Easy Like Sunday Morning

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Best friends. Balloons. Easy like Sunday morning. Groovin' on a Sunday afternoon.🎈

This photo I took of my son and his best friend at Malibu Bluffs Park is featured on the table of contents page in the current issue of Malibu Times Magazine. Although the issue has been out for two weeks, I didn’t realize I hadn’t shared the news until I walked by the magazine stand in front of Ralphs supermarket yesterday. It had just been replenished with a fresh stack of mags, so I thought I’d snap a quick pic... Thank you @malibutimesmag and @tracyiswright for the cool honor.

#malibutimesmag #featuredphoto #winterissue

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

 

Communication

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Communication (noun): 1. the successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings. 2. means of connection between people.

I've been thinking a lot about communication recently, and how much our relationships hinge on it. The health of a relationship *the sheer existence of it* relies on communication (verbal or otherwise) between the two people engaged in it. Engaged, as in actively participating. Assuming how others feel, or leaving them no choice than to make assumptions about how *you* feel, in the absence of direct communication, is an affront to the relationship, and a likely sign of its demise.

Our responsibility as caring, feeling humans is to authentically connect with those we have relationships with, to honor those relationships by being present in them, and to be open, honest & forthright rather than closed off, dishonest & evasive. It's unfortunate, but so many relationships perish under the weight of the words not said, the feelings not expressed, and the actions not taken. Such a waste.

This reminds me of a line in Gone With the Wind, when Rhett Butler, upset about how many soldiers were killed in the Battle of Gettysburg, said to Scarlet O'Hara: "I'm angry. Waste always makes me angry and that's what this is, sheer waste." That's how I feel about good relationships being damaged, often irrevocably, in the delay, absence, or mishandling of communication. Sheer waste.

Many would say it is meant to be, as you can't force anyone to do anything... you can't make people take action, be courageous, or care more. Others would say keep trying if you love them, and never give up if you think they are worth it. I say, stay true to yourself, trust your intuition, and "when someone shows you who they are, believe them." You know the truth deep down of who should stay and who should go, often long before you will admit it to yourself. Do not lose your self-respect in the face of their cowardice, immaturity, or selfishness. Never hold on so tight that you close your eyes to the truth.

Show up for others. Love. Care. Communicate. Open your eyes wide 👀. See who's there, showing up for you, and honor that. And whomever is not showing up, isn't there.

#showup #whenpeopleshowyouwhotheyarebelievethem

 

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

Love By Choice Rather Than Obligation

 My Eternal Friend & ex-Stepmother Julie and Me - March 2000

My Eternal Friend & ex-Stepmother Julie and Me - March 2000

I just found out you died.

Died of cancer. The same lung cancer that almost killed you a couple years ago. I didn't know it had come back. If I did, I would have flown out to see you. I would have called you to see what I could do. To talk to you again. To say I love you for the last time.

But I didn't know. You didn't call me to tell me and I'm not sure why. Maybe you didn't want me to know... to worry, to be sad, to have to try to find the words to say goodbye.

I heard once the cancer came back it took you quickly. So quick that maybe there wasn't time for goodbyes - at least not with me, across all these miles. Or maybe you just wanted to slip away peacefully without having to say the farewells you weren't required or ready to say.

It makes sense, I guess. It just makes me sad to not have been given the chance to tell you what you meant to me or to thank you for all you had done for me. I think you already knew; but still, we humans like to say it. Saying it makes it more real. Saying it ensures us that our feelings and intentions are known. Unequivocally. Unmistakably. With no presumptions made, and no feelings implied or misunderstood.

So I am saying it now. Here, on this site full of my writing. A site you never visited, nor ever read one word from, but still were so proud it existed.

I gave my sister Rebecca some of the words on this page to read aloud at your memorial service in my absence. I wanted my feelings to be represented there so all the people there knew you mattered to others who weren't there. Others like me.

What she read was brief... not nearly everything that came out of me when I first heard you were gone. All the words that came out of me are here now, written with tears flowing and a heart full of gratitude for having known you.

When we spoke on the phone last summer, you were in full remission... your hair had grown back, you felt great and were riding your bicycle around town. You had just begun to explore the internet, googling and wikipedia-ing everything you wanted to know more about.

You didn't want to correspond via email, be friends on Facebook, or even visit this site to read some of the things I wrote. Although I wanted you to read what I had been writing for the past couple years, I respected your slow pace and understood your intention to not get overwhelmed or swallowed up by the abyss the internet has the potential to be. I thought about printing some of my best pieces out to mail to you; but it's funny how we all think we have infinite time to eventually do the things we don't have time to do in the moment.

So I am going to choose to believe that you are reading this somehow, feeling the sentiments and emotions I lay bear here, through the energy that is now you.

I will never see you in person again. The finality of that fact is a tough one. The last time I saw you was here in Malibu twelve years ago when you attended my wedding and were escorted down the aisle in procession as my stepmother and important family member.

Over the last decade, we were able to keep our relationship going, despite your divorce from my dad, the distance between our homes, and my being swallowed up by newborns and toddlers. Two or three lengthy, inspiring, and uplifting phone calls per year were all we had; but I was grateful for them.

One was always around your birthday in August, when we would talk about the summer we were having and our plans for the Fall... another was when you would call me at the start of each new year to gush about how fantastic my holiday card was, how beautiful my children were, or how the Christmas gift I sent you just couldn't be more perfect than it was... and a third was usually around Mother's Day, when you would thank me for the Mother's Day card I sent, and tell me how overwhelmed and blown away you were by my kindness and generosity for thinking of you as a mother.

Of course, I lost my mother to a car accident shortly after I lost you as my stepmother. The difference is, I never really lost you. Not until now. You became more of a mother to me after your marriage to my dad ended, and in the wake of my mom's death, than you ever presumed or intended to be when you were still married to him.

It's not like you took my mom's place after she died. You didn't want to do that; nor did I want you to try. The truth was, you couldn't do it even if you did try, and you knew that.

So instead of stepping into her role, you reinvented it. For yourself, and for me. You became a new entity... a mother by choice rather than obligation.

You gave me something unique that I hadn't had before - a nurturing presence who lifted me up, accepted me for exactly who I was, and loved me so unconditionally that I became stronger and braver and more self-assured because of it. You believed in me so much and was so proud of me in the most generous and selfless way, that I began to believe in myself more. So even though you weren't physically in my life, you were always there for me.

And I was here. Figuring things out, often floundering, succeeding and failing in motherhood, marriage, and life. Our calls seemed to always happen at the times when I needed your support, advice, and guidance the most. I definitely didn't call you as often as I wanted, to see how you were doing and check in on how life was for you. You loved it when I did, but you didn't need me to. You always made sure to tell me how much you loved and appreciated me, felt my love across the miles and held it close to your heart in the time between our talks.

You let me know the cards and photos of my family I sent were valued as some of your most treasured possessions. You expressed your regard for them through wildly enthusiastic and whimsical descriptions of where you placed them in your home - like on your refrigerator door so you would see them every time you made a cup of tea, or on your bedside table so you could see our smiling faces when you woke up - and these long, beautiful expressions of appreciation that you would generously give to me always left me with a deep and comforting feeling that I was truly cherished by you.

What an amazing gift you had. The ability to spread so much joy and love by just being YOU. Your true and unapologetic self was so honest, vulnerable, and sincere that I would bet any person who was lucky enough to know you, or be showered even once with your unconditional adoration and praise, was left a better person.

You were an enchanted, mystical and ethereal force of positive energy and light. You brightened my life with your encouragement, your sage advice, your enlightened wisdom, and your boundless love.

And although I will miss you deeply, your love will stay with me; and I will never lose what you meant to me.

Sister On

When I was eighteen years old and my sister was twenty, our mother took us on a whirlwind trip to Europe for three weeks in the summer of 1990. We bounced around Italy, France and Spain to see all that Rome, Florence, Sorrento, Pompeii, Piza, Naples, Capri, Venice, Nice, Monaco, Monte Carlo, Cannes, St. Tropez and Barcelona had to offer. From climbing hundreds of stairs to the top of the Vatican dome, marveling (staring) at the gorgeous and otherworldly statue of David, sunbathing (with tops) at a topless beach along the Riviera, to witnessing a Spanish bullfight and getting a sneak peek at the 1992 Olympic Village two years before its global audience experienced it, my sister and I explored Europe with our brash and brazen mother as two young girls still discovering who we were and what our place in the world was destined to be.

Our mom was wild at heart, to say the least, and my sister and I each had (and still have) a touch of that tumultuous part of her within us, although it was expressed in vastly different manners.

While I was outspoken and opinionated in my inner circle, I was much more conservative around people I didn’t know. There was always (and still is) an unbridled passion and fire in me, one that intimidated me when I was younger to the point that I overcompensated by keeping it buried inside and hidden from most, leading me to maintain a much more shy and innocent external demeanor.

On the other hand, my older sister (being the middle child) was the more quiet presence and peacemaker within our family dynamic; yet she blossomed into an artistic, free-spirited, social butterfly when out and about in the world. Although it's true that she and I did put on our share of amateurish dancing and singing acts for relatives in our youth (and even sometimes for our father's captive audiences of his shows while we visited him on tour), it was around our peers that my sister often seemed to express herself much more freely that I did.

She was vastly more comfortable and gregarious around complete strangers than I, and she was always (and still is) a very dynamic and charismatic personality to behold and enjoy. She was the unwitting piped piper to my cautious follower, and I wished I had more of her unabashed ability to entertain and delight those in my presence as she so often seemed to be able to do in hers. Yet she did manage to bring me out of my reserved shell part of the time, often lovingly (and sometimes not so) bullying me to become Ethel to her Lucy, leading me to do things I would never have done on my own.

Our European adventure that summer of '90 began in Rome, where we stepped out for dinner at the swanky Jackie O’ Ristorante one of the first nights there. Mom asked this random Italian man to pose in a photo with us, her young and relatively innocent daughters who were new to this city and just a bit apprehensive of what rollicking and risky predicaments our mother was going to get us into this time. Of course, my sister charmed and relaxed into the moment, in her usual style, as I stood awkwardly by, not feeling entirely confident in that same moment, nor in my young, eighteen-year-old fair skin.

 My sister and I with an admirer at the Jackie O' Ristorante, Roma, Italia - August 1990

My sister and I with an admirer at the Jackie O' Ristorante, Roma, Italia - August 1990

And so it was for the remainder of our vacation in Europe, as well as in our life's journey for quite some years after... my sister vibrantly posing in front of monuments, performing perfect arabesques in the middle of the ruins of the ancient Roman Coliseum, and subsequently dancing, adventuring, exploring, working and discovering more of the world on her own unique terms, thus encapsulating my mom’s adventurous spirit in her own unique way.

Traveling out of our native Los Angeles, beyond California, and outside the U.S., she danced and entertained as a member of a modern dance troupe and then later worked as a sports photography editor at some of the most internationally prestigious sporting events around the world, while I joined the other spectators around her to revel in and marvel at her confidence, expressiveness and talent.

Today, my sister and I are closer in proximity, lifestyle, and mindset than we have been most of our lives. As our mom has since passed, leaving us nearly ten years ago on the eve of us both becoming mothers ourselves, we have been left to raise our children without her here to help us with whatever it is mothers do for their adult daughters while raising their kids. We now lean on each other for counsel, guidance, support, and friendship as we navigate these years of adventures, adversities, and anomalous achievements in mothering and spousing and womaning... sometimes not knowing what the hell we are doing but doing it anyway, always grateful to know we at least have one another to go through our successes and struggles together.

 As I sat down this morning to write a quick anecdote about my sister on her birthday today, this is what came out of me instead. I originally wanted to share just a short story about her that I could post with the photo of us in front of the Jackie O' in Rome on Instagram, but it seems I had much more to say than I thought. I'm just going with it.

We are not only sisters in blood, sharing the same childhood memories and adulthood realities that connect us; we are also sisters in a larger sisterhood, sharing a friendship and kinship with one another, and all women, as we work and fight and love our way through the varied stages of womanhood, motherhood, and adulthood. A lot of 'hoods going on, I know, but the best of them is the sisterhood that binds us.

In the words of Glennon Doyle Melton, our sister in this collective sisterhood...

Sister On.

And to my sister today and always... I love you. Happy Birthday!

Birthday Weekend Away. In Short. Gratitude.

Going out of town solo for my birthday weekend has become kind of an accidental tradition. I've gone away on my birthday each year since 2013, either venturing inland to Los Angeles or trading the shores of Malibu for those of Newport Beach, always seeking sanctuary from the challenges of my hectic, kid-centric life for a day, or two... or three.
A few months after starting this blog in the Spring of 2014, I wrote about that year's memorable trip in my two posts Saturday Night Live(s) and Beautiful Mommy. It was a transformative time for me, as I began to reclaim my identity outside marriage and motherhood; and my inspiration for writing not only helped me find my voice again, but guided my heart to where it now lives.
This past weekend, I made a similar birthday trip to the same place, visiting with some of the same people. This place holds great meaning for me, having both lived there in the past and visited many times thereafter. My two days there were jam-packed with activity, and proved to be too short to fit in all I wanted to do, see, be, and feel.
Yet, however fleeting, I found it to be an exercise in being present, being grateful, and being aware that life's journey is a gift, an opportunity, a lesson, a continuous story... constantly unfolding, teaching us what we still need to learn, showing us how we can live better, leading us to ourselves, and to our own authentic truths.

Birthday Weekend Away. Time to pack. Escape. Plans. Can't wait. Overpacked. Oh well. Typical. No worries. How I roll. Kiddos. Goodbye kisses. Hugs. Will miss you. On my way. Down coast. Overcast. Holiday crowds. Already here. Beach. Traffic. Turn inland. Drive freeway. More traffic. Music. Always music. Forever music. Freeway clear. Sailing along. Almost there. Finally. Exit toll road. Before tolls begin. Familiar road. College days. Recent days. Along the coast again. Different coast. OC style. Different vibe. Memories percolating. Slowly. Miss. Sigh. Love and light. Be here now. Gratitude.

Arrive. Say hello. Hugs. Kisses. Smiles. Unpack bags. Chat. Refreshment. Discuss. Dress up. Head out. Dinner. Nice booth. Comfy pillows. Appetizers. Martini. Champagne. Wine. Toast. Entree. Make a wish. Blow out candles. Savor the sweetness. Thank you. Drive back. Night. Kick off shoes. Call kids. Miss you. Love you. Say goodnight. Get in PJs. Brush teeth. Wash face. Climb in bed. Clean sheets. Soft. Buttery. Hotel-like. Pampering. Eye mask. Rest. Dream. So dreamy. Gratitude.

Wake up. Relish silence. Linger under covers. Need to get up. Got to. Breakfast plans. Get dressed. Take off. Up Coast Highway. Down memory lane. Again. Every mile. Memories flood. Turn onto peninsula. Old stomping grounds. Pass old house. More memories. Park. Knock. Dear friend. Hug. Kiss. Chat. Catch up. House tour. Birthday card. Gift. Rip open. New book. Love. Writers. Kindred spirits. New book smell. Ahh. Nirvana. Thank you. Gratitude.

Leave house. Hat on. Walk boardwalk. Different beach. Same holiday crowds. Unfazed. Engrossing conversation. Restaurant. Long line. Put name in. Wait. More conversation. Engaging. Enjoying. Wait more. Chat more. Finally seated. Order fast. Sweet and savory. Split plates. Bloody Mary. OMG. Amazing Bloody Mary. Share stories. Struggles. Anecdotes. Life lessons. Food arrives. French Toast. Eggs Benedict. Potatoes. Ketchup. Eat. Talk. Yum. Full tummies. Take plates away. Please. Save us. Pay bill. Thank you. B-day treat. Gratitude.

Roll out. Stuffed. Potty break. Mom speak. Old habits. Hard to break. Walk to pier. Bustling. Chai lattes. Warm and sweet. Tasty. Confide. Connect. Counsel. Sip. Walk. Holiday weekend. Buzz. Energy. Farmers Market. Browse. Impulse buy. Necklace. Birds=Kids. Love. Fun. Laughter. Gratitude.

Getting late. Where did the time go? Boardwalk. Power walking. Past bikinis. Rollerbladers. Bicycles. People on patios. House parties. Memories flood. Again. College. Flashback. Parties. So many parties. Ragers. Keggers. Drinking. Frat guys. Water polo boys. Crushes. Remember feeling pretty. Some of the time. And feeling insecure. Most other times. Flirting. Kissing. Good times. Gratitude.

Present. Back to house. Say goodbye. Boo. Friendship. Soul sister. Wish we lived closer. Promise to do again. Hug. Leave. Coasting the coast. Familiar places. Passing so many. Memories. Damn memories. Reflect. Accept. Sun breaks through. Open sunroof. Shine. Music. Life's soundtrack. Uplift. Inspire. Gratitude.

Homestead. Return. Change. Swimsuit. Cover up. Greet guests. Pour a glass. Chaise lounge. Beach towel. Sunhat. Sunglasses. Glamorous. My attempt. Not really. Just be. Lie back. Deep breath. Warm sun. Cold drink. Read book. Heaven. Gratitude.

Sister arrives. Hug. Kiss. Flowers. Glad she's here. Appetizers. Conversation. Reminiscing. Beach songs. Loud music. 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. Laughter. Fun. BBQ. Sea Bass. Kabobs. Artichoke jalapeño dip. Ridiculous. Addictive. Good wine. Santa Margarita Pinot Grigio. Yum. Satisfied. Evening. Sunset. Peaceful. Lovely. Birthday cake. Candles. Singing. Make another wish. So many wishes. Blow. Gratitude.

Late night. Fire pit. Warm blanket. Talk. Politics. Yikes. New perspectives. Open minds. Challenging ideologies. Good company. Fading fast. Long day. Fun. Sun. No run. Heated spa. Too tired to soak. Need that bed. Buttery sheets. Sleep. Dream. Wake. Bathroom break. Back to dream. Slept late. Don't often do. Must be that bed. Those sheets. And no kids around. Gratitude.

Wake. Breakfast. Eggs. Farm fresh. Toast. Sourdough. Butter. Chai tea. Chat. Laugh. Wish I could stay longer. Pack up. Swim? No time. Load car. Say goodbyes. Kisses. Hugs. Parting gifts. Spoiled with love. Generous hosts. Gratitude.

On road again. Appointment. Spa. Birthday treat. Body scrub. Massage. Deep tissue. Two hours. Best masseuse ever. Good friend. Relaxed. Lubricated. Elated. Hungry. Get Lunch. Usual place closed. Holiday. Bummer. Mexican instead. Happy hour. Margarita. Rocks. Salt rim. Guacamole. Conversation. Life. Realities. Journey. Truth. Gratitude.

Goodbye. Kiss. Hug. Vacation ending. Drive home. Freeway. One more stop. Alma Mater. Reflect. Better not. Enough memories stirred for one trip. Need to get home. Miss kids. Bedtime approaching. Long journey. Music. Always good music. Alone with thoughts. Me. Myself. I. Good company. Gratitude.

Home. Greeting. My girl. Big girl. Excited. Missed me. Tight hug. Sweet kiss. Sweet soul. Old soul. Proud. Other kid. Toddler. Pouty. No welcome home. Missed me too. I can tell. Just won't admit it. I hug. Hold. Kiss. Resistance melts. Cuddle. Hands entwined. Happy to see. Both Mom and son. My guy. My little. Beautiful Boy. Beautiful Mommy. Still. Always. Gratitude.

Life. Back to it. As per usual. Remember. Connect. Disconnect. Miss. Wish. Accept. Refreshed. A bit. Melancholy. Another bit. Feel it. Acknowledge it. Shake it off. Move on. Just Keep Livin'. McConaughey. Ha. Alright. Alright. Alright. Reflect. Write. Photos. Proof read. Done. Post. Share. You're here. That's it.

Gratitude.

She Was Always There in the Background

 Samantha and I at our second school picnic... her mother Dee cheering us on in the background- 1976

Samantha and I at our second school picnic... her mother Dee cheering us on in the background- 1976

From the time I was three years old, she was there... in the background of my world. Her presence was constant, familiar, comforting - and it had a large part in defining the narrative of my life.

 Samantha and I at our first school picnic - 1975

Samantha and I at our first school picnic - 1975

Dee's youngest daughter Samantha and I were instant best friends in preschool, and my older sister Rebecca and Samantha's older sister Kyle became best friends too. The four of us together made a formidable team of girl power... one that our older brothers Anthony and Ryan, also best friends, were no match for - neither in number, nor in drama or attitude. Our parents also became the best of friends, and to say that they had a lot of fun together over the years would be a gross understatement. Their solid friendships informed our friendships, and the loyalty between our two families became unshakable.

 My parents with Dee and her husband Valentine in Puerto Vallarta - 1978

My parents with Dee and her husband Valentine in Puerto Vallarta - 1978

 Dad's birthday party at our house (Dee kissing my dad's right cheek while I inexplicably run around in a box) - Nov. 1978

Dad's birthday party at our house (Dee kissing my dad's right cheek while I inexplicably run around in a box) - Nov. 1978

It's now been forty years. 40. Forty years since that first Egremont school picnic where we all met and became friends, and eventually next door neighbors. From that memory in my photo album of me eating watermelon, to the countless others (birthdays, Fourth of July parties, vacations, school plays, Halloweens, Disneyland visits, and elementary & high school graduations), so many memories of my life include Dee - and some of them were even made possible because of her...

Like when Samantha, Kyle, Becky and I created entire Barbie dream villages, complete with mansions, pools and salons, overflowing out of the girls' room into the hallway to take over the walk-in linen closet... When we visited our first clothing outlet while vacationing in San Francisco and bought bags and bags of new Esprit clothes, excitedly returning to our hotel to put on an entire fashion show for our moms... When I arrived at the Winnetka house one morning, thinking I was picking Samantha up for the beach, and found a huge surprise party awaiting me for my 14th birthday, and all the kids from my 8th grade class there... When we four girls would go to the Northridge mall, eat gooey cookies at Mrs. Field's, and then walk around to check out the latest fashions at Contempo Casuals and Express, feeling so grown up and independent because we were granted a couple hours to explore the mall alone... When we created a teen modeling shoot, dressing up in swimsuits, Flashdance sweatshirts, makeup, jewelry, hair accessories, and very elaborate Madonna look-a-like get ups and used rolls of film to take pictures of each other in and around the Winnetka house for hours... And even years later, when Kyle and I spent day in and day out for months at the Winnetka house, planning, filming, editing, and submitting to film festivals the 16mm film that Kyle wrote and directed and I produced.

 Samantha and I posing together after our self-created photo shoot of glamour modeling shots (those of which you won't ever see posted here) all taken in and around her house - 1986

Samantha and I posing together after our self-created photo shoot of glamour modeling shots (those of which you won't ever see posted here) all taken in and around her house - 1986

These fun adventures and wonderful experiences that we had were all made possible by Dee. By her facilitating them with her support, her care, her kindness, her permission, and her approval (at least, we had her approval most of the time). It is true, she did sometimes balk at us, pointing out the ridiculousness of our notions and mildly protesting to some of them; yet rarely did she refuse us the freedom to try them out or take a shot at what we wanted to do.

 After Kyle and my film's screening at the Hermosa Beach Film Festival - 1998

After Kyle and my film's screening at the Hermosa Beach Film Festival - 1998

She was easy going... though she may not have seemed to be as such while often aghast by something she had read in the paper, saw on the news, or observed while out and about. She was kind and generous... she enjoyed buying special gifts for others, and would always try to make everyone that visited feel welcome in her home, like they were a member of the family. She was humble... content to observe all the goings on of her children (and her children's partners in crime) that were constantly swirling in her midst.

And she, so it seemed to me, found immense joy in this world of children and chaos that she and Val had created around them... ultimately consisting of six kids and sixteen grandchildren. While her husband Valentine was the fun loving "Buddy" and boisterous life of the party, Dee was the matriarch and steadfast partner proficiently riding the wave of their full and active lives.

She loved and was loved dearly. She allowed us fun and laughter, while still providing us with comfort and security. She personally gave me so much... the lifelong friendships I enjoy with her two younger daughters and son, a second home to feel so at home at, and a place to always go when I needed a friend, a family, or a place to belong.

For Dee - and for her presence in my life - I am so very grateful.

 At Disneyland with most of Dee's family (i am in the back row in yellow and the only non-family member in the bunch) - 1996

At Disneyland with most of Dee's family (i am in the back row in yellow and the only non-family member in the bunch) - 1996

Rest in Peace
August 6, 1932 - March 1, 2016

 
 
Postscript: I read the above eulogy at Dee's funeral on March 8, 2016. Dee had six kids total, but her three youngest children were the exact ages of my older brother, my older sister and I. The six of us were the best of friends all through our school years, as were our parents.
 the six of us - 1979

the six of us - 1979

As my dear friends mourn the loss of their mother only one week ago, I identify all too well with what they are feeling right now. I also know the feeling of loss they must have felt when my mom died almost ten years ago, also losing a woman that was like a second mother to them. Our two mothers played such an important role in each other's kids' lives, much more than I think any of us realized when we were young.
It's strange, when you lose people that have always been there, it indelibly changes the landscape of your life.  Although the death of my mom was sudden and tragic and she was taken much too soon, the years since her death have ushered in a time where my other elders have begun to naturally fall away... dropping out of my life one by one and leaving me to go it alone and forge out my place as an elder myself, to my children and nieces and nephews. Although all this is expected and a part of life, it is never easy; yet, it teaches us acceptance, and it hopefully reminds us to be grateful for those key people in our lives that are still here with us.

Surviving (and Enjoying) the Holidays Without Your Village

This time of the year is a challenging one. Growing up in a big family, the holiday season for me has always meant weeks and weeks of activities during the months of November and December... like going to friends and family gatherings and baking cookies at grandma's. In my youth and throughout my adulthood, my mom also had her unique way of making Christmas time so warm and comfortable year after year... candles flickering, fireplace blazing, comfy Christmas pillows to snuggle up with on the couch, the same personalized stockings and ceramic Santa mugs brought out, and my dad singing in the background, his classic Christmas album playing on heavy rotation for days on end.

It was all so fun, so familiar, so comfortable... the family traditions I knew so well. Even when I met my husband and we began dating, our holiday traditions stayed pretty much the same, as he slipped into whatever my family already had in place and I alternately fit into his family's own traditions.

Family, parents, kids, lifelong friends... all the people I loved most in my life, gathering together year after year in the ways we always had to support and enjoy each other and celebrate the season and all our blessings.

That's the way it was. It wasn't perfect or magical, although it felt that way sometimes; but it was always special and unique to us. It was our way. It was home to me - my home base, my reality, my village. It just WAS.

Then, it wasn't.

What seems like almost overnight, but what actually took several years to creep into existence, those traditions have - and that particular togetherness has - slowly faded away. The gatherings of certain family members and friends that once were, are now no more than cherished memories.   

People have died, friends have moved on, and family members have aged or become complacent, or both... a mix of circumstances all culminating in the demise of the village of people I once knew. Of the village I relied upon. Of the village I didn't realize was disbanding until it was no longer there.

And now that it is gone, I miss it. I miss what it once was. I miss what I once was, and of what I once was a part. I miss the individuals not here that made up the whole.

When your heart fits with another, the void left by their absence is palpable. Whether it was someone I loved that has passed away or someone I love that is still here but out of my reach, the reality of going on without certain people is just hard. Finding the presence of those once so dominant in my life almost non-existent now has the potential to render me a shambles emotionally... if I let it.

I just won't let it. And you should not either.

As much as we seek comfort in the old, we must embrace the new. While remembering that which once was, we must discover what still can be. There are new traditions to be started and old ones to keep alive... new villages to build and old ones to revere... new relationships to cultivate and old ones to honor and cherish.

Enjoying the holiday season without your village may take some acceptance that life is not as it once was. It may take some mindfulness to cultivate gratitude for the good that is in your life now. It may take you momentarily feeling the sadness and the void of those not with you as they were before; but it also may take you finding the resolve and awareness to fully embrace and appreciate those that are with you in the present moment.

It may take what it takes... but it is possible. And it is definitely worth the effort. New lives, new traditions, new villages - they are started every day. Everywhere. All we have to do is recognize them, greet them, and be open to letting them into our hearts.

happy birthday, phenomenal woman

 
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
— Maya Angelou
 

celebrating birthdays these years, in this age decade, is unlike previous ones. they are not celebrated in the same way or for the same reasons as they were before. whether your traditions stay the same year after year, or they’ve slowly changed over the years, each year the experience of your birthday is different, because YOU are different.

you are one year older. three-hundred sixty-five days of acquiring knowledge in some things and eliminating ignorance in other things. always a good thing. you have experienced one more year of tremendous joys, and one more year of painful heartaches. a year of changes is a year well lived.

growing older is interesting. the wisdom gained with age is invaluable, yet letting go of certain states of being that we are, or once were - the ones slipping away or already lost - is challenging.

you are a woman loved for your vibrancy, beauty, youth, vitality, spark. a woman respected for your talents, work ethic, and passion for all you hold dear. all these things and more are who you are. age alone cannot change the essence of you, unless your attitude toward aging allows it to. revered by others for what you are and have been to them, it is a new and exciting journey to step outside the box of your perceived self and begin to redraw the parameters within which you choose to be seen, respected, accepted, and loved.

you are more vital and beautiful than ever. all former personas or earlier stages of youth don't compare to the woman who now exists. with marriage and kids, your mind, body, heart, and way of life has been forever changed. you cannot change them back; but you wouldn’t want to even if you could. appreciating all that these years have given you is much more your style.

you embrace it all… sometimes smoothly, sometimes begrudgingly, but you do it... every change, every transition, every lesson learned. you recognize and accept what comes with humility and gratitude. you are thankful for all that life has taught you. for all you’ve been honored to experience. for all the strength you have found within to surmount the bumps in the road encountered.

sure, there are moments. fleeting thoughts of "remember when” and “if only" that will surface, especially in times of difficulty. those times of utter exhaustion and sheer overwhelmingness that life serves up to a wife, mother, daughter, sister, woman. these can elicit notions of a quiet and lovely escape from it all. i know.

continue to welcome it all. continue cultivating gratitude for it all. and as for your birthday, celebrate it in your way, as you don't owe anyone anything on this day. take it and make it what you will. or at least take a portion of it, just for yourself. after all, no woman’s an island. it seems more often than not, we are the anchor.

celebrate you. celebrate us. all phenomenal women. all born to live, learn, grow, and fulfill our own unique destinies.

yours is still being written. so is mine.

happy birthday to you, phenomenal woman.

i love you.

The inspiration for this post was my cousin's birthday. She is a phenomenal woman and doesn't need me to tell her that, but this was my substitute for a greeting card. I actually sat down to write her directly for her birthday; yet as I wrote this, I realized that I was speaking not only to her, but also to and about the other phenomenal women in my life, including myself.
So if there is a woman or women in YOUR life who could benefit from hearing these words - be it a family member, co-worker, friend or neighbor - forward this on to her and show her some love. The women of this world could use as much love and support as we all can get from each other.

Just Do It.

I had a conversation with a friend today that affected me in such a profound way that I couldn't continue the conversation. Granted, this conversation was via text, so I actually just stopped typing. I was overwhelmed by many feelings communicating with this friend, some having to do specifically with this person, and the fondness that I feel for them, and some having to do with me and my life in a more universal sense. I was so overwhelmed by the energy of our exchange that I actually began to cry. I just sat there, crying at my desk, feeling amazing, and amazingly sad at the same time.   

This friend of mine is someone that inspires me in such a way that they make me want to be a better person. Observing what this person sets out to accomplish, and what they actually do accomplish, ignites my own ambitions and desires to invoke change and inspire others to use their power to do the same. However, sometimes I feel the weight of my ambitions and wonder how I could possibly accomplish what I want to accomplish under the circumstances I am dealing with presently (insert real or perceived laundry list of challenges/responsibilities here). 

I think many people feel as I do at times (but rarely admit it to others), that somehow their life circumstances are not as ideal as they would hope them to be in the present moment... that the people in their lives closest to them are not as supportive or accepting of their hopes and dreams as they would wish them to be... and that they just don't have the means to do the things they would be passionate about if they had the time and energy to devote to it, you know, if only things were different...

The violin playing in the background will play endlessly as we all bitch and whine about what we just can't do because our lives don't facilitate it. This is not a disrespectful dig against me or anyone else expressing upsetting feelings or emotions, as I am ALL FOR expressing feelings and emotions of all varieties; it being essential if you at all strive to live with any degree of emotional intelligence. 

But in this particular instance, cutting short the self-defeating internal dialogue sitting atop the pity pot is necessary, since sometimes a downward spiral in thinking could most assuredly be your doom, and you just got to cut that shit out before it takes over and drags you down with it.

So, after drying my eyes, and recognizing the effect this exchange had on me, I came to the conclusion that the feeling of ultimately feeling understood, loved, and accepted was very powerful; and it exposed, on this particular day of challenges, a desire (for approval, encouragement, and acceptance) so potent that for a moment it felt like sheer and desperate neediness.

Why?

This feeling is something I believe everyone should be privileged to feel every day by the people in their lives that matter most. It shouldn't be something you just do without. Unfortunately, too much time is often spent in conflict - of ideas, of desires, of opinions, of egos… rendering many of our daily interactions with others tainted by negative energy.

And when you (if you are like me) mindfully and diligently work hard to be self-sufficient with your own goals, with your own intrinsic happiness, with your own inner peace, this type of neediness is just a nuisance, and terribly inconvenient.

In contrast, the opposite perspective, one of not needing approval, not looking to others to help complete you or to make you happy, is a blissful state of existence. I have gone in and out of this realm periodically in my life - before/after getting married and before/after having babies - and it is wonderfully gratifying to be able to love others unconditionally with no expectation for love or adoration in return. Funny, you end up getting it as a byproduct anyway, but it is transformative not to NEED it.

So as overwhelmed as I felt in that moment, and, subsequently, as sad as I felt, it led me to this place...

Having friends, or even one friend, who loves who you are, who supports who you are, and who puts forth effort to be your cheerleader, is a really great thing - actually, it is a HUGE gift - and it can be the difference between pressing on to reach your goals or succumbing to the obstacles against you. 

Yet ultimately, NOTHING you want to do will be accomplished unless you yourself find the passion, perseverance, determination and drive to take the necessary steps to get there.  

So ditch the pity pot, stop bitching, and JUST DO IT already.

The Luxury of Escapism

Lately I have been bewildered that some parents of toddlers and elementary-aged children, many of whom are my close friends, are watching an enormous amount of television, despite being busy, full-time parents.  

Since having kids, I had come to the conclusion that watching television on a regular basis, or following any particular TV series religiously, was a luxury commodity, and one not afforded to a person like me... a parent.

My belief in this has seriously been challenged lately as I have encountered so many parents that not only follow one show, but a whole myriad of shows, even entire backlogged series of shows that they catch up on during mini-marathons of their own creation via online streaming.

Whether they work exclusively in the home or outside the home seems irrelevant. They are all loading their DVR’s up to the last minute available, and then diligently going to work on them, watching shows every night like homework assignments. Mind you, this is not homework they dread - they relish it- vegging on hours upon hours of the stuff, losing precious sleep at night to catch up on the latest and greatest HBO original programming series or the newest Netflix original series.

 Illustration by  Ben Douglass

Illustration by Ben Douglass

I can totally relate to the desire to do this, as I did a version of it before having kids, and even more before I was married. I had my shows that I was devoted to for which I didn’t miss an episode. It was an important part of my leisure time that doubled as legitimate homework for my career in the entertainment industry. I was a devout fan of film and television, I was involved in the creation of film and television, so I watched a lot of film and television... as inspiration, as research, as education, and even sometimes simply as entertainment. I recognize and believe in the power of television and film narratives to inspire, teach, and bring forth realizations in real life. I LOVE that about good TV, and a good film. I also greatly respect the artistry and talent of all those that create quality television and cinema.

But keeping up this ritual and watching a lot of it now? It seems like a dream. Why can’t I sit down and get caught up in weeks upon weeks of “House of Cards," “Mad Men," “The Walking Dead” or “Breaking Bad”? I used to think it was simply because these days... I have kids. With two small children, I have to feed them, bathe them, and put them to bed every night. I have to deal with revolving piles of laundry and dishes to be done, bills to be paid, and other incessant tasks like grocery shopping and meal planning. And then there’s the ever important personal bathing and sleeping rituals of my day. With all this, I find it challenging to even fit in one half-hour comedy, let alone a luxurious hour-long episode of “American Pickers” into any given weekday.

Apparently, these other parents manage to do it somehow, to my utter bemusement and at times, envy. How are they functioning? Do they just not do some of the things I deem to be essential to the daily running of our household? Or are they just more efficient than me and cram it all in somehow? Or... are they simply running on only four to five hours of sleep every night?

To be fair, these past few seasons, I have been known to watch “Downton Abbey” with the best of them, but that show's seasons are like 8 episodes long and air during only a short span once a year during the months of January/February... totally doable for me with no other television commitments at all, and a bit of sleep deprivation for a few weeks. But, that’s a few weeks... I don't think I could function doing the same thing for long network seasons or year-round DVR/streaming marathons of my own making.
 
I just started to wonder about all this after repeatedly witnessing this phenomenon (as eluded to in my last post It's Happy Hour at a Bouncy House Near You!) at all the kid birthday parties I have been attending recently. I call it the television “water cooler effect”, parent-style. I had previously thought this only existed among employees at their common work place, but it seems to have mutated to parents at these parties; and sadly, I am not one of those parents “in the know” around the punch bowl.

As described in that post, children’s birthday parties (whether they be at indoor play gyms or balloon & streamer laden backyards) have become the primary gathering places for weary parents of toddlers and elementary aged children; and as such, they have also become the best opportunities for moms and dads to chat and socialize with people their own age and with whom are, essentially, in the same proverbial boat.

But no matter the origin of the various relationships of the parents in attendance at these gatherings, television is the great equalizer amongst many of them. When the subject of a favorite TV show comes up, the parents that watch the show are immediately engaged and join the conversation. Gradually, a group converges in a corner of the party and they transform into this cult of devoted fans of "Orange is the New Black" or "The Good Wife." The passion with which they discuss these fictional narratives is unbridled, like they are discussing integral aspects of their personal lives, and suddenly they are all kindred spirits.

Except for me.

Although most of the time I have heard of the shows, I have never had the opportunity to set eyes on one episode of them. So, as the non-member of these newly formed clubs, I excuse myself and wander off to see how my kids are faring, and whether all the sugar they have ingested, between the piñata candy and the birthday cake, has taken affect. Surprisingly, this is a welcome relief to standing there listening to story lines being recounted that I have no clue about; but at the same time, it is kind of a bummer that I don't know what they are talking about. I then leave these parties with that same question running through my head of how they find the time to watch so much television.

But an even more interesting question that I have been pondering lately is: In their lives with young children, as busy and hectic as they exist now... WHY do they do it?

I could guess the answer may simply be, escapism. Sometimes you just need to escape the reality that is your life for a while. Kids will do that to you. As much as you love them, there are sometimes when you just want to be somewhere else, doing something else, anything else, that takes you out of the reality of caring for little people that look to you and rely on you for EVERYTHING. That's a potent thing - and hard for many to resist - even if it means losing some sleep or being faced with a sink full of dirty dishes the next morning. Totally worth it.

I know this because, here I am... up late, not watching TV, but writing this post at two o’clock in the morning. Losing sleep myself, but loving the freedom of a different reality - one of solitude and peace, of autonomy and silence - just sitting here in the dead quietness, with only the sound of my keyboard clicking away as I type. I am tired, but I'm also filled with energy to write, create and let what’s inside of me out... to communicate my own thoughts and feelings as they pertain to ME, and no one else, to inspire, learn, grow, and connect.

At the next party, I guess I could just ask my parents friends my "Why do they do it?" question... but I have a feeling I already know the answer.

It’s Happy Hour at a Bouncy House Near You!

Over the last several years that I've been a parent, I have attended MANY birthday parties... most of them for people under the age of seven. Parties for my nieces and nephews, for the kids in both my son’s and daughter’s classes, or for the kids of my or my husband’s childhood friends. These birthday bashes for the juvenile set are becoming more frequent than date nights out, and as such, are now the primary avenue for which to hang out with other adults. However, unlike date night, leaving the kids at home is not an option; so we must improvise to socialize.  Beggars can’t be choosers, right?

Now I'm not talking about the parties at indoor play gyms with the socks only rules and two-hour time limits, or the ones at “stimulation overload” arcade joints where an oversized singing rat in purple serves pizza. My acceptance and non-reactiveness challenges are put to the test by these celebrations, with their greasy GMO-laden food, chemically-dyed sugar loaded treats, and favor bags full of toxic plastic junk. As the nerves of even the most laid back of parents are tried as well, an environment of social camaraderie amongst us is rarely fostered, and we all leave feeling like exhausted casualties of two very challenging and draining hours.

No, those aren't the ones for mixing and mingling. I am referring to the private backyard birthday parties - the ones where kids roam free alongside each other... where homemade food and libations are offered... and where parents can take a breather from their role as party chaperones. Getting the chance to talk with the other adults in attendance, whether they be siblings, close friends, or parents of other kids we may have just met, is something I and my fellow warriors in parenthood look forward to. It's as if we look to attend these parties in the same spirit as we did a college friend’s B.Y.O.B. barbecue, with a six-pack or bottle of wine in hand and a smile.  After all, the party elements are the same: good drinks, good food, lots of laughs, stimulating adult conversation... and an inflated bouncy house in the yard.

Ok, ok... It is not exactly the same, as the piñata hanging from the tree these days is not accompanied by rock music and tequila shots, but still -- we are OUT, we are FREE, we are SOCIALIZING WITH PEOPLE OUR OWN AGE! It’s the closest thing to happy hour these days without hiring a sitter.

However, dreading the former and anticipating the latter parties mentioned in these specific ways is a fairly new reality for me. Since up until very recently, ANY type of kids' birthday party had elicited the very same reaction in me.

I've come to realize that, at varying ages and stages of my children’s development, my feelings on the subject have changed drastically, reflecting the current reality and my existing state of mind.

It breaks down like this:

The Newborn Stage (0-12 mths) : A party invitation to a kid's birthday party is like a winning lottery ticket! Yay! A chance to get out of the house, take a shower and change out of my pajamas! Nursing a baby all day and taking photos of her lying on a blanket sucking on plastic keys or shaking a rattle can start to drive even the most devoted mom a little cuckoo if done too many days in a row without a change of venue.  For the upcoming party, I would dress my little bundle up in her cutest party outfit and show her off with pride to the party goers who relished the chance to "ooh and ahh" over a newborn. What fun it was to repeatedly share that my baby was “6 months and 3 days old”, had just started sitting up unassisted last week, and was now happily eating mashed sweet potatoes! Talking to anyone who could talk back about anything under the sun (who are we kidding, the baby was the subject of the conversation 99% of the time) was a real treat, and a welcome departure from the isolating world of taking care of baby at home: nursing, napping, playing and pooping. (*the stage applies to firstborn children only, since after that you will have an older toddler running amuck that thereby eliminates the joy of this stage)

The “Walk at One” Stage (12-24 months): Once baby started to walk, the prospect of going to these events loses at bit of its luster. Why? Well, the baby only wants to do at the party what she does at home: WALK. And who gets to accompany her on this walk fest? YOU. Or in this case, ME. My little Frankenstein walker and I would often spend the duration of the party exploring every nook and cranny of the host’s house, surveying all the rooms and deciding which ones had the most interesting things in them to possibly break. There was no more sharing baby milestones with fellow partygoers while your cute bundle sleeps in a nearby stroller or sits happily in the comfort of your arms. This new energizer bunny has gotten her first taste of independence, and she will not be content to stay put in your arms while you chat leisurely with your best friend. This kid wants to move and if you attempt to hold her and convince her to stay within the parameters of the festivities, she will unabashedly wriggle and squirm out of your arms and take off down a dark hallway. So guess what? No socializing for you. No keeping company or enjoying conversations with adults. During this stage, it was me alone in the corner of a play room with my one year old testing how many toys she could dump out of their rightful bins or off their shelves before she headed off in another direction. Following this kid and trying to impose limits on her behavior, all the while attempting to clean up the mess she left in her wake, was utterly exhausting.  Most of the time, it left me feeling like I should have just stayed home. At least there I could stay in my pajamas!

The New Toddler Stage (24-36 mths): Walking has lost its novelty and your two-year-old is now ready to dig in and join the party. Yes, conversations with other adults can be initiated, but only to be cut short 30 seconds later when your kid is getting into something they shouldn’t. So you are still your kid’s shadow, but you are now performing your role in the actual party environment. This has its own drawbacks, since although you are now somewhat experiencing the event for yourself, you still cannot engage with anyone for any significant amount of time. And if you are off your game in any way, get engrossed in dialogue with someone and foolishly trust that your two-year-old will be ok unattended, you will inevitably kick yourself for this, as they most often will find something to damage and you will have to apologize profusely for their unintentional vandalism. I often found myself standing around alongside a bunch of other silent parents, as we all quietly watched our kids interact, like we were scientists observing lab mice. There seemed to be an unspoken understanding that no one should even bother to try to strike up a conversation with another observer, since at any moment one of the mice would most likely do something that required intervention by one of us. You know, like grab a toy, a piece of food, or a limb of another mouse and start a riot of crying or screaming.

The Older Toddler/Big Kid Stage (3+ years): Congratulations! This is your chance to be social again! Thankfully, this is the stage I am now in with both of my kids. Now that my son is three, I can leave him to go off with the other kids to play and not worry that he will snatch a toy from another kid, eat dog poop off the grass, or wander through the house breaking valuables. The only problem at this point is, if it’s not a party for one of his preschool classmates, most of the other kids there will be bigger and older than him. So I still have to worry about him being trampled inside the bouncy house by the rougher, older boys (and by older I mean four and five-year-olds). They can sure be bulldozers. My saving grace in these scenarios is my daughter. As a seven-years-old female, she takes on the role of my son’s guardian at these functions and does a pretty good job of watching over him and protecting him from harm.

So now that I have reached this coveted "big kid" stage at children’s parties, the brass ring, and am free to indulge in the happy hour at the bouncy house, I have recently discovered there is yet a new phenomenon I must encounter that I didn’t anticipate or expect...

STAY TUNED ; )

(to be continued here...)