So you may or may not know (or care) that I am in Jamaica for 5 days with my cousin, Lindsay celebrating her birthday, the birth of her first niece and our littlest cousin - Devin Claire (congratulations Courtney and Paul!) - and celebrating our general awesomeness. But I am away and desperately missing my daughter. It's amazing how this precious jewel to whom I birthed and gave life has this power over me. Even when she is in school during the day, I miss her. She is the very best of me and probably the very best I will ever do in life. (Except those times when she is whining or has bad manners. Then she is her father's daughter. He knows. He digs.)
Often when I travel for work or fun or fun work (i.e.:working on writing stuff with Ms Carrie in LA) I wear my "Anna" necklace. It was a gift for my first Mothers' Day. Very Carrie Bradshaw. And it keeps me grounded, believe it or not. I think of my Anna all the time.
So naturally, I'm wearing my Anna necklace on this vacation. And in just a few short days, I've become known as "Anna" at the resort by our activities staff friends and now the bartenders (just the dudes).
I'm hearing "Anna, why did you run away from me on the beach?" (answer: because you ass-hats tricked me into twerking on stage last night and it's too bloody early to do Jamaican dancing without appropriate coconut rum lubrication - duh!) And "Anna, can I give you another dirty banana?" (answer: yes, because that is a delicious drink even though I know you meant that in a very, very dirty way, Dwight. Gross. As if.) And my favorite, "Anna, I will give you a spa service. How would you like my deep tissue massage?" (answer: who are you Donald Trump? Bill Clinton? No thanks, but I'll take that dirty banana now.)
Even though I'd prefer not to have Jamaican dudes saying really raunchy things to me - and because I only think of the good come backs hours later - I don't mind the role of Lauren being played by someone else this week. Lauren is on vacation. Although, I'd rather it be someone besides "Anna" since she is my child, the fact that no one seems to accept that my name is anything other than Anna, is kind of ok. (For the record, I tell them my name is Lauren, but Anna just seems easier. Whatever.)
Back in the day in my 20's (like 15-20 years ago - shit, I'm a GD dinosaur), I liked to pretend I was someone else. Yes, alcohol was involved, but I found it to be a fun game. One of my great God given talents is impressions and accents (ask me to do Cher - I'm spot on!). I am told I am quite good at mimicking accents and mannerisms. And they're so right. I'm the boss of random European accents. And this is mostly because no one knows what a Romanian accent sounds like. Except Romanians. So this game can go terribly wrong in a hurry...
Flashback to 2003: my best girlfriend and I have just graduated from Law School and our good Colombian friend and work study buddy, Pilar has also graduated from her Masters' program in International something-or-other. (give me a break, I've been drinking coconut rum drinks all day! This was a long time ago.) She invites us out on a night on the town to celebrate our graduations, oh and her program-mates will be there.
Lots of cocktails and congratulations later and suddenly I am Natasha from Romania speaking to some dude from Italy who was late to the party. I don't know why. It just came out. But then Italy guy introduces me to...you guessed it, Romania guy.
"You are from Romania? I am also from Romania...(says something Romanian)..."
"Oh, I am sorry, I could not listen to your words...what you say?" I ask in my best fake Romanian accent.
"Where in Romania are you from?"
And this is where the gig is up. I'm not even confident I can remember where on the globe/map Romania is. Actually, after all the drinks I've had, I'm not even sure where my apartment is.
"Oh, I moved to Ireland (note: because I've actually been there and know stuff) when I was school age...I don't remember Romania well."
"I see, but where are you from, originally?" (Dude is not going to give up!)
Suddenly I remember Bucharest! So I say...
"Buzau?" He interrupts.
"Yes, yes." I respond. Sure. Whatever. Just make it stop.
"Me as well..." Oh, of course you are, Vladimir. (I don't know that his name was Vladimir. That just seems right. We'll go with it.)
Luckily, I was able to sneak away from that uncomfortable conversation, but it was a good lesson: if you're going to pretend to be someone else from somewhere else, make sure it's somewhere you know because chances are you're going to be talking to someone who is from that place. Murphy's Law. Or rather, my dumb luck.
And of course, that happened again. But this time I was prepared with a fantastic Irish brogue and lots of details about my hometown of Ardee, a suburb of Dublin, where I had also been. But, actually, I was originally from Northern Ireland, from Derry (yup, stayed there for 10 days in 1992 - I'm an expert!). Let me tell you, I was convincing and very charming. So I was Ms. Ireland a number of times and may or may not have convinced some Irish footballers I met at a bar in Teaneck.
Is it weird that I want to pretend to be someone else sometimes? Maybe. Like any modern girl in her 20's (when I was in my 20's), I used fake names and phone numbers to end a conversation at a bar.
"Sorry, we're leaving. Nice chatting with you, cheers..."
"Wait Katie, can I have your number?"
My friends would try to stop me from transforming into Kerri from Derry and they would often blow my cover anyway.
"Why did your friend call you Lauren?"
"Don't know. She's really drunk and stupid."
Looking back, I really don't know why I would develop these characters. Maybe I believed it made me more interesting to be someone from somewhere else. Probably, and more likely, I was bored and wanted to see how far I could take my little play acting. Then it became a weird habit like organizing my M&Ms by color and eating them in rainbow order, only green went last of course, for good luck. (Of course).
So this week, as much as I have been answering to "Anna" I've really just been me going by a different name. Perhaps I no longer have the energy or creativity to pull off a character. Maybe my weird social anxieties have dried up and I don't need to pretend to be someone else to take part in a conversation with a stranger. Really, this resort is teeming with Brits, Canadians, Irish and Italians. My chances of successfully convincing any of them that I am someone other than a white chick from Jersey are slim. Besides, I'm out of practice.
A couple of our activities friends referred to me last night as Chakira after a stellar karaoke performance (stellar might be overstating it, but I don't think I embarrassed myself like I usually do, although I chose a completely boring song, which is totally against karaoke etiquette and protocol. Nevertheless, it's the only song I could think of on the spot when the activities girl demanded "You're singing, Anna." You don't have to hand me a microphone twice.) - I do have Chakira's hair and as anyone who has seen me dance knows, my hips don't lie. Often, when I go to Mexico, I am mistaken for a girl from Chihuahua so Colombia could totally be in my wheelhouse.
"Well, that makes sense," I replied, "Because I'm Colombian," and now I have recovered my general Latin accent from a decade ago. That familiar, exciting rush comes over me as I gather my best Spanish phrases in my head, ready to use them at a moment's notice. Thank you Señora Montanye, mom and Spanish for Dummies.
"You are?" my Jamaican friend asks with wide, impressed eyes. "Habla espanol?
"Si, un poquito por que mi madre es de Colombia." - That's what I wanted to say in my head, instead I replied:
"No. I'm just Anna from New Jersey." It was late and I had to pee.
I lied on my drivers license when I obtained it at 17. For 23 years, I have been walking around with a lie in my wallet. I'm not 5 feet tall. I never was; I never will be.
On March 18, 1993 after passing my driving test, despite my inability to parallel park, which was an impossible skill due to the mounds of snow piled up in the parking area where I was taking my test (but mostly due to my inability to parallel park) I reported to DMV with whatever paperwork I needed to walk out a woman. Ok, maybe I wasn't there picking my womanhood, but for me, a drivers license meant freedom.
And back then, you didn't need 1000 points of light or whatever the hell they require of you now to prove who you are (thanks Bin Laden). My birth certificate and my dad and a note from the guy who administered the test were apparently all I needed. (Actually, I don't remember what I needed to get my license - who cares anyway?)
Like now, you had to fill out the card with the ridiculously tiny print - name, address, eye color, etc...And then, there it was: height. I looked for my dad for some advice, but shocker, he was outside smoking a cigarette. What should I do? What should I write down? I was memorializing my size forever and I didn't believe I would be 4'10" and 93 pounds forever. I just couldn't believe it. I had a little thing called hope. (And as it turns out, I also developed a penchant for junk food and beer and an allergy to physical movement I would discover in about a year - so 93 pounds wasn't going to last anyway. No longer could I come home from school and take down 6 Oreo cookies - yes, 6 - dipped in milk and maintain my svelte, 12 year old Jewish boy figure - sexy, I know.)
I made an executive decision: I would declare myself at 5 feet tall. What were the odds I would not continue to grow? Well, 23 years later, apparently those were some good odds. 59 inches. That's 4'11" for those of us with conversion problems. Luckily, with my return to a fit and healthy (ish) lifestyle I am proud to declare that the other day my scale told me I was 99 pounds (my scale also tells me I'm pretty, I'm smart and I'm going to "be amazing today." No, it doesn't. But I can tell you that gravity in my bathroom is very different from gravity at the doctor's office or the gym. I don't know why. But that other gravity can go screw itself. I like my gravity.)
In any case, I'm short and small. I've always been short and small. There are photos of me floating around Facebook from an eighth grade class trip to Washington DC. I look like I need a sandwich and to be adopted by Angelina Jolie. I looked like bones with some skin on it. No meat. How I have never broken a bone, I have no idea. (Yes I do, the Oreos and milk habit. Yay nutrition, kind of.) Of course, I have meat on my bones now because I finally hit puberty last week and all-you-can-eat Chinese food buffets were invented.
The weird thing was, I never really was teased for being short. Sure, I had nicknames like "Shrimp" and "Squeaker" growing up, but these were terms of endearment bestowed upon me by my very best school chums (yes, they were. Shut the hell up.) Really, being little was never anything that held me back, exactly. Sure, I wasn't going to be an overly successful basketball player (sucking at basketball didn't help anyway), but being small wasn't all that bad as a kid. Granted, I couldn't ride the bumper cars at the county fair without an adult until I was like 12 or 13 and I wasn't getting on any big roller coasters, but my family wasn't into amusement parks anyway. So being short wasn't all that bad (or maybe I am so traumatized, I don't really remember. Also, possible.)
The weird thing is, as an adult, it kinda sucks and I'm probably going to die from it. Seriously. Have you seen how close I have to sit to the steering wheel to drive? There is no way I survive a head-on or at least escape without having my face burned off by the blasted air bag. So that sucks. Every time I get into my car, I feel like a WWII kamikaze, preparing to face my certain doom driving into a B-52. I even take a shot of sake like they did. (No, I don't. That would be irresponsible.)
Another reason being small sucks is I can't touch in the pool and I have to swim the whole time. This is annoying. In the 4 foot deep section of the pool, I am struggling to keep my head above water. And so, I can't play water polo on vacation. Believe me, I've tried. Nothing says vacation like a competitive and quasi-violent rugby like game in the resort pool with a bunch of mostly drunk people you don't know. For me, nothing says vacation like nearly drowning during said polo match.
For whatever reason, while on vacation this week, my cousin and I have become the target of the activities people. It's probably something I said and then they probably said "Oh, you don't like to have fun" and then I had to assure them "Yes, I love to have fun" and then we ended up twerking on stage in front of the entire resort. Yay, fun!
Yesterday, I got dragged away from my chair and book and entered into a "biggest splash" contest - spoiler alert: the enormous drunk guy from England is gonna win this thing. He's going to belly flop into the pool and everyone will go "Ohhh!" even though it will hurt us more than it will hurt him, and then we will all cheer for the big fat guy for humiliating himself in front of the resort. And he will charmingly say, "Cheers" as the activities people award him with a bottle of Jamaican rum, because that's what this guy needs, more alcohol.
Anyway, I didn't win the rum. I don't even think I made a splash. But I apparently leapt really high according to the video footage. Unfortunately, there was no prize for who could jump the highest into the pool. If there had been, I totally would have won that.
The next activity was the water polo. And as targets of the activities people, an attempt to once again drag me out of my chair and away from my book was made. My cousin, who is maybe an inch or two taller than me (we come from a long line of wee folk) was a good sport and joined the game.
"Oh no, I don't water polo," I told the activities girl by the name of Roly Poly (how badly do you think I want to find out why they call her Roly Poly?).
"Come on mon, everyone does the water polo," she tells me.
"No, I don't. And I just jumped in the pool and didn't win rum, so I'll watch."
She took a few more runs at me, tried to use some Jamaican Jedi mind trick, but I resisted. And I'm glad I did. After the game was over, my cousin (who is a personal trainer and body builder, mind you) admitted to having a hard time just then because she's short.
"Yes, and that's why I don't water polo," I told her, "I'm too short."
"You could've done it," she tells me, "I did." And she was right. I probably could have played if I really, really wanted to. I just didn't want to work that hard on my vacation and risk death by drowning, especially since my air bag will probably kill me someday anyway. I'm going to just wait for that. I've seen that movie, Final Destination.
So, really the moral of the story is, my short stature does not have to limit me generally. I don't do water polo for the same reason I don't ride the Incredible Hulk ride at Universal Studios; I really don't want to. (Actually, there are 2 distinct but related reasons why I don't do those things: 1) I don't want to and 2) I'm scared of the Incredible Hulk ride. It goes fast and upside down and I don't want to do that.)
And the second moral of the story is, over estimating my height on my drivers license has had absolutely no consequences on my life and also was not enough to will me to grow another inch. I probably should correct it when I renew this year, but then again, I am still hopeful I'll hit 5 feet someday. It's possible, right?
The New Year on the Jewish calendar (It's the year 5777 for those of you counting) never evoked in me the same feeling of renewal that January 1 has always brought me. But the next holiday for my tribe, Yom Kippur, is supposed to, I think. Yom Kippur, quite simply is the Day of Atonement, the most solemn day in the Jewish year because you fast and abstain from doing anything fun while you hope God forgives you for all your shenanigans during the year. I don't think that's the official explanation or definition, and I know there's a lot more to it, but you get the idea.
Because we were never a religious family and still are not, but because my parents wanted us to understand our culture and holidays, Yom Kippur meant a day off of school with no TV or phones and once we were older, we would fast for the day. My mother and father would suggest that we think about all the bad things we had done and think about how we should not do those things anymore. I would make a list. Fighting with my sister was always the easy number one followed by being disrespectful to my parents. I was a fairly good kid.
I continued this tradition of using the day to think about being a better person through college to the present. The older I get, the longer the annual list becomes. And although some people may disagree, this is not necessarily because I've become a terrible person, I just recognize those flaws in me that might make me a little worse than I could be.
So I write my lists and say "sorry for being a jerk, God. I'll do better next time." But that's not really the point of the exercise and it should never stop there.
Like a lot of people, I say "sorry" a lot. Perhaps more often than I should, Yoda tells me. Although I have often been criticized for not taking responsibility for my actions, for blaming and deflecting, believe me, I do. I take on more responsibility than is probably necessary at times. One of the reasons I think I do that is I cannot stand people who cannot admit they've screwed up, who cannot look in the mirror and accept blame for a bad move or decision.
And another reason is the guilt. I will feel guilty about messing up at work, for saying something nasty and making someone feel badly (usually a sister), for making bad choices that affect others. I regret and then I try to fix it. Sometimes I can, sometimes all I can do is say my "sorry" and hope we can all move on.
I don't think sorry is every really enough in some cases. A prime example: I rear-ended a very nice family on their way home from a 10 hour car ride from the Outer Banks. Nothing terrible, luckily. My tank of a car smashed into their bike rack, so some minor damage to their bikes and rack. I probably need to replace my front bumper, but no one was hurt and no damage to their car. I probably apologized 100 times. I felt horrible. These poor people just wanted to get home, and I completely wrecked that up. But they were decent and fair, which made me feel even more guilty about my horrible driving. (And my 6 month long streak of not running into stuff with a car is broken. Usually, it's stuff. I've never actually had an "accident" with another car.)
I paid them for all the damage to their bikes and rack and then some. I put together a care-package of my books, some law firm swag and I gave them a gift card to a nice restaurant for a night out on me. It was the very least I could do because I didn't feel that saying sorry was enough for probably ruining the end of their vacation.
Apparently, it would have been and they were so taken aback by my guilt-gifts, the wife posted an itemized list on Facebook. She didn't name me, she just described me, but it turns out we have a lot of mutual friends so a lot of people now also know how my Saturday night started out. Ahh, the power and connectivity of social media...
In any case, I caused this stupid crash because I chose to allow my mind to wander and wasn't watching where I was going on the road. Literally, this is the beginning few lines of my Opening Statement to the jury in a car crash case. More reason for my guilt and why sorry wasn't enough.
Aside from the Facebook shout out, the husband texted me and thanked me for the gifts and for cutting them a check for the damage so quickly. He even praised me for being a "good, and decent person." That made me feel a little better. Doing "the right thing" has that effect.
But what about those catastrophic F-ups? I've got one of those and I have taken more responsibility for it than I should, I have recently realized. (No, nobody died or was physically harmed by me. I just made a very bad and selfish decision that ended up back firing and affecting more people than just me.) I suppose there is nothing wrong, exactly, for taking the fall for something you did, even when you weren't the only person involved. And naturally, I feel badly enough for my role. But my hang up was that moment I realized that all fingers were now pointing at me. All my fault? Hold the phone, people. That's not how this all went down and I can prove it! (Should I?)
Remember that time you put a hole in the wall of the living room because you were using PVC pipe in the house in a sword fight battle with your sister and one of you has really bad aim? (I don't remember that either, mom) And remember when your mom angrily asked you who did it (and where did you find that PVC pipe, anyway?), you and your sister both pointed at each other? And that prompted the consistent, loud argument: "She's lying, she always lies. She did it!" But you both got punished anyway because you were both at fault for doing something stupid in the house and then not taking responsibility. And because you were 11 and foolish, rather than accept responsibility for your part, while stuck in your room, you would write an essay explaining what happened, and why physics and common sense proved it wasn't really your fault? But in the end, the only way to escape the boredom and isolation of the bedroom and further punishment was to come out with a full confession and genuine apology - understand why you're sorry and mean it or be returned to your boring bedroom. Proving I wasn't entirely at fault was never going to help me escape at least some punishment and blame.
Those types of lessons as kids have led me to err on the side of the full truth when I screw up. "That's totally my fault, and I'm sorry" is a phrase I use often. I came to believe the truth will set me free. Just confess, accept blame and try to fix it. We all recall how "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" worked out for Bill Clinton...oh wait, bad example.
But now, as I consider all the nonsense that I need to reflect upon as this High Holy day approaches, I'm concerned about my "catastrophic F-up." What's important to know is that this screw up occurred a few years ago, but the lingering effects keep it on my list. And because of the lingering after-shocks, I am wondering if I am ever going to be entitled to escape this bad thing I did. Maybe I'm not. Maybe that's the punishment for someone like me - to deal with rumors and gossip and stares and whispers; to hear "That's her. Did you hear...?" whispered when I walk by in certain circles forever.
I try not to dwell on the gossip-mongers out there who are just too happy to ruin my reputation, whether what they are spreading is accurate or not. And what can I do beyond what I have tried to do? I've confessed, apologized, accepted responsibility - all the things I thought I needed to do. I have no control over how other people react or what other people perceive to be a way to punish me because they, although not within the zone of my destruction, decide they didn't like my decision and how it panned out. What a relief that everyone else is so perfect.
Eventually, someone else in the world will do something catastrophically stupid, the world will be bored of my tale and will finally move on. Nevertheless, I will continue to be punished by my own guilt - the guilt of knowing I had a choice, chose wrong and caused harm. I will be sorry the rest of my life for it because I can't change what I did. I can't take it back. I can just say sorry and be truly sorry. A gift card to a restaurant or law firm T-shirts will not make it better.
On this solemn High Holy day, I will be celebrating my cousin's birthday on a short but needed Caribbean getaway, hoping this monster, Hurricane Matthew doesn't mess up our travel plans. I'm sure we will have fun, but like on most days, when it's really quiet, I think about what I've done wrong and how I will never make a mistake like that again.
I'm supposed to be asking for God's forgiveness so that he will "purify" me or something. But I think it's more important to ask for the forgiveness of all the people I've harmed in little ways, in big ways, in weird ways, in ways I didn't even know. And so I ask, humbly.
My future is so exciting. For once, I can see it. And while it would be selfish to ask for "bygones" and just forget about my past mistakes, I want to move forward without the constant reminder of them. Mostly, I want the people around me to know there are mistakes you make one time. Never again.
A few months ago, my personal Yoda to whom I pay a sizable session fee just to listen to me prattle on for 50 minutes recommended that I make a list of my five deal makers and five deal breakers when it comes to a relationship. Clearly, he thinks I make bad choices. The must-haves and the must-not-haves. And because I pay a sizable session fee, I do what he says. I wrote my lists in my notebook of "Ridiculously Good Ideas" while taking a break from writing the last installment of my Trinity series, Rose of the Field this July.
The task took me a lot longer to complete than I had expected. At first, I tried to recall and draw upon every wonderful relationship I ever had and then every bad one. But I realized, the exercise was not about comparisons. If it was, and finding "Benjamin" was as easy as narrowing down the good and the bad of the past, then I would not spend so many nights hanging out with my cats, HGTV and wine. (*Recall: Benjamin is my future husband/love of my life/perfect match. I know, it's been a while since we've talked, dear readers. I've been distracted.)
As I wrote and scribbled and wrote and scribbled, I began to get frustrated because clearly the problem was me; I didn't know what I wanted. Certainly, the deal breakers were pretty easy, especially since I consider myself a somewhat shallow person at times. Roll your eyes all you want, but a lady has to have some standards. I mean (Mom, earmuffs or blindfold or whatever will prevent you from passing out at my next statement), if there's no chemistry - and I don't mean just witty repartee - I mean the naked kind (I warned you, Mom) - then, no deal. NO DEAL.
So that half of the exercise was easier, anyway. But I was fairly hung up on the 5 Deal Makers. Maybe part of my problem was I just don't know Paul Rudd that well (I kid, well, kind of. He has been my "hall pass" ever since Clueless came out.) Or maybe the more likely problem was that I was afraid to commit to requirements that normal humans could not fulfill. Me? Unreasonable? How could Benjamin exist if no real person could ever meet my standards?
So I started easy with the shallow bits - handsome, fit, quick to smile and laugh - and then I moved on to the emotional, mushy stuff - kind, romantic, thoughtful- this is the basics, right? Who doesn't want a handsome, romantic guy in their life? I knew I had to dig a little deeper and decide who "Benjamin" was going to be to me and I came up with this:
Deal Maker #3: He is someone who will sit with me under the stars, have a few beers with me and we will talk about anything and everything from our future plans to favorite authors to our hopes and dreams to the stuff that really scares us. And we will lose track of time, every time.
Deal Maker #4: He is someone I will trust and adore because I will know that he would rather fall off a cliff than treat me with anything but love and respect.
Deal Maker #5: He is my true partner in everything. My best friend, my truest love, my hero and my biggest fan. He is my family and he is my home. He is my counselor and my coach, my protector and my confidante.
Even though I came up with this list in mid-July, I didn't get a chance to share it with Yoda until the beginning of September, after Labor Day because of scheduling issues. He got a kick out of my Deal Breakers, for sure (I can be pretty witty and clever, even when I'm paying the bill). They were serious, but perhaps they had a hint of a sarcasm added.
And Yoda was particularly interested in my process for deciding upon these Deal Makers since they weren't the traditional ones - "loving, honest, patient, similar interests, etc..."
I explained that I decided that these were the things I wanted to be to someone else and so my chosen partner should be someone who is similar to me in that regard. "And that person, whoever he is, has to meet all 5 of these. Four out of five is not going to be good enough," Yoda told me (and just so you know, he's wise like Yoda but without the weird, backward sentence structure.) I agreed, mostly because my 50 minutes were up and I really had to use the bathroom after the Pomegranate tea I had been sipping on all session.
As I got into my car and thought about that last part, I suddenly understood what he meant: If Benjamin doesn't fulfill each element of this wishlist, he's not going to be Benjamin to me. He's not going to be "the One" because at some point, that compromise - maybe he isn't much of a talker, for example - is going to be the thing that causes a relationship rift. Hey, it's happened before. Now I get it!
And same thing with the Deal Breakers. Saying, "maybe I can live with that" isn't going to work. There really is no room to compromise. One of my Deal Breakers (after no sexual chemistry - sorry Mom. I do enjoy torturing you a little, though) is "doesn't want to do stuff I like to do." I could say that's ok, because we can do other stuff, but eventually a rift will be created because I know I cannot truly give up those activities that I enjoy without feeling some resentment.
Part of my fear initially with this whole exercise was I would try to mold the Deal Makers and Deal Breakers to fit a particular person in my life, to make that relationship make sense. But the good news is, I didn't do that. One of the reasons I have been neglecting my oversharing with y'all (and suddenly, I'm from the South) is I have been distracted checking off boxes on my Deal Maker/Deal Breaker list. All I'm going to say is, it's going exceptionally well so far. And I'm terrified.
This weekend contained some of the most breathtaking moments of my life and the views were amazing. One of the things we do when we come to a crossroad in life is try to, in the words of the musical Goddesses, The Indigo Girls, seek clarity. But the crazy thing is for those of us who have lived among chaos the majority of our lives, when everything starts to become clear, it scares the crap out of us. We don't know what to do - run, hide or melt into the thing we have longed for more than anything else. When everything finally begins to make sense nothing else - no past ghosts, prior bad moves, major screw ups - seems to matter.
What makes this clarity so frightening is that there's a sense of calm in the storm. For me, I understand chaos because even from the time I was a child, I learned to adapt to it. There is a level of comfort that a normal person perhaps couldn't understand, but a small number of us who have come from wild childhoods, nod our heads and say, "yup, I get that." If the choice was always ours, we would prefer to live in a simple, loving life. And really the choice is ours, but we are so used to giving up control, it takes us some time to remember that little fact as adults. We get to choose how we live our lives and with whom we do so.
And so, I went in seeking clarity. I'm closer to fine than I thought. And the scary part is, I've chosen to melt.
This weekend, I had an amazing view of the sunset, High Point monument (for those of you who didn't have Ms. Sanford for 4th grade - High Point Monument marks the highest point in New Jersey at 1803 feet above sea level), and the mountains. Someone was even setting off fireworks at one point as if the evenings weren't already amazing and romantic. There was wine and music and a fire in the fire pit. Conversation that was as serious as it was hilarious. And the randomness of the banter never stopped.
For a moment I sat alone, staring out over the fire sipping on a glass of wine, oblivious that mosquitos were chewing at my bare ankles. I lost my breath. I got that nervous feeling in my stomach like a flock of monarch butterflies were trapped in there. I even started to get a bit teary and verklempt. (I'm ridiculous - stop judging my emotions, dammit!)
This was what wonderful felt like. This was where I wanted to be, right in the pocket of this feeling, except it all got better. The conversation, the warm feeling of comfort. And it was scary for the same reasons it was wonderful, because it was just so perfect and honest.
I found myself all weekend making statements like, "I would love to do that with you" and "Yes WE'RE going to doing that/go there." Rational, level-headed Lauren's voice would be mumbling things in my head like "Who are you? Shut up! You sound like an idiot. Too soon, dummy! That's against the rules." Oh, and my rules. Broken. The rules I unofficially put in place to control my impulsiveness, broken. Not all of them; just enough of them to know I'm heading down a dangerous, albeit exciting path.
I stood a few months ago, not knowing which direction I should travel or which signal to follow. I stood waiting and waiting for the "walk" signal, but what I didn't realize was that I was attempting to travel in the wrong direction this whole time. All I needed to do was look to my right - that signal worked just fine and it wanted to lead me up the hill. A whole new direction. A whole new world, really.
This weekend, I looked to my right. The signal couldn't be more clear. The view couldn't be more stunning. And in the background of my over-active mind, I heard my summer mantra: "make a move, see the light. Make a move, roll the dice. Make a move, it'll be all right....Welcome to your life where you can live if you want to."
The magic of something new is beginning. I'm so happy. I'm terribly frightened. I'm nervous. I'm excited. All the things. And all the things I probably shouldn't say out loud quite yet (and another rule bites the dust). But at least if you see the cheesy smile, you'll know why. Don't ask, because I will be busy making a mix tape for Benjamin.
I've been walking around with this "carpe diem," live for the moment attitude since January 2014. When I really stop to think about what it was that caused me to begin muttering "F this sh*t" under my breath and paying attention to the breeze and freshly cut grass and the way my baby sighs in her sleep and giggles while dreaming, the way my heart would beat when I would run into a certain someone during my day, I know that it started when the phone call came that my beloved colleague, Susan had passed away.
In about 2007, Susan, who was in her early 50's, was diagnosed with cancer. She assured us, she was going to be fine, would undergo chemotherapy, probably lose her hair, but she'd continue to work. After all, her clients needed her and the attorneys with whom she worked needed her, and what good was it to stay home? Sue took some time off and we missed her terribly, not just because she was a wonderful paralegal, but she was a lot of fun at work. And when she returned, she came back with a cool wig and the nickname "Veronica Bald-Eagle." Her attitude and spirit were amazing. She didn't miss a beat.
I assumed because of her near-miss with the Angel of Death her new spunky attitude had developed. Every Friday, Susan would ask about my weekend plans. I would share with her the things that were bugging me and like a crazy/cool aunt, her advice tended to sound like a Pinterest Meme - "Screw it, you've gotta go for it!" "You hug that baby tight every day. She'll be your every happiness." In response to complaints about a certain person in my life who did what she could for many years to drive me crazy, Susan would say things like, "Oh, what a loser. You don't need that. Who does she think she is? You should just go tell her to F off." Ok, maybe that one isn't going to be found on Pinterest.
I'd ask Sue what her weekend was going to entail and it was usually "beer and the dogs." She and her husband had recently become volunteers at a local animal shelter and fostered a number of dogs.
Susan was always at work. She rarely took a day off - not sick days, a few vacation days here and there in the summer. Every day at lunch, she took a walk outside - even in the freezing cold. She participated in our fitness challenges at work. It was not until maybe October of 2013 when Susan began complaining of pain in her lower back that suddenly she stopped taking her walks. She began to take some days off of work, but she would be back in the office as her normal cheerful self.
Then right around Thanksgiving, Susan stopped coming in. The speculation began about why. No one really knew, and it was so unlike Susan to be "sick." The weeks went on. I emailed her a number of times to check in and see if she was all right. She assured me that she was, that she had developed a kidney infection (or something), it was very "annoying" and she would be back very soon. She wanted to check in on her files and make sure I was ready to argue in front of the Appellate Division. She wanted to know how Anna was doing and whether we were planning to take her on vacation soon. She wanted to make sure everyone at the office was "ok." She wanted to know how my book signings were going for Trinity She wanted to know whether Tiffany and Will were ready to perform their skits for the holiday party and if I knew what they were going to do.
Susan missed the firm holiday party. She never returned to the office. And that January, we lost her.
What we learned after her passing from the few people at the office who knew was that Susan was told soon after her she ended her first round of chemotherapy, that it essentially didn't work. The cancer had spread all over her body and she had maybe 6-9 months to live, perhaps a year. That was in 2008.
She could undergo more radiation and other therapies that might prolong her life a little longer, but the sickness and side effects from these drugs would be miserable. Susan wasn't having it. And more importantly, she wasn't going to start the process of dying - she would start living.
I truly believe it was her positive attitude and refusal to acknowledge what was happening inside her body that gave her an additional 5 years. Until the end, she was free of pain and able to enjoy her life. She never gave the cancer any power over her. Susan didn't tell us because she didn't want to be treated differently and she didn't want anyone asking her about it. While many of us would share this sort of thing, perhaps looking for support and comfort, Susan was more concerned about upsetting us. She didn't want anyone to feel badly for her.
Her death hit me hard. Maybe it was because I didn't know anything until the end. I don't know if that made it better or worse, ultimately. But at this point in my life, I had come to a spot where I was feeling a little lost both personally and professionally. I was unhappy at home and at work with no definable reason why. So I may have thought more deeply about Susan. She wished me a "wonderful weekend" and reminded me to "hug that baby tight" and to tell her "how much she is loved" every Friday because she knew how precious time and life were. Where I lived my life with calendars and schedules and planning, Susan was just excited to open her eyes to the sun every morning. She had it right; I was living my life the wrong way.
So I told myself that I was going to live for the moment. I was going to say the things I needed to say. I wasn't going to be afraid. I wasn't going to hold back. I was going to pursue the things that fueled the fire inside of me. I was going to live the life I wanted to live and not the one that was thrust upon me.
Over the last few years, I have struggled mightily to "do the right thing" while still being true to myself. I haven't always made the best decisions or handled things well, but I found my voice, for certain. I discovered the life I want to live. I found the people I want in this life of mine and identified those people who no longer belong here.
I have a new appreciation for time. I am so grateful when someone chooses to spend their time with me. Time is all we have so we have to make the very best of it. I think that is the biggest lesson Susan taught me.
I still think about Sue often and the beautiful note she wrote to Anna on her first birthday: "Happy birthday Anna Ballerina. I hope you always dance, Love Sue Hughes." From Sue, Anna received her very first leotard, tutu and ballet slippers as well as a video of Swan Lake. I know Susan would have loved to watch Anna dance.
I keep that note in Anna's dresser drawer where we keep her tights and leotards. Every so often, I reach for it and read it for inspiration. To remind myself to be brave like Susan. To rise above the bullshit and live my life. To love every day and love every one (except legit assholes. As Sue would say, "they can go F themselves.") To say what I really mean to say. To live without regrets - to not look back and wish I had or wish I hadn't. To smile and keep going. To appreciate every moment.
I've spent a lot of my life thinking I'm not good enough. I'm sure everyone has a moment where they feel insecure about some aspect in their life, but for me, it was most aspects. Being under five feet tall never really helped, but frankly it wasn't until the eighth grade that any of these insecurities began to rear their ugly heads. Why? Because I began to really care what the boys thought.
To be fair, I was boy crazy from the time I was in 3rd grade. Early on, it wasn't a bad thing. My unrequited love of a certain boy (and every woman who went to grammar school with me knows exactly who that certain blonde haired, blue eyed boy was) led me to become more competitive in everything from academics (I had to beat him in the Spelling Bee and I did) to sports (I joined the boys soccer team and learned how to play and love football) to the arts. In a sense, my enormous crush made me better at most things I tried. I wanted him to notice me and recite love poetry to me (like every normal 9 year old girl desires...right?)
But as we all got older, kids got meaner, especially the boys. Again, I'm the runt of the class and I'm the kid who knows all the answers when the teacher asks. I wasn't annoying about it like some kids (or maybe I was, hard to say), but school was not all that challenging for me early on.
By eighth grade, I found I had to work a lot harder in math, but it was all new (pre-algebra) and I was distracted. There were a group of boys who relentlessly picked on me, led by one in particular who had always been a friend. I liked to think it didn't matter that they mercilessly teased me ALL day long for no reason (I learned later that the ring leader's parents were going through a nasty divorce - why that was my problem, I will never understand, but I was an easy target for his anger, I suppose. The rest of that group of boys were just as^ho*#s.)
Because of the teasing, raising my hand to answer a teacher's questions stopped among other things. Thanks to them I realized I was not pretty enough, certainly not tall enough, not clever enough or cool enough to just be left alone. I mean, the really pretty, cool girls of normal size didn't get picked on and some of them said some really goofy things and acted like complete idiots. No one bothered them. Being the smartest kid in class was getting me no where so I stopped trying so hard. It doesn't matter how smart you are if people are picking on you for your clothes or your size or for just breathing in the wrong direction. And despite how mean these kids were, I still tried to get them to like me, to accept me so they would leave me alone.
Although the mocking stopped by ninth grade (and the ring leader and I went back to being friends), I remained insecure throughout high school. Despite my insecurity, I had a great boyfriend my senior year. So much fun, very cute and he really liked me.
He told me I was pretty and amazing and smart and all the things I believed I wasn't. And I started to believe it, so much so that by the time I got to Rutgers, I recognized my opportunity to be the person I was supposed to be...well, eventually I got there. First I recognized the opportunity to drink a lot of beer on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at fraternity parties and wrecked up my GPA.
But eventually, I found my way among people who didn't know I was teased for being short or smart. They didn't know I wasn't the "pretty girl" in high school. I found boyfriends - lots of them and one in particular whom I ended up marrying.
After working a few years out of college, when I finally got myself into law school, the insecurity bug hit me again: these people were really, really brilliant and I was just not as smart. But I worked hard enough and did well enough to land a good job after graduating. Something weird happened in law school too - suddenly I became a "pretty girl." A close male friend told me I was the girl who was "hot but didn't know it, which makes you really hot." Me? Hot?? All 4'11" of me? Never was the word "hot" used to describe me.
This simple conversation lit something in me. I still remember exactly where I was when he said this to me and what I was wearing. A day that will live in infamy...Because, I cared what the boys thought. Suddenly, I had confidence. I smiled more, became more outgoing in social settings. And as my career in law was met with successes, that confidence grew and grew. I carried myself a little taller.
Now, I am still humble enough and realistic enough to recognize my flaws; don't think I am completely full of myself. I am fully aware of my short-comings (pun intended). I have recently recognized that some things never change: I still care what the boys think. What I deem to be rejection (i.e.: "He's just not that into me") chips away at the security and confidence I finally found as a 30-something adult.
And it's kind of pathetic, right? On paper, I am a successful attorney, writer, mom, business person. I have wonderful friends and a supportive community. What do I have to feel insecure about? Perhaps within that last statement lies the problem. I work very hard for the things I want in life and from that hard work, I have found much success. I've become accustomed to doing well. So when a relationship isn't going the way I hope it will or doesn't work out the way I imagine it should, it shakes me to my core. Maybe this is narcissistic. Maybe it's just silly. Maybe it's normal. I don't know.
If I fail in a professional endeavor, I tell myself "lesson learned," move on to the next project and vow to do better next time. If I fail in a personal/romantic endeavor, suddenly it's because I'm not good enough. "If only I was prettier," "if only I was less needy," "if only I liked the stuff he likes more..." "if only I was funnier..." "maybe I'm not smart enough for him/maybe I'm too smart..." "maybe I'm too sophisticated/maybe I'm not classy enough..."And the list goes on. But then with the personal life set backs, I find myself questioning my competence in every other area of life. Forget just acknowledging flaws, suddenly I am incapable of anything and not good at anything. It's somewhat debilitating.
So what to do, what to do? Well, here's what I am trying to do and it seems to be working: I say to myself "F this s*#t!" But I say the whole F word. One day, I woke up and decided that I wasn't going to allow anyone to have so much power over me that I would feel badly about myself. I can no longer worry about why I wasn't quite good enough for the relationship to work. I can't be troubled by what the boys think anymore.
"F this s*#t" has become my daily mantra in response to many daily setbacks, and clearly, we have answered the question regarding my level of classiness. Try saying it to yourself in a moment of frustration or during a moment of questioning anything from how great your hair looks to how your butt looks in that dress to whether your presentation went over well. I guess it's another way to say "bygones." But it will allow you a moment to breathe and realize that the opinions of others - men or women - are really none of your business.
"F this s*#t!" And then crack open that bottle of Skinny Margaritas and pour it over ice, you sexy beast because you are awesome.
So I may not be pretty enough or tall enough or smart enough or funny enough or independent enough for some people, but in the words of Mama Rose "Some People Ain't Me." I'm the prettiest, tallest, smartest, funniest, coolest, independent-est (not a word, but stick with me, I'm on a roll) Lauren Dawn that I know. In that, I am quite secure.
When it was on HBO, I lived for Sex in the City. Never missed an episode, have them all on DVD (still binge watch on occasion), saw both movies (although, the second one? Really??), and when it came out, I read "He's Just Not That Into You." Yes, the whole book was kind of a joke taken from an episode where Carrie's boyfriend of the moment (Berger, the writer), told Miranda, "he's just not that into you" when a guy in which she was interested lost interest in her and stopped calling. Miranda, was both shocked and relieved by this honest advice. Berger basically told her, "He's not calling you because he's not that into you. it's not that he's so busy or he has commitment issue. He's just not that into you." The message was to stop worrying about what this guy was thinking because if he truly wanted to date Miranda, he would. And so Miranda, in this episode, went around spreading this very freeing "gospel."
As much as this was just an episode of a cable show (for the record, I have always loved Sarah Jessica Parker and everything she has ever done. She's so immensely talented. When I was going on auditions in the early 2000's, I was often told I looked like her or reminded the casting people of her, which I took as a great compliment. But then the casting people would say, "oh, but a younger, prettier version." Uh, thank you? Not a compliment?) the message rang true with me.
At the time, I was out there - dating, meeting some really nice guys, hitting it off and then...silence. Typically right at the sweet-spot too; that 4 month mark where it is appropriate to introduce someone to friends and family (that's kind of my unwritten rule, anyway), suddenly, I was no longer interesting or good enough to continue the relationship. I didn't get it. "Well, he was just getting over someone when we met," I'd say. Or "He did tell me he would be in Chicago for depositions for two weeks, maybe he hasn't had a chance to call." (Yeah, and maybe his cell service doesn't really work there...) I tried to convince myself that there was a good reason that I was being dropped so abruptly.
And my sister or my friends would say things like "well, if he wanted to, he'd call you or at least send you an email." This is pre-texting, mind you. I mean we were texting, but it was a pain in the a*#. Remember, you had to hit numbers to type letters? How did we survive?
So I ended up buying the book, reading it, enjoying it and taking it's principles to heart. Joke or not, it made sense to me. "If he wanted to talk to me, he'd call. If not, he's just not that into me..." "If he wanted to be with me, he would. If not, he's just not that into me..." And so on.
Flash forward to 13 years later, I'm drawing on this well-reasoned philosophy once again. And remarkably, once again, it has helped me tremendously. This thought process assists me not to take what appears to be rejection, quite so personally. Most recently, it turned what could have been a rock-bottom emotional experience (damn, I was close. Definitely picked the wrong day to stop drinking) into a situation I could rationalize.
"He's just not that into me and that's not my fault. That's his thing..." When I drew upon that statement, I felt almost a sense of relief or resolve. In this case, once I accepted that the relationship was sort of dying a natural death, I resolved to go back to doing my own thing, distracting myself with exercise, writing, work and kid stuff. I was far more productive when not daydreaming about "the impossible dream." "If he really wanted to be with me, he would...he's just not that into me." "If he wanted me, he wouldn't be with her...he's just not that into me." There's nothing more I can do about it.
When I reminded myself "he's just not that into me" I was able to avoid the "every song reminds me of you and makes me cry" crap I had been dealing with on and off when I would experience these somewhat random lapses in communication (damn you John Legend and Taylor Swift!) Rather than wondering "what's going on?" with him, "why isn't he calling me anymore?" I can accept, "he's just not that into me." It stings a little less.
I'm in a place in my life where I never imagined I'd be at 40, however, I think that this lesson is something any love-lorn girl should consider at any age. It reminds us all, we are amazing, we are beautiful, clever, fun and there is someone out there who will appreciate all of that. It may not be this guy or that guy, but he exists and if you put all your positive, amazing energy out into the universe, he'll find you because he will be totally into you. And really, why would you want to chase after someone who ultimately doesn't want you to catch him? Why try to force something that isn't going to fit? I am told, if we wait, it will come.
This philosophy holds true with friends as well. There are friends we are constantly chasing after to get together - "Oh, it's been so long. We have to get together soon." And then you try and try to schedule something, it doesn't work and you recognize, "hey, she's just not that into me" and you find another friend. No hard feelings. Everyone is busy and I can't hold it against someone if they have better offers than hanging out with me. I wish I had better offers than hanging out with me too sometimes.
So I offer this: we are all amazing people with unique qualities. It is mathematically impossible not to find a person who shares at least some of our interests, views, and passions, who checks our 5 must-have qualities boxes, and who really wants to be with us. Rather than chase the ones we think look good on paper, wait for the one who feels good on your heart. The one who makes your eyes light up when you hear he likes the same books you do or wants to travel to the same places you do.
Yeah, that's cheesy, sorry if you're all vomiting in your mouths a bit. But patience (not my strongest virtue, as we all know) can make all the difference. And if you're open to it, you never know who might be really, really into you.
I need to clear the air with you, my loyal and fabulous followers: I don't have it all and I can't do it all. Truth. I think it is both flattering and unnerving when someone reads my posts or checks out one of my social media sites and asks me with a sigh, "my goodness, how do you do it all?" Well faithful friends, I don't. God knows I try, but I have learned, I can't be all things to all people at all hours of the day.
A daughter of a family friend recently remarried. Although I don't really know her (other than following her on social media, seeing her on stage and screen), I am told I am very much like her (which is a compliment because she's AMAZING.) - sort of a consummate romantic, very sensitive, passionate, very bright (I appreciate that one because given many of my decisions of late, I don't feel so smart...) In any case, this was her third marriage. I should mention, she's an actor - award winning, ridiculously talented, hilarious and of course stunningly beautiful actor. Younger than me and way taller. Total girl crush material.
I get anecdotal stories from her parents, who of course are very proud of her, but also worry for her happiness and well being, as most adoring parents do. I don't know much about the first husband other than he was a well-known musician, but the second sounded like a nightmare. Of course, the relationship didn't start out that way, it just ended that way. He is also an actor. And as the marriage was ending and being litigated, from the stories, it sounded like she was not in a great place, emotionally. Who would be? Divorce sucks. I offered a few legal suggestions here and there when asked. Of course, with the amazing support system she has with her mom and dad and sister, she made it through.
And then she met "Benjamin" (not his real name). Ben is a "civilian," meaning not in show business. He is a normal guy with a normal job. But I think what draws me to their story is her willingness to share much of it in interviews and through social media. From everything I've read, everything I've seen and everything I've been told, "Ben" is the real deal. Kind, romantic, compassionate, caring, supportive. He doesn't compete with her for the love and admiration of critics or the audience. That is probably an important element to a successful relationship - their professional worlds are not the same. I have a theory about why many Hollywood marriages fail when both parties are actors, directors, etc...- ego. When one career is up and one star is rising (usually hers) and the other is down (his), these marriages tend to fall apart. Cases in point: Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe, Hillary Swank and Chad Lowe...just to name a few. After Oscars for the women, divorce followed.
Regardless of my unscientific theory, Benjamin has helped her find so much joy. She is over the moon in love and terribly happy. (*sigh) He is so proud of her - not because of what she is, but who she is. There is a big difference and I am just learning that now. And even better, he is not afraid to tell the world just how amazing he believes she is.
In speaking to her mom, I started wondering where I could find a Benjamin of my own. He sounds wonderful and like a breath of fresh air. Everyone loves him - mom, dad, sister, grandma...With the same marriage track record of my friend's celebrity daughter, I wonder if that's what we had to go through to find the right "one?" Third time's a charm? We're more mature (sort of), more grounded, have a better understanding of who we are and what we need? Is that how a Benjamin comes into your life? When you least expect him but when you need him most?
And in finding her Benjamin, her career has exploded again. So much critical acclaim, so many opportunities to shine. As I said, I don't know her - met her in passing once or twice over the last 19 years, never had a substantial conversation with her (although, sometimes she likes my Tweets, which makes me feel cool) - but knowing that we have so much in common, I am so happy for her and hopeful for myself that my Benjamin will find me. Very obviously, when you are with a person who isn't afraid to hold you up, cheer for you and adore you, your soul is able to feel fulfilled. You feel alive and strong and capable of anything when you have a true partner. That is who Ben seems to be.
For all of my "I don't need anyone in my life" bravado, the simple truth is, we all need love and we all need someone to share life with. And don't get me wrong, I'm not looking to pick out China patterns tomorrow. (Side issue: do people still do that? Do people still register for China? Who uses fine China? Get a grip young people - are you throwing a party for the Vanderbilts? Save your money for things that you really need like wine).
I just want someone to go to the movies with, who thinks my jokes are funny (they are, like really funny), someone who is kind and helpful. Someone who is real, open and isn't afraid to be honest - who isn't afraid of feelings. Someone who will understand my weirdness, appreciate it and celebrate it. Someone who isn't afraid to speak from the heart. Someone who will surprise me because he knows I am impossible to surprise. Someone who isn't going to judge me for the way I've chosen to live my life to this point.
And let's not rush anything, please - there will be no man toothbrushes in my home anytime soon. (Gross.)
I know my standards are high. I get it. But he's out there. He has to be because I'm here, hoping. And when we find each other, I might just keep him a secret for a while. My own private Benjamin.
I've been spinning my wheels for a long time hoping for impossible things to happen because I am that consummate romantic. I've walked around half heart-broken for too long - it's painful and unhealthy to live like that and I don't want to anymore. Not that I have wasted my time; I haven't. I may have already experienced the time of my life and had the love of my life, but it doesn't mean there isn't more to find. And throwing in the towel now isn't the answer. There is so much more life to live. As my summer anthem tells me: "Make a move, roll the dice..." I'm ready to step off the curb and take a chance.
So if you are Benjamin or you know Benjamin, shoot me a text. Don't bother calling me; everyone knows I rarely answer my phone.
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.
At age 38, I ran my first 5K. Not everyone may believe that to be a tremendous accomplishment. To me, it was. Having grown up with chronic asthma, distance running was not my best sport. On and off, I ran - for sports practice, or even for a hot five minutes one summer in college. But that was just an excuse to stalk the guy I liked as I would run by his fraternity house at the same time each day in my skimpy sports bra when I knew he and his brothers would be sitting on the porch. If I made it 5 blocks, I would be surprised. Yes, i was that girl. (Didn't work anyway.)
I dreaded cross-country in gym class, because in order to get an A, i had to run an under 10-minute mile. Short legs and asthma were not the best combination to accomplish this goal. And of course my competitive nature forced me to not just meet this qualification, but exceed it. So I did it in 9 minutes as I recall and then my mom had to come to pick me up because I had an asthma attack soon after crossing the finish line, despite taking more puffs than advised of my inhaler. Painful and embarrassing.
If you have asthma, you know it is terrible. For me, it was often debilitating. It affected every activity and decision I made, even into college. I was sick, really sick, a lot. If I caught a cold, likely that would turn into bronchitis. In college, I was having trouble breathing for a few days, I could barely sleep or eat, and when I was gasping for air, I finally went to a doctor close to campus who took one look at me and sent me to a specialist. The specialist took one look and admitted me to the hospital where I remained plugged into oxygen and medications for more than a week. By the time I made it to St. Peter's hospital, my boyfriend had to carry me from the car because I was too weak to walk on my own. I felt like I was drowning in the ocean with a 1000 pound stone on my chest. A little asthma trouble turned into pneumonia. My doctor told me I was lucky I came in when I did, because I could have died. What? From asthma?
Luckily, I found the right specialist and he set me on a course with the right medications and treatment. Asthma was always annoying at the very least, but I didn't know it could be deadly. And once I was released from the hospital to rehab and bed rest, after already missing the first week and a half of my last senior semester of college, bloated and puffy from Prednisone and whatever cocktail of drugs they fed me, I decided asthma was not going to be the death of me. Not then. Not ever.
But I also became very cautious, probably overly cautious. I stopped exercising. I quit smoking (yeah, duh. Seems like a no brainer, right?) and made my boyfriend quit too. I stayed inside in air conditioning as much as possible. After all, allergens like pollen, mold and animals would trigger my asthma. Walking up stairs or walking outside in the cold also would trigger an attack. Activities like running and swimming were certainly out of the question. Forget soccer or hiking. Even my love of tennis took a hit. Ever have an asthma attack in the middle of sex? Oh, I have. It's not oh, oh, oh - awesome. (I hope my parents aren't reading this - oh well, bygones). I basically gave up doing anything strenuous.
So fast forward from 1998 to 2011. I organize and run the wellness and fitness challenges for my office. it's fun and I enjoy helping other people reach their fitness goals. We started them after I had my daughter in 2011. I had gained 45 pounds with her at the age of 35 and while perhaps 10 years earlier, losing extra weight was easy, this extra weight was not easy to lose. So I organized these challenges to help motivate myself to move. My asthma had been under control for many years so I had no other excuse than perhaps a lack of time. In the fall of 2012, I began training with amazing personal trainers and the weight started coming off. I started taking lyrical ballet classes. An extra 20 pounds I'd been carrying for a year disappeared in about 8 months. I was feeling pretty good. Sure I resigned myself to wearing "mom bathing suits" - one pieces and tankinis - because I may have been in better shape, but I still had a mom body. But I felt fit and I was.
In 2013, we started a running team at the firm as part of our wellness initiatives. We had some fairly fit people who enjoyed running, my youngest sister included. They all seemed to have a ball competing together in 5K races throughout the community, representing our law firm. They trained together after work too. Then the question was asked of me:
"When are you going to join us?" Me: "Oh, I don't run. I have asthma. I can't run. I don't like to run..."
My excuses were embarrassing. So I took my co-worker's advice and started running that summer. It was very difficult for me and at most I could do about a mile in 15 minutes before wheezing, needing my inhaler and giving up. Running just wasn't for me. So that fall, I picked up tap dancing instead. But there was a bit of shaming going on in my office since I was asking others to participate as part of our run team, but I didn't participate.
"Fine," I said, "I'll run a race in the spring with you guys if you'll leave me alone. Don't expect much. I really can't run."
So that spring, I began working on my running with a wonderful app called Couch to 5K. It was exactly what I needed. It took me slowly from walking to running a full 3 miles. In my life, I think the longest distance I had ever run was 2 miles. Lo and behold another 7 pounds fell off my body. I was strong, toned and could actually see my abs again!
And then the second weekend in June, with asthma inhaler in hand, I ran my first 5K in 30:38. Not setting the world on fire. But I did it. And now I was hooked. I was a runner. I spent the summer running - not long distances, just enough to keep me in shape. I ran on the beach in Watch Hill and through the neighborhoods in Mystic, where I spent most of my summer. By my next 5K that fall, I had shaved a full 2 minutes from my time - I was able to run a 28:34 5K. Still carrying my inhaler like a security blanket, but running a little faster. By spring of 2015, I ran that same June 5K in 27:43.
This year, I could only participate in one race due to scheduling issues and I had a limited opportunity to train thanks to crummy weather and time conflicts, but I managed to run that June race in 28:19. Although I missed my goal of besting last year's time for that race, I accomplished another goal - I ran without my inhaler this spring.
Now to add to this story, I can tell you that just about every homeowner in the neighborhoods through which we ran decided that this was the morning to mow their lawn. Information I did not have when I started the race and forced myself to leave the inhaler in the car. Having battled allergies all spring, perhaps this wasn't the day to run without it, but for some reason I needed to prove to myself that I could - that after years of being on proper medication and being fit, I didn't need this crutch.
Unfortunately, I absolutely could have used it during this race. By mile 2, I thought I might have to stop running. I was getting worried. I was upset and I was having a hard time breathing. I was coughing and wheezing and working hard at convincing myself I would be ok. I had taken an inhaler hit before the race and all my medicine. But what if I had a full blown asthma attack? What if I had to stop running? I started to feel that drowning feeling in my chest.
And then a musical miracle occurred. My girlfriend, Felicia, had shared an awesome Dance Fit playlist with me, which I was enjoying immensely because it reminded me of our fun hip-hop dance class and not of how difficult running was for me. Suddenly, a dance version of John Legend's "All of Me" popped into my ear buds. The regular version of the song has special meaning to me because we dance to it often in my lyrical class while we are working on technique. I started to sing it - not loud, but out loud to myself: "You're my downfall, you're my muse, my worse distraction, my rhythm and blues..." and so on. I stopped coughing; I stopped wheezing and I picked up my pace. I took a deep breath in of the air around me and I kept going. I was a runner now and that's what runners do. Just breathe and keep going.
Even at the time, I recognized the life metaphor, and it's a good one. But even better, the Prince Royce song, "Back It Up," started playing and I started dancing a little as I hit the last half mile of the race, up a steep hill and through a cemetery (talk about metaphors!). I was "dropping' it down and backin' it up right" right to the end. And when I finally crossed the finish line, 36 seconds slower than last year, I was smiling (after I threw up - every race, I throw up at the end. I don't know why. But now it's a thing. A very gross thing, but my thing, nonetheless.) Big smile.
I found my soon to be brother in law, Mario who had completed the race about 5 minutes ago. He asked: "How'd you do, sis?" And I told him, "I think I did ok." But I knew I did better than ok. I finally, truly learned how to just take a breath and keep going.
Even when I can barely breathe, I know now, I can just keep going and be ok. I think it's funny that the co-workers who shamed me into running have no idea how they have changed my life. And I'm immensely grateful.
Please excuse my absence over the past few weeks; I have been a busy little dance mom. Synergy Dance Company, where both my munchkin and I spend much of our time learning and growing as dancers and people, had its recital at our local county college last weekend. Last night, they held the end of the year awards banquet for the competition troupe and I had the privilege of once again awarding one amazing dancer a dance scholarship for next year. This is the time of year I realize just how grateful I am to be a part of such an amazing group.
Choosing this year's recipient, Miss Julia, was not difficult (especially since I created this scholarship and the criteria for it.) When I joined my first Synergy adult class in the fall of 2012, even before Anna became a tiny dancer, I noticed and appreciated the family environment Synergy offered. This was not your typical cut-throat, competitive dance studio. Yes, they offer an audition only competition troupe, but I learned quickly that the family atmosphere extends to the troupe. These are girls who genuinely like each other, help each other and cheer for each other. They warm my heart.
So when I had to make a choice for the scholarship, it wasn't easy. But over the course of this year, Julia emerged as a leader, a team player and a true role model for the younger girls. When drama and some unrest struck the dance school in the early winter with one of the competition dancers abruptly leaving the studio completely, Julia helped calm the very upset teenagers. Despite the disruption, Julia led her team to a place at Nationals this year with grace and maturity.
Yesterday's troupe banquet made me even more proud to be a part of the Synergy team and to have my daughter a part as well. The kindness extends from every teacher to every student down to the parents. They are as grateful for us as we are for them and that makes the difference. Attitude. They even got us Dance Mom flasks...cause they know us so well. (kind of an inside joke, but what person sitting for hours, for days on end in an auditorium at a dance competition with hundreds of kids wouldn't wish they had a hidden wine somewhere?)
The kids are terrific too. Well mannered and they all watch out for the littlest dancers. There is no need for "helicopter parenting" at Synergy. An older girl always has a little one by the hand, and I know that older girl takes her responsibility seriously. They are fully aware that the little dancers look up to them and each of them rises to the occasion with both behavior and attitude - and with a number of teenagers, you'd expect there to be some issues. Of course, with mostly girls, we do have our disagreements and squabbles here and there, but they quickly pass.
And I cannot say enough about the "Red Hot Mamas" in my adult classes. We have a wonderful friendship and energy that I am so grateful for. These ladies are each so incredible and the time we spend together flies by. No matter the mood I come in with, I always leave with a full heart and a smile.
Pardon, the gushing, but my dance studio is amazing. Thank you Ms. Kerri, Ms. Heather, Ms. Becki and all the teachers and families who make it a fabulous second home. We had a beautiful recital and now, onward to Nationals!
I still recall all the instances throughout my life where I would come home crying because someone at school was talking smack about me. Kids can be cruel; we all know that. My parents used to tell me that the kids who were mean to me were jealous that they were not like me. They explained that those kids wished they were as smart as me or as well-rounded as me (really parents? The haters wished they were more "well-rounded?"). Maybe those mean kids wished they were me (Again, really parents? They wished they were 4'8" tall and barely 75 pounds? Really?)
While I doubted my parent's explanations as to why a group of eighth grade boys felt it was a good time in our lives to subject me to daily torture, I did learn something valuable - sometimes, people are just a*#holes. There is no justifying it. They just are. Maybe they were in some way envious of me, but ultimately, they were just complete jerks.
But now we are adults (some of us, anyway) and required to be accepting of so many people from different walks of life. And yet, there are still haters. We're nice to them, they are nice to our faces and behind our backs they are throwing darts at us. They are "frenemies." Pretend friends who are waiting patiently to knock us off whatever pedestal they perceive holds us above them. They are people who take great pleasure in others' misfortune. They are the "did you hear about...?" people. The first person to report on gossip and spread a rumor regardless of how hurtful, true or damaging it might be.
At times, we all enjoy a good dose of gossip and we all know that one person who seems to always be "in the know." But I've come to realize that the "did you hear..." person is a dangerous person when you are on the other side of that sentence.
Just like when I was a kid wondering why the boys were picking on me, I've started wondering again why there is this need for people to concern themselves with other's business and spread gossip. I consider it a non-aggressive form of bullying. Certainly, these people aren't acting this way out of kindness for the subject of their gossip.
When we were in high school, these girls ran in packs. Luckily, I never did anything interesting back then to serve as the subject of their gossip. As adults, separated from their original flocks, these women tend to find each other, but they are fairly harmless. The ones who are not are the guys and girls desperate to fit in who latch onto others and attempt to provide the impression that "they know stuff." And if they don't really know it, they will either find out or fill in the blanks with what they think you want to know or hear. They disguise themselves as helpful friends full of information about everyone else. One day, they are sharing information about you. And they do this because they believe it furthers their own status with the people with whom they share.
These aren't the mean "haters" who call other people names behind their backs. These are mean spirited people who await opportunity to undermine other people's reputations in order to further their own. They get into our business, because mistaking them as caring friends, we let them in. Then, we are surprised that we end up at the other end of the "did you hear..." question.
Sadly, my realization is that not everyone is my friend and too many people simply cannot mind their own business. Purported concern turns out to be an information gathering opportunity for an afternoon session of "did you hear..." at the coffee machine. It's poisonous. It's dangerous. And yet many of us fall prey to these people, repeatedly.
Just like in middle school, haters gonna hate, but now they do it with a smile. I suppose the lesson here is to recognize that at any time, you can be the subject of the "did you hear..." person. But when we provide them with an audience, we validate their existence. My advice, walk away and reply, "no and I don't want to hear."
Not everyone is a jerk, but as I get older and wiser, I'm able to better identify those who are. As a mom, I'm not going to lie to my child if and when kids are mean to her or talk about her behind her back. Yes, perhaps they are envious, but the reality is, they're jerks. Little jerks grow up to be big jerks. Better to know that and avoid them in the future.
Perhaps like many people, for quite sometime, I have begun my day with a quick scouring of my Facebook newsfeed for what I may have missed during my 8 restful hours of sleep. Admittedly, it's where I pick up much of my morning news. Which celebrities died. What adorable things cats are up to. What weird thing the Donald said this time. You know, the important information we all need to know to properly start our days.
I tend to scroll through liking stuff - pictures of kids holding up certificates for being awesome, quotes about "strength" in the face of life's challenges, pretty much any post with a cat (I have a thing for cats). And of course I post tons of pictures of my little munchkin dancing and being her generally cute self. I do this among the community of sharing that social media has created.
And with my posts, I rarely ever stop to ask myself "has Facebook had enough of my kid's dance moves today?" Two reasons: 1) Who could really ever get enough of her? I mean, come on, she's freaking adorable; and 2) If you don't like it and I've somehow offended your newsfeed with #annabanana overkill, you can avoid my posts (and if you don't know how, I'm not telling...you will suffer through another cute picture of my kid like my 5000 other Facebook BFFs - ->inject evil laugh here)
Well, I have recently decided that I need a Facebook break, personally. There is nothing to read into here. I just need to step out for a moment. I realize I created a great stir with changing my name on my personal page. Some people reached out to find out why and the answer is simple, it's my personal page and I want to keep it separate from my public pages. That's all.
So knowing that the Social Media world is abuzz (maybe not the whole world, but a couple people seem very interested) with my name change controversy, I decided to explain why I'm stepping back from the personal page a bit. Shocker alert - not everyone on my Facebook friend list is actually a friend. I've just decided it's time to be more mindful of my personal posts which are shared among a large number of contacts - family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Not everyone really knows me or gets me.
Clearly, I live much of my life out loud. Like it or not, that's just who I am. I'm not apologizing. But I do recognize that if you don't live in my house or my brain, some of my posts may generate speculation about what I actually mean . Why would I post a certain photo or quote? Why did I change my profile or cover photo? There's probably no hidden agenda at all. I like to switch stuff up.
Here's a question: why does anyone care? Seriously. I'm not posing this question to be mean or snarky. Why should a Facebook friend of a friend of a friend who I met one time at the friend of a friend's backyard BBQ 3 years ago where we hit it off about whatever care about how many selfies I post of my kid and me? Why should she wonder what's going on in my home life based on a hashtag I may have used or a quote I shared?
And here's the thing: she doesn't really care. She's not concerned about my life in the least. If she was, she would reach out and say "hey, I hope everything is ok. Saw you changed your name on FB" with a winky face and kissy face emojis - as many friends actually did. (And I probably disappointed a great many when I explained that I was uncomfortable getting friend requests from total strangers.)
My Facebook friend of a friend of a friend I met at the friend of a friend's backyard BBQ 3 years ago cares about herself and her family and maybe her very few close friends. That's it. What makes my posts so intriguing is that social media allows us to see into the lives of people we really don't know and compare our own lives.. "Wow, so and so is getting chunky!" "Did you see how amazing so and so looks?" "Looks like trouble in paradise for so and so..." "Did you hear what happened to so and so? How awful."
We are voyeurs, spying on other people, comparing ourselves, feeling good that whatever happened to them didn't happen to us, feeling badly about ourselves that so and so can still look so freaking amazing after having a litter of kids (you know who you are, you sexy bitch!), feeling anxious that our good friends are supporting this one or that one in the Presidential race, feeling envious of so and so's "perfect" life, family and dog. Actually, it's not really spying -we're all sharing aspects of our lives with people we probably would never have either the interest or ability to interact with in "regular life."
I share my blog posts because I know how it feels to believe I'm the only jerk out there with certain feelings, insecurities, passions, or fears. There is a cathartic effect to sharing in this way that I appreciate and I do hope what I share is meaningful to those of you who read it. Perhaps to some of you, my posts are a great source for gossip. If I'm being truly honest, that hurts, but hey, I'm the idiot with a blog so knock yourselves out.
For all my criticism of Facebook and the folks hanging out there, I am an admitted addict and voyeur. I do love being able to tune in and see the amazing things people are doing and their kids are doing. I love baby goat videos and cat videos and pretty much anything Taylor Swift does (or her cats for that matter). I love that so many people in my social network have been able to re-create their professional lives with direct sales and social media marketing. That is remarkable. I also love that my first book, Trinity became an Amazon best seller through the power of social media - and fingers crossed, we can get Queen Makers there too (did you pre-order your Kindle edition???) And I love that we have broader awareness of social issues and opportunities to give to charities and to help others with Go Fund Me drives and the like.
This is a tough decision for me. While I have my Facebook friend twice removed probably texting gossip about the true intentions of my posts on one hand, I have all these great benefits of social media on the other. Despite all the pros though, I'm still going to take a break - just a breather to spend more time building my public pages. Given the volume of cute kids, cats and goats in your newsfeed, I doubt you'll miss me all that much. Be sure to tune in and follow my "Lauren D. Fraser" author page, my "Trinity of Kirana" page and of course "Full Court Mom" page. I'll still overshare, don't worry.
Most people who know me know I have the patience of a five year old facing her still wrapped presents on Christmas morning. My timeline for accomplishing tasks or goals is significantly abbreviated, compared to most people's. A former co-worker bought me a mug with the phrase "Make it Happen." That's what I'd like to think I do - make stuff happen. Not soon, not tomorrow. Now. Today.
So you can probably imagine me rocking in a corner, muttering to myself as I awaited final editing and proofs of my long awaited second novel, Queen Makers. As you may recall, I submitted it for publication on March 3rd. It was a long, quiet eight weeks. I'd check in for a status every few days, which is the publication equivalent of watching a kettle on the stove, waiting for the water to boil.
After weeks of finalizing the format and the cover art (thank God for the talent of my cousin, Kayleigh Rynar), Queen Makers, my follow up novel to Trinity, was released in print on Wednesday by Amazon. Surprise! Believe it or not, although I was waiting and waiting for it to become ready to publish, this release for sale by Amazon happened before I was ready. The strategy was to offer it for pre-order for a few weeks in order to build a marketing presence. That was the grand plan.
Well, instead as I sat in my chair in my home office, and just happened to have a moment to update my author page on Amazon I noticed Queen Makers was available for sale. What? So Plan B - start telling people and hope they buy it. I'm scrambling a bit to play catch up- thanks for that Amazon (and for Amazon's part, they said - "oops, sorry but there have already been a few sales, do you really want to pull the plug now?" Good point Amazon. And that was without me telling anyone!).
I'm particularly pleased with this volume of the Trinity of Kirana series. Yes, it's shorter than the first installment and perhaps a bit less tedious in detail, but the character development makes me proud. My girls are growing up, quickly. And hopefully, I leave you all surprised and wondering what happens next. To be honest, I'm not sure where we end in the third book. I imagine, however, that my characters will tell me.
Please, if you are looking for a good weekend/beach/vacation read, this is it. Grab Trinity (if you haven't already (shame) and Queen Makers. Until May 16th, Queen Makers is on sale on Amazon for only $10. Then it goes up to it's regular price ($13.95). The Kindle version will be released on May 10th. ($5.95). And many local bookstores will have signed copies of Queen Makers and Trinity in the coming weeks. Specifically, if you are in Branchville, NJ, my friends Sue-Ni and Ethan DiStefano will have signed copies available for $12.00 next week at Broad Street Books. No one has been more supportive of my endeavors than the DiStefano's and I am so grateful.
While I'm at it, I do want to publicly thank my friends, Kirby Maragulia (Kirby Wine), Kathy Marrero, Janine Cerra, Emma Cerra, Kim and Eric Scalise, my mom, Meredith Chapman and Jennifer Hamilton for taking the time to read and comment on the first draft of Queen Makers. You guys are amazing and your thoughts were so helpful. I hope you like the final version.
I do hope Queen Makers holds up to the standards of my Trinity readers. I've already begun the third book, Rose of the Field and can't wait to share that as well. Thank you to everyone who has purchased a book, attended one of my events and helped me along in this journey over the last 3 1/2 years. I am humbled. The adventure continues...
Thanks for helping me "make it happen."
I have been at a loss for words or more specifically, the right words for the last two weeks. Certainly, I have been busy juggling - I presented at a large New Jersey lawyers conference to hundreds of attorneys continuing their educations; I put the final touches on my novel, Queen Makers and created a loose publicity time line with my amazing publicist; I am creating programming for yet two more conferences; and I have been rehearsing for my upcoming recital in addition to shuffling my little peanut to her dance rehearsals and social engagements.
To add to that, this Monday, I suffered a rather surprising and debilitating injury to my right eye. Naturally, I chose to share my misfortune with my friends and family on social media because, dammit, I wanted sympathy and also I needed a public announcement that a) I couldn't see, b) whatever people were asking of me would have to wait and c) I could use a ride...anywhere.
For those of you who need a good laugh, I took a tennis ball in the eye - directly in my eye. Literally, did not see it coming. Gives "keep your eye on the ball" a whole new meaning. Terribly embarrassing and worse, painful. Although my vision is still quite blurry, turns out I will live and hopefully see just fine once this steroid wonder-drug kicks in.
In between the busy stuff and temporary blindness, during those rare quiet moments, I have been thinking about regrets. I have more of them than I did a year ago and they haunt me. It is unnerving. And I'm not including rushing the net for a volley in the eye as a regret, yet.
I was a big, big fan of "Ally McBeal" when it was on television. One of the lines I adopted was "bygones." The character, Richard would say something off the cuff or without diplomacy and follow the statement with "bygones." So, for whatever reason, I picked up the phrase. It became a way for me to articulate that I had moved passed a particular issue or that I didn't really care that someone was spreading rumors about me, for example. "Really? She said that about me? Huh. Well, bygones." Everyone deserves a free pass once in a while, right?
One of the reasons I have been able to live with so few regrets is my deep and full mental adoption of letting go. Not always forgiving and forgetting, but more like a refusal to spend too much energy worrying about negative events or people. Of course, I don't ignore bad things or bad people, but bygones had become my way of looking ahead and moving on.
The last few weeks have been a challenge to my bygone methodology. My regrets came upon me like that contagious stomach virus I suffered through in March - suddenly, violently and traumatically. All of a sudden, I was faced with all of the consequences of decisions I made all at the same time. Trying to tackle them all at once became impossible because one seemed to feed off another. I couldn't offer "bygones" to anyone or any thing because I couldn't see the other side of the problem. I was unable to push forward.
Instead of trying a little harder to move on, I went with plan B; listen to Adele records (yes, I said records. Of course I have her on vinyl), sing loudly and pretend all of the demons attacking my well being never existed. I wished them away. I wished X never happened; I wished I never met Y; I wished I never said Z; I wished I hadn't gone to A; I wished I hadn't done B... Poof! None of it ever happened. Automatic bygones. No need for regrets. No need for overly solicitous apologies. Just moving on.
Well, plan B is a failure. First of all, some Adele songs are kind of hard to sing. I just don't have her range - even in the shower where I am a true rock star. But second, I realized I can't really wish away this pack of regrets because they aren't true regrets. They - the events, the people involved - are actually the catalysts to the changes coming in my life. Without the most recent chaos in my life disrupting my status quo, I wouldn't have moved toward this goal of a more satisfying and fulfilling life. I would have continued marching forward in quiet misery, disregarding my most basic emotional needs.
I don't want to wish any of it away after all. I'm not willing to hand out free passes this time either. I am willing to close the door - I'm not throwing away the key so fast, but the door is closed so that I can open the next one. I may be half blind, but I'm smarter. I'm stronger and in the musical words of Elle Woods, "I feel so much better than before." Bygones.
April Fools! This title is a complete misrepresentation of my Friday morning. The opposite happened; I lost my match...again. More precisely, my sister and I lost together at First Doubles to a very nice team of women that we should have decisively beaten. But I did look pretty cute in my new skirt and top, so there's that. (And yes, I do own a selfie-stick, every self respecting "look-at-me-girl" should.)
My younger sister is an excellent tennis player. In fact, both of my younger sisters are excellent tennis players. Both had terrific high school records and went on to play Division-I College tennis on scholarships. And there is me. I was a decent high school player. My doubles partner and I even won our Interscholastic League tournament and the county title. Of course, that was 24 years ago, but who's counting?
I probably picked up a tennis racket for the first time when I was 10 or 11 years old because both of my parents liked to play and I wanted to try tennis too. I had no training, other than what my dad showed me and whatever little I picked up in gym class. But I was athletic - remarkably so for a runt - and I picked up skills rather easily. But tennis is unlike any other sport, except maybe golf. The nuances of the skills you need to succeed are practically endless. And it can be so frustrating. One miscalculation and you lose a point.
It was not until fall of 1989 that those nuances actually became important. That was the moment in 8th grade I recognized that I was no longer going to be able to play boys' soccer. Back then, neither my grammar school nor the high school I was planning to attend had a girls' soccer team. So, since I had no interest in getting hit with sticks in field hockey, I joined the boys' soccer team in 6th grade. I was ok. Not a stand out, too small, and not overly skilled. I was good enough. I played JV, mostly and then some Varsity in 7th and 8th grade. I was a forward and scored here and there - most likely when the goalie tripped over himself or fell asleep on the job. I was good enough, but not good enough to play Varsity soccer on an all boys high school, which was exactly what the high school coach told me when he came to scout my team. Like ever. He wouldn't play girls on Varsity. At least he was honest.
So, I went home and cried. I railed against the "system" and "the man." And then my dad suggested, "Why don't you try to play tennis?" Huh. I never thought of that. Up until that point, I thought tennis was just something we played at the public courts or rich people played in Florida. Tennis? Brilliant!
That spring and summer, I think I played every day for hours with my dad, who is unpleasant to deal with as an athletic coach. But he did his best, picked up every Vic Braden book he could find from the library, and started teaching me about top-spin, slicing and ground strokes. He put rackets in my 11 year old and 5 year old sisters hands. He was on a mission. He was going to make us into tennis players.
Sure enough, I made Varsity as a freshman - sort of. I started the season playing second doubles after winning enough games in our ladder match challenges, but was just not very good at doubles, since I had never played before. So after losing at that spot 3 or 4 times, our coach decided to make a change. And luckily, my good friends ended up sliding into that second doubles spot and did a great job, helping our team win the county championship that year. Thanks to them, I still got a cool "champions" jacket in 1990.
After that first season, my parents recognized that I needed tennis lessons. That winter, my middle sister and I started playing with an area pro and we got better. The next season, I made varsity decisively and had a winning season at the first doubles spot. Again that winter, both sisters this time and I played with a different tennis pro. This was the coach who trained the #1 girl on my team (who also happened to be the #1 girl in New Jersey at one point, by the way). Fall of my junior year, teamed up with the same doubles partner, our team once again took the county title. But now our winter, spring and summer needed to be serious - our #1 girl was graduating, my sister was joining the team as a freshman and she was beating me. A lot. I wasn't about to let my younger sister beat me out for the top spot. What would everyone think?
My senior year was reasonably successful. I ended up with the #1 spot on the team and won most of my matches. My sister had one loss, maybe two all season. Really, she probably should have taken the top spot. I graduated high school and ended my tennis career, deciding to focus on academics since a tennis scholarship to Rutgers where I had a full academic scholarship was just not in my future. (Of course instead, I focused on fraternity parties, but that's another story for another time.)
My sister finished her high school career successfully and her college career even more successfully. She even became a teaching pro for a short while before entering a corporate career. But once she began her own family, she too gave up the game. The other sister, 9 years my junior followed a similar path - amazing high school career, great college career at UNH, teaching pro at some of the most exclusive clubs in the country, but then she opted for law school. However, unlike the middle sister, the little one never gave up the game and she still plays amazingly well. Tennis skills are not like riding a bike. In tennis, if you don't use it, you lose it.
And that brings us to today. My sisters and I never played doubles together when we were younger for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons was the middle one and I used to fight like maniacs. So when the middle one and I took court #5 at the Center Court Tennis Center this morning, I was excited. We had a fairly good shot at winning the match, we thought as we eyed up the competition. We even won the first three games of the first set. And then, the wheels came off our wagon. Lets just say, we should probably practice together a few more times before we decide to play again.
The first problem was that our adversaries did not hit with any pace on the ball whatsoever. We call them dinkers. Neither my sister nor I have ever played well against dinkers. Our second problem was my lack of experience on the court in a competitive match. 9 times out of 10, my sister had to remind me where I should be on the court which led to a lot of shots I should have been able to return, missed. Third, our lack of opportunity to play at all over the past few years was a problem. We both just started playing again after about a 10 year hiatus. You can say we're a bit rusty. Best line of the day from my sister, "Well, I would have gotten that one...in the 90's!"
After losing the last point of the last game in the last set, frustrated, we immediately started rehashing what we were doing wrong. We spent another hour talking about it in my sister's kitchen.
Here's the point: we're winners. Or at least we have a strong desire to win. Losing, although never the end of the world, isn't fun. If we had played better and lost, we would probably have had more fun. But we tanked and we knew it. We are so much better than we played, and we knew it.
The generation of kids who grew up with "participation" trophies don't feel what we feel. Earning an award or a win feels great. And sure, we didn't feel great not winning today because we didn't want to let each other or our team down, but even as middle-aged adult women, we understand that we need to do more (i.e.: stink less) next time around to succeed. Just showing up may be half the battle, but it's never enough and unfortunately, there are too many people in our society who disagree (but we can save that debate for another time too.)
In the scheme of our lives, does it really matter all that much that we lost our match this morning? Probably not. We're still alive and all that good stuff. But in a way it does matter a great deal. We refuse to compromise in any aspect of our lives. We continue to push ourselves to be better. To be winners. And we know we won't always win, but it doesn't mean we don't try. Because earning the trophy or even just the high five from your team after a win feels great. We don't give up - we work harder.
In this age, maybe that makes us complete out of touch jerks who don't want our kids to "feel good" about themselves. I think it makes us the exact opposite - winning and losing are important parts of life. It is how we measure and define success. In order to win at anything, you have to lose sometimes too. I want my kid to understand both so neither event comes as a shock. I want her to understand that losing isn't the time to give up, rather it is the time to work harder. Also, being both a gracious winner and loser are also good life skills.
Today my sister and I were gracious losers. We thanked our opponents for a "nice match" (even though they made some terrible, terrible line calls...bygones, we still lost) and we thanked our team for giving us a chance to play together (we're just substitutes on this team). And then, my sister and I planned how we are going to win the next time we play together. That's just how we roll.
Returning from vacation is always a challenging moment. Especially when you've had the opportunity to experience tropical paradise for a week. Seven days of sunshine, Gulf breezes, sandy beaches, and relaxation were difficult to leave knowing what my daily planner has in store for me this week and next.
Our resort, which had an ecological/sustainability theme running throughout, whether we were reading plaques about the flora and fauna we might see on a given day to the very fact that it was built near a centote. The centote, which is essentially a sinkhole filled with perhaps the clearest water I have ever seen, was home to little, black crocodiles, fish, turtles and other creatures. From a prior visit to this area in Mexico, I recalled that the cenotes were used in Mayan sacrifice, which became a a tool in my box when my daughter's voice evolved into a whine around 5 pm everyday. (keep it up and Mom will sacrifice you to the Mexican rain Gods.)
And if the cenote wasn't interesting enough (the resort built a walkway along it to view its inhabitants) there was a family of eight spider monkeys living in the forest surrounding the cenote. Add the monkeys to the sometimes friendly, mostly cranky iguanas, and the very bold and screeching birds and we had a week living in Animal Kingdom.
Beyond the beautiful views, neat animal sightings and amazing food, we had the privilege of experiencing exquisite service from the nicest people in the world. They could not do enough for us. My five year old was even una "Princesa Por Un Dia" (Princess for the Day) at the spa where she had a massage, manicure and pedicure as well as the "royal" treatment. Relaxing in the "relaxation room" as we watched a few monkeys jumping tree to tree in the forest, she told me it was "the best day ever." I believed it; I had a few spa treatments as well. But just seeing how genuinely elated mi princesa bonita (pretty princess for those of you not following the Spanish) was to experience everything from her pink bathrobe, to her little cup of tea to the view of the monkeys outside the relaxation room, made it "the best day ever" for me too. A nice mommy/daughter moment.
So in absolute paradise, I ushered in my 40th year without much fanfare. First of all, and backing up a few days, on my actual birthday I got crushed in my first tennis match in 21 years. Worse, I was really sick (excuses, excuses)...like 101.4 fever, tight asthmatic chest, sharp headache, sick. But that's not entirely why I lost the match (mostly, I wasn't very good). It is however, why I missed out on a fun volleyball game with my work friends and any public acknowledgement of my birthday. And to make matters worse, my daughter's school nurse called, "Anna has a bad stomach ache"...so as I tried desperately to rest and recuperate before our Saturday flight, I had "mom, mom, mom, mom..." sitting next to me on the couch all afternoon and most of the evening. Needless to say, a couple healthy doses of Nyquil and DayQuil later had me forgetting how freaked out I had previously been about turning 40. In fact, I slept through most of the day and night, and when I finally came to, I was landing in the Mexican Riviera. Crisis averted.
With the exception of a lot of very kind text messages, phone messages and Facebook messages from friends I've made over my 4 decades and my family, I escaped this birthday. If this is 40, so far it's not so bad.
For those of you who may be looking for an opportunity to travel to Mexico, which just so happens to be my favorite vacation spot, our resort was called Azul Fives. I highly recommend it. It is part of a "family" of Karisma Resorts throughout Mexico, the Caribbean and Europe.
Happy to be home and looking forward to my next tennis match this Friday. I probably play pretty well for my age.
Sitting in traffic Friday, I had an opportunity to listen to Nancy Reagan's funeral service broadcast over the air waves. One of the honored guests, Former Canadian Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, presented a letter Ronald Reagan had written to his wife during their first Christmas in the White House. It was well-known that the Reagans were a romantic couple, devoted to one another. This letter was particularly moving - moved me to tears, actually. In it, the new President in 1981 describes the "many women" he loved, the many facets of Nancy Reagan.
"Fortunately, all these women in my life are you - fortunately for me that is, for there could be no life for me without you," he wrote to his wife and he signed his letter, "Lucky Me."
Hearing this tender letter read made me ponder the Reagan's devotion to one another. They were married for 50 years and their love had been described as "the greatest love affair in the US Presidency." Given some of the inhabitants of the White House and their notorious reputations, it is no doubt the Reagans would hold this "title."
In terms of a romantic partnership, John and Abigail Adams offer competition for the Reagans' romantic title. Their letters to one another span decades of history, struggle and tragedy and yet, their love and devotion to one another endured. Of course, there is Robert Burns, the bard of Scotland wrote songs and poems inspired by his great (and many) loves. And who among us hasn't swooned at some of Shakespeare's romantic sonnets (just me? Really?) - these, the love letters of long ago.
For whatever reason, I find expressing myself in writing far easier than articulating my thoughts out loud in conversation. Perhaps because there is no one to interrupt me, no one to disappoint, no one to react badly when my thoughts are only between me and my keyboard. I find thoughts of love most difficult to convey properly. Surely, saying "I love you" is easy enough to say when it's true, but finding the appropriate combination of words to go beyond the obvious is just better suited to a love letter, in my experience.
And sadly, we just don't write them the way we used to. I remember a handwritten note every day from my high school boyfriend, folded into a square or triangle with my name on it. Mix tapes with mixed messages that I would wear out, rewinding and replaying to decode someone's heart - does he really love me, or want to kill me?. In later years, I recall thinking it was a good idea to share my own poetry with my crush in college (Footnote: that was not a good idea at all, and I still have yet to live that one down. Not all artists are appreciated, sadly...).
I have and always had a weird compulsion to tell the object of my affection just how deep the river runs - early and often. That level of romantic honesty has not always led to equally romantic results. But in those rarest occasions, those risks have returned all the butterflies, fireworks, incredible highs and dreadful lows a sap like me could desire - all of the elements that make love, love and not something else. Love is as awful as it is wonderful. But unless we take the risk, we never can get to the wonderful parts. Those wonderful parts are different to different people too - some crave the adventure, the chase and the conquest, some favor the comfort and security and others the companionship, the passion, the loyalty...to each their own. Love has many faces.
Robert Burns, renowned lover of many, many, many women, wrote in one of my favorite love poems, Ae Fond Kiss: "Had we never loved so kindly, had we never loved so blindly, never met - or never parted, we had never been broken hearted." Burns knew, as he said goodbye to another lover, that if their love had not been so dear and so special, parting would have been easy. Love hurts.
I remember Nancy Reagan's sad goodbye to her husband as she kissed his casket at his funeral and talk of her broken heart over his loss in subsequent interviews. But I imagine the Reagans' love and devotion to one another wasn't all a cake walk. In their 50 years of marriage, I'm sure they had some rather trying times. Between Hollywood careers, the Cold War, Iran Contra hearings, Alzheimers and the Just Say No campaign, I'd wager that every moment in the Reagan house wasn't perfect and loving. But for them, the years of joy and struggle were worth it. To hear such beautiful words shared at Nancy's funeral, whatever difficulties they may have faced were clearly worth their life together. And what a life.
To be sure, for us hopeless romantics, there is no worse agony than being in love. That pure torture can only be matched in intensity by losing love. And yet, we try and try until we find the "one." For me, the juice has always been worth the squeeze and always will be:
"My dearest friend, my love for you refuses to fade, though time and trials play their roles. With masks, we hide and with quiet resolve, we resign ourselves to play the parts for which we are cast. We wander through the mist, blind faith pushing us forward to see the sun. And there I say, I am yours - so gently goes your hand and tongue, for I can provide no greater gift than that of my heart and soul. It is all of me and all I have to give. Forever yours, so take good care of me."
If we lived a long time ago, that would be my love letter...corny mix tape to follow.
When I need a bit of inspiration - whether it's fashion, decorating, fitness or romantic - I do what most warm blooded American women do and turn to that mecca of creative brilliance, Pinterest. I admit, I've become addicted to searching for recipes that I will never attempt and room designs I can't afford. Mostly, I troll at night, before bed when I need a little something to set my mind at ease - I never knew how relaxing a search for spring outfit ideas could be. The other night, a really great quote landed in my feed: "Never give up on something you can't go a day without thinking about."
Now, if you ever read or follow "The Secret," you'll recognize that the universe sends us many signs and that we are supposed to listen and read these signs. I'm not overly superstitious or spiritual, but I do believe in the power of the universe, in general. Science, definitely, but on that other level, I believe there are elements which draw us to certain events, people, interests, careers and so on. Forces of nature lead us to places and people. As with magnets, we attract and are attracted to certain people or ideas. Some might argue that life is a series of random coincidences that lead us to one place or another. While I don't necessarily believe there is a deity setting the course of our lives - our life course is set by us - there are forces and elements that draw us in one direction or another at particular times.
But just as this quote suggested to me, and although I began to believe that the dreams I had were not going to come true - certainly not on my timeline, maybe ever - I just couldn't let them go. I thought about my goals nearly everyday. Anyone who knows me knows that I don't like to wait. Lately, the waiting has been the hardest part when all I want to do is kickstart the next phase of my life. I have a strong passion to see my ideas and desires set into motion.
Sometimes being stubborn is a significant flaw in my personality, but in this case, my faith in the universe and in other people and perhaps my unwillingness to believe there are things which are impossible to achieve, have allowed these new changes in my life to occur. The forces in nature which pulled me toward this path were just too strong. And even when I told myself to turn my back, walk away and pursue an easier course, some force pulled me back toward that thing - those ideas that danced in my head on a daily basis. My heart couldn't let them go, so why should my head?
This "don't give up" message isn't unique, but a good reminder that some ideas or dreams - even my wildest - are worth holding on to and pursuing. So today, on my daughter's 5th birthday, I submitted the final manuscript of my second novel, Queen Makers for final editing and formatting. One of my dreams was to have two books under my belt before 40...even if it's only a few weeks before 40. Look for Queen Makers online and in local bookstores this spring. Box, checked.