Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Watch mama open up her arms to hug me, and I ain't worried 'bout a damn thang, with unconditional love

One of my good friends from high school in India - one whom I did not get to see last weekend, unfortunately - is part of an online exercise motivation group I'm in.  Or at least, the group started as merely an exercise motivation group, in which we were all doing a particular Beachbody program and would post daily about our workouts and cheer each other on as we did so.  Over time, it has morphed into a group of good friends, some of whom know each other in real life, and many of whom who don't but feel like they do, posting about exercise, but also about our lives generally. About husbands, ex-husbands, health issues, family dynamics, struggles, celebrations and mournings. It goes well beyond fitness and exercise, at this point, and it's lovely.

It's one of the reasons I will never join the chorus of those railing against the evils and banalities of social media.  Through social media, I am able to connect on a personal, emotional level with people all over the world.  It has enriched my life immeasurably.

Anyway, this friend has been participating in my exercise challenges for years, ever since I started coaching.  She is a tremendously kind and thoughtful person, and always has something sweet and encouraging to say.

Yesterday she posted about visiting her parents, and about how, upon seeing her, her mother made harsh comments about her weight and the size of her butt.  She was, naturally, hurt and discouraged by the comment, though apparently, this is par for the course with her mother.

She remarked that instead of going to see her parents, she should come with me on my vacation to bask in the unconditional love that my family radiates.

I continue to be so eternally grateful for my family's love, comfort and support.  The past year and a half has been so hard, between the split and subsequent divorce, trying to figure out how to get my mojo back as 45-year-old woman trying to reenter the dating world, being a single parent, Emma's death, the recent custody issues.  My self esteem took a beating, I was sad and depressed and anxious, I gained weight and hated the way I looked, I felt old and ugly and undesirable.

Slowly but surely, I am pulling myself out of the mire.  Since January (when I started the online exercise group), I have worked extremely hard to get my fitness back, and I'm feeling and looking so much better - I've been lifting weights and eating properly, and I'm down two pants sizes.  I've tentatively tried to date, without much success yet, but at least I'm putting myself out there - something good will happen.  My children are happy and healthy and beautiful, and are navigating their new reality with a grace that makes me so proud.

Some of it is the natural ebb and flow of life - things are never all bad or all good all the time.  When you're faced with the worst things you can imagine (and honestly, the only thing worse than Emma dying would be one of my kids dying), you spend some time at rock bottom, but eventually things get easier if for no other reason than they can't get any worse and you learn how to deal.

And some of it is that, through it all, I always knew that no matter how often or how far I fell, my family would be there to help lift me up again, because that's what we do for each other.

There has never been a time in my life when my parents or my brothers, upon seeing me, didn't make me believe that I could do anything I set out to do.  That I was smart and strong and capable and worthy of love and happiness.

There has never been a time in my life when my mother has greeted me after a long absence with anything but, "you look wonderful."  Whether I was 10 pounds overweight, had a zit, hadn't slept regularly in weeks, whatever.

It breaks my heart to know that not everybody has that support system, because I cannot imagine living without it.

I feel like I'm on a roll.  Like I've got some momentum.  My India reunion went a long way toward replenishing some of my love and happiness reservoirs.  I'm still basking in that feeling.

And tomorrow, the kids and I are leaving for ten days on at the beach with my family.  My parents, my brothers and their wives, my nieces.  Ten days of relaxing and reading and swimming and going to the movies and just being with each other.  It's an emotional battery recharge.

It makes me believe that things can only continue to get better.  I will find love again.  My kids will continue to thrive.  I will, some day, achieve 6-pack abs.

Well, probably not that last one.  But I'll keep trying, with the help of my friends and family.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Just let me state for the record, we're giving love in a family dose.

After every reunion, I feel like I write the same blog post.  Over and over again.

And in terms of capturing the raw feeling of what it's like for all of us, I can't express it any better than Lisa has.

But what I have been trying to figure out since I returned from my India reunion in DC this past weekend is why.  Or what.  What it is about those people, from that place and that point in my life, that makes our reunions - or any time we get to spend together - feel so much more special than get-togethers with other groups of friends?

I loved UVA, and I love going to my college reunions and seeing my old friends and classmates, but those reunions don't leave me an emotional mess, wishing I could travel back in time and hold on to those days and those people and never let go.

I enjoyed living in Israel and going to my Israel reunions, but it's not the same.

There was some kind of magical alchemy going on in India.  It was being there at the perfect age - old enough to go out on our own and experience the country in a grown-up-ish way - in the perfect place with the perfect people at the perfect school with the perfect teachers and faculty.  Teachers and faculty mostly lived in the school's extensive residential housing, and many of them had kids of their own at the school, so we interacted with faculty not just during class, but on campus and as the parents of our friends.

The truth is, we were, and are, family.  That's the difference.  It feels like coming home to family - to people who you love and accept fully, and who love and accept you, and around whom you feel entirely comfortable and happy.

Upon arriving in India at the beginning of the second semester of my junior year, I became fast friends with a large number of people in 10th, 11th and 12th grades - the school was small, so we intermingled all over the place.  Two of my immediate good buddies were Sarah and Emily, twin sisters who were in 10th grade.  Their dad was also the principal of the high school, and their mom was one of the math teachers.  They lived in an apartment on the edge of the school campus, so I spent a ton of time over there, hanging out and having dinner with them.  I went with their family to Goa for spring break.

So they weren't just school friends.  The whole family were friends-friends, and they treated me like one-of-the-family-friends.  The one time I got detention - for extending my lunch period into whatever class came next - it was like getting detention from my grandpa.  He sort of rolled his eyes at me and said, "you know I have to give you detention, so sit here for 45 minutes and then it'll be over, and by the way, are you coming for dinner tonight?"

When I saw them all - Sarah and Emily, their older brother Win (who was a year ahead of me in school), and mom and dad - at the reunion, I wasn't saying "hi how's it going so good to see you after all these years" to my old high school principal, or reconnecting with classmates that I knew long ago.  I was being welcomed back into the family fold.

Because the reunions are all-class reunions, and because of the nature of diplomatic schools, with people coming and going constantly, I saw many, many people that I didn't know when I was at AES. The reunion included people from the classes of 1962 through 2011.  But there were people that I'd heard of because they were either famous or notorious, or who I had met and become friends with at previous reunions, or who met this weekend when my late 80s crew ran into folks from the early 70s while we were all prowling the hallways of the Hyatt looking for an after-party, and we figured we might as well join forces.  It was like being at a huge family reunion, and finally getting to meet distant cousins that you hadn't grown up with but you knew you would adore immediately.

Because only with family do I feel totally comfortable, totally myself, totally loved and appreciated. Only with family would I get out on the dance floor and participate in a Bollywood-esque dance with Jason (different Jason, obvs) and Kim, and feel like it was the natural thing to do.

Only with family is it normal that Lisa and I would prance around the perimeter of the dance floor to Kung Foo Fighting while erupting in bizarre star-jump-type kicks, and not feel remotely self-conscious.

Only with family do we all end up lounging in Sid's room at the end of the night, talking about childbirth and boobs and love and music.  And sometimes we're just looking around at each other, smiling and enjoying each others' glow.

Only with family do you walk up to say hello to someone that maybe you haven't seen in 30 years, or maybe you saw them last year, or maybe you saw them 5 minutes ago and just got back from the bathroom, and both your faces light up with both happiness and a sense of warmth and comfort that feels like home, and that joy and light makes everyone look ten times more beautiful than they already are.

Only with family do you get into the All Night Long circle, rocking and swaying to Lionel Ritchie at the end of the night, already knowing it's going to make you cry with happiness and nostalgia.  And you do cry.  And so do others.  And it's perfect, because it's family.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail, poisoned in the bushes and blown out on the trail

A couple of weeks ago, before the kids left for Mexico, I was sitting in my office at around 4:45 in the afternoon when I saw that the sky was turning blackish greenish brown.  It had been relatively mild before then, but in a matter of minutes, everything went dark, the wind started whipping sideways, and pellets of hail started hammering at the windows.  Then it started to dump rain, and suddenly there were flash flood warnings and rivers of water running down the street.

These are classic signs that a tornado may be on the way.

The kids were across the street at their summer camp, and when I saw the weather, I knew I had to head over there.  There was crazy rain and hail and a foot of water in the road, but Zeke is terrified of tornadoes, so I figured if the sirens started to go off and we had to shelter in place, better that I be there with him.  So I braved the elements and arrived at the YMCA bedraggled and with my clothes soaked up to my knees, but otherwise no worse for the wear.

As soon as I got there, the tornado sirens started to go off.  My kids, as well as the others who were still waiting for their parents to come pick them up, were already nervous, but at the sound of the siren they all visibly stiffened.  Zeke's eyes got really wide and his breathing became rapid and shallow - he was starting to panic.

"Mama, we're not going to be OK.  WE'RE NOT GOING TO BE OK!"

"We are going to be fine, honey.  I'm here and we're going to be just fine.  We're going to go downstairs to the basement and wait for the storm to pass."

But he couldn't calm down.  He was shaking and crying and scared.  I hugged him to me and tried to reassure him as best I could.

The camp counselors led us to the basement of the building, which is old and solid and has survived many storms in its 100 year history.  We sat on the floor of the hallway and waited.

A number of the littler kids were crying.  I brought them over to sit with me, and soon I had about 6 small children sitting in my lap or huddling on the edges.

"Are my parents going to die?  What if they're caught in the storm?"

"My puppy is outside.  Is she going to die?  She's really dumb and doesn't know where to go."

"What if my house gets hit?"

I tried to think of all my tricks to calm them down.  I gave them my phone to play with.  We sang some songs.  I assured them that their parents would know how to get themselves somewhere safe, and that everything was going to be fine.

I said, "look at the adults around you, including me - our biggest job right now is to keep you safe. Do we look worried?  No?  Then that means that you don't need to worry either.  When the grownups start to freak out, that's when you can freak out, but as long as we're calm, you can stay calm, too."

All of these things placated them somewhat.  But the truth was, they were going to be scared until the storm was over and their parents showed up and the skies were clear again.  Which they eventually were.

I have thought about that day a lot in the past two weeks.

Two Saturdays ago, J and his girlfriend took the kids to Mexico for a 2 week vacation.  I was nervous about agreeing to it, but ultimately decided that it was the reasonable thing to do.

I handed over their passports and loaned him a suitcase and said goodbye.  Then I went home and cried.

I have cried every day since.  It has felt like there was a tornado going on in my head and in my body.  My emotions have left me beaten and raw.  I have been so anxious I felt like I was having panic attacks - I even got my doctor to prescribe me some anti-anxiety meds to keep me from flying right off the rails.  I have been despondent and depressed.  I have been lonely beyond belief.  I have missed my children to the point of feeling physical pain as a result.

I have mourned the loss of time I will have with them.

Not to belabor the metaphor, but the past two weeks I've felt like those kids trying to keep it together during that tornado.  There have been times when I felt like I couldn't deal with what was going on in my life at all.  Then there would be interludes when I would get out of the house to have dinner with friends, or play bar trivia with a local Meetup group, or go to the pool and hang out with my neighbors.  Eventually things will calm down and I won't feel so panicked and unsettled.

Tomorrow my children will come back and I will be able to spend the evening with them.  Then the next morning I will leave for DC for the weekend for another India reunion.  As ever, I am beyond excited to see my friends, but it will be hard to be away from my kids.  But after I get back, I'll have 3 weeks with them, including a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with my family where we'll play Uno and swim in the pool and relax at the beach while trying to avoid being eaten by sharks.

And then we'll get back and have to start working on a new schedule - one that will give me more time to myself and more freedom to try to build a new life for myself, but less time with them.

I have to accept it.  It pains me to accept it, but I have to accept it.  I have to be a grownup about it.

Even if being a grownup sucks sometimes.