Although I've been on my own for about four years now, I am not particularly good at being single. I mean, I'm happier, and I've made some amazing life choices since my divorce, but I still periodically forget to change the oil in my car or buy jewelry that can only be fastened by an extraneous set of hands, and there is still this small part of me that stares at the clock at 6:00pm and thinks "Holy shit, no one's coming home to give me a break so I can watch 'Dance Moms' or go to the bathroom with the door closed" or some similarly glamorous activity.*
*I am a woman of simple needs.
Dating in your twenties is one big frat party; dating in your thirties? Well, a little more subdued -- less "Sigma Chi Sweetheart Ball/Gang Bang" and more Match.Com mixer. But dating in your forties is just one long Bataan Death March toward a life of stained yoga pants and cat hair, especially for someone like me who is more guarded than a narc at a biker rally. You see, men my age tend to want girls HALF their age, and younger men are generally just harboring some Stifler's Mom fantasy, and. . .no. . .just, no. Suddenly, I'm forced to step up my game. Throwing my hair under a baseball cap and shrugging on an old sweatshirt to run to the store? Oh, LAWS no. At my age it is all about presentation because let's face it, a 42 year old woman with a special-needs child and a hoopty ride isn't exactly catnip to the XY contingency. At 42, you need to be on top of this shit, so I try to do a periodic inventory of my appearance in front of a full length mirror, complete with weighing myself, so I can focus in on the areas that need a little refurbishing and to have an excuse to curl up in the fetal position and cry myself to sleep at night. I exercise five to six days a week to offset my steady diet of Starbucks cake pops and Taco Bell but despite my better efforts my breasts are sliding south faster than the California coastline and my stomach is beginning to resemble a Shar-Pei puppy when I sit down. And it's not the same for guys! I stood in line at Target next to a dude my age with a combover, Sans-a-Belt trousers and a gut that made him look like he was in his third trimester and he had a wedding ring AND was buying condoms which told me that not only was this sorry bastard married, but he was evidently getting some taint on the side. It made my desperate attempts at aesthetic restoration seem even more desperate, so I paid for my retinol eye cream and hair dye and slunk home in shame.
I tried to discuss my body's slow denigration with my doctor and her response was: "You're 42. . .that happens". Wow, thanks Dr. Mengele. Maybe when you reach my age in ten fucking years you won't be quite as blase when you wake up one morning and find your nipples in your lap. You see, at 42, it's no longer about fixing your body; simply maintaining it. As long as you aren't bleeding out your eyes or have tumors sprouting from your abdomen like a fetal twin your doctor is just going to tell you to suck it up and stay as comfortable as possible until you die. And maybe it's just me, but another aspect of aging is that I have become incapable of objectifying men in cougar-like manner to which I aspire. About a month ago I was approached by a 27 year old guy at the gym with a Pepsodent smile and abs that made David Beckham look like David Crosby and all I could think was "Does your mom know you're out here hitting on old women? And isn't it past your bedtime?" I pictured my precious little boys ten years down the road trawling for strange tail at the 24 Hour Fitness and somewhere in my heart of hearts an angel wept.
While singledom is, for the most part, tolerable; being sick when you are on your own sucks harder than a whore when the rent is due. As soon as my kids went back to school after Christmas, they promptly showered me with some virulent Pandemic 2-like plague that has proven harder to get rid of than a drunken party guest or a member of the Clinton Administration. So, I have spent the last 48 hours huddled on the couch, feverish, nauseated, achy, and shaking harder than Michael J. Fox after a quad-shot espresso. In the past, every time I got sick I was like one of those cats that crawls under the house to die: wrap me in a blanket, leave water by the door and leave me the hell alone. And while ordinarily I would not want a member of the opposite sex to see me looking like a VH1 "Courtney Love: Behind the Music" biopic, the last time I got sick Dylan was here and I realized how truly wonderful it is to have a good man take care of you when you feel like a steaming bowl of ass.*
*If he'll hold your hair back while you puke on his shoes? That is LOVE, my friends.
I know that if I have to, I can always call in reinforcements when I'm sick. But after my parents put their lives on hold to nurse me through a three-month long bout of mono in 2009, I think they've paid their dues.*
*Who gets mono at age 38? Apparently dipshits like me.
My friend Kelly lives less than a half-mile from me, and I know she'd be here in a heartbeat, but Kelly's into all of that hippy-dippy holistic crap and the last time I had a cold she loaded me up with so much echinacea and goldenrod that I was peeing potpourri for a week. Color me First World, but when I'm sick I want drugs. Not flowers. . .drugs. Preferably the kind manufactured by evil conglomerations that test on kittens and supply arms to Iraqi insurgents. Bring. It. On.
So, on Wednesday night, after bringing the boys home from play rehearsal and violin lessons, I collapsed in a pile of "meh" on the couch. My son J. looked at me with concern. "You need to rest, Mommy. You work too hard."
I smiled at him weakly. "I'm good, Little Man." I reassured him with a thumbs-up. "Just give me a minute and I'll get dinner ready."
J. patted me on the head as one would to a puppy or self-indulgent child. "It's cool, Mommy." he smiled. "We've got this." And with that, he and his brother proceeded to microwave the leftover lasagne in the fridge, grab a handful of baby carrots from the crisper and pour two glasses of milk. I watched in admiration through my feverish haze as they cleaned up the kitchen, put their dishes in the dishwasher, then completed their homework at the kitchen table.
At one point I dozed off, as I opened my eyes to see my son M. pressing his cool hand to my forehead. "You have a fever, Mommy." he stated with great gravity and concern. I noted he was now wearing mix-matched pajamas and his hair was wet.
"Did you boys have your shower while Mommy was sleeping?" I asked.
M. nodded sagely like the old soul he is. "J. said you should sleep so he helped me wash my hair. I brushed my teeth too."
I was in shock. God knows my boys have had to grow up a lot since my divorce, but I guess. . .I guess some part of me still sees them as babies, even though they are capable, confident 10 1/2 year old people. I began to tear up as J. came up to the couch and set a bottle of Gatorade on the coffee table. "Here you go, Mommy. Oh! I almost forgot!" With that, he ran to his room and returned with his favorite stuffed monkey, presenting her with great solemnity. "You can sleep with Chi-Chi Monkey tonight. She always makes me feel better."
At that moment, I knew that everything would be OK. Not with my flu. . .that's just a virus. . .they always pass. But I knew then with all my heart that despite my myriad missteps as a single parent, I had raised responsible, self-reliant, and deeply empathetic boys who would grow up to be amazing husbands and fathers one day. And while it would be nice to have a man with whom to share my life, I know that I am far luckier than most women, because I have two gentlemen who ARE my life, and I wouldn't have it any other way.