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Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Fall and Rise of the Millenial

A couple weeks ago I took an Amtrak train to Baltimore. I timed the trip perfectly to coincide with my sister’s flight from Charleston. We were meeting to work yet another stint on the Food Truck. My ever-loving spouse met me at the station, carried my 50-pound suitcase up the steep stairs, deposited me on the correct track, kissed me goodbye and hopped his own train to meet a friend in New York City. It couldn’t have been easier.

My spouse takes the train all the time. So much so that we have frequent flyer train points. He loves riding the rains and often exalts the benefits of train travel. There’s WIFI! Power plugs! Leg room! I couldn’t wait.

I even had an upgrade coupon. And anyone who knows me knows that first-class is the way I like to travel.

The train arrived right on schedule and I lugged my 50-pound suitcase through the silver door and into the first car, laptop slung over one shoulder, red Tumi tote bag over the other, both crammed with all kinds of provisions I would never use. I surveyed the situation, beads of sweat forming on my brow, as I dragged the 50-pound suitcase down the rocking aisle, laptop and tote bags alternately slipping off my shoulders.

There were no seats. None.

Choo choos don’t wait for everyone to be seated, so I just kept going, trying to get my rail legs accustomed to the lurching and swaying. I had my upgrade coupon out and ready to hand to the conductor who was undoubtedly waiting to direct me to a nice, empty first-class car just ahead.

By the time I stumbled into the third car I was more than agitated. There was not a single seat. My arms were aching and I was internally cursing my need to bring four pairs of shoes, two sweaters, three jackets of varying weights, a full bottle of shampoo, a toiletry bag that took up a third of the suitcase, nighttime wear that I knew as I packed I would never wear, and my large, but portable fan that I won’t leave home without.

Why can’t I just be a normal person? I asked myself as steam and tears collided behind my ears and eyes.

When I got to the fourth car, I hit pay dirt. Right there in front of me was a little enclave of four seats, two-and-two facing one another. And there were only two occupants.

But they were millennials.

I have three millennials. I know how millennials think. I know how they act. And I know how they respond.

And I knew I didn’t have a prayer.

The female, long stringy hair covering her face as she swiped and typed in her phone with fury, had her feet up on the seat across from her, a Hershel backpack, Patagonia fleece and crumpled Dunkin’ Donuts bag filling the extra space. The male, scruffily bearded and earphoned needed no props other than his six-foot-two frame to claim his territory.

And yet, I stared them down.

I stood there for a full five minutes, glaring. They never batted an eye.

“That’s OK,” I finally said, loudly enough for the entire car to hear. “I can stand for three hours. I’m not that old.”

At that point, a conductor miraculously appeared and ushered me to a seat occupied by two middle-aged men.

“Would you mind giving up your seat for this young lady?”

The aisle-seat man jumped up before the words were out of the conductor’s mouth.

I was humiliated and even more so when he lifted my 50-pound suitcase and hoisted it above the seat.

The conductor winked at me. “He’s getting off at the next stop anyway.”

When I was the baby boomer version of a millennial, I rode a Trailways bus from Philadelphia to Flagstaff, Arizona. The trip meant three days of drooling on myself as I dozed off between one one-horse town and another, brushing my teeth with non-potable water in the heavily-perfumed mobile bathroom and sink-bathing in seedy bus stations.

And every time the bus driver announced on the PA system that we were coming up on the next Poseyville or Tucumcari, I’d do just what the Amtrak millennials did. I’d move to the aisle seat, prop my Jansport backpack by the window, cover my face with my long, frizzy, red hair and feign deep, uninterruptible sleep.

Sometimes it worked. And sometimes I got the smelly old man pressing his thigh against mine for the next 283 miles.

So, I get it. But still I can’t help but cringe, picturing one of my millennial children letting an old lady with a 50-pound suitcase stand before they’d offer her a seat.

The other day I flew home from Boston after working the Head of the Charles Regatta with the food truckies.

I was safely tucked into my aisle seat, anxiously anticipating my over-sized, odiferous or obnoxious seatmate.

“Looks like that’s me in the middle,” the clean-shaven millennial in the North Face jacket and khaki-colored pants smiled at me.

“Sorry, I said. “Even I am not kind enough to give up my aisle seat.”

He laughed and eased in next to me. We commiserated over airline travel; the teeny seats, the high prices, the long security lines.

I gave him my third-of-an-ounce bag of crispy snacks that I got free with my Diet Coke with extra ice.

He laughed, wolfed them down and caught a little shut-eye.

Suddenly, the pilot interrupted our drooling with an announcement warning of turbulence. He told the stews to stop picking up the trash, to take their seats IMMEDIATELY and for all passengers to put seat backs in the upright position. Because if our seat backs were not in the upright position it would impede our exit if  it came to that.

Never in all my years of flying have I ever had that stern of a warning, nor that turbulent of a trip.

Through it all, I didn’t think about dying. But rather, thanks to my seatmate, that my faith in the millennial had been restored. I pictured my sons lifting an old man's carry-on into the overhead bin and my daughter comforting a grandmother as they rode out the turbulence hand-in-hand.

“I’m glad we lived,” my handsome young millennial laughed when we landed.

“Me, too,” I said. “See you at baggage claim.”

But being a millennial, he wasn’t meeting a 50-pound suitcase at the luggage carousel.

And sadly, he disappeared into the crowd before I could ask if he’d marry my daughter.

Monday, October 17, 2016

My Annual Breast Cancer Rant


My friend Ann is a firm believer that change doesn't come until the day we wake up and say, “I don’t want to live like this anymore.” No amount of nagging, crying, pleading or advice-giving is going to expedite that change, whether it’s your own behavior, your best friend’s, your child’s or your spouse’s.

I agree with her to a certain extent. I lived in a self-imposed prison for most of my life, whining endlessly about being overweight, shaming myself over words that spewed from my mouth and fearing any sort of anything that could infringe on my personal comfort.

But I have also learned that words can make a difference. You may hear the same thing over and over and over again and then one day you hear it as if for the first time. And just like that, you find yourself saying, "I don’t want to live like this anymore.”

And that’s why I counsel ad nauseum, hoping against hope that something I say will be the catalyst to effect change in those I love. To stop popping pills, to leave an abusive relationship, to start exercising, to stop self-pitying, to squash the fear, to take a leap, to change the cycle. To be happy.

Six years ago, I could barely walk on my arthritic knees and sore hips, outwardly blaming my hobbling around on everything except the 100 extra pounds I was sporting. Inwardly, I prayed for the strength to stop overeating, start exercising and to stop treating myself like the enemy. I was consumed by guilt over being a bad wife, a worse mother, a non-productive member of the working world and a dog hater.  

Right in the middle of all that self-loathing, an unexpected conversation led me to change my life.

Heidi is long and lean and wise and welcoming. She is as tuned into the wonders and woes of the world as I am not. I am equal parts intimidated and envious of her, though she would be horrified if she knew. I, Queen of the Plastic Bag am way more concerned with my own personal Brita water filter than the global issue of clean drinking water. Chicken nuggets and fries worked just fine for my kids while hers munched carrot sticks and quinoa. I am scattered, she is centered. I obsess. She breathes. She seeks inner peace and harmony. I want peace and quiet and get it by screaming loud and long. 

I’d love to be like Heidi. I just don’t have it in me.  

Heidi is not a close friend, though through the years we spent a lot of bleacher time together, watching our spouses coach our kids rise through the ranks to high school sports. Heidi wasn’t always sure why she was cheering, but she was there nonetheless.  

Six years ago on a cool October evening, Heidi and I watched our sons endure yet another crushing football defeat; her son at quarterback, mine at tight end. Walking across the field to our cars, I spilled my soul to her. Three days earlier I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I was ping-ponging my options: a lumpectomy followed by seven weeks of radiation, five days a week; or a mastectomy – or two. Always eager to take the most radical approach, I was leaning toward a bilateral mastectomy and surprised myself by opening up to someone who would undoubtedly suggest a potent of herbs and oms rather than going under the knife.  

Heidi’s response was hardly what I expected. 

“What an opportunity!” she exclaimed, grasping my hands between hers.  

She went on to explain her theory that breast cancer is caused by grief. All the pain and suffering that women hold in and have to endure and be burdened with makes its way out in the form of the disease. 

“Just look at this as an opportunity and say THANK YOU for the opportunity to change.” 

My eyes froze open as she continued, having no idea what an empowerment- oppositionist I was. You’ll be surprised, she told me, to find that the one person whom you thought you could count on unconditionally will go AWOL. And, unexpected angels will appear out of nowhere. But you must forgive and you must let go and you must let people in. 

“I’m so excited!” she smiled, squeezing my hand tight. “You’re going to be just fine.”  

And, I was fine. I went for the double mastectomy and since my lymph nodes were clear, I didn’t need radiation or chemo or any follow up treatment other than some reconstruction surgery which was no worse than a root canal. It ended up being one of the most pleasant surgeries of my life. 

In the ten years prior to my breast cancer, I had a hip replaced, I had my gall bladder removed, I had pancreatitis and I had a hysterectomy, giving my friends and family plenty of chances to rally around me. But, I never let them. While Heidi didn’t bring me a casserole, or try to nurse me back to health, her words changed the way I recovered. And, ultimately, the way I lived my life.  

I let one friend sweep my kitchen floor. Another organized three weeks’ worth of meals for me. One woman who I had rarely seen since the kids were in kindergarten heard “the news” and came with cookies and flowers and I actually opened the door. I talked on the phone which I never do. I let a friend drive me to doctor’s appointments and another to travel 200 miles to visit me.  Twice.  

For the first time in my medical history, I didn’t hide from my friends or refuse their offers.  Instead, I let them into my house and into my heart. 

Heidi learned of my diagnosis before many of my closest friends. She ended up being so right about expectations and disappointments. But I forgave everyone -- and most importantly, myself.  

I often think about Heidi’s words and have repeated them many times to those who think there’s no going on after a death or a failed marriage or a college rejection. Look at it as an opportunity! I say. And they roll their eyes, just like I did. 

But I'm not going to stop. Because you just never know. My words just may be the words that will help someone else say, "I don't want to live like this anymore."   

Six years later, I’m 100 pounds thinner. I’m 100 times happier. And when I start tiptoeing my way back to the comfort of destructive thoughts, words and deeds, I simply think about Heidi. I think of the opportunity I have to be happy. 

And then I pick up the phone and book another cruise.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Joys of Getting Old

“We are so old!” I said to my sister, Nancy, as I came out of the bathroom at a Sleep Inn motel at 5:20 am, having assessed the physical damage from the day before. My malar festoons (the fancy name for the un-plastic-surgery-able eye bags my father bestowed upon me) were more pronounced than ever, my arthritic back ached in places I didn’t previously know existed and my left knee creaked and clicked but wouldn’t straighten.

“The sad thing is,” Nancy lamented. “We can’t even get positive affirmations anymore. Remember when ‘I’m so old!’ would get the ‘Oh, nonsense! You’re not old!’ response? Now the most we get are sympathetic smiles and an occasional, ‘You look great for your age!’ or the gag-worthy, ‘Well, you know, you're as young as you feel!’”

Even though 60 is the new 40, and I’m years from becoming a full-fledged sexagenarian, there’s no denying that I am no longer a spring chicken.

Yet, there’s still a lot I can do. Two weekends ago I bicycled 80 miles in one day for an MS charity ride and could have gone another 20. Yes, I’m glad I didn’t have to, but I could have.

I just spent 122 hours in 11 days (do the math), on my gnarled and bunioned feet, working on the Food Truck, taking bathroom breaks solely so I could sneak a sit-down.

And, I can still spend seven consecutive days chasing umbrella drinks with bourbon while cruising with my partner in crime, Patty (aka Penny). 


I can no longer run, or jog or do anything but the old-lady speed walk. I can no longer keep up with multiple cross-table conversations in noisy restaurants. And I can no longer remember what I’m not supposed to forget.

But, there is an upside to getting old. 

  1. I don’t ever have to run, or jog or do anything but the old-lady speed walk. Because I’ll never again play on a team that requires that level of physicality.
  2. I can finally ask the gas station attendant to put air in my tires without feeling like he’s thinking it’s something I should be able to do myself.
  3. I can go out without make-up because, really, there’s not much difference between the before and after.
  4. I can say no when I’m asked to volunteer.
  5. I can simply smile when the daughter suggests I get Botox to take care of aforementioned malar festoons and then tell her that in 30 years she can get rid of hers in any way she pleases.
  6. I can get away without wearing heels to weddings. Just as long as I leave the flesh-colored, lace-up orthopedic sneakers at home.
  7. I can wear my Spanx without worrying that anyone will notice the elastic-induced dents in my skin when I shed them at night.
  8.  I can go on vacation with my girlfriends and be sent off joyfully by my spouse. Because, after thirty years together, it’s a vacation for both of us.
  9. I can play the “old card” when I need a sofa carried out to the curb, heavy packages transported to the car or IKEA furniture assembled. I just don’t have to do it anymore.
  10.  I don’t have to count sheep to fall asleep. Instead I just hum Bob Marley’s, “Every little thing gonna be all right” and mean it. Because despite aches and pains, wrinkles and crinkles, gray hairs and chin hairs, it is going to be all right.

    Always has been. Always will be.

Monday, October 3, 2016

How to Live with an Unemployed Adult Child

“What should I write this week’s blog about?” I asked my unemployed adult child.

“Write about me!” he enthused.

I raised an eyebrow.

“What?” he smirked.

“You really want me to write about you?”

“Why not?” he answered.

My middle child graduated from college in May. He took a course, or two, or three over the summer to finish up his degree and moved back home from California in July.

My middle child is the only one who’s never been an only child. Sandwiched between a sister two years older and a brother two years younger, he’s never had the opportunity to enjoy full parental attention bestowed upon him.

But he’s got it now.

I love Max. He’s fun. He’s helpful. And he’s neat. Like me, he gets grossed out by dog hair. Unlike me, he refuses to kick the hairy beast off his bed. Like me, he gets skeeved out by the messy basement. Unlike me, he will go on cleaning frenzies that rival Merry Maids.  

Max does the grocery shopping, knowing I won’t accept generic toilet paper or ketchup but that store-brand yogurt and cereal are fine – primarily because I don’t eat them. Max does the heavy lifting , serves as my personal Uber driver to airports and bars (just kidding on the latter – though that’s an idea…) and helps me with hashtags.

Max loves his camera. He loves his family. And he loves his friends.

“I never worry about Max,” I said to my mother a few months before he graduated. “He loves the finer things in life. He loves expensive clothes. Fancy haircuts. And going out in the city. He’ll have a job a week after he graduates. He’s too much of a consumer to be unemployed for long.”

Max worked all through college. Multiple jobs. After all, LA is not a cheap place to live. And he doesn’t have rich parents.

When I moved back home as a smarter-than-though college graduate with a degree in advertising, I was bombarded with eye-rolling suggestions, laughable job leads and ridiculous advice. I was such a talented writer that the world would come to me. I wouldn’t have to pound the pavement begging for work.

But, of course I did. Because in those days, that’s what you did. There was no e-mail. No No LinkedIn. You did it in person, going door-to-door, day-after-day in your clunky black heels and navy blue skirt, dropping off resumes that the receptionist tossed right into the trash. Though, not much different, really, than the cyberbullies arbitrarily nixing your resume for lack of keywords today.

After a while, I got smart. I would take the train into Philadelphia and sit on a bench in Rittenhouse Square, reading novels, watching people and feeling sorry for myself. After a couple of hours, I’d go home and have conversations with my father that went something like this:

“Get a job today?”

“No. But I went to six advertising agencies.”

“That’s good. At least you’re trying.”

“Yeah. I think one of them might call me back.”

I pride myself on my honesty, which is why I didn’t categorize these words as lies. They were just little misrepresentations made for the sake of amiable coexistence.

I eventually got a job. I eventually moved out. Then moved back in. When I finally got married, I left for good. But the process took almost a full ten years.

My poor parents.

So, how does one live with an unemployed adult child and survive?

Don’t ask.
If you want to keep a dialogue going, don’t ask stupid questions like “Did you get a job today?” Believe me, when they land a job, you’re going to hear about it.  

Hide your prized possessions.
In my case, this includes the overpriced Bounty paper towels I buy in bulk, two-liter bottles of Coke Zero and the Boar’s Head smoked turkey breast I stash away for my own lunch.

Make the omelet before they ask.
Trying to work from home with adult children is almost as trying as working from home with toddlers. Anticipating their impending requests can help to limit interruptions. Just understand that you might get left holding the egg.

Let sleeping dogs lie.
Accept that they will eventually be forced into adult sleep patterns and sleeping away half the day will become but a dream.

Don’t raise your eyebrows.
When they decide to go to Pittsburgh for the weekend to visit a buddy, or California to visit a girlfriend, or Brooklyn to visit a brewery. Has saying, “Can you really afford that?” ever actually made a difference in their decision?

Don’t change their sheets.
Believe me, they didn’t change them weekly in college. More likely, semesterly.

But do their laundry.
Otherwise you’ll find it wet and moldy in the washing machine next time you go to use it.

Don’t impose curfews.
They just hear blah, blah, blah anyway. Instead, try to remember when your nights began, rather than ended, at 11 pm.

Buy the bagel.
But don’t expect to get any change. Here’s where it’s a good idea to keep singles in your wallet.

Be realistically enthusiastic.
They’ll see right through your exclamation pointed pronouncements of how you’ll love working the overnight shift!! You’ll be a terrific salesperson!! You’ll make a fortune in commission! A two-hour commute to Philadelphia won’t be that bad!!  You can read on the train!!

Don’t give in.
Keep harping on the non-negotiables. Like remembering to put the toilet seat down. Or replacing the last bottle of caffeine.

Don’t bother sending job links.
Your idea of a good job and theirs is a generation apart.

Have faith.
It will happen.

He will get a job. It might not be the job of your dreams. Or his. But, he’ll get a job. And, then he’ll move out, taking his dirty laundry with him. And, despite your months (or gulp, years) of fussing and fuming, you’re going to be sad. Because he’s fun. And helpful. And he's your child. No matter how old he is.

But you won’t be sad for long. Because, just when you start to feel the freedom, turn the bedroom into a den, start building up your bank account, you’ll get a call from the daughter.

“Hi, Mom! I’m thinking of moving home to save some money.”