Saturday, December 09, 2017

12 years ago today

I was scrolling through Facebook tonight and saw a friend's post referencing how warm it was for December 9th.

I thought to myself, "what is it about this date that rings a bell?" It seemed so familiar, but I couldn't quite place it.

Then I remembered it was my anniversary.

Even thought it's not a day I celebrate anymore, I was stunned that it had completely slipped my mind. I'm very calendar- and date-oriented. My sense of time is very visual - I see my days and weeks laid out on a grid. I keep a calendar with everything written down, but I also can see it in my head.

I can remember things like the date I first met an ex-boyfriend I dated years ago, or when I went to a particular football game a long time. I remember other peoples' birthdays and anniversaries. The dates others died.

And yet my own anniversary - a date that was obviously extremely significant in my life, as much as I look back on the event itself as a mistake - wasn't on my radar at all.

Sometimes the way my brain compartmentalizes amazes me. I look back on being married and I can barely remember what it was like.

Today I was taking Josie and Zeke and Josie's friend Annie to a jumping/parkour/gymnastics/ropes course place. It's seriously badass.

In the car on the way there, Annie said, "Wendy, are you ever going to get married again?"

She is not, shall we say, a shy girl.

"Probably not," I said.

"Why not?"

"Because I can't imagine why I would. I don't want to be married."

"But why?"

"I don't know. I don't like people in my face all the time. I don't want someone living in my house and spending my money and bothering me all the time. I like to see who I want to see when I want to see them, and then they can go home."

"Do you want a boyfriend?"

"I don't know. I guess. It's nice to date someone."

Josie said, "she dates lots of guys!"

I laughed. I wanted to clarify that I've been on lots of dates, but I doubt she would have cared about the distinction.

My kids are very encouraging in this regard.

A few weeks ago Josie said, "Mommy, I want a step-father."

"You're going to be waiting a while," I said. "Don't hold your breath."

I do know this, though - if I do meet someone and it turns into something, I will remember, years later, the date and day of the week we met.

Until my brain decides that it's better for me never to think of the entire episode altogether, and if I do think of it, it seems like it happened to someone else.





Friday, December 08, 2017

At least I've never celebrated "pumpkin spice" season...

I think about recent conversations I've had, and just what I've been thinking about generally, and I'm incredibly bored by it.

There are certain conversational themes that I abhor, because they strike me as demonstrating such a lack of imagination. People who lament that it's Monday, or who when you greet them on a Wednesday and say, "how are you," respond, "well, only two days to Friday!" Women who repost memes about drinking, like those e-cards with a woman on it and the text is something like, "the most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink."


So boring. So basic.

And I feel like I have become one of *those* people, constantly whining about how tired and busy and frazzled I am.

I got a new job in September. And it's an amazing job, doing the work that I do best, for a cause I believe in, and I try to do it in a way that I believe is true to both my ethical and professional obligation to zealously represent my client, and to my personal drive to do the right thing morally.

But I've also never worked as hard in my life. As I've written before, I commute a long way, and during the workday I am so buried in emails and meetings and briefs and requests for guidance that I frequently don't eat because I lose all track of time and then I'm starving and exhausted and lightheaded. When I'm not at work, I have my phone and I get work-related texts and emails until 10 at night.

And all of this is in addition to trying to have quality time with my children, and trying to spend time with friends, and trying to read more and write more, and trying to have some semblance of a social life.

Somewhere in all of this I try to exercise.

Today one of the women in the office greeted me and asked how I was. I really, really like her - she's one of those people who you occasionally meet in your life and you immediately have a good feeling, like "I could really be good friends with this person." And I said, "I'm doing well. And I hate people who say stuff like this because it's so fucking unoriginal, but damn, I'm so glad it's Friday."

And then I drove home to get the kids, and while I was in the car one of Josie's friends asked if she could sleep over, so I set that up, and then I had to chase Zeke down at a friend's house down the street, and then he wanted to have a friend sleep over. So I organized all of this while also taking the kids to their board-breaking and belt-testing ceremony at the taekwondo studio, which took an hour and a half but felt like four hours, so everyone was fidgety and hungry.  It was great to see the kids break their boards and get their yellow belts, though.

Josie
Zeke
When we finally got out, I dropped Josie at her friend's, stopped by Zeke's friend's house so he could pick his stuff up, and then went home so we could scarf down some pizza.

I answered one final email and decided the work phone is going to be put away for the weekend. And I'm going to chill out and not constantly have a running list in my mind of all the things I need to take care of.

I'm going to contemplate things as they come. Just observe what's going.

Like, after we dropped off Josie, the boys and I were in the car and they were giggling.

"Mom?"

"What's up, son?"

"What's the 'c' word?"

"There's no reason you need to know the answer to that question."

"Is it 'crap'?"

"Sure."

I love 10-year-old boys.

We were all joking around while we ate pizza.  This is a friend that Zeke hasn't had over before. I'll call him Joe. He's a nice kid. But it turns out one of the reasons he and Zeke get along so well is that they have a tendency to get in trouble in school.

I asked, "what are the things that you tend to get in trouble for?"

"One time me and Zeke were throwing a football and were trying to get it in the trash. Plus I get in trouble a lot just for talking."

Being an energetic boy in school is a bitch.

"Can I give you some advice?" I asked. "Don't even worry about being good because it's the right thing to do. Just figure out what it is that pisses your teacher off and try to avoid it. The bottom line is, being in trouble sucks. And doing stupid stuff in class never ends well. Just try to fly under the radar."

"It's hard," Joe said.

"I know," I agreed.

"How late can we stay up?" he asked.

"As late as you want. I don't care. Just don't destroy the house."

"Ok, cool."

So now they're upstairs in the playroom, playing Star Wars Battlefront or some other game on the PS4. I'm sure they're using the worst swear words they can think of.

And I'm downstairs in my house. When I look around at my house and my rugs and my artwork, I think, "my house is really pretty." I feel good in my surroundings.

From time to time they "drop in" from the upstairs Echo, using the system like an intercom. "Hi, Mom!"  "Hi, guys!"

I'm listening to a Spotify radio playlist that the boys put on. I like to keep up with what the kids are listening to.

I'm probably betraying myself as a traitor to all of my indie-loving friends, but Nick Jonas's "Jealous" is really catchy.

I know there are shows on Netflix or Amazon Prime for me to get caught up in.

And I am breaking my rule by saying this, but I'm enjoying a glass of wine. Which, for me, is actually really unusual. I never ever drink at home, by myself.

Maybe it'll help me be more interesting.

Anyway, that's my night.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

And all those things I didn't say, wrecking balls inside my brain

This is what I should have said, when he started yelling at me ten minutes into our first date, when I had the audacity to (respectfully) express a different psychological or temperamental approach to dating than the one he had expressed.

I don't think I'm interested in talking to you anymore. I'd say, 'have a nice life,' but the odds of that are pretty much non-existent, so I'll just say 'good-bye.'

I was accused of trying to "mother" him, of telling him how to live his life, of lecturing him that his statistical approach to love - of believing that he'd have to go out on 30 dates before he would find anyone worthwhile, and that having only gone on 5 this year, he was doomed - was wrong.* He became louder and more irate as he talked, jabbing his finger at me and punctuating his diatribe with, "why are you doing that, counselor?" 

His voice was filled with contempt and he called me "counselor" as if it were an epithet.

I'm actually proud of being a lawyer, so it seemed like a misplaced insult to me. But unlike when I'm arguing in court and I can be prepared and dispassionate, my ability to come up with quick, logical, cutting zingers escaped me.

Instead, I was stunned and I gaped at him in disbelief. I have never in my life been spoken to that way by a date, and my eyes started to tear. I blinked them away before he could see them.

Rather than gathering my coat and my purse and telling him to go fuck himself as I scooted out of the booth, I asked, "why are you yelling at me? I didn't say any of those things."

Part of my reaction was because our exchanges before meeting had been lovely and encouraging. We texted, we talked on the phone, we even FaceTimed, and he could not have been sweeter. He's good looking and ridiculously smart and was interesting to talk to. It seemed so promising.

So to be attacked and berated right out of the gate was shocking. Surreal. Incomprehensible. I didn't know how to process it. I hadn't walked into the restaurant armed for battle, so I was exposed and vulnerable.

"I was just trying to talk to you. I don't know anything about you, so I'm trying to get to know you."

He threw his head around as if my efforts to make normal first-date conversation were too outrageous to be borne. His agitation was palpable.

"Jesus, I don't want to do this! I just want to talk and have fun! I don't want to feel like I'm being interviewed!"

"What are you talking about? I was talking about the sports teams we liked. And instead of comparing stories about who we liked growing up, you launched into a statistical analysis and talked about demographics and economic trends. You never even answered my question!"

"It was a malthusian analysis!"

I didn't know how to respond to that.

He continued, "I don't want to sit and do all the talking. You talk!"

Rather than gathering my coat and my purse and telling him to go fuck himself as I scooted out of the booth, I tried to talk. I don't even remember what I was talking about. I just remember him being fidgety and looking around like he'd rather be anywhere else.

I stopped talking and sighed and shook my head.

The waitress was walking by. He stopped her and said, "check, please."

We had been there for 15 minutes. We hadn't even ordered anything to eat.

Rather than gathering my coat and my purse and telling him to go fuck himself as I scooted out of the booth, I sat there throughout the process of waiting for the check and then waiting while she ran his credit card and brought the slip back.

While we waited, he started talking about politics. He is vehemently anti-Trump, anti-establishment, anti-anything run by old white men, and without any prompting from me - by this point, I was scared to say much of anything - he started this unbelievable rant in which his voice got louder and louder and he was irate and every other word was "fuck." Finally the hostess came over to the table and asked him to tone it down because there were children at the next table.

It was mortifying.

The check came back. He signed it.

I gathered my coat and my purse and scooted out of the booth. I did not tell him to go fuck himself. I said, "I'm going."

He stood up and his demeanor became almost sheepish.

"Can I give you a hug goodbye?"

Are you kidding me? I though to myself.

My nerve didn't fail me this time.

"No."

I didn't fall apart until I got home. I pulled into my driveway, still shell-shocked. And then I burst into tears. I cried as I walked into the house. I cried as I realized I needed to put the garbage and recycling bins in the alley. I cried in the alley as a guy passed me, walking his dogs.

I pulled out my phone and texted a guy I know, a guy who is always sweet to me. Our schedules never match up so we barely ever see each other, but we manage to hang out together once a month or so.

He was sympathetic and kind and supportive and outraged on my behalf. He talked me off the ledge. It was what I needed to hear.

But I slept horribly that night. I woke up feeling psychologically bruised. I still do, a little bit. I am generally one to say, "next!" in the face of a bad date, but I've never had a date like that. I think I'm done for a while.

All because I couldn't say from the beginning, go fuck yourself, dude.


_________________________
*For the record, I did none of these things. I simply stated that I had different thoughts about it.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Keep on keepin' on

"Do you think I should go to therapy?"

I was seeing my shrink for my biannual pharmacological check-in. Generally we just check in by email, but it had been long enough that he wanted me to come in and lay eyes on me.

"OF COURSE you should go to therapy!" he exclaimed.

I laughed. He's a nice guy who's from Michigan and looks like my dad when he was in his 30s - dark hair, glasses, jew-y. We have a nice rapport.

"Why? I feel fine, generally. The medication seems to be working."

"In the five minutes we've been talking, you've told me that you just started a new job with a lot of responsibility and long commute, you've talked about issues your kids are having in school and in dealing with the divorce, you're working on a major case for work while also planning a trip abroad ... you've got a lot of shit going on!"

"Yeah," I sighed.

"Yeah!" he said, giving me a look that said, "mmm hmmm."

"And you've said yourself that even though you don't feel anxious during the day, you're having anxiety dreams and still dealing with the middle insomnia that's plagued you forever."

"Yeah," I sighed again.

"Even if you're not in overt distress, it always helps to talk things out with someone. It's the best way to deal with anxiety. You know this," he said.

"Yeah. I know. It's just hard, thought. I'm working long hours, I'm busy, I've got the kids, and you're out here in the middle of nowhere. It's a schlep. I feel like I don't have time to do anything."

" I hear you. Anyway, here's the number of someone that I think you would like. She's like you - very smart and straightforward. Give it a try."

"Yeah."

I haven't called her. I haven't had time.

But I need something.

Medicine helps some. I have a prescription for an antidepressant and a non-Ambien sleep aid that doesn't work as well as I'd like. So I truly became my mother's daughter in Italy, when she and I found a pharmacy in Lucca that would sell us generic Klonopin and Ambien without a prescription, but only two boxes of each a day. We solved that problem by going every day.  You should see the collection in my nightstand now - it's impressive.


But I can't function during the day if I'm groggy, so I have to dance a fine line - I can't take too much too often. And the truth is, there are underlying issues that I have to deal with.

I absolutely adore my job. But it exhausts me, both physically and emotionally. The commute is tiring, thinking and writing all day is tiring, and I'm finding that being in caretaker mode in my job as well as with my kids leaves me with an empty tank. I love working with teachers and making sure they feel supported in their work. I love fighting their battles for them, and being the lighting rod with cranky opposing counsel or irate parents - let them attack me rather than the teachers.  But always taking care of everyone else means I don't take care of myself.

There are days at the office when I'll sit down, start working, and suddenly it's 3:30 in the afternoon and I haven't put anything in my belly all day except coffee. I'll go sleep at night not having had the energy to make myself much dinner, so I'll lie in bed feeling hungry but too tired to get up and do anything about it.  Sometimes when I don't have the kids and I get home from work at 6:30 or 7 and I'm so exhausted that I'll drink a protein shake and go straight to bed.

When I went for my every-eight-weeks blood donation, the nurse who took my vitals beforehand remarked that my hemoglobin levels were so low that I barely made the cutoff for being able to give blood. I don't eat enough, I don't sleep enough, I work too hard, I'm worn out.

So I ate a lot of steak for a week and started taking a multivitamin with iron.

I feel the effects psychologically as well. It can feel lonely. But even if I had the inclination to really try to date, I wouldn't have time for anything but a booty call or a fuck-buddy. Which can be fun, but ultimately not satisfying long term.

So I exercise. And I read and listen to audiobooks. And when we get some decent snow, I'll ski. I try to stay in touch with friends, going to concerts or dinner when I can.

I want to write more. It helps even a little bit.

I can try therapy, if I ever find the time.

So that's where I am.

Yeah.



Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Double digits, plus a month

My dearest, sweetest Zekey,

I am writing your birthday post a month late. I don't think I've ever been so delayed in writing a birthday post for either you or your sister, and I'm kind of at a loss as to how I let it happen.* This will be the subject of another post, but for now my only excuse is that for months now I've felt overwhelmed and exhausted and anxious, and my thoughts have been jumbled and disorganized.  It has paralyzed my ability to write.

So. Back to you.

You're ten years old now. You're smart and athletic and increasingly independent. I encourage that independence - you are free to ride your bike around the neighborhood, walk from school to tae kwon do class to home, as you see fit. You can go to the park with your friends without me. You're friendly and sweet. You're a huge pain in the ass, sometimes.

On your tenth birthday, we were in Italy. Mimi and Papa were in Lucca for a month, so you and Josie and I went for a week.  

In June I had started studying some Italian in preparation for the trip, and sometimes you joined me in studying. You have the family's ear for accents and languages - listening to you practice was lovely and endearing.  I was using the Mango program and loaded the app onto your Kindle, and the next time I opened the app I saw that in addition to Italian, you had started lessons in German, Japanese, and Mandarin. 


You were utterly yourself in Italy. In Lucca, you climbed up walls and jumped off of them, climbed up and down the stairs of Guinigi tower, and hugged the soprano who performed Puccini arias at the San Giovanni church.  You talked to waiters and shopkeepers in Italian, telling them "buongiorno!" "Si, grazie!" "Parlo un po' italiano."

On top of Guinigi Tower.
You climbed the tower in Pisa and explored the basilica.

You can't go to Pisa and not take this shot. I think it's the law.

At the top of the bell tower
You splashed around in the water in Vernazza and enjoyed a snooze on the boat ride along the Cinque Terre.

That water is disgusting, but it didn't stop you (in the black shirt) from fully submerging yourself


You were game and interested in looking at art in Florence.  Granted, you took the greatest pleasure out of taking extreme close-ups of David's junk with my phone, but you also admired the sculpture as a whole. When you walked into the Duomo, your jaw dropped and you exclaimed, "WOW!! Mom, this is amazing!!" When we were in the Uffizi, you did get to the point of saying, "I just can't look at any more paintings or churches," which, fair enough. We all have our limit.

At the Galleria dell' Academia in Florence

On the Ponte Vecchio
Being you, you also had some incredibly difficult episodes. Disagreeable. Oppositional. Infuriating. Frustrating.

I worry about you. You seem to be going through a rough patch. You cling to me and are emotional about the custody arrangement - you hate going back and forth and often tell me you only want to live with me. The divorce obviously still affects you deeply and I feel so guilty for upending your life because of my failed marriage. It's not fair to you.

About a month ago, you said, "Mama? Do you mind if I call you 'mom'? 'Mama' seems kind of babyish."

"Of course," I responded. "You can call me whatever you want. I never insisted that you call me 'mama.' It was just something that you and Josie did and kind of stuck with."

Now you make a point of throwing "mom" into conversations with me, as if you're trying on a suit that makes you look and feel grown up. It's adorable.

But when you're tired or upset, you reach for me and wrap yourself around me and say, "I love you, Mama," as you bury your face in my neck.

Even at the ripe old age of 10, you have no problem expressing your love for me. I'll take it for as long as I can.

Because I love you too, son. So, so much.

Love,

Mama

_____________________
*OK, I checked. I was a month late for Josie's post in 2014, because September of that year was when Emma died and I was a wreck.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

I got you babe

The other day, my friend Karen posted to celebrate her 16th wedding anniversary. I commented, "hey, I remember that wedding!"  

It was an extraordinarily beautiful wedding. It was held at an art museum in Memphis, the huppah was made of roses, and everyone was feeling the love and having a wonderful time.

As the maid of honor, it was my responsibility to make sure Karen's wedding gown was properly bustled.  Her dress had a series of ribbons on the underside of the train and we were having a hard time getting all the ties matched up. 

Finally, I just got down on the floor and crawled under her skirt. 


People laughed, and it was funny, but I didn't give it a second thought. She was my girl, and it needed to be done. It's what women do for each other.

Two of my closest friends and I have a WhatsApp conversation that we've been maintaining for about 10 months or so, which is a continuation of Facebook and text conversations that we've had for a while before that, which is essentially a continuation of conversations we've been having, off and on, for 31 years.

We are in different time zones and different countries, meaning that we have become used to a dialogue with something of a stop and start quality. Sometimes we type, more often we exchange recorded messages. Because I am in the most westerly time zone, there are mornings I wake up and there are 20 recorded messages I have to catch up on. 

Two of us are divorced and are sharing the experience of being a single woman dating in her 40s. Today's messages, for example, focused on my rants that can be summed up thusly: "MEN OF EARTH! BEHAVE LIKE APPROPRIATE EDUCATED HUMAN BEINGS! SHOW SOME RESPECT AND LEARN THE PROPER ORDER OF OPERATIONS FOR DATING!!"*

Sometimes the messages are funny, somethings they're vent-y, sometimes they're shockingly intimate (the statement, "well, at least he didn't have erectile dysfunction" was uttered on at least one occasion).

Sometimes they're either cries for or expressions of help and support. In fact, often they're cries for or expressions of help and support. 

Sometimes if one of us is going on a date with a new guy, the other two stand by on Mass Murder Watch to make sure she's safe.

And we are there for each other, totally. We have 31 years of knowing each other's back stories, of understanding, of familiarity. We have 31 years of having Been Through Some Shit, so we have more wisdom and maturity and strength both to offer each other, and to endure what life brings. I would trust these women with absolutely anything.

Many of my relationships with my women friends are like this. I don't know if it's a function of age and maturity, learning how to support and accept each other more fully than we've ever been either able or inclined to do. It could be a function of getting back what you put out into the universe - be a good friend, cultivate good friendships, and when you need your posse, it'll be there.  

If you're in a funk and you need an impromptu night out and a wing-woman, you're covered. 

If you need help indulging in your fantasy about where to hide the body, you're covered. 

If you need someone to listen and sympathize while you cry, you're covered.

If you need me to get up under your dress on your wedding day, you're covered.

----------------------------------
*Similar, I imagine, to the order of operations for math, or the reason you're always getting those math memes wrong on Facebook. To clarify, meeting and having a conversation in person comes before declarations of love via text message.


Thursday, October 05, 2017

Roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair

My walks to work started three years ago, a month after Emma's death, as a respite from sorrow. To have a regular activity that anchored me in the physical world and took me out of my head a little bit. The daily #walktowork pictures evolved shortly thereafter - it forced me to seek out the beautiful, the interesting, the weird, the funny. It helped me heal, or at least helped the scar tissue develop.

I would do that walk in the rain, and when it was -5 degrees and blowing snow, and when there was dirty slush from a snowstorm 3 days ago. I loved it. I needed it. 


Sometimes I would go down 12th Avenue and walk through Cheesman Park and admire the gardens in peoples' yards.


More often I would walk down Colfax, past the Fillmore and Ogden theaters, past the sex shops and tattoo parlors and marijuana dispensaries. 



Past the 7-Eleven where that crazy-ass lady was friends with the police dispatcher. Past the beautiful gold dome of the state capitol building. 


 Past urban art and urban poetry and blood on the streets.




Yes, that really is a big puddle of blood on the sidewalk, as long as a manhole cover.
And then I got a new job that is 25 miles south of my house. No more walks to work. No more gritty city. No more #dailydenver pictures. 

To be clear, I love my new job. Absolutely love it. But my office is out in the 'burbs and I have to drive. At least it's a counter-commute. 

Still, it's 40 minutes. I rationalize it that it used to take me 40 minutes to walk to work before, so it's the same amount of time commuting. It's not the same commute, though.

I am getting used to it.

I've been listening to a lot of audiobooks, which I'm really enjoying. I listened to some when I walked, but I found I had a harder time concentrating on the story than when I'm in the car.

I've been practicing my Italian in preparation for the trip the kids and I are going on in two weeks. If you need someone to say, in Italian, "this is creamy cod, a typical northern Italian dish," I'm your girl.

I drive through some beautiful scenery - wide open plains underneath wide open skies.

I am, by nature, an optimist. I don't know how to view the world from a place of negativity. So I am learning to like the drive. The routine of it. The views. 

It's not quite the romanticism of the open road, but it has its own charm. I don't mind it at all.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

I see who I want to be, in my daughter's eyes

My dearest Josephine,

This past Thursday, when I was driving you and Zeke to school, we were getting close to the carpool drop-off lane and I saw a dad and his son heading toward the school. The kid was wearing a tie and my heart immediately sank.

"Guys, is it picture day today?"

Zeke said, "yes."

You, with your purple-y mauve-y hair, clean but frizzy and sticking up from having taken a bath and then gone to bed with a wet head, started to cry. You were wearing leggings and a t-shirt. You looked fine, but it wasn't one of your more glamorous days.

"I don't look nice for picture day," you wailed. " I don't look pretty."

"Honey, you do look pretty. Your pictures will come out fine. Don't worry."

"No, I don't. I look ugly. My pictures will be terrible."

I dropped you and Zeke off and then parked the car. I needed to go up to the front office get the forms to fill out so that you could get pictures taken at all.

As I walked through the playground, I saw you with your arms around one of your friends as you sobbed with your head on her shoulder. A gaggle of little girls surrounded you, all rubbing your back.

"It's OK, Josie. It'll be OK."

It was utterly pitiful.

When you saw me there, you came and buried your face in my belly as you cried and cried.

"I can't go to school. I don't look pretty."

You were inconsolable.

"Don't worry, sweetie. It's going to be ok. I'll fix everything. I'll go home and bring you a pretty dress and something to fix your hair. I promise you'll look pretty. I'll take care of it."

I walked you up to your classroom when the bell rang. As I went to leave, I saw Zeke in the hall.

"Is JoJo ok?" he asked.

"She'll be fine. I'm going to go home and get her something to change into."

"Can you bring me a nicer shirt?" he asked. He was wearing a plain blue t-shirt.

"Sure. I'll bring something with a collar."

He smiled at me and went back to his class.

Two hours later, after I had delivered to Zeke his Polo shirt, I stood with your class as it lined up for pictures. I pulled you into the girls' bathroom and helped you change into a dark pink polka dot dress. Back out in the hall, in line with your class again, I gave you one of my old necklaces to wear, brushed your hair, smoothed it down with a de-frizzer, and clipped it back with a big flower barrette.

I felt like a stylist at a photo shoot.

It did the trick. You looked beautiful and polished and photo-ready. You and your friends giggled and held hands.  You were happy again, which was what really mattered to me. Looking pretty was important to you, so I didn't hesitate to make you feel that way.



I thought about that today, your eighth birthday, when I was thinking about writing your birthday post.  That incident, and its juxtaposition with your birthday party today, in which you fearlessly climbed walls while dressed in a Wonder Woman costume, encapsulated what you are right now.




Thursday you were all uncertainty and nervousness, worried about not looking pretty. Today you were all fierceness and confidence. Two sides of yourself, often at war. Sometimes you need me to boost you up, to convince you that your confidence is warranted. Other times you flex your muscles and acknowledge me from afar with a sly wave, as if you know that I'll be there, but you don't need me right at that exact moment.

I try to gauge where you are and adjust my behavior accordingly. I push you to have strength and independence, but will be there if you need to fold yourself into my lap.

I cheer you on when you're riding your scooter with the stoners at the skate park.


I wrestle and do gymnastics with you while we wait for Zeke to finish his football practice. I encourage your means of self-expression, be it pink or purple hair, leather skirts and motorcycle boots and crushed velvet baseball caps.



I feel a great responsibility to let you figure out who you are while making sure you know that I'm here to help you if you need me or want me. It's a beautiful dance that we do.

And you make me so proud. You're so funny. You're such a kind friend. You're so clever. You're so brave. You're such a sassy monkey. You're such a weirdo.

Being your mother thrills me. I absolutely adore you.

Happy birthday, my love. Spread your wings and fly. Be bold. Know that I'm here to catch you if you fall.

All of the love in my heart,

Mama



Sunday, September 10, 2017

Yahrtzeit

At first, a thing you did becomes a thing you did again. And then it becomes a thing you do. It's a Thing.

For the first anniversary of Emma's death, I had some of her ashes and thought it would be fitting to spread them from the top of a mountain. I found the hard climb, and the little ceremony I did at the summit, to be life affirming and emotional and moving and cathartic.

The next year, without even realizing it until it was upon me, I needed to do it again. I hadn't planned it, I hadn't even thought about it that much, I had been sick for over a month. But deep down, I felt like it had to be done, so I did it.

And then it became a Thing. A thing that I would do every year, with its own rituals and requirements.

Christin does it with me every year. We do a different fourteener every year. I wear my green Boston Red Sox hat every year, because Emma was a Sox fan.

Without fail, I cry at the summit every year.

This year we decided to do Grays and Torreys, two peaks that are part of the Continental Divide. They are next to each other but have enough of an elevation drop (at least 300 feet) between them that they are officially classified as different peaks. I don't know who makes up the cabal that decided that 300 feet was the standard, but there you have it.

Because we knew it would be a long day, we decided to stay up in Georgetown for the night so that we could get an early start. We were up at 4:15, out the door by 4:50, and on the trail at 5:30, well before sunrise. Christin is the gear queen, so we were well kitted-out with headlamps, but we could have made our way by the light of the stars and the glowing waning gibbous moon.

Moonglow at 6:15 a.m.
The trail is immediately difficult. The first half hour or so is always hard, because you're getting your muscles and your lungs and your heart warmed up. Plus the trailhead is over 11,000 feet, so you're already at altitude from the very beginning.

On the early part of the trail. You can see the two peaks (Grays on the left, Torreys on the right) with the saddle connecting them.
At first, it's a steady, if not particularly steep, uphill climb. Some of it is on an relatively easy dirt path, but much of it is loose rocks that require care and caution to avoid slipping and falling. Then it gets steep and stays that way, all the way up to the summit.

And it's hard. Man, is it hard. People in these parts like to talk about certain 14ers being "easy." Grays and Torreys are on that list. But for me, there's nothing easy about it. Climbing steep mountains is hard. Altitude is always hard. It forces me to be focused and determined and disciplined as I keep putting one foot in front of the other to make it to the top.

On the steeper stuff, I work in intervals of 100 steps - 100 steps, then I can stop and take a breather as my body works to make new red blood cells. When my breathing gets a little easier and my heart isn't pounding as hard, I say, "ok, let's go," to myself, and I start another round of 100 steps.

Along the way, we say hello to people and their dogs, admire the views, have some water, have a snack, take a picture or two.

The view back, looking at the long gulch we just hiked 
You count steps, you count switchbacks (only 5 more ... only 4 more....). I have an altimeter on my phone, so we counted that as well. "We're at 13,800 - only 400 vertical to go!"

And then we were at the summit of Grays. 




The summit of Grays. You can see from my mouth that I'm trying (unsuccessfully) to stop cryiing.
True to form, we got to the top and I started to cry. I continued to cry as we took our pictures. 

I think about Emma a lot as I hike. What she was like, what she would be like now. What she might be doing. Who she would be. She's there helping me through the steps and the breaths and the exertion. At the top, I get to let it out. 

Then I have to calm down and collect myself, because there is work to be done. There is another peak to climb. I don't know where I will find the reserves to do it. My legs are exhausted and shaking. 

The view of the saddle and Torreys from the summit of Grays.
But there is no way forward except forward, so off we go. Down the saddle, up another steep, steep peak. Even Christin, who has a much easier time with altitude than I do, is struggling. When we get to the low part of the saddle and then have to start ascending again, I can almost hear my muscles say, "bitch, what the fuck do you think you're doing?" It seems impossible.

Fifty steps. Stop to breathe and stretch my lower back. Remember why I'm doing this. "OK, let's go. We're almost there." Fifty steps...

And then we're there. We always get there. It's what happens when you keep going.

Torreys summit



What a gorgeous view
wow

where we've been, and where we're returning
And then it's time to head back. The descent is always welcome, but by the end of the day, it's as grueling as the ascent was. The unstable, slippery rocks are even more unstable and slippery going down, especially when your legs are toast, you're tired and hungry, and you're engaging every muscle in your core and thighs to maintain your balance and pace. 


Then it starts to hail. Because of course it does.

Christin, being the gear queen, simply shrugs and takes a rain jacket and rain pants out of her pack. I, on the other hand, am thankful that I thought to buy a $2 plastic poncho at the Family Dollar the previous night.
 And then we're done. We're exhausted and sore and shaking and our feet hurt. I feel like I couldn't hike another 10 feet if you held a gun to my head. But we did it. Eight and a half miles, 9 hours, two peaks, sandwiches, Kind bars, pop tarts, water, and a large can of Arizona iced tea.

One of the things I thought about as I hiked was the nature of memory, as it pertains to those we have lost. The truth is, most people die and after a generation or so (or less), they fade into history. We're not famous. The events of all our lives - triumphs, losses, love, pain, tragedy - all of those things that are so huge and elemental and overwhelming while we are alive - are often buried with us.

Rituals help. Birthdays, anniversaries, memorials, regular trips to a cemetery. In Judaism, it's the yahrtzeiht - the annual recitation of the mourner's kaddish on the anniversary of a person's death.

The rituals keep a person with us. The memory endures.

I'm not one for prayer, but this thing - this annual climb in Emma's honor on or near the anniversary of her death (which is today) - is an even more powerful substitute for me. It's not just words, or just a feeling. It's an act that requires every ounce of energy, endurance, strength, determination, and concentration I have. And because she is with me for all of it, it's all of my love as well.

This is Emma's yahrtzeit.





Monday, August 28, 2017

Cue the laugh track

Back in the spring, I made an impromptu trip to Virginia to spend Passover with my parents. The kids were with their dad and I was feeling lonely and like I needed to be around family, and I had the miles, so off I went.

While I was there, Lisa came over to say hi. She sat in the kitchen and hung out with us as we all bustled around getting ready for the seder. It was a typical scene for us - my dad cracking goofy jokes, my mom and I laughing as we made preparations, gossiping and telling stories. Noisy and funny and slightly chaotic.

At one point, Lisa made an observation that I found hilarious.

"I love hanging out with your family. It's like a watching a sitcom."

Our annual trip to the Outer Banks (where Lisa and her kids joined us for the second week) lived up to the billing.

We always get a house with a pool, which is lovely for cooling off after a day at the beach. I'm sure the dude who comes to clean the pool thinks we're pigs because we get sand all over the place, but the non-salty water feels so good after all the salt and sand of the beach.

The kids are in the pool CONSTANTLY. I am always amazed at their ability to spend 5 hours in the ocean and then come back to the house and spend another 3 hours in the pool. But they love it, and they sleep well afterwards, so it's fine.

They stayed in the pool even when it was raining.
Now, there are a couple of things you should know going into this story:

  1. Josie still has a hair trigger temper, and can go from sweet-and-calm to losing-her-fucking-mind in about 30 seconds.
  2. Zeke has an oral fixation. He chews everything, and every year we go to the Outer Banks, buy noodles for the pool, and he proceeds to destroy them by taking large bites out of them. It's super weird.

Anyway.

My niece Hazel is the master at thinking up new and exciting games, and for the kids' antics in the pool she came up with Shark. The person who is "it" has to stand at the end of the pool-deck with her back to the pool. The people in the water try to swim across without the shark jumping in and catching them before they get to the other side. I played it with them a few times - it's pretty fun and silly.

One afternoon, I was inside while all the children were in the pool when I heard Josie yelling about something. I'm not quite sure exactly what happened, but when I went outside to see what was going on, there was a big argument going on. Josie was accusing Zeke of cheating, Zeke denied cheating, others from the peanut gallery weighed in. Zeke continued to deny it until Josie became more and more irate.

She proceeded to lose her fucking mind.

She was crying and screaming and furious, ramping up the anger and indignation with every insistence by Zeke that he was innocent.

"YOU'RE CHEATING!! YOU'RE A CHEATER! YOU'RE LYING!"

"I'm not! I didn't do anything."

"LIAR!! LIAR! YOU'RE LYING!! YOU'RE A STUPID MIDGET!! YOU'RE A JERK!!"

"Josie," I implored. "You need to calm down and stop screaming." She was sobbing and out of control.

I also thought to myself, "midget"? what the hell is she talking about?

"I CAN'T CALM DOWN! HE'S A LIAR! HE CHEATED!!" She then turned to Zeke: "YOU CHEATED! YOU STUPID NUGGET!!"

Nugget? So it was nugget and not midget? or maybe both? 

I was getting confused. I was also starting to laugh but I couldn't do it out loud, so I was shaking and trying to keep it together.

"Josie, I don't know what happened because I didn't see it. But if he's being jerky and you don't like the way he's playing, then don't play with him. You always have that choice."

This didn't placate her. She continued to scream and cry as I tried to get her to either calm down or get out of the water and do something else.

At the end of her rope, she was shaking with fury and bellowed at Zeke, "I HATE YOU! YOU'RE A LIAR! YOU MIDGET! YOU NUGGET!! YOU NOODLE EATER!!!"

Noodle eater.

He's a noodle eater. And a midget and a nugget. But definitely a noodle eater. There were, after all, bites of foam noodle floating around the pool at the time.

Can we get this added to Urban Dictionary as an epithet?

Eventually I got her calmed down. She got out of the pool and I dried her off and got her something to eat, and it blew over. It was time for dinner anyway.

I didn't think, when we sat down to dinner, to give Zeke a big grin and offer him a big plate of spaghetti and ask if he wanted to eat some noodles. So it's not quite up to par, as sitcom scripting goes.

I'll have to workshop it.




Monday, June 12, 2017

Like an echo, like a photograph

I miss pictures.

Ya know? Real pictures. The ones that are printed out on shiny photo paper, that have pin-holes in the corners from being tacked up onto bulletin boards, or tape remnants from being stuck on the wall.

When I was growing up, my father was the Official Family Photographer, and he took his job seriously. In my parents' family room, an entire wall is bookshelves, stocked with hundreds and hundreds of books - history, political analysis, sociology, some literature - and then a couple of shelves dedicated to photo albums.

There are at least twenty of them, maybe more, ranging from pictures that my grandparents had of my parents growing up, baby books, wedding albums, and then chronicling the years as Josh and Sam and I grew up, and some as my parents were empty-nesters.

One of the things my brothers and I do every Thanksgiving is sit down and look through a bunch of the photo albums.

I can't imagine losing them.

I guess it would be worse to not have them at all, ever. When I lived in Atlanta in my 20s, my boyfriend's parents had a beautiful house, full of gorgeous furniture and art and books. And one day when we were there, I said, "I don't see any family pictures. Where are all of your parents' picture albums? I want to see pictures of you as a kid."

"They don't have any albums. They never really took a lot of pictures of us."

I found this baffling - and sad - on so many levels. The visual record that my grandparents and parents have of our family, and that my brothers and I continue to add to, is an essential and cherished element of our shared bond and history.

(Also, what the fuck kind of parents don't take a jillion pictures of their kids??)

That's why I'm so adamant about taking pictures, preserving old ones, and presenting them in a way that's digestible - not just a series of files on a phone or computer, but something that is tangible and somewhat curated. I do this by making photo books, including of old photos that I've scanned. One year I borrowed the cracked, falling-apart baby album that my parents assembled in the year after I was born. I scanned all the photos and printed them in a photo book that recreated the album page by page. The last couple of pages had some completely random photos that had nothing to do with baby me - pictures of them and their friends at a wedding or something like that. I always thought it was funny that those pictures got shoved in with the baby pictures, so I included them in the photo book as well.

I don't want to lose these memories. I nag my mother about getting the old family photos scanned.

But then I neglected my own advice.

So, we have this cat that I got because the kids wanted a pet. His name is Scooby.

The kids adore him.

I like him fine. He's fine. He's a nice cat. Whatever.

I'm generally indifferent to cats, and that feeling hasn't changed. If someone came along and said, "hey, I really love cats and I want your cat and I'm taking him off your hands if you don't mind," I'd be all, "OK, sure," and I wouldn't ever think of the cat again.

I can't really see this actually happening. It would be super weird.

But assuming it did, and assuming it were a friend or someone who I didn't have reason to suspect was a cat abuser, I'd be cool with it if I didn't know that the kids would freak out.

Anyway.

The cat chills out in my room a lot, frequently under the bed. He is generally unobtrusive. When he comes to hang out with us, he is friendly and cuddly and purr-y. He has some toys that he usually ignores, but sometimes likes to play with.

And then over the weekend, he went kind of nuts.

The kids have this stuffed snake that had fallen on the floor. It had a slight split in the seam, so some of the stuffing was poking out, but it was a small split and easily fixable.

Until Scooby got hold of it and murdered that poor snake.

Zeke told me about it before I saw it, so at first I didn't realize the extend of the destruction.

"Don't worry, honey, I can sew it up."

"No, it can't be fixed. All the stuffy-fluffy is out."

Indeed it was.

R.I.P.
Then later I went into my room. A picture frame that had been on my night table was on the floor, with the glass and the backing separated from the frame.

Next to it was a photo that had been ripped to shreds.

It took me a second to realize that the photo was one of Emma and me.

It's one of my favorite pictures of the two of us. We're at a beach house on the Outer Banks, I'm sitting in a chair with my feet resting on a ledge, and she's sitting on my lap. She's two or three, wearing shorts, hair in pigtails, rocking an impossibly gorgeous tan. She's telling me something and I have my head cocked to the side as I look at her and listen to her story and smile and marvel at how adorable she is.

And that picture in the frame was the only copy I had. My heart sank. Even though I have so many pictures of Emma, that one was special, and the idea that it was gone, never to be recovered, gutted me.

But it's just a picture, right?

No. It's not just a picture. It's family history. It's irreplaceable.

This is why when people are asked what they would save from a burning house, it's almost always family photographs.

Had I scanned the picture? Maybe I had scanned it.

But I couldn't recall ever scanning it. I looked through my computer, my phone, thumb drives, external storage devices, old discs with pictures on them, anything I could think of. I couldn't find it anywhere.

I was despondent.

Then I remembered. I wrote about it a year ago. And in doing so, had to have scanned a copy to upload it to the blog post.

I still haven't found the file from when I scanned it last year. But I was able to download it from the blog post.  Here it is.


Phew.

So, scan your old pictures. Or write a blog and include pictures on it.

Also, anyone want a cat?


Thursday, June 08, 2017

The summer of love

The sun was shining and the air felt pleasantly warm, but not too hot, as I walked across the street and into the YMCA to pick up the kids. It's already mid-June, but there's always a feeling of "already?" when summer weather finally hits. Invariably, there's a snow storm in mid May (as there was this year), and then the lingering chilliness of spring that lasts right up until the time that it's 60 degrees and cloudy one day and 90 degrees and sunny the next, and then it's summer.

Last Friday was the last day of school, and this past Monday was the first day of camp. The kids were excited. They like school, but they were ready for a break from the grind, particularly Zeke. Summer is when they get to go to YMCA camp, where they hang out with friends and have a different fun field trip every single day - "and we get to do lanyards, Mama!!" They get to ride their bikes around the neighborhood and hang out at the pool, which is three blocks from my house and one block from their dad's. They get to go on vacation - the Outer Banks with me, and then somewhere else with dad. We go hiking and camping in the mountains. I take them to a Cirque du Soleil show.  On super hot days, we might seek refuge in the air conditioning of the the art museum or the science museum or the movies.

Done with school and ready for summer.
And even though my life doesn't change that much during the summer - I still go to work, I still have the kids according to the same schedule - the kids' sense of happiness and relaxation makes me more happy and relaxed, and nowhere is that more evident than in our morning routine.

Here's what most mornings are like during the school year:

I get out of bed at 6 to exercise. I shower. I try to wake up the kids.

"Good morning, kiddies. Time to get up."

"Mamaaaa..." Zeke will groan.

"Come on honey, it's time to get up. You too, Josie."

"No. I'm tired." She burrows under her blankets and sticks a pillow on top of her head.

"I know, sweetie, but it's time to get up. Come on, I'll get you some clothes to put on."

I go pick clothes out for them.

"Come on, guys. Let's go." My voice is not quite as sweet as it was before.

They flop around in bed, moaning about being tired.

I tell them to get up and get dressed, and then I go to brush my teeth.  When I come back, no one has stirred.

"Guys!! Let's go. It's time to get up!"

I get dressed, go downstairs to make myself some coffee, assemble lunch for Zeke (Josie likes to buy it at school), find socks and shoes and books and jackets.

I look at the clock and realize we need to leave the house in 20 minutes if they're going to be on time for school.  I run upstairs. They're still in bed.

"CHILDREN! YOU NEED TO GET OUT OF BED! IT'S TIME TO GET UP!"

"You're so mean!" they respond. But they finally get up.

The next 20 minutes is a flurry of me making breakfast, drinking coffee, putting on my makeup, finding my car keys, "shoes! where are your shoes??" "where's your backpack?" "do you have your Thursday folder?" "the bell is going to ring in 8 minutes, WE HAVE TO GO!!!"

They bicker and dawdle. As we're leaving the house, someone decides to race upstairs to find three things they need to put in their backpacks. Without fail, they are things that do not need to be taken to school.

We finally get in the car and I drop them off with no time to spare, feeling frazzled and tense. Every day, no matter how early I get up, no matter how early they go to bed the night before, no matter how organized I think I am, it's down to the wire every. single. day.

In contrast, this is what it's like in the summer:

I get up at 6 to exercise. Then I shower. By the time I'm out of the shower, they're up, bustling around happily.

"Hi, kidlets! I washed your camp shirts and they're downstairs. Don't forget to brush your teeth."

"OK, Mama!" they chirp.

They get dressed without incident, they eat their breakfast without incident, there's no bickering.

"What are you guys doing today at camp?"

"We're going to Garden of the Gods to go hiking. Yesterday we got to go to the Celestial Seasonings factory in Boulder. It was awesome!"

"Oh yeah? what was it like? what did you see?"

"We got to taste different kind of herbal teas. And we got to go in this room where they process peppermint leaves - it smells so strong that my eyes watered."

"Cool!"

We walk out the door and head to the bus stop. We leave early because the kids like to get to camp with enough time to play before the day officially starts.

"Love you, Mama!" Zeke says.

"I love you too, babe."

"Mama, did you know that herbal teas aren't actually tea?"

"I did know that. They have different kinds of plants and flowers in them."

"Yeah, tea is actually a plant that grows!"

We get on the bus. Sometimes we chat, sometimes the kids strike up conversation with other riders, sometimes they read books, sometimes they play on my phone. We get off at my stop downtown, I walk them to the YMCA, bid them good-bye as they ignore me and race off to see their friends, and then walk across the street to my office.

Everyone is happy and relaxed.

Josie chills out on the sidewalk and plays with her fidget spinner as we wait for the bus.
Yesterday was the first day I had the kids since camp started. I picked them up and they were playing cards and making lanyards with their friends. They were happy and a little tired. We rode the bus home and they told me about their day. We went to the Greek diner on the next block for dinner. No one fought or bickered. Everyone was cheerful. Lovely manners were used at every turn.

Back at home, we watched a little TV (they're obsessed with World Wide Dance), read books for awhile, and went to bed early.

They were content so I was content. There's a sense of calm and peace in the house. I didn't feel as anxious.

When I'm with my children, they center me. They make me laugh and smile.

I'm working the knots, just a little bit.