Last month my husband Mike Brady* and I returned to the yoga center in the Berkshire mountains for a few days of rest and relaxation. There were a number of workshops offered that weekend: a health-oriented workshop led by a physician, an advanced yoga workshop, a writing workshop, and a couples’ workshop called Getting the Love You Want. I was intrigued by the couples’ workshop, not because I’m unhappy in my marriage but because Couples Retreat starring Vince Vaughn is one of those movies I stop and watch every time I come across it channel surfing. Vaughn heads up a group of four couples, all in various states of marital distress, at a couples retreat in the Caribbean. As you would imagine, hijinks abound, including a yoga class with an overly enthusiastic instructor. I enjoyed the movie and thought the critics were unnecessarily harsh. This despite the fact that at the end of the picture, Vaughn declares that all he truly desires in this world is to eat at Applebee’s once a week with his wife and kids, making me feel like a shrew for complaining whenever Mike Brady takes me and the kids there.
I didn’t ask Mike Brady if he’d be willing to sign up for the Love workshop because he wouldn’t want to and I know it. We’re the kind of couple that prefers to keep our declarations of affection private, preferably at night, under the covers with eyes closed, so that in the event it should ever become necessary, either one of us could legitimately claim they had been talking in their sleep.
I signed us up for the health workshop. The program promised to educate us on healthy eating and stress management. Our workshop room was filled with 25 participants. We went around the circle and introduced ourselves and told the group what our intention was for the weekend, which is just a fancy word for goal. I said I was looking for healthful ways to treat PMS irritability and to get a definitive answer on whether soy was good or bad for me. When it came to Mike Brady’s turn, he said that he was there to listen and to help out any way he could. “Who are you?” I mouthed at him. It’s not hard to see why the kids in his elementary school class disliked him.
In the workshop we discussed phytonutrients, metabolic syndrome, and the seven chakras of the body, among other things. During our break, I noticed a huge gathering of people in the main assembly hall next door. Two hundred people were seated while two workshop leaders with microphones weaved their way through the audience. Audience members held a thick workbook and above them all, a giant projection screen read:
I bring my unmet need of ___________ from childhood into this relationship.
The workshop leader handed a woman his microphone and she started speaking. I lingered at the door trying to listen until Mike Brady pulled me away.
At our next break, I saw a couple seated in the lounge area immediately outside the workshop rooms. The man sat with one hand resting on the woman’s shoulder. With his other hand, he held her hand, their fingers intertwined. They faced each other looking as if they were having an intense conversation, except neither one was talking. I watched them from a place where I could pretend to read a notice on the wall, waiting to see if someone spoke. They were oblivious to the activity around them, which I believed made it acceptable for me to keep spying. I watched and waited but they did nothing but stare into each other’s eyes. I eventually returned to my own workshop. That afternoon Mike Brady and I learned to mindfully eat a raisin.
In the evening we walked around the grounds enjoying our last cup of Inka, a grain beverage coffee alternative popular at the center. Mike Brady remarked how beautiful the sky looked, light still lingering at 9 p.m. and how peaceful the world seemed at that moment. Something about that couple that afternoon made me prickly. “It’s quiet because everyone is in their rooms looking at each other,” I said.
The next morning in the communal dinning room, we ate our silent breakfast. Mike Brady was engrossed reading the laminated cards at each table describing the center’s cooking philosophy. My attention drifted around the room. Many people had their workbooks with them. They were reading and taking notes. I watched an older woman get up from her table and walk toward the buffet when the man across from her, who looked to be in his sixties, reached out and brought the woman’s face down to his and kissed her on the lips. I witnessed another woman run her hand down the back of a man’s head and kiss him on the neck. Was ecstasy on the buffet and I missed it? These were ordinary middle-aged people, the kind of people you’d expect to find on the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey, America’s greatest family resort. They were diligently jotting down notes in their workbooks in between bites of food as if studying for the bar exam. That is, when they were able to keep their hands and mouths off each other.
Walking to our workshop I began to pout.
“Maybe we should have signed up for the couples workshop,” I said.
“Why?” asked Mike.
“Don’t you see what’s happening? It’s a love orgy in there.”
“I’ll tell you what’s happening, a new wing for the center. Cha-ching.”
“Make jokes but 200 people are getting the love they want while we’re learning about leaky gut.”
Watching the Love attendees raised the question, “Why can’t we be like that?” I thought. Mike Brady’s heart chakra needed some tweaking. Or maybe my throat chakra needed help so I could better communicate how I felt. Though it wouldn’t hurt for Mike Brady to consider the state of his sacral chakra, his ability to accept new experiences. However, if I’m being honest, I know my solar plexus chakra, which affects self-esteem, is not where it needs to be. I’m constantly comparing myself to others. Still, it wouldn’t kill my husband to maul me once in awhile in between bites of tofu scramble.
On our final morning, the last exercise was for each of us to write goals for ourselves. That’s fairly standard workshop protocol. I wondered what kinds of goals the people next door were writing. Once when I had peaked into their room, I saw on the giant projection screen:
Heal Your Relationship
Heal Your Children
Heal the World
That seemed like a lot of pressure. Now I had to face the possibility that my moodiness and obsessive tendencies were not only irritating to my husband but also irritating to the world at large. I considered this for a moment. In the end, I wrote my goal: make kale chips.
Perhaps Mike Brady and I could have improved our relationship had we taken the Love workshop. But wasn’t simply time away without the kids improving our relationship? The weekend was still valuable. We were both feeling energized about making healthful changes to our diets. As we packed up our car, Mike Brady said how happy he was that we did this and hugged me, looking to anyone who might have been watching, as two people who had spent the weekend getting the love they want.
*Not his real name but one he reluctantly agreed I could use for the blog.
A few years ago, my husband, Mike Brady,* and I decided to spend a weekend at a yoga health center in the Berkshire Mountains. I had been to the center once before and had enjoyed the daily yoga, organic food, and walking trails. The center also offers a variety of health-oriented workshops for those who like to mix self-improvement with their vacations. The workshops have names like One Breath at a Time, The Straightforward Path, and Ignite Your Passion. I signed up for a meditation workshop, which I thought would help me figure out what I should do with my life. This was Mike Brady’s first time at the center. He preferred not to improve himself and said he’d be content to read a book and look at the lake.
On my first day, I left my sandals at the door in a row with the others, and joined the dozen attendees sitting in a circle on the floor of the meditation room. Our meditation instructor bore a striking resemblance to the actress Judi Dench. We went around the circle and introduced ourselves. There were a husband and wife in their sixties from India, a good-looking man in his forties from California wearing a concert tee shirt, a young woman with an eyebrow piercing, and the rest were assorted housewives from Connecticut. Most people would have lumped me into that last group just by looking at me, but I live in Pennsylvania.
At our first session, Ms. Dench outlined the various meditation techniques we would be learning: seated meditation, walking meditation, metta meditation, alternative nostril breathing, and using mala beads. And to enhance our meditative experience, she strongly suggested that we stay in-silence during our time at the center. Whenever we were outside the meditation room, we were not to talk unless absolutely necessary. She passed out nametags for each of us to clip onto our clothing, but instead of our names, they said, “In Loving Silence.”
Mr. California raised his hand. “I’m here with my girlfriend who’s taking a different workshop. Am I allowed to talk to her?”
“No. And I’d like you to conserve your energy as well,” said Ms. Dench. The women in the class giggled like middle schoolers, myself included.
After our first session, I met Mike Brady back in our room. He pointed to the “In Loving Silence” sign on my chest.
“Oh my God. Are you truly not going to speak?”
“Yes. I want to get as much out of this weekend as possible so I’m going to try to really do this.” I whispered.
“Wow. Good for you.”
“I’m going to get changed for afternoon yoga,” said Mike.
I nodded and watched Mike put on his workout clothes. He put away his laundry and tidied up his side of the room. I put on yoga pants and did the same. It felt out of order somehow to be in the room with him with neither one of us talking when we weren’t in the midst of an argument.
As we left the room I whispered, “Did you have a good day by yourself?”
“Whispering is still talking, Terry.”
At dinner in the communal dining hall, I made my way down the buffet and joined Mike at a table. I pointed to my turkey kibbee with yogurt cucumber sauce and pantomimed rubbing my tummy and smiled.
He raised an eyebrow. “Is Charades allowed?”
On his plate were tofu fajitas with Mexican bean salad. If he closed his eyes, he might as well have been at Chili’s at the mall. I had the urge to tell him to try some of the more unusual offerings in the buffet. I took a breath. He can eat whatever he wants, I told myself. Prohibited from making conversation, I looked around the dining hall. I noticed the trees outside the windows and the huge paintings of Buddha decorating the walls. I watched groups of women eating together and tried to guess which workshop they were attending by eavesdropping on snippets of their conversations. I counted the men I saw and from that, estimated 25% of attendees at the center were male. I observed these thoughts as they passed through my mind like clouds floating across the sky. After dinner, Mike and I took a walk around the grounds without speaking, and then went back to our room. There was not much to do at the center at night. There is no TV in the rooms so by 9:30 I was asleep.
The next morning we got up early and I had an overwhelming need to talk, to say things like:
“Are you going to take a shower now or wait until after morning yoga?”
“Do you want to use the bathroom first?”
“What do you think the weather will be like?
“Did you use my bug spray yesterday? I can’t find it anywhere.”
These are the kinds of things I say all the time, how I fill the air with noise. Ms. Dench said before speaking, we should ask ourselves, Are we improving upon the silence? In my case, probably not. So on this morning, I said none of it. I found my bug spray myself, decided to bring a sweater without a ten-minute debate over which weather app is most accurate, and simply waited until Mike was out of the bathroom for my turn. We took a morning yoga class, ate a silent breakfast, and then I waved goodbye. As I walked to my meditation workshop, I couldn’t help but notice how well Mike and I were getting along.
During the workshop, when we were not actually meditating, we were allowed to talk and encouraged to ask questions.
One of the women from Connecticut raised her hand. “Nothing seems to happen when I meditate. I fall asleep or my mind starts thinking of a million things. I’m just not getting it. And I really want to experience . . . God. You know, like in the book Eat, Pray, Love . . . What am I doing wrong?
“Aaaaaah. Yes.” said Ms. Dench.
We waited for her to expound on her answer, but she didn’t.
“No really. I want a real answer,” the woman said.
“A real answer,” Ms. Dench repeated.
“Yes, a real answer. I read the book, built the yoga room, been trying to meditate now for almost a year, paid for this workshop, and I don’t even know if I’m doing it right. Have you read Eat, Pray, Love?”
Ms. Dench smiled kindly at the woman. “Keep at it.”
“That is it.” She said it without any trace of annoyance. The Indian man nodded his head in agreement.
Another woman raised her hand. “Can you recommend a good book on meditation?”
“Go into the gift shop downstairs and walk past the book shelf. Whatever book falls off the shelf, take that one.”
I had to admit there was a certain kind of beauty in the simplicity of her answers. Does it matter which technique you use to meditate so long as you meditate? Isn’t the key to doing anything to keep doing it?
At the end of the day’s session, Mike and I met up and decided to walk the wooded path down to the lake. It was late afternoon in July and after sampling half a dozen meditation techniques I was feeling peaceful. My mind felt as calm as a lake after a rainfall. This is rare for me, to not be plagued by constant thoughts of what I need to be doing next. I was moved by this new sense of calm and immediately wondered, is this how yogis feel all the time? Why can’t I feel this way all the time? Then I stopped my mind and focused instead on just being grateful for feeling at peace. I walked with that thought, thankful for that moment in the woods, my gratitude growing larger with each step, then to such size that I could no longer contain it.
“I’m so happy we’re here,” I whispered to Mike.
Just as the words left my mouth, the Indian couple appeared from around the curve in the path, walking silently in our direction.
“You are totally busted,” said Mike.
After dinner, we headed back to our room and lay in bed reading. Mike moved his body close to mine. I could tell he was feeling romantic. I was too. It had been two days of mountain air and yoga hip openers. There was no alcohol to make us sleepy, no TV to distract us. I hadn’t felt this close to my husband in years. Without talking, we were forced to communicate by actually looking at each other and using hand gestures. We didn’t toss our words out while distracted by something else as we normally did. So there had been no miscommunications, no slights, no you’re not listening to what I’m saying or that’s not what I meant at all. You obviously don’t have a clue as to who I am.
He started touching my thigh.
“I’m supposed to conserve my energy,” I whispered.
He kept going. I read the same sentence three times before finally putting my book down.
“Okay. But I’m not going to talk.”
I slid beneath him. Within five minutes I’d forgotten all about In Loving Silence. I couldn’t help myself. I told him how much I loved him, how good everything felt, how much I didn’t want him to stop. I was bingeing on talk, high on yoga and healthy food and love. I told him how I wished it could be like this always, how I wished we never had to talk again.
*Not his real name, but one he reluctantly agreed I could use for this blog.
In the past ten months my son Elroy Jetson* has grown four inches. I’m an average height woman, though in some Pacific Rim countries I’d be considered modelesque, but now Elroy is taller than me. He is twelve. Elroy has always been tall for his age. By ten, he had reached the height of a full-grown North Korean soldier.
Last summer Elroy and I took a bike ride together and he struggled to keep up with me. As we rode around our neighborhood, the hills proved too steep at certain points and Elroy had to get off his bike and walk his way to the top. Earlier this week we took the same path.
“No getting off your bike this time,” I shouted over my shoulder at him. “Push yourself.”
I dug in, straining from my gut as I climbed the hill when Elroy came whizzing by, smiling. He yelled over his shoulder, “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll wait for you at the top.”
The irritating part was how he said it—as if riding faster than me was something he had always done instead of this unforeseen reversal of fortune. He wasn’t even winded.
If Elroy was an extremely active boy who played travel soccer three times a week, I could have anticipated this newfound strength and endurance. But that’s not the case. He may shoot basketballs or ride his bike around the cul-de-sac, but there are no training schedules. He doesn’t play sports so much as dabble in them. He’ll play flag football and basketball in non-competitive leagues for an hour or so a week during their designated seasons before moving on to the next activity. His preferred recreation is Xbox and annoying his sister.
Elroy was born tiny weighing three-and-a-half pounds. While in premature labor, I sneezed once and he appeared. Small and weak, he spent three weeks in the hospital. Now he’s growing like one of those time-lapse nature films.
That afternoon my husband called in from the road and told me that Elroy had texted him earlier: I beat Mom biking today. Badly.
“Ah, youth,” said my husband. “And testosterone.”
It was just Elroy and me alone in the house. His father was traveling and his sister was away at camp. After dinner, I asked Elroy if he’d like to arm wrestle. He laughed at me, then shrugged. “Okay.” A brief thought that I might be turning into The Great Santini crossed my mind, but I couldn’t help myself. I had a sudden urgent desire to find out how strong Elroy had become. Leg power and endurance is one thing but arm strength is a totally different ball of wax. Elroy was an inch taller than me, but I still outweighed him by twenty pounds. And I do yoga, which I was certain would give me the edge. We grasped hands at the kitchen table.
“Are you trying?” I asked
“Yes,” Elroy said.
“Sort of, but I don’t think you’re trying.”
“No, I am,” I said.
“Okay, then I am too.”
Then I really did try, as hard as I could to get his arm down. But our hands remained clasped tight, straight up like an arrow from the table, a perfect 90-degree angle. I couldn’t budge him at all.
“Okay, let’s call it a tie,” I said and dropped his hand.
“You didn’t have to stop. I wasn’t getting tired.”
“Let’s just call it a tie.”
That night he lay in bed reading a comic book. I thanked Elroy for going biking with me. “No problem,” he said. “It was fun. And I’m especially glad no one saw us together.”
Two days ago my husband and I drove Elroy to camp in the woods of New Hampshire. I’ll miss my son, of course, but now I have plenty of time to work out before he comes home.
*Not his real name but one he reluctantly agreed I could use for this post.
My father was 44 years old when I was born. In the 1960s this was considered ancient to have a baby. It wasn’t until I was in third grade when I realized how much older my father was than my friends’ fathers and I cried, fearing that he wouldn’t be alive by the time I grew up. But he has proven to be cat-like in his ability to survive. In the last 25 years, he has endured a triple by-pass, assorted heart episodes, diabetes, kidney stones, and high cholesterol, among other ailments. He never exercises. He eats whatever. And he’s inhaled enough second-hand smoke in the past 50 years to fill the Hindenburg. On a positive note, he avoids alcohol and plays chess three times a week, so there’s that.
He’s had a very long and successful career as a general surgeon. My mother would often remark, “Do you know how many people in Brooklyn would be walking around with colostomy bags today if it weren’t for your father?“ But my mother, also a physician, and competitive by nature, might, if she was feeling prickly, add “not that being a surgeon takes much brain power, it's is all about ‘when in doubt, cut it out.’ ” Sometimes I think my mother’s lucky my father never sewed her mouth shut. Instead, whenever she’d say her little joke, he’d just beam at her as if she had made him a pot roast dinner with matzo ball soup. My mother’s specialty was emergency room medicine. She liked to practice medicine with all the machismo of soldiers on the front line.
A year ago, my father, at 89 years old, lost his balance while walking up two steps from the garage into the house. He fell and suffered a compression fracture in his back. My mother, 80, saw no need to bother any of their children with this news. She felt she could take care of him herself. But moving him around proved difficult and he was in a lot of pain. My mother had some Oxycontin lying around the house and gave it to him. Expiration dates have never had the same meaning to her as they do to ordinary folks. Finding expired medication doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it. If anything, maybe you should take more because it's lost some of its potency. Just to be clear, my mother would never give expired medication in the hospital. There are laws against such things. But at home, why let good medicine go to waste?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what caused my father’s sharp decline, whether it was the Oxycontin, dehydration, or what have you, but shortly after taking the drug my father became seriously ill and delusional. My mother called for an ambulance. Then she called me in a panic, telling me the end was near, and I was to alert all four of my siblings, I, being the unofficial family crier. After 24 hours in the hospital, and the Oxycontin out of his system, my father significantly improved and the crisis had passed. Once again, he had beaten the odds.
But he was still in pain from the original injury and unable to walk well. My older brother Steven, who happens to be a veterinary surgeon, said, “This is like Downer Cow Syndrome.” He went on to explain further, “A cow will fall in the pasture for many reasons, but if you don’t get the cow up, she’ll become depressed and lose the will to live. We need to get Dad up and walking as soon as possible. ”
We took Steven’s advice and after a short stay, my father was released from the hospital, back into the care of his attentive wife. “She doesn’t have to take care of me. I can do everything myself,” he said. But I feel more comfortable checking in with them often anyway. In the back of my mind, I want to make certain my parents don’t disintegrate into a Dead Ringers type of situation.*
The end may still be near, but my eight-year-old self had nothing to fear.
*Dead Ringers was a 1980s horror film directed by David Cronenberg, staring Jeremy Irons in a dual role playing twin gynecologists who treat each other for drug addiction, to disastrous results.
Which is better, to formally apologize to your kids after totally losing it or just pretending like it never happened?
(Never mind why I’m asking.)
Recently my twelve-year-old daughter said to me out of nowhere:
"When I grow up I want to marry a man who is smart. But not too smart. Daddy smart."
I wondered, how does she know how smart Mike Brady* is? She doesn’t really understand what he does for a living. None of us do, quite frankly. Mike helps her study for tests at school, so she sees he’s smart in 6th grade science and social studies. Perhaps that’s it. She also sees how well he works the TVs, Xbox, and Wii in the house. If having a green thumb means you’re smart, then Mike Brady would be in Mensa and I’d be in special ed. Maybe she notices that and has forgotten about her shirts he’s ruined doing the laundry. He can’t seem to decipher the care instructions. Ever. After the third shirt he ruined, I begged him never to do our laundry again. At the time, I thought he wasn’t smart at all. Now I’m not so sure.
Mike likes to say I’m smarter than he is. But then he’ll point out that it was very smart of him to marry a woman smarter than him. Lately though I don’t feel so smart. I’ve gotten lost recently. Twice. This is extremely upsetting to me. I fear it’s the start of dementia or a brain tumor.
“I’ve always had an excellent sense of direction!” I cry.
“Just decent,” Mike corrects me.
Despite my current mental decline, Mike still maintains his wife is smarter than he is. Which makes him one of the smartest men around.
*Not my husband's real name but one he reluctantly agreed I could use for this blog.
My husband Mike Brady* travels a lot for work, which means I’m home alone with the kids most nights during the week. He’ll frequently visit the “home office” in another state. At times I can’t help but marvel at how easy it would be for him to have an entire other family without me ever knowing.
When I asked him about it, he answered that one wife is more than he or any man could handle. I followed with, “What about a girlfriend and illegitimate baby a la John Edwards?” He countered that after dealing with me, he’s got nothing left for anyone else. Then I cross-examined him on what exactly he meant by dealing with me, though I had a pretty good idea. The average neurotic has nothing on me. I’ve been known to wear my clothes for years with the tags still attached, unable to fully commit.
Exasperated, Mike offered me his cell phone, laptop, and credit card bills to peruse to my heart’s content. It’s a good strategy on his part but I’m not 100% convinced. My reasons are not that I feel in my gut that there’s something wrong. On the contrary, things feel fine…but too fine, if you know what I mean. Mike Brady seems perfect. And well, nobody is perfect. That’s how I know I’m screwed.
Every day I live with a small persistent fear, like a low-grade fever that’s high enough to stay home from school but not so high that your mother will postpone her errands so she dopes you up on Advil and drags you to the grocery store where you lag behind the cart feeling not quite right. It’s that kind of fear. A nagging suspicion that one day a little girl will show up at my door, dragging her Hello Kitty suitcase asking, “Is my Daddy there?” I’d finally learn of Mike’s secret mistress, a school teacher who died tragically while saving her entire kindergarten class from a fire.
I would do the decent thing and accept Mike Brady’s motherless illegitimate child into my home. The neighbors would be amazed at the enormous generosity of my spirit, my abundance of grace for this innocent little girl.
“How does she stay with him?” I’d hear the other mothers whisper, disgust and awe battling it out as I walk past in the hallways of the elementary school. I’d enjoy newfound respect at the bus stop and home jewelry parties.
But as the little girl grew, she’d start to look more and more like her mother and I wouldn’t be able to handle it. She’d become a constant reminder of Mike’s affair and my passive aggressive tendencies would reveal themselves. I’m only human after all. On Christmas, I’d buy my daughter real Uggs and Mike’s illegitimate daughter Ugg knock-offs. I’d drive way past the mileage requiring an oil change, something I know makes him crazy. And I’d invite my parents for dinner…more than usual. And in this way, these small seemingly inconsequential acts would slowly pollute our home with the unmistakable whiff of resentment.
So I’m gonna ask Mike Brady one more time, “Are you sure there’s nothing going on at the home office?”
*Not my husband's real name but one he reluctantly agreed I could use for the blog.
I don’t care what anyone says. No on knows a woman’s heart like Dr. Phil. There’s so much to love about Dr. Keeping it Real. I love his irony-free Burt Reynold’s mustache and jungle-gym sized limbs. I get gooey-eyed when he sits with his hand pensively at his chin signaling he’s both caring and authoritative. I go over the moon when he says to his guest, with earnest eyebrows knit, “I can get you the help you need if you’re willing to take it.” I breathe heavy at the dramatic pause that follows. My eyes grow moist. Sometimes other body parts too. When I can’t stand the tension a second longer, Dr. Perfect puts his hand on her knee, a move I find paternal yet sexy, and asks, “Will you take it? Will you take help I’m about to offer?” The guest chokes back her tears and nods. I too, begin to weep in cathartic release and empathy for the woman who is finally going to be able to kick her anorexia, obesity, shopping addiction, alcoholism, rage issues, sex obsession, gambling habit, and any other affliction that ails her. She will become a better mother, a better wife and just a much better human being all the way around. In a grand final gesture, Dr. Feelgood gives her $25,000 worth of free therapy. And I’m done.
Sometimes I struggle with the question, “What should I be doing with my life?” And by "sometimes" I mean pretty much all the time. I try to talk to my husband and he’s pretty good for about ten minutes. Then his attention begins to wane. It’s like I’ve overstayed my welcome.
The kiss of death is when he says, “I just want you to be happy.” Translation: “I give up. . . I don’t know what you want me to say anymore… I need to get to sleep.”
I try to make him understand that I need to have a creative outlet in my life. He tells me to use my creativity on the dishes.
I stacked those bitches like Stonehedge.