There is a popular quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw: Life is not about finding yourself; life is about creating yourself. I read this quote often - it pops up on Pinterest when I am searching for inspiration and on social media from others sharing inspiration. Well, if that's true, the logical follow up question is, "who do I want to be?"
I'd like to think I know who I am. I don't always like who I am, but I know me. Few people know me; most know a version of me, usually watered down. I admit, I can be a lot to take so a full dose of Lauren is not always the best medicine for everyone.
Who I want to be is and always has been an interesting question. I've spent a very, very long time trying to be what I think other people expect. And that was very, very exhausting. In an effort to be accepted and understood, I tried to hide the parts of my personality that were not on everyone's checklist of acceptable attributes. Let's just say, I was not very good at it.
Not to quote every contemporary self-help book on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, but I was not living as my "authentic self." So I suppose I want to be me - the real me, not the watered down version.
Happiness, true happiness can be elusive. I am lucky. I have a lot of joy in my life, but I also find myself with a lot of misery (much of is self-inflicted). Often, I am bothered by small things. Some people have accused me of living in a chronic state of aggravation. And while I protest, "No, that's not true," it might be a little true. The thing is, I do not suffer fools, but I also tend to keep my thoughts to myself until they begin to overflow in a sense. When my list of grievances starts to get a little long, I air them. I can be a bit of a complainer, and it's in those moments when I am even beginning to annoy myself, that I have to force myself to change my attitude.
I am not a true believer in the famous contemporary philosopher, Oprah, but I have been considering some of the messages of gratitude she shared with her daily audience as necessary exercises in changing my crummy attitude. When I find myself raging against everything from adversaries to co-workers to machines (the color copier and I are still not on speaking terms), I try to remind myself about the "buts." For example: "so and so is not completing the task I gave her quickly enough and that is so annoying...BUT, I am grateful I have someone to help me with this portion of the project."
I was surprised how the added "but" halted my complaining. And it seems to help with all aspects of my life. "I'm so aggravated that Anna came home late. She should have been home by 7...BUT I'm grateful I had time to myself to organize her closet and pack her suitcase." Suddenly, my aggravation melted away. "So and so never called me to confirm our plans and now I don't know if I should schedule something else...BUT at least I have a plan B." Totally works.
The BUT has helped me change my perspective and my attitude. It's actually a little freaky how well it works. And while there are still plenty of things, people and experiences that drive me batty, that list has shrunk substantially. At times I have to force the BUT (that's what she said...sorry, inappropriate joke from The Office) and there are moments when there is no BUT.
I am finding that I am able to let go of those issues that have caused me grief in the past by turning my complaint into a moment for which I am thankful and that has a direct correlation to my happiness levels. Surrounding myself with positive people helps too, but really, I am responsible for my own happiness. Like most things, happiness is a choice.
So if I am going to create myself or re-create myself, these exercises where I am extracting positives and discarding negatives is probably the right way to go. They say you get back from the universe what you give. I hope that's true.
While we were in LA one afternoon last week, my five year old was an absolute train wreck. Cranky, sassy, rude, whiny, embarrassing. A brat. I was so angry with her I cut short our super fun day. No amount of bribery helped either. Anna's babysitter, Samantha (AKA Miss Sam, AKA the favorite human) was spending this week assisting with Anna while I spoke at a national lawyers conference in downtown LA. For the remaining days left in the week, the girls and I headed up to my favorite LA spot, West Hollywood for some relaxation, sightseeing and good food. There is nothing relaxing about a whiny 5 year old. Even Miss Sam, who is a living doll, lost patience with Anna.
When we returned to the hotel, there were no snacks or TV or toys or the pool. I sat Anna on the bed and rather than ream her out about her terrible behavior, which I already did in the middle of the Cheesecake Factory (and did not help), I explained to her why it was so important for her to behave appropriately in public and at home. I explained in terms I hoped she would appreciate: that other children look to her as an example at a store or a restaurant and if she is talking back to me or whining or using poor manners, the other children will start doing that too because they will think it's ok. And also, the parents will be annoyed that their children are misbehaving and even the adults without children will be angry because her bad behavior is causing them not to enjoy their time. And that isn't right, is it?
"So, I am teaching other children?" She asked me.
"Yes, you are. You have such a friendly personality that lots of children and adults like you, but if they see that you are not acting in a good way, they may not want to spend time with you or talk to you."
"Like brats. No one likes kids who are brats and they look at them at stores and stuff because their moms are yelling at them to stop doing things. Like that?"
"Right, like that."
"Oh," she puts her head down," I was being like a brat."
"You were, but I know you know how to behave like a good girl. So we're going to sit here for a few minutes because mommy needs a break and you are going to think about how you're going to act for the rest of the day. You're also going to think about how you are going to apologize to Miss Sam."
About 20 minutes later: "Mommy, I love you and I'm sorry I was a brat. I should talk to Miss Sam so we can be friends again." And she did. Except for complaining that she "couldn't walk anymore" as we strolled along Sunset Boulevard to our dinner destination, her attitude transformed entirely. It was a long day, but I felt like I reached her in any case.
The funny thing is, moments when she is so frustrating and difficult are quickly wiped away by moments like this:
We are hanging out in the United Club Lounge at LAX ('cause that's just how we roll). Sam and I are chatting in between checking emails on the free wifi and enjoying our complimentary cocktails and snacks. Anna is quietly watching a movie on my iPad. A woman and her two young daughters come into our seating area. The mom asks if the seat next to me is taken to which I reply, "just by my giant pigmy puff" (it's the ginormous pink puff of a stuffed animal Anna desperately wanted from Hogsmeade in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. So big, it needed it's own chair.)
I look up to meet the woman's expression and she is relieved to find a seat for her girls who like us, I learn, are awaiting a very delayed flight back to Newark. Anna immediately throws off her headphones and rushes the girls.
"Hi, I'm Anna do you want to play with my toys and stuff. I have so much stuff to play with."
Anna loves other kids. Doesn't matter who they are, what they look like or how old they may or may not be. I love this about her because she makes friends where ever we go.
So Anna and the younger girl, Cosi, begin to ravage Anna's backpack for stuffed animals, books, coloring and they settle on sitting together in a chair and watching a show on Cosi's iPad. Gotta love technology. Romy, the mature for her age, sweet older daughter is already deep into whatever she is watching on her own iPad.
The mom strikes up a friendly conversation with me about Anna and her daughters - how old? What grade in school? And I start to think I know her. She takes a phone call and much of it is in French. As she is speaking, I Google because I'm pretty sure I know exactly who we are hanging with and I am right. I start to get that goofy star struck nervousness in my tummy. We are sitting with Hollywood Royalty - this is Sofia Coppola. Holy Lost in Translation, Batman! I probably started smiling like a dork and sweating. Had to remind myself to "be cool," as if I ever am or was cool and know what that means.
Our plane seems to still be delayed and I have made it my job to be the informer when there is a change in status. Well, there was an immediate change in status - our flight went from "awaiting aircraft" to "closed."
"Uh, ladies," I report to my girls and our new friends, "We must go right now. Our flight has boarded and is reported as being closed."
Quickly, we gather our things and we are up and out the door headed to the elevator. I realize Sofia and her girls are not right behind us and wait. If I'm going to miss a plane, I'm thinking who better to miss it with? I dramatically yell to some guy to hold the elevator and we all finally get in. Sofia thanks me for waiting and for "being on top of things." Of course, if I was really on top of things, we wouldn't be possibly missing our flight.
Cosi and Anna are holding hands running to our gate giggling and yelling "We're late! Wait for us plane!" We get to the gate and there is no one there expect two women waiting at the counter, on stand by. I can tell Sofia is about to do something - what I don't know, but I assume she's on this...nope. She's slightly panicked, which makes me kind of nervous. She must know something I don't!
I ask one of the stand by women if they know what's going on and she tells me, someone has to come back to the desk to tell them whether they are getting on the flight or not. Phew! I'm thinking no problem, somehow we'll get on this flight. It hasn't actually left yet. The cabin door has not been "secured" as per TSA guidelines. And if I have to sacrifice my seats for Sofia Coppola because she NEEDS to be in NYC tonight, I can do that (as I fantasize about attending the Academy Awards as her special guest...)
Sofia did not hear my conversation with this woman and is on the phone with her travel agent - I'm wondering what good that is going to do and I learn quickly, no good. She/He sends her running to the next gate to "find someone to help us." I suggest that I will stay with the kids (who are still holding hands and laughing) and wait for someone here. Sofia is not buying my calm act, so she takes her oldest daughter to the adjacent gate. Meanwhile, as expected, someone from the flight crew comes back. I apologize for being late, but we have 6 of us here on this flight ready to go.
"No problem - but there is no more overhead storage space," she says as she glares at the giant pink pigmy puff. "What is the last name?"
"Fraser and Coppola and..." I stammer realizing that Cosi and Romy are not Coppolas, but I can't remember what Wikipedia told me their last name was...Sofia has made her way back and I let her know that everything is ok and we can still make the flight. She is so relieved and cannot stop thanking me. Really, I did nothing. Literally. Stayed where I was and hoped for the best.
Cosi wanted to sit with Anna, but naturally they were in 1st class - we were not. But we told the girls maybe we would see each other after we landed. And in fact, although we got off the plane ahead of them, as we are headed down the escalator to baggage claim, Cosi is yelling for Anna. They reunite as we wait for our bags and I spend nearly an hour chatting with Sofia Coppola about normal people stuff. Why I was in LA, why she was in LA, more about our kids...totally normal and she is totally nice. Not every celebrity cares to engage in post flight chit-chat with a stranger. I always admired her work, but now I can add "and she's so nice" to brilliant, talented, creative...
Sofia thanked me again for helping them and for keeping it together - she didn't know how I did it because it was such a "stressful situation." I blushed and let her know that I was quite accustomed to chaos and things going wrong on a daily basis, especially when I travel, so I have become fairly unaffected by those things out of my control. "Don't worry about it. It was no big deal. We were all in the same boat." (I'd like to thank the Academy for giving me this opportunity, I'd like to thank Sofia Coppola for believing in me...)
We parted ways with the girls not wanting to leave, lots of hugs for Anna and a "such a pleasure meeting you" to me from Sofia (no playdate invitations, but we know where they live and they know where we live, generally). I shook her hand and smiled at Miss Sam, who had just spent the last hour keeping the kids occupied.
"Well, that was kind of awesome," I said. Miss Sam agreed. And Anna kind of made it happen by being the outgoing, joyful kid she is.
My kid, like most strong willed girls is a mixed bag. Stubborn, emotional, difficult, but also bright, joyful, kind, and sweet. Two completely different mom moments, all part of the journey toward creating a strong, kind and compassionate woman some day.
Before I truly begin here, let me explain the photo: someone decided that she no longer smiled in photos unless she was posing with a "favorite" friend. I'm the mom; not a friend. (Apparently, she gets my parenting style). My kid can be such a delight and joy, and then there is this... I'm so looking forward to the teenage years with this one.
"Life's a Dance" was the theme of our June recital this year - all of the songs had something to do with life events and milestones. There was prom, sleepovers, bath time, loss, heartbreak, engagement...etc...It was an extremely creative program with wonderful choreography and song choices. Having just watched the videos of the day, I can once again say how proud I am to be a part of such a dynamic dance family at Synergy, full of caring teachers and students.
But dance actually isn't what this post is about, exactly.
I find myself at a crossroad. Professionally, I could not be more excited to develop my consulting and marketing business plans because I do see it as the next logical step in my career. So here, I see the direction in which I need to travel and intend to do so confidently. But personally, I'm standing at this intersection waiting for a signal change and the light is still red.
Actually, there is a traffic signal like this in Newton, NJ, right by the County Seat restaurant. To cross from the side of the highway where you park to the restaurant, you must cross over Route 206 except the walk signal doesn't seem to ever allow a person to actually walk. Traffic will have the red light, but the actual walk signal never seems to change. I've stood there waiting and waiting until I finally realized, I needed to just walk (quickly) and hope I don't get run over by a turning vehicle. Oh how symbolic!
And I am also reminded of a Sesame Street episode where Big Bird is learning about traffic signals. When the signal tells him to "walk," he enters the cross walk, but mid-way through his travels, the signal changes to "don't walk." Big Bird stands in the middle of the intersection, obeying the signs until someone explains what he should do, i.e.: not stand in the middle of the road. For whatever reason, I always remembered this Sesame Street episode. Maybe because it was a little funny or maybe because it was a bit anxiety producing. "Come on Big Bird, get out of the road!"
There's a great new song out by a group that I enjoy called Pepper. I was a fan of Sublime in my college years. A few years ago, I was reminiscing about the music of the good old mid-1990's and in exploring "similar music" to Sublime and The Beastie Boys on Pandora, I discovered Pepper and The Dirty Heads as well as some others (Slightly Stoopid, Rebelution, etc...).
The song is called "The Invite" and the lyrics talk about being "stuck in indecision" and "taking action."
"Welcome to your life, where you can live if you want to.
Welcome to your life, cause right now your life is more than just being alive."
So standing at my personal intersection, I've been singing the lyrics over to myself: "Take action, make it happen. What are you waiting for? Too much talking, too much knocking. Just kick down the f*&#ing door. Make a move, roll the dice. Make a move, it'll be all right."
I tend to be a risk taker in a lot of respects. I'm not a skiing from helicopters in Colorado or jumping from airplanes risk taker, but I do take a lot of chances, some more thought out than others. But, I've been standing here at this intersection for quite some time. The direction I should head based on the signs is apparent. There's an arrow and everything. It's just that easy.
Here's the thing: if I obeyed the traffic signal by the County Seat, I would never get across the street to eat their delicious lamb. If I read the signs literally like Big Bird, I'd be standing in the middle of the road flapping my wings, still not enjoying delicious lamb shanks. Carpe diem, right?
Life is a dance and sometimes the simplest song and choreography create the most beautiful and memorable performance. When the message is clear, it is universally accepted. The signs I am reading in some respects could not be more clear and at the same time, they are so complicated.
Ever try to read a parking or no parking sign in New York City? Seems straight forward until you get to the third sign on the pole - wait, so I can park here if I put money in the meter but only between the hours of 2am and 5 am and only on alternate Wednesdays when the weather is clear and the wind is out of the Northeast, but there's parking only on alternate sides? Complicated. Matters of the heart are like that.
I'm not a wait for things to happen person; I'm a make it happen person. I'm impossibly impatient. I've always been that way, except I find myself wavering between waiting for the walk signal and just taking the first step in the direction of the lamb shanks. When I weigh my options, so many factors jump onto the scale pushing me back onto the curb every time.
So this is where I am. Eventually, someone in Newton will fix that signal. Eventually, I'll be able to walk when it's safe. I'll push the button, read the sign and walk. Although the lamb shanks are delicious, I'm not so sure they are worth getting hit by a truck.
"Life is a dance: you learn as you go." Like Big Bird, I'm still learning. And when I get where I'm going, I'll definitely smile for the photo.
I happened to be cleaning out my coat closet recently. Actually, I was digging around for something I knew had to be in there, and that turned into a cleaning project, which then devolved into another "Ugh! I'll do it later" project when I realized just how much crap was in there. Anyway, point is, in the closet were these silver candle sticks belonging to my father. Tarnished and partially broken candle sticks.
The history of the candle sticks isn't as interesting as I imagined it would be when my father insisted I go all the way back to his house in the middle of no-where and search for them. About 5 years ago, we cleaned out my dad's house as he was ready to move to CT for a new adventure. A lot was left - pieces of our childhood like trophies, plaques, books, toys. My father is what they call a "hoarder" (among other DSM titles). He keeps everything. He finds things - on the road, outside "give away" bins, Flea Markets - and he keeps them because "someone could use this."
"This is a great piece of chain. A farmer would really appreciate this," was his reply to the question: "dad, why is there a rusty chain on the floor in the living room?"
But the fact that he was so adamant that I find these silver candlesticks that were in his family for years led me to believe they had value, both monetary and sentimental. Plus, my father had very little from his parents. I never knew his father and his mother, my grandma Lillian, passed away when I was 3 years old. His family history has always been a bit of a mystery since he was an only child.
I recovered the candle sticks, which were exactly where he described they would be - in his front coat closet, wrapped in newspaper in a Bloomingdale's shopping bag. Both the papers and the bag were probably from 1974 and were appropriately deteriorating. I called my father to alert him to my success and to find out what I should do with the candle sticks. He told me I should keep them, but I might want to polish them since they are so old. It just so happened that I had silver polish so I was ready for this restoration project, honored that my father chose to pass these family heirlooms to me. I carefully unwrapped the candlesticks. For silver, they seemed rather lightweight. As I inspected these relics of family history, I recognized there are some missing pieces to their story. So I got back on the phone with my father.
Now in fairness, I assumed the importance of and story behind these candlesticks since my dad kept nagging me about recovering them. Accordingly, I was surprised by the fact that the only significance of these dusty, rusty candlesticks was my dad liked them. Some family member had given them to his mother as a hostess gift probably in the 1950's and he just liked them. They reminded him of life in the Bronx and in his family home in Lake Hiawatha, NJ. That's it.
I assumed these were "Holocaust candlesticks," carried through Hungary or Austria by someone in our family as they escaped the Nazis and certain death, and then passed along to my grandmother. Pure silver and the only thing of value our family could carry with them as they came to America. Nope. Just cheap, silver-plated decorations. And now, I have them in my front closet. (with everything else...)
Thinking about those candlesticks and the stuff we keep, I had a great conversation with one of my oldest and dearest friends (and he will certainly remind me that I am older than him, but we have known each other since the first day of Rutgers Freshman Orientation in August 1994 and managed to come in and out of each other's lives since then). I asked the question: "Aside from people and pets, your house is on fire, what do you grab?" My answer was my baby blanket from my grandfather because it's my favorite thing.
The question led to a side conversation about favorite childhood things and my friend offered that he recently reclaimed his Fisher Price record player from his parents' house. His family is very talented, very musical and some of his fondest memories were listening to records on the beige and white record player. I had one and I remembered exactly what it looked like. I recalled singing and dancing in my bedroom for hours to my records. Perhaps between the ages of 4-6, the record I listened to most was the one pictured above - the Original Cast Recording of Sesame Street. I knew all the words to all the songs on both the A and B sides.
And that brings me back to my dad's house: when it was time to check to make sure all the most important things were either claimed by him, my sisters or me, or appropriately stored or discarded, I went back to the house and grabbed this record. I left the trophies, the plaques, the accomplishments. I left books and even photos. I took my first memory of "performing" for an "audience." I would build a stage in my room out of wooden blocks and line up my stuffed animal audience to watch me. I would sing and dance for them for hours, turning the record over and over and replaying the songs.
There were a lot of difficult and even terrible memories in that house. A LOT. Throughout my life, I turned to writing and music to drown out the horrible things and celebrate the beautiful things and I still do that. My Sesame Street record reminded me only of good memories. I bought a record player and surprised myself that I still knew the words to most of the songs (can't find my keys or cell phone that were in my hands five seconds ago, but song lyrics from 1980, those I got...)
I shared my record with my daughter, who was not nearly as interested as I imagined she would be. When she is a little older, I will explain to her why this very old thing was so important to me and maybe, just maybe she will keep it along with grandpa's candle sticks.
For the first time in probably 10 years, I had no plans for the Fourth of July holiday weekend. July 4th is my second favorite holiday, right behind New Years' Eve. While New Years' has always been symbolic of a "new beginning" to me, the Fourth of July has always stood as a reminder of my youth - carefree summers, friends, warm sun and summer romances. I'm a fairly patriotic person, love my country and all that, but July 4th has always meant more to me than celebrating our nation's Independence. What's more fun than a beach clambake or a BBQ? What is more romantic than kissing under a sky filled with fireworks?
I didn't realize I would be alone this holiday weekend until it was already too late to make new plans, although I tried. Through heavy sighs (maybe some tears too - don't judge me, I just told you how much I love this damned holiday) I resigned myself to celebrating Independence Day by myself in my own way. Perhaps I would try to re-create the July 4th of my youth. Or more likely, I would stay home, do laundry, move some furniture around, do some writing and hope for a last minute invitation somewhere. Most likely, I would crack open a bottle of something and feel sorry for myself.
I completed all of the chores on my list - I even moved a piano from the carpeted family room into the more formal living room. That was my shining accomplishment for the weekend. Really, it was. I watched some adult movies (no, not those you perverts. Movies that don't star Barbie or a talking creature.) I finally got to see Deadpool, for example. And while I enjoyed the movies (sort of) and a bottle of 2013 Reverie Cabernet Franc (definitely) my alone time wasn't all it was cracked up to be. I had a terrible case of FOMO ("fear of missing out" for those of you without access to Urban Dictionary).because I knew the rest of the world was enjoying fireworks, BBQ, family and friends while I sat home alone with a cat, wine and On-Demand. Clearly this was the universe punishing me for all of the terrible life choices I have made. Clearly, I would have to take action to fix this situation, because although the days are longer, hotter and sunnier now, New Years Eve is really only 6 months away and sitting home, alone is not going to be an option. Time to re-create.
Re-creating myself and my life was much easier at 18 or 28 because then, it was just me and really, my life was just beginning. First, I was in college so there was a ton of opportunity to find myself and I did. I found an amazing group of women in my sorority, Delta Gamma and that led me to student government and even my first professional position after graduation. At 28, I was a new lawyer. I found a great clerkship which led to the wonderful firm to which I remain affiliated 12 years later. So despite personal set backs during those periods in time, I had enough opportunity to eventually come out of my funk and create a life for myself.
But now, I have a child and a mortgage and an expensive taste in handbags. Re-creating myself requires a whole new procedure and protocol than it did years ago.
I should be more clear - re-creating myself does not mean that I become someone new. I tried that. It didn't work. Slowly, the real me began to creep out from behind the character I was attempting to portray and slowly, I realized I could not longer maintain this facade any longer - my soul was rotting from the inside, literally. I had all sorts of digestive issues brought on by the stress of trying to pretend I was someone that I most certainly am not. When I finally made the dangerous choice to cut it out and start acting like myself again, miraculously, the stomach problems went away. When I began to surround myself with the people who do not simply tolerate the real me, but accept the real me and in some ways understand me, life became a little easier (in some ways, anyway).
But because of all of these revelations, I'm now alone on major holidays. Depressing, but it is what it is. So how can I re-create? I just spent the week with my daughter at her national dance competition. This year it happened to be in Long Beach Island, NJ. Growing up, my family did not vacation at the NJ Shore so my only familiarity was through other friends and family as I got older. In fact, I even lived in Ocean County briefly while I was in law school and studying for my bar exam.
Based on our time this past week, I recognized one thing I can do is re-create summer vacation for us and I believe I found a nice beach. Having only been to LBI once while in college, I had no real memories there. Now I do. I have a great memory of Anna "summoning" the waves to crash on the shore as if she was conducting a magic spell. We had fun in the sand, pretending we were "real builders" responsible for a new magical castle for the princess. We even played "Master Chef" creating and judging various sandy dishes made in clam shells. The beach was beautiful, clean, uncrowded and the water was uncharacteristically clear. We even saw dolphins not far off the beach. I'm not a "beach vacation" person, although relaxing for a few days is not so bad. So I've already started planning for next summer. A few days on a beach. Check.
This re-creation is going to be a slow, piece-by-piece process. It's about creating and re-creating routines and letting go of what was. I am only now understanding the art of re-creating. .I have so many wonderful memories of the past ten years, and I will always remember them fondly, but now it's time to make new ones. I'll always be grateful for what I had, but now it is time to take stock of what I have.