Tashlich aka “See ya 5780”

Yesterday, Jews around the world celebrated Rosh Hashana – the Jewish New Year. Like most of 2020, the way in which we observed the holiday bore no resemblance to years past. For our part, we hosted a RHBBQ (Rosh Hashana Barbeque). We were a small but mighty crowd of some, but not all, the people I love. I have to say, it was among my most favorite RHs ever. Below is something that I wrote and shared as we participated in Tashlich. Don’t know what Tashlich is? Read on.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I think it is safe to say that none among us would debate that this past year, 2020/5780 will go down in history as one of the worst.  Forget the forced isolation, anxiety, and fear that is part and parcel of a global pandemic – that’s just icing on the cake.  I am 100% confident that each of us has faced our own personal struggles and demons.  Whether the battles were internal or interpersonal, the fears real or imagined, the anger just or unjust, no one is immune to the ongoing assault of life.

I speak only for myself in saying that this was among the most challenging years of my life…and that’s really saying something!

Everyone here is a warm, kind, and loving person.  Although, if we are being honest, none of us is immune to having behaved in a way that could be considered less than warm, kind or loving.  We’ve barked at one another.  We have pushed – sometimes too hard.  We’ve talked in unflattering terms, criticized, and judged.  We’ve thought we knew better – or more – than those around us.  We’ve been quick to anger.  We’ve been inpatient.  We’ve been either too sensitive or not sensitive enough.  You haven’t?  You, then, are a better person than I.

In a normal year, this morning we’d have gone to synagogue.  For some, it is about the liturgy.  For others, the social connection…something we all crave now more than ever.  Regardless of your reasons for going, or not going as the case may be, we’ve been robbed of the ritual.

In a normal year, we’d have put on nice clothes, the men in suits, relieved when it was time to go home, mostly for the joy that comes with kicking off shoes that pinch. 

A cast of thousands (no one was ever turned away) would be gathered around the table at my in-law’s house. Bursting with delicious food, wine and more desserts than we could possibly consume, three generations came together, some family, others, friends who would leave (complete with to-go food) feeling like family.

This, however, is not a normal year.

I don’t always participate in Tashlich. Okay, truth: I actually cannot recall the last time I did.  I do love the concept, though and always say, “next year”, but, alas, it hasn’t happened.  This year, I became fixated and maybe a little bit obsessed with making it happen.  It’s meaning, beauty, and, perhaps most important to me: the ritual.

Tashlich comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to cast,” referring to the intent to cast away our sins.  The act of throwing bread crumbs into the water can be cathartic while joyful, intense while freeing, simple while complex.  It pushes us to take a look inward and acknowledge our weaknesses while looking ahead and focusing on our strengths.  The bread you toss into the sea might represent something as simple as that time you talked smack about someone or as complicated as the time you held onto a blatant lie.  It could be your neglecting to point out to the cashier that they had forgotten to charge you for the turkey (that might have happened) or walking past someone on the street who could really have used your help.  It could even be giving yourself props for owning your stuff and then letting it go.  Ultimately, it is accepting the challenge to do everything within your power to become the very best version of yourself.  

You need not share what you choose to cast away.  This is for you, your peace of mind, and your own personal journey…no one else’s.  It can be tricky business, but I suspect it will be worthwhile.  Just the act of throwing something, anything, is a release and offers a freeing of your soul.

Okay, I know I just finished saying it is no one’s business what you choose to cast away, however….

A few weeks ago, I took a baby step out of my comfort zone and went tubing.  I had never done it before, even as a kid.  As I (not so gracefully) climbed onto the tube, I talked myself out of worrying that I would get hurt, or dizzy, or would lose a contact lense.  At 40 MPH, bouncing in the waves, water splashing in my eyes, wind whipping my hair into a frenzy, I was truly joyful. And then I (not so gracefully) fell off.  After quickly (and with great relief) retrieving my bathing suit bottom from my knees, I noticed that my engagement and wedding rings were gone.  I didn’t freak out.  I didn’t panic.  I actually, and I know how crazy this sounds, felt a little bit, well, free. To be clear, I adore my husband and loved both the rings and their sentiment, but I knew in my heart that there had to be a reason this happened.  I couldn’t for the life of me imagine what the reason was, but I just knew it.  

Yes, it helped that my husband and brother, my two greatest cheerleaders, were there to comfort me.  It further helped that my brother reminded me of three important things: 1. It wasn’t my father’s bracelet (that I have not taken off since his death) which completely irreplaceable, 2. I have Barry for a husband (read: he didn’t freak out) and, 3. it was insured.  At that moment, I realized that, although I loved my rings, they were ultimately just things and not the important ones.  In hindsight, it was in that moment that I actually knew everything was really going to be okay.  As my father used to say, “Everything is going to work out,  perhaps not how you expected it to, but it will.” I, like my rings currently residing at the bottom of Lake Cochituate, was free (okay, freer..let’s not get crazy.)

That night, I dreamt that my teeth were falling out.  The teeth, though, were covered in beautiful crowns (the kind royalty wear on their head, not the kind that cost a fortune at the dentist) adorned with sparkling gems in reds, oranges, and that perfect blue.  Of course, I Googled the meaning of this highly disturbing dream and discovered that, while, yes, indeed, dreaming of losing one’s teeth can symbolize loss and death, it can also  represent rebirth.  I chose to run with the latter.

So, how does this loop back to my fierce need to make Tashlich happen this year?

As I embrace feeling lighter and more at peace now that I can ever remember, I want you to have the opportunity to feel the same.   Of course I still have things to cast away but I now appreciate that the very act of tossing one’s sins, struggles, and challenges into the ocean and embracing a new start is way more powerful than I could have imagined.  

Now, in an effort to continue to venture out of my comfort zone, I am going to blow the Shofar.  Up until two days ago, I had never even held a Shofar, let alone attempted to blow it.  Thank you to Barry and the boys for patiently (for the most part) teaching me.  They can (and better!) attest to the fact that I have had many successes in making the Shofar sound. I have, though had an equal (or greater) number of failures which have truthfully frustrated me, yet I have kept at it.  (Aside: turns out there is a strong correlation between one’s ability to blow Shofar and being able to whistle.  I have never been able to whistle.  Just sayin’.) 

I am proud to have not given up (a pretty solid habit of mine) and will stand here today trying and trying (and probably trying some more) until I make it happen.  Take that, 2020.  

p.s. Turn up the volume. 😉

Here’s to freeing ourselves from the sins of the past year, and welcoming a new year of peace, contentment, and joy.

L’Shana Tova 

Ode to Barry

I am not proud to admit this, but I am, by nature, kind of a pessimist.  I say kind of, because I think I am less of a pessimist and more of a worrier.  I am famous for pre-worrying (again, not proud), and that glass?  It’s usually half empty.  Bad shit is all around us, amIright?

My husband Barry, on the other hand, is an eternal optimist.  He wakes up every (okay, most every) morning happy, ready to get things done, blissfully unaware of whatever shit might hit the fan. That’s because he knows that, whatever it might be, we can deal with it.  Intellectually, I know that to be true, but fretting is my go-to.  Again, not proud.

Throughout this entire disaster called Covid, he’s kind of kept me alive.  Not literally, but certainly emotionally.  Actually, literally, too.  Of the probably 600 meals consumed since March, 599 of them have been cooked by him. And I am talking real, actual (usually delicious – with the exception of that weird thing he did with that fish…yuk) meals. It’s quite impressive, actually. (Edited to add: I will look in the fridge and announce that there is nothing to eat. He will them, perhaps even just to prove a point, pull things out and whip up a meal. I used to feel defensive, now I just sit back and watch.)

My own (not so) little energizer bunny, he – and his brain – are in constant motion.  He seldom (read: never) sits still for very long, is seldom (read: never) without some sort of project to tackle and, truthfully, watching him dart around, often in circles, provides endless entertainment. It’s almost like I can see the synapeses firing.

I am always (every.single.time) ready to go before he is.  I will be in the car, lipstick applied (I miss pretty lips), cooling my heels while he is roaming in those circles, going through a checklist in his head (complete with counting on his fingers) to ensure he has every possible item we might need for any possible situation we might encounter.  Note: we never need any of it and, if we are being honest, he often manages to forget the one thing we did need. Like, for example, the pile of Bed Bath and Beyond coupons we needed for the one place we were going: Bed Bath and Beyond.

His breakfast vs. mine: Can you guess whose is whose? Yes, those are eggs on pizza.

He has two speeds: on and off.  I never shut off, even, alas, while I am sleeping.

He will go anywhere and do anything.  I am a bit more,shall we say, selective.

His way of keeping score vs. mine: (Yeah, he beat me. This one time…)

 As much as he hates needles, they don’t bother me in the least.  I, however, abhor the sound, smell, and mere thought of vomit. One could barf on his feet and he would be unfazed. For my part, I can take or watch someone getting a needle with nary a blip in my blood pressure. This makes us a perfect union.

We have one essential thing in common: we love to laugh and, perhaps more to the point, we crack one another up.  And that, my friends, is the key, particulary during these shitstormy days.

We also happen to be the world’s best photo bombers.  Don’t believe me, well check these out for yourself. No one is safe from our stealthily running up and no one has refused to Airdrop the photo to me. No one.

The mom was in on this one. The kids had no clue we were behind them. The whole restaurant was cracking up, as were the kids when we showed them that they’d been bombed.

These young women spoke no English, having just arrived in NYC from Japan…but knew all about Airdropping.

These two kiddos thought it was so funny that we photobombed them that they proceeded to chase us down the beach trying to playfully scare us. They might have succeeded.

Mom saw us coming. The kids did not. I lost my phone in the process. One of the kids found the phone and ran it down to us as we were retracing our steps. It had fallen out of my pocket as I ran over to bomb. Insert eye roll here.

How cute are these two who were just trying to take an Insta-worthy shot. Barry kindy offered to take a photo of them that did not include us. He said, “that’s okay” while she was saying, “sure!” She won.

And then there is this. Thanks, B. for having my back, being my bestie, and making me laugh (usually with, but sometimes at) you. There is no one I’d rather be with in Crazytown.

On FOMO, Decisions & Judgment

I recently read an article shared by a friend on, where else, Facebook. When I finished it, I commented that not only did I agree with what the author was saying, but I wish I had written it.  And that got me thinking: I have not been doing a whole lot of writing about anything, let alone something that would prompt a, “Damn, I feel the same way!” response.  To be patently clear: I have written many words…all of which I have deleted.  Many, many, many words. All deleted.

 

The gist of the aforementioned article was that this new phase of the pandemic is creating a new wave of anxiety…as if there wasn’t plenty of anxiety to go around already. When every single person everywhere in the world was in lockdown, things were, in some respects utterly sucky, in others, pretty swell.  FOMO was no longer a thing, even among those among us who normally suffer from it greatly.  No one was doing anything, so there was nothing to MO on.  Right?  Now, however, with the world reopening, we are forced to not only worry about the virus but, dammit if FOMO isn’t creeping back in and, damn it all to hell,  the need to make decisions – lots of decisions – is wicked hard to avoid.

shouldI

I have said it before, and will say it again: there is a lot I really dig about lockdown. Any decision I had to make was a simple one:

 

  • Take a walk or don’t take a walk?
    • Decision: 5-10 miles a day.  Did it. Continue to do it. It’s literally the only exercise I am getting, but I am getting it.
  • Eggs, oatmeal, or smoothie for breakfast?  (Clarification: there was often a first and second breakfast, so many times it was more a matter of when than which.)
    • Decision: more often than not, two hard-boiled eggs courtesy of this little gadget. (Mine isn’t pink, but now that I have seen the pink one, I want it.)
  • Shower or don’t shower?
    • Decision: Shower every day. Twice when I walk. Which is nearly every day. Except for that time last week, when I had vertigo and the only walk I took was to the bathroom, and that was more of a crawl. It was awesome!
  • Read a book or watch tv?
    • Decision: I had an entirely ridiculous and self-imposed rule of no-tv-during-the-day.  Not much at night, either. Too taxing to choose from the bazillion possibilities. Even recommendations (still haven’t seen Ozark, btw) were too hard to wade through.
    • Decision, Part II: In a brilliant move, I took several books out of the library before they shut down.  Less impressive: I read exactly none of them.
  • Jeans or sweatpants?
    • Decision: Fact – and a well-documented one at that – I put on jeans and a belt every single day. Which, as it turns out, was a fantastic decision because I have not gained one single pound.  Thank you for that, Covid-19.

 

Now, however, as we ease back into life (which, incidentally, will never ever ever be the same), suddenly (or so it seems) there are thousands of decisions to be made, and, boom, FOMO is kind of a thing again.

 

  • Go into stores; not just for necessities, but for filling the holes in our souls?
    • Decision: I have been to Marshall’s.  And TJ Maxx.  And Old Navy.  And Walmart.  And Target. Oh, and Home Depot.  At first, it was for things I needed. (Aside: why is it that not one single of the aforementioned stores has gym shorts? Or, if they do, only in sizes XS and XL?) Then, the excursions became more about feeling normal.  Shut up: going to Marshall’s makes most of us feel normal.  But, truthfully, it wasn’t an easy decision.
  • Get my haircut? 
    • Decision: Back in early February, before the world shut down, I had 5” cut off which, as it turns out, was an epically wise decision.  That said, I was the second appointment on the first day that my salon reopened at the end of May.  It was a joyous day. It was not, however,  a decision I took lightly.
  • Manicure/pedicure?  So here’s the truth.  I have been having my nails done, religiously, for, gulp, 30 years. (In a quest to feel normal, and with my doctor’s permission, I famously had a manicure and pedicure the day before my bi-lateral mastectomy: it runs that deep.) For the duration of lockdown, I had short, unpolished nails and I was pretty much okay with it.  In fact, I might have said (many times) that I was over getting my nails done.  That, it turns out, was a lie.
    • Decision: Once nail salons were allowed to open, I waited several (okay, two) days before scheduling an appointment.  Afterward, despite feeling decidedly more human, I found myself hiding my hands, lest anyone judge my bad judgment decision.  Truth be told, my nail salon had more precautions in place than the urgent care I took my stepson to last week.  Aside: a kid with a broken wrist during the first summer in the history of life that camps are all closed is even more fun than vertigo! Truth.
  • Go to a restaurant? I happen to be married to a man who happens to not only know how to cook but also happens to love cooking and also happens to make dinner every single night.  As regular and avid go-out-to-dinner folks, his menu – delicious as it was most of the time – was becoming a little, shall we say…repetitive.  We ordered take out once or twice, but last week, the first (and only) time since March that someone served us (on paper plates)(with plastic utensils) was spectacular.  Utterly spectacular.
    • Decision: See above.

 

What makes the FOMO issue particularly challenging is the fact that along with one’s envy over other folks’ goings and doings is an inescapable reality: judgment and, well, more judgment. There, I said it. Who among us hasn’t had an opinion about what other people are choosing to do?

judgejudy

You’re going to the market in March?!? (I made my husband do all the marketing until about a month ago.)

 

You had contact with a human being that doesn’t live in your house in April?!?  (Nope. Even the people who live in my house were kept at a distance.  Mostly because of the pandemic.)

You left the house in May?!?!  (In fairness, I didn’t really leave until my hair salon opened.  Truth.)(In my defense, I have thick, heavy, and copious amounts of hair…it is a blessing and a curse under the best of circumstances.)

 

Judge, judge, judge.

 

Yes, I found myself concealing my perfect nails, painted the perfect pink (gel #135) lest someone judge my decision.  And, until now I have kept the experience of my visit(s) to Marshalls close to the vest.

 

Judge, judge, judge.

 

Some may consider my decisions reckless.  I do not.

 

That said, I will not go into a mall.  I will not walk along the water when there are throngs of other people doing so.  I will not go to a party.  And I try (really, I do) to not judge anyone else if they do.  I get it. (Okay, so I might judge a little.  Shut up.)

 

Here’s are the only things I will judge, and judge harshly:

 

  • People who don’t respect the most anxious among their people. If someone you love, or someone you even know, is uncomfortable – even if you think it is a bit much – suck it up and do as they wish.

 

  • People who don’t wash their hands. Forget the fact that folks should, as a general rule of living, wash their hands.

 

  • People who either don’t wear a mask or wear one under their nose.  Seriously, cut that shit out.

I hope you are managing emotionally, socially, and physically.

I hope you are among people who love, respect and protect you to the very best of their ability.

I hope you are being patient, kind, and understanding of not only others but your own needs.

I hope you are reserving judgment for the things that really matter.  At least most much some of the time.

Are You Losing It? (I am.)

This might just be it.  I am pretty sure it is.  I have some fairly hard evidence to back up my claim, too.

Yes, the more I contemplate, the surer I am.

This was the week that broke us all.

losingit

I thought perhaps it was only me.  My legions of Facebook and Instagram cohorts, however, have proven me wrong.  This week nearly everyone I know, to varying degrees,  lost their shit.  Some rather epically.

A friend who is a teacher is killing herself teaching and supporting and loving and understanding and adapting and morphing and creating and connecting with her students (6th graders…so, um, yuk) and had a total meltdown…during a Zoom faculty meeting.

Another lost it whilst sitting in the parking lot of her supermarket, having been traumatized by the disregard of social distancing of fellow shoppers.  And the fact that they had no name brand toilet paper.  Truth be told, it might have been the toilet paper that truly set her off, but let’s give her the social distancing.

Yet another became apoplectic because her incredibly sweet, adorable, and highly cooperative three year old has become Satan -I think only at bedtime, but does it matter…Satan is Satan – which, I could make a case for, is definitely related to this fucking pandemic.

Another pal,  one who works (well worked is more accurate, more on that in a second) in a hospital where, one could argue, stress levels are even higher than stratospheric, had the audacity to use her kick-ass sense of humor – and perhaps a smidge of sarcasm – in an attempt to lighten the burden of the insanity of working in a hospital during a fucking pandemic only to find herself on the wrong end of a boss who, also buckling under the pressure, couldn’t take it and, um, fired her.

And my sweet friend, the one who is kind, patient, understanding, calm, and gentle, reported to me that, upon spying some schmucks enjoying 18 holes on the closed golf course not only called out to them that the course was closed, but called them assholes.  Okay, she yelled at them that they were assholes. And then burst into tears.

Then there are the kids, especially the teenagers who, nearly to a person, have had more than enough family time, are desperately missing their peers, are bemused and perplexed by the new way in which they are expected to learn, and actually need contact with people who do not share their last name.  Same for the parents, actually. I’d give my left arm to hang with someone who didn’t share my, my husband’s or my ex-husband’s name.  Truth.

For my part, I spent the better part of the past three days crying. No, not crying.  Sobbing.  Convulsing.  Choking on spit.  Dry heaving.  #goodtimes.

Since I do not watch or listen to the news anymore, or, for that matter, read anything other than Buzzfeed, Daily Mail and light fiction (okay, and death notices), I am not sure how long this fucking pandemic has been going on.  I might have accidentally heard or read that it has been about six weeks.  Based on that assumption, I am going to assert that six weeks is  how long it takes to set someone completely off their axis.  Amiright?

Yes, I have every single thing I need.  I have (an abundance) of food, (an ample) supply of wine, (generally) agreeable roommates (when they aren’t being assholes), work to do, puzzles to solve, books to read, recipes to try (currently baking my second challah…hoping this one isn’t quite as brick-like as the last one), shows to binge (hello, “Big Little Lies”), movies to watch, walks to take (averaging 5-10 miles a day), and jeans that still fit.  I have nothing to complain about.  But I will.

This fucking pandemic is getting to me.  I miss people.  I miss eating out.  I miss going to the movies by myself in the middle of the day. I miss spending $2.86 on a hit or miss cup of hot coffee.  I miss my boxing class and the people I punch with.  I miss asking the guy at the deli counter to slice it somewhere between thin and not too thin.  I miss having my nails done by someone other than me.  I miss seeing the kids and my colleagues at the school I work at.  I miss wasting an entire afternoon at Barnes & Noble.  I miss being able to go to the market for two things (which winds up being more than two things) without having to HazMat up.  I miss not having to wash my groceries before they come in the house.  I miss seeing my son and brother who are so close yet so far away. I miss feeling any need to swipe on mascara.  And lipstick?  Who needs lipstick under those godforsaken masks. (Aside: am I the only one who often forgets to breathe while wearing said mask? I seriously do that. Wha??)

I haven’t cried yet today.  I might.  In fact, there is an excellent chance I will.  It might be warranted, it might not.  It doesn’t really matter, though…it’s not like anyone is going to see me.

Fucking pandemics are lonely, even if you are among people you (mostly) love.

Fucking pandemics are isolating, even if you are FaceTiming, Zooming and old school Skyping.

Fucking pandemics are in no way normal. There is nothing normal about either a virus floating around looking for victims or the behaviors they demand of us.  Not. One. Thing.

Fucking pandemics are scary.  Seriously – going to the market or CVS makes my heart race.  In fact, it wasn’t until this week that I was brave enough to do either.  Hmmm, perhaps there is a correlation between being a consumer in the age of Covid and simultaneously losing it. Coincidence?  Methinks not.

Fucking pandemics prove one thing and one thing only: no one has any control over anything ever.  Despite what one of my children might say, I am actually not (normally) a control freak.  These times, however, I am grasping at any kind of (totally perceived and ultimately false) control I can muster. It’s not working.

Everyone is caving under the pressure.  Okay, maybe not everyone, but I certainly am.

Stay strong, brothers and sisters.

Stay healthy, y’all.

Stay as connected as humanly possible, people.

This is going to end.  And then we will all have to adjust, yet again, to a life that bears little resemblance to the one we’ve known.  Should be fun…

 

Pandemic Life

Things are strange right now. Like, insanely strange.  In fact, the word strange doesn’t even really touch the surface, now does it?

I am not sure about you, but I usually do not know what day it is and I never know what time it is.

Each morning, the first thing I do, before I even get out of bed, is ask Alexa what the weather is going to be. It is the only piece of “news” I care to know. I do that in lieu of what I have done for the past 25 years of my life: half watch, half listen to “The Today Show” or “Good Morning, America” or whatever CBS’s morning show is called.  Stopped watching those weeks ago. At least I think it has been weeks. It could just be days, but, no I am pretty sure it has been weeks.

So much has changed.

I cannot go to my boxing classes anymore and, even though they’ve done an amazing job with an online presence, punching the air just isn’t the same as pulling on my pink gloves and ripping the stuffing out of a heavy bag. Now the only gloves I wear are those to keep me – and anyone I come in contact with – from getting sick.

Instead I walk.  A lot.

watch

But even my walks on the beach aren’t the same.  Gone are the days of the wind whipping through my hair, chatting with whomever I want for however long I want.  Now, I have to stick to one or the other side of the path, depending upon which direction I am headed. I have to wear a mask and gloves, not for warmth, but for protection. I  have to ensure that I time it just right so that there are not a million other people doing the same thing.  Now, I wait for high tide every day – oh, yeah: that’s the other thing I ask dear old Alexa – and I hit the sand, aggressively searching for sea glass. Seriously, even the joy of spying sea glass isn’t the same.

walk

I am reading, but only books that are quick, light, and ultimately forgettable.  Or, if not forgettable, interchangeable. Colleen Hoover, Elin Hildebrand, Harlen Coben? Sure, I planned ahead and took a bunch of “high quality” reads out of the library before they shuttered their shelves, but, yeah, haven’t been able to get into a-one of them. And, to be clear, by high quality, I am referring to those highly rated on Goodreads or a Facebook page I frequent: The Real Housewives Book Club.  We aren’t talking “War and Peace” here, or even the NYT Best Seller List, folks.

With the exception of “The Kominsky Method”, I have not watched a single show.  On my list: Unorthodox, Ozark, Schitt’s Creek (note: I have tried three times, just not getting it), Shitsel, even the damn Real Housewives, for crying out loud.  Like my library books: haven’t watched a-one.  (Oh, we did watch one episode of “Tiger King”…didn’t get it.) It doesn’t help that I have a self-imposed, hard and fast rule that I cannot turn on the television until after dinner. Why such a rule? No clue. Just cannot do it.

I shower every day.  I put on jeans and a belt every day, too.  I may come out of this period lethargic, discombobulated, with permanent heightened anxiety, and crappy-ass nails, but will be Goddamned if I am fat, too.  So far: down three pounds.

Confession: PP (pre pandemic) I went to the supermarket between three and four times a week.  I actually love going to the market.  I have not stepped foot in one since early March.  Barry, bless his heart, is not only my cook and chief bottle washer, but my DS (designated shopper) and, by and large, he is slaying it.  Okay, so he bought Chi Chi’s Salsa and not Paul Newman’s, and he bought cans, not bottles of Diet Coke, and why so cheap with the La Choy Noodles (I might be addicted), but other than that (oh, and next time grab some decent chocolate, would ya?) I am grateful.  (Bonus: he even washes it all down in the garage before bringing it in the house.) But here’s the thing…while he is dutifully adhering to the list I hand him, I deeply and profoundly miss picking up all the extras that don’t show up on any list. Not sure when I will go back, though.  And that makes me sad. And I am longing for supermarket sushi.

The other day, in one of my near daily FaceTime chats with my brother, Rob, he (not so) gently demanded suggested that I might want to consider putting on some makeup.  Even a smear of mascara, for the love of God. He shamed me into it. For one day. The next day, I got up, showered, and considered putting something other than moisturizer on. I bagged the idea – imagine how great I will look when I finally put some on! (Note: most anyone who has ever met me had never seen me without mascara.  This truly does signal the apocalypse.)

I will admit, however, that I do not totally hate this new life.

There is something soothing about it.  I, and the people around me, are scheduleless.  No one has to be here, there, or anywhere at any time, really.  Each day is mellower, despite the insanity around us. And, while I make an effort to leave the house every day (McDonald’s Diet Coke – from the drive-thru with everyone gloved and masked – is even more perfect now!), if I don’t, I am not being lazy…I am being responsible.  And the kids who are still at home?  They are killing it.  All deserve awards for Most Improved Player. Go figure.

I love having Barry home.  To be clear, there are moments that I could kill him slowly and methodically with a ballpoint pen, but all in all, I like having him around.  (And this is not just because he is my DS, although I will admit I find that kinda sexy.) Don’t tell him I said this, but I am going to miss him when he has to go back to his office every day. Without his commute (a mere 17 miles that can, on a good day, take 90 minutes to drive) we can take nightly walks while the sun is still out.  He is willing to stay awake a little later in the evening since he can sleep a little later in the morning. (Aside: he’s a little mashugana about his sleep.) He cooks me a (usually) delicious dinner every night and he is much more on top of the laundry than usual. (Let me explain that. I am more than happy to do the laundry. However, Barry doesn’t like the way I do the laundry (I blame his mother for arming him with mad laundry skills).  I also thank his mother for – when I complained that he was complaining about my laundry habits – suggesting that I just let him do it.  Game. Set. Match.)

Someday we will go back to “normal”, but I am 100% certain that normal post pandemic will bear little resemblance to normal pre pandemic.  Some things will be better. Some, not so much. Life has changed forever…that’s for sure.

We are all in a state of slow motion free fall.  We cannot plan for anything. Rites and rituals are basically non-existent.  It’s strange. It’s disconcerting. It’s life changing.

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I hope you are at peace.

I hope you are able, between the freakouts and tears and panic attacks (you have those, too, right?) to make it through each day – in whatever iteration that might be.

I hope you are healthy.

I hope that the people in your life are, too.

It’s Not Just You

Not an exaggeration: every day – as in every single day – since my last post I have heard from someone who has a kid who is struggling.  Every single day.

 

Oh, and, by the way, here’s a fact: struggling kid = struggling family.  Truth.

 

Old friends I’ve not seen in decades.

 

Friends of friends.  Lots of ‘em.

 

Strangers who happened to see my blog.

 

Difficult people.

 

Super cool people.

 

Rich, poor, city, suburban.

 

There’s no discrimination here, folks.

 

Each has a story starts with the same theme: a kid who is struggling.  Some situations are eerily similar to ours. Others a different flavor.  All are heartbreaking. Each exhausting.

 

I’ve received private messages, texts, emails, phone calls, Facebook messages all saying the same thing:

 

I thought it was just us.

 

Nope.  It is not just you.

 

It is not just your kid (wait: never just the kid…the whole family).

 

Trust me: you are not alone.

And that’s kind of what it all boils down to, isn’t it?

 

That sinking, horrible, unshakable sense that you are alone.

 

The shame you think only you carry.

 

The anger you are sure no one else feels.

 

The resentment. The fear. The exhaustion.

 

The loneliness. That’s the worst.  The loneliness.

 

But this isn’t just about a kid (no, a family) going off the rails.

 

It’s about financial worries.

 

It’s about aging parents.

 

It’s about having a kid on the spectrum or one who is either bullying or being bullied.

 

It’s about the challenges of marriage – no matter how fabulous your partner might be.

 

It’s about  the college fund you never managed to, well, fund.

 

It’s about the cancer, or the heart disease, or the dementia.

 

It’s about being 100% committed to the (entirely false) notion that no one else is feeling your feels, worrying your worries, dreading your dreads, struggling your struggles.

 

Reality: That’s not the case.

 

While we might know (in our brain, anyway) that others share the same issues, worries, and fear, we definitely don’t always know it in our hearts.

 

While we are busy powering through, superhero cape flapping, and making decisions that are equal parts difficult and terrifying, it is hard to remember that we are not alone.

 

When the phone rings and your heart sinks in anticipation of what’s on the other end, it’s hard to remember that you are not alone.

 

When your kid is this or that or your parent is this or that or when your partner or friend is this or that or you are this or that it’s hard to remember that you are not alone.

 

But, really, I promise you, you are never alone.

 

Jess 2.0

Six months ago, at the urging/behest/insistence of Jess, I retired this blog. Today, I am coming out of retirement, hoping that I still know how to share (without oversharing), impart wisdom (without suggesting that I have any idea what I am doing), and keep things real (without hurting anyone in the process).  A lot has happened in these last several months, so sit back, grab your beverage of choice, and settle in. It has been a bumpy ride.

 

A few disclaimers before you read on:

 

  1. I share this story for many reasons, one of which is this: Everyone is dealing with something.  Some of us are hearts-on-the-sleeve types (insert frantic waving here), while others are more private.  I respect both, and ask that you do the same. This is hard stuff…and something I don’t want anyone to ever have to do alone.  I have an army of family and friends protecting and serving me. I could not have done it any other way.
  2. In a move I never make, I showed this to Jess before posting.  I emailed it to her early in the evening and did not get any response.  That, of course, had me worried. This morning I received this text:

So, here we go!

 

This past summer, well, sucked.  Jess was miserable. I was miserable.  Anyone who was forced to be with us: also miserable.  There was no one incident, no particular event, rather a steady trickle of bad choices and worse attitudes. Our house was a shitty place to be.  There were loud, angry arguments. The tension between Jess and everyone who shared her last name or lived under the same roof was unbearable. She was angry, disrespectful to both herself and to most who came in contact with her, and was headed down a bad path..no doubt about it.

 

One Saturday afternoon, I got a text from her:

Mom, I am sick. Please come and get me at (this address). I ate fried dough and chicken fingers and they aren’t agreeing with me.

 

I knew she wasn’t sick.  I knew she had eaten neither friend dough nor chicken fingers. I knew she’d made a bad choice.  I knew we were in more trouble than I had been ready to admit to myself. .

Thankfully, it was “only” a bad reaction to some unsavory pot she’d somehow acquired – despite having no income.  Barry and I got her home safely where he essentially had to carry her into the house. There was nothing to do or say in that moment, other than to watch her, keep her safe, and wait for the botched high to end.  When it did end, she casually got up, walked over to her dresser, and banged her head against it. Repeatedly. It was horrifying enough that we headed to the emergency room.

There, we met with a kind, compassionate, and patient doctor who wanted to admit her, but did not want to traumatize her by doing so.  He allowed us to bring her home with a promise to, at the very least, take her to see her primary care doctor.

The following morning, we arrived at the doctor’s office and were handed a slip of paper.

“This is the name of a psychiatric nurse practitioner.  You got lucky – Jess has an appointment in three weeks…it never happens that quickly.”

This is when my mama bear kicked in, and kicked in hard.

 “Three weeks?!  You’ve got to be kidding me! This is clearly a kid in crisis…how are we supposed to manage this for three weeks?!”

 

(Aside: mental healthcare is a disaster in this country.  It is shameful, and frightening that someone in crisis is told that not only do they have to wait three weeks, but that they are somehow lucky it isn’t longer!  We were not fearful of suicide, but what if we were…or, worse, should have been? I could go on and on about this,but, for now, I won’t.)

 

As Jess was quietly listening to this unfold, she spoke for the first time.  She asked me to call the psychiatrist she’d seen as a little kid. The guy who was there every step of the way during her transition from George to Jessie.  She hadn’t seen him in nearly five years.

 

Because he is old-school, and because he is deeply loyal to his patients, the psychiatrist saw us the next day.  And the day after that. And three hour long phone calls after that. And then he made a recommendation.

 

“Send her to a wilderness program where she will live on a mountain, sleep under a tarp, be stripped of everything that is eating away at her.  She’ll learn self help skills. She’ll go places – physically and emotionally – that she’s never gone. It can be transformative.”

 

(Note: those were his exact words which I scribed on my phone while he spoke.)

 

I thought he was out of his fucking mind.  I might have even given a few (or many) excuses against his recommendation. Things weren’t really that bad.  She would never agree. It would be a disaster. We cannot afford it.  (Aside: technically, we 100% couldn’t afford it.)

 

Five harrowing days later, we were on our way to Vermont with nothing but eight pairs of underwear.

 

“I am pissed, I am terrified, but I know you are sending me because I need to go.”

 

It would be 54 days before I saw or spoke to Jess. And another 21 days after that before she would graduate.  During those nearly eleven weeks her dad and I had weekly phone sessions: one with her therapist, one with a family therapist.  Our communication with Jess was exclusively through letters emailed between us. These were intense, meaningful exchanges. They were not easy to write (said the writer) and hers were often hard to receive.  They were honest. Brutally honest.

 

My life at home bore no resemblance to before she left.  I slogged through the first few days (okay, weeks) not quite knowing what to do with myself.  I struggled with a tortuous combination of sadness, worry, anger, and, truthfully: relief. Gone were the arguments, the confrontations, the concern.  I knew in my heart that she was safe, but I couldn’t help feeling like a failure. What kind of mother sends their kid off to the mountains at the precipice of winter in New England?  My repeatedly telling Jess that this was not a punishment, but a gift, rang hollow in my heart. The first cold rainy day, I sat in my mother-in-law’s kitchen weeping. Reassurances from my husband, my ex-husband, my family and the few friends who knew what was going on were tricky – not one of them had been in my shoes, all the best intentions notwithstanding.

 

Over those weeks, I began to relax.  I started sleeping again – something I hadn’t done in years.  I got into a new groove – one which I enjoyed, when I wasn’t thinking too much.  I started to breathe.

 

And then, graduation -arguably a fabulous, celebratory day – was upon us. And I could no longer sleep.  I could no longer breathe. Because, despite the joy in her completing (in a totally badass way) a no-bullshit program that included sleeping under a tarp in the dead of winter, no running water or toilets, “showering” by way of a bag held precariously over her head, lugging a 70 pound backpack, having to create fire (no matches, babe), filter drinking water  (this from a girl whose only wilderness experience prior to this was walking from the house out to her car) Jess wasn’t coming home…yet.

 

I have learned a lot about a lot of things I never knew.  A wilderness program, while wholly transformative (more on that in a moment) is actually just the beginning.  It is a total reboot, throw in a new operating system, plug and unplug event for sure. But is is also considered preparation for the next step: boarding school. I could not find one person – both the professionals on Team Jess, nor my psychologist-friends, to tell me it would be a good idea for her to come home -even for a few days – before starting school.  Yes, she was highly transformed, but it would be wildly unfair to expect her to plop back into the same environment that clearly wasn’t working for her without also setting her up for a potentially disastrous result. So, for the six days between her graduation (which, I have to say, blew away any graduation I have ever been to, ever) it was me, my ex-husband and Jess in a hotel in Maine.

 

Let that sink in for a moment.

 

I am not proud, but I am honest: I was dreading it.  I was beside myself with anxiety, trepidation, fear.  I was pre-worrying (it is my specialty) about arguments, and misunderstandings, and general discord.  I didn’t dare to expect things to be different. My bad: I was expecting the Jess who left in October. Guess what? That is not who showed up.  Oh, sure there was a moment here and there, but they were only moments and recovery was swift.  Jess, fresh out of wilderness, is pretty much the bomb.

 

We did some shopping.

 

I brought her for her first haircut in three months.

 

Her grungy hands and nails desperately needed a manicure.

 

We went out to dinner.

 

We slept until we woke up (and, yes, that included me…I slept!).

 

We visited her new school.

 

We went to the movies and cried at the same scenes.

 

We got mother daughter tattoos of The North Star, a promise I made to her when she turned 18.

 

 

It was the best six days I’ve ever spent with Jess.  Ever.

 

We arrived at her new school at 9 a.m. and by noon she had met her roommates, set up her room, and hung a tapestry she’d bought in Israel.  We said our goodbyes. Her dad and I stood by her dorm and watched her confidently head to lunch with her roommates, who, just an hour earlier, were total strangers.  It was eerily reminiscent of the first day she walked into her elementary school dressed in head to toe pink, purple, and green pajamas, no longer George, but proudly Jess.

 

 

It has been about ten days.  Ten days of pleasant phone calls, funny texts, easy chatter.  And, remarkably, no complaints about the food, or the cold, or the people, or anything, really.  It’s all good.  At least for now.

 

Sure, she’s lobbied (pretty hard) to come home for a weekend, but accepted my response that she needed to wait a little longer.  She was persistent, but respectful.

 

And, yes, she’s asked me to send her several things – some of which I have, others, not so much.  And, again, persistent, but respectful.

 

She is, after all, still a teenager.

 

She called me just to tell me that Florence Pugh was nominated for an Oscar.

 

She texted me about a coloring book, “Gay Men Draw Vaginas” and I responded with a link to a story about Gwenyth Paltrow selling candles that smell like her vagina.  You know: normal mom.daughter stuff. I could practically hear her laughing, despite the 135 miles between us.

 

I am wildly (see what I did there?) grateful to the good folks at True North who took my angry, dysregulated, disconnected daughter and helped her do what she had to do to transform herself into a fantastic version of herself.  Sending her there was the hardest parenting work I have ever done (and, um, that’s saying something), but I would do it again.  In a heartbeat. Remember how I said that we 100% could not afford it? Update: we 100% couldn’t afford not to.

 

 

It was this exchange that prompted me to write this blog post:

“I googled myself and, of course, your blog came up.  I started reading it. You need to keep doing that, mom.”

 

I asked her what had changed her mind:

 

“I am over caring.”

 

Um, does that mean you are caring too much or are past giving a shit what other people think, say or do?

 

My heart sang when she replied that it was the latter.

 

 

Atta girl!  Take that Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and whatever other confidence destroying evils are lurking about.

 

Could. Not. Be. Prouder.

 

p.s. I am wise enough to know that there are going to be bumps in the road.  I am seasoned enough to know that the moment we think we really, truly know our children, they up and change.  I am brave enough to be willing to take these risks…because I always knew that Jess could be fucking amazing.

And…That’s A Wrap

In early 2012, I, quite by accident, created this blog.

 

What began as a way of communicating to my friends and family the lightning speed with which my son George was becoming my daughter, Jessie, morphed, over the years, into something that was less about her and more about me.

 

At first, I was little more than the-parent-of-a-transgender-child-trying-to-navigate-unchartered-territory-who-needed-tons-of-support.

 

Then, as time progressed and because a new (sort of/kind of) normal emerged, my experiences as a person, a wife, a mother, a woman, a daughter, a sister, an ex-wife and step-mother were more urgent than those of the no-longer-newly-indoctrinated-parent-of-a-transgender-child.

 

Thank you for allowing me to share, shift and share some more.

 

As parents, we try to do right by our children by making – and helping them to make – good decisions, by guiding them as best we can, but mostly by supporting them.

 

We work hard to achieve that elusive balance between being authoritative and being cool.

 

We convince them – and ourselves -we know what we are doing, even when, much of the time, we don’t. (Okay, maybe you do, but I don’t.  Truth.)

 

Most of us put on a good act, but, in reality, we are just winging it much of the time, hoping that our life experiences have provided the tools we need to support, guide and cherish our children – no matter who they are, what they need or where they might be – physically, emotionally, spiritually.

 

Which brings me to the point of this post:

 

Jess is nearly 18 years-old now (talk about crazy!  How is that even possible?!?!), a rising high school senior (say what?!?)  and, out of respect for her, it is time to retire georgejessielove.

 

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As a ten-year old kid, she was down with it.  Over the years, she’s been a bit more reticent in her support.  And, if we are being honest, there have been times that it has made her life more complicated than it already was, is, and will continue to be.  My intent was never to make things harder for her, but sometimes it did. See above: just winging it.

Also see above: trying to make good decisions.

 

Thank you all for your incredible support over the years.  It has gotten me through some really rough spots.  Don’t think for one second that every kind word, every “you got this”, and every virtual hug didn’t make a difference.  It did.

 

Thank you for, if not appreciating, at least allowing my candor, my sarcasm, my sense of humor in the face of some tricky stuff.

 

Thank you for encouraging me, for holding me up, going along for the ride.  It’s definitely been a little bumpy.

 

I suspect I will blog again some day.  I hope that we find one another when I do.