A Remarkable Family

Like most remarkable families, they are not famous.  And they don’t look at each other and think, “gee, we are remarkable”.  It goes without saying that they don’t have a reality TV show.

A man, a woman and their four daughters.  Not the Brady Bunch.  Not hair of gold (like Carol Brady) and their skin was so white that a flash light could give them a sunburn.

I met them at Camp Wingate for Girls.  Not all at once.  First the eldest and then the third child.  A year later, the youngest.  A year or so later, the second child.

1971.  The eldest was someone whom people respected and she was engaged to a counselor at the boy’s camp.  I looked up to her and knew her every move, because she had an air about her.  I don’t think we ever spoke.   The third sister was an oldest camper and the oldest campers were too cool for words.  And I remember that her freckles increased with every beach day.  The weird things you remember 40-odd years later.

Our parents were connected through my aunt and uncle.  The men had survived the war that America won — good triumphed over evil.  Their father lost his leg and my uncle lost some of his soul.  But they soldiered on and their wives healed their wounds because they were our greatest generation and that what just what they did.

For the parents, camp visiting days meant seeing your kids during the day and gathering with the other adults for dinner to eat all of the seafood (tower of treyf) that could fill a stomach.  Being in the hell of war, and healing those wounds at home, entitled these couples to a few non-kosher meals.  At least that.

The youngest came to camp in 1973(?).  She wore tragic danskin top-and-short sets and really pointy keds.  Mom sent me with pointy keds as a second pair of sneakers and I hid them under my bed.  So, I felt for her.  Her legs had mosquito bites all over them.

And then there was the second born.  The photography counselor.  As crazy as this is, she seemed not of this world, and yet the world was too much with her.  I remember that she spoke softly and people listened.  I admired her ability to command that type of attention.

After ten summers at Camp Wingate, the friends you made were for a lifetime, no matter the decades in between communication.  And, even more, these four girls and their parents were family, indirectly, through my aunt and uncle.  But the fourth child  — the one with mosquito bites and tragic danskin outfits — she was my friend.

When the second child died, I knew that bubble of Camp Wingate had burst in some way.  I wrote a letter to the camp director that — however irrational it was — I believed that a cloak of immortality protected us and that belief was shattered.  I mourned the loss of a life and the loss of our collective Linus blanket.  The camp director never wrote back.  What would she say?

Time passed.

The eldest married.  The second was gone.  The third went her way.  And the fourth, dyed part of her hair purple and was a roadie for a rock band.

More time passed.  We aged.  Our parents aged.  Some of our parents died.  Some of life’s waves buoyed us, while others beached us with a mouth full of sand.  Life’s trajectory was no straight line for any of us.

And, yes, I have to thank Facebook for reconnecting with the youngest.  Although I saw her mom at family gatherings, I didn’t have a way of connecting in a way that wasn’t so stilted until Facebook came along.

POB and I decided to have a wedding even before Marriage Equality passed in New York State.  I had mellowed in my rather doctrinaire ways that it had to be legal or I wasn’t doing it.  I thought about the people whom I would want at that ceremony and so many had died already.  Did it really matter more that the Bible Belt accepted it or that Dad and Aunt Betty and Uncle Larry and Aunt Roz were there to celebrate? And if Aunt Betty, then her best friend of 65 years, Phyllis, must come.  And, if Phyllis, then my friend of 41 years, Janet2 must come. Because they are part of us.  Even the daughters I am just getting to know and the daughter whose pain will forever be unknowable.

At the wedding, I couldn’t stop hugging Janet2.  I needed to make up for the decades lost. I still may have to visit her just to hug the stuffing out of her, such as is left after her latest health craze (P.S.:  Kale is really hard to digest.)

Generations of family who are friends.  A remarkably resilient family and resilient lifelong friendships that don’t need to be watered or fed on a daily basis.  Because love runs deep in the earth that sustains us.

(P.S.: To the eldest:  If your kids need anything in the City (or just need a home-cooked meal), they should just come to our doorstep.  We are family.)


To Us, The Soeurs

Yes, I am a lucky person.  I am one of nine Soeurs (please see Glossary to the right of this entry). Also see:  http://40andoverblog.com/?p=3897; http://40andoverblog.com/?p=942; http://40andoverblog.com/?p=2418.

We have been friends (or connected through friends) since 1981, our college freshman year.

Many years, many tears, many happy times, and oh-so-many epic journeys. 

The stories have been told and retold among us that they are canon.  If someone misses a key detail, a Soeur who was not even there at the original event will chime in a correction.  Yep, we all remember that we were all there (wherever “there” was) — all nine of us.  We were all in the coat closet when, just after college, Mi Casa Es Su was scamming with he-who-shall-not-be-named?

Oh, absolutely.  We could pass lie detector tests.

Sidebar: Mi Casa Es Su also had a tag line in college, “so many men, so little time.”  Just sayin’.

Our memories are that collective.  CTFOB had pneumonia (nearly so) but had to go to a frat party to see a guy she liked.  We told her to rest, but she insisted:  “I’d have them wheel me into that place in an iron lung!”

I remember being turned back from the Canadian border on a ride to get Bradoors.  NYCFOB, Mighty and two Soeurs who don’t yet have sub-category names [Sidebar:  JT and HH, YOU HAVE TO COMMENT, GIRLS and then you can choose your “handle”] were REALLY on the expedition.  But twenty-odd years later when we were re-uning in New York during the Winter Olympics, we all stood up in the hotel room and sang the Canadian national anthem, just as we (or they) did all those years ago for the border guards.

Mighty has these long tapered fingers and long nails.  When she pointed her index finger at you in an up-and-down motion, you had to spill your guts to the group because she detected you were hiding serious good gossip.  She used to have to say, “if you want to dance, you have to pay the fiddler,” but after a while, just the finger motion was enough.

Didn’t we all fall asleep in the snow outside ΑΔ fraternity only to be saved by mystery man?  [Oh, hiiiiiiii, JT and NYCFOB.]

And which of us had crushes on Boring Tall Man and Tall Boring Man (different people)?  I remember!!! JKGB (another Soeur who needs a subcategory name) had a crush on Tall Boring Man who was a grad student who hung out at the undergraduate library.  She wore electric plaid pants (on a diagonal) in a sytlistic send-up to the uber-prep.

And then there was Tie Man who used to get drunk and ask people to talk into his tie.  He had a thing for CTFOB.

JT was perpetually on the latest fad diet and I joined her on one and fainted a few times.  (NYCFOB has my fat pictures, and if anything should happen to her, those pictures will go to Woodward and Bernstein). JT also had a thing for ΒΘΠ frat jocks.  They wore boxers that were longer than their outer shorts.  They also had a rare disease, U-trou-creep-up-ium, coined by NYCFOB and CTFOB.

CAFOB, who is rock solid and an old soul, did have that period during which she went from computer star to capturing essence of North Star.  We are grateful that she found balance in between.  And she has been our counselor and sage all these years.

HH, did you really, really think you would avoid mention?  HH is a Soeur who has opened her home and heart to those of us who have had a long journey to adulthood.  Gentle HH, a Soeur who judged, if at all, out of earshot.  And whose husband diagnosed the Chuppah problems at the wedding.  The challenges, losses and happiness of her life made this gentle spirit more gentle and more accepting.  And forgiving of me and accepting the true friendship that I can offer all these years later.

So here we are: CAFOB, CTFOB, NYCFOB, Mighty, Mi Casa Es Su, JKGB, HH, JT and Blogger.  For 31 years.

At the wedding, we had to have a picture, just us.  No one else, so no need to worry about someone being in the photo-croppable position should a relationship not work out.  We are bound by love, by time, by a secret handshake and by crazy stories.

Sidebar:  I mean STORIES, like driving on a dark road when a dog that bit a deer, staying at the Norman Bates Motel and the rodeo hotel (because the neighbors next door), the time JT had a terrible “flu” or so we told her younger sister who was visiting when she asked why I was holding a trash can near JT’s head and propping her forward or my “fat” pictures which the Soeurs will admit to only under oath (or if NYCFOB goes missing).

When I thanked Mi Casa Es Su for schlepping across the country after chaperoning her child’s class trip to Yosemite until Friday, only to turn around and pack and fly to New York on Saturday, she said, “I wouldn’t miss this, are you kidding?”

These are the ties that bind.  The people who can show up on your doorstep any time. No questions.  The people who need to be there in the good times and the bad times.  The people who descended on my home the week after MOB died and soothed me just by their presence in my living room.  Peeps.

I love you. And you danced at my wedding until your feet were bloody stumps (ok, gross, but a phrase of ours).  Looking at all of you dancing at the wedding, well, I was walking on sunshine.  Remember, Katrina and the Waves?  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKh0dLIuIu8

Sidebar:  POB made sure the band played this for us because I have told her about Mighty’s happy keds many times.

We are nine.  We are an amoeba.  We are separate yet we are one.  Discuss.

The Old Neighborhood

I grew up in the East 50s near Sutton Place.  DOB still lives there.  Most times, he likes to come see us on the Upper West Side — “The travel gives me a way to pass a few extra hours,” DOB says.

Nevertheless, every now and again we take out our passports and travel to the East Side for lunch.  DOB has started to favor a coffee shop closer to the house.  I think because the old coffee shop is three blocks away and down a hill.

When we were seated, an old man next to us asked if we were new to the neighborhood.  “Our family has lived here for over 50 years!” I replied jovially (at least I thought so).  The old man said, “I was just going to tell you what’s good,” and then he sighed in that loud annoying way to show he was exasperated and feeling under-appreciated even though his help was unsolicited.  Or, maybe I yelled at him, “What’s it to you, bud?”  Of course, I didn’t but you would think so based on the tone of his response.

Wow, I thought, the old neighborhood has gotten cranky with age.  Maybe because all of my parents’ contemporaries (who are still alive) have grown old and cranky in the old neighborhood.

Shortly after we shut down that random act of neighborliness gone horribly wrong, I saw an old (old) friend of my parents walk in the door.  He was with his female companion of 30 years or so.  Our families had gone to the same synagogue and we kids went to Hebrew School with his daughter.

I immediately got up and went over to greet them. They thought I was SOB because they said that they see her on the street when she visits Dad, implying that I am never around.  I paused, counted backwards from 10 and determined that they didn’t mean it the way it sounded.  Except, they certainly did mean it the way it sounded.

Sidebar:  As nice as this man is — he really is — he took me aside at a gathering shortly before my mother died and after having met POB, “make your father happy; find a man.”  But back to the situation at hand.

There were so many ways to handle this affront to my being a good and attentive daughter:

  • I could dredge up ancient gossip and unpleasant truths about his long ago divorce.  Nah, that is too aggressive.
  • I could just smile.  Nah, too passive.
  • I could be could let slip that Dad usually comes over on Sunday nights for a home-cooked dinner.  Ahhhh, passive yet aggressive.  Perfect.

Sidebar:  Don’t you love when being passive-aggressive is the reflection of your best impulses?  So, so, rewarding.

I did let that fact slip using a tone that suggested that his daughter never cooked for him.

“You must be a good cook!”

Really, that’s your response?  That’s all you got for me after my exhaustive mental gymnastics to figure out how to preserve my dignity and protect my mother’s pride in her children?  Really?

There were two other people whom Mom knew who walked in during the course of our lunch.  But I was too exhausted to go over and say hi.



On Monday, I was checking my personal email, which I do every other day or so.  SNOBFOB sent an email blast late Sunday night that her father had died and the funeral was Tuesday 10 am.

SNOBFOB has lost both parents in a two-year span.  Her mother had cancer and her father was in a long decline.  She was the child in charge.  Painful and stressful on a daily basis.  It makes my heart break.  I quickly rescheduled things to make the funeral.

This time, the trip to New Jersey was not schlepic; the Never-Lost Lady came through, although when the Never-Lost Lady announces the route or street in New Jersey, there is a pause after which she switches to this crazy-sounding phone-sex voice.  No, really, I am not making this up, well, because I am not that creepy.

I walked into the room reserved for family members of the deceased and saw SNOBFOB.  We hugged and then she said, “Oh [Blogger], my life has been soooo bloggable these last few days.  I will have to tell you.”

Sidebar:  Ok, I did NOT see that comment coming.  But I do hope that SNOBFOB’s thinking about how her life would appear in print on my blog somehow offered a few moments’ comic relief from the sad realities of life and loss.  (And, stay tuned for those bloggable moments in future posts.)

I sat in the chapel, and an elderly — no ancient — woman stopped by my seat and said, more as a statement than a question, “we know each other, don’t we?” 

Sidebar:  Ok, I did NOT see that comment coming, either.  0 for 2.

After an uncomfortable pause during which I was trying to stand (out of respect), make room for her AND come up with a polite way of saying, “well, no, we have never met,” she continued, “we saw each other at [SNOBFOB’s mother’s] house and, of course, the funeral.  So, we shared good times and bad together.  And now here we are, sad again.  I am glad we know each other.”

All I could do was take her hand and say as meaningfully as I could, “I am, too.”  Because by that point, I really wished I knew her.  She did not sit with me but preceded toward the front, just behind the family.   I was more than a little relieved that I didn’t have to keep up a charade.

SNOBFOB gave a wonderful eulogy of a man who loved his family, did what he thought was right and stood by the people he loved.   I thought of the prophet Micah’s imperative, “Do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with thy G-d”.   I see where SNOBFOB’s gets her sense of fundamental fairness and parameters of acceptable behavior.  Strong genes.

Sidebar:  But it wouldn’t be my life without a Seinfeld moment.  All I can say is that since I am glad I had a rental car, so those people who followed me back to New York, erroneously thinking I was part of the processional to the graveside, can’t identify me.  (And I am REALLY sorry.)  OOOoops, I guess they can now.

I wish I could ease my friend’s pain.  May her father, Benyomin ben Mordechai, rest in peace and his memory be a blessing.


Epic and Less-Epic

Saturday, POB (partner of blogger) and I had an appointment at a bridal salon.  We arrived fashionably late at the SoHo boutique.

We were greeted by a girl who looked too young to drink or smoke legally. She is our WDE, wedding dress expert.  I wondered, “Expert? Expert? Do you get a diploma in this?”  I started humming “Beauty School Dropout” (how else does someone become a WDE?) but stopped in a great show of restraint and good manners.

We were ushered into this large room with a rack of sample WHITE and off WHITE dresses on either side.  WDE says in a half question/half statement, “There are two brides?”  Yes, I said, motioning to POB and me.  She looked surprised momentarily, but recovered surprisingly gracefully.  Nevertheless, I immediately started rethinking my haircut next week.

She offered water and wine.  I asked for red wine.  Pause.  Now she had the upper hand — what kind of idiot asks for red wine in a room with white dresses?  Ooooops.

The dresses looked so, so, so, soooooo bridal.  I know, I know, what did I expect?  But, but, but, after 12 years and a child, I just didn’t see us, in this room, with a WDE of the tender age of 23 (I asked; ok, she is marginally beyond the legal drinking and smoking threshold).

We decided to take turns trying on the same sample dresses (some were a little worn out and in need of a good cleaning or retirement).  POB put on a dress that was spectacular.  I tried it on and we all scrunched our noses.  POB tried on another dress — half tried it on, because she knew she hated it even while she was putting it on.  I, however, loved the dress.  And so it went.

We settled on a different dress for each of us (so no match-y-match-y ookiness), but we wanted to put a hold on them until January.

Why? Because we had appointments at Kleinfeld’s, the wedding mecca for Jews.  We thought we should experience this rite of passage even for our non-traditional wedding.  At Kleinfeld’s, each bride is limited to five guests at the appointment.  Really?  I was surprised.  I was told that I need to watch, Say Yes to the Dress,” and then I would understand the limit.  But I didn’t understand why I would bring anyone.  Another reason to go — I obviously need a lesson in my heritage.

WDE, who is young but still good at the hard sell, convinced us that we were losing the opportunity to have these limited edition dresses and we might not be able to purchase them in January and then there wouldn’t be enough time, and then what would we wear . . . (I was thinking, we would wear a dress of all the money we saved by NOT finding dresses) . . . .

Then I had a vision of one month before the wedding, my combing through the Lands End catalog for dresses, with free shipping and complimentary flannel nightgowns.  I started to feel a little sweaty  — panic or hot flash?  Oh, damn this wedding craziness!!!

POB and I looked at each other.  This WAS in fact the least we could to find dresses.  And we always do the very least we can do.

I handed my credit card to our young, yet sly WDE.  I emailed SOB (sister of blogger/bride) and my college friends (the Soeurs) — so, no turning back.  POB and I don’t have our mothers (on this earth) but we have our 10 sisters:  SOB, SOPOB (sister of POB) and the Soeurs. Now that I think of it, we would have just made the Kleinfeld’s limit, without a seat to spare.  Pheeeewwwww.

It absolutely gets better

As a girl (in the 1960s and 1970s), I was fearless, self-confident and wholly comfortable with my body.  That is, until I became a teenager.  Then, as quickly as a flip of a switch (or so it seemed), everything changed.

Aside from the raging hormones that could have alone turned me into an alien, I had unfamiliar feelings and longings.  And I didn’t fit neatly into the role of a 14 year-old girl who had to wear skirts (dress code) to school.  But, generally, I liked the way I looked.  And I liked the way other girls looked, too.

Except, I was supposed to be looking at boys.  Once I realized my “mistake”, I knew “fitting in” was something I would have to study, like any other subject in school.  And I figured it would be hard, like Biochemistry (yes, I was precocious at 14), but I was smart and a good student.  So, I thought, “I could do this”.

It was harder than Biochemistry and you couldn’t learn it from a book.  My high school girl friends were “into boys” in such a natural, innate way. I withdrew into myself because I knew that this difference was too basic and I couldn’t fake it.  I wouldn’t make close friendships because I had this secret and this unease about where friendships ended and romance could begin.  I needed to keep people at bay.  Invisibility was my goal when it came to talking about boys, what you did with boys, make-up, etc.  Just blend in.

All through high school on Saturday nights, I used to take long walks around the East Side so my parents didn’t know that I was friendless or weary of feeling like the outsider.  Only years later, did I learn that someone else was doing the same thing because she had the same issues, except her route was different enough so that we never bumped into one another.  We would have recognized each other because we knew each other from camp and Hebrew School.

Inside, I was confused and sad and I knew, just knew, that my troubles were my fault.  How could I fix something that I couldn’t even talk about?  I medicated with food and alcohol.  Brilliant.  I added significant weight gain to my problems.  And nothing makes teenage life worse than being fat.  Now I was a liability to be around if you wanted to talk up cute boys.  I was less than background; I was avoided.

I remained heavy through my college years.  I was still struggling with wanting to be straight and not wanting to deal with this horrid, scary secret. On campus, a right-wing newspaper printed the names of the members of the GSSG (Gay Students Support Group).  I was secretly grateful that I was too scared to join.  I remained anonymous but I saw the effects of being “outed” on some of my friends. What happened to them confirmed my every nightmare.  “Out” meant parental disapproval (and worse), no chance of having children and discrimination. I wanted my parents to be proud and I wanted a family.  But I also wanted love.  What did I do to deserve this fate?  I had to have done something so unspeakably wrong to be exiled to a long and lonely road.

But sometimes the desire to feel whole can make a person go to crazy extents.  During college, I kept trying to put myself in situations where I might meet lesbians but only at a distance.  Two girls giggling in a bathroom piqued my interest, but I stayed in the background.  Invisible.  My comings and goings seemed mysterious enough so that my friends assumed that I was a Soviet spy meeting my handler.  No joke.  They still tease me to this day.

When I was graduated in 1985, I resolved to live a double life – try to marry a man and have an emotional (or romantic?) relationship with a woman. I had a hard time keeping up with the lies about why I was a no-show with my college friends or why I spent so much time with a particular woman when my mom would ask. I was a handful of shards of glass, each reflecting a portion of me, but not adding up to the whole.

I joined a gym to relieve some of the stress of my life and because I simply got sick and tired of literally wearing the weight of my troubles. I joined a gym to stop the “you would be so much more attractive if you lost some weight”.  I really channeled my anger and fears into exercise.  I was angry at G-d for making me gay and I was fearful of what would happen if I acted on those feelings.  Maybe you can imagine how sweating buckets can calm you down and make you so tired that you needed to adjourn those quandaries until the next day.  And, the next day, and so on.  I used work-outs at the gym to avoid my issues.  The upside was that I was really getting into good shape.

When I got thin, the family’s mantra “you are so thin and pretty now, I am sure the boys are knocking down your door!” returned.  In truth, I tried boys.  There was one lovely man I came close to marrying.  But he sensed the issues that lay right under the surface and called me on them.  “Do you need to sow some wild oats or should we just not have female housekeepers?”  And then, “should I wait?”  “No,” was my anguished answer.  (“If only you were female,” I thought.)  G-d bless him and his family forever.  (He has a lovely wife and two adult children now.)

In New York City in the 1980s, there were still no positive images of lesbians, let alone images of feminine lesbians. What was I thinking throwing away a solid relationship with a wonderful man? But, he and I both deserved to find our heart’s desires and soul mates.  At least he did; I couldn’t see how I was going to meet someone.  I didn’t want to be with a butch woman; I was a woman who wanted to be with a feminine woman.  They were invisible (unless they were on the arms of butch women). I was looking for a hypothetical feminine, pretty, Jewish (not essential), well-educated, funny and slightly neurotic lesbian.  Whoa, tall order.  I figured I would be alone for the rest of my life.  If it sounds sad, you can be sure that this is an understatement of how I felt.

Somewhere, on the other side of town, was a woman in a relationship who was wondering if she would ever meet her soul mate, her heart’s desire. We would have recognized each other if we met because we knew each other from camp and Hebrew School.

If I was going to leave a relationship with a wonderful man because of this “girl thing”, then it was high time I started gluing the shards of my life together.  Even though my father’s “I would welcome him as a son-in-law” echoed in my head and threatened to push out my brains through my ears, I tried to be open and honest with my family, my friends and, yes, me. And that required coming out.

My told my friend NYCFOB (dear NYC friend of blogger) in a cab, “you know my boyfriend John?  Her name is [girl’s name].”  I could see her brain working; a lot now made sense to her.  “It changes nothing between us,” she said simply.  She gave me a gift of a lifetime – in those few words, she said to me: “I am your friend even if you lied to me because I get that you thought it was necessary.  And I don’t care about the gay thing.”  Then, “who else knows?” She needed to know whom she could call and with whom she could shriek about some serious scoop. I still think she doesn’t know that we know that she has the biggest heart and a wellspring of love and acceptance tucked beneath a New Yorker’s veneer.

As for my parents, let’s just say that their rejection was hurtful and ugly, although it had a happy ending. Imagine a nice Jewish girl whose grandparents were the pre-World War II remnant of Russian Jewry, and parents who were poor children of immigrants of the Depression Era.  That means I was raised to need my parents’ approval on a daily basis.  Imagine that nice Jewish girl being cast out.  The gym was my haven.  I could sweat and lift weights and expel some of the anger and hurt I felt.  As I processed all the changes and charted a rough course for my life, I started not to want to be invisible or ignored anymore.  I had arrived – 115 pounds, toned body, good looks.  I was ready to fit in and conquer all social settings – gay or straight.

So, I joined a hip and groovy gym. It is a rule of life that if your gym is hip and groovy, you will work out in a sea of tall and beautiful women in that blond, willowy way with perfect gym outfits.  I wasn’t ready to be “out” because I still preferred ambiguity. Secretly, I wanted cute boys to talk to me as some sort of vindication of my sexual appeal – that men might want me even if I wanted women.

The muscled, handsome straight (and hell, even gay) guys talked to them and not to me.  Even the trainers didn’t pay attention to me.  I was still invisible. I know it doesn’t make sense, but nothing relating to body image, sexuality, and desire has anything to do with logic.  It was probably because I was too scared that if I came out, there was no going back.

Life got a lot better over the years.  I realized that you have to be a little out in order for people to find you.  Family hurts healed (with my mother’s wanting to ride on our synagogue’s Gay Pride float and my father’s making a huge stone sculpture of two women with a child). I had good romantic relationships (and some horror shows, let’s be honest).  I was happy.  I had friends.  I was an up-and-coming lawyer.  I found my groove.

Still, the gym was complicated. Working out made me feel strong, in control and let me expiate work anxiety and stress.  I started to understand that maybe I didn’t fit in because, for me, the gym was not my primary social outlet.  I went there to get sweaty and release endorphins.  Ahhhhh.  Still, I wanted to be noticed.  I know, I know.  It doesn’t make sense but it is what it is.

At Rosh HaShanah evening services in 1996, I was living the quintessential lesbian drama – my present girlfriend sat to my left and my ex-girlfriend sat to my right.  I was looking up at the ceiling, finally introducing myself to G-d. (This alone should have wiped away my sins for the year.)

In the midst of this bad movie, I heard a singing voice I recognized.  I turned around and I saw her. She was my best friend at sleep-away camp when we were 10 year-olds.  We went to Hebrew School together through senior year at high school.  I thought, “she is too cute to be gay”.  It’s that internalized homophobia ingrained in many of us who came of age in the 20th century and, no matter how we try, it still sometimes slips out.   (And I had very attractive exes.)

I looked for her after services, but she had left in a flash.  Ten days later, at Yom Kippur service, I was carrying the Torah around the synagogue during a ritual where the Torahs are marched around the sanctuary. I saw her again. POB (soon-to-be partner of blogger).  I knew somehow that we were living in parallel bubbles that “kissed” ever so slightly over the years.  We were both in relationships and just looking for friendship.

Our friendship was deep and supportive.  We leaned on each other when things got hard in our relationships.  We pushed each other to re-invest our emotions in those long-term relationships.  Nevertheless, our relationships ended between 1998 and 1999.  In spring of 2000, we realized that we were each other’s intended ones.  We fell into a happy rhythm of life together and started to think about having a baby.

Still, the gym was an important part of my life.  Sometimes we would go to the gym together after work, around 8pm.  We didn’t work out together; we needed our separate areas at the gym. I was working out the toxicity of life as a young partner in a law firm; she was just getting a fitness work out.

Then my mother had a recurrence of breast cancer.  I needed a punching bag and boxing gloves.   Our gym had those.  I watched others and then just copied them.  Tears would stream.  The rings on my fingers under the boxing gloves cut into my flesh.  I was bleeding and I was punching G-d as hard as I could.  In summer 2002, POB and I had a little boy.  In January 2003, my mother died.  I needed to punch out my unspeakable pain and sadness, but with newborn and two working moms, there was no time for the gym.

2002 through 2008 were rough years.  Setting aside various economic and professional upheavals (which don’t matter much in the end, anyway), POB’s mother’s chronic illness worsened to a point that hospital stays on respirators were not uncommon.  Ultimately, she died.  Our son presented with some developmental issues, which are resolving (something for which we are grateful everyday).  There was much joy and happiness, of course, in those years, but joy and happiness don’t make for interesting writing.  And besides, as a neurotic, urban-dwelling Jew, it is my cultural duty to emphasize the gut-wrenching, the embarrassing, the bizarre and the ooky.

When our son was six years old, POB and I were able to clear some personal time in the family schedule.  I chose to return to the gym.

What a difference six years makes. My first day, I was in the locker room and to my horror I discovered that I packed form-fitting running tights that go down just below my knees and a geeky t-shirt that stopped at my waist.  Two things to note: I couldn’t remember when last I shaved my legs, and if this outfit looked good on me, I wouldn’t need to go to the gym.

Now, our son is 9 years old.  He is 70 pounds and still jumps in my arms when I come home, so I need strong leg, stomach and arm muscles so as not to end up in traction. Now, I do sit ups and pull-ups.

I hate pull-ups but I do three sets of three (sometimes four).  And all the gym boys think it’s really cute that a gray-haired, middle-aged lady can do unassisted pull-ups.  No, joke — I get compliments, fist pumps and high-fives from male trainers and regular gym rats.  And they give me technique pointers.  And I know that some of the women are watching me. They are not checking me out; they are wondering how they could try a pull-up when no one is looking.  At long last, the “buff and beautiful” (even the trainers) notice me and talk to me.  It took some gray hair and a few pull-ups to be the belle of the gym.  Of course, now I don’t need that kind of attention.  At 47, I have lost some elasticity and agility, but age has given me determination and self-confidence, and, yes, helped me negotiate a comfortable detente with my body.

And now I am visible at the gym? The gym gods must be crazy indeed.

So, this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for my life, my family and my wholeness.   It does get better.

~ note from Blogger:  Special thanks to the Soeurs for editing and remembering and loving me, in all my guises.

Typical Sunday

Another typical day on the road to Utopia . . . .

SOS (our son, source of sanity) has grown into a teenager (notwithstanding that he is only 9 years old) and his idea of Sunday cuddling is watching TV on the same bed as me, seemingly miles apart.  As a Jewish mother in the true sense of the tradition, I am not happy unless I am holding a finger, a toe or a hair of my child.  In truth, I am only happy when I have an iron grip about his mid-section to keep him close and away from the dangers in . . .  um . . . er. . . our safe home.  WhatEVER.  There are wilds out there SOMEwhere.

He would really rather play that be smothered by his mother (hey, I put the “mother” in smother, I thank you to remember).  Ok, that is healthy.  To a point.  Ok, it is healthy, but hard on a mother.

Still, I crave time with him.  So, in preparation for family dinner where wine must be served, I say, “Dude, come with me to the wine store?” Because it is Sunday, the only open (and good) wine store is a half-mile away.  “Can I take my scooter?” “Sure”.  I put on my running shoes.  He is going to scooter and even though he knows to stop at crosswalks, I must sprint after him.  Yes, I am a prisoner of my tradition.  Actually, I accept and revel in my tradition of over-protection.  So, sue me.  Or, rather, just know that I have provided for a therapy fund for SOS in our wills.

So, I am sprinting after my son as we go to the wine shop. THANK G-D for the crosswalks and red lights.

Thereafter, a lazy Sunday afternoon commences (not really: I am reading work-related documents and POB (partner of blogger) is cooking her guts out).

For dinner, the usual suspects come over plus POB’s father (FOPOB) who was enticed by the apple pie POB made (from the apples of the apple-picking extravaganza).  You mean, FOPOB, you wouldn’t come otherwise?  And you wonder why I wouldn’t let you have more than two helpings of the pie.  No, no, no, no.  Nothing is going home with you, bud, until you come here just for the sake of being with family.

DOB (Dad of blogger), SOB (sister of blogger), and HOSOB (husband of SOB) round out the dinner group.  We talk about Occupy Wall Street, the GOP, Obama, Libya, Syria and whether Rick Perry “swings both ways”.  As to the latter, if he weren’t so virulently right-wing (at least now) we would not even raise the issue of how he likes to have his fun.  But, you do it, you live with it.

So, 3.5 wine drinkers, two bottles.  Before dinner.

Thank G-d for food.  And the apple pie.  Food hath charms to soothe the socialist drunk.  (No, HOSOB, I am not ONLY talking about you.  I include DOB and me in that group.)  Mostly because SOB kept lubricating the conversation with the Merlot.)

OH, Cousin Gentle!! OH, Cousin Birder?? We needed you.

And, there is a mess in the kitchen that I must clean.  I love and hate POB’s cooking.

And the Best Daughter Award Goes to . . .

SOB (sister of blogger)!!!!!!!!!

Yes, SOB wins for endurance beyond the mortal realm.

[POB (partner of blogger), SOS (our son, source of sanity) and I were in various states of contagion and nursing various infections and maladies, so we really couldn’t risk getting DOB (dad of blogger and SOB) sick.]

Yesterday, SOB sat with DOB in synagogue for the last 3 hours of Yom Kippur, enduring his endless commentary while trying to shoosh him because he no longer whispers and has old-person-yell-in-quiet-places syndrome.

SOB even sat with DOB through Yizkor (the service remembering dead loved ones) as DOB flipped through the prayer book and pronounced the service (using his old-person-yell-in-quiet-places voice) “a bunch of crap”.  (In truth, he mourns my mother every day and says Kaddish for his parents and brothers, so he doesn’t really need a special service to remember.)

I get DOB’s point.  I can’t sit through Yizkor because it doesn’t reach my abiding pain.  I am a little like DOB that way. Except I don’t go to the service and whisper at the top of my lungs.

After three hours of DOB containment, SOB, together with HOSOB (husband of SOB), took DOB out for Japanese food.  He complained about the food and the service.  In his later years, he has become even more impatient about service, and his previously polite manner has become rude when trying to get the attention of the waitstaff.  SOB is the picture of calm in these moments, as I have witnessed in the past.  I am not.

I know, I know, he is 91.  But this is not his last glass of wine or piece of sushi.  I have faith that he will be at SOS’s Bar Mitzvah in 4 years.  And at the very least he will hang around for POB’s and my wedding in 2012.

How do I know all that happened yesterday?  Because SOB and I spill our guts to each other and give each excruciating play-by-plays so that we have a collective memory.

But the real reason that SOB gets the Best Daughter Award?  Even though she was pushed to the limit of sanity, she did not yell, “Ok, Dad, if you don’t like dinner or the service AT THE RESTAURANT YOU PICKED, either be quiet or stick a crow bar in your wallet and pay for it!”

And SOB had lunch with him today, too.

Yes, she is a saint.


Serenity and Renewal

My professional coach (not CAFOB) had sent me a New Year’s greeting card which I finally got around to opening at a computer (as opposed to a blackberry).  It was warm and wonderful and direct.  Wishing me the usual for the new year, but also renewal and serenity.

Eureka!!!  (My coach is awesome, but not as awesome as CAFOB who is my friend for 30 years.  If you need a coach, I can give you two people who are amazing.)

Renewal.  Not a theme of the Jewish new year (which has more of a return to G-d and atone theme).  More a Passover theme (spring time, rebirth and renewal of the covenant with G-d).  Nevertheless, I have been feeling the weight of creating business generating opportunities in a terrible economy.

I was so exhausted in August that when it came time for our family week in Montauk, I told the COB (colleague of blogger) that I would not be checking my blackberry and that all calls had to go through POB (partner of blogger).  Originally, POB told me there was no wifi where we were staying and only POB’s phone would work.  As it turned out, there was wifi and my blackberry worked.  If POB lied to me, well, then I love her more for realizing that I needed a blackberry-free zone.  Only twice did work intrude on the week.

When the world is in chaos, it is still navigable but it takes so much more energy that I often feel — well — spent.

My family re-charges me.  POB and SOS (our son, source of sanity) are my mainstays, but SOB (sister of blogger) and HOSOB (husband of SOB) and Cousin Gentle help hold me up.  They are daily miracles in my life.  Even DOB (father of blogger) with all his eccentricities grounds me.  And CB (Cousin Birder) links me to my mother’s family and he is such a wonderful guy. (I wish that CB only realized how awesome he is.  I lectured him about this on Rosh Ha-Shanah — of course I did.)

And there are my goddaughters.  They don’t have to love me because of family connection.  We created that connection together.  These relationships are among the most important in my life.

By their presence in my life, all of these people feed my soul, lessen my burden and give meaning to life.  They are my agents of emotional and psychological renewal.  I hope that I provide for them even a fraction of what they provide for me.

Serenity. Acceptance.  Roll-with-it.  What will be, will be.  Take it as it comes.  Don’t worry forward.  Be in the moment.

Discussion:  compare and contrast blogger’s personality with the above themes.  (Hint: no common ground, as in blogger is the antonym of each of these themes.  Don’t believe me?  Read Wikipedia (right after I send in my comments).)

Ok, clap your hands if you’ve heard this before:  someone has business in this economy, someone is figuring it out, someone is benefiting from all the problems!

Ok, if you have heard this, clap if you heard:  “An A minus?  What’s wrong with an A?  Did someone get an A?”

Whoa, I hear a round of applause throughout the blogo-sphere.

This serenity thing is a hard one.  But I did laugh these last two days when I looked at the wild ride of the stock market and how our retirement is now effectively pushed out to age 113.  I will be the dead, yet-propped up greeter at Walmart’s.  The company will love me because it won’t have to pay overtime (how will I know? I’ll be dead), and I won’t mind being in the freezer section.

At least I laughed.  Ok, gallows humor, but, hey, it IS a start.  I am trying to focus on the things that renew me because they also provide the building blocks of serenity — love, constancy and laughter.

*     *    *    *    *   *    *   *   *   *   *    *   *  *   *

But renewal and serenity are sooooooo much easier in a bull market and a roaring economy.  Just sayin’.

My coach knows me well.  This is the start of a journey for me — to allow time for renewal and to allow a sense of serenity in a chaotic world.

Really, email me if you want a lifeline (or two).

Rock Climbing

About ten days ago, NYCFOB (New York college friend of blogger) asked if any of her friends wanted to go with her to get a rock climbing belaying certification.  I thought, I haven’t seen my dear NYCFOB in a while (which is ridiculous because we live within 10 blocks of each other) and this would be a great activity.  And I remember belaying SOS (my son, source of sanity) when he used to rock climb in the Field House at Chelsea Piers. But NYCFOB and I were getting our certification at the BIG wall in the Chelsea Piers Fitness Club.  Yikes.

Essentially, the belayer is the person that keeps the climber aloft even if the climber loses his footing.  The belayer has to keep the ropes taut and be prepared to keep the climber from free-falling off the rock. A rock climber needs to trust the belayer.  The belayer needs to have a fast reaction time.  The rock climber is to the belayer as action is to reaction.  The belayer can be the rock climber’s life line — trust, fear, intense concentration, brute strength, and “who-your-daddy?” all combined.

NYCFOB and I have been friends for 30 years.  We have a bond that is tried and true and secure, no matter that we don’t see each other on a daily, or monthly basis.  If she needed something I would be there and vice versa.  So, going into this I was relaxed.  But, I think NYCFOB decided to do this on a whim and didn’t know what it entailed.  I had a sense, but it had been a while since I had to do this.

Our instructor, Matt, who was 12 years-old with some tattoos and various ornamental body piercings, taught us to tie the Knots of Death, and handle the ropes, etc.   I call them the Knots of Death because if you, as climber, don’t tie them right and the belayer doesn’t recognize that the knots are not correct, there is nothing but a free fall awaiting you.

15 minutes — count them, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 — later:

Climber up!!

WHAAAAAT??  One of us is climbing and the other is belaying??

Isn’t that what we paid the instructor to do?  We would belay him and he would belay us?  We have to belay each other after a brief instruction?

NYCFOB was the first on the rocks.  The secret about belaying is that not only do you protect the climber but you can also help the climber by pulling on the rope to get him an extra boost to the next “handle” on the wall.   But you have to be careful about giving the climber rope burns in the sensitive areas where harness grabs the flesh (yeah, you can let out an “OUCH!!” right about now).  No one believes that you are helping if you give someone a wedgie (or worse).  That is just the unsung role of the belayer.

Anyway, NYCFOB was right to fear that I didn’t have the skill level.  And, understandably NYCFOB was stressed while she was waiting at the top while Matt was just then teaching me about how to let her down slowly.  She did say, “get me down, now!” or something to that effect. She didn’t know that all was going to be ok because I had already threatened Matt, “if you let me let my friend of 30 years fall off those rocks, first I am going to kill you, then, I am going to call two ambulances.  Are we clear?”  He seemed surprised and then I was surprised that no one had threatened him in this way before.  How can that be?  Maybe there aren’t too many Jewish mothers rock climbing.  But, really, isn’t this just more evidence that the flush sound you hear is our civilization rounding the drain?

Then it was NYCFOB’s turn to belay me.  Note the ever so attractive butt shot.  That bag on my butt is the chalk bag to help grip the wall and not some bizarro thong thing strafing my tooshie.

When NYCFOB was learning how to bring me down gently, I remembered that I was afraid of heights.  I started to break out into a cold sweat and get all weak.  In a moment of self-preservation, I started to stare at the wall and hoped that I would start being lowered.  Matt yelled, “let go of the wall!!”

Really?  Let gooooo of the wall???

In that split second, I realized that I was current on my life insurance and that we were close enough to the High Holy Days that this was a test of my mortal future.  I left go of the wall.  (Nah, not really.  I scraped my fingers against the wall, but the bonus was that I also got a complimentary nail filing.) Then, Matt decided that we take turns belaying him and he would “fall” a few times to give us practice in stressful situations.

Wait.  You are giving us practice AFTER we took turns holding the lives of our friends in our hands?

Are you a moron, Matt?

Ok, so we take turns doing that.  The class was over and, although I think we both thought about having a bite together and catching up, we were too physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.  I just dropped NYCFOB on the cab home. Today, I saw NYCFOB for a mini-reunion with other college friends.  I asked about the next belaying class in a way that suggested I was up for it and yet really scared by the prospect.  “I’ll look at the schedule and get back to you,” was NYCFOB’s answer. Phewww.

NYCFOB.  A true friend.