Happy Halloween



Hey there – crazy day today with costume prep, school parties and the unnecessary last minute candy run. (Does the “do I have enough?” question keep anyone else up at night?)

New blog post coming tomorrow.  A perfect excuse for you to procrastinate until your candy hangover subsides.  I had my first Reese’s at 6:30 this morning.  What? It has peanut butter…which is a breakfast food….

Happy Halloween!


Ferris Bueller and Joe Bloggs: Daring Greatly Together

Phil and I were driving home from a doctor’s appointment yesterday when I saw the sign: “Bat Houses For Sale.”

I was intrigued. “Bats buy houses?  I thought they shacked up in haunted attics.”

Phil, always at the ready with an official sounding answer, said, “They need to seek refuge because they are deaf.”


“Bats are deaf.”

“Ummmm, I don’t think so Dr. Doolittle.  Pretty sure they are blind.  You know, blind as a bat?”

He laughed.  “Or dumb as a stump.”

I love these rare moments with a less-than-perfect Phil, because most of the time, he comes pretty damn close.  When we first started dating, his superstar resume almost scared me away: 4.0 student, captain of his high school football team, full engineering scholarship to Villanova.  Ok sure, that’s impressive, you say.  But is he a total nerd?  Nope.  He’s fun, charming, and 100% likable.  Think Ferris Bueller.

As I see it, the downside to this charmed existence is the pressure to be happy, dazzling and brilliant all the time. I, fortunately, do not have this problem.  I call it the Beauty of Being Average – no one expects too much.  You are not afraid to fail because the bar is set so low.  It’s like falling off a step stool vs. Phil’s 10 foot ladder.   I was an average student, an average musician, an average athlete.  Think Joe Bloggs.*

In high school, Phil was doing advanced calculus while I was smoking cigarettes outside the PathMark in East Hanover, NJ.  He ran football drills and led student council meetings.  I streaked my hair with Manic Panic while my friend Maureen pierced my ears with a safety pin. He was every parent’s dream and I was an ABC Afterschool Special.  At my college graduation from Villanova, my dad said, “Well Jess, I wasn’t sure you could pull this off. But what do you know, here we are!”  I’m pretty sure that’s French Canadian for “Congratulations.”

These childhood roles – Phil as Superstar and Jessie as Hot Mess – spilled over into the early years of our marriage, and we worked with a therapist to bring more equality into our relationship.  But certain situations trigger old behaviors.  My recent health issues, for example, have brought out the bossy control freak natural leader in Phil.  He feels it is his duty to help me, which is nice….if I ask for help.  But he tends to take over, acting as if he has everything under control – even though I know he doesn’t.  He feels frazzled and I feel like a burden.  This creates distance – the opposite of the intended effect.

I tried to talk to Phil about letting his guard down, but these conversations ended with both of us getting defensive.  I couldn’t figure out why until I read Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly:

We ask [men] to be vulnerable, we beg them to let us in, and we plead with them to tell us when they’re afraid, but the truth is that most women can’t stomach it.  In these moments when real vulnerability happens to men, most of us recoil with fear and that fear manifests as everything from disappointment to disgust.  And men are very smart.  They know the risks, and they see the look in our eyes when  we’re thinking “C’mon!  Pull it together!  Man up!”

Holy crap. I thought.  Is that really true?  Do I really do that?  The answer, of course, is yes.  I am guilty of this double standard.  I want Phil to be sweet and sensitive when we are talking about “safe” topics.  But when we are discussing issues that make me feel squirmy and insecure – like money and medical bills – I want him to be in control.  Powerful.  Confident.  I want to feel safe at all costs, even if that means being lied to.

But it’s a trap.  Because deep down you know when someone is telling you what you want to hear.  Then you both retreat to opposite sides of the bed with all that bottled up emotion, and you don’t feel safe at all.  You feel alone.

I had to stop this cycle, and find a way to invite vulnerability into tough conversations.  But I needed a mental reminder – a tool to keep me from getting defensive or judgmental.  Like an electric fence.  Or ego taser.

Then, I found this little gem.


When I look at this face – the first face, not the spooky floating ghost-face- my heart softens.  Phil is allowed to have doubts and fears just like the little boy in the picture.  In many ways, he is still this kid who just wants to be seen and heard and loved.  The kid who wants someone to hold his face and say, “Hey. I’m here to help, it’s going to be ok,” when he forgets how to make a slip knot or whatever the hell you do in Cub Scouts.

However, my new approach hit a snag when I started shaming myself for shaming him.  What kind of heartless bitch crushes the spirit of an earnest little Cub Scout?  Who the hell do you think you are?

I am this person.


This little girl still exists, too.  Maybe she feels inadequate, not that smart, a little lost.   She needs someone to place a grounding hand on her shoulder and say, “You can do this.  You are capable of a lot more than you think.”

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown says:

Love is not something we give or get; it is something we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.

A part of me cringes at this definition; the self love things always throws me for a loop.  My inner critic has been around for a long time, and that bitch loves a good cat fight.  So I will continue to arm myself with baby pictures.  Because you would never say:


“Get up and do something, you lazy slob!”



“What the hell are you wearing?”

Go find that shoebox of old photos and give it a try.  I dare you.

* Joe Bloggs: (n). Brit slang for an average or typical man.  Used by the Princeton Review SAT prep course for the average student prone to choosing the most obvious, dumbass answer.

How To Stop Googling Yourself Dead


I had kind of a rough weekend.

For the record, I am a bit of a medical mystery.  I had my colon removed three years ago due to a congenital nerve defect called hypoganglionosis.  No one seems to know much about it, although according to Mary Roach’s recent book Gulp, Elvis may have had something similar.  So at least I am in good company there.  Except that he’s dead.

Anyway, since my surgery my body refuses to absorb iron.  This has resulted in microcytic anemia, for which I require intravenous iron.  I receive these treatments in Boston, which is a bit of a hike, but the level of care has outweighed the inconvenience.

When Phoebe broke her leg, however, my weekly appointments went from challenging to impossible.  So, as mothers tend to do, I got distracted by spoon feeding Phoebe ice cream my maternal duties and hoped the rest would just go away.

No such luck.  On Friday I woke up feeling like I had been run over by a cement truck.  My chest was tight and my hands and feet were numb.  So of course I called the doctor…right?

Wrong. I had a better idea.  I called the gas man.

Our smoke detectors had gone off the night before, so I decided we must have carbon monoxide.  This must be the problem, I thought.  It’s the air!  It’s poison, I tell you, POISON!

Bill the Gas Man refuted my theory.  No carbon monoxide.

I took the next logical step and Googled “anemia” and “death.”  This brought up a story about the actress Brittany Murphy, who died from a lethal trifecta of anemia, pneumonia, and (alleged) mold.


Hmmm.  Mold comes from dampness…and we left the car windows open during that rain storm and never replaced the floor mats.  I called Phil.

“I think the car has toxic mold.”

“Stop Googling and call the doctor.”

“Ugh.  Fiiiiiine.”

Calling your doctor in Boston at 4:00 on a Friday is a sure fire way to NOT RESOLVE A DAMN THING.  My exasperated hematologist said, “The chest pain is the lack of iron, but the numbness is probably a B12 and copper deficiency, which we can add to the IV when you come in next week.”

“So what are you supposed to do now?” Phil asked when I hung up.

“Suck on some pennies, I guess.”  And try not to Google Copper deficiency and neurological defects.

I haven’t always been paranoid/simultaneously avoident about my health.  I used to take things -even scary things -in stride.  But then my sweet and loving Aunt Terry died. What we thought was fibromyalgia ended up being cancer that killed her two months after being diagnosed.  Her death took my blissfully ignorant notion of “this could never happen to me” and kicked it to the curb.  So maybe I call the gas man instead of the doctor because all I’ve got to lose in that scenario is a furnace.

Phil took the kids out for pizza.  I got busy on laundry back in bed.  Have you ever flipped open a book to a page you really needed to read at that exact moment?  Well, that’s what happened to me with Dani Shaprio’s Still Writing.

The greatest shocks I have experienced[…] ignited in me […] an awareness that life is fragile.  That bad things had happened, and without a doubt, will happen again.  That to love anything at all is to become able to lose it.  Somedays, this awareness gets the better of me.  Anxiety sets in. But more often than not, […] it has taught me that ordinary life -or what Joan Didion calls “ordinary blessings – is what is most precious.

I woke up Saturday morning determined to embrace my ordinary blessings.

We went to the beach to fly a kite.




It was a beautiful day. The girls were having a blast, which made me smile….but I still felt slightly removed.  Like there was a pane of finger-smudged glass separating me from the rest of the world.  Mindfulness is hard for me on a good day, and harder when I can’t feel my hands or feet.  I was tired and cold and kept thinking about the couch. The couch and lots of blankets.

While we were at the beach, our fridge died.  Rather than try and salvage some of the already questionable leftovers, we decided to go out for dinner.

As we drove along, I stared out the window and tried to “stay in the moment” – even though “the moment” was filled with non-stop bickering from the back seat that was making me want to bang my head against the dashboard.  But then a miracle occurred.

I could hardly contain myself: “OMG.  You guys.”


“I just saw the best thing ever.”

“OK, whaaaat??”

“Someone changed that street sign from Hoop Pole Lane to POOP HOLE LANE.”

We snarfed and snorted for a good 6 minutes.  I thought Emma was going to puke from laughing: “THAT IS HILARIOUS!”  I WANT TO LIVE ON POOP HOLE LANE!”

I realize this is not exactly an appropriate parent-child dialogue, which is why I made a public service announcement as we pulled into the parking lot.

“Hey girls, you know that “poop” is not a restaurant word, right?”

“Neither is DAMMIT.”

Thank you, Phoebe.  Glad we are all on the same page here.

In the blog Positively Positive, Jennifer Pastiloff writes about finding the miraculous in the mundane – the rare moments in life when we can say, “I don’t need more than this.”

I look forward to regaining feeling in my extremities, and maybe one day absorbing nutrients the good old fashioned way, without needles.  But in the meantime, it’s a relief to have moments when I can still stay “I don’t need more than this.”


Daddy Drives With His Knees

“Daddy drives with his knees.”


“Daddy drives with his knees.  Isn’t that cool? Can you drive with your knees, Momma?”

“Umm, no.  I drive with my hands.”

“Oh.  Daddy’s gonna teach me to drive when I’m ten.

“Is that right.”


Normally I would find this car conversation with Phoebe amusing.  Maybe if I wasn’t driving home from the orthopedist’s office with a purple-casted 4 year old,  I would have cracked a smile.  But ever since Phoebe broke her leg on the playground, I’ve kind of lost my sense of humor surrounding safety issues.

Despite being the parent on duty at the time, Phil remains unaffected.

I am not blaming him. The same thing could have happened on my watch.  While I always usually have an eye on the kids, my hands are often occupied: sending a quick text, jotting down my grocery list, rummaging through my bottomless bag for Chap-Stick.

The point is, I get it.  I am guilty of multi-tasking, of not being present, of courting the hairy edge of disaster.  So I did not freak out when Phil called me on the way home from the playground that afternoon.

“I have to tell you something but you have to promise not to get mad.”

Never a good start to a conversation.

I did not get mad.  However…

There’s something about seeing your child’s leg in plaster that rouses your inner Mama Bear.  That’s MY baby’s leg in that cast.  A bone that I grew with my own body.  I know every inch of that little leg – I clothe, wash, and carry it everyday.  This made me fiercely protective yet uncomfortably vulnerable at the same time.  It’s a little like having an infant.  A 35 pound infant who screams for the IPad and gorgonzola cheese.


Phoebe took the whole thing in stride.  Large strides.  Running, careening, wildly unsteady strides. The minute she figured out that she could get around on the cast, she was off and running…dragging her purple leg behind her like a pint-sized, pony-tailed Captain Ahab.


Her drunk pirate routine made me drink.  I imagined her flying down the stairs or slipping on the bathroom floor.  I saw bloody teeth, a broken arm, potential head injury.  Suddenly our own house was a death trap.

When I shared these concerns with Phil, he just rolled his eyes.

“You are being ridiculous.  Yay, Phoebe, a new trick!” he said, clapping as she pirouetted around the kitchen.

“Can you please stop encouraging her?”

“Why? I’m teaching her to turn a setback into a comeback!”

“Her limb is being held together by paper mache!  Looks, she’s getting all dizzy – and her toes are bleeding!  PHOEBE STOP SPINNING!”

Phil is the fun parent and I am the….other parent.  As Emma once said: “Dad plays soccer, but only after Mom goes to Target and buys the soccer ball.”  I am fine with these roles, but Phil has a tendency to push the boundary of “Fun” and move into the realm of “Holy Shit Who Is In Charge Here?”

Like when he hung a tree swing in our yard that swings directly into the street, aka. “The Suicide Swing.”


Then there’s the time he “temporarily misplaced” Phoebe at a 5K Fun Run.  She was later found on the massage table getting rubbed down by a random male masseuse.


I tried not to freak out when I discovered that his version of “giving Phoebe a bath” meant sticking her in a tub of running water before retreating to the upstairs bathroom with the sports section.  I remained calm when he admitted to taking “9 Minute Chaise Lounge Naps” when taking the girls to the pool.  

But this time was different.  The more Phil ignored my plea to protect our daughter from a permanent leg deformity, the more pissed off I became.  When he rolled his eyes, called me overprotective, or re-explained the strength elements of a cast, the anger percolated in my gut like lava.

And when I looked outside to see Phil and Phoebe doing soccer drills, I LOST. MY. MIND.

“Really Phil?  Soccer?”

“What?  The doctor said she could walk on it.”

“She didn’t say she could play soccer on it.”

“Ahhh, but she didn’t say she COULDN’T play soccer on it!”

“Because no one with half a brain would ever think that those words actually need to be said.”

“Don’t you understand the strength elements of a cast?  You see, the way it works is…”

No words.


Later that night after a few glasses of wine, I came up with a new strategy for getting my point across.  While Phil was paying bills in his office, I left this outside the door.


Twisted?  Sadistic?  Lifetime movie-esque?  Perhaps.  But it worked.

About an hour later he came downstairs.

“Ok, I get it.  I’ll stop.  You’re one crazy chick, but I will stop.”


“Trust me.”

I do trust Phil.  Do I trust that he will miraculously transform into a Danger Ranger armed with a First Aid Kit and detailed fire escape plan?  No, and thank God. That’s not who he is.  I do trust that he will back off the One-Legged Olympics.  Not because he wants to, but because he knows I really need him to.

For me, trust is surrender.  Relinquishing the need to be right.  Going somewhere unfamiliar because it is really important to someone else.  Being able to say: “I still like my way of doing things, but I am willing to give your way a chance.” To trust is to consider that maybe there is validity in the other person’s point of view.

And I must admit, the view from the Suicide Swing is pretty damn good.


My Best Friend’s Wedding

Last month, my best friend Lynne got married.

She was beaming, glowing…magnificent.


I cried tears of joy, then tears of gratitude for the tears of joy.  I was grateful because in the months following her engagement, I wasn’t 100% joyful.

I know.  This makes me sounds like an awesome friend. Believe me, my inner-critic had a field day with my mixed emotions: “What the hell is the matter with you?  This is a great thing.  Lynne loves Jon. Jon loves Lynne.  So what is the problem?”

I remembered leaving my parents’ house the day after my own wedding.  As Phil and I drove away, my mom and sister stood in the middle of the street, crying.  Sobbing, I watched them get smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror.  I made Phil stop the car so I could run down the street and hug them.

Now I was the one standing in the street.

When we lived in Pennsylvania, Lynne -“Aunt Lynnie” to my kids- brought light and energy into our home.  With Lynne, there’s just….more.  More wine, more food, more laughs – everything gets turned up a notch.  She danced in the kitchen and sang One Direction with my kids.  She ate wings and watched football with Phil.  And Lynne and I – before drinking obscene amounts of wine – we walked.

We walked and talked -about men, kids, food issues, the Godfather trilogy -whatever.   I could say anything to her, no judgement.  And that felt safe and grounding.

Then everything changed. We put our house on the market and Lynne got a new job.  She got engaged a few weeks before we moved to Massachusetts.  Our walks were replaced with text messages, which I decoded like a CIA agent looking for encrypted enemy telecommunication.

“What do you think she means by ‘things are good’?” I said to Phil over dinner. “Like, really good or just kinda good?”

“Look,” he said.  “Lynne is half-dude and is in Dude Mode with the new job.  Just give it some space.”

I’m not good with space.  I fill space with crap.  You know that person at the airport whose suitcase is over 50 pounds because she crammed in a last-minute bottle of prune juice?  Yeah, that’s me.  I don’t want space, I want details.  I want to know what you had for dinner and the results of your grandmother’s colonoscopy.

With all space and no details, I fill in the gaps in my head.  And my head is where the crazy happens: Is she happy?  Is she stressed?  Does she know not to put Hershey Kisses in the wedding guest hotel bags because they will melt all over the Advil? 

I prayed.  I meditated.  I read self-help books.  Post-it affirmations covered my bathroom mirror: “I am willing to release patterns that create discord in my relationships.” Nope. Still crazy.

But God speaks to us through unlikely sources – like the movie Bridesmaids.


It was the scene where one bridesmaid (Megan) gives the maladjusted maid of honor (Annie) a little tough love regarding her best-friend-getting-married issues.

Megan: You’re your problem, and you’re also your solution.  You get that?

Annie: Yeah.  I guess I just miss her.

Megan: I know you do.  I know you do.

I started bawling.  At Bridesmaids.  Because suddenly it was so clear.  I just missed her.

I missed the way she would fall asleep on my couch and I would find her bra between the cushions.  I missed her doing the Roger Rabbit after a bottle glass of wine.  I missed her voice calling me “J.”  I missed watching her order the nastiest appetizer on the menu, like cheesesteak egg rolls.  I missed our walks.  I missed Lynne.

You’re your own problem, but you’re also your solution.

On my next visit to PA, I sent her a text: “I’m here.  Wanna walk?”


We met on Kelly Drive in Philly, and within minutes we were crying on the bank of the Schuylkill River. Ok, I was crying.  Lynne alternated between reflective listening and cursing. She is a lawyer, after all.

“You are such a (expletive).  I can’t believe you felt this way and didn’t tell me.”

“But it’s your special time and I didn’t want to be needy.”

“That is (expletive) ridiculous.”

“Yeah, well, you text like a dude.”


“Your texts.  They are too abrupt: ‘Yeah’ or ‘Not sure.’ I get nervous that something is wrong.”

“Ok. That’s legit.  How about we do a phone call once a week?”

“That sounds good.”

“And J?”


“I miss you, too.  I know I don’t always say it…but I miss you more than you know.”

In The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran writes: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”  The problem was not that I was sad.  The problem was that I tried to suppress being sad, which is kind of like trying not to puke.  You know you hate to puke so you pretend you don’t have to, even though trying not to puke is more torturous than actually doing it.  Then you finally surrender to the puke and say, “Oh my God, I feel so much better now.”  Then you get to have toast and ginger ale.

Sadness = Puke, Happiness & Joy = Toast & Ginger Ale.  Is anyone still with me?  Bueller?

At my best friend’s wedding, I was all toast and ginger ale.


I didn’t see Lynne before she left for her honeymoon.  She said upon her return, “You know J, it’s probably better that I didn’t see you that morning, because I would have totally lost it.”

Maybe it doesn’t matter if you are the one standing in the street or the one driving away.  Perhaps there is equanimity in the humanness of it all.  While we might move in different directions, we find connection in the jumble of emotion that comes with change and growth.  That’s the place where we stop the car, run to each other, and hug.