LESSONS


educate your child“While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” ~ Angela Schwindt

With two school-age children, mornings are a pretty tight operation in our house.  It can get a little chaotic preparing to get our two boys out the door to school but I am grateful for our morning hustle because it invariably offers unexpected discussions in the car.  Our routine for drop-off is simple.  First my younger son gets out at his elementary school and then my older son and I spend the bit longer journey to middle school mostly in silence while he usually plays with his phone.  I will try to make idle chit-chat with him that, far too often, results in eye rolling but, every now and then, he shares something that is, inexplicably and inevitably, discussion-provoking.  With a middle schooler, I get very few opportunities for conversation and, those I do, are almost always dictated by him.  He determines how much information he is going to share and when and how he does so.  Long gone are the days where I can sit him down with a snack after school and try to pump him for information about his day, his friends, his trials of life.  Instead, I sometimes get a stammering opening into a discussion that usually ends with him needing something from me (more often than not, his need involves cash).  I cherish those rare moments that he chooses to open up to me and I am very strategic about trying to capitalize on them whenever I can.

That morning chit-chat, with just the two of us, can yield openings to conversations that lend themselves to  moments of guidance on subjects that are clearly on my son’s mind.  But, with just a few minutes, they are sprints, no deep dives.  Whether he is conscious of it or not, he is very calculating about his timing.  He has five minutes in the car alone with me and, typically, he waits until we are about 3 blocks from his school before he opens his mouth.  Earlier this week, on the first day back at school after our weeklong spring break, at just about the exact same spot as usual, my son opened his mouth and what came out provided assurance that he is genetically connected to me.  If I ever had any concerns about him being switched at birth, watching him blossom into a teenager and hearing some of his rumination, confirm that they sent us home with the correct child.

“It’s going to really suck to see all those kids with tans at school today.”  The moment he said it, I knew where he was going.  I also knew that this had been on his mind for a while now.  “I’m really glad we didn’t go away like everyone else.  It would suck to have get back to reality today.  I hate the end of vacation so I am glad we didn’t go.”

Really?  Such intense rationalization at 12 years old?

My poor son. I, being the mother, reminded him that all of his close friends were home during spring break.  He then pointed out that it was all the rich kids – the kids from the other side of town – who had gone away.

“That would be so hard.  I hate that about vacation.  I’d rather not go.” He lamented.

Oh crap, he is not me.  He is my mother! 

I offered some basic wisdom to him, reminded him that we will, again, go on vacation and that, yes, going away can be very bittersweet because of re-entry but it is all worth it in the end.  Oh yeah, and take lots of pictures.  They will help you cope with the malaise that falls over you when you are back to your daily grind and cannot remember what it was like to be soaking in the sunshine on the beach or languishing by the pool.  The photos will remind you that, in fact, it was not just a wonderful dream.  You were there.

After I dropped him at school and tried to push aside all the guilt I often experience during these brief but meaningful discussions, I thought about our little chat.  I thought about his patterns of behavior and his need to share these little nuggets with me during our morning routine.  I reflected on his growing maturity and witnessing an observable shift to processing disappointment rather than having a temper tantrum (which, quite frankly, is what I want to do most of the time – thank goodness I have my children around to teach me appropriate behavior).  He mentioned only about one hundred times how he wished we had gone away for spring break.  He complained about how boring it was to stay home, especially when his parents had to work and were taking shifts to entertain him and his brother so they did not spend exactly 11 days in exactly the same indented spots on the sofa playing xbox.  I could see his point of view and, while I felt sad that he was wishing for a vacation (aren’t we all?), I appreciated that he was not too burdened by it.  But, of course, I wonder what goes on in that mini-adult brain.  I wonder what he sees through his lens.  He knows that he is not one of the rich kids – and that was the word that stung the most.  He feels lacking and I don’t ever want money to be the definition of happiness for either of my children.  My husband and I have struggled to shield my children from any financial woes we may have had at any point in time but, now, it is crystal clear that he knows.  He knows we are not rich.  At least not financially.

Earlier this year, we had a discussion with both of our children about money.  We explained that this was going to be a tight year for us all because I am involved in a start-up business and I’m spending a good chunk of the year without a salary.  Any money we have is going towards supporting us during the phase.  This means no vacations this year.  There will be no disposable income for eating out several times a week or for mindless shopping at Target.  Every dollar is accounted for and earmarked to help change our lives, hopefully.  We have explained all this to the kids and, to the best of their ability, they understand.  But, they are young and they also remember wonderful spring break trips and beach vacations.  (They, of course, do not remember how miserable they were on some of those trips and how much they tortured us but that is for another day.)  We have been very honest with our children, not because we want to burden them with any of our challenges, but to allow them to understand that this is temporary and that we have a bigger plan in mind.  We want to teach them about decision-making and hard choices and show them the silver linings that come with that.  We never want to deprive them and probably have been over-generous with them to compensate for our own lacking childhoods.  Our main goal is that, when it is time for them to leave their childhoods behind, they will feel that they were loved deeply and provided with a solid foundation.  They will remember the vacations and they will appreciate, at some point, all of the hard work their parents put in so they could live a pretty nice life but I want them to also understand the struggle.  There is no entitlement in life except for the entitlement of self-worth.   Everything else comes at a price.

I am watching my son, half a year away from turning 13, begin to process life.  I am trying to crawl inside his head to see how he puts the pieces together in his mind.  When he says things to me that seem so far beyond his age, so much more wise than I expect my little baby to be, I am startled and overjoyed.  I love that my children are growing and maturing.  I love that I can have intellectual conversations with them and explore the world with a whole new dimension.  And, at the same time, it breaks my heart just a little bit.  I realize that, with this maturity, comes a transparency.  We can no longer whisper, spell things out or use code words because they know.  They get it.  They understand what we are talking about.  And, with sons, they are not about to let you know they know what you’re saying until they can strategically use it against you.  They are not inquisitive about the travails of life.  They do not ask for guidance.  At least my kids don’t.  Not until the road is dark and they cannot find a light to show them the way will they reach out, arms outspread, and say “Mommy, help me.”  My son, already an inch taller than me, stands tall and proud and locks it all up inside.  Then, every now and again, perhaps because he is slumped down in the car seat and not on the top of his game at the moment, he will exhale and a little gem will come slipping out.  Sometimes I get a little periscope to see inside and catch a little glimpse of that maturing mind.

I learn from my children every single day.  They show me what it is like to be happy and fulfilled young people.  Their lives are not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, and I die a little bit inside every time I see another piece of their innocence lost.  I struggle with not solving their problems and letting them learn and figure out how to navigate the increasingly challenging waters of life.  Yet, they teach me how to love and be loved.  They remind me why I get up every day.  They fill my heart with love and then have the capability of breaking it, with a sneer, a disapproving glance or the infamous eye roll.

This morning?  Not a word.  Some groans and a hasty goodbye when it was time for him to get out of the car.  But, you know what?  I’ll take it.

MARRIAGE


marriage“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” – Unknown

My husband came home from work today, after hanging out with some guys at the bar to watch the Masters, and said “I think we are becoming a minority.” Knowing my husband as I do, I could have gone in so many different directions with that comment. I looked quizzically at him and, as has happened hundreds of times in the 21 years we have been together, he realized I had no idea what he was referring to. “It seems like we are the only ones left married,” he said smirking. I laughed, knowing he was being facetious but I also stopped for a second and took in a deep breath. He is right. Maybe it’s because of our age, maybe it’s because of where we live, maybe it’s because of our circle of friends and acquaintances but, whatever the reason, it seems like every day we learn of more and more couples splitting up. Today he learned about yet another and, as is always the case, it sends chills down your spine. You can’t help but wonder if one day it will be you. I cannot deny that there have been moments – more than I care to admit – that I wondered if our marriage would survive.

I entered into marriage completely clueless. I had no role models. I had no reference point. Frankly, I had no interest in getting married. I had determined, at a pretty young age, that I wanted to have a fantastic career and would not submit to giving up my dreams for any man. And, I certainly did not want to have kids. Sure, I was a feminist. I was also broken from all that I had experienced in my childhood that I couldn’t even imagine a reality where I could be happily married. By the time I was in college, my mother had been married and divorced 3 times and was on her way to her fourth. My father had 2 under his belt and my sister, 14 years my senior, had just split up with her husband. She would go on to marry 2 more times. I wanted nothing to do with all this. I was not interested in participating in this ritual that seemingly always had an unhappy ending.

I was a serial dater after I got out of college. I would meet guys, date them, break up, find another, date them, break up, find another and the cycle went on and on. Nobody lasted more than weeks or maybe a few months and the relationships never went very deep. I had so much intimacy with all of my gay boyfriends that I never felt needy in that way. If it were not for sex, I would have been content to hang with my gay posse forever, collect some cats and become a living, breathing stereotype. I simply did not see a pathway that would ever lead me to wedded bliss. I had a great career, was starting to make some money and had, what I believed to be, a relatively glamorous life. I worked for a major movie studio optioning books for movies so I spent my evenings going to plays, movie premieres, parties, fancy dinners – all surrounded by the largest group of gay men imaginable. I guess, perhaps one of the reasons I could not see the pathway was because there were not very many suitable candidates crossing my lane.

I met my husband when I was 24. When I think about it now, I realize how I was still an emotional amoeba. I simply knew nothing about the world yet I had lived what felt like 5 lifetimes sorting through the turmoil of my family’s drama. We met as friends – he and I were both dating other people (he was living with someone!) so there was no pressure on the relationship. He seemed like a nice enough guy and, much to my amazement, I found myself quickly intrigued by him. The relationship became romantic very quickly and, after we sorted out our other conflicts, we started dating for real. Both of us being somewhat impulsive, dating lasted about two minutes before we fell remarkably, passionately, overwhelmingly in love. He was my soulmate. I could not imagine how I could spend one minute away from him, which was extraordinarily difficult since he lived 3000 miles away on the other side of the country. We managed to find ways to see each other several times a month and each visit was filled with anticipation – heart-racing, soulful expectation. And every goodbye was marked with tears, sometimes painful and gut-wrenching, because we could not imagine how we would be able to fill our lungs with oxygen without the other to move the diaphragm. We so quickly became a symbiotic unit and every thought I ever had about not wanting to marry went out the window like a paper floating away in a brisk March wind. My fears or uncertainty about how I could sustain a relationship seemed foolish and immature. Here I was madly in love and all I could think about, even at the tender age of 25, was how fast I could begin my life as his wife.

We got engaged in less than 6 months and just a little more than 2 years after we met, we walked down the aisle in a lovely spring wedding and began a whole new chapter in our lives. We set out to right the wrongs of our parents. We vowed to do it differently. We committed to break the cycle. We blindly, ignorantly, whimsically set out on what seemed like a perfectly paved pathway together.

Next month will be 19 years since that lovely spring wedding. 19 years – nearly two decades! In contrast, his parents’ marriage lasted 13 years, my parents stuck it out for 15 before they separated, my sister’s ended at year 14. There was a moment, several years ago, that we realized that we had hit some magical milestone in our family. We were officially the longest married couple. We made a toast. And returned to our blissfully banal life. We have expanded our symbiotic union by two with sons that keep us grounded and focused and remind us why we decided to enter this extremely challenging and complex obstacle course.

In 19 years we have had more than our share of fights and far too many moments, through tears, that we each gritted our teeth and questioned our beliefs. That perfectly paved pathway has revealed many cracks, uprooted roots that have pushed up the concrete and we have tripped and fallen many, many times. We have been challenged to find the intoxicating love that left us in tears when we could not be together every moment of the day. Now the tears were rage-filled and that love was nowhere to be found. Well, actually, it was buried beneath piles and piles of hurt feelings, unkind words, bad choices, anger, resentment and all the wonderful things that are often hallmarks of long-term relationships riddled with financial woes, exhaustion from child rearing and general disappointments that life did not turn out to have the fairy tale ending you dreamt of. For some couples that is where it all goes awry. For many, the challenges become too untenable and the relationship dissolves. For us, we had many sleepless nights, raging battles and days where we could barely look at each other because we loathed the sight of the other but we pushed through. Perhaps the fear of splitting up was more overwhelming than the notion of trying to tolerate each other another day, but we persevered. Despite our efforts to hold it together, I was certain we were doomed. Everyone around us seemed so happy. Their marriages looked so healthy. Everyone seemed to be having sex ALL THE TIME while I couldn’t muster the energy to even think about it most of the time. Everyone appeared to be blissfully in love, even after the trials of marriage had weathered their bond. They all seemed to have a healthier, stronger, more powerful attachment and I didn’t see how my marriage could ever compare.

The joke was on me, of course. Sure, some couples seem to have the good fortune of peaceful and loving relationships and personalities that are not like firecrackers with short fuses and a lit match. Many couples, however, put on a good show when everyone is looking in order to make the pain of their own unhappiness less visible in hopes that it will make their misery more manageable. They sweep it under the rug and put on a good face, hoping no one will notice, existing in silent desperation. For me, I had to learn to stop looking around for comps and spend more time looking at my own relationship and understanding what it needed to work properly. When I searched my soul, I knew I loved my husband on the deepest level and could not imagine a life without him. I needed to focus in on that and stop worrying about the window dressing. None of that shit mattered.

As I watched so many friends delight in the sparkle of new relationships after their marriages ended and they were reborn into these new loves, I had to dig deep to find a way to reconnect with the man who changed my life and brought peace to a war-torn girl. I doubted, I questioned, I ached, I cried, I searched, I begged for mercy. And then I fell in love all over again. This time, I fell in love with the old pair of shoes lying in the back of the closet that I had forgotten were hiding out, stuffed underneath some boxes of new shoes that were so shiny and inviting. I slipped into those shoes and they felt warm and comfortable, and my feet knew exactly how to mold themselves into the leather. They were perfectly suited for me. I exhaled and I opened my eyes wide to find that nothing ever changed between my husband and me. We still loved each other deeply – in fact, we were much more in love than we had ever been but we had lost our way. We fell victim to the complications of life. We stopped paying attention, took our eyes off the road as the car careened into the woods. It was a bit dented but still ran pretty well and just needed someone to get behind the wheel and steer it onto a new road.

I love my husband more today than I ever could have imagined that pretty spring day 19 years ago. I look into the eyes I have stared into millions of times and I see our lifetime together. Soon we will be together longer than we have not. Now we fit together like two puzzle pieces that slide together so easily. There were days we had to shove ourselves together, taking a second look to see if, in fact, we were the right pair of pieces but, now, it is easier. Sure, we still take each other for granted at times and we still have trouble finding time and energy to have quiet intimate moments but I know, without any uncertainty, that there is no one else I would travel the road of life with. We are a real story, a 3-dimensional, full-color, reality of married life. We are imperfect, we hurt each other, we make mistakes. And, we love each other with everything we have. And we fall in love over and over again.

DIFFERENCE


trailblazer quoteI have spent a lot of time in my life figuring out how to fit in.  How to blend in with the crowd.  I struggled to look like everyone else, act like everyone else and make people believe I was no different from them.  When I was younger, my only wish was to not be different.  I didn’t want to be defined as anything other than regular or ordinary.  Of course, this is because my life growing up was anything but regular or ordinary.  My life was abnormal.  My family was broken, I was broken.  I did not have the opportunity to have a childhood like so many of my friends did.  I never had the chance to be carefree and explore all the “normal” experiences of youth.  Instead, I was hiding, I was covering, I was shielding.

When I would write stories as a kid, I would create characters that resembled what I believed to be ideal.  They had two loving parents, lots of friends, beautiful dresses, and practically lived in castles with rooms filled with magical toys.  I always gravitated towards the girls who embodied this image…and they never liked me because I was so very different.  I was a square peg trying to contort myself to fit into a round hole.  I refused to openly hang out with the kids who were outsiders because I could not comfortably admit that I was really one of them.  It is probably why I was friends with so many gay boys who were deeply in the closet.  We had so much in common – we were hiding out together.

Fast forward the clock.  I’m now nearly 46 years old.  I have hiked up and down metaphorical mountains in my life, searching for my place, looking for answers, trying to identify my own identity.  I have explored every aspect of my personality and tooled around inside my mind in an effort to understand what makes me tick.  I have confronted my demons (and continue to) and revealed my vulnerabilities in order to force myself to come out of hiding and show myself to the world.  And, in the end, I know for sure that I do NOT fit in, I will never blend.  I am not a face lost in the crowd nor am I a voice drowned out by the chorus.

And, guess what?

I love that about myself.

Today, just today, this very day, I acknowledged something about myself that I never have before.  I accepted and honored the fact that I am different and I am so totally ok with my difference.  My difference makes me unique and makes me talented and makes me special and makes me ME.  And ME is pretty awesome.  I know that to be true.  It does not make me perfect.  In fact, part of my uniqueness is my ability to be so unbelievably imperfect and yet so extraordinary at the same time.  I don’t have a very big ego but I believe, without a doubt, that I am special and that I have gifts and talents that are so uniquely mine that I cannot try to compare or contain myself to anyone else’s paradigm.

Yesterday I was reading a really interesting article about how successful entrepreneurs have such distinct identities and how their embracement of their distinctions ultimately is part of their success.  I felt liberated in the very moment that I read those words because I realized that I have been trying to conform to so many other people’s idea of who I am.  For years, my mother would tell me that she knew me better than anyone and she would choose words – words that no mother should choose for her daughter – to describe me.  I was labeled with unkind words and suggestions that I was dishonest and deceitful when my heart told me that i was sincere and authentic.  Because I have a penchant for gravitating towards narcissists, I tended to be marginalized in my professional environments because I was always so gifted at elevating others while I was squashed underneath the weight of the massive egos I was bolstering.  I was rarely recognized for my talents but, instead, scolded for my unwillingness to continue to be cast aside or passed over.  When I tried to stand up for myself, I was brutally diminished because my needs to be whole were in direct contradiction with the narcissists need to be all-encompassing and overbearing.  I was left to feel small and minimal.

When I read the article yesterday, I felt light and airy.  I felt empowered to embrace my individual identity and explore those traits that are so uniquely mine.  Now, of course, yesterday was not the first day that I figured out that being unique was a good thing.  I have not been living under a rock for the last four and a half decades foolishly believing that blending in was the right strategy.  But, sometimes, the smallest thing – the simplest of words – causes a piano to fall on your head.  Sometimes a basic concept seems out of reach until suddenly it is not.

Once upon a time I was 45 years, 8 months and 15 days old and I stood up and believed in myself.  I was confident and strong and brave and realized that there is nothing I cannot do and no trail I cannot blaze.  I am different and unique and quirky and, sometimes downright odd.  And I am me.  Great, awesome me.

OCEAN VIEWS


IMG_3683“The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can’t.” – Christopher Paolini

I just took a walk on the beach – a pretty uncommon occurrence for me in February. Fortunately, I have been swept away to Florida for work for the weekend and had the luxury of spending an hour to take a leisurely walk along the ocean, feeling the sand nestling between my toes and listening to the serene sounds of the smashing waves along the sea shelled shore. I often forget the effects the beach has on me. In fact, while I have known I was coming down here for a few months, I gave no thought to packing a bathing suit or even setting aside time to relax on the beach. I looked for excuses to not do anything relaxing and focus the time away on the work that I am here for and any other work I could sneak in with 2 uninterrupted days to myself. It’s odd when I think about it now – why wouldn’t I have focused on the beach, the pool, the spa or some other indulgences for myself? I am staying at the Ritz Carlton – there is an unending array of options for me to pamper myself and, yet, I focused solely on the amount of work I could accomplish while here. I really did not pack a bathing suit and I kept checking the weather hoping for rain.

Yet, once I got here, I could not escape the majesty of the ocean. From the balcony of my room, I immediately felt ensconced in the warmth of the sea air and calmed by the lull of the ocean tide. Peace and calm took over. As I walked along the ocean today, I marveled at how blissful I was and how my brain so easily shut itself down. Of course, being me, I pondered this and, for the first time in a really, really long time, I did not have much to think about except watching the seagulls and breathing in concert with the waves.

The beach has always been a significant part of my life. Perhaps it is because I am a cancer and, as a water sign, feel very connected to the ocean. Perhaps it is because some of my best memories of childhood took place at the beach. Perhaps it is because you simply cannot be stressed when you sit and watch the ocean and become mesmerized by the ebbs and flows of the tide. The calming that comes over you is difficult to be disrupted. When I was very young, my family spent lots of time in Montauk, NY because my father’s parents owned a home there. After coming over from Italy and settling in the Bronx where many Italian immigrants landed, my grandparents decided to truly move out to the country and settled in what was, at the time, a very undeveloped area – a simple fishing village – at the very tip of Long Island. Back in the 60’s when they retired out there, everyone built little cape cod houses on giant pieces of property that remained untouched. My grandparents carved out a piece of their land to develop a vegetable garden that rivaled some produce farms. They replicated the gardens they had grown up with in Sicily and, from their crops, produced some of the most aromatic, magnificent food I have ever tasted. You could not walk into my grandparents’ home without a pot of gravy on the stove or a fresh pizza in the oven. My little 5′ grandmother Annie could cook up a feast for dozens and managed to smack a few fannies with her wooden spoon as the children ran through her house.

In the days when my parents were still living their idyllic life, we would venture out to Montauk several times a year, especially in the summer, and experience some of the most tranquil moments of my lifetime. My grandfather, who always seemed like a little old Italian man (despite his great height and stature), would bounce me on his lap and play with all his grandchildren as we ran around their spacious front yard or ride our bikes along the gravelly, windy roads in their neighborhood. My grandmother would yell at us in Italian if we even dared to step foot near her garden. I was not a particularly adventurous or disobedient child but, sometimes, the curiosity simply took over and I would go down deep into the property to see what all the fuss was about. It was spectacular. In my lifetime I have never seen such elegant eggplants or bright, luscious tomatoes. There were peppers and cucumbers and cauliflower and broccoli. I never had any interest in the actual vegetables but I was fascinated by the magnitude of it all. I would peek my nose over the small fencing around the garden and, without fail, my grandmother chided me and I quickly dashed off to avoid her wrath.

I remember climbing the dunes only to find the breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. After my little body made the climb up the steep sand hills, I would just exhale when I saw the waves breaking. I could not wait to run down and tempt my fate, praying not to get swept under. Needless to say, the tide often pulled me in and I emerged laughing and with a bathing suit filled with wet sand. My mother hated the water and, frankly, hated the idea of putting on a bathing suit even more, so she usually sat under an umbrella watching from a distance, smoking a cigarette or reading a book. She never played in the ocean with us but my father, if he was with us, usually came running in to rescue his kids. It was glorious. It is all still so perfectly vivid in my mind. They are precious moments – a short blink of time – that left such impenetrable marks on my soul. The memories represent bliss, serenity, calm, peace, happiness, joy. I pray that I never lose my memory because these are possessions that I cannot safely lock away in a vault to be pulled out and admired. They exist only in my mind. No photographs, no videos, no one left to talk about it with. They are mine and exist only in me. My grandparents’ house has long since been bulldozed – the property developed by the new inhabitants of Montauk. Now it is filled with wealthy weekenders who have moved past the Hampton’s and, while they love the charm of the upgraded fishing community, still want to have their creature comforts – their McMansions, their gourmet kitchens, their in ground pools.

The last time I went back to Montauk was around 1990. I was single and decided to take a weekend for myself. It was an unusual move for me at the ripe old age of 23. My life was all about my friends, my job, dating and having fun. But the quiet, introverted part of me desperately needed to be alone, to recapture the memories of my childhood, to ponder my reality. It was probably the beginning of my journey right there because it was painful and difficult to find peace on that trip. I was confronted with the realities of my life. The idyllic scene I had so masterfully captured and framed in my mind was now being disrupted by the truth of my life. It was infiltrated by divorce, abuse, death, misery, disconnection. The rays of sunlight that shined in my memories were masked by dark clouds and thunderous noise that did not at all resemble the calm and peaceful waves. Suddenly, I was confronting everything that went wrong. Going back to that joyful place made me sad. It brought me pain. I had a journal and I wrote and wrote and wrote. I poured my sadness onto pages as I sat by the water. I cried. I rode a bike around the village and visited all of my favorite haunts. I went back into White’s Drugstore where I had wandered as a child, buying bubbles, coloring books, postcards to send home to my friends. Everything looked similar but it was all different. I was all different. I was broken and I was first beginning to learn just how broken and was trying to find my way to a repair shop.

I have never been back and, remarkably, have never been there with my husband. I discovered a new happy place with my family – the Jersey Shore. I adopted my husband’s fond memories from his childhood and created new memories with my own family. Our children spent weeks during the summer on Long Beach Island. We take them to Asbury Park. We visited Jenkinson’s Aquarium and played the games on the boardwalk. And, the beach still brings me peace. I still feel the calm. I have managed to push past the sadness of that part of my life and illuminate with the soft glow of distance and understanding. It was just a sliver of my life – just a flicker, a gust of wind – but it also shaped me. It made me who I am today, even if in some small way. I had a glimpse into what life could be and it helped provide me with a simple sketch of what I might want my life to look like. It helped me understand that it is not all bad. Nothing ever is. There is always a silver lining. I am disappointed I don’t have more memories of that family, that house, that beach, that life. Yet, I am grateful it was real, even if just for a split second.

One day I will return to Montauk to try to recall the precious memories with this new mind, with a healed heart. But, for today, I walked on the beach in Florida and succumbed to the pure pleasure that the ocean brings. I was peaceful, I was happy, and I remembered.

 

 

 

 

 

KINDNESS


kindnessToday, I simply need to give a shout out to my good friend Claire who has committed herself to spreading kindness in every way possible.  She started a wonderful blog in January, setting her intention for spreading kindness throughout the year.  She’s gaining some traction and I can feel the impact.  I have found myself reflecting on my own actions and behaviors, using her stories and her efforts as a barometer of sorts.  I am inspired by her passion and commitment to create a society of kinder, gentler people.

One of my great pleasures in life comes from helping others as  I am so moved when I can connect with another human being and provide them with something – even if just a nugget – to help them propel themselves forward.  My passion for giving back and supporting causes that resonate with me is part of what brings me joy and satisfaction.  But, kindness is much simpler and far more complicated than that.  Kindness is a core value.  It is a deep-rooted commitment to shifting behavior and focusing on putting good into the world.  It is about the small stuff.  It is about courtesy and consideration.  It is about selflessness.  It is hard to sustain.  Listen, I am a hardcore New Yorker – cynical, snarky, sarcastic and sometimes down right obnoxious.  Most of the people in my life love that about me and, frankly, so do I.  Nonetheless,  my intentions and behavior are all about goodness, kindness, sincerity and integrity.  It is all about balance and sometimes that is not easy to maintain.  But I make the effort every.single.day.  It requires hard work and effort because life is challenging and our daily struggles often disrupt our intentions.

Ultimately, I simply love the concept of paying it forward and this blog post today is intended to do just that.  Yesterday, I wrote a very personal and very honest post about my own struggles with trust and forgiveness.  In response to it, a good friend complimented me and supported me in an extremely kind and generous way which nourished me and propelled me forward.   And that right there is kindness in action as I was inspired to do the same for someone else.  The act of writing and putting your thoughts and feelings out in the world for others to read can be very risky.  People interpret things through their own lenses and they don’t always understand your intended meaning behind the words.  But, I guess, that is often the beauty of writing.  It allows the reader to travel with you but on their own voyage and bring their own perspectives into play.  The connection you can develop through finding commonalities, regardless how remote, can be powerful and extraordinary.  For me, the ability to write and share my history and, often, the pain that has accompanied my journey is an act of kindness for me as I try to share these experiences to reinforce that we are never alone.  There is always someone else on the road with you – sometimes a bit further ahead, sometimes much farther behind.  We are all alike in many ways.  As different as we may look or as varied as our backgrounds might be, we are still a bunch of cells that have formed to create our unique DNA.  There are overlaps in so many ways.

So, today, I hope I can inspire and encourage you to find a way to spread some kindness.  I am going to continue my quest to do so because, in the end, it feels really, really good!

AULD LANG SYNE


AULD LANG SYNEI’ve noticed over the past few days that lots of my friends on Facebook have been posting their “Year in Review” which consists of a series of photos that appeared on their FB wall, randomly selected to encapsulate their activities over the year.  In the past, Facebook would similarly offer up a compilation of your written posts to take a snapshot of what your year was like.  Looking at the images certainly evokes a sense of nostalgia, especially if they’re of close friends and you can remember the events where the photos were taken and partake in the reminiscence of the shared memories.  Frankly, I think about my year a little bit differently.  The photographs certainly remind me of the happy times with all the smiles and laughter that make me feel joyful but I also have to take a close look at the struggles of my year to gain an understanding of what I have learned and how I have grown.  It is imperative to acknowledge and respect the challenges that I have confronted in order to ensure that the learning is etched in my brain and that I can grow and improve in the coming year.

I am currently sitting in my melancholy room – my first floor guest room with its dim lighting and tranquility that always centers me and is my favorite place to write.  I came in here tonight because I was banished from the living room and surrounding rooms because my son has a bunch of friends over for a sleepover.  My husband escaped to our bedroom upstairs with the dogs and I decided I would move to the guest room to lay down and perhaps read for a while.  The moment I stepped into the room, however, I immediately felt nostalgic and thoughtful.  It was so distracting that it rendered me incapable of concentrating on reading.  I became overwhelmed with emotions and was compelled to try to capture the feelings in a meaningful way.  Curiously, this room has taken on an energy of its own for me.  It’s like sitting at the beach and smelling the salt and hearing the waves crash to the shore.  You can feel the sun baking on your skin and all the tension leaves your body nearly instantly.  It is almost impossible to feel tense at the ocean because of the calming and restorative powers of the sea.  The intense feelings that pour over me when I step into this room are inescapable.  I need not contemplate nor ruminate because the moment I open the door and move inside, I am flooded with warmth and calm and creativity takes over.  I don’t exactly know what it is about this room but I have my suspicions as to its magical qualities.

Tonight, when I sat down in here, I decided to text my friend to share some of what I was feeling.  I knew that a little texting was not going to cut it for me as I had a lot in my head and it was more than I could expect a friend to guide me through.  When I settled down with my thoughts, the first thing that came to mind for me was change.  Change is such a constant.  In my job, when we work with our corporate clients, we always teach employees to be prepared for change because it is the one thing that is, ironically, absolutely predictable.  Change is always going to happen.  As long as you are open and willing to engage with the change, you’ll ultimately be fine.  For me, change is certainly familiar.  I am constantly renewing.  Despite my inner desire for predictability and consistency, I have a very primal need for change.  I get bored.  I need to grow and learn.  I need to have new experiences while constantly battling my resistance to trying new things.  I want fresh faces, fresh ideas, yet I rely upon my old standards, the friends who know me for years and years and can help me reassemble my history when it all comes apart in my head.  At the end of every year, I rarely feel sad for the ending and typically feel energized by the renewal and the anticipation of what another new year can bring.  I am hopeful – eternally hopeful – of a better, more prosperous, more satisfying annum.

So, over the last few days when I was looking at everyone’s photos and smiling at some as I recalled the happy memories, I realized that photos could not encapsulate my year.  They only told one small part of the story.  My year was highlighted by things you can never capture in a photograph.  They were small moments – some quiet and some quite loud – that catalyzed me to change, to advance, to propel forward.  Some of the moments were tear-filled because I was sad or in pain.  Some were tear-filled because my heart was so full it hurt.  Some moments were solitary when I searched deep into my soul to find answers to questions that plagued me for a lifetime and still sat unanswered, patiently tapping its feet waiting for me to solve the riddle.  For me, my year was one that brought continued awareness of who I am, where I am going and what is most important in my life.  I suppose this blog is the best snapshot of my year but, of course, I only shared parts of it.  There were still so many moments in between the photos and in between the posts that pushed me from day to day, urging me to shift into the next form that my life needed me to take.

I fell in love this year.  I fell in love with my husband all over again.  I remembered that I have a partner who, through the darkest of days, stands beside me and provides me with unconditional love.  He makes me feel safe and secure even when there is no safety and no security when the wolf is threatening to huff and puff and blow our non-brick house down.  He envelopes me and ensures that I am loved.

I also fell in love with myself this year.  I found a part of me that either had gone missing or I had overlooked for a very long time.  I was able to do that arm-in-arm with some very intimate and special friends who supported me and showed me what I am capable of.  Not many words passed our lips but the power of friendship – really strong and significant friendship – propelled me to discover parts of me that I simply never felt safe enough to explore.

I revisited trust this year.  As the year comes to a close, this idea continues to wash through my mind.  A long, long time ago I stopped trusting.  Probably it happened when I was very little and realized that I could not count on anyone to take care of me.  I learned then to be tough and strong to make sure that I could survive.  I didn’t believe anyone would protect me and I learned how to build a shield, a strong armor to protect myself from anyone trying to break down the fort that I had built.  No one was going to penetrate my castle.  I built a deep moat with a small bridge that only a carefully chosen set of individuals could cross.  Rarely did I let anyone even approach the bridge but this year, not only did I let down the bridge more frequently, I actually gave a select few the passcode to lower it themselves.  No picture can describe the power of that.  No image can articulate the vulnerability I opened myself up to.  And nothing can express the joy and relief that comes from moving out from the shadows and showing myself in full technicolor.

My mother passed this year and, I suspect, with her went floods of pain.  Many locked doors began to swing open, asking to be entered and explored.  It has been painful and powerful and complicated and sad.  It has relocated me mentally and brought me to a new level of being, a new place of understanding.  I feel things I have not felt for many years because I was so locked away, working tirelessly to protect myself from old demons and monsters that had long ago lost their fright.  But, until my mother’s soul left the earth, I could not be freed from decades of pain and struggle.  I am sad to not have been loved in the way a child should be but I am grateful to have developed a sense of enlightenment that, perhaps, would never have been afforded me without the struggle, without my particular journey.  And, now, I have a clear lens to see what I need to see in order to do what I am meant to do in the world.  My mother had her moments and I loved her so much as a young child but she suffered a lifetime of mental illness. While I try to forgive her for all the pain she caused, I still strive to understand the depths of the damage and am continually amazed by the unexpected eruptions.

Nearly 10 months ago, my very astute friend asked me some questions that catapulted me into a search deep within myself that I knew would lead me down a very windy, very narrow, very treacherous road.  And, as this year comes to a close, I know for certain what I only suspected back then was true – this year’s journey was intentional, despite the pain, despite the problems, and its outcomes abundant.  As I sit in my melancholy room, allowing all of my senses to take over, I can only smile a little internal smile knowing that all of the wonderment and all of the magic of my year can be captured only in my mind.  I cannot post it on facebook nor can I even articulate it using my mad writing skills.  It is preserved inside me, providing me with a bounty to catapult me into the next year, hopeful that even more of my unique riches and rewards will be forthcoming.

And, for that, I am quietly and overwhelmingly grateful.

MY GAY BEST FRIEND


I have a gay best friend.

Apparently, it has become something of a chic accessory to have one.  Teen Vogue called GBF’s the hottest fashion accessory of 2010.  GBFs are listed in the Urban Dictionary as  every guy’s gateway to getting a hot girl.  However, for me, not being all that trendy and definitely too old to be “of the moment”, my GBF is by no means an accessory.  Instead, he is a blessing for which I am very grateful.

Truth be told, I might consider myself something of a magnet for gay men.  I never gave it much thought until recently because it all seemed pretty normal to me. I have always been surrounded by a fair number of gay men –  I grew up and have lived most of my life in the vicinity of New York City and I have worked in creative industries. I was a theater geek in  high school and college and, as a result of growing up in a complicated, dysfunctional and broken family, I was always searching for acceptance in many of the same ways that my gay male friends were as they were embarking on their journey of sexual identity.

Over the past year, my own attraction to gay men and their innate attraction to me, has become abundantly obvious to not only me but also those around me.  I have sort of developed a rep for being the chick with all the gay friends.  I kind of love that because I adore and cherish my guys.  But, being me, it is simply not in my nature to accept things without first understanding the underlying meaning and, therefore, have spent some time inquiring about this phenomenon.  I’ve asked a number of my gay friends, particularly my gay bestie, to explain what the attraction is and I’ve gotten quite a few interesting responses that intrigue me.

Aside from being snarky and bitchy, which stereotypically makes for a great gal pal for any gay man, I seem to have a “quality” that draws these guys to me.  I have fancied myself a fag hag but, after considerable research and much discussion, I have learned that this is not at all a positive label and does not fit the bill for me.  As a married woman with a family, I immediately fall out of the category as I am not likely to fall in love or desire any of my gay friends.  The appeal and the dynamic is completely different for me.  While I love that my guys all have pretty great fashion sense and typically enjoy going shopping with me, the depth of the relationships are what makes them meaningful to me.  And, especially with my GBF, I feel like I can wear my worts and be accepted in a non-judgmental, non-competitive way.  And, I suspect, the appeal for them is similar.  There is no drama and we all simply go with the flow.

This all makes perfect sense understanding where I come from.  The female dynamic in my family was very triangulated with my mother and sister constantly competing with me and my mother pitting us against each other.  My early experiences with women were complicated and challenging and it resulted in my tendencies to gravitate towards the boys because they were easy.  I was also bullied severely as a young girl.  I was frequently taunted by other children because I was chubby, insecure, wore glasses and didn’t know how to fit in.  I was an easy target for the kids because I was painfully shy and overtly sad and, with everything going on in my home, I didn’t have the skills or confidence to stand up for myself.  The bullying was shameful and I hid it until I was beaten badly by another girl in 4th grade.  Suddenly we were in the principal’s office with my mother and hers and everyone knew what I had endured.  My mother’s own shame over being so disconnected from what was happening to her child rendered her incapable of doing much but feeling guilty. Back in the 70s, they didn’t have resources for kids who were bullied so I continued to tolerate the abuse until I got older, developed a bit more confidence and, thankfully, by high school I was able to tap into my natural ability to build rapport with others and finally found a safe space for myself.  Not surprisingly, I also found myself surrounded by a bunch of guys who were painfully confused by their sexuality.  They knew then, as they know now that I am someone who implicitly understands their experience and offers complete acceptance.  I suspect it is a part of the fabric of our beings, part of the signals that we give off, that we find instant connection.  As my GBF will tell you, Like likes Like.  We get each other.

Looking back at the various gay men that have played a central part of my life, one interesting trend has emerged.  In my younger years, most of the gay men with whom I was close were deeply in the closet.  They all came out to me many years into our relationship and typically after the intensity had faded a bit.  I’ve wondered why they were not able to share their truth with me and realized that it was primarily because they were struggling to be honest with themselves.  What I offered them was the space to be whomever they needed to be without labeling them or challenging them.  As a teen and young adult, the dynamics sometimes got confusing to me because I never truly understood the unspoken boundaries of our relationships.  Not having the sophistication that I have as an adult, I did not understand that these men were, in fact, bonding with me like a port in a storm.  I was a safe haven because I never put any pressure on them to see me as a romantic partner because I, myself, was struggling with my own self-worth and did have any romantic expectations.  Our parallel struggles made us extraordinary emotional counterparts.  However, I would be lying if I did not admit that, sometimes, I wondered what was wrong with me that the relationships never evolved into more.  And, relying upon my strong self-deprecating capabilities, I always assumed that it must have been me.  I never even considered the alternative.

For sure, these relationships worked for me because of my need for emotional intimacy – something that was so lacking in my life growing up and was being more than satisfied with these men.  I felt loved and nurtured.  Unconsciously I was seeking unconditional love and it was coming at me in abundance.  As I got older and my need to combine emotional intimacy with physical intimacy increased, it became more challenging for me.  Because of my relationships with my gay friends, I was often emotionally unavailable to men that I dated.  No one I dated understood or connected with me in the way my gay friends did and, frankly, I was not even open to letting them try.  What I didn’t know then but later learned is that my situation was not as unique as I believed it to be.  This dynamic existed in many gay men/straight women relationships with each filling very unique and powerful needs in the other.

Everything changed when I met my husband.  He was the first man that I had met who was able to provide me with a complete and fulfilling relationship.  I found myself, for the first time, being able to connect together a powerful emotional intimacy with strong physical intimacy and so began my 20-year love affair.  The relationship with my husband and the arrival of my children quickly changed the dynamics in my life and, for years I did not have any close relationships with gay men – most likely because I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to devote to them.  Nonetheless, my innate attraction to gay men and theirs to me continued and, living in a community with a large gay population, they continued to flock to me and I slowly grew my herd.

I recently read a great article about the power of relationships between gay men and straight women.  The article quotes John R. Ballew, a professional counselor from Atlanta who suggests that “from the perspective of gay men, women offer intimate friendship that is generally free from the complications of sexual interest.  For straight women, gay men offer male friendship that’s free from game playing. Women can relax and be themselves with gay men in a way that’s usually not possible with hetero men.”  There is a real phenomenon between some gay men and some straight women that is unlike any other relationship.  It allows for a level of emotional intimacy that often gets marred in a physical relationship.  For me, there are many unique aspects that I think lends to the strength of these bonds I have, particularly with my GBF.

My GBF appeared in my life several years ago when I started a new job.  We met at a work function and had, what I believed was, an immediate chemistry.  Of course, knowing my GBF as I do now, he was playing me a bit and I fell for it.  He’ll tell you that he didn’t feel the same powerful connection right away but was intrigued enough and motivated enough to get to know me better – but that is the hallmark of our relationship.  I’m impulsive and he’s strategic.  We are ying and yang.

When I met my GBF, I was at a crossroads in my life.  I was changing careers, my kids were a little older and my marriage was well into its second decade. Unlike when I was younger, I was not necessarily seeking out a deep emotional connection.  I just needed allies on my journey and, for whatever reason, I knew, instinctively, that he would be an important player.  Plus, he made me laugh.  I had no intention of becoming close friends with him, never expected that our relationship would stretch much beyond work pals and certainly never expected that he would essentially become part of my family.  Given my history, it was rare that I would let anyone get that close to me.  And, since he lived 1000 miles away and only came to NYC once every few months at best, it would have been difficult to bridge that gap over random cocktails or dinners after client meetings.  Yet, we did.

Whatever the reasons, whatever the connections, what I know is this:  To quote my friend Tom Fiffer, who wrote in his blog this week “Blessings come in the form of people.”  I have been blessed with many spectacular people – men and women – and my life is better because of those I share it with.  And no matter how rough the road is, some people, particularly my GBF, make it extraordinary.