## Random equations in the mathematics of life

### Around and Around

A few years ago, I planned a trip for the family.

It was a crappy time in our lives. The Scientist and I had just barely come off of a 6 month legal separation. My father died after 4 months of being in and out of the hospital. The Ambassador was dealing with the disintegration of his relationship with a cousin whom he used to worship, who had now turned into a bully. His physical bruises were numerous, but the emotional ones took a lot longer to heal. The Professor and the Artist were navigating the treacherous waters of teenagers. All in all, it was a mess.

So I planned a trip.

I told the kids I’d chosen a spot with “something for all of us”. We were going to Idaho. At first, they were shocked, incredulous, and even protesting. Then they figured out I was outright lying, but couldn’t figure out the real destination. I explained that they’d need passports in case we crossed over into the Canadian Rockies. Those beautiful dress clothes? Well, they’re for the formal barbecue and hayride, of course. All throughout the spring, I would expound on the beauty of Idaho, and all the cool stuff we would see there. The kids would roll their eyes, and wonder out loud where we were really going.

The week before we left, I gave the kids a puzzle with about two dozen questions on it. The answers fit into numbered spaces, and all were about, you guessed it, Idaho. They hunted down the answers, and kept the papers until the day we left, salivating over the final clue they’d unscramble.

We packed the car, got in, started driving, and stopped for breakfast. I handed them the last piece of paper – the holy grail containing our true destination, simply by placing numbered letters into the spaces.

Almost.

Remember Ralphie, from A Christmas Story, and his secret decoder ring? Yeeeah. Theirs said, “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine” too!  I found this hilarious. The kids? Not so much. The Ambassador didn’t speak to me for half an hour!

We got back in the car, and I handed over my laptop. On it was a Power Point, set to music (Two Tickets to Paradise and Guitars and Tiki Bars), detailing our cruise ship, along with each port and what we’d be doing there. The kids freaked out. They forgave me incredibly fast, amazingly enough, and the fun began.

That trip was really good for us. We spent time together, away from the outside world, reassuring each other that no matter what else, we would always be a family. But there were tensions. The Scientist and I were in a really bad place, and though we covered pretty well, we both felt it just the same. I was fine being on the trip with him, but would’ve preferred not to share a cabin with him. We do pretty well when we travel together, but even the Caribbean couldn’t erase the problems in our relationship. Our friendship was crumbling around us, and that had always been the foundation for the rest of the family. We were in danger of losing everything.

2 months after that trip, I asked for a divorce. We separated once again, starting the one year clock required by our state before a divorce would be granted. A month after that, we started therapy, not to rebuild a lost marriage, but to at least attempt to sew back together the shredded fabric of a long standing friendship. Quite honestly, I thought it was a lost cause. While I would never speak against their father, I was done, and simply wanted to move on to parent the kids and try to pick up the pieces of my life.

Now, 4 ½ years later, we are headed back to Idaho. We’re going to a different area, but Idaho just the same. This time, our friendship is in a really good place. Our relationship has changed in so, so many ways, but we are still best friends, and now we’re both much better parents to our kids.

This year, like 2009, has also been tough. The Scientist lost his father after almost the same amount of time as my own father. We’ve lost some friends in sudden, tragic ways. The stresses have slowly eroded us, but we know the island sunshine, and the bond we have as a family will help us put each other back together.

We’ll miss our friends while we’re off the grid for a few days, but it’s a much needed break. There are times in which social media is great, and times when it gets in the way. This week, it would get in the way of the rest and reconnection we so desperately need.

Hopefully, everyone will find the peace they seek this holiday season. There is no perfect world, but maybe, just for a little slice of time, we can find our own version.

### Following the Rules

There are so many rules we follow every day.  Some are very “black and white” like speed limits, wearing clothing in public, and not killing your obnoxious coworker.  Others, not so much.  Those can be influenced by a myriad of factors including religious upbringing, political views, past experiences, and even our current environments.  Peer pressure doesn’t end with college.  But, at the end of the day, the rules that truly matter are the ones in your own heart – the ones that you have solidly in place, to guide and govern your own behaviors.  Those are the ones we answer to in the mirror.

Sometimes our rules can be bent, and others even broken.  This shows growth and potential for change; a willingness not to sit, stagnant and rotting in our own insecurities.  It can be confusing to tell the difference at times, and no one really masters the finer details of the process.  The barometer is basically how it feels when you’re done.  If it feels uncomfortable, but kinda good, like it has potential to be a truly positive thing, then it was right.  If you look in the mirror and can only say, “What the hell were you thinking?”  Well, you can pretty much conclude that you scored one in the “Oops” column.

So let’s say you effed one up.  What do you do with it?  Some would cry, remind themselves what a horrible person they are, demonize their ability to even choose their own socks, and elude forgiveness for the next decade or so.  Productive?  Uh, no.  Time to grow up, put the big kid under-roos on, and face it.  Spend some time in your head, figure out why you made the bad move.  Then comes the tough part.  Beating the snot out of our own psyches is incredibly damaging, but it’s actually a heck of a lot easier than the alternative.  The tough part is learning the lesson, moving on, and letting go.

This is about where I am right now.  I’ve faced myself in the mirror, with a rueful, “Niiiiice one there, Mick.  Well done.”  I’ve also spent some time going back through – why did I make the choices I made?  What made me choose one path over another, especially when I knew damn well what I was doing was wrong?  (Remember, now…it doesn’t have to be anyone’s definition of “wrong” but your own.)  I found that I disliked the answers I found even more than actually coming to the conclusion that I’d scored myself an Oops.  This is not a fun process.  But now it’s time for the real work.  It’s time to learn it, figure out how to not do it again, and to then let it go.

Why is it so hard for us to forgive ourselves?  We would never treat our friends or our family with such derision, such disdain.  Why can we not figure out how to accept, learn, and let go?  No one can do this part for us; it’s a learned skill that takes years to hone.  And I’m still working on mine.

### Finding your inner Aztec

Long ago and far away, in the tropical rainforests of central America, the Mayans and Aztecs discovered that the seeds of the cacao tree, when ground, spiced, and added to water, were delicious.

As the Europeans pillaged their way through, they took this treasure, along with the gold, back to their homes.  Sugar was added, and cacao slowly became one of the world’s most prized confection as our chocolate.  Competitions are held to see who can perfect its taste, design, and texture.  Kitchen artists concoct recipes both simple and complex to utilize its versatility, as their taste testers await the results with drool pooling ever so slightly (or sometimes not so slight!) at the corner of their lips.

The Aztecs, however, sat back with a puzzled look, and tried to point out to the stupid Europeans that they forgot an integral part of the magic that comes from this chocolate.  It’s spice.  You see, the Aztecs figured out that taking the innate sweetness and adding some heat, whether gentle through cinnamon, or maybe a little stronger in cayenne, adds layers of complexity to the flavor of chocolate.  They knew that by itself, chocolate is delicious, but when that unexpected elements appears on the palate, the experience becomes sublime.

Why then, is this so fervently eschewed by so many?  Why do people wrinkle their noses in disgust, cringing at the idea of that heat?  “Ewww!  Why would you ruin perfectly good chocolate by adding cayenne to it?”  They have never had the experience themselves of that layering of flavor, and so they automatically assume that the concept is just wrong.   Their grandma’s chocolate cake was just perfect as it was, and there is no reason in this world to alter that recipe no way, no how.   Interesting, that.

So the Aztecs shrugged, shook their heads at the narrow-minded absurdity of the people who cannot see beyond what they grew up knowing.

Look inside for your inner Aztec.  What preconceived ideas can you challenge yourself to explore?  What other flavors could you bring to the table of your relationships?  Maybe it’s time to shake up the kitchen a little.

### Real Men Buy Tampons

Ladies and Gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to someone.  I’ve posted before in my blog about the Scientist, but today I’d like to give you a little more insight into him as a man.  Why?  Because men should aspire to be like the Scientist.   I’m going to explain to you why real men buy tampons.

No, this has nothing to do with the hero worship of romance.  Anyone who’s been playing along at home is well aware that ours is a non-traditional marriage, based on friendship, respect, and three amazing kids.  No, this is based on years of observation, watching how he handles situations, and seeing him mature and develop as a partner and a father.

The Scientist was raised in a very traditional house.  His mother did not work outside the home and still doesn’t.  His father was involved insofar as being active in Boy Scouts, and they played golf together as the Scientist hit his teen years.  But when it came to the Scientist’s sister, the Banker, it was very much hands-off.  She was a girl, and that was the Mom’s job.  Getting involved with me was a bit of a culture shock, as my mother worked full time, and when we grew up, my brother could cook, clean, and do laundry as well as anyone else.  My father could too, but he rarely did so if one of the kids was around.  My father in law can repair a vacuum, but I’m not entirely sure he could actually wield one with any success.

My pregnancy with the Professor was not planned, and occurred earlier than we’d hoped.  At the time, I gave the Scientist the choice of whether or not to be involved, as we were not married at the time.  However, I made it clear that if he stayed, he was not going to be some sort of hands-off dad.  He would do diapers, and anything else that I would do with a child (except for breastfeeding, of course!).  He chose to commit.  Now, at first, he watched me change the diapers, since he’d never done it, and we were using cloth.  But he is a smart guy and within a few days, voila.  He was an old pro.

As our daughters have grown, we both knew the inevitable time would come when they would need such things as bras, tampons, and advice on boys and dating from a male perspective that did not include things such as, “I’ll kill him” or “Hell no.”  Coming from a family where females were devalued and treated much differently than males, I was adamant that our daughters not feel that way.

Because here’s the thing, men…you need to really listen here, and really learn.  This applies to your mother, your sister, your girlfriend, you wife, your daughter, and any other woman with whom you consider yourself “close.”  When you are too immature to pick up a sealed cardboard box that happens to have the word “tampon” (or any related noun), you’re not just showing yourself to be on the level of the 12 year old boy down the street.  You are lighting up the neon sign that tells that woman that a natural part of her is disgusting to you.  You are telling her that her body is so revolting that you cannot even sully your hands to touch a sealed box.  You send the message that your love for her does not extend to include such a simple act.  You send the message that you just are not man enough.

So why is the Scientist such a man?  Because the first time that his daughter was out with him and got that panicked look on her face when her backpack did not contain what she had hoped, he didn’t freak out.  He didn’t tell her that she would have to use wadded up paper towels (which is an unbelievably uncomfortable solution, by the way!) and just live with it.  He didn’t yell at her for being unprepared.  He didn’t make her feel like an inconvenience.  He found a store, walked in with her, had her pick what she wanted, and took the box to the counter to pay for it.  The message that he sent?  “I am a man, and I have a woman in my life who needs my help right now.”

This same man drives a Saturn VUE that looks like a stereotypical “guy” car.  Geocaching supplies, extra towels and clothes, snacks and other junk fills the back of it.  He is a man who is always prepared, just like the Boy scouts taught him to be. There is also a hole in the driver’s seat where the ever-present pen in his pocket slipped out and got caught, mud stains all over the floor, and occasionally a travel mug with remnants of hot cocoa in it, long since dried.  And in the glove compartment, along with the insurance card, napkins, ketchup packets, and an extra pen, is a box of tampons, just in case one of his daughters needs it.

He has taken the Professor shopping for bras when I was under deadline and couldn’t do so.  He has taken the Artist to the doctor when she was having issues with recurrent UTIs.  No embarrassment, no apologies, and certainly no regrets.  His daughters know that they can broach any topic with him, and that has made their relationship that much closer.

The Scientist is a man who values the women in his life.  He values them as a whole, with all of their aspects.  He doesn’t pick and choose which parts are important, or which things he will accept.  He loves them as women.  And the best part?  He has been an example for his son to do the same.  The Ambassador will roll his eyes, but he knows that bras don’t ever go in the dryer, he knows that women who live together will often find that their cycles sync up, and he knows never to blame a woman’s emotions on PMS.

So men, if you are already like the Scientist, congratulations.  You are definitely a real man.  If not?  There is still time.  Put your Big Boy panties on, man up, and grasp the realization that a sealed cardboard box is not “icky” and cannot hurt you.  Show the woman in your life that you’re a man, and that you value her as a woman.  I guarantee it won’t hurt.

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### Changing the angles

I told a story to the Professor this morning as an allegory into solving an issue she’s having, and realized that it applies to more than just her situation.  So, I figured it might make a good post.  Let’s start with the story:

Once upon a time there was a beautiful Princess named Professor.  She had long dark hair, dark eyes, and an independent streak about a mile and a half wide.  Her favorite phrase was, “I do it mySEFFFFF!” much to the eyerolling chagrin of her long suffering parents.

Aaaaanyhow, I digress.

Princess Professor was quite clear about her likes and dislikes.  Her mom, who wanted to be a Very Good Mother(tm), read the parenting magazines and had heard how imperative it was to develop a child’s palate.  So, as she was advised, she offered Princess Professor a variety of foods at each meal, including some she didn’t particularly like.  The reason for this, according to The Parenting Experts, was that babies and toddlers’ tastes do change.  So a Princess or Prince may hate something one day and like it the next.  This theory worked on a few things, but one thing that never seemed to gain acceptance was watermelon.

Now, the Princess’ mom and dad loooove watermelon, and so they bought it a lot.  They would offer it to Professor, and she would take a piece off of her high-chair tray, and throw it down onto the Royal Dog.  Sometimes, the dog would be in a perfect position to catch the Princess’ offerings.  Other times, not so much.  It was during those times in which the Princess Professor’s mom would be found scrubbing sticky watermelon out of long Sheltie fur, all the while trying not to growl at the Princess.

After a few months of this, the Princess’ mom said, “Ya know what?  The little snot doesn’t like watermelon.  I now have three options.”

Those three options were:
1. smack the Princess every time she threw the watermelon
2. force feed the Princess the watermelon
3. quit giving the Princess watermelon projectiles

I’ll let you conclude for yourself which option won out in the end.  And they lived happily ever after.  (And yes, Princess Professor now likes watermelon!)

This particular allegory made the Professor laugh, which was a secondary goal, but the real message is quite simple.  If you are in conflict with someone you care about in your life, chances are there is culpability on both sides.  You will never change another person’s behavior, but you can change your own.  You must stop giving the other person watermelon if you want her to stop throwing it at the dog.

Does your partner get snarky when you simply must show him your gorgeous new sweater right in the middle of the game he’s watching?  Hmm.  Well, you cannot control his response to you.  You can, however, wait til a commercial, half time, between innings, or even *gasp* after the game.  If your coworker is constantly taking your lunch out of the microwave to zap her own, does it take that much effort to let her heat hers first?  No.  If your mom constantly criticizes your parenting techniques, then discuss any topic other than the fact that Johnny got detention today for shooting mashed potatoes across the table in the cafeteria.

Please understand that this is not about excusing other people’s behaviors, and it’s not about making you into a martyr.  This is about making changes to your own actions to reduce stress.  You may well be right in whatever example you’re thinking of at the moment, but the other person probably thinks that he is the one.  And besides, you can be right all day long, but what’s more important: being right or reducing your stress?  Your may seethe when your partner lectures you about responsibility, and the fact that you’re an adult who doesn’t need to be told to go to bed at a decent hour is undisputed.  But since you cannot stop her (in any ways that are legal in this country) from talking to you, stop it before it starts.  Don’t whine about being tired after staying up until Stupid O’clock the night before, and voila.  No lecture.

It’s a lot easier to point fingers than it is to change the person in the mirror, especially when the mirror cheers on your self-righteous indignation.  But sometimes, in order to ease a conflict, save a relationship, or prevent bodily harm and arrest warrants, it really is the better option.

### Off on a tangent

OK, so not really…but the math concept works.  Shut up.

So last week, I posted a blog on why I hate marriage.  (Read that one first if you haven’t yet, or you’ll be clueless as to what the heck I’m talking about here.)  I got some interesting responses, almost all of which were sent privately.  (No, I would never call those people out!)  I guess reading a hard topic is bad enough, but agreeing with it in public is even harder.  Not that I blame them, really; it was hard enough for me to write!

One question that came up, and I guess I should’ve clarified in that previous post, is whether or not I am not filing for divorce.  The immediate answer is “No.”  It would be interminably stupid of me to screw us both over financially at our ages when we work just fine together as friends.  And yes, I do realize that it kind of flies in the face of my last post to say that.  Our relationship  is non-traditional enough to support the boundaries that we set to it, so if we find other things that need to change, we can work it out.  The Scientist dates whomever he pleases, as do I, and at the end of the day, the friendship that we built, destroyed, and built again stays solid.

But then, how do I find a balance between straining against the leash and leaving the stability alone?  Not sure yet.  I know I’ve been unhappy lately, and I also know that it is almost entirely due to my work situation.  I’m trying to change that, but the simple fact that the unemployment rate in my state hovers around 10% is rather detrimental to that goal.  So while I have seen other people around me getting new jobs, I have been unsuccessful so far.  I’m working really hard to make it happen, and won’t rest til it does.  In the meantime, I find joy in the rest of my life.  My kids are, as always, my whole world.  I love talking to them, laughing with them, just watching them mature into the amazing adults I see.  I also seek solace in spending time with Alejandro, which is always a Very Good Thing(tm).

As for the rest of it, I still feel like I’m wandering in the mist.  I can’t see the path, and I don’t know where I’m headed, but all I can do is keep moving in a direction that I think is forward, and deal with any obstacles I encounter as I meet them.  I’d like to think I’ll find my way out, but for now, even that’s wholly uncertain.  I have to reach the clearing eventually, right?