergarten.

They called her a bookkeeper or an assistant or something like that. But everyone agreed: She ran the place. In fact, when the principal of that school took a new assignment at another school, he asked her to come along.

“He knew what he was doing,” one of the kids from those days, now middle-aged, recalled. “He knew he couldn’t do it without her.”

Over those days in Augusta, more than one of those middle-aged kids talked about always feeling like the “fifth Fortune” – always feeling welcome in her home, always feeling like one of the family, like one of her kids. Always knowing that, if they were having a rough day at school, the door of Mrs. Fortune’s office was open. That she would listen.

She would have loved that. All those fifth Fortunes, flipping through photo albums and recalling all the good reasons they loved her.

It’s hard to accept, the idea that someone who was so important to us is gone from us. She was smart and strong and beautiful. She loved my sons like they were her own, and she raised my husband to be the devoted man who gave me a safe place to keep my heart. And she’s gone from us.

My own family doesn’t do the formal ceremonies surrounding death – the visitations and services and all that. I think my parents have actual written instructions in their wills forbidding any of it. We cremate, quietly. We donate bodies to science.

We’re not Southern. We’re not churched. In fact, we’re deeply secular humanists. (None of which my mother-in-law ever minded in the least or even brought up, by the way. She just loved me and that was all. No questions asked.)

But I came away from those days in Augusta with a deep appreciation for those unfamiliar traditions of shared farewell. The coming together and the sustaining comfort of communal history revisited.

I even came around on the question of the open casket. “It will scare the kids,” I quietly predicted to my husband when he told me the plans. But, you know, it didn’t. Our younger son approached his grandmother’s coffin and asked if he could hold her hand.

“Of course,” I said. “Of course.” And he did.

Later, that kid gave me the best laugh of the day. Into the reverential silence that followed a long, solemn prayer, he chirped, “What was THAT all about?”

Oh, my funny, sweet boy. Your grandmother would have absolutely loved that.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Frog and Toad and the joys of solitude

This column got written mostly in a hotel room in Maine. Family life has really taught me to appreciate the occasional business trip. It has also taught me to appreciate coming home.

(And a shout-out to Danie for giving me that nickname that suits me so thoroughly.)

Frog and Toad and Ben and me and Rat Patrol the magical supercat.

Monday, April 2, 2012



I am slightly excited.
Here is the link:

And here is a blog about my book in case you want to read it.

Did I mention my book is here? Because it totally is.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A very long post about what marriage really looks like

So apparently all the writing I do about my husband’s awesomeness is sometimes a little much. Apparently it kind of makes people feel like crap because they think all is perfect and delightful at all times and Jim Fortune is the best at everything and I am just swooning and sitting in his lap every hour of every day. And then people think their lives are not good enough or not happy enough or not perfect enough.

I hate to think that I am making people feel that way, even a little.

But OK, here’s the thing. Jim Fortune is amazing. Our life together is really wonderful. If that is making you feel like crap, I can’t help you there. BUT I can maybe help you by telling you a little story about how we tried to beat our marriage to death a couple of years ago. It sucked tremendously.

Well, on second thought, I kind of hate that story. Those details are not the greatest, and if there is an asshole in that story it’s totally me, so let’s not go into it too much.

So instead maybe I will tell you about some of the things that contributed to us nearly beating our marriage to death, and then I will tell you about what happened next and why I am now pretty much swooning every hour of every day. That might be better.

Things to consider:

Jim is 15 years older than I am. He is pretty much in constant pain, and I am pretty much in constant motion. When we began dating back in 1996, he was 39 and I was 24 and we were all the time mountain biking and camping and climbing stuff and kayaking and building things and, really, our whole courtship was based on being filthy and outside and covered in bruises and maybe even having ticks in our hair.

June 1998: Filthy, giddy, newly engaged.
 Because when you are 39 and 24 and both healthy and irreverent and intrepid, you are pretty much the same age. I mean, he had dreadlocks, y’all.

But much later, when you are 53 and 38, and the older one of you has had terrible luck with his health and the younger one of you hasn’t, well, there is some stress that happens there. 

So this morning I ran 10 miles. And Jim, who cannot run at all, can barely walk across the living room tonight because his joints hurt so much. They hurt all the time. He will spend the evening encased in ice packs. He spends most evenings that way. It’s hard on him in a million ways, both physical and mental.

Also. We have a couple of kids and we both used to have these very groovy but low-paying jobs that we liked a lot. But then we really needed to support those kids, but then Jim’s health kind of fell apart and his groovy career kind of collapsed and then I had to leave a groovy career I loved in order to be a grown-up and begin a new career that I merely like just fine.

I make enough to support us and I am home on the holidays and I work with great people and things are right wonderful in that respect. But I am the breadwinner for our family and I spend most of my waking hours in a cubicle, which is all a bit psychologically burdensome for an odd little duck like me. And I didn’t really sign up for all that.

I mean, y’all, who the hell would sign up for all that? Not an odd little duck like me, for sure.

And here’s another thing, since we’re talking about this. I am difficult. I am, um, let’s say I’m high-strung. That seems like a reasonable way to put it. I am a tad volatile and not easy to live with and I am not always the nicest person and I’m maybe a bit of a loner and sometimes I really need to be alone but I usually can’t be. And that makes me a tad more volatile than I even was to start with.

Meanwhile, Jim is sweet and laid back and patient and loving, which leaves me free to be even more of a pain in the ass because I know he’s handling the being-nice part of the work that needs to get done in our lives.

Throw all that into a blender and put it on pulse. Leave the lid off, just for fun.

In 2010, things broke really bad between Jim and me. He was worn out from being in so much pain for so long and from seeing his career pretty much crash and burn. I was frustrated and disappointed with the way it was all turning out, with feeling generally like a beast of burden, with the realization that our super-fun life had unexpectedly evaporated and left me with a bunch of yucky realities I truly never expected back when I was working at my groovy, low-paying job and spending the weekends picking ticks out of my hair.

So things were hard. We were feeling pretty tired and stressed. Then some other stuff happened. Yadda yadda yadda. It all went boom.

Here is a column I wrote right about that time. You would not even believe the shit that was happening in the background of that column. It was miserable. You can absolutely tell how near the edge I am right here.

But. BUT. Here is the thing. Jim and I are fundamentally crazy about each other. We have been best friends since our first date. Instantly. Irrevocably. We were not nervous on our wedding day. We were the opposite of nervous. We were both certain that we were doing the smartest and best thing we had ever done. We were really, really happy that day. And we were really, really happy for quite some time after that day. We are good together. We belong together.

It is easy, I think, to learn to take that for granted – to forget how rare it is to feel that way about anyone ever in your whole life. It’s just there every day, right? Someone who knows EXACTLY what you mean when you barely even said anything. Someone who gets your jokes and shares your history and your worldview and who always puts your to-go coffee in the car for you and who knows what to order for you when you happen to be in the bathroom at the moment the waiter shows up to ask.

Years and years and years go by. Eventually, you just feel completely entitled to this terrific person whose job it is to be crazy about you. And then life gets harder because that’s what it’s designed to do. And then no one is smiling anymore. All the laughing that used to happen just dries up. And you stop being nice to each other. We stopped being nice to each other.

Slowly, slowly, one interaction at a time, we started being rude and dismissive and critical and even cruel and not like us at all. We got tired and stressed and overwhelmed and we started beating the absolute hell out of our marriage.

The poor thing. It was just minding its own business.

At some point, we damn near broke it for good and I stood over the sad, bruised hull of us and realized how close I was to ruining my life. Just ruining everything that meant anything. And I thought, ‘Wait. I didn’t mean to do this. I don’t know what I meant to do, but it definitely wasn’t this.’

I have never been so bone-deep scared. And maybe that’s what it takes to come back from a dark year like the one we had.

I got scared. And I made a conscious, deliberate, determined decision to find my way back to May 2, 1999 – to the day I looked Jim Fortune in his blue, blue eyes and swore to him I’d love him forever and felt like the luckiest woman on the planet to be in that place, saying those words. I remember with total clarity exactly how I felt at that moment. I was not wrong in that moment. I was as right as I have ever been about anything.

So I decided.

I decided that when Jim made me mad, when he disappointed me, when he frustrated me, I would let it go. And when he did something that made me happy, I would make it the thought I returned to every time he crossed my mind. I assumed he was doing his best. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. And I asked him to do the same for me.

My friend and physical trainer says this: What we think about grows. It’s true. I thought about how much I love my quirky, brilliant husband and the oddball little life we’ve built. I thought about how much I love our beautiful boys, how lucky they are that I picked the dad I did for them. I thought about all the reasons I chose him, and all the reasons I feel so lucky he chose me.

And something magic happened. What I thought about grew.

I decided to ignore the things that annoyed and disappointed me, and they just…vanished. I was kind, and he was kind in return. I told him how much I love him, and his face rearranged itself into the face of a happy man. He made me laugh again, and then he was making me laugh all the time, just like he used to. I made him stop in the kitchen to hug me for no reason, and then he didn’t want to let go.

It took a long time, and it wasn’t easy. Some days it’s still hard because, ugh, some days are just like that. We have been together 16 years, and I would bet money that the time will come again when I’ll need to be reminded that what we think about grows.

But I’m a lot more humble now about marriage, and a lot more open to the truth that my husband and I are as vulnerable as anyone – regardless of how smugly certain of ourselves we might feel on our good days.

Because we nearly beat it to death, I’m a lot more grateful for what we have. I’m a lot more careful about what I let into my head, into my heart, into my life. I work every day on thinking about the things I want to see flourish. Because what we think about grows.

And, in my case, what I think about gets written down. So sometimes you end up reading about how much I love Jim Fortune.

Yeah, it can be a little much.

Maybe this will make you feel better: The man never vacuums. He will wash clothes, but then he will not put them away, so they are in piles everywhere and the kids are always announcing that they have no clothes to wear despite the fact that there are stacks of clean clothes…someplace around here.

And he leaves drifts of paper all over the house and he writes checks that get lost in those piles and never get mailed and he won’t let me load the dishwasher because I do it wrong. He watches too much TV and he will not ask for what he wants from me – he just expects me to know and I NEVER know. I am the worst at knowing. So I have to drag it out of him while he shrugs and mumbles. It’s so frustrating. It drives me crazy.

And, y’all, he’s mine in a way that no one else is or ever has been or ever will be, and I can’t do without him.

That’s all that matters. That’s all that’s worth thinking about.