Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Valentine's Day nostalgia

My babies are giants. When they hug me, I am still surprised by the scratchy stubble, broad backs, and nearly-grown-men muscles. But they are still my babies. (Don't worry. They know this. They are okay with it. In fact, I think they kinda like it.) Back during the preschool days, we used to spend the week before Valentine's painstakingly addressing cards for classmates. Then during the elementary years, we would have family dinner celebrations, complete with heart-shaped paper plates, crystal goblets (which they looooooved using), and pink frosted cupcakes. A couple of years ago, it was an afternoon poolside picnic. This year, one of the boys has beach plans with his buddies, and the other one is planning a picnic with the new girlfriend (yikes!).   My babies are certainly no longer babies, but before I left for work this morning, I left pink and red gift baggies filled with giant chocolate candy, mushy cards, and cash (they ARE teenagers, after all...), and covered each of their bedroom doors with 14 construction paper hearts of handwritten compliments. Because no matter how stubbly or muscly or grown they get, they will always be my babies--and my Valentines. 

This following was originally posted here on February 14, 2020, on the first Valentine's when they were both in middle school.

I miss those little Valentine's Day cards

My knees barely fit under the table. It was my boys' coveted Little Einstein's arts-and-crafts-and-everything-they-wanted-to-do-table. There were accidental scribbles on it, and pieces of dried up play-dough. The cubbies underneath had mommy-assigned and boys-ignored designations: one was for the crayons, another for construction paper, and another for puzzles. (Needless to say, those cubbies were always a mess and it always drove me crazy.) I spent countless hours at that table. First with Ben, then with Kai, and sometimes with both. We drew. We colored. We made pizzas out of clay. When Ben had to decorate a t-shirt with 100 things of his choice to celebrate the 100th day of school and he absolutely insisted on making 100 paw prints (his school's symbol) in the alternating school colors in glitter, I sat at that table with him: I dribbled the 5 little globs of Elmer's glue with painstaking precision and he sprinkled the blue and gold glitter over each one. It took us days. But it came out perfect.

Today, the first Valentine's Day in which I have two middle school boys, is also the first Valentine's Day that I did not have to buy cards and candy for class distribution. Maybe if I had realized that last year would be the last year, I would not have complained so much about spending money on candy and cards for his classmates. (But isn't that the thing with parenting? You never know when those tedious tasks you rush through and sometimes dread...bedtime stories, bathtub battles, carrying them asleep to their rooms...will be done for the last time.)

I feel like it was simultaneously yesterday and a million years ago that I sat at that little table, for a few consecutive years, helping them form the letters of their classmates' names and making them fit on those teeny Valentine's Day cards. There were the years in which one or both would insist on finding just the right cards: they had to be Mickey, or Transformers, or sports, and we would have to go to multiple stores to find them. Doing those cards with them was one of those tasks that took forever, and I wondered over and over again why I wasn't doing what so many of the other moms would do: simply label the To/From myself. But it was one of those things that mattered to me. As a teacher and a mom, I felt that these were those important moments when your 2 year old kinda learns how to write and your 5 year old kinda learns some patience. It was tedious and tried my patience probably even more than it tried theirs. I don't really recall with absolute certainty the last time I did it with them. I think I was on the couch instead, and they were kneeling at the coffee table. It was more of a making sure they were following through and their handwriting was neat enough to fit within the card than actually doing it with them. I was probably a little impatient then, too.

This morning I excitedly placed their Valentine's Day gift bags and cards on the breakfast counter. Bags filled with nonsense that took me almost an hour to find at Target yesterday. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to find something cheap and Valentine-y to give a 14 year old who is now shaving?!?) As I roamed the store aisles, I debated skipping the whole thing. Why spend $40 or $50 on cards and junk and candy they really don't need? But the truth is, they're still my babies and I actually miss sitting at that little table and being annoyed and wondering how much longer it would take to go through that darned preschool class names list so I could go deal with dinner or watch TV or take a frickin shower. Those days felt endless. I felt like I was trapped in a perpetual fog of little kid responsibilities and mommy minutiae. And yet here we are now: I am spending my Valentine's Day remembering that little table and those little hands with the dimpled knuckles clutching the fat pencils and clumsily forming the letters of their names.

What I realize now, all these years later, is that all those hours I spent torturing myself by making all those Valentine's Day cards with them weren't just about their handwriting and spelling skills. It was about Me and Them Time. Days like today, when their time is spent in a whirlwind of adolescent distractions, and I am but a blip in their day, I can think back to the days at that table and sit with those memories. I can miss them. I can relish them. And I can know that even if they don't think that those days were particularly important, they were for me. Much more so, in fact, now that they are long gone. Don't get me wrong: I want no part of parenting little kids anymore. I love the young men they are becoming and the relationship and life we all have now, but those days filled with messy art tables and Transformer heart cards are forever etched in my heart. And those two big kids right there...they will forever be my little Valentines.

A blurry picture I managed to find of THE Table

2019 Notice the fancy drinkware
2019...check out the fancy drinkware

2020 I thought they were so grown that year!
2020...and I thought they were so big then!

My forever Valentines
My forever Valentines

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Our teenagers still need us

When my children were little, I was exhausted from all the work:  pottytraining, playdates, homework, bake sales, sleepless nights. I worried about their friendships, their grades, their eating habits, and their manners. There were so many moments I thought: “I can’t wait for them to grow up and go to high school, so I don’t have to worry so much and have so much to do!”

Joke’s on me.

The potty training has been swapped with nagging about keeping their bathroom clean. The playdates have turned into epic teenage hangout sessions. I’m still worrying about their eating habits, grades, manners, and I won’t even get into the fretting about friendships. The sleepless nights I spent rocking, changing, or feeding are now replaced with checking their locations on my phone, hoping they are making good choices, and waiting up for them to get home safely.  

The reality is: our teenagers need us.  Maybe not in the same ways they did when they were babies or toddlers or school age, but perhaps even more so. 

A wise friend (who obviously had grown children) once looked at me when I was complaining about how hard it was to raise little kids. He chuckled and said: “Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.”

Parenting a teenager is scary, but if we are going to be fair, being a teenager is scary, too. Kids nowadays have a lot more on their plate than we did: academic and athletic pressures, navigating college admissions, and the infamous game changer with which we didn’t have to contend: social media. The rate of depression, anxiety, and suicide among teenagers is staggering. Despite what they may think, our high schoolers need us to be involved, maybe now more than ever before.

I know, as parents, we are tired—really tired. And let’s be honest, half the time, most of us would not even begin to know how to help with that geometry homework, but these are not the years to take a step back. So, here are some things we can do at this stage of the parenting game:

Talk to your teen. A lot and often and about everything. I know…they don’t always seem like they’re paying attention, but they are—more than we realize.

Listen. Listen even more than you talk. Do so without turning every situation into an interrogation or a lecture. Try very hard to not react. If you’re doing it right, you will probably start hearing some things that will make you want to gasp and lock them in their rooms until they are 30. However, doing this will guarantee that your teens will stop communicating with you as openly as you need them to.

Ask questions. If you are sitting there, thinking: “My child never tells me anything,” strategically posed questions can help nudge them to share more. For example, instead of asking “How was your day?” try “Tell me about the best and worst part of your day.” Plus, asking questions about what’s important to them will show that you care about those things. “What do you like about your new friend, so-and-so?” or “How did your team feel about that game loss/win?” or “Which video game/book/movie/Netflix series is that?” When there are empty spaces in the conversation, don’t rush to fill them. Often, once we can get them to start talking, they realize they have a lot to say—especially if you are truly listening (see previous bullet!).

Get involved in school. Even if your schedule is too full to volunteer for events, joining the PTSA is essential. Not only does that help the school (read: your kid!), but it will keep you in-the-know on all things school. Check their grades—often. Ask about assignments, teachers, fieldtrips. Join the school’s social media page. Go to open house! (Yes, you should still go to high school Open House!)  Attend anything and everything you can.

Get to know their friends. Consider being the parent taxi for events. You’d be amazed by the tidbits of information you can collect while they talk in the backseat. Encourage your teen to invite friends over to the house. Yes, I know what kind of noise and chaos a group of teens can make in a house. Trust me: I have two teenaged boys. The long-term payoff will be worth the short-term mess left in your kitchen.

Talk to other parents. Our kids didn’t come with instruction manuals. We can all learn from each other, and there’s nothing more validating and relieving than hearing another parent has gone through the same thing. We should be each other’s greatest allies.

Respect your teen. I can’t take credit for this tip. After reading this article to my 17-year-old, I asked him if he could think of anything else, from a teen’s perspective, that a parent could do in order to be more involved and connected at this stage. He tilted his head for a minute after listening to me, and with almost no hesitation, replied: “If parents really want to know how to win over their kids, it’s by giving them respect. Kids won’t listen to their parents or care what they think if they don’t respect them. If we feel like we are being respected, we will give that back.” Out of the mouths of babes.

Seek help. Sometimes, no matter what we do as parents, we need more help. Talk to a school counselor, a therapist, or search for community organizations that can help. Getting through the teen years is ridiculously hard (for everyone); there is no shame in asking for help.

These days, I have many moments when I think: “I wish I could go back to when they were little and it was so much easier!” But then I look over at my teens, in their nearly adult bodies, who think they know it all, and I catch glimpses of those two little boys who kept me so busy all day and night. So, I know I have to continue putting in the hard, exhausting work that they need at this age. And when I’m lying awake, worrying and checking their locations on my phone, I tell myself: “Hey, at least I’m not changing diapers…” 

Saturday, October 22, 2022

There is no such thing as a routine mammogram when your sister had breast cancer

Ten years ago this month, my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer.

We had no family history. She did not have a lump. And they only found it because she is ridiculously, brilliantly diligent: she never skips an annual exam of anything, and when they told her she should have annual mammograms and ultrasounds "just to be safe" due to the density of her breasts, she did so. The mammogram didn't catch it, but the ultrasound did. It was small and stage 1. The type of cancer she had was the most aggressive kind, and it is very possible that if she had skipped a year...because ya' know, we don't really have that in our family...she may not be around right now.

Yes. Happy ending. 
She's happy and healthy and all is well.
I won't say she "beat" cancer, because I've always felt that to say that about those who survived is to imply that those who didn't, didn't fight hard enough. Cancer is a bitch. And sometimes, no matter what you do or what you believe or how much of a great attitude you have, cancer wins. 

So, yes, we are some of the lucky ones.

That's not to say she didn't fight. She fought like a bad ass. She not only listened to her doctors' recommendations, she challenged them, went beyond them, did what was right for her, and did it all with a sense of humor. (After each of her multiple surgeries, she would swing her drains around like a pin up girl with a feather boa and drawl: "Look, Lizy, aren't I sexy?").

At the time, I don't think I processed it all too much. Some of it might have been self-preservation (read: denial). Some of it might have been that I was in the throes of raising two little boys. I look back and often wonder: "Good God, how did we all make it through that? How did she make it through all that?" We all know--or can imagine--how hard the war with cancer is, but the details...the everyday, the private horrors...It is amazing how we, as humans, can put our "big girl pants" on and do what's gotta be done.

My sister has some physical scars from her duel with the big C, but I'm pretty sure all of us have some emotional ones. She says her cancer changed her life. She's proud and relieved to say that she's "one of those" who feels she is better off because of it. I suspect we all are. I don't think any of us take much for granted (most days), but every May when I walk into that dark room in my paper robe, I have to remind myself to breathe. I never, ever miss my annual appointment. I don't even allow it to run "a little late." I feel like that's one small way I can pay homage to my beautiful, brave sister. 

So, ladies. Don't miss that appointment. Don't skip it. Don't put it off. Because you're probably fine. But you owe it to yourself and all those who have fought the fight to put on that damn paper gown, walk into that room, and breathe.


In honor of breast cancer awareness month and my sister, here are a couple of posts I wrote back then. 

My Sister Has Breast Cancer (or Time to Put on Your Big Girl Pants)- I wrote this one while sitting in the waiting room when she was having her double mastectomy on November 3, 2012

My Sister HAD Breast Cancer (or: Time to Pop Open the Sangria) - I wrote this one after celebrating her last clean scan on February 3, 2016.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

My babies are in high school...together

Today my babies went to high school together. The same babies for whom I started this blog. The same babies I thought would never grow up and let me sleep in late on a weekend or take a shower in peace. I started this blog to survive the early years of motherhood...a time I found awe-inspiring, disorienting, overwhelming, and exhausting. Now, here I am: standing in my driveway, waving, taking pictures, watching them walk together to Ben's car, put their backpacks in the trunk almost in unison, get in the car, and drive off. 

For the last 12 years, we always had one or both of our boys with us at our school where we teach. We drove the 40-minute commute in different combinations: somedays all four of us; other days split into pairs (those mornings when we knew the boys sitting in the back seat together for that long was going to be a really bad idea); and yet other days split into a ratio of 1 to 3 ("You take them today because I have them in the afternoon and I really need some quiet time this morning.").

For the last 12 years, they were always around...hanging out in our classrooms in the mornings or afternoons, being excused from class to see us because they needed something for a headache, or a form they'd forgotten to get signed, a snack, or just because they were running an errand for their teacher and stopped by on the way to say "hi." And my husband's and my favorite moments: those spontaneous, unexpected sightings in the hallways which would usually result in a high five, a passing joke, or (especially these last couple of years with our "gentle giant") a body-jarring hug.

Today, Aidan Kai (aka The Baby) started high school.

We overhead them talking about it last night:

"Don't worry, Kai. We'll get there early and I'll walk you around to all of your classes so you'll know where to go. And maybe I can even meet you in between some of the classes." 

"Ok, thanks, Ben. And oh, can we use our phones in class, or is it like elementary and middle school?"

"No," Ben held back a chuckle. "You can use your phone."

"Then can I text you during the day?"

"Yeah. Sure." 

We were ready, as parents, for this new chapter. We were ready to be, for the first time, just Mom and Dad, and not Mr. and Mrs. A...to be able to let go after having them with us from kindergarten to 8th grade...to know they will be in situations--academically and socially--that we not only will know very little about, but will also not be able to step in and intercede. We have no "pull" now.

Knowing Aidan Kai, who has always been a little shyer, a little less daring socially, will have his big brother there to guide him gives us peace of mind. And to know Ben actually wants Kai there...that gives us a satisfaction we cannot express. We spent their whole lives trying to get them to bond, to rely on each other, to be kinder to each other than to anyone. Years spent camping and traveling and playing and talking...we think they are paying off now. 

Towards the end of last school year, Ben told me: "You know, I'm excited about Kai coming to school with me next year. I think it's going to be fun to have him there, to be at the same school again."

Our boys...


Today when I got home from work, before I wrote this post, I went back to my first-ever blog post about the boys. It made my heart ache a little for those babies, but it also made my heart swell with pride and joy and excitement watching who they are growing up to be as individuals, but also, as brothers. 

*Here's my original post from March 8, 2009.

Introducing: The Boys

Here they are...the source of much of my joy and frustrations: The Boys.

Ben's 3 1/2. He's a rock star, for sure. And not only in his parents' very biased minds. Everyone who knows him thinks he's a rock star. So does he. Fortunately, on most days, we totally lucked out with this one. He really is everything you'd want your kid to be: funny, smart, athletic, and (almost always) sweet. But we are well aware that we need to keep a tight leash on this one. He's scary bright. He also inherited some of his parents' "best" qualities: stubborn and opinionated. His favorite sayings? "Watch me," "Try to catch me!" and "I know that."

Then along came Aidan Kai. The name "Aidan" means "fire." The name "Kai" means "ocean" in Hawaiian. So there you go...a walking contradiction. He's only been around for 7 months, but he's already given us our share of contradictory feelings as well: "Isn't he the cutest thing EVER?" and "Why the heck did we want another one, again?" He spent the first 4 1/2 months of his life wailing, shrieking, crying, and making everyone around him state the obvious: "But Ben was never like this!" And although he now spends most of his time flashing his dimples, he's still known as our "High Maintenance Boy." I feel strangely protective of Aidan Kai. Perhaps it's all the sibling comparisons from everyone, perhaps it's the dimples, perhaps it's the High Maintenance label that has been permanently affixed to him, but I can just relate to him. I can't wait to see what kind of kid he's gonna be.


Thursday, January 20, 2022

Holding On


I used to sneak into your room

while you slept

your chubby little arms up over your head

in relaxed tiny fists

the dimples on your cheeks

matched the ones on your hands


no matter how big you grew

no matter how distant your infancy started to feel

I would foolishly measure your little-ness

by those hand dimples


innocent, soft, milky white hands

with sweet short fingers, neatly trimmed nails

tiny peekaboo dimples over each knuckle

assuring me of what still remained:

your baby-ness and mushy-ness and delicious-ness


as long as I could still see those tiny hand dimples

I could believe you were still a baby

My baby

they filled in a while ago

along with your face and shoulders and arms

you are truly living up to your nickname now

The Gentle Giant

your shoulders almost as broad as your daddy’s

your muscles almost as strong


when I hug you

I have to get on my tippy toes

your arms surround me and make me question


at this point

is protecting who


those tiny, boyish, dimply hands are now

nearly the largest in the house

they open jars and lift heavy things

and can now hold me back with ease

when I try to tickle or wrestle with you

like we used to


the sweetness and softness are still there

when you humor me and still let me

hold your hand in the car while I drive

but now my hand is enveloped

swallowed by yours

they are grown-man-hands

but still feel like my baby’s hands


I snuck into your room last night

your now chiseled face was nearly hidden

by your Jurassic Park comforter

your body so big that

one foot nearly touched the wall at the end of the bed

it made my heart sing and ache to see that

your hand was curled around

an orange stuffed dinosaur

but as I leaned in to steal a silent kiss

I most definitely did not see


hand dimples

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Kai turns 13: No more babies here

You turned thirteen today.

When you were in my belly, I used to tell your Daddy: "This one is gonna be mine." Your brother always had a special bond with your father and so I used to joke that I was going to keep you for myself. "He's gonna love me the most," I used to say.

You cried for nearly the whole first year. (Everyone who was around back then can agree that this is not an exaggeration on my part.)
Then, you gagged on every Cheerio and sip of milk and nibble of pancake and spent the next year puking unpredictably.

But man, were you cute.

And funny.
And smart.
And sweet.

You have always been able to wrap me around your little finger. When you were a toddler, you would follow me around the house, clutching at my shirt, my pants, whatever you could grab hold of, whining and crying up at me: "Up-a! Up-a! Up-a!"  You would not stop until I picked you up and carried you around on my hip, as I filled the dishwasher, made dinner, helped your brother get ready for school. Your father insisted I had to stop, that I was spoiling you, that that's why my back hurt all of the time. You only did this when I was home. (I think I secretly loved this.)

You wore eye glasses since you were a year old. When the eye doctor told us you were ready to graduate from your blue plastic wrap around glasses to "big boy glasses," you knew exactly the ones you wanted: the Sponge Bob ones from Costco. We spent the afternoon driving back and forth from the doctor's office to the store and back to get them fitted and ready. The look of pride and joy on your face when you got to show those little glasses off was worth the price of gas and time in traffic.

You always loved animals, especially elephants. When you turned four, we took you to an elephant sanctuary where you climbed right up on top of Luke, the Asian elephant, for a photo op. No fear. No hesitation. I believe at one point you might have owned (and slept with) over 20 different stuffed elephants.

You had these little dimples on the backs of your hands. Around the time you were ready to go into kindergarten, I noticed they were starting to fill in. I became slightly obsessed with those little dimples. I knew once they were gone, it meant your precious little baby hands had turned into big boy hands. Now, your hands are nearly the biggest in the house and they look like grown man hands. When we are in the car together, sometimes I will reach over for your hand, and you never pull away. You sit there in the passenger seat, holding my hand, sometimes even sweetly rubbing your thumb over mine.

We call you the Gentle Giant. In the last year, your shoulders have broadened, your arms have developed muscles, and your jawline has widened. The other night, the four of us were rough housing on the couch. Your brother and Daddy were holding you down so I could tickle you. Even between the two of them, they had trouble. "He is pure brute strength," Ben whispered in shock. "Babe, I could barely hold him down," your father admitted. Yet, you would not hurt a fly and when you and your older brother really do get into it, you never fight back.

When your grandmother turned 80, you spent hours teaching yourself how to play "Happy Birthday" on the saxophone.
When your brother complained yesterday about wanting more sushi, you offered him yours.
When your dad and I got sentimental watching the finale of Schitt's Creek, you put an arm around each of us and leaned your head up against mine.

It is very hard to put into words what a special soul you are. Everyone who knows you, though, knows it. You win everyone over with your kindness, gentleness, silliness, and sweetness.

I can't believe you are a teenager. Although it makes me a little sad to know your "little boy days" are behind us, I am so excited to see you continue to grow and mature into the amazing man I know you are going to become. I am ridiculously honored to be your Mommy, and I mean it when I say you will always be my little baby. I love you all the way to the stars, Aidan Kai. Happy Birthday. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

I fell in love with Hawaii a very long time ago...

In honor of our departure tomorrow for our second trip to Hawaii with the boys...

...a throwback post explaining how my love for these islands began and how I felt right before we took our boys for the first time.        (originally posted here on June 14, 2016)

It's "just" a trip.

Old Lahaina Luau 2004

I fell in love with Hawaii instantly. The first time I went was in 1996, and I felt like I was home, even though I knew that didn't make any sort of logical sense. I attributed this feeling with being young and not having had much travel experience. I figured it was normal that I fell in love with such a beautiful place if I hadn't been to too many other places. I wasn't sure when or how, but I knew I'd be back. Fast forward 8 years. I had been divorced, remarried, and had a few other really beautiful places under my travel belt. I surprised my husband for his 30th birthday with two tickets to Maui. I worried he would not love it as much as I had, and I worried even more that I would not love it as much as I thought I had. Like so many other things we fret about in life, both of those concerns were pointless: I loved it even more than I had the first time, and he had the same exact reaction to the sights, culture, and feel of the island.

Watching sunrise at 10,000 feet at Haleakala Crater 2004

At this point in our relationship, we had been struggling to start a family for a while, and while on our trip we both agreed that we would give it one more year. If after one more year of trying, we could not get pregnant, we would take it as a sign that it was not meant to be and we would pack up and move to Hawaii.  We returned from the trip feeling homesick for a place we weren't even really from, and started investigating cost of living and swapping our Florida teaching certificates for ones from the State of Hawaii. We discovered we were pregnant 8 months later. Raising a child away from our families and the grandparents (Hello...free babysitting!) was not an option. We shelved the "We Are Gonna Move To Hawaii Life Plan" for a bit. When Ben was 18 months old, we left him in the very capable hands of his grandparents and returned to Hawaii--this time to the island of Oahu--for a glorious getaway for our 5 year anniversary. Little did I know that my husband had been planning a surprise renewal of vows ceremony, complete with a minister and professional photographer.

Renewal of vows ceremony at Halona Cove Beach 2007

That night was the beginning of yet another magical few days spent in Hawaii. At the conclusion of that trip, sitting on the most amazing white sands of Lanikai Beach in Kailua, we decided two things: we wanted to have another baby (even though we had sworn we would only have one child) and once they were both old enough to appreciate it, we would return for a summer in Hawaii with our kids.

That was almost 10 years ago.

Tomorrow we leave on that trip.

We've been talking about it for years, and actively planning it for three.

It's only a trip, I keep telling myself. It's only a trip.

But really, who am I kidding?

This is not just a trip.

This is a dream.

And we made it happen.

We rented a little house on the sand on the North Shore of Oahu. We will be there for half the summer--a whole month. We are flying for 3 days in the middle of the month to Maui. We will take our boys back to all those places we loved and hope they love it as much as we have. There have been many sacrifices made for this trip...big decisions and little ones. And for a long time I wondered if this would ever happen. It's hard for me to explain how important this trip is. Making this a reality is proof to myself that I can choose the kind of life I want to live: that I can prioritize what is really, truly important and make it happen. Although I understand that this is not really an accomplishment, I still feel a sense of pride that we did it: we made it happen. We're really doing this.

I have wondered what my reaction to the islands will be this time around. Can they possibly meet my expectations yet again? Will I get that same feeling...like I'm home? Will I again feel homesick when it's time to return to my real home? Or will I realize that, after all the traveling and cool places I've been to in the last decade, Hawaii is just one more wonderful, amazing place? Will I feel like: okay, I'm good now. No more longing for a Hawaiian relocation...?

I wonder. I don't know. But I do know one thing for sure: after this month, I will be able to say I spent a summer with my kids in a little house on the North Shore of Hawaii.

No big deal. It's "just" a trip.


Mai Tai-ing It in Waikiki 2007

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

I Think COVID Fatigue Stole My Cinco de Mayo Mojo

Cinco de Mayo always gave us an excuse to act like college kids. Imagine a bunch of forty-year-olds running around in bathing suits and giant sombreros, posing for pictures with inflatable, human-size Corona bottles, licking salt and sucking lime wedges to soothe the tequila sting right before jumping into the pool. My girlfriends and I would spend the few weeks prior scouring Amazon, Target, Walmart, and Etsy for THE Perfect Cinco De Mayo Adorable Tank Top. My husband and his friends would spend the same weeks growing out ridiculously unattractive mustaches. You'd never guess based on these descriptions that we are mostly all incredibly respectable, often quite Type A, never-late-on-a-mortgage-payment, sometimes even a little boring grown ups. Which is probably why we love throwing these parties: they let all of us loosen up and have a good time with each other. (The tacos are a bonus.)

I spent Cinco De Mayo of 2020 moping. I longed for my backyard to be filled with tipsy friends and loud music and itchy, stick-on, dollar store mustaches that would always inevitably get gross and sweaty and fall off. 

"When this is all over, I'm going to throw The Biggest Damn Cinco De Mayo party EVER!" I declared. "I'm going to throw a July 4th party too! And St. Patrick's Day! What about Easter?!? Can I throw a loud Easter party? And I was thinking of a luau...!"

I swear, I am not exaggerating. That might have even been a direct quote.

That's how I got through COVID Cinco: planning all the parties I was going to throw in 2021.

Yet here we are. There are no stacks of tacky sombreros or liters of tequila sitting in the pantry waiting for the party guests. There are no five-pound bags of shredded cheese in my fridge. There are no plans being brainstormed to convince the local grocery store manager that we must have the Corona store decorations with the face cut outs for a cultural project for our schools (yes, those stories have worked every single time).  And I realized recently that there is also no desire for this party. 

I can't figure out why. COVID is definitely not "all over," but things--and life--are definitely more normal. We have found a way to live within this new (hopefully still temporary) normal. I don't have a reason other than: I just don't feel like it. 

I am realizing that I just don't feel like doing a lot of things lately. Some of it is life, its hectic-ness, the end of the school year. Some of it (I admit this begrudgingly) are these new hormones that seem to be insisting on warning me that my 50s are approaching. But I think that some of it is the mental and emotional fatigue of this past year...the sensation that I am still getting my bearings after these last 14 months.

I just don't always feel the lightness and frivolity of my pre-Covid self.

And I think that I'm going to give myself permission to be okay with that for now.

So this year, I'm going to dig out my perfectly adorable Cinco de Mayo tank top circa 2019, have a margarita (or a few) with some friends, and possibly plan The Biggest Damn Cinco De Mayo Party EVER for another year. Maybe it will even be next year. Don't worry. I'll give y'all enough notice to order your shirts and grow out your mustaches. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

A not-so-private love letter

I wrote this in 2010 and it was originally posted here, as part of a love letter blogging challenge. Eleven years ago, and this--all of this--still rings true.

Happy 19 years to the man who will forever remain my buzz long after last call.

Dear P, 

When Momalom put out a challenge to write a love letter, you immediately came to mind. I hesitated, though, because really...what would people think...that I am choosing to profess my love to my husband? And on the Internet?? Seriously, how corny and codependent is that? I thought of so many other clever "loves": my stilettos, my cocktails, my pillow. Even writing a love letter to my children, although very predictable, would have been more acceptable, I suspect.

But I chose you. I think I owed it to you and to Us to be honest. To put it out there. You have never been afraid to shout it from the rooftops. And as loud as I usually am, I think you deserve a little more noise from my side.

Plus, our love affair started on paper...post-its stapled shut, letters on notebook paper...the lines impossibly and frantically filled with confessions, promises, and fears.

So let me just say it...the cliche...the thing so often found inside greeting cards this time of year: I don't know how I got so lucky.

I don't.

I look around and find it impossibly delicious that you are mine.

There was something about you, from the beginning, that made me stop breathing. Literally. I would stop breathing when you walked into a room. What is that? Really. What is that? And although I can say I think you're hot as hell, and although I am sure you'd love to hear that it was your amazingly rugged good looks that did it to me, it wasn't. It was something else entirely. Although, even now, ten years later, I still can not name it.

The absolutely most amazing thing about it is this: when you walk unexpectedly into a room, and I look up and am surprised to see you, in that moment when the realization hits that it is You, I still get a flutter...there is still a very slight, very shallow, very sudden intake of breath. Oh. It's you.

Some of my love is shallow and silly. Sometimes, when we're out on a date night, I scan the room. I look at all the men there and I pretend I don't know you and I am always amazed that you are the only guy I would want to buy me a drink. And probably take me home.

Some of my love is the kind that can only grow from the everyday: raising children, paying mortgages, real life. When the children are sick, you wake up right alongside me (sometimes without me), you take the temperatures, you clean the vomit, you hold them close until they fall asleep. You make them feel safe. When the house needs cleaning, when the dinner needs cooking, when the laundry needs doing, you just do it. You don't point it out. You don't ask for props. You never call it "helping."

But even more than my partner at home, you're my partner in crime. There is no one I have more fun with...no one I'd rather get slammed drunk with....no one makes me laugh as much as you do. How is it that I have married a man who can be at a club with me til 4:00 in the morning, partying like a frat boy, and then be Daddy the next day, so often better than I can be Mommy?

You love like no one I know, yet you don't offer it easily. It's hard to get to you. It's hard to matter in your life. As sensitive and passionate as you are, you reserve that for a very select few. You simply don't have time, you say. And, as you so honestly put it, just don't care. You don't care about being politically correct. You don't care about what others want or expect. You answer to nearly no one. Yet for those of us who have been lucky enough, your loyalty is frighteningly intense. You will go to the ends of the earth for someone you love, but always expect the same in return.

From the beginning, you put me first. That was our deal. Above everything and everyone, we would make Us our priority. And even after the kids came, even after life became more and more difficult to juggle, you've held me to that. You've held Us to that. When I get caught up in Life: the bills, the responsibility, the kids, the general noise inside my head, you call me on it. You want to talk. To drink wine. To listen. To love.

I love you as much for this constant desire to make time for us as for your absolute refusal to put up with my shit. I can be tough. I can be clingy. I can be whiny. I can be bitchy. You call me on that, too.

Yet despite your total and complete commitment to me, you have your own life. You have your passions outside of Us. You need your time away, your time alone, to be your own self, separate from being mine, or ours, or theirs. Your love for the outdoors, for your bikes, for testing your limits, makes me love you even more. You are, without question, your own person, apart from your family. And so you understand why I need to have my own things, too. It is what makes you understand all of me...my blog, my friends, my interests, my latest crazy idea.

That is the best thing about you, I think, if I had to pick one (other than those forearms of yours): you understand me. Really, and truly, you understand me. You've seen my absolute best and, embarrassingly, my absolute worst, and everything in between. You not only accept who I am, but you want me to be more of it: you are the one who constantly reminds me to stop being afraid of myself.

So, no. I don't know how I got so lucky. I don't know what happened or how it happened or why it happened. Sometimes I look around, at you, at our kids, at us, and I still can't believe this has worked. I can't believe we are this happy...this in sync. So, yes. My love letter had to be to you. Because there is nothing and no one I love the way I love you.



Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The More the Merrier (as in more friends, but yeah, more writing too)

I've been revisiting a lot of my old writing lately.

Since I recently started taking online writing workshops, I needed to carve out some sort of daily work space for my writing and lessons. Silence has always been big for me. And no clutter. I like a space that feels my own and is silent.

Reality check.

I live in a tiny, noisy, love-filled house that I share with my three favorite humans. (Two of those humans are boys--teenage boys.) They are all amazingly respectful of my writing time: they turn down their TVs (to still-audible-in-the-other-room-levels), always apologize after they interrupt me, and only roughhouse and bond loudly over inappropriate jokes with their dad until they remember I'm sitting there.

I realized the writing had not been happening for way too long, so it was time to stop making excuses and find a way to adjust (anyone who knows me probably chuckled right there..I'm not known for my flexible adaptability). So here's what I did: I completely commandeered the dining room table (which is literally only used for actual dining when it's my turn to host book club and the rest of the time is the holder of all things random and pending). My shiny new red laptop and adorably kitschy turquoise mouse now sit there, along with printed reminders of my writing. My writing notebook. The 9 instructional books I wrote. The anthology in which one of my essays was published. And my blog books which hold 12 years worth of my writing.

Twelve years. Lately, every time I looked here, on this blog, instead of noticing how much I had written over the years, I would focus on the gaps of time between posts. I would focus on how many ideas never got put to paper (or screen). So while taking these courses...recreating and rebuilding my writing practice...I needed some reminders of what I've created through the years. Now, when I sit at my no-one-ever-dines-here-dining-table, I feel like it's my space. It is far from silent and somewhat cluttered, but I'm using the noise in my head to tune out the gaming noises and episodes of "Breaking Bad," and the clutter that sits on this table inspires me to remember what I have done and what I can do. 


The following essay was published in The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship (edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger of The HerStories Project.) It was originally posted here on September 30, 2010.

The More the Merrier

I've been thinking a lot about friendships lately.

My dearest friend's 7-year-old granddaughter is having some issues on the playground. She can't quite understand how her best friend can be her best friend one day and completely ignore her the next.

"That's just rude, Gram. And it hurts my feelings."

It's tough being a girl. Women are difficult creatures. We desperately need each other but we push each other away, claw and snap and bitch, and talk behind each other's backs.

My friend assured her granddaughter that "one day" she'd find that one true best friend:

"Really, Gram? You promise?"

"I promise."

I told my friend that I thought that had been a terrible promise to make (we're honest like that). I'm not sure I really believe in the notion of a best friend anymore, although lately (and here's the truly ironic part) I feel I am in some of the healthiest relationships of my life. The notion of That One True Best Friend--the promise that little girl is holding out for--puts a whole lot of pressure on her and especially on the girls around her. No one person should be responsible for being every thing to anyone.

That little girl may be so busy looking for that One Girl that she may miss out on all the ones skipping happily around her on the playground.

* * *

In spite of the fact that most people would probably describe me as very outgoing, I've actually spent most of my life being somewhat anti-social. Growing up, I was never accepted into any of the Cliques Of The Moment, and more often than not, I'd find somebody who was "like me" (read: a little too loud or a little too dramatic or a little too awkward or a little too whatever I happened to be at the time) and I'd latch on. I'd found her: my friendship soulmate! And eventually, as is almost always inevitable with females, she'd screw me over. There was Marilyn in 3rd grade, who one day came back from lunch and abruptly and silently pulled her desk a few inches away from mine and refused to speak to me. I remember Lena, in middle school, who decided hanging out with "the other girls" was way cooler than hanging out with me (she was probably right). The list goes on and on. I realize there were probably many times that I, too, had disappointed them...I don't doubt that I said something completely inappropriate to Marilyn that day at lunch, but couldn't she have told me what that something was?

What I've come to realize over the last couple of years is that all that time I spent excluding everyone else to be with my One True Best Friend, I had missed out. A lot. On people, outings, experiences, adventures, life lessons.

I now find myself surrounded by a lot of really remarkable women...some I had pushed aside for years because I simply "didn't have the time" to spend with them. I am more open, less judgmental, and having a whole heck of a lot more fun. My "collection" of girlfriends are all incredibly different: with some I can discuss, in great details, Marc Jacobs's personal make-over...others shop "exclusively" at Walmart and Target. For some of my friends, sweating is restricted to dancing and sex...others are game for anything from a 5k to a full-out adventure race. I would not call any one of these women my Best Friend. I know who I can call in the middle of the night when my kid is running a fever of 105. I know who I can call when I'm desperate for a night of dancing and drinks. Some of these women know secrets about me that the rest of the world would be shocked to know. Others, I'm just starting to truly trust.

Today, I "asked a girl out." Well, that's what it felt like, anyway. I recently started to talk to someone at work who seems to be so amazingly interesting and intelligent and just plain "cool," that I stepped out of my old comfort zone and, after 30 minutes of chatting about designer galoshes, world-wide travel, Christian Louboutins, mamas' boys, marriage and children, I decided to make a plan to get together next week. This may seem like a totally normal thing to do. But for me, it felt foreign. This woman may become one of my girls. Or, perhaps we will get together and have absolutely nothing to talk about (although after that 30-minute-all-inclusive-chat, I doubt it!). But the point is that I have finally figured out that I don't need one Best Friend. I need lots of really fantastic friends. I am no longer disappointed, because I don't put all my eggs in one basket. I have lots of baskets, and I'm skipping happily around with them on the playground.