Adaptation

I recently read an article in “O” Magazine by Glennon Doyle Melton that stayed with me. She tells the story of the day her young daughter -upon hearing of the divorce of a friend’s parents – asks her: “Mom, will that ever happen to us?” Melton replies: “No, baby. It won’t You’re safe.” A year later, she and her husband separated.

I too, have fallen into the “No, never, that won’t happen, not us, no way!” parenting trap.

When we moved from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania three years ago, it was hard on my kids. Really hard. They were ripped out of school mid-year. They went from public school to private school. They went from wearing whatever they wanted to a turtleneck and itchy plaid jumper. They were blindsided.

Those first few months in Pennsylvania were really tough. The girls were sad, then angry, then sad again. The guilt I felt was intense. I called the school guidance counselor once a week to check in until she gently said: “Please stop.” I wanted to fix it, to give them some kind of solace, to bandage the wound and make everything better.

And because I was even more out of my mind than usual, I said: “I promise we will never move again.”

Fast forward 18 months and guess what we are doing? Moving again. That was a fun conversation. Talk about eating your words.

“We will never move again.” What’s in God’s name was I thinking when I said this? Am I Moses? The Great and Powerful Oz? Granted, I didn’t anticipate moving 18 months later, but how did I know we would NEVER, EVER move again? Because, what do we know, really? We may not plan to move, or get fired, or divorced, or get struck by lightning, or elect an orange-faced sociopath to run our country. But us thinking its not going to happen doesn’t always stop it from happening.

So what would compel me to make crazy false promises? The same reason I make many questionable choices: Fear. Fear of seeing my kids struggle, of permanently screwing them up, of failing at this one job God has entrusted me with.

To assuage my guilt, I tried to convince myself that maybe moving wasn’t as traumatic as I thought, and tried to back up this theory with some online research. I Googled “benefits of moving for kids.” Well, apparently there are none. According to Google, moving increases a child’s chance for mental illness, relationship issues, suicide, drug abuse, cystic acne, prostitution, foot fetishes, gluten intolerance, becoming a killer clown, you name it. I could not find one positive article.

But, research be damned, we did move again. And not only did my girls survive – they thrived. Take that, Google!

One day after dropping Phoebe off at gymnastics, I had some alone time in the car with Emma. She was in a chatty mood so I took a chance and asked: “Hey Em – do you think anything positive has come out of you moving so much?”

“Sure,” she said. “I have friends in two different states.”

“Good point,” I said. “How about you, personally – do you think you changed or gained some insights as a result of moving?”

“Yes,” she said, without hesitation. “It’s like nature and adaptation – like a rose has thorns to keep away predators… or a wolf has a heavy coat to keep warm. But those are bad examples. Because it’s not like I’m angry or scared of people or anything.”

(Proud Mom Moment: When your child uses discernment in her selection of metaphors).

“No, definitely not,” I agreed. “You are neither cold nor thorny.”

“The point is,” she continued, “is that I can adjust. I know now that I can make new friends or catch on quickly with academics.”

“Absolutely,” I said. “And you are brave. I still remember you holding Phoebe’s hand and walking into a new school mid-year with your head held high.”

“Yeah, well it’s not like I was excited about it,” she said, giving me a well-deserved hairy eyeball. “But I had no choice. And it ended up being great. So now I walk into every new situation assuming it’s going to be great.”

Maybe Emma should write the article on the benefits of moving.

The more I hit the “pause” button amidst the daily craziness, the more I learn from my kids, and the more I recognize how I underestimate them. Emma already understands what has taken me dozens hundreds of self help books to learn: She recognized her fear and discomfort, but chose not to focus on it. She didn’t give into it. She chose to feel empowered rather than victimized.

I think as parents it’s our default to anticipate the worse case scenarios, the potential danger and inevitable trauma that lurks behind every corner. And of course, some of that fear is real and necessary. But when I try to protect my kids with my fake promises and my illusions of control, I take away some of their power. I rob them of the chance to navigate their way through new and difficult experiences. Plus, I look like an idiot.

I’ve spent so much time thinking about how the kids were affected by moving that I never stopped to look at how it affected me. Three years of packing, unpacking, cleaning, selling, renting, and buying put me in survival mode. It was all about getting over the next hurdle. But with a little distance comes the realization that my neurotic-meddling-fixing-catastrophizing helicopter parenting style has never served me well in the past. So now, it’s my turn to adapt; let go of the fight or flight behaviors that no longer serve me, and move into this next phase of life.

I assume it’s going to be great.

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The Couple That Left and Came Back

I haven’t written here in a long time. Because really, where would I start? “Hey guys! Remember me? I moved, then moved again, and then again…”

The thought of launching into the details of this saga has been completely paralyzing, so I’ve just avoided the blog all together. But I miss blogging, so I’ll give you a timeline and we will leave it at that:

August 2012: Moved from Pennsylvania to Scituate, MA. Lived in two rentals. Bought a house.

February 2014: Sold house and moved back to Pennsylvania. Bought another house.

August 2015: Sold that house and moved back to Scituate. Lived in three rentals. Bought another house.

I just can’t get into it you guys.

On Valentine’s Day, a Facebook friend re-posted a blog I wrote three years ago, just days before we moved from Scituate back to Pennsylvania. Reading it was intense, like watching your mistakes being played out in slow motion. There is one line in the blog that says “I know in the big picture, moving back to PA is the right decision.” You know, until a month later when you realize that it isn’t. Don’t you just hate when that happens?

Since moving back to Scituate, I often get this response when meeting new people: “Oh! I heard about you guys! You’re the couple that left and came back!”

Yup. That’s us.

So instead of diving into The Moving Trilogy, I am going to tell you a story about the couple that left and came back, inspired by a Whitney Houston song I heard on the radio yesterday.

One evening, about three years ago – during our first Tour de Scituate – I ran into a local liquor store for wine. When I came out and walked through the parking lot, I heard Whitney Houston’s “Didn’t We Almost Have it All” coming from the car parked next to mine. I glanced inside and saw a woman sitting in the driver’s seat, sobbing.

Oh man, I thought. She is definitely having a rough night.

I took my time finding my keys as I debated what to do, even though clearly there wasn’t anything I could do. I did consider giving her my wine.

I felt sad for the woman as I drove home. But if I am being totally honest, there was a little part of me that was relieved. That I wasn’t her. That I wasn’t sitting in the dark, crying in my car to the lyrics of an ’80’s pop princess. I was going home, to my family waiting for me in my big blue house by the ocean.

A year later, after we moved back to Pennsylvania, I was the one crying in my car. I cried in my car A LOT. What is it about a car that makes it so conducive to crying? Is it the aloneness? The close quarters? The song playing on the radio that seems to be speaking directly to you?

In high school, my friend broke up with her boyfriend at the end of senior year. She needed to have a friend in the car with her all summer, because if she got in there alone she would completely lose it. Driving while crying is like skiing in a blizzard with no goggles. It’s a safety issue.

Anyway.

Like my high school friend, being in the car alone consistently triggered the water works: in parking lots, in car line, in my own driveway. I even made a playlist called “Mixed Tape” for the sole purpose of car-crying. Whitney was not on the playlist, but you would be surprised at how many times Whitney is played on the radio, especially in grocery stores and hair salons. The song seemed to be following me, haunting me, reminding me of that relieved feeling I felt that night in the liquor store parking lot. The slightly superior voice that said, “Thank God that’s not me.”

Talk about karma.

This past Halloween we went trick or treating in our old Scituate neighborhood versus our new neighborhood, because that’s what our kids wanted to do. When the kids ran up the porch steps of my former big blue house, I hid in the shadows. Phil knew what I was doing and covered for me. I just couldn’t do it. Not yet. I gave myself props for braving the neighborhood at all and counted it as a win. The kids moved on to the next house and Phil came over to where I was standing in the street, next to the driftwood swing he had hung from a tree three years before. We walked down the street, the moon ahead of us, painting streaks of light on the water. As he reached out to take my hand, I started to sing:

“Didn’t we almost have it all….”

and he joined in: “The night we held on till the morning…”

And we laughed. Because while the moment was sad and poignant, we had to laugh, because we still do have it all. The difference is, now we know it. Back then, in the beautiful big blue house, we had it all but were too afraid of losing it, or messing it up, or not deserving it….so we could never really receive it or be grateful for it. I have come to realize that it is very difficult to be grateful when you are afraid.

Now, we don’t have to be as scared of of losing it or screwing it up, because we already did that. We lost it and then had to figure out how we lost it and how we could get it back. With this came a better understanding of what “having it all” really is. And it’s not the dream house, or the perfect job. It’s watching your kids run back and forth with their friends across the lawns, a sea of costumes and glow sticks. It’s walking down the street hand in hand, with the shared knowledge of what it took to get there.

Car-crying is therapeutic until it becomes masochistic. Eventually you need to be your own best friend and say: “Enough.” You turn off Whitney and put on Madonna. You take a deep breath and say, “Ok…now what?”

There is freedom in taking your lumps as a couple; in being vulnerable enough to own your collective mistakes and move on from them. You can care what other people think or you can be happy, and we chose the latter. Yes, we are the couple that left and came back. And with our return came a deep rootedness, both in my marriage and this place we choose to call home.

Which is why, if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

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We Drove All Night: Tales From The Ragnar Relay Cape Cod

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Two weeks ago, I participated in the Reebok Ragner Relay-Cape Cod. What is that, you ask? As described by the official website:

The Ragnar is the overnight running relay race that makes testing your limits a team sport. You and 11 of your craziest friends pile into two vans and tag team running 200(ish) miles, day and night, relay-style. Only one runner hits the road at a time.

In a nutshell: A team is made up of 12 runners divided into two vans, and each person runs three different legs (of varying distance) over the course of about 30 hours. The first runner starts in Hull, MA, and the last runner finishes in Provincetown, MA. Someone is always running, even throughout the night. When you are not running, you are fake-sleeping or inhaling trail mix.

The whole thing kicks off on a Friday morning at 6:00am – I am at my friend Meredith’s house loading my duffle and sleeping bag into a 15 person van, which will be our mobile home for the next 30 hours. By “us” I mean the six crazy women from Scituate who make up Van #1 of our running team called “The Scituation.” Clever name, right? Van #2 holds another crazy six women also from – you guessed it- Scituate.

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I could give you a play by play of the whole 30 hour experience, but to be honest most of it is a bit foggy, as I was never entirely sure of the time and/or my exact location. So I will stick to the part of the story that stands out for me, which was my 6 mile night run:

It is around 10PM and we are sitting in the van waiting for my teammate Jenna to finish her run so the next runner (me) can start. It is my first real low point of the day. It’s raining. Hard. I am cold and tired and it’s so dark. Darkness in general disorients me. When Phil is away on business, I sleep with the lights on in case I need to fend off an intruder or vomiting child. Light makes me feel sharper somehow.

I am trying to calculate how long Jenna will take on her run. This requires math, which is not something I can manage in full daylight on a normal day. I say out loud to no one in particular:

“So if Jenna runs around a 8.5 minute mile…and she’s running like 4.5 miles..or was it 5.5? Wait, when did she start?”

No one knows. We are all in the same wet, leaky boat.

“Ok, I am just going to walk over to the finish line and wait.”

My teammate Katie walks with me, as someone needs to guide Jenna back to the van. Along the way we stop at a water-logged tent serving a Dixie cup of weak, $2 coffee. I chug it. The text bell on my phone dings. It’s from Jenna:

“I am done.”

Shit. Apparently Jenna runs like a 6 minute mile. I run to the finish line, where Jenna slaps the bracelet on my wrist. I am not ready; I feel discombobulated. My headlamp is secure but my reflective vest keeps coming un-velcroed and my headphones are dangling from my hand. Considering that it is pitch black and pouring, and I am running on a road with cars, I decide that silencing yet another one of my senses might be a bad idea. Lose the music. I try and stuff my phone and headphones in my waist belt but I am also trying to run and it’s just not a good Scituation. With every other step my foot lands in a pond like puddle. My feet are already squishy and I am only about .2 miles in.

After a few minutes of tinkering with the gear, I get my shit together and find my groove. It is dark and rainy but I am running. Because the race start times are staggered, there are not a large number of other runners with me, but enough that I see some running ahead of me; headlamps and reflective arm bands bobbing up and down like a small army of fireflies.

I tune into my surroundings and suddenly the sound of the rain and the crickets combine into a symphony of natural sound. It is lovely and my eyes fill with tears. I am having a moment. I thank God for this – for this feeling of total presence and aliveness. I have legs and lungs that work well enough to bring me to this place, and that is a beautiful, miraculous thing.

The footsteps of another runner behind me interrupts my reverie. I slow down ever so slightly, allowing him to pass me. But he does not pass me. He keeps pace directly behind me. And I do mean DIRECTLY. I can hear him breathing. I am a personal space kinda gal and this is making me uncomfortable. If I were in a mall parking lot, this is the time I would start saying the Hail Mary and pray that when they find my dead body in the trunk of the car, I am at least wearing nice underwear. That is how close he is. Apparently the reflective light clipped to the collar of my vest begins to come loose, because my shadow runner dude reaches over and re-clips it. BECAUSE THAT IS HOW CLOSE HE IS.

My running watch beeps and he says, “Where we at? 3 miles?”

I smile in spite of myself. “Yup,” I say. “Half way there.”

I realize my running buddy is not going anywhere. This is what it is. The Scituation is not going to change so I need to change the way I look at the Scituation. Instead of tuning him out, I decide to tune him in. When teaching yoga, I encourage students to sync up their breath to their neighbors; to create a powerful wave of prana/energy that will carry them through a difficult pose, together. This what I do with my running buddy. I allow his breath to carry mine. I tune into the cadence of his feet sloshing through puddles. The sound becomes less of an intrusion and more of a meditation: slap, slap, splash, slap, slap, splash.

I slowly feel my jaw unclench and my shoulders sink away from my ears. Suddenly I have the thought: My runner buddy is meant to be here. And I know this because he is here. Maybe he saw my vest come un-velcroed at the same time both shoelaces came loose and thought to himself, this chick is a hot mess and needs adult supervision. And just like that, my creepy mall stalker guy is transformed into my Ragnar Guardian Angel. My feelings of annoyance and unease give way to safety and gratitude. My imaginary boundary bubble evaporates. I choose connection over isolation, and this brings me back into the moment. I am alive again. Me and my running buddy, sloshing it out in the dark, together.

The week leading up to the race, my mom kept asking me, “And why are you doing this, exactly?”

My answer was a less-than-profound: “Uh, I don’t know….because someone asked me to?”

But now I know why I did it, and why I will do it again: For me, the Ragnar was an education in choosing my perspective. There is something about stepping outside your comfort zone that tests your meddle in the attitude department. Relay running 200 miles on no sleep and spending 29 hours in a van with women I only sort of know was way outside my comfort zone. But with new experiences comes personal growth. I learned to:

  • Let my guard down. (ie. Strip down to my thong in the back of a van).
  • Surrender to what is. (Sometimes at 2am, there just is no coffee. Anywhere. And you just have to deal.)
  • Connect with people in unexpected places. (Like in line for a port-a-potty.)
  • Be grateful: For my teammates who drove the van because I don’t know how to use that rear-view camera thing-y, that one decadent hour of sleep, my body for hanging in there, the three delicious beers I pounded when it was over.

My soggy night run comes to an end, and I hand my baton-bracelet off to my teammate Nicole. My running buddy turns around and I see his face for the first time when he says:

“How did we do??? What was our time??”

I relay our stats and he raises his arms above his head for a double high-five. Our hands meet with a loud clap.

Before disappearing into the crowd he says: “Thanks for pushing me!”

And my eyes get a little misty, because it never occurred to me that maybe he was grateful for me, too.

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Fear

It is 4:30 am when the fire alarm goes off and I feel like I am shot out of a cannon: “Evacuate! Evacuate!” commands the computerized fire alarm lady. Down the hall, Phoebe is screaming. She is standing in the middle of her room, hysterical. Her reaction was immediate, as if she knew it was coming and was already poised for disaster. She is screaming: “We’re all gonna die! We’re all gonna die! I hate this house! It’s on fire!”

Sidenote: The house was not on fire. The heating system in the old house we are currently renting is equivalent to a dragon breathing fire into long tube, sending the hot air directly in the path of the fire alarm. Also, I read that dust blown at the fire alarm can also set it off. And we got dust. Lots and lots of it.

Phoebe is in first grade, and first grade is when they learn about Fire Safety. I remember it with Emma because she could not sleep until I bought her one of those fire ladders off Amazon for $139.99.

Fire Safety week sparks a memory for me:

I am in first or second grade, and my classmates and I are assembled in the school library for a “special video.” I am sitting next to my friend Kate and I am wearing polka dot tights. Kate and I are supposed to be sitting indian style with our hands folded in our lap, but instead we are counting the polka dots on my tights; connecting the dots to form shapes and patterns. The librarian yells at us, and tears immediately form behind my eyes. As the video starts, I am already in a fragile state.

The video is on bus safety, but no one tells us this, they just start the movie. It begins with a happy scene of excited children getting on a school bus. They find their seats, they chit-chat, they compare backpacks. One girl is carrying a tissue paper flower with a pipe-cleaner stem. Another boy proudly carries his pet hamster in a cage; he is bringing it in for show and tell. Another sneaky little boy slyly shows his seat mate the pocket knife he has stashed in his school bag.

The boy with the hamster thinks it a good idea to place the hamster on the bus driver’s shoulder, who is currently operating the vehicle. He and his friends snicker, as if to say: “This will be hilarious!”

You can imagine what happens next. Now multiply that by 100 and that’s actually what happens next.

The bus doesn’t just get into a fender bender. The bus flips about five times and finally lands upside down in an embankment. It happens quickly: flip, flip, flip. The bus rolls like a barrel. Then they show the scene again from inside the bus. Kids are getting thrown around like rag dolls. The driver smashes into the wind shield. The pipe-cleaner stem of the tissue paper flower gouges someone’s eyeball. And the pocket knife. Don’t even get me started on the knife. There’s blood everywhere. It is bus safety turned Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The End.

A teacher turns the lights back on. The library is silent with the acceptation of a few kids quietly weeping. But the message of the movie is clear: If you bring crafts, rodents, or cutlery on the school bus you will end up with a pipe cleaner through your eyeball.

For me, the scare technique proved effective. I never messed around on the bus again. The same was true years later, after watching Helen Hunt jump out a window in the anti-drug ABC Afterschool Special Desperate Lives, I vowed to never try angel dust. Or snort anything in general. Same goes for the drunk driving. In middle school we watched a movie with teenagers flying through windshields set to Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” That song still triggers memories of sitting on the cold metal stool in the science lab, watching some girl with feathered hair and blue eye shadow shotgun beers while driving her mother’s station wagon before crashing into a tree. The 80’s were big on just scaring the shit out of you.

Now, you may argue that these fear-based teaching techniques just create fearful people. And if you are using me as an example, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But I am also still alive with both eyeballs, so…I could go either way on this argument.

When Emma was in first grade, Fire Safety Week was a call to action: the ladder, the fire escape plan, testing all the fire alarms. Having all these boxes checked made her feel safe and in control. Like me, Emma is very good in a crisis. It’s the day-to-day stuff we can’t handle, like…getting dressed or packing a suitcase. But I digress.

Phoebe, on the other hand, is typically a pretty chill kid, but once the fire alarm goes off, she’s Helen Hunt on angel dust. Phoebe is a fire safety liability.

So I did a little research and decided the first step was to have a fire escape plan. Knowledge is power, right? I printed out the instructions and we all sat down at dinner to Make The Plan.

Emma remembered the drill: “Oh you need to print two worksheets, one for the upstairs and one for the downstairs.”

Phoebe was quiet and still. There was a piece of angel hair pasta hanging out of her mouth, of which she seemed unaware. The only movement was in her eyes, which kept getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger……

“This is scaring me MORE!” And she started to cry.

Sigh.

Phil and I had a conversation with our eyes that said, “Yeah, let’s hold off on this.” We changed the subject and distracted her with Girl Scout Cookies. I was cleaning up in the kitchen when I heard Phoebe say to Phil: “Will you sit on the couch and snuggle with me?”

“Sure,” he said.

I still want to get to the fire escape plan. But maybe for some of us, the first step to being safe is feeling safe. And right now for Phoebe, that safe place is on the couch, in her dad’s arms.

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Fretting

Helicopter parenting refers to “a style of parents who are over focused on their children,” says Carolyn Daitch, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders near Detroit and author of Anxiety Disorders: The Go-To Guide (via Parents Magazine).

Define “over focused.”

In recent months I have felt myself “focused” on the kids more that usual. I would not consider myself a full-blown helicopter parent, but moving -as we did again in August – brings out my hovering tendencies. I know we are asking a lot of the kids to adjust to a change in place, a different school, new friends. So I am constantly watching them, checking in: Are they feeling adjusted? Are they happy? What do they need to feel at home?

IMG_7769I have noticed that it takes my kids about 4-5 months to really settle in after a move. It is at this point that the veil of anxiety seems to lift and they find their groove, their comfort zone, their routine. They morph back into their carefree, confident, snarky selves. Read: They don’t need me to hold their hand anymore.

Unfortunately once I am in helicopter mode, it is hard to turn it off. My blades are going too fast. For me, worrying is a bit of an addiction – once I start I can’t stop. My grandmother used to call it “fretting.” I get drunk on fretting and sometimes do stupid things I will second guess in the morning.

For example:

Episode #1:

It is the afternoon of Emma’s holiday chorus concert and we are scrambling to get ready. Emma has a cold. She is tired and nervous and indecisive about what to wear. She wants my opinion on her outfit but only if my opinion matches the decision she has already made in her mind but refuses to share. Because I am supposed to guess. I guess wrong. Twice.

She is very congested and demands tissues. I hand her a roll of toilet paper because I forgot to buy tissues. She blows her nose and it is impressive. She is a fountain of snot. How is she going to sing through all that snot? My OCD train has left the station. I have appointed myself the Mucus Manager.

We load up in the car and bring the toilet paper. She can’t bring toilet paper on stage – how will she blow her nose? I dig through my bottomless bag in search of tissues and my hand finds a travel pack I stole from my mother’s bathroom. It’s a Christmas miracle. Suddenly I am Mom of the Year.

I turn in my seat, victorious, arm extended, passing the tissues to Emma like the Olympic torch. “Look what I found!”

“I don’t want them.”

“But you said you can’t stop blowing your nose.”

“I don’t want the tissues, Mom.

“But you could just stick them in your pocket….”

“MOM.”

“Ok, ok fine, no tissues.”

I turn back around in my seat. A minute passes.

“Fine, just give me the tissues.”

I pass them back to her. We get out of the car and walk toward the school. As we open the double doors and she spots a group of her friends, she spins around and tosses me the packet of tissues.

“I don’t want the tissues.”

And with that, she takes off down the hall toward the chorus room.

But how is she going to sing through all that snot?

I am not proud of what happens next.

I should have just gone to my seat. But I don’t. I follow her down the hall and slip into the chorus room. I slink against the back wall, creeping behind the risers where the kids are finding their spots. What the hell am I doing in here, I think but it is too late, I am in the middle of the room. One of Emma’s friends spots me. Shit. She taps Emma on the shoulder and points. Shit. Emma looks at me with eyes that say “WHAT. ARE. YOU. DOING. HERE.”

I hold up the packet of tissues and point to them. I mouth to her “I WILL LEAVE THESE RIGHT HERE,” pointing to the chair that holds her jacket. Then I gave her a thumbs up. Emma’s eyes get wide. Her friend snickers. This ship is sinking and I can’t save myself. The music stands feel embarrassed for me.

I find Phil in the auditorium and slink into my seat. I text my friend Julie and give her a play by play of what just went down. She replies with helicopter emojis.

Episode #2

Phoebe lands the role of Sally in a local stage production of A Charlie Brown Christmas. For seven Sundays she rehearses from 3:00-6:00; a big commitment for a six year old. We practice her lines in the car, before bed, while she brushes her teeth. She has two big scenes: one with Charlie Brown and one with Linus.

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thumb_IMG_8225_1024The big night arrives. I drop Phoebe backstage and we settle into our seats.

I try to be patient but I am counting the scenes until Phoebe’s stage debut, when she dictates her Santa letter to Charlie Brown. After what feels like an eternity she and Charlie Brown take the stage:

Sally: Dear Santa Claus: How have you been? Did you have a nice summer? How is your wife? I have been extra good this year so I have a long list of presents that I want.

Charlie Brown: Oh, brother.

Sally: Please note the size and color of each item, and send as many as possible. If it seems to complicated, makes things easy on yourself. Just send money. How about tens and twenties?

Charlie Brown: Tens and twenties! Oh, even my baby sister!

Sally: All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.

She nails it. My smile threatens to break my face.

I can relax – the hard part is over. She only has one line in her next scene with Linus and it’s an easy one. I sit back and in my chair and let my butt cheeks de-clench.

But then the scene with Linus begins and Phoebe is not on stage. I check the program. I check the program again. There is her name, clearly listed.

Oh my God where is she.

I turn to Phil and hiss, “Where is she???” Like he knows. Like he somehow telepathically received some inside information while sitting right next to me rifling through my bag for gum.

He looks concerned which freaks me out. Then he shrugs his shoulders.

Did she puke? Is she in the bathroom and missed the entrance? Phoebe has a habit of pooping at inopportune moments.

But what if she’s sick? What if she’s crying? Do I go back there?

I turn to Phil. “Do I go back there?”

We look around us and realize we are smack in the middle of the row. “Do I text Amy?” Amy is the director of the show and conveniently a good friend. Phil shrugs again.

With my index finger poised over the keyboard, a text from Amy appears on my phone:

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As I am typing “do you need me? I can come back” I am already climbing over people, lunging and stumbling and excusing myself to freedom. Once I push my way through the auditorium doors and escape into the hallway, I take off in a full sprint. I weave my way through bags of costumes and kids waiting for their curtain call until I reach backstage. Then, I see her, her big blue bow askew, her hand pressing a wad of bloody tissues to her nose.

She turns and sees me. Her costume is covered in blood. Those blue eyes, so big and scared, fill up with tears like giant fishbowls.

patrick cryingCrying for me is highly contagious. My tagline could be Dolly Parton’s line from Steel Magnolias: “I have a strict policy that no one cries alone in my presence.”

But I know if I cry we are sunk. I pinch my leg hard and force a fake smile as I crouch down next to her.

“Mommy,” she whimpers, “I have a bloody nose.”

“Yes, you did,” I say. “But it has stopped. You are ok now.”

She whispers, “Can we go home now? RIGHT NOW?” She clutches my arm with her bloody little hand.

“The play is ending – don’t you want to take your bow?”

She stares at me blankly. She looks like a cartoon character with PTSD. I realize this is the part where I have to step in and decide about the bow. She is cooked, she is toast. 95% of me wants to swoop her up and get her out of there, but 5% says: You are not actively bleeding so do the bow. Finish what you started. I have no idea if this is the right decision but I go with it.

She does the bow, sort of. She kind of lurks stage right, still holding the bloody tissues to her nose. Close enough.

The curtains close and she runs to me. The other kids are so sweet and supportive, giving her hugs and high fives. She forces a smile but wants out.

She grabs my arm and whispers: “Can we go home right now?”

With heads down, we weave our way through the crowded lobby. I spot Phil and give him the “wrap it up” signal with my finger. When we reach the car, Phoebe says, “Will you sit in the way back with me?” We settle into the third seat and hold hands. As the car pulls out of the lot, she starts to weep.

“I missed my scene with Linus.”

“I know. It’s ok. You nailed the big scene with Charlie Brown.”

“I sort of missed my bow.”

“No you didn’t! You went out there. You bowed.”

“How did you know I had a bloody nose?”

“Amy texted me.”

She turns to me in the dark; headlights from passing cars illuminate her streaky cheeks. “When you got her text….did you get up and leave right away?”

“Right away.”

“Did you run?”

I squeeze her hand, our fingers intertwined. “I ran.”

She sighs and rests her head on my arm. Suddenly she separates our fingers and presses my hand flat with my palm facing up. Then she places her hand in my open palm and wraps her fingers in-between mine. I begin to wrap my fingers around her knuckles but she stops me.

“No. You keep your hand flat. This is how I want to hold hands. With only me holding on.”

I smile, but at the same time my heart hurts a little. Both emotions -the joy and the sadness- are equally true for me in that moment; connection and separation sharing the same bittersweet space.

“Got it,” I say, uncurling my fingers away from hers. “I can do that.”

I can do that.

 

Ladies Leave Your Man At Home: Tales From a High School Reunion

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Last weekend I attended my 20th high school reunion.

In the week leading up to it, Phoebe repeatedly confused the word reunion with funeral: “Are you excited for your funeral, Mom? What are you going to wear to your funeral?”

“It’s a REUNION, Phoebe,” corrected Emma. “A funeral is for DEAD PEOPLE.” Phoebe just shrugged her shoulders. Tomato, tomato.

I decided to not take this as an omen or read into on a metaphorical level. I had bigger fish to fry, like finding a really hot outfit and getting an eyebrow wax. Because if I have one thing to show for myself after two decades, it’s better eyebrows. Check out those caterpillars:

IMG_8138My high school girlfriends and I decided to not take our significant others, because most husbands fall into one of two categories. He:

A. Would rather wax his chest hair than stand in a room full of strangers, especially the one stranger that dated his wife 20 years ago,

or

B. Would absolutely love to hang out with a room full of strangers, and become best friends with all of them, find them on LinkedIn, and have beers together the next time they come to town.

Ok, my husband may be the only B guy. But I didn’t feel like driving five hours in the car with the kids, so he had to stay home. Plus you can’t be the most popular guy at someone else’s reunion. It just adds more confusion to an already socially disorienting experience. Sorry Phil.

A few years ago I read an article by Jennifer Senior in New York Magazine called Why You Truly Never Leave High School. In it she discusses the problematic and at times traumatizing “big box” effect of high school. Basically, you fill a big cement building with kids who have nothing in common but their age.

In order to make sense of this chaos and social anarchy, adolescents assign each other labels (Jock, Brain, Dork, Prom Queen). According to Senior, because these roles are assigned at a formative time when your prefrontal cortex is still kind of…mushy, these labels tend to carry over into our adult lives. And like, not in a good way. “Most American high schools,” says Senior, “are almost sadistically unhealthy places to send adolescents.”

Yikes. So if high school was so traumatizing, why, twenty years later, would I drive five hours to north Jersey to re-live the experience?

Because -for me, at least – that’s not the whole experience. I didn’t love high school, but I didn’t hate it either. I wasn’t Homecoming Queen or Class President. I was a middle of the road marching band dork who used my semi-responsible persona as an opportunity for minor rebellions. For example: the time I told the school secretary I had to drop a tuba mouthpiece off at the local repair shop, when really I went to buy cigarettes and Mountain Dew. Who is going to argue with a tuba mouthpiece?

Senior writes, “For most adults, the adolescent years occupy a privileged place in our memories.” I believe this to be true. My high school was kind of….quirky. A melting pot of two towns on Route 10 in East Hanover, New Jersey. The land of wigwam socks, Aqua Net, and diners. The school itself was a 70’s California style school comprised of separate buildings and covered catwalks….except it wasn’t built in California, it was built in Jersey…on swampland. When it rained, the mud would rise and worms would wiggle onto the catwalks; then when the sun came out, the pavement would be covered with smooshed, fried worms. It just made no sense. And to me, there is something sweet about that.

And while I may have endured my share of high school traumas (like that unfortunate prom alcohol poisoning incident), there were triumphs, too – namely, my girlfriends, who still get me in all my craziness, and look out for me just like they did twenty years ago.

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We pre-gamed the reunion at my friend Priya’s childhood home, and drinking wine coolers in the bathroom while experimenting with makeup and jewelry felt like old times. As I sat on the tub while Priya and Helen rifled through a box of bracelets, I was overwhelmed by a comforting sense of deja vu. As the clock ticked closer to go-time, however, I started to feel a little anxious.

“So what do I tell people I do?” I asked. “Like can I say I teach yoga even if I am not teaching yoga at this very moment?”

Priya paused, eyeliner in hand, and met my eyes in the bathroom mirror. “You tell them you are a writer, because that is what you are.”

“Yeah…but is that really true if I don’t make any money doing that?”

Helen looked up from the jewelry box. “No one is going to ask for your bank statements,” she said.

As it turns out, no one asked me what I did. Not one person. They asked about where I lived, if I had kids, but no one gave a shit if I was an astronaut or soccer mom. They were, however, concerned about my hair:

“But why is your hair straight?”
“Uhh, because I blew it out.”
“But it’s still curly, right? Like, underneath the temporary straightness?”
“Yes, why?”
“Because…you were…Jessie Power with really long, curly hair. It was kind of your thing.”

Now you tell me! I had a thing! Other than the prom-alcohol poisoning thing!

At the end of the night we all piled into the car, eager to get started on the post-reunion wrap-up. Many of our female classmates -as predicted by Jennifer Senior – remained the same. The smart girls are still smart, the party girls still party. The girl that hated you for whatever reason still hates you. The guys, however, had blossomed. The skinny boy from Geometry who never said a word is suddenly showing you photos of his three kids. The cool guy who wouldn’t give you the time of day is suddenly pulling you out on the dance floor to Turn The Beat Around by Gloria Estefan. There were some major full circle moments.  It kind of felt like a wacky extended family wedding. With lots of strobe lights. It is New Jersey, after all.

I see Jennifer Senior’s point about high school being dangerously arbitrary. But to me, it’s also kind of the beauty of it. We have nothing in common, yet we have this one HUGE THING in common. And twenty years later, that’s still a bond. You may not see these people ever again, but you care what happens to them. You celebrate their accomplishments. Your heart hurts for those who are struggling. I paused for a moment on the dance floor and looked around at all of us – jocks, brains, cheerleaders and band nerds, eating mozzarella sticks and dancing to Ace of Base…in what alternate universe would this happen other than high school?

It’s a celebration of randomness.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to go blow dry my hair curly. Because you know, it’s kind of my thing.

 

 

Lessons From A Former Self

About two weeks ago I was talking to my neighbor, Tosh, about the weather.

“I am drowning in a multi-season heap of clothes,” I said. “Can I just put the damn shorts in a box and declare winter?”

“I wouldn’t, not yet,” she advised. “Remember that blog post when you went swimming with your clothes on? That was maybe late September or early October.”

And just like that, once I got over the ego boost that someone actually remembers one of my blog posts it occurred to me that this blog had a birthday. Two years ago I wrote the very first post.

It took me a few days to actually go back and read it. I am not a fan of reading my own writing. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, like hearing your own voice on an answering machine, (Do I really sound like that? No, seriously, when I talk, is that the voice you hear?) or reading a paper you wrote in college on something you knew nothing about, with a ridiculous title like:  Feminist or Femme Fatale? Sexism and Satire in Wycherley’s The Country Wife. You read it, shake your head, and say: “What the hell was I talking about? I’m an idiot.”

But nothing is more humiliating humbling than reading an old diary. I know this because on a recent attic purge my mom found this gem from 1990, which puts me at the ripe old age of 13.

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Here are some highlights:

Wednesday, August 22, 1990
“Well, I am going out with R. (I can’t reveal his name in case this falls into the wrong hands!!) I am glad I am going out with him and everything, but I’m not sure whether he likes me or not – you know? Well, we’ve been going out for about 4 or 5 weeks. I was away for 2 weeks and R was away for 2 weeks. So we haven’t had much time together. Mostly I called him, but he seemed happy to talk to me, but he never calls me. I can’t tell if he is going to dump me or not. Helen is having a party on Wednesday. I can’t wait! He better go!

Friday, August 24,1990
Today I babysat. It wuz boring! I watched 20/20 with Barbara Walters and it was really weird. It was about kids who were in comas and had near death experiences. They say they saw Jesus and dead relatives. Isn’t that cool? I would like to have that happen to me sometime. R is coming home tomorrow! I hope he can go to the party!

August 29,1990
Well the famous party is over. Maybe it wasn’t as great as I thought it would be. It was just ok.

September 3,1990
R dumped me. I am so depressed. He didn’t even do it himself! Geez. Maybe I’ll tell him off tomorrow. Yeah right no I won’t. I don’t really want to talk about it it’s making me feel worse.

I am not sure what I find most amusing/disturbing – the R saga, that I would like to have a near death experience “sometime,” or the fact that I am in 7th grade and watching Barbara Walters on a Friday night by myself.

In any case, going back and reading a blog from two years ago is kind of like reading that diary. It’s sort of funny, but also mortifying, like having a flashlight shone in the face of your most well-intentioned screw-ups.

I know, I know. Don’t think of it as failure, consider it an opportunity! A growth experience! I get that going back and dissecting the past will prevent me from re-creating it. Still, it makes me a little nauseous.

In her book Living Beautifully With Uncertainty and Change, Pema Chodron writes about our urge to bury the less graceful parts of ourselves:

It’s a tricky business – not rejecting any part of yourself at the same time that you’re becoming acutely aware of how embarrassing or painful some of those parts are.

Oh, Pema. Exactly.

When I read the blog from three years ago, I feel exhausted by the “me” I find there – by how hard I try at things even when clearly it is the wrong thing, how desperate I am to control things in my own stubborn but well-meaning way. I am frustrated by my default tendencies: to please, to assume that everyone’s happiness is somehow my responsibility, to falsely believe that if I can just do ______(get a job, have more sex, meditate, quit drinking wine during the week, create a budget, practice yoga, stop cursing, be Donna Reed, be Hillary Clinton, be someone other than me) suddenly it will all fall into place and the birds will sing and the sun will shine and I will have arrived.

Yet there was one nugget from that blog that didn’t make me want to stick my head in the oven spoke to me still:

In times of shared stress, you should order a pizza.  Use paper plates.  Kick the underwear under the bed. Create the space to be vulnerable -fragile, even- at the same time.  Then hold on to each other in this middle place.

I am still trying to find this middle place – how to be ambitious but not avaricious, loose but not lazy, free-spirited but not fool-hardy. And the one benefit to going back and rehashing the past is the realization that there is a learning curve to this whole process. I didn’t know that a boy not calling me was a super bad sign until he dumped me. I didn’t know that making monogramed pot pies would not alleviate marital tension until I made them.
We do the best we can with what we know at the time. And in the words of Maya Angelou, “when you know better, you do better.”

Tosh is right. After a few fleece and flannel mornings, Mother Nature gifts us with an almost-70 degree day. Phil’s breakfast meeting is cancelled so we take a morning walk after the kids go to school. We call these our “mobile executive meetings;” we discuss kids and schedule and the orthodontist’s payment plan. But there are periods of comfortable silence, because there is an ease with which we are together now. We decide to run down to the base of the cliff and then walk back on the rocks.

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He climbs up the rocks and then extends his hand to me. I hold my phone between my teeth as he pulls me up, shaking his head but smiling. You carry around too much stuff, he says. I laugh. Don’t I know it.

We haven’t walked these rocks in over a year; they have shifted and changed with the storms. The path is no longer contiguous – we need to climb down, trudge through the muck and climb back up. But the element of surprise keeps it interesting, the need to suddenly re-adjust our path keeps us on our toes.

We end on the beach and look for sea glass as we move toward home. There is no swimming on this walk, Phil doesn’t even suggest it. I worry that we have lost some of our passion, some of our go-big-or-go-home-ness. But then I decide that after a year of being pulled in by the tide and bashed up against the rocks, it feels good to have our feet firmly planted on the ground.

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