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Friday, June 26, 2015

The Way We Are: 40th High School Reunion

My friend Margaret and I have spent a lifetime making each other laugh. With every passing year we gain fuel for the fire, but nothing ignites our spirits like delving back into our fun-filled past.

High school was one of those blast-from-the-past places for Margaret and me. We had slightly different agendas but our bottom line was the same. It was all about having a good time. She collected boyfriends while I cast my net wider, befriending every pot-head, motor-head, egg-head, thespian, jock and weirdo who would have me.

Between the two of us, we had one foot in just about every clique in the school. We didn't made it to the Homecoming Court or to Nadine Maher’s 10th grade sleepover party, but Marion Dugan did. She also got to marry Billy Binder. We wore the same kilt and cleats as Jan Barber on the field hockey team, but while she was scoring goals we were scoring points with the other bench-warmers, cracking jokes and making faces behind Miss Nixon’s back.

We never quite achieved Queen Bee status in the groups we buzzed in and out of.  But we weren’t the drones either. We got through high school relatively unscathed and went on to lead productive lives, finding kind and stable spouses and raising a trio of offspring a piece. Eternally thankful that our children are reasonable human beings, we are acutely aware that it's just dumb luck that our biggest worry through the years (and in turn, relief) was that our kids didn't have as much fun as we did growing up.

When our five-year high school reunion came around, which was well way before we had met our mates, I was working at TV Guide magazine. Somehow Margaret figured out when my weekly meetings were scheduled and that’s when she’d call. These were the days before voice mail, so an actual person was assigned to answer the phones. I tried, but couldn’t quite explain why messages like, “Bruce Levy’s secretary called regarding the Ex-Lax account.” Or, “Lisa Borowitz will meet you at Yum Yum tonight at 7,” sent me into convulsions.

I would retaliate with a simple, “Tell her Jim Mooney’s girlfriend called.”

And so, when I left Margaret the message that Leslie Leidy wanted us to work the door at our 40th reunion, she didn’t know at first if the request was for real. But she knew, as did I, that it was the perfect job for us.

I had studied for all our past reunions, but this time I decided to spend as much time cramming as I had in Mrs. Peterson’s Consumer Math class. Which meant I was going to totally wing it. I didn't ask for a guest list in advance and I didn't crack the yearbook open until I got home.

We knew that by sitting at the check-in table, we’d get to see every single person as they walked in the door. When we had absolutely no clue who they were, we’d just hand them a pen and say, “Write your name on the name tag.”

Then, as they formed the letters, we’d read upside-down and scream in glee, “Kevin Forster!” as if we actually recognized the boy he used to be. Alas, Kevin Forster didn’t show. But Angelo Minetti did. And we knew him without even having to cheat.

I kept in touch with a fair amount of friends from Springfield. And thanks to Facebook, I have even more friends than I had in high school. I know I “like” and comment on people’s pages who I never liked nor commented on in all my years of high school.

Some of my friends and pseudo-friends had no interest in coming to the reunion.

“Can’t do it. I’ve gained too much weight.”

“Never liked those people then, why would I want to be around them now?”

“What if Joe/Tom/Rob (fill in the ex-boyfriend) is there?”

“What in the world would we have to talk about?”

“I don’t get it,” I said to my bosom-buddy, Madge. “Why wouldn’t you come?”

And in the end, that’s what made her come. There was no good reason not to.

I wasn’t a big fan of our prom theme. To my ears, The Way We Were is a droning ballad seeping with sentimental sap. But, as we gathered at MaGerk’s Pub on Saturday night with close to 100 of our former classmates, even I had to admit, the lyrics are lovely. A little more appropriate than Bad Company's Feel like Making Love or Janis Ian's I Learned the Truth at 17...

The Way We Were
Memories light the corners of my mind
Misty water-colored memories of the way we were
Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind
Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were

Can it be that it was all so simple then
Or has time rewritten every line
And if we had the chance to do it all again
Just tell me, tell me, would we, would we?
Could we, could we?

Memories may be beautiful and yet
So many memories too painful to remember

Can it be that it was all so simple then
Or has time rewritten every line
And if we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me would we, would we?
Ah could we, could we?

Memories may be beautiful and yet
Much too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget

So it's the laughter that we will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were
The way we were 
 The way we were 
 I miss the way we were
The way we were

Do I miss the way we were? 

What's there to miss? We were mean. We were selfish. We judged. We were idiots. Skinny. But idiots. We cared first and foremost about our personal position and popularity. We encouraged cliques and wrote things in our diary like, "Chris Bell came into Yum Yum tonight. I looovve him. He’s so cool.”

Forty years later, there are no more pimples or pretense. We've all been thrown into this thing called middle age together. We mingled and meshed and rewrote history together, remembering fun times with fun people, or pretending we did. And not a soul there reverted to high school dialogue with a "Can you believe what she's wearing?" or a  "Why is he talking to her?" We met several second wives and heard about many successful children. We never reapplied the make-up we had tucked in our bags and tore off our Spanx half-way through realizing even the best of us had beer guts, love handles and lots of laugh lines. And it simply didn't matter anymore. Because that's just the way we are.
If we had the chance to do it all again, would we?
All I know is that when Chris Bell posted on my Facebook page Monday morning, our friendship felt a whole lot more real than it had 40 years ago. 

Yeah, the way we are is way better than the way we were.

Thanks to all who made this happen 
and to all of you who stayed away, 
we better see you at the 45th!


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Why I love Taylor Swift and Brandon Wimbush

I am the first to admit I have an idolization disorder. My spouse calls me “Idy” when he catches me tilting my head and straining my ears to hear what some random body in a booth nearby is saying to his or her dining companion. It’s different than being awed by beauty or caught in a crush. It’s a connection. A “Wow. I bet I’d really like that person.” And more importantly, “I bet they’d like me, too.”

And so it follows that I also get crazily star-struck. But not by everyone.  I couldn’t care less about the Kardashians or Caitlyn Jenner. I was never an Angelina Jolie or Derek Jeter fan and could easily walk past Paul McCartney without my heart skipping a single beat. But give me someone with humble beginnings and I’m an idolizer for life.

My obsession with Taylor Swift began after spending a few weekends in her hometown of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania. She was making music and on the move to Nashville by the time we got there, but even if she hadn’t been, I’m fairly certain our circles would not have crossed. Our time in Wyomissing was spent sitting by the outdoor pool at the Inn at Reading, sipping cocktails while our little baseball boys ran rampant after winning or losing a tournament. It didn’t matter back then. Baseball was still just good, innocent fun.

Taylor Swift is a master lyricist and a marketing genius and has parents who did everything in their power to propel her to where she is. Her mother is my age. Her brother went to Notre Dame. She’s insanely loyal to her fans and her not-famous best friend, Abigail. She doesn’t trash hotel rooms or gyrate on stage or use rehab as a vacation home.

Taylor watches me type every word I ever write from a calendar above my desk. Her songs inspire me and singing one over and over again saved my soul from the meanest person I ever met.
Someday, I’ll be living in a big old city,
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.
Someday, I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me,
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.
Why you gotta be so mean?
I may be totally delusional, but I believe with all my heart that Taylor Swift is a good and humble person. And she doesn’t even have a tattoo. For that alone I have to love her more than my own daughter. 

I jumped on the Wimbush bandwagon long before Taylor Swift released her first album. It was back at the turn of the century when Sean Wimbush hit a home run on little Lucy Field in Teaneck, New Jersey. 

“That kid is a true athlete,” my baseball coach of a spouse concurred.

I had no doubt that the long and lanky six year-old Sean would one day become a rich and famous athlete. And, if I played my cards right, I would be able to say, “I knew you when.”

So, I bee-lined to the handsome father, Shawn, with his bulging biceps that hugged me warmly and the pretty mother, Heather, with her trademark smile and gift of gab that rivaled my own. And then there was the cute little brother, Brandon.

One day, Shawn became an ex, her ever-helpful parents moved south and Heather had to increase her hours as a labor and delivery nurse. She had two boys to raise and she was determined to get it right. But she knew she couldn't do it without a little help from her friends.

Sean played baseball with my son, Max, for a bunch of years. He hit lots of home runs and ran like a gazelle. He later dabbled in football and basketball and ultimately ended up running track at Rutgers. It wasn’t in the master plan for him to become a rich and famous athlete. But, that hasn't stopped him from smiling.

Meanwhile, brother Brandon was playing baseball with my younger son, Leo. She’ll deny it till her dying day, but Heather did not love baseball. My spouse was a coach and I was the ultimate team mom so we took Brandon under our wing, giving him rides and food and places to sleep while she worked her tail off, banking hours for future football games that she never, ever missed.

Everyone knows I hate to talk on the phone, but Heather never cared. She simply responds to texts with phone calls and I, for some reason, always pick up the call. She likes the sound of my voice.

When it was time for Brandon to transition to full-time football, we talked long and hard. She knew I loved baseball. She knew I believed in public school. But she also knew I would put my own feelings aside and would support her decisions on what to do with Brandon for high school. Above all she valued academics. She said many times that she didn’t care if Brandon never stepped foot on a college football field. If he came out with a good education, then she was fine with that. I’m a mother and we mothers say all kinds of things. I know a part of her meant it, but we both know that Brandon didn’t work this hard to sit on the sidelines at Notre Dame.

And so, there I was, up to my elbows in chopped spinach, rolling 150 little one-inch balls between the palms of my hands for the better part of an hour the day before Brandon's high school graduation party. 
I knew when I asked that Heather would want me to bring something. 

“Make your spinach balls! Everyone loves them!”

I also knew that she would thank me profusely. And make a speech about how Brandon would never be the top quarterback recruit that he is today without the village who helped raise him. Heather will never, ever forget, nor will she ever let her boys forget, from whence they came.

“Hey, Brandon,” I said conspiratorially as I slipped him an envelope. “How much money you think you’re going to make today?”

He smiled the Wimbush smile and leaned in.

“I bet there’s enough to pay you back for some of those baseball tournaments you covered,” he said.

I have no illusions that I’ll ever meet Taylor Swift. If I did, I’d be so star-struck and tongue-tied that she’d never even know that I was worth knowing.

But I'm banking on Brandon.

With a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, Brandon just may become a rich and famous football player.

But I won’t be star-struck.

Because somehow I know, that when he invites me to his Super Bowl victory party, that he and his family will still be humble as ever. And I bet they'll even let me bring something. 

I just can't help but wonder if Taylor Swift likes spinach balls.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Why I didn't go to Thailand with my Daughter (or my spouse for that matter)

“So are you nervous about traveling with your father?” I asked Molly, knowing that no matter how much I loved my dear old deceased dad, I would never in a million years have been able to travel alone with him to Thailand.

“No,” she answered in a 'Duh, like, why would I be nervous about traveling with my father?' tone.

“How would you feel if you were going with me?”

“Mom. That would absolutely never happen. So I don’t even have to answer that question.”

I love my daughter.  And I know that she loves me. But she's right. It would absolutely never happen.

Molly started talking about going to Thailand last fall. And as soon as she did, I knew a plane ticket would be a perfect Christmas present.

“I want to do this alone,” Molly said.

Molly is very brave. When I was her age, I too went on a trip alone. I crossed the country on a Trailways bus. Like her, I didn’t have an itinerary, but, unlike her, I knew that when I got off the bus in Flagstaff, Arizona I'd be enveloped into the warm and welcoming arms of my very able and adventurous friend, Ann, who would make sure nothing more evil happened to me than happened to her. 

But even Molly knew that four-and-a-half weeks in Thailand might get a bit lonely, so once she cashed in her airline voucher, she started campaigning for a companion to join her for the first two weeks of the trip. It made my heart swell that she chose her father and I wasn't even the slightest bit green with envy.

After all, she and her father have an awful lot in common. They can both identify Bangkok on a blank world map, know that Cambodia and Laos are border countries and even understand what goes on in Myanmar. They both like museums and music. They keep up with current events and discuss things like social conditions and water-crises in third-world countries. Harsh as it sounds, I am way more interested in what my kids' friends are up to than what's going down clear across the world.  And that makes them both roll their eyes.

But we could get around those things. I could spend the day shopping in open-air markets for funky earrings and sip exotic drinks with the locals while my daughter toured a temple in Chiang Mai. I could do a little of her this and a little of her that and she could placate me the same way. I have no doubt that we could make a vacation work.

But it’s the getting there that would kill us both.

In the middle of June I am going to southern Maine for a three-night rendezvous with my college roommates. We are staying in my friend Betsy’s oceanfront house where I have been probably a dozen times. My roommates are all unpretentious, kind-hearted, ex-hippies who wouldn’t notice, or care, if I wore the same outfit every single day.  I know what bedroom I will sleep in. I know where I will walk in the morning and I know how much water pressure to expect in the shower. There will be no great surprises. And yet, I have had a running List of Things to Bring going for a good week-and-a-half. My clothes will be completely packed, along with my portable fan at least three days before I leave. I will not forget anything because I will bring the largest suitcase I own, filled with clothing choices for every conceivable weather condition, despite tracking conditions on and knowing exactly what to expect. 

For months I’d been slipping travel planning suggestions into my daily conversations with Molly.

“Maybe you should go shopping for a backpack.”

“Buy new sneakers now so you don’t get blisters.”

“Make sure you find out if you need a typhoid shot.”

“Mail order some quick-dry shorts from that discount camping website.”

And even though all those suggestions were met with “Mmm Hmm” or just plain silence, I went for the gusto.

“Where are you going to stay?”

“Mom. There are millions of places to stay. Don’t worry about it.”

But still, I went for Double Jeopardy. "What's your plan for after your father leaves?"

And that's when I got the hand.
When I was her age, I too could sleep anywhere. My friend Penny, aka Patty, and I would hop in her Corvair and drive to the Jersey shore for the weekend with no plan. If we didn’t meet any friends or lovers in Somers Point, we’d rent a room in a boarding house. And maybe even share a bathroom with other guests. 

And though I certainly get it - cause I did it - at my advanced age, I would rather stay home than do it again.

But, my spouse is different. He does not need to plan, nor does he need to obsess, like I do.

I tried to remain hands-off. Friends even remarked that I was way cooler than they’d be about their child traveling to the other side of the world. And I am cool. About the big things. I have absolutely no fear of her being sold into slavery or abducted by aliens or bit by mosquitos. But, for me, the devil's in the details.

Molly came home from New Orleans five days before her trip since they were flying out of Newark.  Every single minute of every single day I thought about the fact that neither she nor her father had checked buttons on shirts, zippers on shorts, caps on toothpastes, let alone secured luggage tags on suitcases (or backpacks, as the case may be). Every bone in my anxious body cringed as the days got nearer to departure and there were no visible signs of packing progress.

I tried to let it go. To deep-breathe. To go on long bike rides. Hours-long walks. Dinner with friends. If I wasn't around, they wouldn't feel my angst. It didn’t work. I heard them snickering behind my back about how anxious Mom was and she wasn’t even going. They were right. I lost a good three days of work because I couldn’t concentrate. And they didn’t lose a single minute.

I thought I had died and gone to heaven when 15 hours before they were leaving for the airport, my spouse started looking for hotels and talking about how they might spend their two weeks together. I gleefully participated in the search for the perfect palaces and then called my sister at Travel Finesse to seal the deal.

“Oh, I assumed they had booked their rooms themselves when I hadn’t heard from them,” she said, validating my time frame concerns. However, in their defense, they had no problem making reservations and perhaps even saved a few bucks by booking last minute.But for me, peace of mind doesn't carry a price tag.

They got off fine. The only thing they forgot was  their Bangkok city map that I’m sure they replaced for free at the hotel. And of course, the non-forgotten malaria pills (see previous blog on Malaria: The least of my worries).

I got a selfie this morning and they were both still smiling.

And I smiled, thinking how nice it is to be so in sync with a travel companion.

And so I called Penny and strong-armed her into booking a cruise for the end of August. Penny and I travel well together. She has as many anxieties as I do, but in different categories. Together, we've got them just about all covered. But as long as I know I'll wake up to an activities program slipped under the door telling me where to be and when to change my clothes, and as long as she can have her coffee on the balcony as the sun's coming up and I'm still snoring away, we're happy. 

She may tease me for starting my List of Things to Bring three months early, and I'll taunt her when she wonders if she left her iron plugged in. But since we live 1,000 miles apart, we don't have to feel each other's angst until we're three drinks in on the Lido Deck. And, by then, it simply won't matter. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Malaria: The least of my worries

“Got your passport?”



“Yes, Mother.”

“Phone charger?”

“I got it, Mom.”

Believe it or not, and I know my spouse and offspring do not, I expend a great deal of energy trying to temper my annoyingly neurotic mothering. For every “Did you…” that I utter, there’s a “Don’t forget” that I swallow.

And though I try to muffle the “I told you so’s,” I have to admit I do get a somewhat smug sense of self when I discover a Macro Economics text book under a sofa, a debit card in a jeans pocket or, in this case, a vial of malaria pills in plain sight right there on the bedside table.

After a surprisingly uneventful airport drop-off at a perfectly reasonable hour yesterday morning, I kissed my spouse and daughter goodbye and wished them all things zen on their trip to Thailand. (Look for the next blog entitled, “Why I didn’t go to Thailand with my Daughter”). The half-hour trip took twice as long in reverse as it was pouring rain and whenever it is pouring rain, traffic backs up across every bridge and tunnel in New York making it a nightmare, rather than a convenience, to live four miles from the George Washington Bridge.

But, I was good. Deep-breathing, releasing days of pent-up anxiety and not stressing in the least. I went right to the gym from the airport, swam my 50 laps and even deviated from my routine, adding a sloppy backstroke to my repertoire. I headed home to complete my freelance assignments I had been too worked up with pre-trip-that-I'm-not-even-going-on angst to tackle over the weekend.

Before I settled into my desk, I went up to Molly’s attic bedroom to collect the wet towels, empty water bottles and crumpled granola bar wrappers she had left behind. I gathered and bagged, stopping dead in my tracks when I saw the malaria pills. 

The traveler (not the mother left behind) is supposed to take one pill a day starting two days before traveling and continue for seven days after returning.

Luckily, the night before they left my spouse said, “I was thinking maybe we should make a hotel reservation in Bangkok.”

And so, I had an address where they would be for the first three nights.

I grabbed the pills for a trip to the post office, but alas, my car, that had just taxied to the airport did not start.

Still calm, I simply transferred over to my spouse's car that was waiting for me right out front. I hopped in, turned the corner and as I did, water came pouring out of the little sunglasses holder in the roof, onto my lap.  His car is not equipped with multiple towels for emergencies like mine is, so I had to accept the drenching. And re-drenching when I turned a hard left.

I went to my favorite little post office in the next town over because it is usually less crowded and quicker. There were two people in line in front of me. When it was the woman with the walker’s turn, and the postal clerk rattled off the litany of, “Anything perishable, hazardous, fragile…?” the unexpected response was, “Yes.”

“Yes?” the postal worker asked. “Which?”

“Which what?” the woman with the walker responded.

“Perishable, hazardous or fragile?”

“Fragile. It’s a picture frame.”

“Well, it’s never going to make it there wrapped like that.”

“I have it wrapped,” the woman protested.

“You should put it in a box,” the postal clerk suggested.

“I’ll take my chances,” the woman said.

This banter continued while the line behind me grew. The woman with the walker succumbed to the box pressure and stepped aside for a moment to rewrite an address label.

Now it was my turn.

“I need to get this to Bangkok as quickly as possible.”

"What country is Bangkok in?" she asked.

"Thailand," was all I could say.

“84 dollars for 1-3 days.”

84 dollars. 84 dollars. To mail something that weighs no more than an ounce and a half. With no overnight guarantee option.

“But, we don’t have any forms, so you need to go to the other post office.”

And so I did.

The other post office, a mile down the road had a line of eight people ahead of me. But one of them was Max’s friend Susie (who was in line to buy one stamp) so I had plenty of time to catch up with her. Like seventeen minutes.

“84 dollars,” the postal clerk reiterated with an are-you-sure-you-want-to-spend-that-much-money lilt to her voice.

At which point I started questioning my parenting. If Molly was going to be in a city of 8 million where contracting malaria is a true possibility, it's a good bet that malaria pills are sold on the open market.

“You know what, forget it,” I said. “I’m not going to send them.”

The postal clerk smiled. “Good. Because we’re out of forms anyway.”

I came home, wrote Molly an e-mail that she would be able to open around 2 am our time during her four hour layover in Tokyo, warning her about the missing malaria pills. I called AAA to get a jump for the dead old mini van. 

I then settled in to watch my son-suggested summer series, Entourage. Halfway through the second episode, the internet went out and Malik and Jordan and the other Jordan and Jaelin and Saul and Mohammad and Madison and maybe someone else I didn’t see, clomped up to the attic with Leo. Loud music, heavy, unidentified thuds and raucous laughter ensued for the next several hours.

While I don’t like to go to sleep with a house full of kids, the day’s events had taken their toll and I only got through three pages of Americanah before falling into a deep sleep around 11:30 pm. 

At midnight the house phone rang.

“Mom. Got a flat tire in New York.”

For poor parenting reasons, there is no AAA card in the kids' car, but I remembered our over-priced insurance now covers roadside assistance.I relayed the information and thought to myself, this kid lives in California, 3000 miles away from his mother. He presumably makes all kinds of decisions on his own. He is 21 years old. I concluded that I had nothing to worry about. And for some reason, despite the flash floods and the fact that he’s on the shoulder of the Henry Hudson Parkway at midnight with his phone “at two percent,” I believed that I would be able to fall right back to sleep.

But the six or seven or eight boys were still pounding around in the attic and I immediately knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep a wink until Max (who had to be up at 7 am for work) was home.

And so, that’s how I happened to be at my computer at 2:14 am when I got greetings from Tokyo and a response to my malaria pill discovery e-mail..

I have my malaria pills! Those are extras. Really, really, really long flight. Very un-fun.

A couple minutes later Leo, who I thought was asleep in the attic, trooped back in the house. Apparently he had left for McDonald's with the six or seven or eight of the others an hour earlier.

But no word from Max. Despite heading into his third hour of being stranded, I didn't want to text away his last half-percent. And so I waited. 

And when I finally saw the car lights pulling up out front, I nonchalantly crept up the stairs and slipped into bed hoping to get a few hours sleep before facing the next day's adventures, wondering as I tossed and turned, about the many different definitions of un-fun.