50 Shades…10 Years Later

50 Shades

I’m late to the party with 50 Shades of Grey. Unfashionably late. Back in May, when I wrote 50 Shades of Motherhood, I had yet to read the trilogy. I knew it only by reputation. I know it more intimately now. I read all three books from cover to cover in five days. No, the kids aren’t back in school. Admitted child neglect. But it rained a bit those days, so it’s not really child neglect.

After reading, I felt compelled to write a letter to Anastasia. You know, enlightening her about how her marriage will look a decade after the trilogy ends.

Dear Ana,

You and Christian have been the topic of discussion among housewives for the better part of a year. It’s true! Your story arouses interest. I’m writing to give some insight into a day in your life with Christian and your children in 10 years’ time. Take a peek into my crystal ball, Ana…

It’s 5:30AM and you awake with a start. Through a sleepy fog, you make out the sound of little feet running around in the bedroom next door. Little feet belonging to a boy who woke you three times last night because he couldn’t find the Lego he fell asleep with on his pillow pet. So you got out of bed to look for it. Every time. Dizzy from the light of that piece of crap Dream Lite the kids had to have, you found the Lego on the floor next to his bed. All three times. You were so fired up after returning to bed for the third time that it took you an hour to fall back to sleep. You sat up in bed and stared at Edward Christian, willing him to wake up. Wake up, jackass. Next time you’re going in to find the Lego. When I asked you to kiss him goodnight, did I not tell you no toys in bed? Douche.  You stared at him, radiating anger, for minutes. There’s no denying, he’s still uber hot. Super duper sexy hot. Except for the unfortunate ear hair. You read that right. Ear. Hair. It grows in tufts. Like a goddamn Chia Pet sprouting from his ears. It lowers his sexy factor considerably.

You got a cumulative 4 hours of sleep, and now the little one is prancing around in his room…the room he shares with his older brother. It’s only a matter of time before they’re both awake. Cranky. Demanding chocolate chip muffin tops before you’ve had a sip of coffee.

Christian. Maybe he’ll get up and tell the youngest one to go back to bed. You stretch, rub your eyes,  turn your head to ask him to intervene…only to find his side of the bed empty. Son of a bitch and his stupid triathlon training. He’s in the pool. Or on the bike. Or out for a run. You hope he’s in the pool because that’s one less pair of sweaty socks you’ll have to extract from the laundry basket and turn right side in (cringe) before washing. Is it too much to ask that he take them off and turn them right side in himself?

You sigh and tiptoe out of bed. You turn the bedroom doorknob slowly, and open the door a fraction at a time, hoping to creep downstairs and have one glorious moment of solitude before the kids discover you’re in the kitchen. CREEEEAAAAKKKK. Mother humper. Sounds like Christian never oiled the squeaky bedroom door with the WD40 you left on the counter for him. Add it to the list of grievances, Ana.

The door to the bedroom next to yours flies open.

Last Born: “Mommy! You’re awake! Can I have muffin tops?”

His brother shoves him aside and places himself directly in front of you.

Second to Last Born: “I want muffin tops too! And I want them first!” turning to his brother, “You got them first yesterday, so I want them first today!’

Last Born: “I want them first! I asked first, so I get them first!”

Second to Last Born: Screaming, “I do!”

Last Born: Screaming, “I do!”

You’re missing Mrs. Jones more than ever, Ana. Where is she, you wonder? You had to let her go. Shhh. Shhh. There, there. You had to. And the security team. You had to let them go too. The helicopter? Gone. Property in Aspen? Gone. Sweet little Audi R8? You sold it on Craigslist, girlfriend. You had to. Christian took that can’t lose attitude of his to Vegas…and lost something fierce. He lost the mother lode. Piece by piece over the course of 4 years. He’s no longer a big business mogul. No longer CEO of Grey Enterprises. I shit you not. He’s the manager of the local Circuit City. He couldn’t even land the gig at Best Buy. He was too domineering in the interview. Heehee. Get it? Domineering? You still have the house overlooking the Sound. And it’s still beautiful. Can’t beat that view, right? But the A/C is on the fritz, and the water heater is on its last legs. You fantasize about using the money you get from your tax return to finish the basement, but you know that money is better spent paying down that nasty credit card balance. All those trips to Target add up, Ana. $237 spent on a cart full of paper towels, fruit snacks, and who the hell knows what else. I’ve been there, sister.

You kiss your copper haired little boys on the tops of their heads and ask them to lower their voices before they wake their 3 older siblings. That’s right, Ana. You and Christian have 5 kids. 5! Boy, girl, girl, boy, boy. You started early. You had so much money. You were so in love. So full of hope. You had 5 babies in 6 years. And it has taken its toll. Your stomach has so many creases it looks like the origami set you gave Theo for his last birthday. And those boobs that Christian couldn’t get enough of? Deflated water balloons. Filled with kitty litter. Breastfeeding 5 kids will do that to a girl. And there is no hope for a boob job and tummy tuck in the near future. Not with the kids needing braces. Another sad reality, Ana. Christian’s baby Daddy must have had an awful set of chiclets. It skipped a generation, so Christian’s dazzling smile was spared, but it attacked your kids with a vengeance.

You usher the younger ones into the kitchen with you. Turn on the coffee and whip up some scrambled eggs for the three of you. Ana, I’m so thrilled to report that you finally have a healthy relationship with food. No more…let’s just call it what it is…eating disorder! You are a female.  By definition, a female doesn’t “just forget to eat”. Never. Never, ever, ever does a female “forget to eat”. You finally stopped that charade after the last baby and got yourself into therapy. Bravo, Ana. And, you look amazing! In clothes and with the right bra, that is. You know, because of the origami stomach and the boobs that resemble deflated water balloons. You can even pull off a bikini. But only if you’re standing up perfectly straight and taking shallow breaths. This never happens because you have 5 kids, a jealous husband, and no help. That jealous husband is prone to pouting, so you shoulder the weight of the kids most of the time. If for no other reason than to avoid Christian’s bullshit. And the good Dr. Flynn is WAY out of Mr. Circuit City’s price range, so now he grudgingly attends weekly anger management courses in the church basement.

Over the next hour, the older three kids traipse down the steps into the kitchen and greet you with half smiles, grunts, and nods. Just like every morning, you play the role of short order cook. Filling juice glasses, flipping pancakes, adding blueberries to some and chocolate chips to others. You’re just rinsing syrup off the last plate when Mr. Wonderful, home from his workout, bursts through the front door.

Christian, “There she is! My beautiful wife. Good morning, Mrs. Grey.”

Christian wraps his arms around you from behind. And, here it comes in 3, 2, 1….And gives you a boner to the back.  Never fails.

He looks out the window through the glass wall while you endure his, ahem, muscle flexing.

Christian: “Remember the picnics we used to have in that meadow, baby? Remember what we used to do on that blanket?” He pushes harder against your back. For Pete’s sake, man, give it a rest!

Ana: Smiling sweetly, “Maybe you should mount that lawnmower of yours and cut the grass in that meadow.” And, while you’re at it, take a weed wacker to that ear hair.

Christian: Wounded, “That’s our meadow, baby. Yours and mine. I don’t want to change a thing about it.” His eyes grow dark.

Oopsy daisy. Tread lightly, Ana.

Ana: “Oh, Christian, I love our meadow just as much as you do. But the kids are covered in mosquito bites and poison ivy. It’s not fair to them.”

His smoldering eyes turn accusatory, “You always choose them over me. You love them more. I knew this would happen.”

Blah, blah, and blahbitty blah blah. You knew this would happen. He warned you himself. You spend the better part of the next hour convincing him that you still love him unconditionally (which is total bullshit, by the way…you didn’t know unconditional love until you had kids, Ana), and pleading with him to get to work on time so they don’t dock his hourly pay.

When he finally leaves for work, you walk into your closet. Gone are the garter belts and thigh highs. And thank God for that, Ana. A garter belt’s worst enemy is a woman with a muffin top…and Claude’s not around for private training sessions anymore, so your muffin top is substantial. Don’t worry, you hide it well in sports bras, yoga pants, and layered long sleeve t-shirts. You grab your favorite yoga pants, which are on the floor in a ball from yesterday’s wearing. You struggle to pull on a sports bra, layer a few t-shirts, brush your teeth, pull your hair back with a scrunchy, and you’re set.

You round up the kids and pile them into the minivan. Yes, minivan. You can try to look hot behind the wheel of that pig, and you do try, Ana, you do. But it’s no use. It’s the least sexy vehicle on the planet. But it’s the only thing big enough to transport all those babies you crazy kids had. And its safety ratings are higher than the SUVs. You know what a stickler Christian is for safety ratings.

In an effort to drown out the sound of the kids bickering with one another in the two rows of seats behind you, you turn up the volume on the newest Justin Bieber song. Yep, he’s still around. And your daughters have mad crushes on him. You sit at a red light, staring blankly ahead, when a flash of white catches your eye. A girl pulls up alongside you in an Audi R8. A white one, just like the one Edward Christian bought for your 22nd birthday. She‘s beautiful. She has dark hair and appears not to be wearing yoga pants, a staple in your daily uniform. Sigh. She reminds me of me. You turn down the volume as you roll down your window.

Ana: Smiling, “Excuse me! I LOVE your car! I used to have the exact same one before I had kids!” More smiling.

Unimpressed, she rolls her eyes and goes straight for the jugular, “What are you, like…45?”

Why, you little…

Ana: Scowling, “Let me guess…Did your Daddy buy that car for you?”

Girl: “Whatever. Grandma.”

Just then, the light turns green. The spoiled brat in the white Audi peels out. I wish you wouldn’t, Ana, but you do it. You try to race her. Despite the fact that it takes you 3 solid minutes to get from 0 to 60 and you spend 2 of those minutes checking your rearview mirror for your transmission…still, you try to catch her. Oh, Ana, I do so admire your spunk. When you lose sight of her tail lights, you drive straight to the closest McDonald’s. You’re pissed. You’re frustrated. You hit that box of wine pretty hard last night, and you read on Pinterest that McDonald’s fries are the best cure for a hangover. And they are.

**Ana, my dear,  this is a glimpse of what your morning looks like a decade from now. You’re probably more shocked by this snapshot of your future than you were upon first entry into Christian’s red room of pain.  I know. You didn’t envision all of….this in your happily ever after. I’ll spare you the details of the rest of your day. Oh, except for one small nugget about dinner…

That macaroni and cheese that you made from scratch does not go over well with the kids. None of them appreciates the time you took to hand grate those four different cheeses. All five of them complain. One of them refuses to eat entirely. Two of them moan as they choke down a handful of bites. One gags. And one vomits. Right there at the dinner table. Not Phoebe. The younger daughter. She’s the middle child, but she is a drama queen, Ana. Dinnertime is a bitch. That’s just a daily fact of life with kids. You had visions of your kids praising that mac and cheese the way the Barefoot Contessa’s gay friends praise hers. Doesn’t happen, sweetheart. Valiant effort though, Ana! Keep fighting the good fight! They’ll be extra hungry for breakfast tomorrow, right? Oh, and one more teeny tiny detail…Christian is still sulking about the meadow conversation, so he purposely farts around at work. By the time he arrives home, the crunchy stuffing on top of his mac and cheese has gone stale. Ungrateful bastard.

Let’s fast forward through bedtime. Trust me, you’re not ready for a glimpse of that shit show.

It’s the end of the evening. The kids are in bed. Finally. Christian is still jealous. He’s still controlling. He’s insecure. He’s the neediest one in the house. He’s moody. The man needs a boatload of therapy, Ana. In spite of all that, you still love him. And you can’t stay mad at him for long. Even now, after so many years.

After putting your 16 hour day with the kids, you climb into bed next to him. In an effort to reconnect, and to assure him he’s loved, you initiate sex. You’re speaking his language so, naturally, he responds. Please can this be a quickie, please just a quickie, I think at least one of the kids is still awake, please a quickie.

He leans back, searching your face. The anger has left his eyes. Christian is back. You’re forgiven. He moves in to kiss you again.

Wait a minute, am I snack mom tomorrow? I swore it was next week, but it might be tomorrow! And I promised Theo I’d make homemade cookies. He told me 4 times that Jack’s Mom always sends in homemade cookies for snack. That overachieving bitch.

Christian: “Baby, I have a surprise for you…”

Oh, shit. No quickie. How the hell long will this take? I hope I don’t forget about the cookies.

Ana: “Oh, a surprise?”

Cookies, cookies, cookies, cookies…

Christian nods and pulls an array of sex toys out from under his pillow.

Son of a bitch, I hid that shit in trouser socks! Then I put the socks in the foot of my Christmas stocking. Then I put my Christmas stocking in a vacuum sealed plastic bin in the attic. Then I stacked 5 bins on top of that bin. Then I hid the key to the attic and threw out the spare key. Can I get nothing past this man?!

Christian: “Naughty girl hid the toys. She needs a spanking.”

Aw, fuck. Goodnight.

Yep, Christian is back. He’s still hot. Even with the ear hair. You love him. You always will. You love your family.

Embrace your minivan, Ana. Rock your yoga pants. Keep making those dinners from scratch. Continue your healthy relationship with food. Push Christian to cut that lawn in the meadow. Insist he give up that spanking bullshit. Maybe start a book club. Join Facebook. Get on Twitter. Drink margaritas with your girlfriends. Delight in the smell of your kids every night when you go into their rooms to kiss them goodnight. Don’t sweat the small stuff, Ana. This is real life. It’s hard. It’s often monotonous, occasionally punctuated by moments of pure magic. You’ve got a good thing. Hang onto it.

Oh, and first thing tomorrow morning, bury those toys in the garbage can. Under a week’s worth of coffee grinds.

You’re welcome:)

This piece appeared in the Parents section of the Huffington Post on August 22, 2012. 

A Letter to the Parents of the Olympic Athletes

olympics

Me: “Are you ready?”

Silence.

Me: “B&B, are you ready?”

Pause.

B&B: “Um…yeah…just…about…ready…”

Mother of God.

In my mind’s eye, I see him half-dressed, standing in front of the computer, eyes glued to the live feed of the men’s 4×100 meter relay final. I walk down the steps…and confirm my suspicions. B&B, wearing only a pair of unbuttoned shorts and his watch, looks from the computer monitor to me, then back to the monitor.

B&B, shoulders shrugged, palms skyward: “Beth, it’s the men’s 4×100! It starts in,” glances at his watch, “2 minutes.”

B&B ran track his senior year of high school. During that season, he managed to run a sub 5 minute mile and break the school’s high jump record. That record still stands over 20 years later. I can pull him away from the Olympic live feed during handball. Track and field? No shot. The fact that we are already late picking the Kenyan up from his friend’s house AND late for a party AND that we’ll see this race on NBC at primetime…moot points, all of them.

It’s the men’s 4×100 meter relay final.

I text the Mom of the Kenyan’s friend:

“Fucking B&B watching the Olympics. Be there in 15. Sorry.”

She replies:

“No problem. They’re playing outside. Take your time.”

I re-read my text to her. Hmmm.

I text her:

“Just clarifying, ‘fucking’ is an adjective, not a verb in this instance.”

I join B&B next to the computer, catching Usain Bolt’s leg of the race. And, just like that, a new world record is set.

We are a house of Olympic junkies. In the same manner that summer wreaks havoc on our regular schedule, the Olympic games dictate our lives for two weeks every four years. During the summer months, all 4 kids are home with me. All day. Every day. It kills my workout routine. Writing is near impossible. Laundry sits in piles…clean and dirty…in the corners of bedrooms and littering the family room furniture. I find string cheese wrappers in beds. There is too much pizza. Too little fruit. Bedtimes are not strictly enforced. Breakfast happens in shifts…beginning at 6:15 and ending when I warn Waldorf, who’s still in bed at 10AM that, “the kitchen is closing until lunch!” Since July 27, our haphazard summer schedule has become even more so, revolving around swimming, gymnastics, and track and field.

B&B and I are spellbound watching the Olympics. Most of the athletes are kids…teenagers and 20 somethings. They’ve dedicated their young lives to getting to this point. With the support of their coaches, their teachers, tutors, and friends, they’ve achieved a lifelong goal of becoming an Olympic athlete. None of it could have happened without the sacrifice, commitment, and support of their parents.

Which inspired me to write this…a letter to the parents of the Olympic athletes…

I loved meeting my newborn sons. In their first hours of life, I held each of them, studying every detail of their unfamiliar faces. I tugged at their receiving blankets to reveal their tiny shoulders. I counted ten tiny fingers and smiled as their reflexive grip tightened around my finger, so enormous in comparison. I unswaddled them to place my hands on feet that had never before touched the ground. Those hours, and the days following, were filled with hope and wonder. Who will this boy be? A soldier? A scientist? A philanthropist? An Olympic athlete? I dreamed big for them. And I hoped all of their dreams would come true.

It’s been 4 years since I held my last newborn…and I can say with certainty that there is not an Olympic athlete in my bunch.

For those parents who did give birth to Olympic athletes…thank you. This summer has been one of hope and wonder for my children as they’ve watched your children compete in the Olympic games.

Debbie Phelps, did you pull down his blanket and peek at your baby boy’s shoulders? Did you sense that they would eventually support the weight of 22 Olympic medals? Your child is a marvel. Thank you for recognizing that putting an active young boy in a pool will result in a tired young boy. Swimming proved a valuable strategy for dealing with Michael’s ADHD. Did you dream when you first put him in the pool that he would eventually become the most recognized face in his sport? He has an intensity in the pool and a quiet confidence outside the pool. As the most decorated athlete in Olympic history, one could argue he has every right to be cocky. The fact that he isn’t makes him even more endearing. I watched you watch him compete. As a mother, I identify with the intensity of watching him race, willing him to do his best. My kids watched your daughters watch their brother compete. They witnessed the pride your girls have in their little brother’s commitment to his sport. These are lessons we teach in our home. Thank you for your family’s example of what that support looks like…even once our kids reach adulthood.

Lynn and Rick Raisman, when you held your daughter for the first time, did you smile when her tiny hand enveloped your finger? Did you hope that it would be the same hand that would catapult her to Olympic gold? Would you have dared to dream so big for this, your first born baby? Aly’s sportsmanship sets her apart. We live in a world in which we’ve witnessed pro golfers throw their clubs in temper tantrums. We’ve seen a college basketball player choke his coach in a fit of rage. When Aly believed she hadn’t medaled on the balance beam, she hugged her coach. She took a deep breath. She remained poised. She sought out Catalina Ponor, who’d seemingly edged her for the bronze, embraced her, and congratulated her on a job well done. She was the picture of dignity. She’s a teenager. Competing at an elite level. In front of the world. The pressure she experiences is unimaginable. She thought her score put her just out of medal’s reach. Yet there it was…her sportsmanship. Her gesture is one I’ve played and replayed for my children. Boys, this is what sportsmanship looks like. My boys will never be Olympic athletes. They will never comprehend the pressure Aly feels. But they’ll know what it feels like to try their very hardest and fall short of a goal. They’ll know the sting of disappointment. Aly’s example of sportsmanship in action at the highest level of competition is a lesson for my children. Pretty sweet that she wound up winning the bronze due to a scoring error.

Sheila and Henke Pistorius, did you unswaddle your infant son and place your hands on his feet…feet that would only be his for a short time? Did you wonder who Oscar would be? 11 short months later, when he lost both legs below the knee, did you know then that your boy had the spirit of a champion? Did you sense, in a way that only a parent knows, that your child was destined to be a role model? That he would grow into a young man whose participation in the Olympics would embody courage? My children have watched your son in amazement. “His blades are cool!” Yep, his blades are cool. But his message is even cooler. No limits. No excuses. Endless possibilities. My husband and I choked back tears as we watched Kirani James, moments after winning the 400 meter semifinal, remove his bib in exchange for Oscar’s. Your son has earned the respect of his fellow athletes. He’s won the admiration of millions. Oscar is a true champion. An exceptional man. And a testament to the triumph of the human spirit.

Every parent of an Olympic athlete has his and her own unique story. While the stories differ, the themes remain the same. Sacrifice, commitment, support. Sacrificing family dinners for practices. Spending nights, weekends, years in a gym, at a pool, on the track. For Natalie Hawkins, sacrifice meant spending two years away from her daughter, Gabby Douglas, so that Gabby could train with the coach she hoped would enable her to fulfill her Olympic dream. The commitment…time, financial, and emotional…to seeing your child’s talent honed to make him one of the finest athletes to compete in his sport is beyond my imagination. The support you’ve given your children to empower them to continue performing with confidence, drive, and excellence to reach the Olympic level of competition…I am in awe of it.

When you held your babies, long before they were Olympians, before you knew they were athletes, did you wonder who they would be? Did you sense you were holding a future Olympic hero in your arms? Maybe, like I did, you simply dreamed big for them…and hoped all of their dreams would come true.

To the parents of the Olympic athletes…thank you for sharing your children with us this summer. It’s been an honor watching your children’s dreams come true.

An abridged version of this piece can be found in the August 13, 2012 edition of the Huffington Post.