What we don’t know

kitchen-classics-chefs-knife-59kczNow that I’m thinking about it.  I feel a little badly for the fed ex guy.

He looked somewhat unnerved, coming upon me that way.  Barefoot as I was (despite the early morning March temperature).  In my driveway. Wielding a kitchen knife.

I really didn’t pay that much attention to him as he dropped the package on the ground and quickly jumped back into the truck.

But now that I think about it.  He didn’t look like that was exactly standard operating procedure for him.  He didn’t even approach me and ask me to sign for anything.

Hunh.

The truth is, I was too distracted to worry about him that morning.  After he jumped back in his truck, I went right back to what I was doing.  Precise, strategic slashes around every side of a large black garbage bag.

In hindsight, I probably should have explained to him.  I should have held up the knife and said:  ”Oh this?  This is just my  standard operating procedure.  When one of those little people I live with says those dreaded words.

‘Mom.  PLEASE tell me you did NOT throw away x.’

X generally referring to a scribbled on piece of paper, a candy wrapper, or you know, a piece of actual GARBAGE.

On that morning, I was anxious to find x, because I was too tired not  to find it.

It had been a long week of sleepless nights.  The stomach bug had arrived in our house with gusto, and then just when the disinfectant kicked in, one entire night was dedicated to nightmare damage control after my 8-year old woke me up around 2 am to advise that he “might” have been watching the “Hunger Games” trailer before bed, something he had agreed never to do again, since the trailer alone frightens the socks off the poor kid,  ”just to see if it STILL scares me, Mom.  And it does.”

Ugh.

That poor fed ex guy.  He was just trying to do his job.  He didn’t know or understand the scene he had come upon.  To him, I looked like just another crazed knife-wielding psychopath.

See?  That’s what I’m talking about.

We really have no idea when we come upon each other each day what has come before.  Sleepless nights, private heartaches, unreasonable requests, worries, concerns, disappointments.  We all look like  run-of-the-mill knife-wielding psychopaths on the surface.  But usually, there’s so much more.

And we have three choices, right?

First.  Jump in our fed ex trucks and drive away.  Quickly.

Second.  Ask the question.  ”Hey!  What’s with the knife?”

Or third.  Just assume there’s a reason.  A good one.  Or at least a good enough one.

And treat each other with a little gentle-ness.

Because, unless we’re talking about Gwyneth Paltrow (who  I’m starting to believe really is  just a run-of-the-mill knife-wielding psychopath), I think it’s safe to say that most  of us.

At some time or another.

Have a perfectly reasonable explanation.

For the knife.

True Story

 

lhcoverJust because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it’s not true.  

One thing I’ve learned already about the novel-writing process is that when someone you know writes a novel, and you read it, you will try to figure out where the author’s truth stops and the fiction starts.

And you will keep asking yourself (and maybe the author if you have coffee with her occasionally) whether the novel is …

Maybe.

In fact.

Just a little bit.

True?

Maybe you do this even for authors you don’t know.  I know I used to. Which is why I’ve already begun the process of disclaiming my novel, Lemongrass Hope, and its protagonist, Kate Sutton, to everyone I know.

It’s not about me.

It’s not about you.  

Approximately six months before official publication date, I’m already nervous for my real life beloved Book Club to read too much into Kate’s “urban book club fiasco” and my husband is less than thrilled about what people might speculate given that Lemongrass Hope opens with details about Kate’s broken marriage and haunting memories of her first love.

And I know everyone (well, certainly my mother-in-law at least) is going to ask:

So. Is any of it true?

And here’s the thing.  I’ve decided that I should probably stop saying, No.

Because of COURSE it’s true.   For someone.  Namely for Kate.

I wrote the novel over the course of three years, and there are whole paragraphs – pages – chapters even - that I don’t specifically remember writing.  When I go back to those passages to review/edit, I think:

Oh!  Of course he said that.  That’s exactly what he would have said then. Why didn’t I think of that?

Oh wait -

I did.

Well sort of.

During the editing process, I found some character flaws that I had to fix.  Characters who weren’t doing or saying what they would have.  Some of them were even doing and saying what I would have said or done.

Yikes.

That was all wrong, of course.

Because this book isn’t about me.  And it’s not about you.

But don’t you dare try to tell me these characters aren’t true.

What I have come to believe about writing fiction is that characters – the kind of interesting, compelling characters I want to read about and can only hope to write about – will tell their own story if you let them.

And it will be true.

For them.

Which can be so much more interesting than the author’s truth, anyway.

True story.

“Lemongrass. It’s supposed to be a very optimistic color.”

-Kate Sutton, Lemongrass Hope

(Lemongrass Hope is due out October 8, 2014 (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing), but it will be available for pre-order this summer, and I will be giving away a limited number of advance copies …. so stay tuned for more details!)

Amazing Grace

Me&Grace2

Dear Grace,

So yesterday you were born.

And tomorrow you turn 6.

Aren’t you tricky?

Listen.   I need to tell you a couple of things.  And quick.  Have a seat.

First of all, you know how I always tell you NOT to sneak in my bed in the middle of the night, and then you ignore me and come in once a week anyway while I’m sleeping, and I don’t even know you’re there until the alarm goes off, and we both wake up and look at each other with those big goofy grins? 

Yeah, I’m ok with that.

Next.  One of my many favorite things to do with you is to get ready to go out together.  Let’s keep doing that.  And more of it.  I love when you help me pick out my clothes and play with my makeup brush (and steal my jewelry!)  Usually while you’re distractedly pretending to put on blusher in the mirror, you’ll end up telling me a funny story about school or a friend that you had forgotten up until then.  Often belly laughs are involved.  For both of us.   And when the boys try to come in, you shoo them out, and they listen to you, and it’s the best quality time two girls can have in a loud and busy house of boys.

Oh and another thing.  Can I just tell you how much I LOVE and admire how comfortable you are in your own skin? I love your flair for fashion, your unique ability to pair stripes and cheetah prints, and how you just KNOW you are beautiful and smart.  Just know it intrinsically.  I do and will continue to do so many things wrong when it comes to you – but your self-confidence is something I’ve taken so, so seriously and I can’t help but think I’ve done something a little right in that department.

Also.   In case for some crazy reason you don’t already know it. Because this is a really important one.  There’s nothing you can’t tell me.  Literally nothing.  And nothing you could ever do that would make me feel something other than what I feel for you.   That bigger-than-words feeling I have for you.  You could permanently delete every Luke Bryan song on my playlist, eat the last Thin Mint on the planet, or play fingerpaint with my most expensive NARS lip gloss.  (I know.  These are extreme examples.  But I’m making a point here.) Wouldn’t matter.  Just.wouldn’t.matter.

There’s probably more – lots more – but I’ll save some for the day after tomorrow. You know, when you’re suddenly 12.

Yikes.

In the meantime.

You know that boy that drives you crazy and is always telling you he’s going to marry you in between pulling your hair and teasing you and driving you just generally nuts?  The one you think is gross and has cooties?

Well he doesn’t.

JUST KIDDING.

He does.

He totally does.

So stay far, far away from him for many, many years to come.

Ok.  That’ll do for now.

Happy 6th Birthday my love.  Slow it down a little, would ya?

xoxo

Love, Mom

Groundhog Day

[*Originally Published on www.DivineCaroline.com on Groundhog Day, 2013.]

I’ve always hated that movie, “Groundhog Day.”

Every day, like the one before it?  It goes on and on and on and on and on…. So tedious.

Nevertheless, on February 1, 2012, that was a good description of my life.

Get up, kids fight, get them dressed.  Everyone screaming.  Quiet for 2 minutes while they eat, quickly replaced by fighting in the bathroom while brushing teeth.  Me screaming over the din.  Rush rush rush!  Drive to school.  Late as usual.  Miss them like crazy.  Try to get my work and writing done, while placating the 3 year old for the day.  Then the older boys would get home, just in time to fight over math and spelling and what was for dinner.  Despite the fighting, we would try to get homework and laundry and cleaning done in time to finish a bedtime story but would often give up when it got too darn late while everyone.was.still.fighting.

I was exhausted.

So on the day before Groundhog Day 2012, when the kids got home from school and asked if we could drive 5 hours to see Punxsutawney Phil in the morning, I thought about it.

I really did.

I thought about how we could all use a shake-up in the routine.

But, of course that would be silly.

Because our Second Grade Landmark homework wasn’t done yet and it was Teacher Appreciation Week and I had to buy the posterboard.  And I still had Terms of Use and Privacy Policies to review for the new websites my company was launching.  And well… Phil would have to wait.

But then.

At 11 pm, that same night before Groundhog Day, just as I was heading off to bed, something on Facebook caught my eye.  A groundhog  – named Patty -  appearing at sunrise at the Reading Pagoda, a historic landmark no more than fifteen minutes from my home.

Hunh.

Interesting.  (And a landmark, no less.  That would kill two proverbial birds with one stone, wouldn’t it?)

I went to bed elated.

What a hero I will be in the morning.   A groundhog 15 minutes from our home.

Prognosticating.  

I was delirious.

I woke up at 615 and tiptoed down the hall.  I roused my sleepy boys with a whisper.

There’s a groundhog in town.  She’s coming out at sunrise. I just found out last night.  Hurry, if we dress quickly and eat breakfast bars in the car, there will be enough time.  Hur-

I didn’t have to finish.  In 10 minutes, they were up.  They were dressed.  They were helping each other get ready.  They were not fighting.  They were exuberant.

They piled into the car and I got my nearly 4 year old out of bed and put her into the car half-asleep.  We’re off to see the groundhog, honey. 

We made our way up the steep hillside to the Pagoda.  The first morning light was peeking through the sky.  It was a brisk but comfortable morning.  About 40 degrees.  I recall wondering if this would bode well for the groundhog’s predictive capabilities.

I just couldn’t wait.

Nor could the kids.

This is going to be so fun, mom. 

Thank you SO much, mom.

You are the best, mom.

There was so much patting me on the back, I didn’t notice at first that the Pagoda parking lot was nearly empty.

Wait, where is everyone? I suddenly wondered. 

Only a handful of people had assembled.  A few more arrived as we stood there.  A local news cameraman joined the sparse crowd.

One woman wearing a handmade Groundhog Day sweatshirt and crocheted scarf told me that she looks forward to this day all year.  It’s better than Christmas, she said.  Well, actually I hate Christmas, she said.  (Turns out, she was in retail.)

As we stand there – waiting for the groundhog – this same woman tells me that she has even been to Punxsutawney but now she comes here every year.  Much closer, she says. “You know if more people don’t start coming to this event, they’ll cancel it.”  I am horrified by that thought.  Well, we’ll tell people.  I assure her.  We’ll start coming every year.  What a lovely tradition.  See you next year! I exclaim confidently.

I turn back to the Pagoda.  There is a flurry of activity inside and I crane my neck wondering if there is a cage for the groundhog.  Where is she? Where is Patty?  There is a ceremony and a poem and then the Mayor blows a whistle and my three children and I are all giddy with excitement.

UNTIL.

Around the corner comes Patty.

And Patty is … a costumed mascot.

My heart sinks but not as fast as my 6 year olds’ who turns around to me and assesses me instantly as a traitor.

That is not a real groundhog, mom.

I plaster a smile on my face, desperate not to show my naivete to these trusting kids.  I know, honey, isn’t that adorable?

But it is not adorable.  It is disappointing with a capital D.  My 8 year old mumbles “Got up at the crack of dawn.  For THAT.”

Thud.

I feel lousy.

And foolish.

UNTIL.

The cameraman turns the camera on the small crowd and begins interviewing the lady in the crocheted scarf.  I lean over and whisper to the boys to jump in the shot.  They eagerly get behind her – staring at the camera.  My 6 year old takes the mike and answers a few questions in a barely audible tone.  I know he will never make the final reel but I tell him – you were on the news!  And his excitement is back.

I am redeemed just a little bit.

We headed back to the car, a little quieted by the morning.  But we got to school early.  And there had not been one single fight.  And it’s not every day you get up at the crack of dawn to see a costumed groundhog named Patty.  So we giggled a bit as we drove away and you know what?

Our routine had been shaken and stirred a bit.

Groundhog Day was over.

My little outing was indeed a success, after all.

So what about next year? Will we be joining the lady with the crocheted scarf?

Not a chance.

Next year, we’re driving to Punxsutawney.

[And we did.]

punxpic

Yet Another Auld Lang Syne

“Oh Geez.  Look at her face.  She’s about to say it.”

My oldest gives a mock eye-rolling to his younger brother, and they unite in a rare moment of sibling solidarity.

“Go ahead, Mom.  Just say it.”

“Nope, if I’m that predictable, I won’t even bother.”

I mock-roll my own eyes in return.

It’s 2 am, and we are headed to the airport for a winter trip to Florida just before New Year’s Eve.

It’s my favorite part of vacation.

“It’s her FAVORITE part of vacation.”  The boys tease.

I can’t stand it.  I have to say it.  I always say it.  Right at this moment.  And they all make fun of me every single time, but they wait for me to say it anyway.  After the eye rolling and teasing, we all say it together:

“The part where it hasn’t even started.  Yet.”

***

I love that moment before anything has begun, and anything is possible.  I always have.

The first moment of a trial.

Walking into a client meeting.

Sitting down to the blank pages of a new chapter.

The time right before a vacation has started.

It’s always my favorite part.

Before anything messy has happened.  Before adjustments have to be made. Before you have to censor, edit, argue, change or stop.  Where hope and optimism reign supreme.

Where anything is still possible.

I love that moment.

Kind of like the beginning of a new year, really.

The opposite of Auld Lang Syne.  (Which means nothing, really, but apparently can be sort of be loosely translated from Old Scottish to “Old Times Gone By.”)

I’m not a lover of Auld Lang Syne.

(Hold on.  I said “Auld Lang Syne.”  Not to be confused with that SONG, “Same Old Lang Syne” – which I LOVE and which gets me every.single.time.  Mostly because I cannot for the life of me figure out what happens to the groceries while they’re drinking beer in the car.  Is the ice cream melting?  Meat decomposing?  Right?  Stressful?  I digress …)

I’m a “right now” kind of girl.  Not a “those were the glory days” kind of girl.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t forget, regret, or try to discard the past.  I relish good memories and celebrate the heck out of the past.  It’s just that I try to avoid wringing the life out of it.

Because this.  This part.  What’s about to happen right now.  RIGHT RIGHT NOW.  That’s my favorite part …

Happy New Year to all my favorite people on the planet.

My wish for you in 2014 is an entire fabulous year of moments where it hasn’t.even.started.

Yet.

xoxo,

Me

PS – Click here if you want to re-visit just a FEW moments of the past from My Cup Runneth Over 2013 ….

Last Christmas, I Gave You My Heart

Ok.  So here’s the thing.

I keep starting and stopping this post – for an entire MONTH – because, to put it bluntly, I keep writing about the wrong Christmas.

No matter how many times I try to write something about THIS Christmas, the post keeps turning itself back around to LAST Christmas.

Which feels all wrong.

What I wanted to tell you about.

Originally wanted to tell you about -

Was how my oldest no longer believes in Santa Claus.

About how this year, he admitted his disbelief and asked my husband – begged him really – to validate his suspicions. And how instead of barging in and reciting “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” or passing off the brilliant sentiment of Martha Brockenbrough as my own, I eavesdropped from the next room and cried.

I know, right?

But it was just so ridiculously poignant.

You see, LAST year, he wrote his one and only letter to Santa.  In the past, he had always refused to write a letter, declaring his wish “to be surprised by Santa!” (Annoying and endearing at the same time.)

So last year, when he sat down and said, “I think this year I’ll write a letter to Santa…” I just knew.  Knew that it would be the first and last.  I folded it up and put it in a box for safekeeping.

And I waited.

And then last Christmas became the last time all three of my children believed wholeheartedly in the magic of Christmas, and so I felt all sorry for myself that my oldest was growing up.  That he was becoming more independent.

That things were changing, and that this fragile place I’ve been watching us all straddle for so long is starting to shift from a place where the “firsts” dominate, to a place where the “lasts” begin piling up.

And everything I try to say about THIS Christmas gets all tangled up in my thoughts about LAST Christmas, and I feel like a fool.

Especially since there is a little 8-year old girl across town named Laney with a rare form of leukemia who is celebrating her last Christmas this year.  Her courageous story has inspired our entire town, and even gained some national media attention.  We are all consumed with grief for this beautiful girl many of us don’t even know.  And all I can think about is her mother. Trying desperately to hold onto each and every one of those lasts.  A mother who would give anything for her daughter to live long enough to stop believing in Santa Claus.

So in the midst of all this pensive pining away for last Christmas, I realized -

I really need to get over my damn self.

Because the other day I was getting my hair cut (ok, ok, dyed), and my stylist, who is about 7 months pregnant – but who looks like an adorable fashion model who might have had an extra helping at lunch – was discussing what she had already gotten and what she still “needed” for the baby.

I smiled wistfully as she talked about homemade organic food and cloth diapers.  I didn’t tell her that in about 2 months time, she would try to trade in the food processor, lifetime supply of cloth diapers, and her own limb, for a shower and a full night’s sleep.

I thought back to how my own babies had “needed” electric wipe warmers, 4 changes of clothes per day made from organic soy, and washcloths that matched their bath towels.  And how only years later, I realized that all you really need during those years are fistfuls of pampers coupons, lysol wipes, a seven-second delay for your temper on the really tough days, and a few bud vases (for all those dandelion “bouquets”) on the really great ones.

I thought about telling my expecting mom friend that she should enjoy EVERY SINGLE MOMENT OF UNINTERRUPTED SLEEP she has between now and February as each one could be her last.

The last.

But I didn’t tell her, because how could she possibly remain focused on all these last moments before motherhood, when all she can REALLY think about is how excited she is for the baby to get here?  To get started with this motherhood thing. To focus on all the firsts? That’s how life works.

You move forward at all times.  Not backward.

Last Christmas my oldest son still believed in Santa Claus, and this year he doesn’t.

Thud.

But.

LAST Christmas, my husband and I had to try to remember to hide the Elf each night, and we had to keep telling my precocious son that he wasn’t ready to read “The Hunger Games” because he couldn’t possibly wrap his head around the metaphors at the center of that book.

And THIS Christmas, I have a son who helps us remember to hide the Elf and keep some legit Christmas magic alive for his brother and sister.  A son with whom we’ve been having some pretty amazing discussions lately about the world around us – the sadness, the grief, the bigotry – and why, in the midst of all these things, a little thing like Christmas magic is not little at all.

Last Christmas was just that.

But THIS Christmas.

That’s what I really wanted to write about.

Plus also that my son is going to lose.his.mind when he unwraps The Hunger Games trilogy this Christmas.

From Santa.

What’s Your Number?

number8

“You can learn alot about people from their number.  For example, your number is 8. That’s a very powerful number.”

A few weeks before the latest Facebook trend – revealing a given number of unknown things about yourself – went viral, I was sitting in a NYC sushi restaurant with some real live people, and I was given the number “8″ by a woman I had just met that night who “reads numbers” for fun.

Now.

I’m neither superstitious nor irrational.  Generally.

But I hung on her every word as she described me and another friend based upon our respective “numbers” which were completely different.  We nodded in assent and shook our heads in disagreement. The three of us made revelations. We laughed.  We ate.  We drank.  Over our very different numbers – 8, 5, and 4 — we connected.

Fast forward a few weeks and everyone on Facebook started giving out “numbers” of their own.

In the interest of full disclaimer, I must admit that I love Facebook and spend a (probably inordinate) amount of time researching and reading and reviewing interesting stories and people via Facebook.  Indeed social media is a huge part of what I do for a living – both as VP for a start-up company, and in my writing career. Nevertheless, I’m not one to succumb to Facebook trends.  I don’t “Like” posts because someone tells me to.  I like them because I like them.  I share them if they are compelling.

But when people started giving out “numbers” on Facebook, just like that night in the NYC sushi bar, I got sucked in.  I read through every single friend’s numbered list of “unknown” facts, reluctant at first to “like” any of them (even though I did) for fear that I’d have to reciprocate one day (which I eventually did).

This weekend, I was trying to explain the trend to my husband who is not on Facebook – and trying to explain the fascination of publishing a set number of possibly unknown facts about oneself online and handing out numbers so that others could publish their own lists.

It sounded a little silly when I said it out loud.  Like fodder for his criticisms of social media.

Until.

Until I realized how this trend really bucks the trend of social media.

After all, social media is largely about what we all have in common.  What we “like” and don’t “like” along with the masses.  And sure, it’s fun to see what we all have in common. The commonalities comfort us.

But what about the un-commonalities?  Facts that show up in numbered lists, for example. Friends whose names are not their real names.  Friends with dual and even multiple citizenship. Friends who have traveled to exotic places we’ve never seen.  Friends with secrets.  With surprises.  One Facebook friend of mine revealed that she had only sent me a “friend request” by accident.  A sorority sister revealed that she had once met Amy Carter’s reindeer – gifted from Finland – while it was quarantined at the USDA where her dad worked.  Another admitted she had been “kidnapped” by family members during a custodial dispute when she was young.

Whoa.

It got me thinking.

In the world of social media, it’s indisputable that our connections are fragile and tenuous at best.  But why exactly is that?

Don’t we use social media to catch up with old friends, follow new ones, swap stories with long-time friends, network mercilessly?  Why isn’t that connection enough?

Well.  Maybe it’s because all the while, we focus on our shared experiences.  Restaurants we like.  Sports our kids play. Movies we hate.

But then something comes around in the form of a silly Facebook game to remind us that it’s not really the constant shared experiences and similarities that connect us out in the real world.

Our differences connect us.

No, that’s not right.

Our willingness to share our differences.  With each other.  Reveal the unknown differences.  To each other.

That’s what connects us to each other in the real world.

Arguably, the newest social media trend attempts as best it can to simulate real life connection, or at least remind us how it’s done.

And then to complicate things:

Because it’s November, there’s also a trend detailing a daily morsel of gratitude, which in my humble opinion, is only interesting when it mimics the numbered revelation trend. When the gratitude extends not just to the things we are all similarly grateful for – but for the unique things that YOU are grateful for, that do not resemble anything that I in fact am grateful for.

After all, I’m an 8, and you might be a 4.  Or even a 5.

We’re different, you and I.

And I’m willing to admit that.

And – unlike social media trends - that’s what ultimately connects us.

***

And so.  In a mash-up of social media trends and because 8 is apparently “my number” and a “powerful” one at that – I jotted down a list of 8 things that I’m unapologetically and wildly grateful about that you might.not.know.  That might be different than your list.  Or at least I hope so.  

(By the way, one list of 8 turned into 2 lists of 8, and then I stopped myself before it became excessive.)

1) all ready pie crust.  I’m in charge of the apple pies every Thanksgiving.  Enough said.

2) my hips.  More specifically:  that my daughter, Grace, still fits securely on each of them, and finds a way to hop on up there just when we both need it.

3) my son, Luke.  Everything about him.  Ok, if I have to pick something concrete and surprising – it would be the fact that Luke never.ever.skips a goodnight kiss.  Even if he’s mad at me.  (Also – the fact that Luke is hardly ever mad at me.  Even when I deserve it.)

4) my son, Paul.  But more to the point:  my son, Paul’s, imagination.  Which is an active and totally acceptable verb in our house.  As in, “Mom, I’m going outside to imagine.”  ”Ok, have fun.”

5) my other Paul, my husband.  So many things, of course – but for brevity sake, I would have to single out his crazy blunt cringe-worthy compulsion for honesty that lets me know – without guessing – exactly what he thinks.  At every moment of time.  About me.  From my lack of punctuality (censored) to my favorite brown, super-stylish, high-heeled suede boots (“those look really, really, really …. uncomfortable”) to his predictable but weird compliment when he likes my cooking (this is homemade?  it tastes like restaurant food.)  Also that when I confided my idea for Lemongrass Hope to him over three years ago, he said, “Hunh.  That is actually … a really good idea.  (I am also supremely grateful because he loves me unconditionally, and works so, so hard, and is an amazing father to our kiddos.  But.  He has asked me repeatedly to please not write too much about him here, because “everyone reads your blog, apparently. People are constantly quoting you to me.  Even in the operating room.  Which is odd.”  So, we’ll just keep some of this between us, ok?)

6) the fact that none of my boys have requested for Christmas – or even know about – the deluxe AXE gift set.  The other day I stopped in front of the tree-shaped display in a department store, and thought “Well, when one of those enters my home, it will pretty much signal the end of innocence.” (As a side note, I do acknowledge that AXE’s arrival will be karmic payback for all the Drakkar I gifted as a swoony teenager.)

7) the red roof of the barn next to my house. The truth is it seems to catch the sunlight at just.the.right.angle at sunrise and sunset and makes me so, so happy when I happen to leave or arrive home during those hours (which I often do).

8) the fact that I still find myself, every now and again – as the brilliant Kelly Corrigan puts it – in “The Middle Place”.  The place where “even when all the paperwork – a marriage license, a notarized deed, two [in my case three] birth certificates, and seven [in my case 16] years of tax returns – clearly indicates you’re an adult, all the same, there you are, clutching the phone and thanking God that you’re still somebody’s daughter.”

9) the stares my four siblings and I get when we are in public together.  We like each other.  Alot.  And all that liking is loud and funny.  It makes people stare.  If you ever see us out at a restaurant – or in Vegas together – you don’t have to look away.  We know what we look and sound like.  Stare away.  We don’t mind.

10) Brian and Clara Henningsen for writing The Band Perry’s “All Your Life” and not minding that I simply cannot listen to that song ANYWHERE without turning it up to full volume and butchering it mercilessly.  (They might not know?  Oh.  That explains it, then.)

11) Ditto for Taylor Swift’s “Red,” Florida Georgia Line’s “Stay,” and anything written by Bruce Springsteen or Adele.

12) a network of girlfriends so beautiful and amazing and selfless that I am absolutely CERTAIN and confident that I will never undergo anything bad in life that will not be met with love, compassion, and at least one to two week’s worth of lasagne casseroles.

13) my grandmother, Lois, for paying me $10 for a poem idea, title, and first line, when I was about 8.  And then using it to write a poem for the local newspaper, giving me my first taste of the creative writing process and the trials and tribulations of navigating the commercial publishing process.

14) RJ Palacio for writing Wonder in her kids’ car pool lines, as it is the first book since the Harry Potter series that my kids have all sat still for at bedtime.  And because it is magical.

15) For the number 8, which is apparently powerful.  And mine.

16) Surprises.  Not like jumping-out-at-birthday-party-surprises, but the real surprises that happen every day.  When someone I expected less of (like me!) delivers more.  Or when someone I thought I knew turns out to be different all together. But in a good way.  I live for those surprise moments and when they arrive like gifts, I relish them with gratitude.

Surprise connections.

Like numbered lists, daily gratitude reveals, and catchy Facebook trends.

I’m grateful for it all.

Almost as much as all-ready pie crusts.

Almost.

Gold Stars

“Senorita, take some crackers.  You’ll feel better soon.”

I was green and queasy lying in the middle of a catamaran off the west coast of Costa Rica, and a crewmember named Luis had suddenly become my best friend.

I would like to point out that I had never been seasick before.

Not ever.

My husband and I owned a boat for years – before the kids arrived of course – and had taken it through the rough waters of Hell’s Gate around Manhattan several times, out into the rough Atlantic Ocean waters, and even across the Long Island Sound to the coast of Connecticut.

I’m not saying these were smart things to do.  I’m just saying that in all of those trips, I had never once turned green.  Not once.

But on this particular summer day, those comfortable boating days were long behind me, and I was decidedly seasick.

My kids were standing nearby watching for wildlife off the side of the boat – happy as could be – since I had given them all sea-sickness pills before we boarded.

I didn’t think I’d need one.

I took the crackers and sipped a coke while Luis watched me with an attentive smile. I was so very grateful for these small, simple gestures on the part of a stranger.

“Thank you, Luis.  Gracias.”

Before he could respond, one of my kids asked “How do you say ‘You’re Welcome’ in Spanish? It’s de nada right?”

Luis’s smile evaporated as he scowled at them.  ”No, no.  That’s not what we say here. De nada means ‘it’s nothing.”

He practically spit out the words “de nada” and “nothing.”

“Here, in Costa Rica, we say ‘Con Mucho Gusto.’  It means ‘with much pleasure.  much happiness.’  So much better – no?”

My kids all nodded and parroted with exuberance as they faced the open sea  ”Con much GUSTO!”

Luis turned back to me – his face transformed again with a kind smile.  ”Con mucho gusto, Senorita.  Eat your crackers.  You will feel better soon.”

And he was so right.

***

My husband says there are two kinds of people in this world:

People who don’t need gold stars.

And me.

It’s true.  When I work hard, succeed in some small way, or reach the end of a project, I like someone to reach in their desk, pull out a sheet of shiny gold star stickers and slap one across my work.

I don’t need monetary or other rewards, phony praise, quid pro quo, public acknowledgement.  Nothing like that.

Just a gold star.

Something that says – hey, that mattered.  It really did.

It’s not that I don’t genuinely enjoy working hard, or doing helpful things.  I do.  But without the gold star, I’ve always found it hard to know if what I did or am doing matters.

And I will admit to you – this is a constant struggle for me.

I don’t like relying on gold stars to determine the value of my efforts.

Because not everyone has them in their desk.

Sometimes, unfortunately, there simply are no gold stars to be found.

A year ago, I organized an enormous relief effort for our old town of Rockaway, New York, after the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  (Rockaway – and in particular, Belle Harbor – is a place that has long been special to me, for a number of fairly extra-ordinary reasons.)

The relief effort began really as an accident.  An email I sent to a few friends to try to gather supplies for the town that had been ravaged by floods and fires in the past few days went viral in 24 hours, and eventually I had to turn away donations when my three-car garage was filled to the brim twice over with clothing, blankets, and supplies.

A friend and I hand-delivered the supplies (a year ago today, actually) in a heartbreaking trip that nearly crushed my spirit – so great was the devastation – so small a dent did the supplies seem to make that day.  Even through the darkness and destruction, I met so many beautiful people throughout the day, who said continual, heartfelt Thank You’s.

But all I could keep saying was “No.  It’s nothing.  Really.”

De nada.

To be honest, I was heartbroken for a long time, thinking that none of it – none of what I had personally organized, retrieved, gathered, delivered, or done had really mattered.

Sigh.  

No gold stars.

Eight months after Hurricane Sandy, when my husband and I took our kids back to Belle Harbor to deliver school supplies and spend some money and time in the newly opened Mom-and-Pop stores across the island, we were able to witness the amazing re-building effort in a town known for its resilience and character.

And as we dug our toes into the beautifully re-built beach, I thought about so many things, but mostly – if you must know – about Luis and his crackers and coke and kind smile on the middle of that catamaran off the shore of Costa Rica.

Such a small gesture.

But it wasn’t nothing.

It’s never nothing.

Not if you do it with love.  With happiness.  With pleasure.

Con much gusto.

As we left Rockaway at the end of that amazing day, I noticed the signs decorating the telephone polls on every corner of the town, still up eight months after the Hurricane.

rockaway

Blue stars.

Not gold.

But still.

Gracias, Rockaway.

Con Much Gusto.

Ink’d

“That’s funny.”  My brother laughed as my sister arranged some candles on a cake to look like “43.”

“Oh wait.” He looked at me in shock with his mouth wide open.   “You really ARE turning 43 this year?”

“Holy crap.”  My 30-something year old brother started to count on his fingers even though he’s a successful accountant, and I decided that I would get him back by later telling how he counted on his fingers even though he is a successful accountant.

(Now, that’s funny. Ha.)

“Well, you certainly don’t look like you’re 43.”

Right.  Like that’s a compliment?

“Didn’t Elvis kick the bucket when he was 43?”  My sister teased.  ”You look way better than Elvis at 43.”

Lovely.

And I was tempted to say:  ”I’m  not sure what all the fuss is about because really, isn’t 43 the new 33?”

They say that, right?

Just kidding.

I know no one says that.

No one says that because it’s not true.  43 is not 33.  I know that.

(And I’m not even an accountant.)

Besides, if it was true, it would be a good candidate for a tattoo.  And it’s not.

(Not true and not a good candidate for a tattoo.)

And I would know, because I study tattoos, and I’ve never seen anyone with a tattoo that says 43 is the new 33.

Why do I study tattoos?

Well, I’m just intrigued by the idea.  When I’m out in the world, and I see some ink –  especially a quote or a phrase – I strain to read it, decipher it, and I’m always thinking the same thing:  Why?

No, no – not “why a tattoo?”

But rather – why that one?   How did you decide on that one phrase to be set in ink for all time?  Is it still true?  All the time true?  Universally true?  For you?

For a while now, I’ve been wrestling with this idea that eventually I’m going to seize upon some crazy insightful universal truth and want it marked indelibly on my skin so I’ll never forget it.  In indigo ink maybe.

You know – like “It’s ok to splurge on expensive shoes every once in a while, but remember that all the best moments in life occur when you are barefoot.”

(Something like that, but shorter.  I don’t have all that high a threshold for pain actually.)

But I haven’t come up with any one succinct philosophy yet that I think will stand the test of time. That seems really true.  All the time true.  Universally true.  For me.

So I keep straining to read other people’s tattoos.

I mean, there are the obvious candidates about Peace, and Love, and God is My Co-Pilot.  But I worry about the message I’d be sending God if He thought the only way I could remember Him was through indigo ink.

So those don’t count.

And let’s face it, the tattoos I would have gotten at 33 would be irrelevant now.  Because after all -

43 is not 33.

When I was 33, I wasn’t quite a mother yet.  

I thought “Do only things that make you happy!” was a reasonable life philosophy.

My favorite restaurant was a Times Square cafe across the street from my law office, and “catfish” meant nothing more than a seasonal special there.

Oh.  And I was willing to set my alarm for 3 am to score NIB Louboutin espadrilles at the last minute from an ebay seller in California.  True Story.

In hindsight, I wasn’t smarter or dumber back then.  Better or worse.  I was just, you know, different.

The things that were true then were true then.  But other things are true now.

Now I’m the mother of 3 kids, 9 and under.  (Hmm.  How about “Where the Wild Things Are”?)

And that thing about only choosing to do things that make you happy?  I don’t actually live that way now.  I mean, does grocery shopping, doing laundry, or cleaning up puke make anyone happy?

Exactly.

I think “Do Things That Are Worth Doing And Just Be Happy While You Do them” works a little better at this stage of my life.

But that’s still kind of long.

Also, nowadays, my favorite restaurant is any one with a wine list, and a menu that doesn’t double as a coloring page, and “Catfish, the Series” is my secret vice after a long day of work and writing, and kids.  (Seriously, I am MESMERIZED by that show.  Who are these people and where are their friends?)

“Friends don’t let friends get catfished”?  I know, too weird. 

And I promise you that I would NEVER EVER set my alarm to wake up in the middle of the night to buy a pair of shoes these days because sleep is a precious commodity in my house.  You just never know when someone is going to wake you up at 2 am with bad dreams, belly aches, or just because they miss you.

“I JUST NEED SLEEP.”

Rumor has it, that in another 10 years those middle of the night wake up calls will probably be few and far between.  Some veteran parents tell me I’ll even miss them.  Hard to believe, but still, I probably shouldn’t get a tattoo that will just remind me of the good old days of sleep deprivation.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, now that I’m overflowing with all this 43 year old wisdom, I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever settle upon one philosophy that’s worth holding onto forever.  You know, in indigo ink.

In 10 more years, I’ll have a variety of new perspectives (I hope!)  I assume I’ll even have a good laugh about the idea that I thought I was “overflowing” with so much wisdom now.

Who knows, maybe 53 really will be the new 43?

Or maybe, just maybe, it’ll turn out that the Barefoot thing…

Maybe that’s the thing that will stand the test of time.  Be really true.  All the time true. Universally true.  For me.

 

photo (44)

For a laugh (at my expense), you might also want to read The “F” Word …

Re-Reading Lolita

lolitapic

I’m curious whether you have ever tried to pick up a book from your high school or college reading lists just to see if the book has a different impact on you with a little bit of life experience in your pocket?

I recently attempted to re-read Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.  It had been so long since I had first been shocked and appalled by the novel that I was curious as to how grown-up, enlightened me might receive it.

Turns out I’m not all that enlightened after all.

I first met Humbert Humbert in 1989.  The year before, I had left a small town in Central Pennsylvania to attend college in – how can I put this bluntly? –  another small town in Central Pennsylvania.

That I was provincial goes without saying.  I was innocent and naïve, but I had confidence that bordered on arrogance.  I KNEW that I was going to major in English and Philosophy, have a stellar college career, and that I was going to law school and heading off to a big city, locale yet to be determined.  I boldly greeted my college advisor one fall morning with my straight line path of planned internships, volunteer work, and courses – I wanted a spot in the already crowded American Lit class, for example.

Which is where I met Lolita.  And Lolita, I must confess, threw me and all of my well-orchestrated plans for a loop.

Wait, let me rewind.  We should really discuss Mapplethorpe before we discuss Lolita.

Because, I have to admit that I was sort of pretending to follow along when my advisor digressed that fall morning from pre-requisites and course selections to discuss modern art.

She picked up a photograph from the side of her desk and held it up to me.  “Amazing, no?  It’s from the Mapplethorpe collection.”

I smiled and nodded, “Of course.”

Even though I had absolutely no idea who or what a Mapplethorpe was.

Back then, I was good at smiling and nodding, before heading out to look up the big words later.  And sitting there that morning, smiling and nodding, I figured out that the photograph was, as far as I could tell – by tilting my head  ever so slightly to the left – of a plant.

Now, I’m not sure if YOU know who or what a Mapplethorpe is, but, if not, let me save you the trouble of googling him.  He was a controversial photographer whose work – large-scale, highly stylized black and white portraits of flowers and nudes achieved some posthumous notoriety in the summer of 1989 when his work was shown at The Washington Project for the Arts after the Corcoran Gallery of Art in D.C. gave into political pressure and refused to exhibit the photos.

Hunh?

Ok. Ok.  I’m trying not to say it.

But.  I’m just going to have to say it.

Mapplethorpe’s main body of work focused on flowers and uncircumcised male genitalia.

Right.  I didn’t know this at the time.  As I said, I looked it up later.

That fall morning, as my advisor pointed her long elegant finger repeatedly at the photo, and divulged her brilliant thoughts on gender and power struggles and inequality reflected in Mapplethorpe’s particular brand of art, I suddenly thought:

Oops.  Not a plant.

While I was stoicly explaining to her about my chosen courses, necessary pre-requisites, and foretold career path, she deliberately interrupted to show me a picture of -

Not a plant.

It was as if she was testing me.  Saying to me:  “You don’t know everything, young lady.  In fact, you don’t even know what you don’t know.”

But in a kind way.

Which brings me back to Lolita, first introduced to me in American Lit that same fall I met Mapplethorpe.

So distressed was I by this book selection on the fall syllabus of my American Lit class that I simply could not come up with a proper paper topic, and I ended up with a rambling discourse on how worthless the book was.

How nonsensical.

How unreal.

Which did not sit well with my beatnik American Lit professor.  Professor C was a skinny, dark-haired man who wore a black leather jacket around our conservative campus and into the classroom and then draped it across his chair for effect at the same point in every lecture.  (Hey, Professor C, the 1960’s called.  They want their brooding, scholarly attitude back.)

He was woefully out of place in a school of tweed and long skirts.  He was uncomfortable looking and uncomfortable acting and I was pretty sure I did not like him even BEFORE I read Lolita for the first time.

And when he suggested – out loud, in the middle of class – in response to my Lolita-related ramblings, that Nabokov was touching on something very real, namely the conflict of feelings felt by many older men for young girls, he looked at me so curiously that I decided to hate him for the entire rest of the semester as well.

C+.

In hindsight, the C was probably deserved.  The plus? Just a condescending dig.

Professor C and I never really got along after that, and in truth, I never fully got over Lolita that fall, or ever really.

Which is why I decided to struggle through it a second time, twenty-five years later.  And I have discovered – not a comfortable discovery – that it continues to perplex me.

In truth, the value of learning something from a pretend pedophile’s pretend confession continues to elude me as I slog through the book the second time around.

In short, I am shocked by it.  Again.

And worse than that, I am shocked by my shock.

After all, it is 25 years later, and before I began re-reading Lolita, I thought of myself as worlds away from that naïve girl I was in 1989.

But re-reading Lolita in 2013 makes me wonder: how different am I today from that young girl sitting in her college advisor’s office, feigning knowledge?  Displaying arrogance?

(After all, it took me three tries to stop deleting “Mapplethorpe’s main body of work focused on flowers and uncircumcised male genitalia” before I decided that we were all adults here and could probably handle it.)

While trying desperately to get through Lolita, a friend came over for coffee and noticed it on my kitchen counter.

“You’re reading Lolita?” she observed.

“Yes, I’m trying to figure out why it’s a classic.”

“Ah,” she said in her matter-of-fact way, “it’s just because it is so scandalous.”

Simple.  Easy.  Why didn’t I think of that?  Sometimes I STILL forget that I don’t know what I don’t know.

I closed the book and gave up.

In the Foreword to Lolita (I got that far in the re-read, after all), the “pretend” lawyer claims that the purpose of publishing this story is to “apply ourselves with still greater vigilance and vision to the task of bringing up a better generation in a safer world.”

Some would say that before Lolita hit the American bookshelves in the late 1950′s, it was all naivete, denial, and repression.  Which, let’s face it, will only lead you to smile and nod and force you to have to look up the big words later.

One could argue that the Lolita’s and Mapplethorpe’s of the world serve at least one purpose – to remind us: “You don’t know everything.  In fact, you don’t even know what you don’t know.”

But in a kind way.

And if you think about it, if you are reminded every now and then that you don’t know what you don’t know, you might just be a little better prepared out there in the world.

Who knows?  You just might come up with something insightful to say.

Even on the topic of re-reading Lolita.

Like how its allure – even all these years later – still derives essentially from scandal.  I’m thinking of looking up Professor C and letting him know I finally figured it out.

I’m also thinking of calling up my college advisor to let her know that I finally digested her gender struggle theories about the Mapplethorpe exhibit, and that I totally agree.

And that I have a theory of my own.

That all of his photos…

Even the ones that aren’t actually OF plants ….

Look.like.plants.