Attention NASA: Kindly remove our favorite shut-in from your list of middle-aged sometimes-single working-mother columnists who could potentially take the space shuttle. She's currently off on a different adventure...
Had I simply stayed home and written last night, this month's column might've opened with a tribute to the glorious wonders of spring. I could have said something incredibly meaningful about purpose and passion, nature and nurture. I could have worked in colorful details in which babies and balloons and Ferris wheels figured prominently. Hey, I've gotten sort of friendly with our illustrator; if I slide a crisp $10 bill his way, I could probably talk him into some kind of Peter Max–ish artwork, drenched in wildflowers and rainbows—hell, I could be nuzzling a freaking unicorn.
But instead of hanging at home and catching up on my work, I ventured out to a brand new bistro where the chicken was undercooked and the wine was overpriced, the décor was too trendy and the music was too loud, the hostess was too willowy and, though I have no evidence that would hold up in a court of law, I'm pretty sure the waiter coughed on my broccoli rabe. Dismiss me if you must, but there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that I visited the original portal to hell last night—and I'm here to tell you that it does not take credit cards.
The truth is I don't like eating out. I don't like noise or crowds or all that arithmetic involving the tip. I don't like having to keep my 5-year-old occupied between courses. I don't like having to navigate my diabetes without knowing precisely how much sugar and salt and fat is hiding in the food. And most of all, I don't like that NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR LOST OR STOLEN PROPERTY sign at the coat check. Mark my words, the decline of the Holy Roman Empire began with restaurants refusing to take responsibility for losing a gladiator's coat. Is it any wonder I prefer to stay home with my down-filled Eileen Fisher jacket secure in the front hall closet?
Now comes the part where I admit to a dark secret that I'm hoping you'll keep to yourself: It isn't just trendy restaurants I like to avoid. Here I am in New York City, a town brimming with culture and possibility, a town where I can take in opera, ballet, theater at the drop of a hat, a town in which, so help me God, F. Murray Abraham stepped on my foot twice in one week. Not impressed? Okay, how about this: I actually know a guy who knows a guy who can find me authentic Ethiopian food at 4 a.m. Yep, there's no getting around it, I can ice-skate, rock climb, or take a horse-and-buggy ride on any given afternoon if I feel like it. The thing is—I never feel like it.
I am part of a small, deeply mortified group of individuals who were born lacking that special spirit-of-adventure gene that makes people want to scale Everest or taste ostrich meat or walk into Starbucks without a little mascara. I still remember the day Johannes (light of my life, father of my child, incontrovertible proof that water seeks its own level) admitted that if he had the opportunity to go to the moon, free of charge, safe as can be, he'd probably just mix up a batch of Tang and stay home. I believe the exact quote was, "I mean, I don't even like going upstairs."
You know how you're perfectly content with a man for long stretches and then one day he gives you his last piece of tangerine, or he spends 40 minutes teaching your addled aunt Evie how to work her DVD player, or he perfects his imitation of a wombat sneezing and you just fall madly in love with him all over again? The day Johannes told me he had virtually no desire to go to the moon is the day I knew I was a goner.
There's an old Irish proverb—something about how you should work as if you don't need the money, love as if you've never been hurt, dance as if nobody's watching. I think there's much to be said for that sort of free-spirited bravado. But here's the thing: I do need the money, I have been hurt, and I won't dance—don't ask me.
For the record, I know that I'm supposed to aspire to a certain degree of risk-taking and that in the grand scheme of things aspiring to get to T.J. Maxx before they close is perhaps not the loftiest of goals, but I'd like to make a few small points:
1. T.J. Maxx has a really good selection of underwear at a very nice discount.
2. I've decided to forgive myself for not being Amelia Earhart.
3. I like to think that if Amelia Earhart had survived, she would have appreciated the need for quality underwear at bargain prices. At the very least, I hope she'd have been willing to hear me out while I attempt to make the case for not setting world records on a regular basis.
Dear Ms. Earhart,
I love that you could touch the sky. I think about you sometimes and I wonder how it is that a little girl from Kansas learns to fly. I'm 48 years old and I still can't walk in heels.
Tell me, Amelia, did somebody infuse you with so much confidence that you always believed you could do anything you set your mind to? Or did somebody cut you so deep that you always believed you had something to prove to the universe? Were you ever tired? Were you ever lonely? Did you get scared a lot? I like to imagine that from time to time you were all those things, but what I find so really remarkable is that if you ever did feel exhausted or isolated or fragile, you never let it stop you from taking off.
Still, I have to ask, didn't the concept of changing into something made of flannel, ordering in a couple of sushi rolls, and renting a good movie ever tempt you even a little? Because frankly, that's my idea of a perfect evening. It's not that I don't experience a touch of wanderlust periodically, it's just that for all my talk of missing the swashbuckler gene, I'm currently off on an adventure of my own.
You see, Amelia, I'm trying to raise a 5-year-old with a lovely man who lives more than half his life on another continent. And I'm trying to be excellent at my job. And I'm trying not to feel just awful that it's 10 after 6 and I'm writing a letter to a woman who vanished in 1937 when I know I should be home convincing my daughter to at least give eggplant Parmesan a try before permanently relegating it to the things-we'd-rather-set-our-gums-on-fire-than-ever-eat-again food group.
I'm trying to understand Israel and Hamas and the auto industry and immigration reform and I'm trying to convince my insurance company to cover the blood test that it decided wasn't necessary. Amelia, didn't you ever have to stay home and wait for somebody to come and steam-clean your rugs?
As daring goes, I realize getting a kid to eat eggplant is a far cry from being the first woman to make a nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic, but my little adventure is definitely nonstop. And Amelia, like a lot of us, I'm pretty much flying solo too.