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If My Life Had a Sitcom Title it Would Be “Pushing Fifty and a Stroller”
The other day while we waited to be called for brunch, the overly cheerful hostess said, “I have a granddaughter that age, too!” There’s only one problem. My baby isn’t my granddaughter. She’s my daughter.
I’m old. And I have a baby. I’m an old new mom. But this isn’t my first rodeo. I had my first son at 33, and my second son at 39. I thought I was an old new mom then, but the universe said, “Ha! You think you’re tired now?” I was 47 when I had my daughter. Tired doesn’t even begin to describe what those first few months were like. There was a brief window of time when I was post-natal, perimenopausal, lactating and menstruating all at once.
That deserves repeating. Post-natal (hormone frenzy), perimenopausal (hormone frenzy), lactating (hormone frenzy) and menstruating (hormone frenzy) all at the same time. People think I deserve some kind of medal for living through this without killing my husband, and maybe I do. But let’s consider my husband for a minute. He was living with a woman who was post-natal, perimenopausal, lactating and menstruating all at the same time. I’m pretty sure he deserves the medal.
I’m a much different mom now than when I became one at 33. I’m much more laissez-faire about the whole thing. Chicken nuggets for breakfast? Sure, why not. No bath tonight? Fine, more time to catch up on This is Us. Fell asleep in your clothes again? Great, that will save us time in the morning. At this point I’ve learned what the important things are and what’s not worth sweating. That, and I’m inherently lazy.
Back when I was a first-time mom I needed to be a good mom, whatever that meant. (I let go of that now.) With my oldest son, I was always present. I never checked out mentally when he talked or pretended to be working while actually playing Bubble Mania on my phone. I looked at every ingredient on everything I bought at the grocery store. I read to him. We co-slept. I took him to the park, museums, story time, art time, library time, mommy-and-me, Gymboree, My Gym, bouncy castles, carnivals, play lands, etc. I read parenting books. When he was diagnosed on the spectrum I advocated at his IEPs for the maximum amount of intervention.
He flourished and I thought it was because I did everything right. Then just before he turned ten he was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor and only had a few months to live. I bring this up not for sympathy or shock value, but to show that nothing sculpts motherhood into something unrecognizable like losing the baby that made you a mommy. I changed drastically after losing my oldest son, and not for the better. I no longer care if I do everything right. These days I feel accomplished if I can do anything right.
My middle son describes me as badass, mysterious and loving. But if I’m so mysterious then how come he can figure me out so easily? I used to think I was relaxed and sincere. An old friend once described me as down-to-earth, which I immediately confused with back-to-nature and argued that I did in fact wear deodorant.
This blog will be a lot of things because, well, I’m a lot of things. We all are. We are normal and boring and unusual and interesting all at once. I’ve experienced great heartbreak and tremendous joy. I can see the forest and the trees and both have their own beauty.
So join me — or not. It’s up to you. My blog may have a cute sit-commy title but life isn’t all set up and punch line. Whose life comes with a laughtrack anyway? Nobody I know.
Thing I Tried to Accomplish During Lockdown but Didn’t
- Lose Weight
- Learn French
- Switch to natural deodorant
- Clean out my house
- Lift weights
- Meal prep
- Zoom drink with friends
- Complete the Census
Things to Make Your Older Sister Feel Even Older
- Start using retinol
- Become menopausal
- Get AARP discounts
- Eat dinner around 5pm
- Wear reading glasses
- Color your hair
- Worry about osteoporosis
- Praise Activia
- Forget proper nouns
Things I’ll Do When I’m an Old Lady
- Wear enormous necklaces
- Roll my eyes at people
- Get a discount at IHOP
- Wear clogs as dress shoes
- Say non sequiturs
- Wear slippers to the grocery store
- Swim during the safety break
- Swear even more
- Call whippersnappers “sonny” and “doll face”
- Day drink
Not One More Thing
There was a long night while my son was in a coma in the PICU at Children’s Hospital when I couldn’t stop crying. I paced the halls, I stared out the window. I cried. I needed to talk to someone who knew how I felt. I had the phone number of a mom whose son had died from DIPG the year before. I didn’t know her beyond email. She said if I ever needed to talk she’d be there for me. So I called her.
She knew immediately how to talk to me. She said I could ask her anything. My first and only question was why didn’t you kill yourself after your son died? She paused. Said it was a very important question, one she’d given a great deal of thought. She gave me such a simple, personal and honest answer that I’ve replayed it in my mind a thousand times since.
She said DIPG took so much from her family. She reached a point where she wasn’t going to let it take one more thing. Not One More Thing.
I’m thinking about this now because I’m a few days away from the anniversary of my son’s diagnosis. There are a handful of days that are tied for the worst day of my life — my son’s death and burial, but also the day he slipped into a coma and the day he was diagnosed. Diagnosis Day was the day that changed everything. Our life got divided into Before and After. Problems got divided between before and after, the after ones being problems we never thought we’d have to deal with. For us, Christmas is Diagnosis Day, which is particularly horrible for my husband. He used to love Christmas.
The list of things that were taken from our family after my son’s death is unmeasurable. But it has to end somewhere. It ends with Not One More Thing.
Instructions For Taking Care of My Dog
Thank you for agreeing to take care of Pismo while we are on vacation. You are a wonderful friend. I know she’s in good hands with you. Here’s what you need to know:
- Love her. Hug her. Scratch her. Play with her. Kiss her. Pet her. Talk to her.
- Pismo eats 2x a day. One cup of Iams mini-chunks in the green bag in the AM mixed with water. Again at 6pm. Give her fresh water at these times. Pismo gets dehydrated easily.
- Take Pismo out at least 3x a day. Once in the AM when she first wakes up (not when you first wake up), once in the afternoon and once more before bed. Pick a spot and keep taking her there. She will eventually catch on. Bring several poop bags with you on walks. She will make at least 3 poops per walk. The last one will be a bitch to pick up.
- If you choose to give Pismo additional food she can eat chicken (no skin), turkey sandwich meat, boiled white rice, cottage cheese, eggs (either boiled, scrambled or sunny-side up). It is ok to let her suck on an apple core if you hold it and don’t let her eat it, but be careful about the seeds. If you give her additional food put it in her bowl, I don’t want her to lose her manners. Except for the apple.
- Pismo will arrive with 1 ball, 1 rope bone, 2 socks that have been worn for several days so they carry my scent. Do not give her rawhide or hoofs. You will regret it. Play only with hard plastic toys, use the ball as an example. If she punctures a toy please remove it. Let her pull off your socks. She will then lick your toes. Let her do this. It makes her happy.
- If you take her in the car expect her to drool. Bring paper towels. Remove her leash, it could be a choking hazard. Put her on the seat next to you. She likes to look out the window. Don’t let her stick her head out too far. She doesn’t get carsick anymore but if she’s going to vomit she will warn you with a series of pre-vomit gags. That’s usually enough time to pull over or hold a bag to catch the puke. Also, take her to pee before a car ride just to be safe.
- Let her sleep in the bed with you.
- Don’t leave her alone in the backyard. She’s a digger and might try to escape. If you must leave her alone make sure it’s someplace safe with her toys around her. Beware of outlets, cords, wires or potential destruction projects she could accomplish.
- Never let go of the leash, even when she yanks super hard. Wrap it around your hand. Try to distract her from squirrels and bunnies.
- Her favorite shows are The Office and Friends. You might want to leave them on in the background at all times.
- Pismo hates baths. Don’t bother unless it’s absolutely necessary. Use baby shampoo, no conditioner or product. Brush thoroughly. Blow dry on low setting.
- Her favorite activities are to lick herself, lick feet, fetch (but she won’t give it back).
- Pismo doesn’t get along with other dogs. She doesn’t like being sniffed or humped and they always do that to her.
- If she gets icky poop feed her boiled white rice and cottage cheese, 1 cup each. Take her out more often. Even if she’s really sick she can still hold it. Should she have an accident, you can scold her but only if you catch her right away. If time passes she won’t remember why you are yelling at her and she will think you’re crazy. If she ruins anything just send me the bill.
- Consider yourself warned — her farts can clear a room.
Again, thank you so much for watching her. See you in two weeks!!
Things That Stress Me
- William Barr
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s health
- Timing a poached egg
- Running late
- Certain people
- Picking a restaurant
Outrage, Hope & Fear
It was announced that Ted Nugent is headlining my local county fair this summer. He’s an aging 70s rock star who spouts hatred, misogyny, prejudice and alternative facts. I wrote a letter to the fair committee and said that after a decade of enjoying the event I won’t be bringing my kids this year. I’m disgusted that my community is hosting this a-hole. I’m pissed off. I’m…playing right into Ted Nugent’s hands.
Ted Nugent issued a statement in response to the controversy that said, “Only liars and America hating scumbags have a problem with me.” WTF? This pissed me off more. Then I get pissed about letting Ted Nugent piss me off. Then I think about how our culture is addicted to outrage, and how the media feeds our outrage, and I get even more pissed off at the whole circle of outrage…F-you, Ted Nugent, for setting me off.
The whole thing makes me feel like I should do more yoga and meditation. Then I feel guilty for not doing enough yoga and meditation. It’s exhausting. And I’m tired of feeling exhausted all the time. And this pisses me off all over again. Is this ironic? Or merely Alanis Morissette-ironic?
But then there’s the flip side. Let me switch gears for a moment. I’m also hopeful about certain things. Like my kids. They calm me and ground me. They are my hope and joy. I’m excited to watch them navigate toward their goals despite the inevitable obstacles and frustrations they will face. I’m excited when my son talks about politics – he’s twelve and he’s into politics! He wants to make the world a better place. (He also wants to play Fortnite all the time, but oh well.)
The smile on my daughter’s face is brilliant. It fills my heart. I love watching her think. It’s like magic. The greatest thing about being a mom is the love. There’s nothing like it. The worst part is the worry. It never ends.
Which brings me to my fears. Loss is my biggest anguish. Although loss is a normal part of life — we lose our keys, hair, money, friends, jobs, our way — some of us lose our children and that’s irreparable. The loss of my oldest son keeps me up at night and it’s why I live in two worlds at once. But I would still do everything the same even if I knew having him would end with loss — I would still suffer the enormous heartbreak if I could be his mom again. And I would move time and space to make it happen.
If I were a superhero, I’d be “Improbable Girl” and my costume would be flannel pajama pants with a t-shirt. It’s not sexy or intimidating, and the name — Improbable Girl — doesn’t even have a nice ring to it.
But it suits me.
I’m not your typical superhero that accomplishes the impossible. No, my superhero alter-ego achieves the improbable. I am armed with strength to face the unlikely events and circumstances of my life and keep going. Keeping going, aka, resilience, is Improbable Girl’s biggest superpower. That, and dressing comfortably.
Which brings me to writing.
For a long time I wrote mostly in journals. I filled volumes of unlined pages but couldn’t admit out loud that I wanted to be a “real” writer. Why? Success seemed impossible. Eventually, I let writing go.
Then something amazing happened – I stopped caring about the wrong things, like fear of failure, and replaced it with a “fuck it, why not” attitude that is remarkably liberating.
Since adopting my new attitude toward writing (and life in general) I’ve been published, hired for jobs, and won awards as a blogger and screenwriter. I learned that being a writer isn’t impossible. It’s just merely improbable.
I write stories about ordinary people who summon the courage to make extraordinary changes in their lives, and illuminate how people navigate through smaller moments that are no less dramatic to them. I seek to express my character’s intimate moments, their vulnerability and flashes of insight that alter their choices.
My life experience taught me about love, loss, grief, reinvention and resilience and these are the themes I am most interested in exploring in my writing. And I hope to do it with humor and depth.
And comfortable clothes.
Searching For My Mother at the Sale Racks at Marshall Fields
I’m eleven. I’m sitting on the floor in a dressing room at Marshall Fields, Skokie, looking for straight pins stuck in the ivory shag carpet. This is what I do to pass the endless hours while my mother works her way through a pile of skirt suits from the sale rack. Back then, my mother has only two weaknesses — pecan pie from Poppin’ Fresh and the sale rack at Marshall Fields. She has no willpower in the presence of either.
My mother buys skirt suits to wear to Temple on Friday nights. She is sophisticated and business-like and elegant. My outfit for services is a lavender plaid A-line skirt, a matching lavender fuzzy sweater and chestnut leather zip-up boots with a chunky heel, all from Marshall Fields. I wear this same outfit nearly every Friday.
As an adult, when I have insomnia, I like to walk through certain places in my mind. I imagine I’m in my childhood elementary school, where I pass through florescent-lit hallways, the gymnasium, and cafeteria. By the time I arrive at the outside playground, I’m asleep. Other times I walk through my childhood Temple. I open doors, look behind curtains. I know every shortcut in the entire building, and I take them. I go to the choir room, the kitchen, the teen hangout with the broken foosball table, and the other kitchen. I stop by the office where I see photos of smiling Hebrew school students on the wall.
When I don’t walk through my grade school or Temple, my mind heads to the mall of my youth, Old Orchard, where I stroll through Marshall Fields. Not the kids department — but the racks of women’s ready-to-wear and sportswear because I’m shopping with my mother. We walk the racks together in search of bargains in my imagination.
My mom passed away from cancer when I was seventeen. She had been ill for three years prior, and, obviously, we didn’t do much shopping during that time. Shopping may seem frivolous, but it was her happy place. She’d relax while she methodically slid hangers across the metal bar, one after another, then was rewarded once she’d find a seriously marked down treasure. Some mothers pass down heirlooms, or beauty, or property. My mother passed to me her meditation ritual called shopping. My sister, on the other hand, is shopping-averse. She has anxiety in stores and hates to try things on. She’d rather be at the dentist than in a fitting room, and she thinks this is from endless hours spent waiting in the dressing room at Marshall Fields. To cope, she whined rather than give up and count straight pins.
Years later, there is no such thing as Marshall Fields anymore, and this makes me sad. When I feel nostalgic, I sometimes wander around Macy’s (who took over the store) but it’s not the same. They sell Frangos, but the candy tastes different. I visit the Estee Lauder counter and smell the scent of the face cream my mother wore. Or maybe I scoop up a pile of clothes from the sale rack and lock myself in a fitting room for way too long. I take my time while I look for a great outfit, but I will only buy it if it’s on sale. I am, after all, Elaine’s daughter.
I have my own daughter now, who is a great little shopping partner, but I don’t take her to Macy’s or even the mall. Instead, our favorite shopping is at thrift stores. I’d rather spend time with her eye-balling racks of random things in search of something worth buying than be overwhelmed at a sprawling department store. I like that she learns discernment, recycling and patience at a thrift store. And hopefully, how to get lost in her own thoughts.