A List and A Prayer

December 15, 2017

The other day, I was putting off writing these words, and I went to CVS, a great place to go when there are ten blank pages weighing on my brain. (Relax, the outcome was more like five. And I talk fast.) The woman behind the cash register was brand new, but she was familiar because she had been ringing me up at 7 11 for years.

I don’t know why, but seeing the person that I’d been buying coffee from since 2010 working in the drug store right down the street thru me for a loop.

You know the feeling? You’ve had it. That moment when something or someone changes, and you weren’t expecting it. When one of your favorite people announces they’re moving out of state. When two people that you love tell you they are getting divorced.  When you find out someone is sick, or wake up to discover someone unexpected was elected president, even though everyone said it could never happen.

There are great surprises in store too- there will be babies, amazing job offers, or full scholarships to top notch schools. Your favorite band might get back together after a nasty, public, breakup on Twitter.

Even considering the good kind, I am still not a huge fan of change.

When I’m going to the Cape, I immediately move all the way to the left, to the lane that merges with Route 3, so I can stay in the same lane for the entire trip. When our neighbors move, even if I don’t know them, even if I don’t like them, I grieve. I still watch Gray’s Anatomy.

For those of you that are like me, I’ve put together a list of things I use to help cope with the endless fluctuations, cancellations, and curveballs life will throw at you. If you have any to add, please feel free to email me. I mean it.

  1. Go to the gym. Ride your bike. Or take a walk. Do something with your body that helps you stay strong for all of the mind blowing, fantastic, and terrible stuff that is to come. There are so many options, from yoga in straps, to hiking, lifting weights, kickboxing, dancing- explore. Mix it up. Ruts are for the unimaginative and lead to other ruts.
  2. Get off the phone while you’re at the gym, riding your bike, or taking a walk. Okay, listen to music. Just don’t scroll thru life. No matter what you have heard, it is not necessary to tell your 872 Instagram followers every time you pick up a weight or climb a hill. It still happened. If you are going to deal with the world, you have to be in the world, not watching it go by on your newsfeed.
  3. Decide who matters to you. Make a list. We don’t have all the time in the world. Choose your people and choose well.

4.  You are driving your own bus.

I was planning my wedding with a good friend of mine. I complained that I was going to miss a concert that weekend. She pointed out that I had to get married right away I was six months pregnant. It was my responsibility to make sure that the baby wasn’t born out of wedlock. I agreed and stopped whining. Eighteen years after that wedding day, I’m still pissed I missed Springsteen.

If you want to go to a show, or out to restaurant, or to a ball game, on your special day, listen to that inner voice. YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF YOUR OWN LIFE. People will try to hijack your plans, or the route you choose, but remember- No one else should be driving your bus but you. You can ask for directions, you can give people a ride, but at the end of the day, it is your journey. You are going a long way. Don’t let somebody else take the wheel unless you trust them, and even then, sleep lightly. It’s your damn bus.

What does public transportation have to do with the roller coaster ride ahead? If you are in charge of the changes in your life, you own them. You can’t be in charge of everything- someday you might get laid off, at some point you are going to lose someone you love, but wherever and however you can, don’t let life happen to you. Be proactive, noisy, daring, decisive, and brave. At the end of the day, it’s nice to know you were the one that chose how it was spent.

  1. Be flexible. In yoga, or pilates, they tell you to keep your knees slightly bent during the balance poses. This helps you find stability, keeps you from falling on your face. Flexibility in life means you don’t freak out when the movie you planned to see is sold out, when someone cancels last minute, or when your landlord texts you to tell you they aren’t renewing your lease and you have two weeks to find a new apartment in October in a city that caters to college students. Let’s be realistic, a minor freak out is expected for the landlord thing, but after you’ve done some deep breathing, maybe gone to a yoga class, you’ll figure it out. Spinning your wheels happens, just don’t get buried.
  2. Choose your traditions and embrace them.

The other night, I decorated the Christmas tree alone. I’ve always loved placing the ornaments collected over the years on the branches, and the ritual has been a big part of our holiday since the kids were old enough to stab each other with the little hooks. This year, we tried to coordinate a night to decorate together. Their father was working. Katy had flute lessons. Colin needed to stay after school. Colin needed to go out to eat. Colin needed to spend time on his Snapchat Anyway, Friday night, the only creature stirring was Michael the three legged cat. So, I decorated the tree by myself. It was a little bit sad, not having the company of my family. But at the end of the evening, the tree looked beautiful, Colin and Katy had a wonderful time fixing all of my horrible decorating decisions, and all was right with the world.

You will find traditions, create new traditions, and then they will change as your world changes. But it is wonderful to have touch stones to honor the past, whether it’s your personal past, your faith, or your family. It’s a thread that allows us to step back and appreciate where we have come from and where we might go.

 

  1. Stop looking around. Every single one of us is obsessed with how everyone else is doing. When you were little, your mom was checking out the toddler next door, and going a bit crazy because Jaimie started to speak five months ago, and you were still blowing bubbles and staring at your feet.

This attitude, this constant need to check in on whose doing what isn’t a true or even a semi true, yardstick of where you are at. Joe is killing it on Wall Street, but he’s not posting pictures on Facebook of his partner handing him divorce papers. Jenn just crashed a computer system at work, and is talking about going back to school to learn sign language. All the little pieces of information of how everyone else is doing, what they’ve accomplished, what they’re wearing and what car they are driving, have this incredible power to make us feel better, or worse and have nothing to do with where we are at.

Pay attention to your own path, and you won’t end up face planted on the sidewalk, wondering if someone is going to step on your head or come along and pick you up out of the dirt.

In closing, let me fill you in on the outcome of the uncomfortable interaction with the woman that inspired me.

While I waited in line, I wondered- was it her presence at CVS that made me uncomfortable, or was it the fact she hadn’t mentioned she was leaving 7/11 during one our conversations about Scratch tickets?

.  When I stepped in front of her, I asked why she’d switched jobs. It turns out Gwen, (we exchanged names during our conversation., thank God there was no one behind me,) had been studying to become a pharmacy technician, and the chain had hired her to work the retail side while waiting to pass whatever test pharmacy techs need to pass. So in a couple of weeks, Gwen will be the person I see when filling a prescription for penicillin.

Our lives are as big or as small as we choose to make them. People will come and go, or change positions, or we’ll change the way we define our relationships with them- from lover to ex, friend to best friend, to Christmas card recipient.

Some of you probably love the roller coaster of it all- not knowing what’s to come.

For the rest of usLean in. Reach for the commotion and the havoc.    Uproot everything you know to explore the unknown. Be a part of the changes you’re scared of, embrace the ones that are out of your hands, endure and learn from those that feel like they might break you forever.

     Find faith, and know who you are in this moment.

    Don’t be a person that clings to one system of beliefs, and one way of doing things, but recognize and build on the wisdom around and within you.

     What you discover in the years to come has the power to change you, and transform the world around you.

     Right now, the world needs changing.

     I trust all of you are up for doing your part.

     

 

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I walked away from church at First Parish Milton today after listening to a sermon by Reverend Hank Peirce holding these prayers close-

Every day, I will try to choose faith. I will choose joy. I will choose trust and love and hope.

This is about the big world we live in- I will apply it to the future and all the people that share the planet with me. I will make these choices even on days the news is grim, the alerts are high, and Facebook is screaming in capitol letters to do the opposite.

This is about my corner of the world, about the face I show my children. I will try to find trust for them when I don’t want to;  I will let them go while my heart screams to keep them close. It is believing that someday they will learn not to leave their peanut butter knives on the counter and their clothes on the stairs.

It is believing in who they are now and who they are becoming, even though I don’t know who that will be. They have choices, too. I will honor them.

It is about them knowing when times are tough that my door is always unlocked.  I am here and our home is open to the world. I want them to have the gift of belief in the future even when the right now sucks.

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Right now, right now is Sunday afternoon. My son is bringing me coffee after keeping me up half the night

My daughter is playing her flute.


I’m going to yoga.


I am so grateful for now.

 

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Thirty Something Years Ago

February 2, 2013

In the course of a conversation with my supervisor the other day it came up that I’m no longer working on Mondays. I asked her- “Why can’t I work on Monday?” She looked at me, puzzled. “You said you wanted Mondays off, when we made up your schedule. Three days ago.” I have no recollection of asking for Mondays off, what would I do without work on Monday? Go to the spa? Mow the lawn, Clean out the closets? I can’t afford a spa, it’s the dead of winter, and I’m tooi scared of what’s inside my kids closets to actually look inside them.

That night, a fellow swim mom called me. She wanted to know if she was still picking Katy up for swim team that night. I didn’t remember her offering to take my daughter to swim team.  I didn’t remember talking to her at all last week. Of course, I didn’t hesitate, I’m always happy to let someone else drive my child around.

It didn’t occur to me until later on, after Katy was at swim team, and my son at a friend’s house doing homework, that in the course of a week, I’d pretty much misplaced two  entire conversations, one about my job, and one about my child. It scared the fuck out of me.

Thirty years ago, I was 16 years old and was standing outside the Mountain Lakes Club, in Mountain Lakes, NJ, waiting for my dad to come out of a business meeting and give me a ride home. It was his first day back after an extended absence. He’d been sent to a hospital, (this was before the days of rehab,) to be treated for alcoholism.  He was there for thirty days. Before he’d been sent away to deal with his addiction to russian vodka, he was a big shot, in charge of the American division of a company that imported raw cocoa That morning was his first day back, the big executives from Switzerland were in town.

When he came out of the front door, his eyes were down. He was carrying a briefcase like it weighed a million pounds. “Dad, what happened?” He looked over at me. He looked over at me, but it was like he didn’t see me. His eyes stared in the direction of the tennis courts, they never moved from the tennis courts. “I can’t… I couldn’t- I had to leave, Julie. Something’s wrong.”

“Dad, what do you mean? You’re sick?… Did you have a drink? Do you need to go back?”

He shook his head. I don’t think he ever stood up straight again. My father, my charming, handsome, funny father, the man that all the ladies wanted to sleep with and the men wanted to drink with, was gone. He put his arm around me, and we walked to the fancy company car. We drove home in silence. A week later, he was tentatively diagnosed with early onset Altzheimer’s. He was fourty four years old.

So when I find myself in the middle of a week with pieces missing, it takes my breath away.

It took me a long time to recover from the journey my father and I took, his descent to a place where he tried to stab his health aide. Where he smoked endless cigarettes upside down. Where they had to strap into bed at the nursing home because he was always hopping in with the ladies.

He really didn’t know any better.

After he died I spent about twenty years making a series of incredibly bad choices.

And then I got pregnant. And then I got pregnant again. Long, long story short, I have two children now, one is 12, a basketball star and a lover of animals. My daughter is nine, she likes to slow dance with me in the morning, she writes songs, she makes me laugh more than anyone.

My father’s illness came close to destroying me, I can’t, can’t can’t get that disease. I can’t.

Tonight, I’m making Spaghetti Bolognese. I brown three different kinds of meat first. Then I dump it all in a colander lined with paper towels to strain out the grease. I chop onions and shallots and garlic together, real fine. Add the mixture to the meat back in the pan. Then I pour in tomatos, and an old jar of spaghetti sauce, and a box of special tomatos from Italy. (They are in a box, they must be very fancy.) I don’t follow a recipe, I don’t cry when I chop the onions, I know just the right moment to add the cream, and to boil the pasta.

Tomorrow, I’m going to the gym at 9 for a cardio class. Then I’m going to church. Then, a long walk with some friends and some dogs. The Superbowl. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day.

If I move really fast, and I pray really hard, and I surround myself with my family and friends, and I start paying attention- I’ll  make notes in my phone, I will actually use the calendar from the bank, I’ll buy a book about Mindfulness, and another about nutrition.

I’m scared. I’m not scared of having the illness, well, I am, but that’s not the main thing.

I don’t want to tell my kids. Like he told me. Because I never recovered from those moments in the parking lot in Mountain Lakes, NJ, thirty something years ago.

I can’t do that to my children. And I won’t. Because I am going to be fine. Period.

The spaghetti sauce is done, I can smell it. I will put on the pasta, and salt the water, and take out the plates. Katy likes milk, Tue, her friend, only water. With one cube of ice. Colin asked me to make a plate for him to eat later.

As long as I can remember the important things, I’ll, we’ll be alright.

Post script  An hour after I wrote this, I was going thru the voicemail on my phone. Remember the wonderful swim team mom that had arranged to drive Katy? The arrangements I forgot and confirmed I was on the path to dementia? She’d left me a voice mail I’d never listened to. And the conversation about working on Mondays, well, I may not remember it, but it was a damn good idea. Monday off. Maybe I can’t afford a spa, but I can sleep in, go to the gym and spend a really long time in the sauna.

I’ll be allright, and on special occasions, amazing.

Whine and Prayer

November 11, 2012

It started the week before Halloween and I think it’s only going to get worse with the holidays coming.

I went to IParty with my nine year old daughter for the annual search for just the right Halloween costume. I knew when we went I had a limited amount to spend but I’d heard somewhere they were having a Huge Sale, (that intel might have actually come from Katy, my daughter, not a good go to source for the latest in discounts.)

The costumes ranged in price from $20 to $50 dollars, with the lower priced ones were not much more than a polyester sheath accompanied by various cardboard/plastic props.

We don’t have $20 bucks to spend for one night, we don’t have $20 to spend on a pair of jeans right now.

So I checked out Goodwill. I came home with a devil costume, it probably came straight from IParty, plastic trident, plastic horns, a shiny red gown. Katy wasn’t interested; whether it was because she recognized the bag it came in and decided casts offs weren’t going to cut it, or she just wasn’t feeling particularly demonic, I don’t know. Our next door neighbor loaned her her costume from last year. My daughter went out this year as pirate. I had to spring for a $3.00 eye patch from CVS, Thankfully, that was in our budget.

I went to Walmart for candy and spent more on 5 bags of KitKats than I do dinners to last us a weekend. I’m not ready to be the person that shuts off the lights. I parked about a mile away from school that week, saved about $30 on what it costs to park at the garage.

That was Halloween. Now, we are heading,  we are crashing towards Christmas. I have no idea how I’m going to pay for a Christmas tree, much less put many presents underneath the damn thing. I have a twelve year old as well, and twelve year olds have expensive tastes.

We live in a pretty well off New England town. We chose this spot because it’s close to the city, because it’s right in the middle of the woods, the schools are good, the people are smart, there are lots of dogs, and parks,  and there is a really, really big swimming pool in the center of town where we swim all summer under the pine trees.

Most of the time I’m thrilled with our corner of the world. Sometimes it’s tough when Colin watches his friends go off to practice for a basketball league we can’t afford. Or when I had to explain to Katy that a birthday party was out of the question, the best I could do was take her and her best friend for mani pedi’s.

You know what?  Colin points out that he likes having the time to stay on top of his homework and that he can keep his skills sharp at the park down the street.  And Katy swears her afternoon with Tue was the best birthday ever.

Maybe all these tough times have something to do with the two incredibly kind children I get to share my life with. They tell me they know things will get better. They tell me they know I do my best. And when they have given me my faith back, and I’m smiling again, I tell them just how lucky we are to have each other.

Sometimes, all of us telling each of us how lucky we are is not enough. When I feel it’s time, I sign up for a shift at Father Bill’s, a local shelter about a mile away. Sometimes we need to stand behind that counter and see the faces of the people in long lines, standing or shuffling in a line on the other side of the counter.  Some of the people seem permanently broken, they don’t  look up from their plastic tray or the floor or their shoes, they mutter under their breath, or say nothing at all. A lot of them are really, really happy to see us, many of them remember Colin and Katy’s names. They welcome us back and ask how we’re doing in school. Some people just smile as they hold their plates out, meet my eyes, and smile so big and warm, I never feel like my smile is enough.

We need to make sure we spend a lot of times doing whatever we can do this holiday season. We need to make a point of going to Father Bills’s and where ever we can help all year long. My family and I live in a town with a lot of haves, and once in a while I start to feel the stigma of being a member of the have nots. This is a choice that I make, and it is not a choice I am proud of.

I need to be mindful that while I am a part of the this small town in New England where so many have so much, I am grateful that we are welcomed into their midst. Our neighbors  and friends are generous in one more ways than one.

But even more important, I need to remember that I am part of a much larger community. I share this earth with many, many people without homes, or hope of living another month, or carrying the grief of loss. I am part of a family of people that share the world, and we all have and we all have not, and we have all been young, and we are all, (or most of us) going to get old. And I will try to celebrate that for right now, I’m alive and I’m sharing my life with some of the most amazing people I have ever known. And I’ve been around awhile.

Amen.