To my college roommate, who knew I was gay

Dear Rachelle, 

You were my first soulmate even though I didn’t know it when I should have. I didn’t think you were smart enough, and I didn’t think you could understand my complexity because I deemed you too simple. But you knew me before I did. 

Do you remember Marina? The pale Russian girl with the wild hair, who lived on our Freshman hall? Of course you remember Marina, because you saw me consumed by her; suffering from her. All along, you knew it wasn’t suffering—you knew it for what it was: love. Maybe you suggested it, and if you did, it was obviously dismissed. 

And the same with Carmen, the austere professor from Berlin. Do you remember sitting in the café in the Brandeis Student Center when you asked me if I could possibly, just maybe, potentially be in love with her? 

You saw the truth when I was too afraid, but yet, you never forced it. If the roles had been reversed, I wouldn’t have shown such grace. 

Rachelle, can you believe it’s been 20 years since that awkward introduction in our dorm room? Your green sweater, jeans and Doc Martins, despite the 80+ degrees on that humid New England afternoon. 

Those first weeks when we clung to each other because we were afraid to feel alone. I often worry that I took away from your fun by discouraging you from drinking, partying, joining a sorority and doing those things that “normal” college kids do. I’m sorry if I made it un-fun, and if I was too dark and too serious. 

But then I remember the drives we took around Boston, often late at night, blasting Dave Matthews from the open windows and disturbing the stately peace of Beacon Hill. Oh god, and that one time we ventured over to Wellesley, and stole the “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion” poster from someone’s door? Tears rolled down our cheeks, we laughed so hard.

20 years ago, and here we are now as parents. Crazy that jack asses like us are parents, right? 

And I’m so glad you’re still with me because I’m still afraid to feel alone; even though I’m not alone. But you know what I mean. 

You always do.

 

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This is part of being Jewish, I think

I am stretching my arms across the century holding on to what is mine. To what was my grandmother’s childhood spanning two continents; to the villa in Nuremberg, to the apartment in New York City.

How I wish I would have asked her about the color of her bedroom walls. To know what she thought of during those long summer nights just lying in bed when you can’t fall asleep. What had been her every day? The routine she had after school, the questions her parents might have asked? I have no idea because I never thought to ask.

So, now I find myself grasping at pictures, like the ones from Marienbad and summer camp; grasping at stories, like how her sister Margie made her jump over a rug to get to her side of the room. And ultimately, grasping at language, struggling to keep it alive, to speak the sounds of my ancestors and share them with my son. Because it’s not just the sounds, but the images of the soul that I want him to know. The country in which he or I could have been.

So, I keep reaching back because he has to know about THEN. Because time moves both slow and fast, and he’s too far away from it to know that THERE WAS THIS TIME. That there WERE these people—so removed from him and us—but so present in the blood that runs through our veins and in the dreams that haunt us at night.

I wonder if he’ll also have those dreams, where the streets of foreign towns unfold like maps before him—where he knows his way even though he doesn’t. Will he meet the woman with the crisp blue eyes and the yellowish-grey bun, who lives in that house with chipped red paint at the foot of the mountain? I wonder if he’ll get that ache when the sun shines through the black clouds, and the feeling of longing for this strange place sets in. And will he also wonder why the mountains AND the city, the cobblestones AND the streetcars?

Perhaps this past will reveal itself to him more clearly since there will be some new technology or DNA test that tells us the names of the places we visit in these dreams. And then when we know, we will be able to answer the questions about WHY we are WHO we are. Then maybe we can tuck it into our pocket and file it away.

Then maybe I won’t feel like I’m stretching and always looking back?

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When your mom makes you cry

My mom was furious about last week’s blog post. Initially, she said she felt humiliated that I aired my “dirty laundry.” She lashed out, told me I “embarrassed the family,” and didn’t want to speak to me for several days.

I couldn’t understand what was at the root of this, because we have always been a very open and authentic family.

In the late 1980s, my dad made an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show to talk publically about his struggle with OCD. As he told the world about how he used to repeatedly return to the house to make sure the oven was off and pull over while driving to make sure he didn’t run over anyone, Oprah looked at him like he was f-ing nuts. Because these were the days before, “I’m so OCD,” was part of our everyday vernacular; before the book Prozac Nation.

So, when my mom freaked out about my post, I felt kind of lost: didn’t I also have the right to share my struggles in the hopes making others feel less alone?

After a few days of hostility, she finally articulated her fury into words:

“I see you portraying yourself as a mentally ill, dysfunctional individual. I totally disagree with that persona. That's not the Joanne I see today. Rather, I see you as someone who for years has worked very hard to conquer a lot of neuroses and weaknesses. All along you set goals and accomplished them. We are so proud of the person you have become. You are compassionate and thoughtful, kind and respectful.”

WOW. Either this was her crowning moment of Jewish-mother guilt, or she had a great point.

Her words made me reflect on how I see myself, and how I hold myself to ridiculously unattainable standards. When my friends are self-critical and feeling down, I often ask them, “Would you ever treat someone the way you treat yourself?” It seems though that I need to ask myself that very same question because I am so, so hard on myself.

My mom is right in that my struggle to cope does not define me, and that I don’t always reach for the easy button. I don’t need a drink or a Xanax to enjoy being a mom or to deal with conflict. To quote Glennon, “I can do hard things.” And I'll add, I can do hard things without mood-altering substances.

In my previous post, I shared me on a bad day being the worst version of myself. This is not my everyday. My everyday is the person my mom describes, and I too am pretty proud of her.

 

 

Confession: I have zero coping skills

You know what would have been nice? If someone had pulled me aside at age 15 and said, “Hey you little shit, listen up. Stop all the senseless noise in your head—like where you're going to college and what you're going to do with your life—and just focus on one thing and one thing only: LEARN HOW TO COPE.”

If little shit had heard this, she probably wouldn't have listened because she knew everything, but who knows? If she had listened, the other things would have fallen into place organically. Because our ability to cope enables us to naturally thrive. I truly believe this.

As a mom, I’m definitely going to stress this with my son. I’m not going to call him “little shit,” but you get the picture.

I am officially pushing 40, which is hilarious because I’m still very much an emotional teenager. I know I give some really great advice, am pretty darn articulate and wow, look at how I can throw in a semicolon >> ; but when it comes to me, it’s often train wreck city. Except for at work. I can do work.

Yes, life looks freaking awesome on Facebook, but you guys... THESE ARE JUST THE HIGHLIGHTS! I swear to god they're just highlights! So please, please don't think your life is better or worse than anyone's based on their #DateNight #SundayFunday pics. Like most people, I’m also struggling with serious issues that I may or may not share one day; and a huge part of my struggle lies in my inability to cope. (Catch that last semicolon?)

When I feel overwhelmed with sadness, loneliness or even awkwardness, I reach for the easy button: medication, a glass of wine or a cardigan at Nordstrom.com. And please know: it’s not lost on me how very I am lucky that I only must push the easy button, versus a knock-down slam down. This "control" has enabled me to avoid consequences. But that’s not good enough anymore.

Because did I mention that I was pushing 40?

Photo credit: Kate harrison

Photo credit: Kate harrison

Finding out about Elliot's donor

I don't know how many of you know this, but Elliot is not an only child. In the traditional sense he is, but when you've got two mommies, traditional is kind of out the window... am I wrong?

Elliot has siblings all over the world: Australia, Denmark, Norway and Portland, Oregon. Six siblings in total, with a new one on the way. We know about these little cuties because we connected with their moms on The Donor Sibling Registry  shortly before Elliot was born. Subsequently, we formed a private Facebook group where we share pics and updates on the kids. 

Initially, we were cautious because we didn't know these people, and had all kinds of weird fantasies about who they were and how they were going to encroach on our lives (think beggars at the front door). Well... I had the fantasies, not sure about Leslie. However, as it turns out my worries were ungrounded. Among us are financial planners, accomplished artists, theater directors and scientists. We are a group of independent, successful women whose kids are related through our donor. It's fair to say that over the past two years, we have formed a global family: We were thrilled when Elliot's youngest brother was born, and are anxiously awaiting his newest sister. 

Recently, one of our super-smart moms figured out who our donor is. This news blew our minds, but in a good way. Out of respect for the donor and his privacy, I am not going to reveal any details; however, we were elated to learn that he is a successful, bright young man with a truly awesome family. He hails from a large Irish clan, with a father who is an ivy-league grad and a grandfather whose professional contributions helped make their city a safer, better place. We were also elated to learn they are democrats ;-) 

The craziest is that out of all the children, Elliot probably most resembles his donor. Yes, he looks like me, but he looks even more like him. So seeing the donor's childhood pictures on a relative's Instagram, as well as some adult ones, was pretty amazing and emotional. Emotional in a great, inexplicable way. 

Knowing the donor is a game-changer for me personally. As one of the other moms said, "It feels less like part of V. came out of a black box." I totally agree with this.

I'm not gonna lie, the thought of contacting him has crossed my mind, but that's Elliot's decision. 

And this brings me to another point: how to even explain all of this to Elliot? I have no idea, but I'll let you know when I get there. 

 

About that article...

I’ve gotten a lot of messages about my recently-published article on Kveller; mostly very kind, some very judgmental and downright hurtful. One lady suggested that I should have gotten a dog versus having a kid. So that was nice.

But all messages are welcome, and being judgmental is ok. Everyone judges because living life is about making decisions; and to decide, you have to make a judgment. This isn’t a philosophy blog, but look: if I put myself out there, I have no right to expect people not to judge.  

I do think the article headline is slightly misleading, albeit good click bait. Several people reacted to the headline, but maybe didn't take the time to read the words. If they had, they would have understood that I do not regret having a child, but sometimes I feel that way. And those feelings come when the mundane tasks of raising a toddler overwhelm. Someone brought up a great point: if we loved mundane tasks, it would be worrisome; if we loved mundane tasks, we’d be robots.

Another interesting question was, would you ever want Elliot to see that article? This question gave me pause, because I would never want him to feel unwanted or unloved. But, if he turns into a thoughtful young man (which is the goal), he will know me and realize that this text isn't about not loving him. He might even be puzzled that I ever felt this way, because he’ll only know me as his super-amazing, kick-ass mom, who’s got his back no matter what ;-) 

Most importantly, I want Elliot to know that I’m not afraid to tell the truth. I want him to know this so he’s not afraid to tell the truth. There are many kinds of writers, but I want to be one who writes courageously and unapologetically. 

And on another, perhaps more relevant note—isn’t it a good thing for our sons know how freaking-hard it is to raise a child? Wouldn’t knowing this make them better men, partners and spouses?

I should think so.

These things of the past

If I had been alone, I would have tried to make a call. 
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I imagined that if I were to pick up the receiver, I'd be transported back somewhere. Almost like the wardrobe and Narnia. 

But I'd go back to Romnay Road, to the yellow and brick Cape Cod house with the swing on the tree in the front lawn.
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To dark, quiet nights and the sounds of cicadas. To when you just lay in bed listening because there was nothing else to do.
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If I could stay up to see the headlights of their car, streaming through my sheer curtain, that would make me happy. Because I knew that after the babysitter had left, I could go downstairs. 

You see, they weren't those kind parents who got mad. They just weren't like other adults; even though they smelled like other adults-- like garlic and cigarette smoke. 
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My parents were the ones with the fresh faces, and smiles that were happy-feeling; because when I think about them, that young and that way, I know they were what beautiful people are.
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And they still are, but in a different, faded way reminding me you can't go back. 
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It's weird how seeing something like an old phone booth can make you remember what's sad and lovely all at the same time.

 

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What's with all the running?

The one thing that inspired me to become a “real runner” is a podcast called, “Run, Selfie, Repeat.” It’s put together by a very cool millennial, named Kelly Roberts. After a terrible family tragedy, she was struggling with life and decided to take up running. Her blog and podcast are about “life with a side of running,” and I’ll tell you this: I’d hire Kelly as my shrink if I didn’t already have one.

Kelly often reflects on how running mirrors the issues we face in our everyday lives, which is something I can totally relate to. 

When I’m on a run, I feel overwhelmed. I get panicky because I’m struggling, mentally and physically. My instinct is to either stop or run faster. Why?! Why not just slow TF down? I’m sure you’re all thinking, “Duh,” but for me, this was an epiphany.

I also feel vulnerable and self-conscious when I run. Jesus, I look like a hobbling, pregnant toad. Why are my thighs so…thigh-looking? Damn b*tch, you’re slow. Look at the real runners that just lapped your pushing-40 ass. These thoughts aren’t about running—they’re about how I feel about ME. They reflect my everyday insecurities and situations that make me feel VULNERABLE; running just happened to shed light on them. But how can you feel better when you’re not aware of why you’re feeling badly? Whoomp, there it is. Go on a run, folks.

So, after I finish running, I never miss an opportunity to brag about it on Facebook. I like affirmation. Maybe too much? Wait, that wasn’t a question. While I love (repeat, LOVE) the runner’s high (and that’s endorphins, people) and the feeling of accomplishment, affirmation is kind of the icing on the cake. Not gonna lie. But is seeking affirmation too often ok? Not sure.

Last week was an awesome running week because I hit three miles for the first time. Ever. “So why not four this week?” I wondered. I need to work on being patient because I didn’t just wake up one morning and knock out three miles; I had to work up to it.  I had to build endurance and get over the I’m-gonna-f*cking-die-@-1.5 miles mental block.  This took time. In fact, it took me a few years of starting and stopping. So for now—in this moment—it’s important to celebrate that three miles, take a step back and realize, this is enough: You are enough.

And this brings me to my last precious pearl: life requires maintenance, and so does running. If you aren’t consistent, you will slip. It’s basic. Like if you don’t brush your teeth often enough, they’ll turn yellow. If you stop and start running like I did, you probably won’t get anywhere.

So this weekend, I’m running my first 5k—yikes! My goals are to stop with the negative self-talk and turn the hobbling, pregnant toad into visions of a swift, strong unicornForte et gratum.

Have an awesome week, y’all!

Regroup on redefining success

One time at a wedding, a lady ranted to me about the seven long, arduous years she’s been working on her book. I remember thinking to myself:

  1. That won’t be me
  2. I don’t ever want to talk to another writer again
  3. Screw the host for thinking that seating the two, single writers together was a good idea

First of all, that is me. It’s been seven years for me too, and still no book deal.

Secondly, not talking with other writers is something I regret. Initially I thought it was smart so I wouldn't be discouraged (wedding lady’s rant); I also feared other writers would be competitive with me. Because of that figure skating thing I used to do, I don’t want to compete, don’t like to compete and am afraid of competition.

However, over the past few months, I started to connect with some amazing writers and editors through Kveller. No, Kveller is not my blog (would be cool): it’s a legit online magazine that compensates its writers for their contributions, me included—yippee!

Connecting with the Kveller writers has inspired me. Working with them and writing with them gives me a sense of community, and makes me feel fulfilled. It’s awesome to get feedback and kudos from other writers, and it’s helpful to exchange ideas, from topics to write about to avoiding nicely-wrapped-up, perfectly constructed endings.

Sarah (editor) has also helped me tap into another voice; a more casual, conversational one. Working in marketing, I always look for the most concise way to relay a message, but I now realize that this made me rigid in my own writing. So, I’m trying to embrace a little fluff.

What’s the point of this blog post? Not sure. But it feels like I’ve identified another success-pyramid.

Awww, sh*t. that’s a nicely-wrapped-up ending, isn’t it?

(Stay tuned for my next blog post about being the most awkward runner in the world!)

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Redefining success

Unfulfilled ambition is an undercurrent of unhappiness, even in moments of pure contentment. It clouds and devalues everything: An awesome job, getting married, becoming a mom; being a good daughter, friend and human.

The inability to reach the summit of your success-pyramid feels like failure, and the thought of redirecting your climb towards something else seems like an excuse for defeat.

For the past 8 years, I imagined reaching my summit would mean becoming a published author. You know, like an author whose books are in Barnes and Noble and available on iTunes for download. In my mind, anything short of—or different than that—didn’t count.

All along, I knew this was bullshit. I knew that success wasn’t a vertical path, and that its definition can be ever-changing. But I couldn’t internalize this.

Well recently, something in my mind shifted: It literally happened last Sunday night, and I can’t tell you how or why.

But there is one phrase that started to surface, and persist.

“I am my father’s daughter.”

I’m not sure what this means entirely, but I think it means allowing yourself to experience success on different levels; having more than one raison d'être.

That’s how my dad was before he got sick. A world-ranked tennis player, turned college professor, turned entrepreneur: He was someone who climbed towards several summits, never restricting himself to just one.

And even after he got sick, even after 4+ open heart surgeries and several strokes, he still tries to climb. His summits included relearning to walk (twice), speak, read and navigate life with a limp and a lame left arm… meeting his grandson, Elliot.

The second time he relearned to walk, I remember him grimacing and repeating under his breath, “I can do anything.”