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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Why Getting Old Doesn't Scare Me


When I turned 30, my beau, still half-a-year away from asking for my eternal devotion, threw me a surprise party. 

I chose to ignore the many clues leading up to the party; the first being that aforementioned beau was not late, not on time, but early in picking me up for our annual trip to Pat Malley’s Pocono house. Every year, Pat and I celebrated our February birthdays together, filling her family’s vacation house with friends and lovers, copious cases of beer and round-the-clock games of Hearts.

The second clue was when Karen Shea arrived at my door (an hour early) holding a gift-wrapped package and screamed, “Surprise!” As she looked around at my empty apartment, she self-corrected with, “Surprise! I’m going to a baby shower down the street and decided to stop by and say hello!” I pretended not to notice that the gift was in an earring-sized box.

When my beau insisted we get on the road way ahead of schedule, I chose not to mention that we wouldn’t be able to get into the Pocono house if we arrived too early. And when we stopped at a Wawa five miles from home for some desperately needed chocolate milk and he slapped his forehead with his palm, I knew he had accidentally-on-purpose forgotten his wallet in my apartment. And I knew that when we went back, that I should offer to run in and get it.  

“Surprise!”

The biggest surprise of all was how he and my sister, Nancy, were able to fill the apartment with seventy people, several kegs of beer and a table full of food, all within a 30-minute window.

When I turned 40, my spouse of nine years threw me a surprise party. I knew something was brewing. Too many whispers, too many phone calls and a babysitter booked three weeks in advance. I was working at CNBC; my kids were two, four and six-years old and my household was in the midst of what would become a three-month-long lice infestation. I was no longer that carefree 30 year-old who could welcome a cast of characters into my house without worrying if the bathroom was clean, if my bed was made or if ten people ended up sleeping on the living room floor. My 40 year-old self was an anxious mess living in perpetual pandemonium, having no idea how much harder it would get. I begged my friend Laura to tell me what was planned. She knew about every nit I picked, every bottle of poison I poured on the daughter’s head. Yet she wouldn’t budge.  

“Just throw me a bone,” I pleaded. “Tell me the party’s not going to be at my house!”

“If there is a party, and I’m not saying there is,” she said. “It won’t be at your house.”

And so, I allowed myself to be led into Vitales’ Restaurant on my 40th birthday and be swept into the backroom where friends from as far away as Seattle waved xeroxed pictures of me on popsicle sticks that read, “I’m a Betsy Fan.”

When I turned 50, I begged my spouse of nineteen years to allow me to throw my own birthday party. He finally acquiesced, knowing that I had gotten to the point in my parenting career that I was unequivocally incapable of relinquishing control, even for one night.

“For my 60th we’ll rent out a ballroom at the Marriott,” I vowed. “And, by then we’ll be so rich we’ll even pay for all the out-of-town guests’ rooms.”

Surprise!

On the cusp of turning 60, with no party planned, no party desired, perfectly content to just have dinner with my family, dinner with friends, lunch with the yogis, sail away with Patty and rendezvous with college friends in New Orleans, I find myself looking back on my decades past. Or my decadent past. As the decade may be.

I spent my twenties resisting adulthood. I graduated from college. I traveled cross-country on a Trailways bus. I ate unidentifiable foods in Hong Kong. Toasted the New Year in Moscow. Sang Karaoke in Manila. Rode a bicycle in Tours. Slept three-in-a-room in Paris (without a fan). I spent summers sharing a Brigantine beach house, sleeping with way more than three in a room. I fraternized with the help on a Caribbean cruise. Then another. And another. I worked at TV Guide magazine. I celebrated the 1980 Phillies World Series win. I sat next to Harold Carmichael (google him) at a 76ers' game. I went to weddings. So many weddings. I floated from highfalutin Philadelphia affairs to dark dingy suburban saloons looking for something that, snap, was right there all along. Sitting in a cubicle right down the hall from me at TV Guide magazine.

I spent my thirties creating a family. I banged out babies every two years. I worked at CNBC three days a week, worked at home two days a week and, while doing so, dragged those kiddies to grocery stores, Toddlekins classes, play groups and children’s museums. My college roommates, Sue and Betsy, would bring their respective broods and spend weekends in my tiny Cape Cod house. We'd sit for hours at the playground yakking away, pretending not to see Emmaline bite Jonny or Leo kick Sadie. Then we'd fill them with chicken fingers, or some organic concoction that Betsy brought, blop them three at a time in the bathtub and talk some more. All the while, child-free Ann just shook her head and counted her blessings.

I spent my forties muddling through mess. I became a freelancer. And a PTA president. And a Little League board member. And a soccer mom. And a football mom. And a cheerleading mom. And a Sunday School teacher. My house was in constant chaos. My minivan was in constant motion. My body was in constant pain. I had my hip replaced. Contracted pancreatitis. Had a hysterectomy. Exorcised my gallbladder. I lost my father. And my mother-in-law. I under-worked and over-parented. I under-parented and over-volunteered. We family-vacationed in New Hampshire, Canada, Vermont, Martha’s Vineyard, the Catskills, the seashore. And hung it all up in Jamaica.

I spent my fifties raising teenagers. Worrying about where they’d go to college. How we'd pay for it. And what would happen if, God forbid, they became students rather than athletes. I lost two bosoms to cancer. And lost all the weight I had gained over the years. Well, maybe not all of it. I rode my bicycle again. For miles and miles. I worked on a food truck. I went to Canada, California, New Orleans, Maine and Mississippi. I went to South Carolina and North Carolina. And kept going back long after the daughter graduated. I reunited with high school friends, Madge, Patty and Rachel, in Las Vegas. And then proceeded to go on a cruise with Patty every year after. I started a blog. I wrote two novels that live in my computer. I joined a book club. A writer’s club. And haven't volunteered in years. Except at church. And that's just to hedge my bets as I get ever-closer to meeting my maker.

So, here I am, on the cusp of my sixtieth birthday.

I gulp. I cringe. I blush.

But then I smile.

Because hey, with a track record like mine, I can’t imagine that the next decade will be any less decadent or any more scary than any of the others I’ve already conquered.

I just hope the Old Minivan is up to the challenge.





Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Do What You Love and Don't Worry About the Rest

Find something you love 
and you’ll never work a day in your life. 

Perhaps to the detriment of my offspring, and certainly to the chagrin of my wage-earning spouse, that’s been one of my main mantras ever since the kids were knee-high clingers.

“But, Mom. I have to pay the rent. And my loans. And my car. And my phone. And my trips. And my fun. And my…”

“Don’t worry, Daughter. If you find something you have a passion for, you can’t let it go. The money will come.” 

I have always known that I would be a writer. My first short story, Pokey the Turtle, was published way back when I was in Mrs. Dreifus’s kindergarten class. It was written on wide-lined mimeographed paper, read aloud to the other five-year-olds, then stashed in my box of memories. Which is precisely where the rest of my novels are.

I’ve worked a lot of odd jobs to pay the rent and the loans and the car and the phone and the trips and the fun. I sold fresh-squeezed lemonade on the streets of North Philadelphia. I cajoled old-folks into buying cemetery property. I took messages for doctors at an answering service, complete with switchboard, headphones and a constant cloud of smoke. I was a pseudo layout artist, a bookkeeper, an ice cream scooper, a newspaper delivery girl, a babysitter and a cold-call roof salesperson, all before becoming a copywriter.

Life as an advertising and marketing copywriter has afforded me the freedom to work at home while raising my brood, pay a few bills and finesse my words so they’ll be perfect by the time they finally plop themselves down onto the pages of my Great American Novel.

Very few of us have the luxury of waiting around for our passions to pay off, so as I tell my kids, sometimes you just have to do something else in the meantime. And hopefully it will be somewhat related, somewhat profitable and somewhat fun.

My latest gig fit the bill.

After months of behind-the-scenes writing, I spend two consecutive weekends tweeting at Be the Best Coaches’ Baseball and Softball Convention in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Anyone who has known me for a minute-and-a-half knows how much of my life has been connected to baseball. And, if you’ve hung out with me a little longer, you also know I was once a big softball star in a small league in a small town. So, for me, taking this job was a no brainer.

I just didn’t expect to be have so much fun.

Softball and baseball coaches, players, managers, consultants, conditioning gurus, mentalists, instructors and inspirationalists came in from California, Colorado, Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Delaware, Washington State, Tennessee, Oregon, Kentucky, Alabama, Maryland, Florida, Nevada, both Carolinas and from lots of places in between. Some of them are rich and famous, some aspire to be and some have no interest in doing anything more than what they do, which is simply sharing their love of the game.

As I talked and tweeted at Be the Best, I found myself getting sucked into a world that I was no longer a part of. I listened to dozens of speakers extol the virtues of exit velocity and launch angles, pitch calling and pitching mechanics, conditioning bodies and strengthening minds, infield faults and footwork fundamentals, winning the game one relationship at a time and creating the perfect team culture. I was inundated with tips on offense, defense, hitting, catching, throwing, slapping, bunting and a whole slew of other things I have no need to know about.

I just didn’t expect to be so inspired.

There’s something about being in a room jam-packed with people hanging on every word, taking copious notes, asking questions and getting all fired up. Simply because they love what they do and love being surrounded by people who love it, too.

Some of them coach for a living. Some of them coach for free. Some of them coach from the sidelines. And some of them don't coach at all. But, with or without a paycheck, with or without a title, they’ve all found a way to fuel their soul, channel their energy and work their passion into their world. 

We can't all be Patty Gasso bringing softball trophies home to Oklahoma. Again and again. We can't all be Kai Correa sharing infield insights that go far beyond his years. And far beyond the field. We can't all be Coach Sheets rallying the room with his heart and his humor. Even though we all want to be.

We can't all make millions doing what we love to do. But we can all do what we love to do. 

So, I say to my offspring, keep teaching those kids. Keep shooting those photos. Keep writing those screenplays. Do what you love and don't worry about the rest. 

I'll bail us all out of debtor's prison. 

With a portion of the proceeds from my Great American Novel. 



Do What You Love and Don't Worry About the Rest


Find something you love 
and you’ll never work a day in your life. 

Perhaps to the detriment of my offspring, and certainly to the chagrin of my wage-earning spouse, that’s been one of my main mantras ever since the kids were knee-high clingers.

“But, Mom. I have to pay the rent. And my loans. And my car. And my phone. And my trips. And my fun. And my…”

“Don’t worry, Daughter. If you find something you have a passion for, you can’t let it go. The money will come.” 

I have always known that I would be a writer. My first short story, Pokey the Turtle, was published way back when I was in Mrs. Dreifus’s kindergarten class. It was written on wide-lined mimeographed paper, read aloud to the other five-year-olds, then stashed in my box of memories. Which is precisely where the rest of my novels are.

I’ve worked a lot of odd jobs to pay the rent and the loans and the car and the phone and the trips and the fun. I sold fresh-squeezed lemonade on the streets of North Philadelphia. I cajoled old-folks into buying cemetery property. I took messages for doctors at an answering service, complete with switchboard, headphones and a constant cloud of smoke. I was a pseudo layout artist, a bookkeeper, an ice cream scooper, a newspaper delivery girl, a babysitter and a cold-call roof salesperson, all before becoming a copywriter.

Life as an advertising and marketing copywriter has afforded me the freedom to work at home while raising my brood, pay a few bills and finesse my words so they’ll be perfect by the time they finally plop themselves down onto the pages of my Great American Novel.

Very few of us have the luxury of waiting around for our passions to pay off, so as I tell my kids, sometimes you just have to do something else in the meantime. And hopefully it will be somewhat related, somewhat profitable and somewhat fun.

My latest gig fit the bill.

After months of behind-the-scenes writing, I spend two consecutive weekends tweeting at Be the Best Coaches’ Baseball and Softball Convention in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Anyone who has known me for a minute-and-a-half knows how much of my life has been connected to baseball. And, if you’ve hung out with me a little longer, you also know I was once a big softball star in a small league in a small town. So, for me, taking this job was a no brainer.

I just didn’t expect to be have so much fun.

Softball and baseball coaches, players, managers, consultants, conditioning gurus, mentalists, instructors and inspirationalists came in from California, Colorado, Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Delaware, Washington State, Tennessee, Oregon, Kentucky, Alabama, Maryland, Florida, Nevada, both Carolinas and from lots of places in between. Some of them are rich and famous, some aspire to be and some have no interest in doing anything more than what they do, which is simply sharing their love of the game.

As I talked and tweeted at Be the Best, I found myself getting sucked into a world that I was no longer a part of. I listened to dozens of speakers extol the virtues of exit velocity and launch angles, pitch calling and pitching mechanics, conditioning bodies and strengthening minds, infield faults and footwork fundamentals, winning the game one relationship at a time and creating the perfect team culture. I was inundated with tips on offense, defense, hitting, catching, throwing, slapping, bunting and a whole slew of other things I have no need to know about.

I just didn’t expect to be so inspired.

There’s something about being in a room jam-packed with people hanging on every word, taking copious notes, asking questions and getting all fired up. Simply because they love what they do and love being surrounded by people who love it, too.

Some of them coach for a living. Some of them coach for free. Some of them coach from the sidelines. And some of them don't coach at all. But, with or without a paycheck, with or without a title, they’ve all found a way to fuel their soul, channel their energy and work their passion into their world. 

We can't all be Patty Gasso bringing softball trophies home to Oklahoma. Again and again. We can't all be Kai Correa sharing infield insights that go far beyond his years. And far beyond the field. We can't all be Coach Sheets rallying the room with his heart and his humor. Even though we all want to be.

We can't all make millions doing what we love to do. But we can all do what we love to do. 

So, I say to my offspring, keep teaching those kids. Keep shooting those photos. Keep writing those screenplays. Do what you love and don't worry about the rest. 

I'll bail us all out of debtor's prison. 

With a portion of the proceeds from my Great American Novel. 


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Shouldn't They Be Grown By Now?

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you the one who wanted all these kids?” my friend Laura responded when I uttered the words that many a mother has thought, but perhaps opted not to say aloud.

“My greatest fear is that this time next year, I could have all three of my children living at home again.”

I was about to have them descend upon me in full-force for one full month, which meant double doses of Xanax, triple shots of bourbon and quadrupled fears of what the far future could possibly, but improbably, bring.

My friend Laura has witnessed my motherly love through three newborns, three toddlers, three puberties, three teenagers and three adult children. She has heard all the horror stories -- because after all, they're much more interesting -- from day one, and cringed internally every time I announced I was knocked up again.

Laura’s plan was to have one child, and only one. Preferably a girl. My plan was to have five children. Preferably with a set of twins. As fate would have it, Laura ended up with none. I, with a mere three.

It’s really not fair to complain about kids to someone who has none. Just as you shouldn't diss your husband to a swinging single. I, of course, would never do the latter because my ever-loving spouse gives me absolutely nothing to diss. Instead, I double down on the offspring.

I love my kids. Of course I do. They know it, I know it. But, come on, enough is enough.

Shouldn’t they be grown by now?

The irony of saying those same exact words for the past 26 years has definitely not been lost on me. 

I have woken up at 3 am too many times. Middle-of-the-night feedings were easy. At least I knew the baby was securely caged in its crib. Now, a middle-of-the-night tinkle means sighing at the sight of wide-open bedroom doors. Wondering where in the world they could possibly be at that hour. With whom. And why.  

I have replenished the refrigerator too many times. When they were young, they were perfectly content with a steady diet of chicken nuggets and Kraft macaroni and cheese. Now they, of discerning tastes, require almond milk, unbruised fruit and Boar’s Head-only fresh-sliced turkey.

I have picked up shoes too many times. I have removed coats from couches, suitcases from stairways and sniffed too many half-empty water bottles to make sure I wasn’t pouring vodka into the dog’s bowl.

I have mediated mêlées too many times. I have kicked the Kardashians to the curb so the boys could watch basketball. I have demanded the daughter to be kind to the brother. Begged the brother to say something nice to the sister. I have defended the rights of each and every one of them when the mean father demanded rakers, snow shovelers or ditch diggers.

I have gone to bed too many nights with the house filled with kids clunking up to the attic to record music or shoot movies or do whatever else it is they do up there. I have woken up with wayward friends asleep in the basement, Domino’s boxes on the counter and every light in the house blazing bright.

Enough is enough.

I just want to sit in my chair and binge watch Shameless as a reminder that my crazy life is actually a good kind of crazy. 

Alas, they came home. They always do.

And every day I woke ready to do battle. Ready to bellow, “My house. My rules.” Ready to curse and kick and cry.

Instead, the darndest things started happening.

The brothers and sister conversed. Kindly. About real things. They made their own lunches. Bought their own bagels. Washed their own clothes. They filled the car with gas. With their own money. They bought Christmas presents for relatives without being bribed. They watched movies together and invited me to join them. 

They texted when they didn’t come home at night. They cleaned their hair out of the bathtub drain. They asked their siblings before taking the car. They solicited advice and took it. Once. They asked if it was OK if friends slept over on New Year’s Eve. They replaced a borrowed bottle of Grey Goose almost before I noticed it was gone. Almost.

Alas, they left. They always do. 

I firmly believe I have earned the right to wish my kids grown. Just as I've earned the right to wish them gone. And as I found myself snuffling back sniffles when I said goodbye, I realized I have also earned the right to rescind my complaints and curses.

Because, thankfully, I was the one who wanted all these kids. 

Just not all three as full-grown, full-time roommates in one house at one time. 

After all, enough is enough. 








  

Sunday, January 14, 2018

I Always Wanted to be a Fun Mom

Back when the daughter was still brewing in my belly, I ended up at a party in Concord, Massachusetts while visiting my college roommate and namesake, Betsy. The circles in which we ran welcomed any friend at any party in any state at any time. Claire, a high school friend of Betsy’s, was also there and I latched onto the familiar face. Familiar because our partying paths had crossed many a time over the years. A little less familiar now that she had crossed into uncharted waters.  Claire was now swimming in a different sea than Betsy and I, having already given birth to three-quarters of the children that she would eventually put forth. 

“It’s the greatest thing in the world!” Claire radiated. “I just get to play with kids all day long!”

Claire is about as real as you can get. This wasn’t an elevator pitch for motherhood. It wasn’t cocky. It wasn’t contrived. It was how she really, truly felt.

At that moment I vowed that I would be just like Claire. I was going to be a fun mom. After all, I thought, I’m a fun person. I like kids. I like adventure. I like challenges. How hard could it possibly be?

The daughter in the belly kicked. Then kicked again. Harder.

I was right. Being a mother wasn’t hard at all. The daughter was a screamer, but I had an ever-loving spouse who held her for hours at a time while I did the dishes or vacuumed the living room or read a book. I went back to work three months after she was born leaving her with Teresa, an 18-year-old I met in the corner grocery store, who knew way more than I ever would about babies.

The daughter slept through the night after three weeks, took three-hour naps and loved to be pushed up and down the hills of Leonia in her blue-flowered Graco baby stroller. She was cute and precocious and brought me lots of positive attention.

It was so much fun that we had another, 22 months later. Max was a jolly baby. All I had to do was plop him in his bouncy chair, give him a kiss on the cheek every now and then and he’d answer with a smile, assuring me that I was a perfect parent. I learned to prop a bottle, ignore a whimper and use a pacifier as a plug.

It was so much fun that we had another, two years later.

Leo was even easier than Max. Knowing that by mere virtue of being the last born, he’d ultimately suffer from parent fatigue, I kept meticulous baby book records and snapped hundreds of pictures. I took a five-month maternity leave knowing it would be my last, and under the guise of continuity, had the spouse drop the older two at pre-school on his way to work. Leo was my buddy, accompanying me to the dentist, sitting through lunches with the girls and sleeping straight through from the beginning of All My Children to the end of General Hospital.

Yup. Mothering sure was fun.

When I returned to work, I went back part-time, giving me three days a week to exercise my brain, two days to dote on my beloved children and the weekend to bond as a family.

When, a couple years later, CNBC moved the Creative Services to California, I tried, but couldn’t justify deserting the family for a cross-country copywriting job. Instead, I became a full-time, stay-at-home mother faced with a flighty future as a freelance writer, an ever-loving spouse who worked ever-endless hours and no more Teresa to help ease the pain.

But, soon I found that Disney characters cavorting on the television set pretty much guaranteed long stretches between demands for juice or Cheerios. I discovered I could write headlines from the playground bench, as long as I tossed in an occasional “Atta Boy!” to show I was still paying attention. And, I learned that talking to a client through a closed bathroom door only made the kids scream louder.

I found that converting a bedroom to a playroom meant a lot less mess to clean up in the living room. I discovered that skipping pages made bedtime stories go faster. And, I learned that my kids would eventually forget that popsicles and grape juice existed if I simply stopped buying those stain-inducing products.

I found that being the PTA president was perceived as a good mom move. I discovered that points were won for running the book fair, picture day and teacher appreciation luncheons. I learned that leaving my kids home with a babysitter while I sat on a committee was a whole lot more fun than battling bedtime.

I found that as I picked up more and more volunteer jobs, I took on less and less paid jobs. I discovered that a color-coded Excel sheet was the perfect way to keep on top of myriad activities. I learned that packing lunches the night before, choosing next-day outfits before going to sleep and banning the existence of anything sticky, sloppy, muddled or messy made for much smoother sailing.

I found that I could be an ultra-organized human being. I discovered that there was value in being over-involved in schools and sports and church and community. I learned that driving a minivan with three rows of seats did wonders for "he's touching me" control, but was oh, so much quicker to fill with wayward waifs than a four-seater sedan.

As I traveled the bumpy road through motherhood, I found that the Old Minivan got us from Point A to Point B and that stops at Points C through Z were a given. I discovered that I was pretty good at juggling tasks. My kids were clean. My kids were fed. And my kids were never, ever late.

But, what I learned, far too late in the game, was that I was no longer a fun mom.

It’s hard to be fun when you're worrying more about getting there than you do about being there. When you’re thinking about cleaning up while you’re still making the mess. Planning for bedtime when it’s not even naptime. Or focusing on efficiency instead of embracing spontaneity.

When I see young mothers laughing their way through parenthood, posting This is Us pictures on Facebook and switching to Plan B right before my very eyes, I actually feel a little bit sad. And so, last night I group-texted my kids.

"Can you guys come up with any fun mom moments?"

There was no response.

Really? Nothing? I texted.

Well, if nothing else, I taught them empathy.

Slowly, but surely, they started sending texts reminding me of the day I chased them with a wooden spoon. When I entered the Z100 Minivan Burn Rubber contest in the Pathmark parking lot. And the one and only time I actually suggested pulling out the boots and gloves and hats and scarves and big, bulky coats and extra socks to go sledding down the hill in the backyard.

They recalled how much fun I was when I worked in the canteen at the Little League field and would sneak them free fries (that, unbeknownst to them, I paid for). How I convinced the father that the trip to Jamaica with the Hargraves and Santostefanos and Merrigans and Ruscingnos was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which in fact, turned out to be just that. There was the Nutcracker and the Radio City Christmas Show and a mother-daughter trip to Disney World on which we turned to each other after two hours and said, "Let's get out of here."

There was the time I walked the daughter to the piercing pagoda in the local mall and then said, "Just kidding, you're still too young." The rare occasions when I'd spring for a mid-day ice cream break. The pumpkin picking trips. And the trillions of times they'd get in the car, subjecting themselves to my original melody, "Seatbelts on so you do not die. Seatbelts on so I do not cry," especially when Koree was with us because he would never, ever buckle up on his own.

Though I may have had to beg for them, these few and far between memories did, in fact, prove that there were moments in time when I was a fun mother. And that placated me.

But, that mind of mine can never leave well enough alone. I immediately started wondering just how fast and furious those texts would have come had I posed a different question.

"Can you guys come up with any non-fun mom moments?"

But, if I've learned one thing through all these years, it's to never, ever ask a question if you don't want to hear the answer.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Seize the Day Before it Seizes You

“Where are you going?” I asked the daughter as she floated toward the front door. I was perched in the chair that has become mine, and only mine, three feet in front of the 1990’s, 19-inch TV screen. The one with the cable wires winding their way across the otherwise somewhat attractively decorated living room of my house.

I was dressed in my hope-no-one-but-family-sees-me leisurewear. Toes were nestled in a pair of black and gold fuzzy socks: gold from ever-present Griffey dog hair; black from ever-present dirt across the hardwood floors of our humble home. My ample upper girth was obscured by my red Ole Miss fleece laced with dried cookie batter; my lower self sausaged in black yoga pants with aforementioned dog hair circling the hems.

The house was filled with wayward adult children home for the holidays, but I still had a few good days before the ceaseless string of celebrations hit full force. The celebrations, included, but were not limited to, several excessive gift exchanges, a Christmas Eve feast, two Christmas dinners with two different families, two birthdays of two family members and way too much eating and drinking that would climax on New Year’s Eve and, with any luck, cease the next morning when low-carb resolutions kicked in. I was perfectly content to sit in my chair and continue binge watching Easy, the Netflix series recommended to me by the daughter.

Who was, conversely, dressed for a night out.

“Where are you going?” I asked again.

“Into the city,” she answered. “I’m meeting Julianne and her dad.”

My jaw dropped.

“You’re going into the city to meet the Shea’s and you didn’t ask ME?”

“I knew you wouldn’t go,” came her immediate and completely reasonable response.

“I’m coming,” came my delayed and completely unexpected response.

Once, in another lifetime, nothing was too far-fetched, too uncomfortable nor too spontaneous for this carpe diem minded chick.   

One year four of us drove straight-through to Florida, two surfboards bungee-corded on the roof of my Ford Pinto, to spend spring break sleeping on the beach. On. The. Beach. I spent three days in the back of a Trailways bus as I made my way across the country the summer after I graduated from college. On the same trip, I met a friend at a party or in a bar or on the streets of Sedona and, forfeiting the return portion of my round-trip ticket, opted to drive back east with her, the two of us sleeping in her car on the side of the road with windows wide open. On any given Friday on any given summer weekend my friend Patty would pick me up in her tan-colored Corvair and we’d head down the Atlantic City expressway for libations in Somers Point followed by three hours of sleep in a six-dollar a night rooming house in Ocean City. I’d jump in my car and drive hundreds of miles for 23rd birthday parties, weddings, concerts or just to spend a night with an old friend. I shot a gun in the backyard of a Shippensburg farmhouse, picked up hitchhikers, drove from Philadelphia to New York City for a midnight meal in the Village, watched the Preakness from the infield at Pimlico and regularly befriended bartenders, jockeys and struggling artists.

All someone had to do was ask. I didn’t think about consequences. I didn’t think about finances. I didn’t think about judgments. I didn’t think about anything but seizing the day.

And then, somewhere along the line, the day seized me.

I no longer said yes to every adventure. I began to think about what was responsible. What was logical. What was affordable. And whether the fun I would ultimately have would be worth what it took to get me there.

Three kids and 25 years of parenting later, I’m no longer that go-to gal. It’s not a given that I’ll go. Or do. Or spend. Or drink. And, as much as I love sitting in my little chair watching my little TV in my  sleepy town with my dwindling family, sometimes I miss that go-to gal.

No friends epitomize the me I used to be better than the Shea’s. Tom and his daughter, Julianne, believe irrevocably, in seizing the day. While Tom’s wife, Jackie, rolls her eyes at their dreamed-up schemes and cringes at their foolish endeavors, she ultimately joins in and enjoys half of their crazy adventures. But, she, like me, is not the carefree creature she once was. She declined this last-minute invitation to meet in the city on a gridlock alert Thursday four days before Christmas. Just as I would have. Had I been invited.

Maybe it was the sting of not being invited that changed my mindset. It was certainly not a foolhardy idea. There was nothing dangerous or potentially disastrous about it. It was neither monetarily nor logistically prohibitive. There was no good reason why I couldn’t walk to the corner, hop on the 167, take the bus into the city, the subway down to Bleeker Street and have cocktails and dinner with my darling daughter, my good friend, Tom, and his daughter, Julianne, who was home from Chicago for the holidays.

“Look at you, Mom,” the daughter said. “Let’s hear it for spontaneity.”

“You really didn’t think I’d come?

The daughter looked at me sideways.

“Really?”

“Really.”

“You have no idea the things I used to do…”

The daughter bought me a subway swipe. I bought her dinner. Tom bought us drinks. Julianne didn't buy anything. And the four of us toasted to a life of spontaneity. To being the people we want to be. To having the fun we want to have. And to remembering that a life worth living is one that's worth living well.

Even when it means shedding your dog-haired clothes and putting your program on pause. Because hitting the Resume button is a really easy thing to do.





Friday, December 15, 2017

The Perfect Present


“You hate Christmas?” Danielle with the lavender highlights exclaimed as I was paying for my cut and color at the beauty parlor. “How can you hate Christmas?”

“I’ll tell you how,” I said as I mounted my high horse and launched into my diatribe. The one I’ve repeated for as many years as I’ve been in charge of Christmas.

Christmas, to me, is like the seashore. I love everything about the shore. I love the sea breezes and the salty air. I love riding my bicycle back and forth on nice, flat terrain. I love salt water taffy and caramel corn and pizza on the boardwalk. I love the lazy, hazy days, outdoor showers and unlocked front doors. I love everything about the shore. Except the sand. If the beach were paved in some sort of soft-to-the-toe-touch astro turf or rubber matting or even real grass, I’d plop down in my beach chair and watch the waves for hours on end, like normal people do.

I love everything about Christmas. I love the smell of pine needles and bayberry candles. I love the cheery salutations and the hustle and bustle. I love the little ornaments and baubles that I pull out of the attic every year and the candlelight Christmas Eve service. I love the sappy TV shows and the holiday parties and the house filling up with wayward children and friends. I love everything about Christmas. Except for the presents. If I could take away all the gift-giving, I’d plop down in my Santa seat and welcome the holiday, like normal people do.

“The bottom line is, Danielle, finding all those perfect presents is just too much work.”

The next day I spoke to my sister, Emily, telephonically. We talk a lot at this time of year. Mainly because we like to get each other worked up. She loves the part of Christmas I hate. To her, the more presents the merrier. When we get together with my side of the family the day after Christmas, we sit in a circle until our haunches are sore, going round and round the room opening gift after gift for hours on end. Nothing makes Emily happier than giving and receiving.

Some years I have won the battle, and only because I’m louder than all three of my sisters combined. Over the years, at my suggestion, we have tried the grab bag option, but someone always grabs the wrong bag. We have tried doing a Secret Santa but someone always gets, or is, the Grinch. We’ve tried filling stockings, but someone always gets the one with a hole in the toe. And so, we buy for everyone. And fill stockings, to boot.

It doesn’t help that my kids, who are no longer kids, but because they came forth from my loins, will always be my kids and will; therefore, forever more be albatrosses around my neck at Christmas time, never want anything. I have to beg them for lists that finally show up two days too late to order from Amazon. And my ever-loving, low-maintenance spouse wants nothing more than family togetherness. But, you just can’t put a ribbon around that.

I tell them every year that this is the end. I’m not buying gifts just for the sake of buying gifts. I’ll give them the hundreds of dollars they want in cold, hard cash and call it a day. It’s just too heart-wrenching to try and find the perfect gift that will elicit the perfect joy. And the problem is, I just won’t stop trying.

Sister Emily came up with a psychologically-sound point in our last insides-shaking induced conversation. The holidays will always find our weakest links and weasel their way in. It doesn’t matter if you have the perfect family with the perfect kids complete with the Labrador retriever or if you have a dysfunctional family filled with lecherous, mothball-scented uncles and surly teenagers. It doesn’t matter if you have a Warren Buffet-rivaling bank account or pinch every penny you sneak into your credit union’s Christmas Club. It doesn’t matter if you have a significant other or no other relatives alive. If you drink too much or teetotal your way through dinner.  If you proselytize over politics or have no idea who Robert Mueller is. It doesn’t matter if you crave a table full of friends or want to simply sink into your shell. If you’re a gourmet cook or call for takeout.  It doesn’t matter if you spin the dreidel or sing Away in a Manger. If you let the holidays discover your Achilles’ heel, whether self-imposed, self-perceived or just plain selfish, those holidays are going to do their best to take you down.

I take what my sister says to heart, even when I shouldn't. And she listens way, way too hard to what comes out of my rapidly-running mouth. But this time, what she said hit home. One person's angst is another's joy. And we're all somewhat in control of our own happiness. 

So, as we approach the final countdown to Christmas, I'm going to do my best to heal my multiple heels and follow my ever-loving, low-maintenance spouse’s example.

Instead of fighting it, I'm going to try just putting a ribbon around it. 

But before I can fully enjoy it, I just need a few more days to finish up my fussing and fuming about all those perfect presents that have yet to be purchased.