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Friday, November 25, 2016

I'm Not Lying, Mom

If you were to ask my three children, or for that matter, any one of their friends who frequented my house during their formative years, what, in my opinion, is the most important of all human character traits, every one of them would come up with the right answer.

I pounded into their hard heads from an early age all the obvious attributes: kindness, loyalty, generosity, empathy and tolerance. But the one that I held sacred above all others was honesty.

Don’t use your grandfather's death as an excuse for not doing your homework and then add him as a living member on your family tree project. Don’t tell your girlfriend you’re staying home and then go out with the guys and Snapchat about it. Don’t defy your parents and drive to Wildwood when they get the EZ Pass bill. Don’t tell your friends you’re not going somewhere you are, don’t tell your parents you’re going somewhere you’re not, don’t tell anyone you didn’t do it when you did.

And don’t you dare ever, ever look your mother in the eye and tell a boldface lie.

Honesty is a non-negotiable.

Which is why, when my adult children descend upon my peaceful sanctuary, I am baffled by the less-than-honest responses I get to the black and white questions I ask.

 “How are your grades?”


 OK. That might not be a good example. After all, the definition of the word "good," can be subjective.

“Who is flushing tampons down the toilet?”

“Not me.”

“Not me.”

“Not me.”

Well, two of the three I believe, only because two of them are male.

“Is that your brother’s jacket you’re wearing?”


“Who finished off the vodka?”

“I dunno.”

I have an ancient red glass water pitcher and two small glasses that I pilfered from my dead Uncle Tony’s house a decade ago. The other day as I lifted one of the glasses to shake out the dust, I found that it was cracked in multiple places, and someone had made a sloppy attempt to repair it with clear scotch tape.

“Hey, guys,” I said in my cheeriest voice. “Anyone know who broke and then taped my antique cup that’s my sole reminder of my dear father’s brother?”

Blank stares. Shoulder shrugs. Three strong “Not Me” responses.

Maybe it was the cleaning professional who broke the cup. But, she’s been gone for over two years and I can’t believe it’s been that long since I dusted. Though, my kids’ emphatic denials make me double doubt my capacity for keeping clean my own house.

My kids lie about the stupidest things. 

And the thing is, they'd be hard-pressed to cite a time in their lying lives that I punished them for anything. I may rant and rave, but underneath it all, I'm pretty reasonable. I don't know what they're afraid of.

"You have such a great relationship with your kids," my friend Madge has said. "They tell you everything."

I think about mysterious dents on the back fender, trash cans filled with evidence and the unauthorized items that show up on my Amazon prime account and say to myself, No Madge, you've got it wrong, they don't tell me nuttin'.

But then I think about all the broken things they have told me about. And how many times I've had my heart break over their broken hearts, broken spirits and broken banks. I like to think that through my hard-earned wisdom, I've helped them heal, helped them grow and helped them survive. And that maybe I've had a hand in molding them into the people they are today.

And I happen to like each and every one of them.

Even if they are little liars.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Making and Keeping of Lifelong Friends

“What if one of my kids goes to Duke?” Julie asked as we crossed the brick-lined Chapel Hill campus at the University of North Carolina last weekend. We had rejected Uber in favor of our own two feet, hoping to assuage hangovers and get our 10,000 steps in before chowing down on the world's best BLT sandwiches at the slightly-further than walking distance, Merritt's Store and Grill.

“Duke? Are you insane? Your child will NOT go to Duke,” Molly screeched.

“Well, I’d do everything I could to encourage them not to, but…”

“Oh, please,” Julianne piped in. “You have to let your kids live their own lives!”

Totally ignoring such a universally wrong response, Lauren continued. “Could you imagine if all our kids went to UNC together?”

“They’d be best friends,” the girls concurred.

“But would you let them live at Bar Carr?” asked Julianne’s father, referring to the mildly cockroach-infested, homeless man-in-the-basement, fun-filled house the five of them lived in together for two of their college years.

“Absolutely NOT!” Jenny shrieked.

“We’ll be rich by then,” I promised. “We'll tear it down and build a really fancy modern house on the same lot for them to live in. With a grandparent bungalow in the backyard.”

“What if they don’t even like each other?” one of the girls asked quietly.

“We’ll make them like each other.”

“It’s just so sad,” Lauren lamented. “We’ll never be all together again.”

“What are you talking about? You guys see each other all the time,” I chimed in.

“I just mean we’ll never all live together in the same place ever again.”

Talk about a buzz kill.

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and we were in Chapel Hill for the third annual parent-daughter reunion that the five girls, all the parents and our resident friends, Sandra and Stephen decried into law while attending the girls' tearful graduation party at Sutton’s in May of 2014.

And so far, in different increments, we've descended upon Stephen and Sandra three falls in a row to honor our commitment.

But, Lauren’s not wrong. She’s living in Denver. Julianne is in Chicago, Molly’s in New Orleans, Jenny is in Columbus and Julie is in Knoxville. They will never, ever live in the same town, let alone the same house again.

I remember feeling exactly the same way. More than once.

When I left high school. I didn’t think it was possible to have better buddies and more fun than I did in those formative years.

But I did.

I went off to Shippensburg State College and made new friends and had a whole new level of fun. Then I jumped ship and transferred to West Virginia University, mourning the memories I left behind. Though, before long, I found I had assimilated quite well into Mountaineer life and discovered a whole new posse. When I graduated and was tossed feet first into the world, I felt for sure it was all over.  But then I got a job at TV Guide magazine, a place filled with under-thirties and I created a whole new life for myself. But, imagine my angst when I got married, to someone I met at TV Guide, no less, and was whisked off to North Jersey. I was filled with fear of what would surely be a friendless existence.

Within two months, I landed a job at CNBC and a whole new gang to hang out with. And once the kids came, well, the floodgates opened and new friends popped up on every schoolyard. 

When my kids went to college, I mourned all over again. For the friends I’d no longer see on the baseball bleachers. For the friends with whom I ran the PTO. For the girls who spent Friday nights drinking countless bottles of wine at my kitchen table talking in circles about what would become of our kids.

I get it.

I have a really hard time letting go of good friends and good times.

So, I don't.

I spend every Thanksgiving Eve with friends I’ve known since I was five years old. I go on a cruise every year with my bosom buddy from high school and attend every reunion we’ve ever had. I’m probably Facebook friends with 75 percent of our graduating class.

 I get together with two separate groups of Shippensburg girls at least once a year; births, deaths and rehab the only acceptable excuses for absence.

I play Mahjong once a week with my past PTO pals, have monthly lunches with some and holiday dinners with others.

Some people scoff at my never-let'em-go approach toward friendship. They argue that they don't have the time, let alone the money to visit faraway friends. Or the bandwidth to connect on social media. Or the interest in dredging up people from the good old days. And some would just rather forget the good old days all together and focus on the future.

But as for me, I believe that friends are as much a part of who you are as is your DNA. Every friend I've ever had has impacted who I am today. And that matters to me.

I will never again live as Betsy and Betsy, Sue and Sue on Richard Avenue with Rolling Stone magazines wallpapering the living room. I'll never share a two-bedroom apartment with Chris and Chris, Leslie, Peggy and Jeanne at Seavers Apartments. I won't ever live with Ann in Flagstaff, Arizona, let alone sublet a maggoty duplex in Elkins Park with her. The house I shared with Fran and Linda and Kevin on Grant Avenue doesn't even exist anymore. And I don't even think if I'm old and widowed, that I'll move back in with the Schaeffer's.

No, it's a pretty good bet that I will never live in the same place with the same people ever again.

And sometimes that makes me sad.

But, mostly, it makes me happy. Because I know that while I may go months, years, or even decades without seeing their faces, I will always, always call them friends. 

And I can go to my grave knowing that despite all the damage I may have done to my kids, there's one thing I did right. I taught them the value of friendship. 

And that, no matter how hard. No matter how far. No matter how much has changed. Or how much it costs.

If you choose the right friends, they're worth keeping forever. And ever.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Crossing Party Lines

Deep in the bowels of my closet in a tattered leather suitcase decorated with brass hardware and faded travel stickers are my favorite memories, some of which have survived 50 years. There is an autograph book from 1966 in which I collected signatures from people as famous as my second grade teacher;  an address book from 1989; a handwritten assurance that my spouse-to-be loved me; a note my mother slipped into my suitcase on my first day of college; my Girl Scout sash, boasting a dozen hand-sewn badges; a postcard from my oldest friend, Margaret, written from her family vacation at Indian Lake; my diploma from West Virginia University; a stack of letters from my friend, Bob, who spent a year in Taiwan and proof positive that I was once a Nixon supporter.

It’s a yellowed newspaper clipping from the Philadelphia Inquirer; a Letter-to-the Editor I had written in response to Woodward and Bernstein’s newly published book, The Final DaysIn it, I blasted my fellow Americans, saying it was time to “let sleeping dogs lie,” and to leave “poor” Mr. Nixon alone.

I grew up in an idyllic enclave in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Republican children ran loose through the streets, parroting our parents’ beliefs and teasing the Schaeffer’s for being the only liberals in the neighborhood. As a teenager, I begged and begged and begged some more to get my ears pierced. My parents’ response was unequivocally no.  One day, while leafing through a magazine, I came across a picture of Caroline Kennedy.

“See!” I waved the photo at my parents as they watched Mike Schmidt smash another ball into the stands at Veterans’ Stadium from the comfort of our cozy, wood-paneled den.  “You say pierced ears look cheap. But, look! Even Caroline Kennedy has pierced ears!”

“Exactly our point,” was their dead-panned response.

I never cared much about politics, and much to the chagrin of my devastated daughter and erudite spouse, still don’t.  I remained a registered Republican until I got married and moved to north Jersey. I felt there was something oxymoronical about holding on to my Republican roots while living in the first town in America to voluntarily integrate its schools, married to a man who believed with all his heart that every person in the world was created equal and deserved an equal chance.

I believed that’s what it meant to be a Democrat. I also believed that just by virtue of being me, I’d be inflicting enough damage on my children and they deserved the liberal love of a Democrat for a mother.

All it took to cross party lines was a simple piece of paper. And just like that, I became a liberal Democrat.

Some of my best friends are Republicans. Yesterday, I told one of my nearest and dearest, whose name I dare not reveal, that if her beloved candidate was elected she may lose her undocumented dog poop picker-upper. Yes, she pays someone to do that. Another friend lambasted Obamacare and I half-heartedly defended it, having no idea what I was talking about. And I even said aloud that maybe the Donald didn’t really mean it when he made all those off-color comments. After all, I’ve been known to spew a contemptible word or two myself before my brain catches on and slams on the brakes.

“Yes, but,” comes the inevitable response. “You are not running for President of the United States.”

Today, as I scroll through social media, I see how many people are sad and stunned and scared to death. I talk to my friends, some who admittedly voted for Trump, some who won’t admit it, and some who crossed party lines. I commiserate with the Hillary supporters and feel the weight of their defeat. Throughout this bitter battle for the White House, there have been way too many ugly arguments, heated discussions and unfriended Facebook friends.

But as for me, I contend that my friends are my friends, no matter who they voted for. Everyone has their reasons for doing what they do. I may not understand their reasoning. I may not agree with their views. And I have certainly not walked in their shoes. There are Hillary supporters out there who are absolutely abominable human beings, just as there are Trump supporters who are lovely, loving people.

Really, there are.

I’m not going to write a letter to the editor about his one. But, I will write a blog. And this time, instead of defending the despicable, I’ll suggest instead that we, Trumpers and Hillsters alike, try to keep the hate out of our hearts. Let’s just keep being the good, kind, progressive people we know we can be and help to heal this great divide.

And as we do that, let's hold on to the hope that maybe, just maybe, one day we will all look back, across our party lines, and be able to say, “He did it! He made America Great Again.”

After all, stranger things have happened.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

What Makes a Marriage Work?

When I got married way back on November 4, 1989, I was way too cool to hire a wedding photographer. I cringed at the  thought of posed shots of entwined hands superimposed over a wedding invitation. I scoffed at the ridiculousness of lining up bridesmaids and groomsmen, in height order, to get the perfect picture. And I refused to spend any time away from the party to get intimate photos of this most public of days.

As a result, I have dozens of 3 x 5 photographs yellowing and crinkling in a Rubbermaid tub in my basement, donated by friends and family who knew one day I would live to regret my coolness.

I also believed that the fairly new practice of videotaping a ceremony was a sanctimonious, stupid thing to do. It’s not like I would forget what color dress my friend Natalie wore, what Debbie’s first husband looked like or the expression on my father’s face when he walked me down the aisle.

But, my dear friend Nancy Schaeffer wouldn’t hear of it. She videoed the day onto a VHS tape and I watched it twice. When I went to watch it the third time, I was baffled when I saw Susan Lucci as a guest. But soon realized that I had recorded All My Children on top of my wedding video.

Wedding days breeze by in a blur, but I made sure mine lasted as long as possible. My parents were willing to pay for the event, but they had their limits, and I had my choices. I could have a small, country club wedding or a big shindig in the basement of Bentley’s Restaurant. I chose the latter and opted for a brunch with a buffet of breakfast foods whose mere stench turned my stomach, just so I could bring the guest list up to 200.

186 people came. If I really tried, I could name the 14 who didn’t come and their reasons why.

Everyone wanted to be a part of this happiest of days.

I don't remember my reasoning, but I slept on the floor at my sister's house the night before the wedding. I tossed and turned but finally fell asleep, waking up in the morning with an overwhelming sense of calm.

There wasn’t a doubt in my soul that I was doing the right thing.

The wedding was at 11:00 in the morning at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania. It was a cool, crisp day and nothing went wrong. At least nothing I was privy to.  The reception at Bentley’s lasted until 4:30 and was followed by an all-night, blow-out party at the Schaeffer’s house. My wedding celebration lasted well over 14 hours.

I’ve been with my ever-loving spouse for over half my life. We first started dating 30 years ago and have been married for 27. Both of us had parents who were happily married until the day their mates died so we had that going for us. It never occurred to either one of us that there was a way out if things went south.

I’m not an easy person to live with. I like things the way I like them. I am obsessed with the fear of compromising my personal comfort and have quirks that would make the quirkiest souls squirm. But, for some reason, I lucked out and married someone whose issues complemented, rather than clashed with mine.

Having witnessed the demise of many a union, I can't help but wonder just what it is that makes my marriage work.

It could be that I never get angry when my journalist of a spouse has to stop everything to write a story, whether it's in the middle of our honeymoon, during a dinner party or on the day we're supposed to go to a winery with my Mahjong friends. Maybe it's because he never gets angry when I devote too little time to my freelance work and too much time spending his hard-earned dollars.

It could be that I pretend to comply when he announces that as well as composting, we are now hand washing dishes and has pilfered my kitchen counter space and adorned it with a white plastic dish rack from the dollar store. Maybe it's because he doesn't say anything when I use copious amounts of plastic bags and toss them in the trash rather than taking them to Stop n' Shop for recycling.

It could be that I told him time and time again that I did not want the eight, spindly, dead-leaf producing lantana plants in the bright blue plastic pots living in my living room in the winter. Maybe it's because I didn't poison them. Yet.

It could be that he barely grumbles about the bedroom fan blowing loud and strong all winter long. Maybe it's because I don't insist on air conditioning even when our bedroom temperature reaches 90 degrees in July. But we do have a thermometer in our room, just so we know exactly who is torturing whom, and to what degree.

It could be that I only occasionally complain about the massive amounts of over-ripe fruits and vegetables he brings into the house every single Saturday from a farmer’s market ten miles away. Maybe it's because he pretends not to notice the Julio’s containers I hide in the refrigerator, filled with over-priced produce.

It could be that I don't yell at him for collecting newspaper articles, magazines, ticket stubs, sports programs and other worthless memorabilia that takes over our basement. Maybe it's because he doesn't mention when my clean clothes don't make it into the dresser drawers, instead, drape from the chair into a heap on the floor.

It could be that he knows how important it is for me to go off on my own, sail the seven seas, hang out with my college cronies and visit my sisters. Or maybe it’s because it’s equally as important for him to do the same. Substituting mission trips in third-world countries for luxury Caribbean cruises, of course.

It could be that he has accepted that I have no filter and will talk, and write, about every intimate detail of my family’s life. Just as long as I keep him out of it. And maybe it’s because he’s two years behind in reading my blog that I know when it’s safe to sneak him in.

It could be that we both know we are far from perfect people. Maybe it's because we don't yell at each other. We don't curse at each other. We just roll our eyes and know that our transgressions could be a whole lot worse.

Tomorrow, as I fly the friendly skies, heading off on yet another fun-filled adventure with friends, and my spouse sits poised in the court house waiting for the impending Bridgegate verdict, all I can say is Happy Anniversary to us.

And be thankful that he would no more say, "Really? You're going away without me on our anniversary?" than I would say, "Really? You won't go with me to Chapel Hill?"

What makes a marriage work is a mystery indeed. It could be about appreciating differences. Maintaining independence. Or keeping a sense of humor. It could be about making compromises. Taking blame. Or accepting circumstances.

Maybe it's all of that.

Or, maybe, it's just that some girls have all the luck.