Not Trying to Fix It

Most days, I  wake up , collect my iPhone from its perch on the nightstand and begin my morning ritual of  checking  the weather, any texts that may have come in while I slept (thanks to “do not disturb” I am no longer awakened by the trill of the alert), my email and, okay, I admit it, Facebook.  Normally I find relatively banal postings.  Beautiful sunsets, last night’s dinner, ISO book suggestions and links to recipes, many of which I download, some of which I have actually made.

One morning, in the middle of March, I was scrolling through my news feed and stopped in my tracks.  I gasped.  I re-read it three or four times, hoping, wishing that I misunderstood.  The air in the room stopped circulating.  The crush that a mother feels for another mother’s heartbreak nearly choked me.

There are so many of you that I share stupid banter with on a daily basis. You make me laugh, keep me in on your lives and give me a lot of joy. it is for this reason that I share this tragedy: my son, Xxxx, died on Friday night. He was at a concert in Xxxxx, he took the drug molly and died. He was the funniest, most brilliant and, pretty darn complicated person I have known. We are devastated, but I wanted you to know.

The person who wrote those words, simple, straightforward and with no room for interpretation, is a woman I refer to as “my dear friend that I have never met” because, she is dear to me and, well, we’ve never met.  When Jess began her transition, and I, in turn, began this blog, it made the rounds in my immediate area.  She and I, it turned out, have many friends in common…one of whom forwarded our story to her.  I understood why: she is a mom, a therapist and one of those overflowing-with-compassion kind of people.  She, like many other strangers, reached out to me.  But she was different.  With her sharp and quick wit and her mother bear warmth,  I knew we would be friends.

Our oldest children were the same age, both high school juniors.  As the school year picked up steam and the college application process was in full swing, we chatted, commiserated, compared notes and kept each other (relatively) sane and (somewhat) under control.  Yet we never met in person. (Germane to this lack of meeting: we live in different states.)

As I tried to absorb the brutal fact that her son, the one who was not only the same age as Harrison, but in the same fraternity (albeit at a different school)  had done one stupid thing at one stupid moment and was now gone forever, I couldn’t think of one thing I could possibly say to her that would make any difference or quell any pain or make it all go away.  Not one.  So, in response, I simply commented with a single, solitary❤ knowing that she would feel my heart aching with her.

That was six months ago.

This morning, I was doing my morning Facebook check and a message popped up:

Her: Hi

Me: Hello my friend

Her: Shit morning to you

Me: That good, huh?

Her: Yup

Me:  Anything in particular or just everything…

Her:  Exactly.

A little bit more back and forth, and then this:

llmsg

Here’s what it says:

Me: I am so sorry.  I cannot even imagine and I know there is nothing I can say or do…which bites the big hairy ball.

Her: Which is why I pinged you, you’re not trying to fix it.

 

Every time we chat, I make sure to say something outrageous, irreverent or sassy knowing that she is going to guffaw which will, at least for a moment, allow her to be free.   If someone were to hack my computer and review our chats over the past several years they would either be horrified, outraged or deeply envious of the blast that these two 50-somethings have.   And, since we’ve never actually met, I know of her energy, facial expressions and raucous laughter only from photos on Facebook (and we all know how things on Facebook are always honest, true and real…)  Iam thrilled every time I see a shot of her looking joyful, if even for a moment.

No, dear friend, I am not trying to fix it.  I cannot.  No one can.  And that really fucking sucks.

We chatted a little bit more until she got a call from her sister.  My sign off:

Smooches, bitch!

Be kind. Be compassionate.

Jewish Geography & Smallpox

Recently, my dear friend Francine* was at a social gathering for her kids.  It was held in a facility several communities away from where either she or I have ever lived. She thought it was going to be a drop off, affording her the opportunity to explore a new Marshall’s, but upon arrival she noticed that all the other parents were hanging around.  Dammit.  Because she knew no one in the room and was not interested in staring at the wall or sitting by herself all evening while her kiddos ran around with their friends, she engaged in what we in the tribe refer to as Jewish geography.  Here’s how it works: With the knowledge that several (okay, most) of the other attendants are Jewish, you start a conversation with questions like, “What do you do? Oh, you’re a lawyer? Which firm? You must know my so and so“ or, “Where did you go to camp? College? Grad school?” and so on. It is only a matter of (usually very little) time before it is discovered not if, but who you know in common; think of it as the Jewish version of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” only substitute Kevin with Jews and six degrees with two.  It is a tried and true phenomenon and successfully breaks the ice every time.

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Anyway, it was not long (like I said) before Francine came upon a shared connection with a few of the other women. (Without divulging more than necessary, suffice to say, and it is germane to the conversation, that there is an overlap between said person-in-common and me. I, however, haven’t a clue who any of these new-to-Francine peeps are.) Once the shared person was identified, friendly banter surrounding them and how they know one another, blah blah blah, ensued. And then, strangely enough, the new-to-Francine people made a link back to, um, me and, more precisely, Jess.

The particulars are not important, but the gist of it was that these new-to-Francine people somehow, although I cannot imagine how, knew “about” (that was their word) Jess.  With a tone of concern, a lowering of their voices and hangdog faces, they asked: “How are they doing?” (File under: It’s not what you say, but how you say it…)

Briefly considering if they knew something that she did not (but knowing otherwise), Francine responded with a not all together un-provocative, “They are “doing” just fine…why do you ask?” Oh, Francine (bless her perceptive and protective little heart) knew exactly what they were referring to: Jess and the (news so old it’s not even news) fact that she is transgender.  So, in a dear-friend-kind-of way, Francine proceeded to regale them with tales of Jess’s awesomeness.

When I shared the story with Jess, her matter-of-fact, wry smiled reaction did not, to her, warrant even looking up from the pile of Swedish Fish (Braces? What braces?) that she was enjoying.  It was so perfect and reminded me (as if I needed to be reminded) why she is so damn awesome:

“It’s not smallpox, people…”

It reminded me of a blog post from about a year and half ago in which I shared my reaction to someone who expressed their concern over their children having been “exposed” to Jess. Interestingly, and not all together surprisingly, the unnamed person whom I reference in that blog happens to be the common denominator in this story.  Imagine that.  Seriously. Time to get over yourself.

I have said it many times: I get it.  Unless you have had reason to be schooled on what it means to be or love someone who is transgender it is entirely reasonable for discomfort, confusion and judgment to be among your initial reactions.  And then you need to figure it out. It doesn’t even have to be a transgender issue, actually…the unknown, unusual and unfamiliar stuff in your life is also the scariest.  Doh. I’d never take that away from anyone.  I would, however, hope that years and years after the fact, you might consider getting over it as it actually affects you, um, not at all.

My personal experience has been that if you are under the age of 25 you quite literally give no shits about someone being transgender. Admittedly, that is a broad generalization, but, to my mind, an accurate one.  And, in fairness to the new-to-Francine people, they are far enough north of that demographic that they might give a shit, but not so far that they should remain uninformed.  I can say with nearly 100% certainty that, perhaps unbeknownst to them, it is safe to say that they, or, at the very least, their children, know someone who is transgender or questioning.  For example, did you know that there are a lot of kids out there whose preferred pronoun isn’t he or she, but they. Yep, that’s a (cool) thing. Get with the program, grandma and grandpa!

So, next time you struggle with being uncomfortable or anxious or fearful of someone else’s process or choices or appearance, just remind yourself of something:

“It’s not smallpox, people…”

 

p.s. We are doing just fine, thank you.  Jess, in fact, is kicking ass, embracing and being embraced into her new community, making friends who, in keeping with their generation’s thinking, couldn’t care less about her back story and has a way better perspective on life than most of us.  And, not for nothing, is still funny as hell.

*Not her real name.  Not even close to it.

Love Thy Ladies

I actually and legitimately don’t get it.  It confuses, annoys, angers and troubles me.  I’ve aggressively tried to get to the bottom of it with the hopes of hitting upon an “aha” moment, but repeatedly come up empty-handed.  With so much at stake, so many unending benefits and so many opportunities on the daily, why on earth would it not be embraced?  Why, for the love of G-d, is women being unkind to other women even a thing?

Aside from never being without a perfect manicure, I am not a girlie girl.  I swear like a sailor, burp like a teenage boy and have been known to make an off-color remark or two.  I am also, however, fiercely loyal, rabidly protective, ardently supportive and often an outspoken advocate for anyone in the sisterhood, even if I don’t know them.  I often randomly compliment women on the street (that sounds creepier than it is).  I see a gal wearing cool glasses and tell her that she is rockin’ them.  It always makes her smile.  The lady with the toddler losing their shit at her feet: “you got this, mama!” It always gets a sigh, a smile and a thank you.  It’s not hard.  I’m not special. It’s just the way it should be, am I right?!

My expectation is not that anyone go out on a limb for me.  Nor do I believe I am entitled to anything from anyone, vagina or not.  I guess all I really ask is that if you, as a woman, cannot find it in your cache of available human interactions to be supportive of one of your own, you should perhaps consider exploring why.

I happen to love guys and have been blessed with wonderful ones in my life.  My father was a prince among men.  I have two outstanding brothers, a tender-hearted son and a kind and benevolent husband, all of whom I cherish.  They have loved and supported me.  They’ve picked me up, held me when I cry and enlightened me on the way men think and why they do some of the shit they do.  These wonderful fellas are not, however, girls.

As kind, gentle and renaissance as the men in my life are, they are not, nor will they ever be: mothers, sisters, aunts, wives or daughters.  They will never give birth, feed a child from their breast, experience monthly periods (which, if we are being honest, is among the most obnoxious “privilege” of being female), endure a gynecological exam, be subjected to wage discrimination, awaken in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat as a reminder that they are getting way older and that their bodies are no longer set up to do what they used to.  No, those with penises will never know what it is like to have a mastectomy or hysterectomy or to be told they can never have a baby.  (To be clear, men have plenty of things to deal with that we don’t: erectile dysfunction comes to mind.)  My point?  Members of the sisterhood need to stick together.  We are a powerful bunch, but without one another, we are fighting the good fight all alone.  That ain’t right.

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Just this afternoon, I had lunch with five wonderful women – that’s them in the picture above.  It was a perfect afternoon.  We covered: sex, parenting, former and current husbands, sex again, UTIs (see the sex conversations), a few women who have disappointed/appalled us in their unsisterhood-y behavior, breast cancer, the frequency with which we urinate and sleep…who needs sleep?  I can assure you, had there been six men, sitting at the very same table on the very same afternoon, the conversation would be decidedly different (expect maybe the sex part…)

Ladies: be kind to one another.  Support one another. Accept another woman’s offer of help, in whatever form it may be.  Trust me…it’s the way to go.

 

 

 

My Lifeguards of 9/11

Truth be told, when I first saw them walking in, all nine of them, my initial reaction was that we should hurry up and order so that we did not become victim to an overwhelmed, backed-up kitchen.  The tan, fit and, not for nothing, good-looking kids had, taking note of the enormous black cloud that hung above (reasonably) concluded that the beach would be empty, so instead of assuming the position on the lifeguard chair, they opted instead to go out for breakfast.  It is important to note that within seconds of their arrival, the sky opened up and drenched everything to within an inch of its life.  The wind was so ferocious that I half expected Dorothy and Toto to fly by the window of the diner.  My point: they were not being derelict in their life guarding duties by seeking refuge from the elements.  The fact that there happened to be hot coffee, corned beef hash and pancakes at their chosen shelter was just a bonus.

As they settled into their seats, each one of them, with no discussion, casually placed their phones in the middle of the table.  I knew what they were doing – ensuring that their breakfast would not be commandeered by the rings, dings and dongs of nine cell phones.  (Actually, when I counted them, I noted that there were only eight and tried to out the guard who was holding onto their phone with a death grip only to be told that his was in the car.  Oops, my bad.) The deal is this: the first person to Pavlovian-ly reach for their phone during the meal is met with not only the disgrace of lacking self control, but the (perhaps more painful) requirement to pay for the entire meal.  I knew of this practice, as Harrison and his buds do it as well, but what struck me was the utter lack of fuss or complaint or whining.  It was as natural to them as it used to be for men to pull out a woman’s chair for her to sit. (What ever happened to that?  I actually never liked it, but it seems to no longer be a thing…)

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Once their phones were in the center of the table, they began to confer about how they were going to pay; would they put it on one person’s card and then reimburse their share or everyone throw cash in? I tried hard, and successfully, to keep my mouth shut and not suggest they use Venmo (which, up until about a week ago I had never heard of) but now, at Harrison’s suggestion, use on the regular.  I suspected they knew about it, but, in a rare moment of self-control, I stayed out of it and did not impose my opinion.  I am not even sure what the final decision was, but will note that they figured out fairly quickly.

It was right around that moment when Barry and I looked at one another and knew that we were going to pick up their tab.  It was September 11, on the fifteenth anniversary of a day that they were all too young to really remember.  Most of them were in kindergarten, first- or second-grade and, while they have no doubt heard about it, they would never know the abject horror of that day.   However, the fact that they are lifeguards on one of the busiest beaches in Maine speaks volumes about their character and willingness to run in while others are running out – a hallmark of the heroes of 9/11.

lifeguards

We finished up our meal, took care of both of the bills and got up to leave.  Stopping at their table, we told that their bill was taken care of and why:

  1. It was September 11 and anyone who was old enough to (try to) understand what was happening on that day in 2001 will, on each anniversary, find themselves reliving the powerlessness, fear and sadness as though it was just yesterday. These kids who put their lives at risk for others which, by my definition, anyway, puts them in the spectacular person category.
  2. They could be our kids and, their parents should be proud of these young adults that they have raised…the whole lot of them was charming and respectful.
  3. Not one of them, at any moment, went for their phones.

As we left, I told Man Bun Lifeguard who happened to be really cute (I say that in the least creepy way possible.  Really.) that I write a blog and planned to share this story.  He asked what the blog is about and, when I told him about Jess he said, without even a morsel of judgement or discomfort*, “Oh, cool” and asked me for the link.  I handed him my phone so he could put in his number and I sent him a text with the URL.  Then we both smiled as we heard one of the phones, still in the middle of the table, give out a little chirp.  And no one reached for it.

P.S. Less than an hour after we left I received a text back from Man Bun Lifeguard…

manbuntext

(cut off from photo…“life’s surprises”...)

 

*I love this generation – they are way cooler than most of us.

 

 

And Then There Were Four, er, Two

Tonight and through to Sunday, for only the second time since we have been married, my husband and I are going to be alone.  Totally, completely and utterly alone.  No children to drive, pick up, drop off or feed.  No little cherubs who need refereeing or coaching or redirection.  Not a single person under the legal drinking age requiring our attention, our money, our patience, our food or our ability to drive a car. No pleas for permission, forgiveness or second third, fourth and fifth chances. Not a one.

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Just over a month ago, Barry and I each doubled the number of children we had personally either sired or birthed, bringing our parentage status to four, aged 9 to 21.  We have elementary school, middle school, high school and college, aka:  early hormonal, moderately hormonal, over-the -damn-top hormonal and evening-out hormonal.

I am exhausted just thinking about it.

We were going to go away for the entire weekend – as in, leave this afternoon and not come home until Sunday night.  Only.I.Just.Can’t.  I am too damned tired to even be a passenger in a car tonight.  I am too busy re-programming my brain to think about us: the couple as opposed to us: the big ol’ blended family.

While many of my friends are actual empty nesters (damn it, I was getting so close), I am a re-nester. Just when I thought I’d seen my last 4th and 6th graders, I have them living in my house, if only part of the time.  I love my step kids and their Legos, video games, school snacks, giggles when they hear the word balls, bedtime antics, farting noises and their still-almost-sweet-smelling B.O.  I’m way smarter with them than I was with my own at that age…something that is spectacularly awesome for me, less so for them.  They actually believe, know that they had best spill their guts about what really happened because we will most of the time if we are lucky always find out at least something close to the truth.  Bullshitting us about homework due, teeth brushing, hair washing, swearing, who started it and if their underwear has been changed is not even on the fringe of something that might happen, because they have learned bought it hook, line and sinker that lying to us is futile as we are too well seasoned to buy their shenanigans.  Again: spectacular for us, sucks for them.

Barry, on the other hand, has been thrown into the world of mid and late adolescence which, by all accounts, is not for the faint of heart.  Teenagers and young adults are an interesting lot: the second you think you have them figured out, they lose their shit up and change things on ya…and you never know what hit you.  Their problems are bigger, scarier and more complicated.  They are exercising the independence that we’ve so desperately taught them, yet still want to be sure that we are there to catch the debris when things go awry.  On the daily I have witnessed shifts from sweet to snarky to unrelenting to downright rude to utterly obnoxious to something akin to remorse to sweetness and back again at whiplash speeds on repeat.  Every. Damn. Day.

The difference here: I’ve already lived through (twice, but who’s counting) the depravity of young kids so am a little bit savvier about how to not kill handle them.  Poor Barry’s last intimate experience with teenagers was, um, when he WAS one.  You do the math.

But, for the next, let’s call it 50 hours we are free from any and all of it.  Aside from phone calls, texts, emails or smoke signals, we need not address, engage or be forced to deal with anyone other than one another.  I adore all four of our kids, but man oh man, am I looking forward to this weekend which will begin in earnest tomorrow morning.  Or late morning.  Or early afternoon.

(Not mentioned: Barry has a herniated disc in his back and a sinus infection, I have stenosis in my neck and a pissed off rotator cuff…but that is not going to stop us from enjoying every damn second of these next two days. We will manage just fine with crutches, braces, antibiotics and Ibuprofen.  Lots of Ibuprofen)

T Minus 3: The Yes, The But and The Yet

Here we are, T minus 3 (note: I had to change this from T minus 6…been that kind of week) until the wedding!  Wait, what??

I’ve received so many lovely and kind notes from friends near and far wishing us Mazel and telling me that Barry and my story “gives them hope” and ours is like a “fairy tale come to life”.  And, in countless ways they are right.  However…I have to keep things real.  It is not always easy.  It is not always fun.  And it is not always romantic.  What it is, though, is perfect for us. We have a rhythm that often moves at breakneck speed (anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting Barry in person will know what I mean…) and a brutal honesty between us. And we, like all couples, have a YES, and BUT and a YET for every occasion.

With the wedding just days away, I can tell you this:

YES: I am excited!  Who doesn’t love a party where there is dancing, good food, drink, company and, perhaps best of all, a staff of seasoned wedding planners at my disposal? BUT: Planning and throwing a wedding takes a lot of mental, physical and financial fortitude.* It can quickly become overwhelming and stressful and expensive and problematic. We have certainly had arguments, and I might have left the house, driven to the beach and had a few mini fits/breakdowns/freak outs once or twice.  Okay, it was three times.  YET: At the end of every day, we kiss, say, “I love you” and mean it.

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YES: I am blessed. I adore my almost husband, I love all four of our kids, my new house and my new community.  I cherish being able to see and feel the ocean every day and have the summer off to establish my new life. BUT: There are times, particularly in the past few weeks, that I have wanted to slug Barry in the face, leave each and every one of the kids by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, systematically (and by systematically, I mean secretly) remove works of “art” which are, shall we say, not my style and taken personally the fact that it is humid and sticky and hard to breathe. YET: At the end of every day, we kiss and say, “I love you”.

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YES: Our blended family is blending well.  BUT: We have four kids who all saw their parents’ marriages dissolve, had to move from their childhood houses and now travel back and forth between their now divorced parents’ homes.  Harrison, at 21 and a rising college senior has a beautiful apartment at school, but doesn’t have any other place where he can go that has a dresser with his t-shirts and underwear, or the posters he grew up with on the walls, or even a familiar neighborhood.  It’s been hard on him.  It’s been hard of all of us.  It’s a tremendous adjustment that we’ve all had to make.  But most of all, it’s a process and processes can be long, arduous and sometimes painful.  YET: At the end of every day, we kiss, say, “I love you” and mean it.

YES: The second time around is exciting and joyful and energizing. Step-parenting two young kids is easier than with my own because I am older, wiser and have, through 21 years of parenting, picked up a thing or two about how their little minds work.  BUT: Getting married again is overwhelming and scary and a lot less romantic than the first time around.  Along with the joy and excitement comes the business side of marriage: life insurance, wills, estate plans, finances and other sexy stuff that is a necessary evil in the second marriage process.  And my vast knowledge of children and their trickery? Yeah, that’s fantastically effective about 60% of the time.  YET: At the end of every day, we kiss, say, “I love you” and mean it.

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T minus 3 and I really believe (most of the time) (except when I am caught up in the BUT) (which always passes) that the only thing that really matters is the YET.

*Our original plan was to have just our family up at the lighthouse in town and then back to the house for a barbeque.  Yeah, that didn’t happen.

Eric: And Why You Should Never Judge A Book By It’s Cover

It is fair to say that I was in a foul mood.  The combination of a sweltering hot day, an argument with Barry, the pressures of moving, unpacking and putting the finishing touches on our upcoming wedding had bubbled over, forcing me to calmly get into my car, cry a snotty cry and lose my shit just a little.

The trunk of the rental car that I was driving  – all thanks to whomever smashed in the right quarter panel of my car and thought taking off without leaving a note was the right thing to do – was filled with clothing and home goods that I had been driving around with for days, repeatedly forgetting to drop off for donation.  I drove to the closest Savers knowing that the folks there will unload your things, hand you a receipt and a coupon to use in the store: win win.  It was 8:59 p.m. and they didn’t close until 10 p.m. so, I (incorrectly, as it turned out) thought it would be an uneventful interaction.

“Sorry, ma’am, we are no longer taking donations today” they told me as I began to unload.  Don’t cry, don’t cry, and don’t cry I told myself.  Yes, it had been that kind of a day.  “Really?!?!” I inquired, perhaps a bit too aggressively.  As they began to firmly stand their ground, a U-Haul box truck sidled up next to me.  The driver, a burly guy who appeared way more biker-dude than philosopher (and by way more, I mean there was not a single thing about him that bespoke anything other than biker-with-tats-and-maybe-even-a-former-football-career).

“I’ll take it for you and bring it back here tomorrow” he said, with a far gentler tone than I expected.  With tears threatening to erupt at any moment, I asked if he was serious and knew he was as he got out, opened the back of the truck and offered to help with the unload.  Upon seeing this happen, the Savers guys re-thought their earlier refusal and told me that they would, indeed, take my donation. A change of heart or a macho competition, perhaps?

As a team, he and I removed bag after bag after bag of items, my frustration at the day far from exhausted.  And then we started talking.  But I didn’t want to talk; I didn’t want to be friendly.  I was in a bitchy mood and I was going to stay in a bitchy mood, damnit.  But Eric, my truck driver in shining armor, as it turns out, is quite a guy.  He makes a living finding and re-selling stuff.  More precisely: cool stuff.  He has a store within a mall that houses antiques, collectibles and furniture services.  He pulled from his pocket two Pandora bracelets which, he explained,  he had picked up for a few bucks late in the day (when all the good stuff is gone) at a yard sale.  (If you don’t understand how impressive that is, Google “Pandora”.  And, after you pick your chin up off the floor at the prices, you will get it.)  But that was just the beginning.

He spent 12 years as part of a travelling magic show. He told me about the power of guilt and the greater power, and actual ease of learning how to let it go.  He referenced Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  No, he didn’t reference it; he had studied it to the point of being something of an expert.  His heart, it was clear, was huge, his breadth of knowledge impressive.  Yes, I am still talking about the big guy who looks like he belongs on a Harley heading for a saloon in a honky-tonk town.

I asked him if we could take a selfie as I am a writer and I love to tell the stories of random people I meet.  He asked me who I write for, and I told him I have a blog (aside: my offer still stands…if anyone wants to hire me to write for them…).  I knew what the next question was going to be.  As he asked what my blog is about, I had to make a quick assessment and decision.  “Well,” I began, “it started off as a blog about my daughter…who used to be my son…but has morphed over the years.”  Without skipping a beat, he told me a story.

In his line of work, he often rents trucks.  (One of these days he will go buy his own box truck, he shared.) He noticed that the guy working at the U-Haul that he uses was changing over the course of the past few months: hair was getting longer, nails were manicured, and clothing was more feminine.  Eventually, he initiated a conversation around it and the two began talking regularly about the social transition that was unfolding before his eyes.  After a few months, he told his new friend that he had acquired some nice dresses at yard sales and offered to bring them to her.  She reluctantly agreed.  When Eric brought her the dresses, she nearly wept; they were high quality, beautiful dresses which, it is worth noting, he picked up for a song.  And they were now hers.  Impressed with his patent acceptance, I told him how I often tell Jess that I don’t care if she is a boy, a girl or a Martian, straight, gay or somewhere in between…as long as she isn’t an asshole.  He laughed and told me I am a good mom.

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We stood in the hot, humid night air for a solid 45 minutes.  My frustrations and anger were gone, and the layer of perspiration creating a tacky stickiness on my skin didn’t even bother me.  I got his email and his blessing to share our chance encounter and headed home, amazed at the depth and thoughtfulness of a guy named Eric who was not at all what I thought he would be.

p.s. For you lovely single ladies: he is on Plenty of Fish.  And I happen to have his email.

Oh, The People I Meet

I didn’t catch his name.  Our encounter was as pleasant as it was brief.  With four miles under my belt, a cloudless sky and soaring heat, even at 7:00 a.m., my pace was quick.  None of my walking buddies were able to join me, so I was alone with my iced coffee, iHeart radio and the rhythm of the ocean.  I have a fairly hysterical internal conversation these days, and the banality of morning radio was precisely what I needed.

There was a steady crowd of walkers, from the very old to the brand-new-to-this-world being pushed by the young (to me, anyway) mothers creating an almost crowded sidewalk overlooking the beach.  I uttered and received back innumerable “good mornings” and yes, I saw “my friend, the man whose name I do not know.”  I arrived at a decision spot: keep walking straight or take the loop, adding probably a quarter of a mile to my stroll, when I saw another man whose name I do not know.  It was just the two of us and we caught eyes.  I removed one of my earphones, breaking my stride, making me aware of just how damn hot it was, and asked him about the feature you could not miss…his very long, very white beard.  “How long have you been growing it?” I asked.  Without so much as a beat, he responded, “Oh, this? (now two beats, three strokes of the beard) it’s been three or four days.”  I smiled. He smiled. Clearly, I was not the first person to ask.

We chatted briefly, including my telling him that his beard was a great conversation starter.  His reply: “Gee, most women wouldn’t agree” with a smile and more than a hint of loneliness.  I told him he has great eyes, which he does.  I did not tell him that he would be downright cute if he shaved it off.  Feeling brave, I told him that I am a writer (aside: I kind of feel like a fraud when I say that, if you want the truth) and that I love to write about people I meet along the beach, or, for that matter, anywhere else, and would he mind if we took a selfie.  His eyes and smiled widened as he agreed without hesitation.  As we snapped the photo, he told me that he is actually a really shy guy.  I would amend that: a shy guy with a sweet personality and, um, sweeter eyes.

We parted ways, and that was that.

I continued to walk, managing another three miles, congratulating myself on doing so in the blazing heat and got in my car where I guzzled the water that I had put over ice before I left the house (it was now just water) and checked my phone, having not looked at the picture.  I was not disappointed.

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I pulled away from the beach and asked myself if I wanted to go home and shower, or just head directly to the supermarket.  I opted for the latter and, as I knew would happen, I felt the layer of sweat on my skin turn to a chill as I traveled the aisles of the store, trying like hell to remember if we needed milk, or if I had an ample supply of sea salt Melba Crackers.  (Try them.  You’re welcome.)  Wondering why there were so many damn people there in the middle of the day in the middle of the week, I took my place in what looked to be the least long register line.

As I educated myself on the escalating battle between Angelina and Jennifer, and the surefire way to rock a bikini (yeah, no) I heard the chatter of a toddler and his mom in the line at the register next to mine.  The mom, a pony tailed and adorably gap-toothed woman somewhere between mid 20s and early 30s held in her hand a box of animal crackers which had just been cracked open as, I would imagine, a reward to her son for not knocking over a display or running wild through the aisle or doing any of the myriad things that our children do to horrify, anger and embarrass us.  My mother did it.  I did it.  I highly recommend it.

And then, without warning, the store fills with the earth shattering cries of a certain little boy in a shopping cart.  His mother had done a horrible thing.  What was she thinking?  Yes, she ate one of the cookies.  Oh, wait, to be clear: it wasn’t just any cookie…it was the one, the only one, that he wanted.  And he was ripshit.  No, another cookie, molded into precisely the same animal as the one she had munched would definitely not suffice. Nor, she learned, would a different animal all together.  Or a cheese stick.  It was a rookie mistake that we have all made.  Never mess with a toddler and his snack.  Like never ever.

So, the remarkable part of this encounter was this: the mom, who I have personally deemed mom of the year, never lost her cool.  She was able, even in the throes of a real tantrum with real tears and real stares, appreciate how ridiculous and funny it was.  She didn’t get flustered or frustrated or impatient.  Her laugh was so honest and respectful of his upset.  We caught eyes.  She asked me if it gets better.  I was the old lady now, the one with experience with this kind of thing so I told her what I tell every new parent: the days last for-fucking-ever, but the years fly by.  We shared a smile.

I returned to my order, paid and looked back to see if she was still there.  I saw mom and kid walking out of the store in the direction opposite of the way I should go to pack up my car.  I paused briefly, considered the ice cream which I was sure was already melting,  turned my own cart around and chased (in the least creepy way possible) after her.  I caught up with them in the parking lot, the sun beating down on my sweaty body (remember those seven miles from earlier in the morning?) and said to her what I had said to my bearded buddy: “I am a writer and I love to write about people I meet” (this time the words slid out a little more naturally) and asked, for the second time this morning, if I could take a selfie of us.  She, too, was quick to agree.  We all smiled for the camera and off we went, but not before I got her email address so I could send her the link once I acted like a writer and wrote.

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I finally made it home, assessed my sea glass haul for the day and showered.  I now smell way better, have food in the house and am smiling at today’s chance encounters.  This is fun…

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p.s. In search of a clever artist who can make something out of all this damn sea glass.  I simply cannot stop collecting it.

Badassery, Sand and Sea Glass

It was my “after-walk”.

I’d met up with my friend, a contemporary with a lot on her plate, at 7:15 a.m., where, with iced coffees in hand, we briskly walked back and forth on the sidewalk spanning the length of the beach, a nice six-mile trek. Having burned some decent calories, we then went to the diner near where our cars were parked, and indulged in a King’s breakfast of omelets, toast, hash browns and more coffee.  With nearly two hours of chatting about our children, our parents, our past, current and future partners and even a little sex, drugs and rock, we parted ways with a sweaty hug and kiss.  We’ve done this walk many, many times, making for easy, honest and raw conversation.  Nothing is off limits and we never run out of things to discuss.  (aside: love you, Becky)

As I neared my car, I turned my gaze to the beach below where the tide had just gone out, leaving behind a treasure-trove of rocks, shells and sea glass.  I took the dozen or so stairs down to the sand, an empty coffee cup in hand, and began to walk off some of the calories I had just joyfully ingested. Alone on the beach, my pace was slow, my head was down and I was pushing away that pesky little voice reminding me of the long list of things I needed to accomplish in the day ahead.

“I’m right behind you”, I heard.

Realizing that she might startle me, an 80-year-old woman in brand new walking shoes approached with a tentative smile.  I was still raptly scanning the ground below when she made a comment as to how little sea glass there was this year.  I rattled and extended my cup, now nearly half full, and told her that she wasn’t finding any because I had it all.  Her face softened and she smiled more warmly.

We began to walk side by side, chatting intermittently and lightly, both of us paying attention to the artifacts littering the sand.  As if having been planted for just such an occasion, we each began to spot piece after piece after piece, each one leaving sand under our fingernails and little sparks of joy at having spotted them.

Not far down the beach was a tide pool, long and wide enough to preclude us from crossing over, forcing us to re-walk the ground we’d already covered.  I lost count as to how many times we retraced the same patch of sand, but it was many.  We paced back and forth, conversation never waning as we collected sea glass and sisterhood, despite our thirty-year age difference.

In those nearly 75 minutes of walking, talking and collecting, we learned a lot about one another. We talked about our children, and she, her grandchildren of which she has four.  We shared joys and challenges we’ve faced: marriages, divorces (mine – she’s been married for nearly 60 years), deaths, professional successes and disappointments, life events we’ve cherished and those that broke our hearts.  We laughed with the shared experiences of all mothers and wives and had tears come to our eyes while recounting sadnesses we’d endured.  While certainly a less saucy conversation than earlier in the morning, it was no less raw.

When it came time for me to part ways with this, the second badass woman of the morning, we, too, shared a sweaty hug and kiss, but not before I told her that I am a writer and would love to write about our time together.  Even better…can we take a selfie?  She happily obliged.

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We spoke about a lot of private, personal and even scary things, the details of which are not my story to tell; the beach is kind of like Vegas – what happens there stays there.  However, I was touched by her honesty and honored to have earned her trust..

Thank you, lovely lady.  I know you appreciated my attentiveness.  What you might not know is how much I appreciated yours.  I’ll be looking for you on the beach…and will be sure to leave some sea glass for you.

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