I’m a Passenger in Life (Because I Failed a Motorcycle Class and Cried)

“Learning to ride a motorcycle was MY dream and now you stole my dream and stomped on it!” I sobbed to my flabbergasted husband.

We were young and childless. Early 20s maybe. I had just failed our motorcycle class. Badly.

I'm wearing my dad's motorcycle jacket from the 70s.

I’m wearing my dad’s motorcycle jacket from the 70s.

My dad had a motorcycle when I was kid, and it had always been my greatest hope to learn to ride one as well. I was too terrified to accept rides because I thought it would tip over going around corners – but I didn’t know how to tell him that. The words wouldn’t come out. Maybe because I never conquered that childhood fear, it morphed into some kind of daredevil I-told-you-so thing to get back at myself.

Motorcycles seemed like the logical next step for Mr. Okayest and me. We love vehicles. My husband had a 600+ horsepower racecar that he had built and I was a garage widow. He built me a car from leftover racecar parts that had a clutch so tough, I sometimes cried when a light turned red. He brought cars back to life and sold them for profit (once for ten times what he paid). He had a vested interest in anything with wheels, including four-wheeling, but had assumed I would never want him to have a motorcycle. Apparently, that’s what wives are supposed to say. (Of course, it helped that my less-than-100-pound college roommate/ best friend had a motorcycle and wanted to go for drives with us.)

When he told his friends at work that I was pressing him to take a motorcycle course with me, they were jealous. They told him how lucky he was. “My wife won’t let me have a motorcycle,” they said. (I don’t think the words “won’t let me” should appear in a marriage, but that’s a post for another day.) So we signed up for the class at the local community college.

I was so excited. It started out pretty fun. Getting on a motorcycle in the FRONT was so empowering. I learned how to make it go and stop. I learned how to turn the whole bike with my head – the bike goes where your eyes go. I learned how if I wanted to wear a 3/4 helmet, I should be prepared to live with 3/4 of a face. Anyway, we were having these awesome date nights together at the motorcycle course. So romantic – for me anyway. I was living my dream and getting to be with my hubby. Win-win.

Until the road test.

See, I have to pee when I get nervous, okay? Let’s just blame it on that, okay?

All fifteen of my classmates were lined up for the road test. We just had to use small motorcycles – almost scooters, really – to make some maneuvers around cones and road lines without putting our feet down. We had done it before in practice, but now we were standing in line for a test to determine if we got our motorcycle certification. I felt a bit nervous, but I was standing by my man who always makes me braver.

And then I had to pee. I timidly asked the instructor if I could use the bathroom, and she wasn’t happy. I had to run allllll the way across the parking lot and through the college. By the time I got back, my heart was racing… and everyone was done. Even my husband. Everyone stared at me, out of breath and flustered. All eyes were on me as I climbed on my scooter/motorcycle. Suddenly, I knew I would fail.

I put my foot down. I’m sure I did a lot of other things wrong too. But everyone was staring at me. They were all relaxing with a cigarette in the grass and watching the puny blonde girl learn that she is going to fail something for the first time in her life.

We went back to the classroom and the professors tallied up our points. Then they called out our names, one by one, to hand us our certificate or send us packing. Mr. Okayest got his state certification, with a perfect score on his road test. He was a natural. When they called my name, they said, “Fail”, and the whole class heard.

I had never failed anything in my entire life. Straight-A student, perfect attendance, cum laude, double major, blah blah blah… and now I was put in my place. Fail!

Mr. Okayest had such a sympathetic look on his face that I couldn’t look at him again until we got to the car. As soon as my butt hit that VW seat, I burst into tears. Like a toddler. Wailing. Snotting. Making no sense at all.

Like the early-20s, semi-immature, newly-married, never-failed-anything person that I was, of course I took it out on my husband.

“This was MY dream and you stole it!”… even though I had asked him to take the course with me.

“This was MY dream and you crushed it!”… even though it was in no way his fault that I had failed.

“This was MY dream and now I will never be good at anything ever again!”… even though that makes no sense at all.

The starter bike that we had purchased for pennies was so small for Mr. Okayest that it looked like his knees were in his armpits, like those men with the funny hats who ride those tiny motorcycles in the town parade. The plan had been for him to learn on it, then pass it along to me, whose frame it fit, and then save up for a bigger bike for him.

Nevermind.

He started taking me around on the back of that bike. It wasn’t big enough to support us both, so we wobbled a lot. But I hugged his strong back and closed my eyes and leaned when his body leaned. I liked it.

And then I loved it.

I didn’t have to pay attention to anything at all. I daydreamed while snuggling my husband close. I held on tight to my beloved. I even learned that I could close my eyes around corners to avoid my childhood fear of falling over. Heck, I wasn’t driving! I let my worries seep out the back of my helmet, like how Harry Potter can steal memories out of someone’s head in a long silver stream. I smelled the creeks and the earth when the road dipped low in a hollow. I saw the great expanse of sky when we crested a mountain top. I learned not to sneeze in my helmet. I let go.

I learned that I was a passenger in life. I am not always the driver. It feels good. I wear it well.

^ Now that last sentence there would be a great ending to this post, but there’s more.

Failing this motorcycle class was before my body failed to get pregnant. It was before my body failed to carry babies to term. It was before I failed to deliver babies without kicking the bucket. It was before I learned the lesson of, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” I fail at lots of things now. I think I failed this morning not to yell at my children. I fail and I fail every single day at so many things, but I’m okay with it. I have learned so much.

We eventually sold the tiny bike and planned to get another properly-sized one someday, when we could afford it. It was hard to let that tiny bike go because it was supposed to be mine. As we were selling it to some other newly-certified motorcycle driver, I saw that that was the final nail in the coffin of me being a driver. I would be destined to be a passenger forever. It was okay, though – I just had a few pangs as it drove away.

When we finally got pregnant with twins, my husband must have had some sort of mini-crisis, because he decided that would be the best time to get a new, bigger, stronger, tougher motorcycle. One that fit his body. One that woke up the neighbors. And one that I couldn’t ride with twins protruding from my belly.

“NOW?!” I yelped. “Are you serious? Of all times you could have chosen to buy this thing, NOW?!!!” I can’t ride it, I’m nesting, we’re saving up for the “triplet” diaper onslaught, and did I mention I’m nesting? And all these hormones make me feel like you are riding out to certain death? And I get to be jealous on top of all that, too? I get to be jealous of you riding to certain death?

YOU STOLE MY DREAM AND STOMPED IT. AGAIN.

Mr. Okayest is nothing if not rational. And we all know how much he loves his spreadsheets. He convinced me that it was the right thing to do because it would save on gas, and it would be a free date night anytime we had a sitter… and – wait for it – allow him to ride the HOV lanes home from work so that he would get home sooner. “Won’t you need me home an hour earlier to help with baby twins?” he said.

And he scores!

He brought that motorcycle home and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I was drooling. Oh, and, yeah, it’ll get him home sooner or something.

I couldn’t ride it. Even if I could have fit my twin belly between us on that bike, I would never take twins on a motorcycle. They weren’t wearing helmets, you know? I had to watch him drive away as I stayed home on bedrest. And then stayed home with recovery from almost dying (not on a motorcycle, though). And then stayed home caring for newborn twins.

He was right. He got home sooner.

When the twins were a few months old, and my birth wounds were healed up just enough to allow me to not retch, my in-laws babysat one day so we could go for a quick ride. Our first ride together in years. I nuzzled into his neck. I closed my eyes around corners so I didn’t have to feel afraid. I let my body lean with his. I smelled the earth and felt the rumble of the engine and hugged him tight. I was more nervous than before, knowing that I had three small children under three years old waiting for me to come home without bodily injury, but I was so happy. My worries seeped out the back of my helmet in a silver stream.

I’m a passenger. I ride and I ride.

Bye, kids!

Bye, kids!

***

Oh, the passenger

How, how he rides

Oh, the passenger

He rides and he rides

He looks through his window

What does he see?

He sees the sign and hollow sky

He sees the stars come out tonight

He sees the city’s ripped backsides

He sees the winding ocean drive

And everything was made for you and me

All of it was made for you and me

‘Cause it just belongs to you and me

So let’s take a ride and see what’s mine

Singing la la la.. lala la la

“Passenger” by Iggy Pop

Marriage Shorthand

If you have many small, noisy, demanding, and interrupting children like we do, you know that you have to talk really quickly. We have no time to finish sentences. Also, if you’ve been together as long as we have*, you know that you talk in a certain kind of abbreviated conversational style that we call Marriage Shorthand. Sound familiar?

Him: So how was your day?
Me: Great! Costco is now selling GENERIC APPLESAUCE SQUEEZIES!!!! AHHHHH! [Happy dance]

Me: I just pulled that awesome dinner out of my A-S-S.
Him: I’m surprised it tasted so good.

Him: Nice diaper on the stereo.
Me: At least it’s not a poop diaper.
Him: [skeptical look]
Me: Really.

Him [to the children]: Stop asking questions to which you already know the answer!
Me: Nice use of proper grammar, even while yelling at the kids!

Me: Are you scrolling through my Facebook?
Him: I’m just marveling at how different your newsfeed is than mine. It’s so positive! Look, you’ve got a rainbow, and babies, and oh, look, a garden!

Him: Hey hon?
Me: Yeah?
Him: Pretty sure R has pink eye.
Me: Okay.

Me: Do you wanna share what’s left of my cinnamon bun?
Him: Sure.
Me: It’s in my purse.
Him: Okay.
Me: And, so, also, will you go get it?

Me: Honey, I promise you I will make sure I have toenail polish on ten toes or zero toes before vacation. Not nine toes.
Him: I really don’t care.
Me: It’s 99 cent three-week-old toenail polish, OK?!
Him: (laughing) It looks it.

Me: What can I do to help?
Him: just observe in amazement.

Me: Sorry. I just burped and you put your face in it.
Him: I didn’t notice. Either that or your burps smell like sunshine.

Him: So my friend texted me about this old car he’s selling
Me: [casually but quickly puts Aerosmith’s “Back in the Saddle” on and sings along in his face]

Me: [picking at cuticles]
Him: You are tearing holes in your SOUL.

Him: I would really appreciate if you could keep your shoes on your shoe shelf in the closet.
Me: I have a shoe shelf?

Me: I am gonna need new Birkenstocks. These are cracked.
Him: Don’t you have an extra pair?
Me: No.
Him: You could wear mine. Your feet are big enough.

Him: (laughing and singing) “I was tired of my lady…”
Me: NO! I KNEW you would play this stupid pina colada song if I came downstairs!
Him: “…we’d been together too long…”
Me: NO! Turn it off!!
Him: “…Like a worn-out recording…”
Me: NO! Stop!!!
Him: “..IF YOU LIKE PINA COLADAS!!!!”

Me: Can I think my way out of these hives?
Him: Yes. And have you tried cortisone?
Me: Yes. But it expired in 1999.
Him. Well there’s your problem.

Me: Can you not shut the shower curtain so hard? It’s really loud.
Him: No comment.
Me: You shut it like you’re mad at it.
Him: Well, it’s just that you really have to jerk it.
Me: No comment.

Me: So do you remember last week when you commented on that diaper I left on the stereo? I don’t want to be a nag or anything, but I see a diaper on the stereo.
HIm: Nah, that’s just an empty bag. I almost changed somebody, but then I got distracted, so I guess I just left that empty plastic bag on the stereo. Doesn’t count.
Me: Hmm.

Me: Feel my calf! It’s stronger! Everything is changing since I started the gym.
Him: (rubs my feet) Everything but your big feet.

Him: you want some potato with that butter?
Me: [Silence except for the sounds of eating butter.]

Me: Why didn’t you get lunch meat at the grocery store?
Him: It wasn’t on the list. Look, I’m not the list maker. I only win the bread and retrieve it.

Me: Why does our house sound like a spaceship?
Him: Because I changed the filter.
Me: Oh.

Him: How are you?
Me: Ugh.
Me: How are you?
Him: Meh.

*(We met when we were about 14, started dating at 18ish, and got married at 22. We are now in our mid-thirties, so that’s … a pretty long time.)

Marriage Survival Tips for Parents of Multiples

Basement date night for Mr. & Mrs. Okayest

Basement date night for Mr. & Mrs. Okayest

The divorce rate of parents of multiples is higher than the divorce rate of parents of regular kids. It is easy to imagine why! Parents of multiples are in emergency mode or exhaustion mode all the time. I don’t think my husband and I finished a sentence for a whole year after the birth of the twins. When we had one child, even though he came to us through adoption with only three days’ notice, we still felt like us, only with a baby attached. When our twins came along two years later, we felt like we were getting continuously hammered in the head while getting smacked in the face while drowning. It’s hard to put your marriage first during that.

us 2Anyone who knows us knows that we put each other first. We have known each other since we were maybe 14 years old, and we were together for 12 years (married for eight) before our first son was born. As much as we wanted children, we still aren’t used to the mayhem. Our “normal” mode is still just the two of us, since we were alone together for so long. I used to feel guilty about that, but I don’t anymore. The kids are temporary: they will grow up and move away. Mr. Okayest and I are married for eternity. (Like, for real. We were sealed in an LDS temple, which means we don’t “death do us part”.)

I am no marriage expert, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve that ensure my sanity – or at least my marriage sanity. I can’t tell you what is right for your marriage, but I can tell you what has helped us. Here are a few of my own survival tips that might help other parents of multiples- or all parents!

  • Never keep score. We agreed early on that we would never say, “Your turn” or “I did it last time” or anything like that. Sometimes it’s easier to remember that with multiples than with singletons, because all hands are on deck with multiples! Each of us always had a baby. It’s deadly poison to tally up how many poops you have changed or how much trash you have taken out. We each just do our best, all the time, until we can’t do our best – and then we say we need a break. Scorekeeping is a marriage enemy.
  • No sarcasm AT the other spouse. Dr. Phil says this is one of his top predictors of divorce! Of course, we have plenty of snark when we are making fun of something (someone?) else, together. Heehee. We just don’t eye roll or use sarcasm when we are disagreeing, arguing, or even being super sleep-deprived. (The first six months after twins saw a super sharp increase in snippiness, though. Sorry, honey.)
  • Eat after the kids go to bed on the weekends. Sometimes it’s cold cereal and sometimes it’s carryout. Either way, we know it’s our time for each other. At least I can eat one meal a week where my husband doesn’t have to see all my partially-chewed food as I yell to toddlers to eat with their mouths closed. We are all about family dinners, but five or six times per week is good enough.
  • Reserve nap time for each other on the weekends. We do as many of the chores and errands as can during the kids’ waking hours, and then we are off-duty, together, while the kids nap. The whole house shuts down. Consider yourself Italian/Spanish and worthy of a siesta.
  • Keep the bedroom a kid-less sanctuary. This suggestion is not for everyone. It works for us, though. We don’t allow children in our bed, and I don’t even have pictures of the kids in our bedroom. It is just for us. Simple.
  • Organize a “Date Night Co-op” (free babysitting swaps) with other parents. I do the super simple version: I give my friends from 8 PM- midnight. I won’t put your kids to bed, but I will leave my husband at home with our kids, come to your house after your little ones are tucked in, and I will channel-surf on your couch and make sure the house doesn’t burn down. I don’t care if you go to a movie or make out in a parking lot. Just come home happy and give me a turn the next week or the next month. Simple, free, easy. (I’ve also seen more complicated versions, where an entire neighborhood or entire church will work together to earn points or hours with each other. Large groups of older kids can have movie nights at one person’s house while the other sets of parents go out.)
  • Remember that your spouse is doing his/her best and needs breaks. We hear a lot about wives trying to convince their “clueless” husbands that what they do is hard. But you know what? Husbands work hard too. They don’t get enough credit. I don’t envy my husband’s tasks of vehicle maintenance, home repair, and taxes. I can’t do his jobs, but he can sure do mine. Sometimes he needs breaks. He likes to relax in ways that I don’t, and vice versa. He never judges me for how I might need to decompress. (Watching the Kardashians? Eating a whole bag of Doritos?) He never sighs when I ask if I can leave him to do bedtime while I go to a movie with a friend. I’m not sure I can say the same, but I’m working on it. He’s a good example to me.

These sanity tips have kept us best friends while having three kids in diapers. What tips do you have for stressed-out and sleep-deprived parents?

***

This article was originally written for Beyond Infertility, a website about parenting after infertility. I am a regular contributor to their website. You can find the original here.

60 Things I Want My Sons to Know About Their Father…. Oh, Nevermind.

I really did write an awesome blog post praising Mr. Okayest (who is way beyond Okay), but it ended up being too personal, so, oh well, you don’t get to read it. It really did have 60 things on it, and it really was awesome, and I gave it to him as a Christmas present.

So, you know, nevermind. Thanks anyway.

The way I feel about him can really just be summed up by this song from “Juno”:

All I Want Is You by Barry Louis Polisar

If I was a flower growing wild and free
All I’d want is you to be my sweet honey bee
And if I was a tree growing tall and green
All I’d want is you to shade me and be my leaves

If you were a river in the mountains tall
The rumble of your water would be my call
If you were the winter, I know I’d be the snow
Just as long as you were with me when the cold winds blow

If you were a wink, I’d be a nod
If you were a seed, well I’d be a pod
If you were the floor, I’d wanna be the rug
And if you were a kiss, I know I’d be a hug

If you were the wood, I’d be the fire
If you were the love, I’d be the desire
If you were a castle, I’d be your moat
And if you were an ocean, I’d learn to float

All I want is you, will you be my bride?
Take me by the hand and stand by my side
All I want is you, will you stay with me?
Hold me in your arms and sway me like the sea

 (Except for the bride part. But “groom” doesn’t rhyme.)

Our First Date: An Ode to Ruth’s Tea Room

Ruths Tea Room

Our first date was in November 1998, almost 15 years ago. I don’t feel any different than I did that day. I am still painfully and terribly in love. I know him better now, but I still feel like the 19-year-old starry-eyed Virginia girl in love with the 18-year-old  Italian/Iranian ringlet-ed boy.

We fell in love in a nursing home when we were about 14 years old. Who can say that? Just a handful of people in the whole world? Our private school was located inside a wing of a working nursing home. We had pull-cords in the bathrooms and, if you were lucky, your locker was a kitchen cabinet. If you weren’t, it was a bathroom counter. We spent a little time in the cedar-closet darkroom, too. Ahem.

Our first date wasn’t until we had gone to college, 440 miles apart. When he came home for his first school break, we went on a date. I like our first date story better than anyone else’s. We went to Ruth’s Tea Room.

Ruth’s Tea Room (or tear room, as he says) was just a tiny little place inside an old woman’s house in Winchester, VA. I guess only locals knew about it. There wasn’t even any sign out front by the time we came around. Remember, there was no internet to speak of in 1998 – at least not for me. And not one that would spread the word about such an establishment. She served cakes and tea and homemade lemonade with sugar around the rim of the glass. She probably served meals, too, but we were always too poor to buy much. I remember the dim lighting. I remember the jukebox – with a lot of Duke Ellington and Tina Turner and… hmm, maybe not any white singers at all! I remember, above all else, the velvet red wallpaper. I remember his black eyes staring at me.

I had been to Ruth’s Tea Room with my best friend, Sarah, many times. We were just poor punk/goth/hippie kids who dressed from the thrift store. (Don’t let the private schooling fool you- I was sent there by a well-meaning relative.) The proprietor, whom I wrongly assumed was Ruth, was old and kind and Southern and genteel. She seemed to welcome us teens. Who, in their right minds, provides a place for teens to go, late at night, and somehow convinces them to use manners and be quiet? Miss Vivian did. I just learned her name today, through an internet search.

My man had never been there until the night of our first date. We were seated by Miss Vivian, in the tiny room with only 5 tables. There was another couple in there too. They were much older than my parents. The man looked at me and said, “That’s the courtin’ table you’re sittin’ at! When you gonna marry her, boy?!” I don’t have a good memory, but that moment is locked into my brain forever. The man went on to say that he and his wife sat there for their first date and that they had been married for a long time now. He also said something along the lines of “She’s got that just-made-love-glow about her” … about me… which, by the way, was only an “IN-love glow”, I swear.  We married in 2002, only 4 years later, after we had both graduated college. We adopted our first son in 2010 and gave birth to two more sons in 2012. We just celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary and have now been together for 15 years. He is my everything.

Ruth’s Tea Room was the most romantic place on earth. It was in an old lady’s somewhat musty house, in the worst possible part of Winchester, with a boy I had met in a nursing home. It was the last first date of my life.

engagement

 Me & Him, circa 1998

~~~~~

Notes:

I have recently  learned that Ruth’s Tea Room, located at 128 E. Cecil Street, in Winchester VA, was demolished in 2008.  The entire block was razed. It is heartbreaking. I knew that it was a place nearing the end of its life in 1998, but it’s hard to accept that, even 15 years later, it’s really gone. A piece of history is gone. The Tea Room could have been in operation since 1915 (a 1990 article said it had been in operation for 75 years at that point). Also, the house itself was a piece of history, as it was first owned by the first freed slave in Winchester.

Information about the place was suprisingly hard to find during an internet search. I did (somehow not surprisingly)  find an entire webpage dedicated to the songs on the juke box at Ruth’s Tea Room: http://ruthstearoom.tumblr.com/.

I found the photo of the front of the house on a website called “Vanished Winchester”, whose  name itself is heartbreaking. https://picasaweb.google.com/102987560620552891770/VanishedWinchester#5343528834821207522

I found a facebook page called, “In Loving Memory of Ruth’s Tea Room”. I was moved to read the names of the members, which included names I haven’t seen since my middle-school yearbook. That page has 233 members! It is also where I found a picture of Miss Vivian, who I had thought was Ruth all these years. She is actually Ruth’s daughter. Seeing her face brought back some memories for me.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the facebook page:

  • “High school would not have been the same without this place and Vivian.”
  • “There hasn’t been and there will never be a place as wonderful as Ruth’s Tea Room. You always made all us regulars feel so welcome, like we were part of your family. I will forever hold onto wonderful memories of you, Zeus, the red velvet wallpaper, smells of herbal tea mixed with clove cigarettes and the warm home-like atmosphere that was so welcoming to all. I truly miss this incredible place.”
  • “Three generations of my family loved Ruth.”
  • “Orange spice and cigarettes in a room that was lit entirely by old Christmas lights and candles.”
  • “As a high school teacher now, I realize the service that she provided to us was phenomenal….nobody wants teenagers as their main patrons…people hate teenagers….but she didn’t judge us and our gothic ways, she lovingly served us, allowed us to be ourselves and occasionally told us not to curse.”
  • “Sex, drugs, and Ruth’s Tea Room. That’s really all I remember from high school.”

The only history I could find was an old newspaper article written in 1990 by Joe Bageant, whose name I recognized  immediately. He authored a book I own called “Deer Hunting with Jesus”, which is about povery and politics, as framed by Winchester, VA, which is Bageant’s hometown. I was surprised to see that he wrote about Ruth’s Tea Room, too!

He wrote, in his article about the Tea Room, “If he had a first name, I never knew it. Everyone just called him Mr. Boyd, and that’s probably the way he wanted it. Whatever the case, Mr. Boyd looked like the old picture on the Uncle Ben’s Rice box. A gentleman of color, he operated Ruth’s Tea Room in my hometown when I was a kid. The place was named after Mr. Boyd’s late wife, and it has been a fixture of that old Southern town for 75 years…. It is… all housed in the Boyds’ small two-story home inherited from the first free slave in our town, Virginius Boyd. Anyway, when I was growing up near the tea room in the late 1950s, Mr. Boyd and his daughter, Vivian, ran the place with soothing dignity. “