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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Trick or Treat

In theory I should love Halloween. Candy is by far my favorite of all the food groups. Children make me smile. And I’ve spent the greater part of my life wishing to be someone I’m not.

But in reality, Halloween is my most horrendous holiday.

Halloween raises all kinds of self-esteem issues for me. I’ve never been clever like my cousin Karen nor a seamstress like my mother. So with no good ideas and no means to create, when push came to shove, I simply rotated between a clown costume I wore in a school play and a white sheet with eye holes. When I had children my self-worth plummeted deeper, never allowing them creative license, but forcing them into whatever costume was left at Party City the day before Halloween.

I have deep-seeded emotional scars surrounding Halloween.

When I was in high school I would have given anything —  my sisters, my Frye boots, my soul, to be truly accepted by Nadine Maher and Betsy Ledwith.

Nadine and Betsy were cornerstones on the high school field hockey team. They were fast runners, high scorers and best friends. The pleats on their kilts hung as straight as their hair, their smoothly-shaved legs were shapely and strong. I, on the other hand, was the frizzy-haired (red, no less) goalkeeper. And while one may assume that a goalie had to have guts and grit, the truth was that I was slow, scared and prayed I’d never have to touch the ball.

Because I made Nadine and Betsy laugh, I flirted in and out of their orbit, earning the occasional sleepover invitation. But come morning, I’d be relegated back to my second-tier status, panting like a dog for another pat on the head. Imagine my glee, when in 11th grade, Nadine and Betsy declared that they and the other it-girls-of-the-week would be Trick or Treating with me. We’d dress as hobos – torn jeans, flannel shirts, a smudge of makeup on our faces to look like dirt. Way cooler than the saddle-shoed, poodle-skirted sock-hop costumes my other friends had concocted.

I spent Halloween afternoon wondering if they would really show up and telling myself I didn’t care. When I opened the front door to a bunch of bums, I was euphoric. I hurried them in and then panicked, suddenly realizing that any member of my FAMILY could appear at any given moment.

I guided the girls to the bowl of candy on the blue tile-topped table in the front hall.

“Take as much as you want!” I said.

Full-sized Hersey bars and Tootsie Rolls were silently swooped into pillowcases as I herded the crew out the door.

We hadn’t hit the end of the flagstone path before the front door burst open and my father, clad in green plaid pants and orange striped shirt (not a costume), barreled out onto the front lawn.

“Thieves! Thieves!” he screamed, swinging the empty candy bowl through the crisp night air. “Get back here!”

I died a thousand deaths as I skulked back to the house, my new-found popularity lying at the bottom of a pillowcase.

“What kind of people are they?” he roared for the whole neighborhood to hear. “Their greedy, grubby hands took every candy bar in the bowl!”

“But, Dad,” I protested.

“Get it back!” he snapped. “Or I will.”

I narrowed my rolled eyes and ran to catch up with the cool kids. I don’t remember what I said or what excuse I used, but I’m sure I denounced my father with every cruel curse I could conjure up. I suspect I recovered half the candy bars and that when I tossed them back into the bowl that I glowered at my evil father and vowed never to speak to him again. I’m sure I slammed the door hard behind me as I stomped down the street to meet back up with the greedy, grubby thieves who never would have cleaned us out without my permission.

Many, many Halloweens later, I found myself hosting a Haunted House, something I would never in a thousand years take on intentionally. My sister, Nancy, planned a Halloween-themed birthday party for her daughter, Olivia, and my kids and I were invited guests. A half-hour before the 15 six year-olds were to descend upon us, Olivia’s little brother fell off his bike and had to be taken to the ER for stitches.

“Just make sure the spaghetti isn’t too hot!” my sister called over her shoulder.

“What’s the spaghetti for?” I panicked.

“Worms! They stick their hands in it. Put it next to the eyeballs in the basement. Don't forget the dead body in the coffin. And make sure no one falls down the steps.”

Somehow I pulled it off, but not without traumatizing myself and half of the party.

Halloween with my kids was nothing more than a dreaded duty. We ventured across town to Trick or Treat with a group of friends and their well-behaved and creatively-clad children. My spouse seemed to always have a breaking story to cover on Halloween night and I’d be left wrestling the kids into their costumes, spewing threats through clenched teeth, “You WILL be a cow and you WILL enjoy it.” Inevitably I’d have one kid on my shoulders, one crying and one darting between cars. When it was finally over we all convened at the Landers' house where my spouse would show up about the same time the pizza did. By then, the kids were on such a sugar high that they couldn’t stop smiling and he couldn’t help wondering what all my fuss was about.

This Halloween Leo, undoubtedly donned in a toga, will be parading up and down College Ave with the other Rutgers baseball players.
Max, out in southern California, will be dressed as, but hopefully not partying like, Johnny Manziel. I know because I got an e-mail from Amazon with shipping details for a Number Two Cleveland Browns jersey. 
And Molly, the one who loved dressing up the most, will be wearing cat ears or sunglasses or something equally un-costumey as she staggers with the drunks down in the Big Easy.
As for me, well, my spouse is out of town so I'll have the Halloween I've always dreamed of. I'll sit at home with a big bowl of candy and enjoy the night from the inside looking out. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

The More Things Change...


Today is Laura’s big, ugly birthday. Her words, not mine.

I met Laura almost twenty-five years ago, back when she was a mere child. For that matter, I was too. I remember the day she barreled fearlessly into the marketing department at CNBC. Robin and I exchanged judicious cross-cubicle glances, sizing up this new blood to see whether she was friend-worthy.

I was way older than Laura. At least I was back then. Years have a way of closing the age gap. She was still in her twenties and I had already passed the big 3-0. I was no schoolmarm, but she had a lot more bravado than I did. She wore a lot of black. She sported a black leather jacket and black boots and black gloves with the fingers cut off. She drove a black Mustang that she held on to for years and years and years. She wore very little makeup and never got her ears pierced. She also liked green because it matched her eyes. She had the same short spiky hair then as she does now.

We played on the co-ed CNBC softball team together. She played like one of the guys. I played like a girl. After all, I was carrying my first baby and didn’t want anyone to know yet.

These days, Laura plays ice hockey. She’s a female in a male sport on a male team. She doesn’t back down. She plays with passion and fury. She plays like one of the guys.

At CNBC, we worked long hours and took long lunches at the now defunct Alfredo’s. I always ordered chicken parm sandwiches, “baked, not fried,” as if those extra calories would have made a difference on top of that crispy Italian roll smothered with marinara sauce and cheese. Laura may have ordered a pasta dish, but she never ate past the point of no return, and always took the rest home for dinner.  

Now days we meet every October at our favorite restaurant, Park and Orchard, to take advantage of Laura’s 20 percent off birthday coupon. I order the very hot and spicy Southwest Fire Chicken and scarf it down. Laura orders the Park and Orchard shrimp special, eats a bite or two and takes the rest home.
E-mail made its debut during our tenure at CNBC and Laura and I won the prize, or rather the reprimand, of sending more e-mails than anyone else in the company. Combined.

Laura has continued to be a social media hound. She’s my most loyal fan and the first to share my blogs. She’s tried and tried to get me to embrace Twitter. Though I speak in sound bites, I over-think my tweets and then retreat. But once when we were watching The Voice together in separate places I got a retweet from Jacqui, one of the screamers whom Laura despised, and I felt validated.

Laura was never afraid of the “stars” at CNBC. Whereas, I would quake at the thought of having to interview the On-Air Personalities in order to write effective marketing materials, Laura knew they were just people who happened to have higher profile jobs than we. To this day she doesn’t shirk from hob-nobbing with the rich and famous.

She’ll make sure she positions herself to get a photo with Tommy Shaw from Styx (and yes, I had to google him), and has been known to wake up at 4 am (or was it 3?) to see Tim McGraw perform live on the Today Show.
Laura refuses to age. She continues to dance her way through life. Literally. She’s currently taking ballet. I’m not sure she wears a tu-tu, but I suspect she can get up on her toes. She has taken swing dancing as well. She acts. Meaning she actually takes part in local theater, getting up on stage and spouting out memorized lines with confidence and considerable character. She has flown through the air with the greatest of ease.

Laura hasn't changed a bit.

Laura plays golf. She loves the beach, Peeps and anything pumpkin. She adores her parents, her friends and her cousins. She loves the Mets, the Jets and the Rangers. She loves being Irish, finding typos and having adventures.

And so, as her friends and family gather this weekend to help her commiserate, I mean celebrate (her words, not mine) her big, ugly birthday I can’t help but wonder.

Maybe it’s not so much that Laura’s not ready for the next decade. But maybe she’s simply afraid that the next decade is not ready for her.

Keep skydiving and Rocky Mountain climbing, girl. And may your infectious love of life last another five decades. At least.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Girls will be girls

I’ve never been one to go for too long without a friend. And so, minutes after my parents left me alone at Shippensburg State College my freshman year, I waltzed right across the hall into Chris and Leslie’s room.  

“Oh! You like the Beatles, too?” I asked, seeing the White Album propped up next to the turntable. We've had many a laugh over that lame ice-breaker, especially considering what they have later come to expect from me and my mouth.

How I met Ann and Peggy was more like it. They were the pretty blonds on the third floor who sauntered along with a casual arrogance I envied.  It took a long time, about three days, but I finally mustered up the courage to follow them home from Kriner Diner, barge into their dorm room and say, and I kid you not, “Will you be my friend?”
Jeanne came along when we were sophomores. Ann took that year off and Jeanne was the random replacement, a transfer student dumped into our brand-new on-campus apartment we had won by lottery. She was initiated quickly with one of our own's blessedly-botched suicide attempt the second night of school. 

While many others we have known and loved have come and gone, we are the six who have stayed together through thick and thin. A lot of thick, I might add.

We all got out of Shippensburg, one way or another. Some graduated, one transferred, one left without a degree. And, thanks to Leslie, who organized the very first Annual All Girls’ Christmas Party, we’ve gotten together at least once a year, every year, since 1979. Peggy and Leslie have never, ever missed a get together and I don’t think anyone has missed more than three times in three-and-a-half decades.

What started out as an overnight reunion held the first Saturday in December has morphed into a three-night getaway the third weekend in October with a supplemental gathering in late winter. We rent a house in a pretty place and hike, shop, overeat and talk and laugh and talk and laugh and sometimes even talk and cry. Since it all began as a holiday party, we continue to bring presents for the grab-bag gift exchange.

One night we devote to “doing our goals.” As we munch on potato chips and sip wine (or gulp bourbon as the case may be), we reflect on our past year and what we wish to accomplish in the next. Our goals have included the practical: buy yoga pants, get a doggie door and renovate the bedroom. The artistic: write a novel, join an art league, continue with photography. The self-reflective: be kinder, don't feel like a failure when I don't meet a goal, learn to live with less. And some are just plain necessary: get a colonoscopy, stay clean and sober, get heart palpitations checked. We made a new rule this year. No more weight-oriented goals.

We all look forward to our weekends together and return home feeling energized and ready to tackle the world with a new-found fury.

But alas, we are getting older. We all have quirks that annoy and physical ailments that deter. We are set in our ways and our ways are no longer easily waylaid with dangling carrots. Some of us won't share a bedroom. Or a bathroom. No matter what. Three of us bring portable fans to drown out noise when we sleep, regardless of the season. Two of us have had hip replacements. One has a bad case of sciatica. One has neuropathy and can’t feel her feet. One of us has had a double mastectomy. One has been in rehab. More than once. One has Raynaud’s Disease and is always freezing. Another has hot flashes and wants the heat set at 65. Some want the curtains open. Others want them shut. Some like bright light at the dinner table. Others want it dim. Some want to control. Others want to be led. Some like to shop. Others like art museums. Some take advice. Others put up road blocks to Every. Single. Suggestion. Some can dish it out but can’t take it back. Some belch loudly. Continuously. Others pass gas. Some snore so loudly they shake the house. Some worry incessantly. Others are carefree. Some can’t stay awake past 9 pm. Some get up at 5 am. One still has a flip phone. Others don’t leave home without an iPad. And an iPhone. And a laptop. And a Kindle. One can’t hear. One can’t see. One can’t smell. One obsesses. One is scared of bears. One is scared of the bogeyman.

One has small cell lung cancer and doesn’t know how much longer she’ll be with us.

Statistically, she wasn’t supposed to be here this year. Or maybe even last. She’s thought long and hard about why she has been given the gift of extra time. She knows she’s here to be a bearer of love. And perhaps to remind us that life is never guaranteed and that true friends should be cherished.

We may not be the carefree college girls we once were who could curl up on the couch with a musty blanket and sleep until noon. We may not be able to party like we used to or be as spontaneous and adventurous. We may not be able to keep up on a nature hike or stay patient through rune readings. We may not have the interest in going to a museum or the money to afford a fancy restaurant.

We may all have annoying habits that have become more pronounced with age. Our idiosyncrasies may control our happiness. Our behaviors may annoy our friends. We may tease. We may snap. But there is also a good side to each and every one of us that far outweighs the bad.

We are fun. We are smart. We are dynamic. We are creative, clever and compassionate. We are good mothers, good partners, good aunts, good sisters, and good parents. We are good friends.

And we are lucky to have each other. Warts and all.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Extraordinarily Ordinary

“Let me get this straight,” a friend, who knows me none too well, said when she heard my plans. “Your daughter graduated last May, she no longer lives in her college town and you’re traveling over 500 miles to the University of North Carolina because you miss it?”

I can imagine the slew of shocked reactions the others faced when their friends and families were told what we were up to.

A conversation with Sally and Dan: You mean you’re flying from Cleveland to Chapel Hill for a weekend to hang out with your daughter’s roommates and their parents, and your daughter (who happens to be in up to her ears in medical school) is not even going?

Joe and Carla: You’re crossing two time zones, visiting your daughter in the nation’s capital then renting a car and driving another four hours to North Carolina?

Ruth: You’re leaving work, driving across the state, picking up the Cleveland contingent at Raleigh-Durham airport, then meeting the others at Top of the Hill, at what hour?

Jackie and Tom: Wait a minute. What kind of clout do you have? You were able to rent out Sutton’s for a private party AGAIN? And you're suprising Sandra with a birthday serenade from the UNC Clef Hangers?

Stephen and Sandra: You really want to have 11 people sleeping in your house for a whole weekend? To which they undoubtedly responded, “We would have gladly had fourteen, but Betsy and the Shea’s got hotel rooms – they thought it would be too much for us – simply can’t imagine why!”


In May when my daughter, Molly, and her four roommates graduated from UNC, filled with tears and fears and the best memories of their lives, we parents were equally as emotional. We had formed a bond that I had tried very hard to resist -- stating strongly to my daughter freshman year that I didn’t want to get involved with her friends’ parents. I didn’t need any more friends – especially ones that would surely be four years and done.

At the graduation party we threw for the girls at Franklin Street’s beloved Sutton’s (Check out Carolina in My Mind blog ), we vowed that it wasn’t goodbye. It was just see y’all later. And so, half-crocked, we clinked red Solo cups and promised to all meet again in Chapel Hill the first home-football-game weekend in October every year. If the kids could come, great. If not, we’d have a parent’s reunion.

We are all just ordinary parents. There’s nothing that makes any one of us stand out in a crowd.

None of the women are notably prettier than any of the others – except of course for Carla, who admitted to what we had long suspected – that she was a former Beauty Queen back home in Wyoming.
And none of us are anymore globally-conscious than any of the others. Except of course for Ruth who loves the land, its plants and its bees and knows about things like worm farming and composting.

Not one of us is more obviously popular than the rest. Though Jackie is the only one who claims to have been in the “top tier” in high school.

I can’t say one of us is any wiser than the others. But, Dan does wear a T-shirt that boldly proclaims: To save time let’s just assume I’m always right.

No one works harder than any of the rest of us, unless we count my spouse who was, and often is, absent as he chases down news stories across America.

No one is clearly the winner of being in the best shape. Though, Sally is pretty spry, rarely foregoing her early morning jog. And speaking of shape, shipshape she is. No one, but no one, cleans an apartment better than she.

No one has better stories than anyone else, but hey, I write them down.

No one is significantly more laid-back than anyone else, except maybe for Joe who is content to go wherever the beer and conversation flow.

No one has better ideas than anyone else, but Tom, our ultimate organizer, sure can make them happen.

And though we’re all kind and loving people, no one can hold a candle to Sandra and Stephen’s mitzvahs.

Well, I guess maybe we do all have our stand-out-in-a-crowd-isms after all. But when we’re in each other's company we all find our place, fitting together like a nice jigsaw puzzle.

And maybe that’s why it doesn’t puzzle us a bit that we flocked together from from far and wide. We came from Washington, DC, Atlanta, New Orleans, Chicago, Asheville, Cleveland, Denver and two different towns in little old New Jersey. And we all descended upon the King and Queen of Franklin Street who rolled out the red carpet for us.

We're not the only parents who have known and loved our four years at UNC. Others have surely spent their evenings at R&R, their Late Nights with Roy and their afternoons at Kenan Stadium. They, too, have enjoyed their Pi Phi brunches and Top of the Hill dinners.

Like thousands of UNC parents, we traveled the red brick paths from adventure to adventure in heels and boots and sneakers and sandals. But on Graduation Day, as we criss-crossed through campus, we flashed wistful smiles at our passersby, knowing our times in Chapel Hill had been and always would be something special.

For it's hard to believe that any group of parents has ever experienced true Southern hospitality like we have. To have been loved, as well as fed, at Sutton's. To have been personally wooed and wowed by the amazing Clef Hangers. Twice. To have scrubbed toilets, stocked supplies and played beer pong at Bar Carr all in one day.

But life goes on and people move on. Promises of eternal devotion are deterred by time and distance and lack of funds. And, slowly friendships fade along with the memories. Despite having the best of intentions, it's just what happens to ordinary, everyday people.

Unless of course, you make the effort. Book the flight. Drive the miles. Sacrifice the dollars. Spare the time. No excuses. No regrets. Because in the end, we all have a choice. You don't have to be especially rich or powerful or successful or smart. You just have to be an ordinary person willing to go to extraordinary lengths to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.

You go, Girls!