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Taking Off The Parenting Hat To Go On A Date

22 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

The last time I saw a movie with my husband – a real movie, in a movie theatre, with a giant bucket of popcorn to share – my firstborn son was about a year old. Because we just had the one child back then, and because one-year-olds who aren’t yet fully mobile are easier to manage than hyperactive eight-year-olds, my ageing mother-in-law was able to babysit.

We have gone out on other occasions, of course. We are regular patrons of a nearby dinner theatre that’s run in a barn – if once or twice a year can be considered “regular”. We go to the annual Christmas gala organized by my employers, and on the odd occasion, we’ll go to a party or a wedding.

For the most part, though, our outings include the kids. We frequent parks with slides and swings, and we go to restaurants where the waitstaff bring paper cups filled with crayons along with menus that the kids are allowed to draw on.

I am always hearing and reading about the importance of a couple going out on their own to spend time just with each other. I fully subscribe to that idea, and from time to time my husband and I make a commitment to have a date night once a month. But the logistics are so difficult.

People often assume that living with my mother-in-law gives us a built-in babysitter whenever we need it, and while that may have been true to an extent at one time, it’s not anymore. My mother-in-law is almost eight years older now than she was when we went to the movie that time, and instead of having one one-year-old, we have a six-year-old and an almost nine-year-old.

Finding a trustworthy babysitter is hard enough for any parent. There’s something very frightening about entrusting the most valuable things in our lives to people who usually aren’t old enough to vote. And when one of those valuable things is a vulnerable special needs child, the angst about it increases ten-fold.

Most babysitters do not know how to handle a special needs child. We have to find people who have some understanding of autism, are quick on their feet, and have the physical strength and presence of mind to restrain a child for his own safety. If it’s someone who can take the time to actually get to know the child while I am home, so much the better.

Usually, it’s just easier for us to not go anywhere by ourselves at all. But then our relationship definitely starts to take strain, because we are not paying enough attention to nurturing our relationship. Eventually, because of our increasing levels of stress, it starts to take some kind of toll on our parenting, in spite of all our efforts to the contrary.

Last night, we had the opportunity to go out to a concert – meaning that my husband had free tickets – and we had to scramble for a babysitter. The free tickets had come about unexpectedly, so we hadn’t exactly planned for an evening out. I desperately said to my husband that I didn’t even know who to ask.

My husband came up with the perfect solution. He asked M, one of the guys who works for him, if he would be willing to watch the kids for the evening, and M willingly accepted. M has kind of become a friend of the family. We invite him to the kids’ birthday parties, he came over for Easter dinner, and we eat out with him from time to time.

We completely trust M with the kids. He is so used to George’s autism that he doesn’t bat an eyelid when autism-related things happen. George knows him and likes him. James downright hero-worships him, and when we told him that M was babysitting, he practically pushed us out the door so he could hang out with his idol.

Safe in the knowledge that our kids were safe and happy, and that they might or might not tie M to a totem pole by the end of the evening, my husband and I headed into the city to see a live performance by Paul Weller, former member of The Jam and Style Council.

The music was every bit as good as we had hoped it would be, and my husband and I felt that buzz of happiness that you get simply from being with someone you love. M didn’t get tied to a totem pole. The kids behaved like model children. They were like the kids on those reality TV shows after the Super Nanny has whipped the family into shape. M said he would babysit for us again anytime we needed him to.

Last night, my husband and I renewed our intention to have regular dates nights to connect with one another, enjoy each other’s company, and just be.

How important do you think it is for couples to spend time together away from the kids? Is it something you manage to do regularly?

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

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Beautiful Disaster: A Love Story

8 Mar

When Kathy first met Howard, she didn’t like him very much. She had met him on the Internet, and they had always gotten along great during their online chats. But the second she met him in person, she knew that the chemistry was not right. In spite of herself, she said yes when he asked her to be his girlfriend the third time they went out.

The attraction isn’t always there in the beginning, she rationalized.

The truth was that she was lonely. She had moved into the city six months previously and she didn’t know anyone. She had yet to make any real friends and she was desperate for a human connection. She knew this relationship wouldn’t last, but she thought it would keep away the loneliness for a while.

Kathy’s quest to avoid loneliness would turn out to be very costly. Howard slowly sucked her into a web of manipulation and control. He alienated her from the small amount of social contact that she had, took her for weekends away and “forgot” to bring his credit card to pay the hotels, and forced her into sexual games that she did not feel comfortable with.

One day, Kathy arrived at Howard’s weirdly sterile apartment to find another woman there. When he introduced the woman as his wife, Kathy staggered back in shock. She’d had no idea he was married. He’d always claimed to be divorced.

By the time Kathy left that night, she had discovered that Howard shared everything with his wife. Everything. Including his girlfriends. She limped to her car, broken and humiliated, and wondered about going to the police station.

What would she tell them, though? Hello, officer. I’ve just been raped by the man I’ve been having consensual sex with for the last four months, and his wife. Kathy had not even known until this day that it was possible for a woman to be raped by another woman.

She decided not to go to the police. They wouldn’t believe her. They would laugh at her and she would feel even more ashamed than she already did. She pointed her car towards home and started to drive. What a disaster this had been. She would never use online dating again.

All of a sudden, Kathy was overcome by tears. Great big wrenching sobs that shook her entire body and blinded her vision. She pulled over to the side of the road, lurched out of her car, and stumbled into the park. She sat on a bench and hugged herself tight as she wept. Thank God it was late enough for the park to be empty. If there were people around she would have been making a real spectacle of herself.

She buried her head in her hands and tried to breathe deeply to calm down. She needed to get out of this park and into the safety of her apartment. She needed to lock herself away from the world and wash this nightmarish day from her body.

A shuffling sound made her look up in alarm. A man was standing a few feet away, keeping his distance and looking distinctly uncomfortable.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said, as if he could smell her fear. “It’s just that I heard you crying. I wanted to see if I could help. I’m Frank, by the way. My name is Frank.”

He stopped talking abruptly and moved a little closer, staring into her eyes. He peered at her intently, as if he had just had a revelation.

“I hope you don’t mind if I say this,” he said hesitantly. “But you are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

Kathy stared back at him. In that instant, through the layers of her pain, she saw her future in this shy, gentle man.

Yes, Howard had set her on a path of disaster. But it was a disaster that had led her to be in this place, at this time, having a chance encounter with the man who would become her destiny.

It was a beautiful disaster.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, k~ challenged me with “Beautiful disaster” and I challenged Jason Hughes with “Chasing rainbows”

Victor’s Wife

2 Nov

Victor looked at his watch and sighed impatiently. Last night, he had spoken to his wife about the importance of being on time tonight. This fancy shindig might be a party, but a lot of important people were here and he needed to make a good impression. The Directors would never trust him to lead an entire international division if he couldn’t even control his own wife. He had explained this to her in that special way he had that she always listened to, and yet she was late.

Someone clapped him jovially on the back, and he turned to see one of the Directors.

“The wife stood you up?” joked the Director. “She’s probably outside trying to decide which admirer to go home with.”

Victor laughed too loudly at the joke that wasn’t funny. He was seething inside. He prided himself on having the most beautiful wife of everyone in the firm, but now she was making him the butt of jokes. He promised himself that he would make her pay for this. He would make her pay so much that she wouldn’t be able leave the house for a month.

Finally, she arrived… dressed to kill.

And that’s exactly what she intended to do.

As she stood in the massive doorway to the grand hall, she felt his eyes cutting across the crowd at her. Anyone else would have looked at him and seen a handsome man lighting up at the sight of his wife. She saw the rage bristling beneath the smiles as he approached her with arms outstretched to embrace her as a normal husband would.

None of these people could possibly know that he was anything but a normal husband. They didn’t know that she was late because she had spent so much time applying her makeup, carefully covering up the effects of Victor’s “discussion” with her the previous evening. She was grateful for the dim lighting here tonight: there was only so much you could hide with makeup.

She didn’t think she could survive another one of Victor’s “discussions”. She wasn’t intending to find out.

At the bar, no-one noticed a tiny white pill slip from the palm of her hand into his wine. She excused herself to go to the restroom, and from the other side of the room she watched him drink from the glass. As he fell to the ground, she slipped out and disappeared into the night, to start a new life.

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Britania, who gave me this prompt: She showed up–dressed to kill.
I challenged  Mary Terrani with the prompt: It all started with a single scrap of paper.

The Moment My Future Arrived

11 Mar

21 August, 2001

It is a beautiful summer’s evening, but my heart is feeling heavy. I am lonely. I have been in Canada for just over a year, and it seems to be taking an inordinately long time for me to build up any kind of social support network. Barry and I split up just a week ago after dating for five months. It wasn’t the best of relationships – we didn’t really have any kind of chemistry, me and Barry – but he had represented some kind of social normality at a time when I really needed it. The breakup was awful – the kind that involves lots of arguing, accusations flung back and forth, and absolutely no chance of friendship afterwards.

What stings the most is that Barry is not divorced at all, like he’s been telling me. He’s still married. It doesn’t matter to me that he and his wife don’t get along. It doesn’t matter that they no longer live together. The fact is that for five months, I’ve been sleeping with someone else’s husband. Even though I didn’t know, had no way of knowing, I feel tarnished. Like I’ve done something wrong.

I’m feeling sad, angry, lonely. I feel trapped in all of these negative emotions, and I have to get out. I cannot go for a run: I already ran this morning, and with my first half-marathon just a month away, I cannot afford to mess with my training.

Instead, I take a walk to High Park. As I wander into the park, I instantly start to feel calmer. High Park is the kind of place that does that. All of that luscious green, the wide open spaces, the breathtaking beauty of the flowers and the river, serves to slow my heartbeat and appreciate the world around me.

I walk for a while, and then sit on a rock close to the park entrance. I close my eyes and bask in the warmth of the sun. Gradually, I feel myself coming to life, like a flower receiving water after a drought. I open my eyes and see a man walking towards me.

I wonder if I know him, and squint to get a better look in the sunlight. No, I’ve never seen him before, and yet he is walking in my direction with definite purpose, smiling broadly as he makes eye contact with me. He is holding a bunch of flowers.

Odd. I wonder if he has mistaken me for somebody else.

He reaches me and sits down on the rock beside me. He looks into my eyes, pauses, and then says, “You have beautiful eyes.” He hands me the flowers and tells me his name. I hear the sound of my own name coming from my lips, but I am not aware of having spoken.

In an instant, Barry and everything to do with him has faded into complete insignificance. None of that matters anymore.

I am staring at this man in wonderment, this man who is a stranger and yet somehow, not a stranger at all.

We stand up, and arm in arm, we start walking.

Both of us somehow know that we are walking, together, to our future.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eleasa/2734011065)

How it all began

11 Jun

Several months after packing my life into checked baggage and moving halfway around the world by myself, I started dating a guy named Barry. I don’t know why I went out with him, to be honest.  I had met him on the Internet and liked him, but when I met him in person there was absolutely no chemistry there.  Physically, he was not really my type, and his personality didn’t gel with mine.  Even after I had seen him a few times, he didn’t exactly rock my world.  Don’t get me wrong, he seemed like a nice enough guy.  I didn’t like him, I didn’t dislike him.  I was indifferent to him – I could take him or leave him.  And yet, I somehow found myself dating him for six months.  Looking back, I can only assume that I did it because I was alone in a new country, with no social support structure, no friends, no-one to talk to at the end of the working day.  I was – there is no other way to say it – unbearably lonely.

In retrospect, my relationship with Barry was very odd.  We hardly ever actually went out together.  Twice a week, we would get together – usually at his immaculately neat apartment – and we would have dinner.  To give credit where it’s due, the man was outstanding in the kitchen.  Whether it came to mixing martinis or cooking, he was practically a male Martha Stewart (in fact, he was like that when it came to decorating as well).  After dinner, we would go through his library of DVD’s (“collection” is not an adequate enough word), and we would select a movie to watch.  I would stay over, and we would go our separate ways in the morning.  What was odd about this was the unrelenting regularity of the arrangement.  We had assigned days of the week for getting together (Mondays and Thursdays).  We never saw each other on weekends; we hardly had any communication with each other between “dates”.  I think we spoke on the phone twice during our entire six months together.  The whole thing was very regimented.

After six months, the whole thing abruptly went pear-shaped.  First I discovered that Barry was not technically single, he was divorced.  That I could live with – people don’t necessarily want to be splashing that kind of thing on their Yahoo profiles.  But then I discovered that he wasn’t actually divorced, he was still married but separated from his wife. At this point I started worrying about what else I was going to discover, and we got very weird with each other and started sending off angry emails to each other (because we never talked on the phone, remember, and we were only allowed to see each other twice a week).  He went off on a camping trip to Algonquin and I didn’t hear from him again.  It was an ugly, ugly breakup with a lot of unanswered questions.

Two weeks later, I decided to take a walk in a park.  I was feeling very unhappy and sorry for myself.  OK, so I had never been in love with Barry or even felt particular affection for him, but I was still hurting.  I was lonely and confused, and my self-esteem was nowhere.  To be honest, I was surprised at how the breakup with Barry had derailed me.  So I took a walk in the park one gorgeous summer’s evening, to clear my head and try to regain some perspective in my life.

I sat down on a rock just outside the park entrance, to let the last of the day’s sunlight wash over me.  As I sat there, a man came up to me – a complete stranger.  He sat down on the rock beside me, gave me flowers purchased from across the street, and said to me, “You have beautiful eyes”.  To say that I was speechless would be an understatement.  I sat there and stared at him.  Partly because of the boldness with which he had approached me, but mostly because of the instant connection I felt with this man.  The electricity passing between us could have powered a small city.  I could not speak; I did not even want to move for fear of breaking the spell.

He asked me if I would like to go for a walk; I nodded dumbly and rose to my feet.  As we walked along the road bordering the park, the cat released its hold on my tongue, and I chatted with him about nothing and everything.  At some point we must have exchanged names.  He bought a burger for a homeless man, and then we had dinner together.  It was a magical evening; I felt as though someone had wrapped me in a quilt of happiness, and I didn’t want the date (for that is what it had become) to end.

People told me it would never last, that I had fallen into this while on the rebound from Barry.  Barry?  Within moments of meeting this new man, Barry had receded into the depths of my memory.  It was the equivalent of being in a space ship and traveling away from a hostile planet at high speed, watching it become a speck in the distance.  What I had with the man in the park was real, and I just knew it would last forever.  Sometimes these things do happen in real life.

The rest, as they say, is history.  Despite the predictions of many people, Gerard and I are still very much together.  We make a great parenting team, I support him in his business, he supports me in my running, we are finally getting down to planning our wedding.

Sure, we have had some tough times through the years.  We have had good times and bad, and we have overcome some pretty big hurdles together.  No matter what life throws at us, Gerard will always be my man in the park.