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Monday, September 26, 2016

Way to Go, Ladies!

“Hey, Hon,” the millennial man-child with the Gore Tex capris breathed into his iPhone. “My legs are ON FIRE. I’m beat. Listen, can you use your hospital connections and get me some good Advil or…”

“Percocet?” I said a little too loudly.

“Yeah, or Percocet would be great,” he laughed and glanced over at me conspiratorially.

It was late Saturday afternoon and we were walking down 6th Street in Ocean City, heading to the bus that would take us back to Cherry Hill after finishing an 80-mile charity bike ride to benefit MS.  

This was the fifth time I’ve done the ride. The first three times I was in my late twenties – back when I was much, much younger, much much stronger and much, much less rigid. We slept in boarding houses in lumpy beds, drank beer transported in backpacks and got up at the crack of dawn to ride back the next morning.

While I was raising children, losing cartilage and gaining weight, I often fantasized about doing the MS ride again. I’m not sure why. There were plenty of other things I had done in my youth that would be much more fun to relive. But once I planted the seed in my brain and threw it out to my sister, Emily, and lifelong buddy, Mary Anne, it was a done deal. In 2014, the three of us rode our bicycles 80 miles from Cherry Hill to Ocean City, New Jersey. We didn’t ride back because there was now a one-way option. Good thing, because sleeping in sub-par conditions off-season at the beach was one thing I wasn’t about to do at my advanced age.

I joke about being an old hag, but actually, my self-perception is that I’m 34 years old. 44 tops. I meet new people and assume they’re my age only to find out they are way younger. I don’t miss by a year or two. I miss by decades. I am continually shocked when I catch glimpses of myself in the mirror or worse, in selfies that accentuate my eye bags, forehead wrinkles and crepey neck skin. If it weren’t for my stiff joints and range-of-motionless knees to remind me, I’d honestly believe that I am still a spring chicken.

Which is why, hepped up on over the counter anti-inflammatories, I was so surprised by the greeting we got as we pulled into the first rest stop at mile 19 at 8:30 Saturday morning.

The MS ride is filled with an incredible amount of really nice, really encouraging, really helpful volunteers. They make food and serve food. They ride in sag wagons and fix flat tires. They hang motivational road signs on poles and paint directional arrows on streets. They stand in pot holes so we don’t ride in them and they stand at the rest stop entrances en masse hooting and cheering, tooting horns and clanging clangers.

If I heard “thanks for riding” once, I heard it 1000 times.

Though 19 miles is longer than I usually ride on any given day, Mary Anne and I were cooking. (Sister Emily, in a last minute switch, opted to ride the 45-mile route with our friend, Mike Reynolds. They started south of us and we texted back and forth at rest stops so we’d know what was coming and where we’d meet at the end.) We felt good. We felt strong. We felt young and able.

As we turned into the driveway of the elementary school that hosted the rest stop, we smiled back at the cheerleaders who were screaming and chanting and inspiring us.

But, and I swear I’m not imagining this, more than one of them looked us in the eye with wonderment.

“Wow!” they exclaimed giving Mary Anne and I huge thumbs ups. “Way to go, ladies!”

We peed in the (very clean; it was still early) port-a-potties, hydrated and chewed a handful of cashews in five minutes flat and went on our merry way.

I’m not a fast rider, but I can hold my own. And, I can keep up with Mary Anne who, long and lean, is way younger ( almost a full two years), rides fearlessly and even went on a bike trip through central Cuba last winter. Neither of us could hold a candle to the Tour de France factions that swished past us aerodynamically correctly in rapid succession. Nor did we want to. Just as long as we made it to Ocean City before Mack and Manco’s closed. We wanted our pizza.

At mile 57, in the middle of the online dating story (I had moved on to my friends’ sordid tales after Mary Anne gently reminded me I had already told her that story back at mile 38), we were passed by two men about our age.

Now, remember, I have a skewed sense of age so let’s assume that they were closer to 40 than 60.  But the point is, they were not kids. As they pedaled past us in their spandex, they gave us the obligatory thumbs up. And when the one handsomely bearded guy glanced over his right shoulder he said, and I kid you not, “Way to go, ladies!”

And when, some four or so miles from the finish, after panting our way to the top of the second bridge, the bridge purposely arched at an angle so high that a 13-story ocean liner could cruise gracefully beneath it, yet another man said, “Way to go, ladies!” I responded with a finger rather than a thumb.

“It’s not like we’re 90 years-old!” I ranted to Mary Anne. “It's not like we're missing limbs or are 400 pounds or are hunchbacked. I mean, I know we’re not teenagers, but we’re not so old that being able to ride 80 miles should be so shocking! And besides, who are these guys anyway? They’re older than we are.”

Mary Anne simply raised an eyebrow.

I don’t know if it was the pre-medicating, the handfuls of cashews I crammed in my mouth or the Diet Coke I had stealthily stashed for hydration, but when I got off my bike in Ocean City I felt just fine. I didn’t ache. I didn’t pain. I didn’t dread the bus ride back to Cherry Hill. I almost (and I do say almost) wish we were staying overnight in the lumpy beds and riding back the next day.

I felt so good that I actually felt a tinge of pleasure when I overheard the millennial man-child in the Gore Tex capris begging his girlfriend for pain killers.

But, because I'm old enough to know better, I stifled the words I wanted to spew.

“Way to go, Pops! Way to go!”

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Relax, Mom.

I’m nothing if not supportive.

I display my devotion on my refrigerator door, covering it with ancient newspaper clippings of amateur athletes, graduation pictures of my kids’ friends and family Christmas photos from decades past.  

I prove my loyalty by purchasing multiple copies of books my friends have written, mail ordering crafts and jewelry from artisans I’ve befriended at street fairs and pledge money to every walker, bicycle rider or 5K runner who is pedaling or peddling for a cause.

I extend my encouragement to attending baseball games that no one in my family is playing in, ballets that they’re not dancing in, theatrical presentations they’re not acting in and musical production they’re not singing in.

When my friend Ann was training to become a nurse, it was really easy to support her. My double mastectomy coincided perfectly with her schooling and I let her help me recuperate. I’ll do just about anything for a friend.

But then, she went and became a yoga instructor.

Now, I am an exercise enthusiast. I walk, bike, swim and spin. I’ve taken aquasize classes with women thirty years my senior and Zumba class with girls forty years my junior. I’ve played softball and field hockey, lacrosse and golf. I’ve ice skated and cross-country skied, played racquetball and skeet ball. I've aimed at targets with a bow and arrow and even shot a gun. But that was just once. I’ve waterskied and canoed, kayaked and rowed, jogged and juggled and jumped around like a fool in many an aerobics class back in the 80s.

When it comes to burning a calorie, I’ll do just about anything my aching body will allow.

Except, of course, for yoga.

My yoga aversion is deep-seated. While a lot of it has to do with being the polar opposite of the willowy, flexible, spiritual souls who sport lululemon attire, tote colorful Gaiam mats and whisper Namaste as if it’s a secret sorority password, it has just as much to do with the daughter’s hand.

I’m the first to admit there’s not a Zen bone in my body, my soul or my parenting style. When I had three children all under my roof, I was in a constant state of fret, flurry and flipping out. The only thing that made my insides shake harder than my children was when someone would suggest a way to "let it go."

“You should have a glass of wine every night!”

“You should take up yoga.”

“You should listen to classical music.”

“You should get a prescription for Xanax.”

And the daughter, she would just put up the hand and say, “Relax, Mom.”

Which of course, made me all the more worked up.

I don’t really know how to relax. Nor do I especially want to. I wouldn't recognize myself without a steady stream of angst flowing through my veins and fueling my soul.

And so, I have successfully averted the sport, the philosophy, the practice, the whatever one wants to call it, until this summer when I ran into Kathy O’Neill at the dry cleaners. I’ve only been to the dry cleaners three times in the past twenty years, but my son was coming home from college and his comforter had only been cleaned three times in the past twenty years. It was time.

“You should come to yoga!”

“Can’t. Got slammed with a ton of work this week.”

“How about next week ?”

“Can’t. Going away.”

“The next week then.”

“Um, uh. I can’t do yoga!” I admitted when it was clear she wasn’t going to let me slide. “I have two bone-on-bone knees.”

“Uh, hello. I have two bionic knees,” Kathy said. “Remember I had my knees replaced last year. Ann’s really good. You should come.”


Ann is one of my favorite friends. I have yet to find a single thing about her I don’t like. She has supported me through my many physical ailments as well as my continual emotional ups and downs.

And that’s how I found myself doing something I swore I would never do.

“All right,” I conceded. “But don't say I didn't warn you. I won’t be able to do half the poses. Or positions. Or whatever you people call those contortions.”

So, we met at Kathy’s house at 9 am on that fateful Monday morning for hot yoga. Not as in Bikram hot yoga, (and I only know the term because my Zenful spouse does it) but as in yoga-by-the-pool on a brutally hot, humid, sunny, summer day.

We are a small group which made me slightly less nervous. Ann, of course, is the teacher and while she is both willowy and spiritual, she gets exactly who I am. Kathy with the bionic knees empathizes with my lack of range of motion and sudden shooting pains. Holly is an incredibly talented costume designer who can create a mean tutu for a ballerina but doesn’t intimidate me by pirouetting like one. And then there's Stephanie.

I wanted to hate Stephanie. I was bitter that she was 30 years younger, 80 degrees more limber and infinitely more beautiful. But, I soon learned she was Kathy’s son’s girlfriend and as personable as she was pretty. She didn’t even laugh when my downward dog went cobra. Which makes her a lifer. Just like the others.

“I didn’t think you’d come back!” Kathy crooned the following Monday morning.

I’ve done yoga 12 times now. I know the exact number because it would make me way too anxious not to know. We have moved inside to Ann’s home studio. Stephanie has passed her boards and become a nurse so now it’s usually just me and Kathy and Holly.

I still cringe when our mats are too close together.  I still wince when my knees give out and my wrists ache after having played 43 consecutive games of Words with Friends the night before. I sometimes cheat, keeping a foot on the ground when it’s supposed to be in the air. And I spend Savasana replaying my to-do list in my head.

But, I did buy a pretty mint green yoga mat (not Gaiam) and have found myself practicing my tree pose in the kitchen at random times.

While the word “relax” still conjures up the image of the hand, I think maybe with lots of practice and patience, I’ll find that Namastey inner wisdom yet.
And in the meantime, I'll just keep supporting my friends' passions. Because you never know, I just might get something out of it. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

What Kind of Mother ARE You?

“Hey, Mom!” my kid called from the kitchen. “Did you see Miss Claire has an Instagram account now?”

Our offspring get a kick out of us old folk dabbling in social media. While we think we’ve nailed it, they snicker over our improperly positioned hashtags, cleverless captions and downright stupid photos. They are way too old to worry about us getting in their business on sites as innocuous as Instagram or Facebook and save their shadier shenanigans for Snapchat or some other outlet we don’t even know exists.

“I need to post something!” Claire texted.

“Just take a picture of an empty bedroom and write Life begins when the kids go to college and hashtag #emptynest,” I suggested.

And in typical Claire fashion, she responded, “That sounds a little mean, they’ll get their feelings hurt.”

Claire’s fourth and final son left for college last week and there is an unsettling hole in her heart and an unfamiliar calm in her house. When I asked what she was going to do without her boys stealing all her time she answered without skipping a beat, “Clean my house and adopt a baby.”

It’s happening all across America. Mothers are peering wistfully into empty bedrooms, actually seeing the floor for the first time in years. They are sitting on toilets without falling in, listening for the “What’s for dinner?” that never comes and washing dog toys and curtains just to fill the washing machine.

It’s the day we all prayed for when our three year-old trantrummed her way through Toys ‘R Us, when our 12 year-old bullied his way into a school suspension and when our 17 year-old partied his way to the porcelain throne.

It’s the day we couldn’t wait for when we were up feeding and fretting every four hours. Or three, or two, or one. When our daughter got the notoriously worst fourth grade teacher despite our running of the Book Fair. And Picture Day, and the International Dinner, and Field Day. When our son got turned down by one of our best friend's daughters for a prom date. After we convinced him, promised him, swore to him that she would never say no.

It’s the day that we thought could never come soon enough when our toddler bit his swim instructor. Then a random kid on the playground and then his preschool teacher, leaving not only teeth marks but blood. When our 11 year-old got cut from the travel soccer team and spent the next week blaming us for getting her to tryouts late, for not making pancakes, for being, or not being team mom. When our 16 year-old daughter glared at us with such disgust, such contempt, such superiority that it took every ounce of strength we had left (which was not much), to not say “I hate you,” right back. Because we did. At that moment, we really, truly did.

And then there were the lies.
“You can trust me, Mom. I won’t have my boyfriend / girlfriend / half the school over while you’re away.”

And the tears.
“Everyone hates me. I don’t have any friends. I can’t wait to get out of this horrible town.”

And the late nights.
“Sorry, my phone died.”

And the protecting.
“You didn’t get into Yale because of demographics. Not because you’re not smart enough.” 

And the defending. 
“My son did not, would not, is absolutely not capable of saying something so terrible, doing something so illegal, acting so despicably.” But, alas, he was.

And then there were the broken hearts. Broken bones. And broken promises.

The uneaten meals. Unmade beds. And unreasonable negotiations.

The loss of freedom. Loss of self. And loss of self-esteem.

Yours. Not theirs.

Because, really, what kind of a mother ARE you to wish for the day when all that drama and disrespect and chaos and concern would be packed away into the family van and deposited many, many miles away at the college of your choice?

What kind of mother are you to want to be able to sit in front of the TV, binge-watching Weeds, wishing for the day when you don’t hear the refrigerator door slam shut with a sigh of disgust. Or aren’t interrupted with a “Where’s my cleats? My backpack? My brain?”

What kind of mother are you to yearn for the moment when the house is so clean and quiet that you’re not afraid to answer the doorbell. When you run the dishwasher only every other day. When you don’t have to say, “Did you do your homework?” knowing for certain they would never, ever say, “No, Mom. Thanks for reminding me. I’ll get right on it.”

What kind of mother ARE you, anyway?

The same kind of mother who says, “I can’t post that on Instagram. It’s way too mean.” The same kind of mother who looks at her phone multiple times a day, hoping her freshman son will call. Or send a text. Or even an emoji. 

The same kind of mother who will
reinvent herself, remembering she's duly capable of being a professional, a friend, a wife. The kind of mother who will eventually fill her empty nest, replacing Little League with Mahjong, bedtime stories with book clubs, carpools with date nights and Xanax with yoga.

The same kind of mother who four years from now will receive the news of, “I’m not taking that job in Singapore after all. I’m moving home!” with a familiar mixture of tears, trepidation and unadulterated joy.

Because, after all, that’s the way it’s been since they day they were born.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Hello, Mother

The daughter calls me every single day.

My friends laugh at me because I claim I don’t have time to talk on the phone. I can whip out six or sixty texts in rapid succession without losing a beat in my ultra-important daily routine. But get me on the phone and I’m a regular gas bag. Even the “Just a quick question,” phone call amplifies and next thing I know, I’ve wasted thirty minutes, or more, on the phone. The argument could be that speaking to a friend or loved one is never a waste of time,  though as a writer, I feel I can articulate exactly what I want to say more efficiently, emotionally and effectively through e-mails or texts. 

But, I have never, not once, intentionally let the daughter’s phone call go into voice mail.

Every afternoon between 3:30 and 6:30 I see her number light up on my caller ID. She calls on her way home from her job where she is a teacher of the needy in New Orleans. I usually roll my eyes, take a deep breath and brace myself for what’s to come.

“Hello, Mother,” she says.

I know exactly what “Hello, Mother” means on any given day by the lilt or tilt in her voice. 

When it is accompanied by a heavy sigh it means, “Hello, Mother. I hate my job. I hate my life. And I blame you for giving birth to me.”

When spoken coyly it means, “Hello, Mother. I have met a boy. I am going to marry him.”

Sometimes, it means, “Hello, Mother. Why won’t my father ever return my phone calls?”

The frustratingly frenetic, “Hello, Mother,” usually dissipates into a dissertation on the worlds’ problems way too cumbersome for me to comment upon. 

And then there’s my favorite, the one that comes with a certain cadence that took me awhile to identify. It is always the precursor to a hair-brained scheme.

“Hello, Mother. I’m going to go to law school. I’m buying the LSAT books this afternoon. By the way, I’m looking into working at a refugee camp. That is, if I don’t go teach in India for a year. Oh, and I’m going to go visit Kevin in Shanghai over October break. That is if I don’t go visit Lauren in Colorado. Or Julie in Switzerland. Unless you think Pops will take me to Cuba?” Or all of the above, all in one week.

This morning at 4:52 am I received a text from the daughter. It didn’t wake me up because I keep the sound off on my phone for that very reason. I figure if there’s ever a true emergency, the authorities would call on the land line. Of course, it doesn’t help that I have the ringer turned off on the bedroom phone, but eventually they’d come knocking at the front door and I’d awaken to the tune of the dog’s relentless barking. Hence the reason for having a dog.

My sister recently told the daughter, my daughter, her niece, that she had to stop calling me every day because when I die she will have to be institutionalized because the loss will be unbearable.

The text she sent and that I finally read at 9 am, was I suppose, somewhat in deference to that comment. It included a link to an article from Vogue about an adult woman who calls her mother incessantly.

I chuckled and went off on a 20-mile bike ride.

Meanwhile, the daughter was driving 550 miles from New Orleans to Jacksonville for a wedding. This week’s phone calls were laced with apprehension about impending Hurricane Hermine that was due to sweep across northern Florida.

“Should I go?” she asked.

“Just take your car in to that nice gas station guy and have him check it out,” I said. Her car has close to 150,000 miles on it, the battery dies whenever it feels tired, even though it’s just been replaced, and the last time she drove it any farther than to school and back was when she moved to New Orleans two-and-a-half years ago. “And, did you check flights? It’s not going to be pretty if you’re stuck in the middle of torrential rain in that part of the country.”

Not that I know what that part of the country even means, but I thought it sounded good enough to actually get her to take the car in.

“Flights are $500 dollars.”

I kept my mouth shut, wanting to say either, “Don’t you have a credit card?” or “Want me to lend you the money?”

But instead, I said, “Well, just wait and see what happens with the storm. If it’s horrible, you just don’t go. No one’s going to fault you if you can’t make it through the flooded streets.”

“I’m just going to do it,” she said as she often does when I give her an out. “There are no direct flights anyway and I can’t not go. I need to see Julianne and Lauren. I always feel better when I’m with them.”

Not one to argue with the restorative value of being with friends, I tabled my anxiety and said, “Check in when you get there.”

This all got me to thinking about the days when I would drive alone 550 miles to a wedding. Or with a car full of friends through the Smoky Mountains to a folk festival in Galax, Virginia. Or with my friend Ann, two boys, two surfboards and four sleeping bags in my Ford Pinto for a camping trip on Sebastian Beach, Florida.

Things went wrong. I got speeding tickets and flat tires, drove in ice storms with busted defrosters and in blazing heat with no air conditioning on vinyl seats that stuck to your thighs. But, my mother didn’t have the disadvantage of cell phone instantaneity. She’d usually find out where I had been when I got home alive. Or I’d temper things a bit. “Yes, we’re going to stop to sleep. We would never think about driving 24-hours straight through!”

And my mother never expected me to check in when I got where I was going. After all, that would mean a long distance call.

But, I couldn’t help but think of the daughter making her way across southern America while I was pedaling through Bergen County this morning. I actually stopped twice to check my phone to see if she had called. 

Radio silence.

Early this afternoon, I got the call.

“Hello, Mother.”

I totally misread the tone, feeling sure she was going to say she was on the side of the road in a ditch.

“I’m here, alive. We’re eating lunch. Here, Julianne wants to talk to you.”

“You drinking yet?” I asked the daughter’s former college roommate.

“No!” she lamented. “We mistakenly picked a restaurant that doesn’t serve alcohol.”

As I chatted briefly with the daughter, I told her, as all good mothers should, to have a great time. To say hi to the rest of the girls. To leave early the day after the wedding because it’s much easier to drive home hung over in the daylight. 

And, of course, to call when she gets home.