Who Invited Cancer to the Party?

As Breast Cancer Awareness Month continues, I’m sure that we have all heard and read many personal accounts of what this means to different families and how they have been affected by this disease. In a million years, I never thought I’d have to add my dear friend Rebecca to this group of women.

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Photo credit: Lisa Garcia Photography

 

There are people who are the last ones at the party in a bad way, and then there are those who are the last ones at the party because the party probably wouldn’t exist without them. The latter is Reb. There is no ordinary outing or day with her. There is no we-sort-of-enjoyed-ourselves. There is no let’s-settle-for-a-standard-plan. I’ve known her for 25 years, since she sauntered down the hall of our dorm during that first week of college from her room to mine, and the adventures really have not stopped since. Our friendship took us on a semester abroad, through graduate school in two different cities, and then through weddings, babies and parenthood. She is my daughter’s godmother because her hold on life is infectious and exhausting and never-ending, and because I want my daughter to see what amazing women can do. A highly accomplished neuropsychologist, she is a professional powerhouse and a consummate juggler of all things that working motherhood entails. She takes no short cuts on her path to happiness, and if you are her friend, you had better be damn prepared to come along for the ride.

So when she left me a voice mail (after not being able to reach me) the first week of September to tell me that she had breast cancer, I sat in my car, numb with disbelief. People like Reb aren’t slowed down, in the way that you can’t stand in front of a moving train trying to reach its next inevitable point of interest and all it will behold. I played the voice mail twice, then a third time. Things were moving fast and furious, and her double mastectomy would be the very next week. She had just been on a fabulous European vacation for two weeks with her husband and kids. She had texted me photos of the champagne bars and the Eiffel Tower. That had just happened. We hadn’t even talked about it yet. That phone call was supposed to be a debrief on her trip, not a heads-up that she has cancer.

That call was only six weeks ago. In that time, her body and spirit have been tested beyond what any of us could have imagined. Shortly after her mastectomy, she endured a colon perforation that required emergency surgery to save her life. She learned that her cancer was not the stage 2 that they originally hoped for, but stage 3.

Wasn’t she just in Europe?

How does this happen?

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One week before the diagnosis.

 

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I don’t have the answers. But I know, like I’ve never known anything with more certainty, that cancer picked the wrong woman in Rebecca. I spent the day with her last week and she blew me away with her grace, her candor and her strength, both physical and mental. She wanted to share some of what she has experienced so far on the one crazy journey she never signed up for. The words that follow are hers.

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My husband Tom says that I fit more into a 24-hour period than most people do in a month, and that my kids do more on a random summer day than he did in his entire childhood. My friends, and their accompanying exhaustion, will attest to that. Every vacation or even day outing, down to snack breaks, are color coded, planned, researched, and of course booked in advance. This wasn’t driven by an obsessive need for organization and control, but more by a pure desire to experience every possible moment to its fullest and not miss a thing that this incredible life has to offer.

Tom joked with me in that funny-becuase-it’s-not-funny way that I’ve basically lived like I’ve had a terminal illness my whole life, and now it has actually caught up with me.

I’m so glad I’ve lived my life this way and have amazing memories, hysterical moments, and interesting stories to think back on while I’m laid up. But, the truth is, I’ve had some hard days lately. Six weeks ago I was vacationing in France on the trip of a lifetime, not knowing my body would soon be mutilated beyond recognition and my life forever changed. It has been a little like attending my own funeral, experiencing the outpouring of love and generosity that has truly been overwhelming.

Having been a neuropsychologist for the last 13 years, I’ve lived my professional life listening to patients try to cope with a variety of life-changing issues — 9/11, school shootings, the illness and death of loved ones. And what I know from my profession is that I have a choice in my brain about how to move forward. I know the strengths and resources are there to find the right coping mechanisms. And so I have to choose to tap into them. For me, they are gratitude and humor. Without these things, the lows of this experience that are so very low would be insurmountable. I can’t exist in that dark place for long. Instead, I have to find the opportunities and the light and the love — because they are all there when I look. Some days I just have to dig much deeper than others to find them.

And so, finding and channeling humor has been a critical part of coping for me. Of course my experience isn’t funny — not by a long shot — but my mind needs that comic relief to keep going. Because when you are administered large amounts of medication to deal with horrific pain, you may or may not do things like beg your husband to leave the hospital and start the afternoon paper route you dutifully upheld on a bike when you were eleven years old. Or, you might demand that your sister hand you your make-up bag — specifically the Wet ‘n Wild lip gloss — at 6:15am because “it’s about to get busy up in here” with upcoming doctors’ rounds. Really, who doesn’t want to look their best, post-colon perforation surgery? And maybe, just maybe, you start typing furiously on your blanket, demanding to know why the freaking Wi-Fi isn’t working in this godforsaken place. WTF?

The interesting thing about the lows being so low is that it makes the highs incredibly amplified as well. After the month I’ve just had, believe me when I tell you it’s a stretch to find any silver linings in this situation. However, I dropped my kids off at school the other day for the first time in weeks and as I drove away, I was overwhelmed with what can only be described as pure ecstasy. I had to pull over, as I was tearing up so much with joy that I was alive on that day to take care of my kids and finally be well enough to drive them the short distance to school and wave at their shiny little faces running in to beat the clock. It was an appreciation for life that I’ve never experienced before, and sure enough by the next day — while I was still thrilled to be able to drive them and be here for them — the high was gone. But for a day, I felt the most alive and the greatest feeling of joy and gratitude I have ever experienced.

So there it was, my “gift” of cancer.

I’m glad I was aware and open enough not to have missed it. I wish it wasn’t so fleeting, and of course I wish it didn’t take all of this pain and misery to get there. The truth is that there is so much light and beauty around us, but we are just often too rushed or distracted to take it all in. Not to make you feel like you are all on my office couch for a therapy session, but there is a level of existentialist denial that we all have out of necessity — we have to close a part of ourselves off in order to get by day to day. But once we peel it away in situations like this, when we’re forced to, it opens us up to the moments of light and gratitude.

Do I think we can all live in deep gratitude and zest for life all day, every day? No. It’s not realistic. It’s more about being open to those moments when they present themselves and taking them in, even if they are so very fleeting, and savor them when you can.

I know there are many people who have it so much worse than I do, but this experience has given me a window into what it’s like to not be able to do simple things like snuggle with my kids and feed them breakfast in the morning. I never thought I’d describe daily tasks as things that can be so enjoyable — like taking a normal shower, making breakfast for yourself or your family, moving around pain-free when you want to — in bed, jogging, dancing, or whatever it is that makes you happy. Do it as often as you can and enjoy the hell out of it.

Believe me when I tell you that your whole entire day can be amazing. Just an absolutely amazing string of awesome, ordinary moments. It’s true.

And I wish that for all of you fabulous people who have been loving and supporting me through this. Enjoy your cancer-free day in my honor. Nothing would make me happier to know that your typical daily tasks were enhanced or made better by this perspective.

I’ve learned, above all, that if you’re not fully aware of dying, you’re not fully living.

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And so, I still have lots more to do with my life. This photo was from my birthday in August, and someone should tell cancer that I plan to have about 60 more of these. Oh yes, cancer, I’ll be done with you within the year, but you’ll be hearing from me for a long, long time so that I can help others do the same. This battle has just begun, and you don’t stand a chance.

—————–

You can follow Rebecca’s journey at www.mylifeline.org/rebeccascalera.

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The 10-Hour Brunch

Maybe the tires weren’t actually screeching out of the driveway, but they felt that way when I got in the car by myself (what, now?) to make the drive to Brooklyn.

It was just a Saturday brunch, for a few hours maybe. But it was long-planned. And canceled. And rescheduled. And highly anticipated.

It was a 30 mile drive but it was light years away in some respects. With music of my own choosing on the radio. With no questions coming from the back seat. With no diaper bag required.

One inevitable traffic jam and miraculous parallel parking job later, there they were. Surrounded by cheese plates and cappuccinos and mimosas and five million memories, sat three of my oldest friends.

The four of us live within a two-hour radius of each other, but it had been three years since we’d all gotten together. In that time, of course things changed for all of us in some respects. Kids got older. Parents got older. Jobs evolved. There were huge milestones and sad setbacks and then the buzz of busy, everyday life that kept us from gathering in the same room for three years. Calendars and conflicts, big and small.

It should come as no surprise to me, some three decades after meeting these women, that we are always able to pick up exactly where we left off. Exactly in the same rhythm. Deep down, I guess I wondered if it would still be that way on this particular meeting, only because the span had been so long between rounds.

It took about 20 seconds for me to realize it was, indeed, the same. It took another half second to know that it would always, always be the same. In the best possible way.

If you’ve never seen old friends surrounded by cheese plates and cappuccinos and mimosas and memories, let me tell you that it is intense and hilarious and freeing and nostalgic all at once. After a few hours, we moved from one table to another in the apartment, from cheese plates to brunch, glasses happily refilled several times over. Some hours after that, when day had moved to night and the promise of an afternoon meal was quickly evolving to dinner, we happily picked up phones and placed the necessary calls and texts back home to say it wouldn’t be so quick, after all. I can’t say my husband was remotely surprised.

In the cold night air on a Saturday in Brooklyn, there was an energy that comes only from being out with people you’ve known for decades. It’s not the same energy as that of young kids playing at home or stalling their bedtime. It’s distinctly different because it allows you to think back to a very different part of your life that only these people can understand. These are the people who knew who you were before you had kids and drove a minivan and listened to knock-knock jokes. And they let a part of you come out, even for a night, to reminisce and hold dear the reasons why you still know each other.

And so our brunch became a ten-hour visit. Ten hours. And we still didn’t cover everything. We still felt like we needed more time.

As I left my dreamy parking spot and my dreamy afternoon-turned-into-night and drove back home, I knew it would be a while before we saw each other again. We pledged next January and I hope it happens.

These ladies fuel my soul in a way I know most of you understand. I know you have your Jennie, Suzanne and Samantha equivalents. I know they know everything about you. I know you know what it feels like to laugh all day from such a place of familiarity and shared history. And I know you miss them and wish those meet-ups could be more often. If you have these girlfriends, put your next get-together on the calendar and move your everyday mountains to be there.

I’m so glad I did.

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HSgirls1

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48 Hours With (Almost) No Kids

FRIDAY — BREAKFAST TABLE:

“Mom, did you know that Mema invited us to her house for a sleepover this weekend?”

“Yes, I did know.”

“For. Two. Whole. Nights.”

“Isn’t that nice?! For you two, I mean?”

“Yes, but what will you do? Won’t you cry without us for the whole weekend?”

“I will cry. Many tears. But I am happy for you and all the fun you’ll have.”

{Cue Academy Award nomination. Somebody please put me in touch with a stylist to arrange my red carpet look.}

* * * * *

And, just like that, my husband and I went from three kids to one for 48 hours. One who can’t yet talk, complain or beg for more time on the Wii, I might add. He just wants more carbs, basically.

When my mom delivered this fabulous offer to me, I immediately began making grand plans in my head. I had visions of productivity and finally, FINALLY making some progress on the 1,488 items that I never get the time to tackle. With just one child and two parents in the house, the scales tipped back in our favor. We were not outnumbered. We were not saving ketchup from the horrific fate of touching any nearby vegetables. We were not negotiating iPad sharing.

OH the shit I could get done. I was going to own my almost kid-free weekend.

So, let’s have a look at how well I did, shall we?

 

GOAL: Pay the bills.

REALITY: Increased the balance on the bills. Because, I’m sorry — but was I supposed to ignore the opportunity to hit up a summer clearance sale alone? I think it would be fiscally irresponsible if I had skipped it to pay full price elsewhere.

 

GOAL: Put measurable dent in laundry pile visible from space.

REALITY: Added to pile (see shopping reference).

 

GOAL: Get at least one good work out in.

REALITY: Went out to dinner. And breakfast. Because work out clothes were buried in aforementioned laundry pile.

 

GOAL: General massive overdue clean up of pretty much everything. Because, OMG.

REALITY: Yeah, notsomuch. I got my hair cut. Got a massage. Had fire pit-side drinks with my neighbors. Went for a long stroll (not to be confused with working out). Played with the baby without simultaneously yelling at two other humans to pick up their stuff.

 

So things didn’t go exactly as planned.

In my defense, it seems I was stricken by a severe case of Fuckitall — an unpredictable affliction with varying degrees of severity, often occurring in parents with unexpected free time on their hands. (See also: Opposite of Productivity). The only known cure for Fuckitall is to have one’s children return home and have standard Monday morning madness commence.

So, you should know that I’m back to my old self, buried under laundry, paying bills, avoiding workouts and facing my 1,488 to-do items again. But it was a great reprieve for everyone.

And, perhaps most importantly, I learned an important lesson about technology. If you want to create a Hallmark moment upon being reunited with your kids, all you need to do is use the slow motion feature on your phone’s video.

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I mean, look at my son. Could he be any more overjoyed to see me? This is the greeting we all want as parents. It warmed my heart and even made me feel far less guilty about all the stuff I didn’t get done while he and his sister were away.

(Disclaimer: Real-time greeting was far less dramatic.)

 

Productivity is overrated anyway.

 

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The Five Stages of Escaping Your Kids for the Weekend

I rarely have plans on the weekends anymore. Unless you count kids’ sports and birthday parties and laundry. Then, yes, my weekends are packed.

And yet, as social karma would have it, I had two exciting places to be this past weekend, without kids, at the same time.

I was so excited to be attending the inaugural BlogU conference as a faculty member and meeting all of my blogging friends who live inside my computer. I had known for months that the weekend of June 6-8 was all about getting myself and my laptop to Baltimore. Nothing was getting in my way.

Except my college reunion, apparently. Same weekend. Four states away.

Oh, and my daughter’s dance recital.

Suddenly, the girl who never has fun plans had signed up for more simultaneous fun than she could handle.

No matter, I decided. Yes, the logistics were daunting, but I could make this happen. Even if it meant that I would be attending more on-campus events in a weekend than I did in my entire college career.

And so began the five stages of planning to leave without my kids for the weekend.

 

 

1) Unbridled Enthusiasm: I have real-life adult plans! I’m going away! I’m not packing Goldfish or doing laundry. I am showering two days in a row. My husband will feel the intense, serial pain of the Minivan Frozen Singalong Marathon while I forget that Elsa and Anna ever existed. I will not gaze at my yoga pants for 48 consecutive hours. Oh, it’s on.

 

2) Complications: Hmmm, these logistics are a little tricky with the three kids. Yes, my husband is highly competent and honestly did not flinch when I mentioned something about smoke coming off my heels and getting the fuck out of here for a weekend. Of course he can handle everything. Oh wait, the recital has a dress rehearsal too? And my daughter needs a bun in her hair? And maybe it would be fun if he came with me to the reunion. And there’s gymnastics and that birthday party too. Wait, am I driving from New Jersey to Baltimore to Connecticut to New Jersey? That’s, like, 773 traffic hours.

 

3) Empowerment: I called in my resources. Not just friends to assist, but also my ace in the hole.

“Hi, Mom? Can you help us please?”

It takes a village, they say. Bullshit. It takes NASA-level mission execution. If I could get these logistics to run smoothly, I would immediately be qualified to run a medium-sized nation.

Or, I could be paid to write SAT questions:

You have two cars in your possession, one of which is your mother’s and has no car seats. Your husband and your mother need to be in two separate pick up points, 12 miles apart, within 6 minutes of each other. All three children require legally secure seating. There is a booster, a front-facing convertible seat and a rear-facing infant seat. Two of the three can be installed via seat belts if necessary. 

How would you configure the seating? 

Who drives which car?

**Extra credit: Can your mother find the dress rehearsal location without cursing in front of your daughter?**

 

4) It’s Nottttt Worrrrrrth It: This stage of planning lasted for about six consecutive hours the night before departure. Right about when I realized that my kids were all well accounted for, the groceries were purchased and I even had contingency-super-secret-plan-B-double-backup-plans to get everyone to their respective activities — but I somehow didn’t have clean clothes to wear, gas in my car or a working phone charger. It would just be easier to stay home. Maybe I’ll just skip it all. It’s just a conference and a college reunion. I can go to those things anytime/in 20 years. Plus the couch is so comfortable and who else will polish off this kettle corn if I leave for the weekend?

 

5) Fuck It, I’m Outta Here: Goodbye, yoga pants and van and birthday party and gymnastics and dress rehearsal and laundry and Elsa and Anna. I hope whatever I packed at 1:00am sort of matches in the light of day.

 

And so I did. I did some speed-socializing during the one night I had at BlogU and slept in a dorm without getting written up for any infraction by an RA. I took long car rides and had a glorious solo train stint in there as well. I saw great old friends from college on the second night (again, did not get written up — this is now a personal best for me). I overdosed on nostalgia, realized that Spanx should really be the official sponsor of all reunions, ever, and made it home to grab a few hours of sleep before Sunday morning’s dance recital.

 

Now to unpack and get the house back in order. Give me another week or two.

 

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The Space Between

Anniversaries of loss are strange postmarks in time. You know the date is coming — it looms in the season, the weather, the calendar. And when it arrives, you somehow feel simultaneously taken by surprise by the passage of time and anchored to the feeling that it has been so long since you’ve seen a face, heard a voice, had a conversation.

This past weekend marked three years since my dear friend Jen died. We lost her in one of those nightmarish ways that you read about but can’t fathom. Sudden cardiac death in the middle of the night, with no warning. She was here one day, larger than life, and then just gone the next. Her son was five and her twin daughters were turning four the following day.

And when I say we lost her, I mean all of us. Everyone who knew her, and, honestly, anybody who did not. Because when a personality that big and a presence so magnetic just ceases to be here one day, that void is just immeasurable.

Losing a friend is a strange, strange dynamic. It’s not the loss of a parent, or a sibling, or a spouse, so your grief resides and lingers almost at arm’s length in this ill-defined space. I would never claim to feel the depth of the loss that her family members feel or try to occupy that same emotional place. It simply isn’t the same. But the loss of someone, even not related to you, who shaped your childhood, who is connected to all of your memories of school and your hometown and adolescence and college and weddings and babies and beyond — that loss exists in a space so personal and doesn’t diminish over time. You can’t ever remove yourself from that fabric of your background, of your foundation.

Jen grew up down the street from me, in the house where her parents still live. The countless hours we logged driving together to and from school or social things or dance lessons are the times I often think about. Those car rides, some within town, some down the Garden State Parkway on a sunny day barreling toward the shore and tans and big hair, were the things of jokes and disagreements and gossip and music. The music. The car radio. Even now, songs from our days in the car instantly transport me in time and bring me to my knees when I’m driving my kids around in my minivan, some 20+ years later. I hear her singing in my ear. I half expect to turn and see her in my passenger seat with the windows down. I have willed her to appear in that seat so many times in the last three years. Maybe for a moment, the fleeting shadow of her voice singing along to the radio is there, and then it’s gone.

It wasn’t all roses and braiding each others’ hair and Kumbaya. Like all teenage girls, we had fights — about boys, about friends, about school. Later, there were some years of our lives, after college, when we spoke only periodically. And then there were others when we were in touch all of the time. She had friends from other parts of her life who I never met and others I came to know very well over the years. But this long and winding ribbon of our history together was something I expected to always have and I’m sure took for granted, as we all do with our friends. I never, for a moment, thought our orbits would stop intertwining.

It’s not that I left any grand statement unsaid or have any regrets. I just might never really get over not having known the last time I saw her would be the last. I would love to reconstruct that day at her house and our conversations, word for word, just to have them. But our kids were there, and it was of course chaotic. I know that in between addressing snack and TV requests, we swapped tips about Disney World and other trivial things. But we also discussed her finally-finished home renovation and how we were both about to leave our corporate careers. It was a huge time of transition for her and amazing change on the horizon. The cruelty of how she never got to really enjoy that time will never make sense to me.

Jen had started to ask me about having a third child when I was on the fence about it, not long before she died. She was so in love with her three kids, she loved the dynamic of three — she didn’t want me to miss it. Of course that wasn’t the reason we went on to have a third after all, but I like to think about how happy she would have been to meet him. And had my son been a daughter, we would have chosen Jennifer for a middle name.

I remember the days and months after she died that the air felt so heavy to me. We lost her the day after Memorial Day, when everyone is high on life with summer kick-off on the brain and the anticipation of that glorious shift in the seasons to lazy days and sunshine. But in those summer months of 2011, the breeze in the air felt stagnant to me and the clouds at night that were backlit by the setting sun looked heavy in the sky. It was a summer of shock, disbelief and confusion.

A lot has changed in those three years. The air doesn’t feel thick with confusion anymore, but there will always be a pit in my stomach that leaves me unsettled as the anticipation of Memorial Day draws near. Beneath the flags and the parades and shifting from jackets to t-shirts, I am reminded of that phone call in 2011. It still seems surreal that she is gone, but that shock factor has faded away with time. Just like everyone told me three years ago, I can smile now when I tell some of my favorite Jen stories. It doesn’t make the the bruise on my soul go away, but it shifts it from a very open wound to a scar that I’ll always feel.

But the radio. The car radio. It might always gut punch me.

She wasn’t my family in the literal sense, but I could never reconstruct my past without her. It would be impossible. And the space between is a strange place.

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I Don’t Watch Homeland. Can We Still Be Friends?

 

My husband and I don’t have much of a social life.  Like many parents of young kids, we don’t get out as often as we’d like.  But hey, we can have cocktails at home, cook dinner and watch some TV.  And then we can talk about that riveting evening with other parents of small kids who don’t get out.

Well, that’s not working anymore.

Because we screwed up.  We’re out of the loop.  We’re late to the party.  We’re missing out.

On Homeland.

My life is starting to feel like a Saturday Night Live skit.  I can’t have any social interactions anymore without an exchange like this.

**Begin social interaction.**

“You guys are watching Homeland, right?”

“Uh, no.  We haven’t seen it yet.  I hear it’s gr–”

Wait, what?!  OMG, you’re not watching Homeland?  You’re kidding?  Please be kidding.”

“No. I know, we need to start.  We don’t have Showtime.”

“Well, you have to get Showtime.  You have to.  Or just get it on Netflix.”

“That’s true.  We could do th–”

“OR watch it online.”

“That’s a good idea.”

“Oh wait, I think my cousin’s ex-husband’s new wife’s niece’s parole officer has the first season on DVD.  I’ll get it for you.”

“Oh you don’t have to do that.  Thanks, though.”

“Well, then WHAT are you going to do? ”

“We’ll get it.  We will.”

“Good.  Because we are OBSESSED with it.  OBSESSED.”

“Really?  I hadn’t noticed.  I can’t wait to watch it.”

“What else could you be watching on Sunday night?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  I mean, we flip the channels and, you know — we find something.”

**Blank, incredulous stares.  End of social interaction.  Possibly end of friendship.**

Seriously, I have had some variation of this conversation no fewer than five different times in the last two weeks.  This is a fiercely loyal group of viewers.  And I believe them — I’m sure it’s a great show.

But, here’s the problem:  Apparently, P and I don’t learn from our mistakes.  We never watched 24.  Or Alias.  Yeah, once in a while we’ll catch Mad Men if it happens to be on.  We were hot and cold with The Sopranos.  But we fumbled our way through the related conversations {Did Tony die on the series finale?  And what about using that Journey song for the closing scene?}.  We did OK.  We got invited back to parties.  Mostly because we fucking owned Lost.  We rode that wave from beginning to end and were completely well-versed in all things about The Island, The Others and The Smoke Monster.  At a Final Jeopardy level.

But that doesn’t matter anymore.  That day is done.  It’s all Homeland, all the time.  And we’re on the outside looking in.

This is affecting my interactions at pre-school pick-up.  The Kindergarten bus stop.  Playdates.  Bunco night.

And now, we’re just plain screwed.  It’s the holiday season — the one time of year when we get out to multiple parties in the span of several weeks.  It’s also — I hear, frequently — around the time when the Homeland Season 2 finale will air.  This is a social pariah perfect storm for us.  If we don’t start watching it now, I should probably just cancel the babysitter and stay home.  We will have no social credibility.  What could we possibly contribute to these parties?

So, if you see two loners by the punch bowl at your next holiday gathering, mumbling quietly about the Lost finale — that will be us.  It’s all we’ve got.  Until we get our hands on those Homeland DVDs.

 

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A Tale of Two Kims

Because I was born in the 70s, I’ve never been the only Kim in any given room.  There have been many Kims over the years {Jennifers, I know you can relate}.

But I do have a favorite Kim.  Sadly, she lives clear across the country.  However, she has a job that sends her to New York a few times a year.

I never know when she’s going to be here or how to make plans with her.  It’s always sort of like this:

Favorite Kim:  Hey, I just found out I’m coming to New York next Tuesday.  I’ll be there for 18 hours but they haven’t told me what time I have to work, and I won’t find out until I get there.  Hope we can get together!

Me {in pretend casual mode}:  Great — we’ll figure it out.  Can’t wait!

{My true Type A-ness sets in.}

Me:  Sooo, you have no idea what hours you have to work?  A window?

Favorite Kim:  Not yet.  I’ll let you know as soon as I get there!

Me:  OK.  I will find us a restaurant for brunch.  Will it be brunch?  Or you think maybe late lunch?  Or dinner?  What time is your flight?  Maybe we can have a hot pretzel in the cab on your way to the airport.

{It’s not always easy to be my friend.  I know this.}

So, is Favorite Kim a spy with this secret schedule?

No.  She’s an entertainment reporter.  She flies around the world at times to screen movies and then interview the stars.

Pretty kick ass, right?

And I knew her way back when we were both in grad school.  I studied Screenwriting — which, as you can tell, has really panned out for me in huge ways — and she made a far wiser choice in Broadcast Journalism.

So she came to New York a few weeks ago under such circumstances and we were able to secure our two-hour brunch window.  During our fleeting meals together, we essentially conduct a Lightning Round version of “Tell Me Everything I Do Not Know Since The Last Time I Saw You That I Haven’t Learned Through Social Media Updates.  Go!”

Because she slept in a luxury hotel in SoHo the night before, and had to interview celebrities after our brunch, she was dressed to kill.  I, on the other hand, had two kids, one husband and a pug in my bed for four hours the night before, and then got on an early Sunday morning NJ Transit train — dressed not unlike a Lands End catalog spread from 2008.  I was also leaning at about a 30 degree angle from my recent ongoing back issues.

Sunday mornings are not my best look.

Halfway through our brunch, I realized that I never asked her which film she was here to cover.

Favorite Kim: Skyfall.

Me:  Oh, nice.  So who do you get to interview?

Favorite Kim:  Daniel Craig.

Me:  Excellent!

Favorite Kim:  And the new Bond Girls.

Me:  Oh.  I don’t know who they are.

Favorite Kim:  And Javier Bardem.

*Gulp*

Me:  Shut the hell up.

Favorite Kim:  It’s true.  But not Dame Judi Dench.

Me:  OK, but still.  Javierrrrrr {I love a good roll of the Spanish R}  — I love him.  Probably to an inappropriate degree.  What are you going to ask him?

Favorite Kim:  Is there anything you want me to ask him?

Me:  How about what Penelope Cruz has that I don’t?

Favorite Kim:  Do you want to come with me and hang out in the lounge before the interview?

Me:  No, I’ll pass out and ruin your professional credibility.

Favorite Kim:  OK.

So after our turbo catch-up session, we went our separate ways — she to her job and me back to family stuff in New Jersey.  On this day, “family stuff” meant the highly anticipated pumpkin patch with corn maze madness.  But regardless, I was so happy to have seen Favorite Kim.  Our visits are never long enough.

And then, later on Twitter, I see this.

Which warranted this.

When Favorite Kim inexplicably returned the compliment {although the Twitterverse has lost the evidence}, I had this to say to her.

 

I mean, really.  Who would you rather be?  Who has the better gig?

Favorite Kim?

Or me?

It’s ok.  I’m not offended.  I get it.

My Javier vs The Corn Maze wounds resurfaced over the weekend when Favorite Kim posted the final cut of the interview on Facebook.

I’m still trying to regroup.

But hey, that was a hell of a corn maze.  With pony rides.  And cider.

Javier can wait until next time, I guess.

* * * * *

{If you want to see more of Favorite Kim’s fabulous life — from celeb interviews to wrangling her adorable kids — follow her on Twitter @kimholcomb.} 

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You Can Take the People Out of New York…

 

Back in The Dark Ages, when we old folks got our information and jokes via email — and not through social networking sites that the Brothers Winklevii were litigating over — there were a couple of old standbys that continued to circulate over our lightning-fast dial-up connections.

There were the alarmist urban myths {like the tales of kidney harvesting rings}.  The dubious computer virus warnings.  And of course, the Richard Gere gerbil tale.

And then there were the jokes.  For some reason, I remember seeing many variations of the old “You Know You’re From {Fill in Your State/City/Region Here} When…”

I received the New York City and New Jersey versions many, many times.  We can cover NJ another day, because it probably does warrant a closer look.  As for New York, these were always a few of my favorites.

You know you’re a New Yorker when:

  • You think Central Park is nature.
  • You haven’t heard the sound of true absolute silence since the 80s, and when you did, it terrified you.
  • You pay more each month to park your car than most people in the U.S. pay in rent.
  • You consider eye contact an act of overt aggression.

These are all true.  Please don’t ask me what I paid to rent a monthly parking space because I don’t like to weep on my keyboard.  And as for eye contact, I am still getting used to it in the suburbs.  You can imagine the cold sweat I broke into when several families on our block welcomed us here with baked goods and the bounty from their gardens.  In person.  At our front door.  Unannounced.

I had 911 on speed dial.  But, it turns out, they are all lovely non-felons who were just being super-nice and not looking to kill me.  Who knew?

But back to the New York list, because I actually do have a point.

This is the item on the list that always got me.  Because I don’t think it could be any more specific and accurate:

You know you’re a New Yorker when you can get into a four-hour argument about how to get from Columbus Circle to Battery Park at 3:30 on the Friday before a long weekend, but can’t find Wisconsin on a map.

{No offense to the fine people of Wisconsin.}

With that last tidbit in mind, let me tell you about what happens when you put five former New Yorkers, all of whom are now suburbanites, around a dinner table to discuss the new school year just before it begins…

It all started with the normal chit-chat about whose kids were going to which schools and in which grades this year.  I casually mentioned that I wondered how I was going to accomplish two drop-offs at two different schools within a ten-minute space. I think I said something about trial and error and then looked for my wine refill.

But it was too late.  The collective wheels at the table were spinning.  The Recessive Manhattanite Gene had been activated.

Slowly but surely.

“You have to go to the pre-school first.  BUT you have to be first — absolutely first — on the car drop-off line.  That means getting there at least ten minutes early.  Otherwise, you are hosed because you’ll be stuck there for 20 minutes. So, be first to drop off there and then do the kindergarten drop-off.  Oh, but don’t get there more than ten minutes early because they will turn you away and you’ll have to circle the block — and then you”ll lose your spot by the time you get back.”

Hm.  All good points.  Except for the part where I have to be precisely ten minutes early.  And first on line.  File under:  Two things that never happen and, if were to occur simultaneously, may cause the universe to implode.

Where is the waiter with the wine?

But then, a counterpoint across the table.

“No, no.  I don’t think that’s the way to go.  Do you know how bad the traffic is in the center of town at 12:30?  No.  You have to do the kindergarten drop-off first — get there early — and then head over to the pre-school.”

There’s that “get there early” crap again.

“OK, maybe.  But only  if you take the back roads and avoid the major choke points in town.  It will take longer, so just leave earlier.”

Oh my God.  According to my mental calculations, I think I’m now leaving at 7am for afternoon kindergarten and pre-school.

I seriously don’t understand how the waiter doesn’t see the mental bubble over my head that is verbally assaulting him for forgetting the wine.

“And remember that, for the kindergarten drop-off, it’s really hard to park there.  You might have to circle for a spot.”

For the first and last time in my life, the thought of home schooling fleeted through my mind.  Yes, yes, I can just keep them at home and school them myself.  Oh, there’s the waiter!  Where the hell has this guy been?

“Wait, wait, don’t forget that the high school lets the kids out for lunch around that time.  They’re everywhere.  They will screw up everything.”

After some wine intake and deliberation — which included the thought of moving to Europe, where all the kids ride their bikes to school beginning at age two — I thanked my friends for their well-informed and logical approaches.  I promised to take their suggestions under advisement and try it both ways.

And then, I added, ever so casually, “Oh — I almost forgot — after the school drop-offs,  I have to be at my work out class by 12:45.”

“Not the one — “

“Yes, on the other side of town.  12:45 sharp.  With time to park.”

The waiter sees the glances around the table and handles the refills proactively.

Utter silence for a moment at the table.  It was like I just hit them with Operation Shock & Awe.

This was followed by a range of emotions.

 

There was anger.

“NOOOOO.”

 

And disbelief.

“WHAT??!!!”

“OH SWEET JESUS.  IT CAN’T BE DONE!  IT JUST CAN’T.”

 

And defeat.

“FORGET IT, WOMAN.”

“I JUST DON’T KNOW HOW TO HELP YOU.”

 

And so we went back to discussing other things.  Like the wine and the food.  And how empty the restaurant was for 10pm.  And how we have gotten used to living in the suburbs now — but some traits of being city dwellers will not go quietly.

As for my school drop-off clusterfuck?  They were right.  All of them.  It’s pretty much impossible.

Mostly because I have yet to be early for any part of it.

 

 

 

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The Keys to My Summer

I find the day after Labor Day to be the second-most depressing day of the year.  Right behind January 2.

I have a problem with transitions.  Parting with revelry.  Going back to reality.  All of that.

But, in my semi-hysterical “Summer, please don’t go — please!” state, I have to step back and say that this was the best summer I’ve had in a long, long time — both near and far.

Sometimes, I keep hotel keys in my wallet long after a trip is over.  There must be some Pinterest-y thing I can do with them at some point.  But in the meantime, they make me feel better.  Like a little piece of my travels stay with me.  Until I try to use them, weeks after my departure, to charge dinner or a round of drinks to my room.  And I’m told that hotel room keys can’t be used as real-world currency.  Which brings me back down to Earth pretty quickly.  Or kicked out of the bar.  Or both.  It’s sort of a chicken-and-egg effect.

Anyway.  The keys to this summer — here they are.

 

 

1)  Oh, Madrid.  I’ll love you forever.  The 19 year gap was worth the wait.**

 

 

2)   A sisters-only night in Atlantic City, practicing the core gambling skills of our childhood.  I won some money, which was great.  But we won’t speak of my near-miss with fortune and how my favorite roulette number betrayed me.  I was going to tell the story but A) It makes me sound like a gambling addict and B) It still stings.  Which is why I think I sound like a gambling addict.  Which, I swear, I’m not.  So let’s just drop it.**

{**Disclaimer:  These trips were part of Operation 40th Birthday Celebration and well out of scope for my normal summer vacations.  As a result, you can find me within 25 miles of my house for the next 60 summers.}

 

 

3)  And a night just across the river, in Manhattan, to attend BlogHer ’12.  To see some of my very favorite bloggers again, and to meet others for the first time.  But, mainly, to be repeatedly slapped with the blatant reminder that my blog is not even a small fish in a big pond.  It’s more like the plankton or maybe a barnacle.

 

 

I took a few other trips this summer to visit friends at their beach houses.  But I figured it would be untoward to have a copy of those keys in my possession.  We drove to Rehoboth Beach, DE; Stone Harbor, NJ; and Cape Cod, MA.  Each was a beach we hadn’t seen before, and each was magnificent.  It’s tough having friends in low places.

 

 

 

OH, but speaking of low places, I do have this key as part of our drive to the Cape.

They should alter the key sleeve to read: "We hope you survive your stay without contracting a communicable disease."

 

We left New Jersey at night and figured we’d drive about two hours with the kids asleep, pull into a hotel and get a room for the night.  Then finish up the drive early the next morning to make the most of the day.

You know.  Just get a hotel room when we got tired.  Wing it.  

In August.  The peak of summer vacation.

And this is where, if you are easily entertained by someone being traumatized for life, you’ll want to keep reading.  Especially if you are more entertained by that someone being me.

So it’s 11:30pm on a Tuesday night and Mr. and Mrs. Roadtrip Jackass decide that, yep, we’re a little tired now, so let’s just find ourselves the next hotel and call it a night.

Uh, no.  That hotel was sold out.

As was every other hotel in about a 40 mile radius.

Except for one.

Upon entering the room, I could literally see the layer of filth on the carpet.  A spider crawled across a pillow.  There was some indescribable smell — a hybrid of mold, dust, cigarettes and other unnamed carcinogens.

It looked like a place that, in the not too distant past, had been a legitimate crime scene.  Or taken from the set of Breaking Bad.  I was reasonably convinced that if you shone one of those police lights around the room in the dark, you would basically come up with nothing but blood.  And maybe some meth.

But everything else was sold out.  Ev-ery-thing.

It was well after midnight with an exhausted family.  So I had to suck it up.  I laid there and thought about lice.  And bed bugs.  And mold poisoning.  And Bubonic Plague.

I didn’t hold onto that key as a keepsake after I snapped its photo for posterity.  I was too busy researching where we could apply for a government-funded decontamination shower, a la Silkwood.

But that was a blip in an otherwise blissful summer.

A summer of big celebrations.

A summer of the road trips that took us to see friends.

A summer of day trips — to amusement parks, to Manhattan, to the pool.

And a summer of no trips at all on the lazier days — with ice cream and backyard playtime and rainy day indoor movies on the couch.

 

 

 

These snapshots — these moments — were the real keys to my summer.

And as I sit here today, getting school supplies (and my heart) ready for the  first day of kindergarten tomorrow, and pre-school on Thursday, I can begin to deal with my reluctant transition to fall.

Because I know we had one hell of a summer.  And I hope you all did, too.

 

{For more fun photos — or to merely support my addiction to Instagram — come visit me over here.}

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The Road Home

Yesterday I went back home.  To the town where I grew up.

The trip is not long.  It’s a mere 40 minutes by car, but it’s a lifetime in my head.

My parents moved away from my hometown after I graduated from college, so even though it’s not far, I rarely have an occasion to go back up there.

So, yesterday, when one of my high school friends invited me to stop by while he was in town visiting his parents for the week, I put my kids in the car and drove up.

The last time I went there was two years ago — for my high school reunion — with my dear friend Jen.  It was one of the last times I saw her before she died so unexpectedly.  That night, I had gone up to the reunion and straight back home, in the dark.  I had seen people from years ago but I had barely driven around the town.  It had been ages since I really took a ride through the area to take it all in.

So I wasn’t surprised to wonder if I’d remember all the roads to get there.  And I wasn’t surprised when they all came back to me.

Nostalgia can be a disarming feeling.  Head-spinning, even.  The notion of how much things change and yet still stay the same is so strange.  These places, so familiar to me.  These places, such a lifetime ago in my mind.

My car — my distinctly-mom vehicle — so different than anything I ever drove as a teenager back then.  And yet its tires, which had never touched the pavement in this town, knew the exact bends in the road, every one of them.  Dead Man’s Curve and all.  The roads that are notoriously narrow and rural and even treacherous.  The ones that my teenage mind considered no big deal when my parents worried were the same ones on which my now 40 year-old maternal mind felt cautious.

A place so rural.  So far away — at least on sight, though not at all in mileage — from the city lifestyle that my sisters and I both embraced for so many years post-hometown.  How can a place seem both so foreign and so ingrained to you?

I never appreciated its beauty at the time.  Though I loved my family, my friends and my life growing up — I wanted out.  I wanted to move away.  I wanted to see more.  And I did.  But I should have been grateful to have grown up in a place so lovely.  Because it was, it is — even if it took me years to realize it.

I drove the bendy roads yesterday from the visit to my friend’s house, over to the house where I grew up.  The house my parents built in 1984.  The house they sold amidst their divorce about a decade later.  The house I packed up with my mom and walked through for the last time — our possessions and family keepsakes all moved out — just before it changed hands.  I had been the last one to close the front door behind me and close that chapter of our lives.  And I remember how much it stung, how much it defined me, that moment.  For a long time.  Even though I was in my mid-20s and on my own, out of town — just as I had wanted all those years ago.

And on the way to my old home, I knew I would have to pass the house down the road where Jen grew up — where her parents still live.  The knot in my stomach had been building all day — not just over the nostalgia I felt for my own childhood, but for the role that Jen played in it.  These roads that we drove countless times together — to the movies, to the mall, to dance class and then — years later — in a limo headed to her wedding.  I think of Jen many, many times every day and how much I miss her.  But this was very different — to be back here, without her.

I drove past her house, past my school bus stop, and soon found myself sitting in the cul-de-sac outside my old house, craning my head to get a good look at it — up the long driveway and set back in the woods.  Yes, it had some updates, but it largely looked the same, even if I now viewed it differently.  Growing up, I thought it was too big, too showy.  But now it just looked pretty to me.  I could see the bay window over the front door that was my bedroom.  Where I had put my dance trophies in the window seat and where I was able to peer outside and see the headlights of my friends coming to pick me up.

And I was grateful, in a way that I had never felt before, that my parents had built it.

I drove over to the nearby dam as the sun was starting to set.  And I had to laugh at what came on the radio — somehow, select songs from the soundtrack of my life were playing, like a montage in the closing sequence of a movie that you don’t want to end just yet.

I parked at the dam and it was pretty much a perfect summer night with a perfect view.  My kids were getting sleepy in the back seat and I knew it was time to get going.  But I got out for just a minute to take some pictures — both with my camera and with my mind.

 

 

 

This place.  Just 40 minutes from where I live now.  I can go there anytime, I guess — but I rarely do.  And maybe that’s what makes it so powerful.

I had spent years just wanting to leave.  And yesterday, watching the sun go down over the dam, all I really wanted was to stay.  For just a little bit longer.

 

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