I’ll have what she’s having

Nora1Fun fact: Nora Ephron and I share the same birthday.

I first experienced Ms. Ephron with her film “Heartburn” in 1986, based on her semi-autobiographical book by the same name, starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. Although, I confess, at the time, I was struck more by the credit music by Carly Simon, prompting me to buy one more of her albums just so I could listen to “Coming Around Again” again and again.

I had seen “Silkwood” with Meryl Streep and Cher (1983). Then came Nora’s “Sleepless in Seattle” (’93), “You’ve Got Mail” (’98), “Julie and Julia” (’09), and a score of others interspersed throughout those years.  But, for me, the definitive “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) is the best of her films, and is still arguably one of the most sincere and realistic films about friendships between men and women ever produced, not to mention just all-out fall-down funny and touching and real.  One of my all-time favorite movies, period.  That movie, that point in time, is when Nora Ephron really hit my radar.

But it wasn’t until mid-July last year when I finally sat down with a book by Nora.  I was trying to understand this form of writing I stumbled upon — and apparently had been doing — for over a year at that time.  The week before we left for a long-weekend trip to northern Michigan, I Googled “personal essay writers” and was hit with list upon list and more lists and “next pages” of lists.  I wanted a woman’s perspective.  So naturally, it was Nora Ephron.

I was at Barnes and Noble for over an hour in the small, hidden-in-the-back, out of the way “Essays” section (I didn’t even know there was such a section until then; did you?).

With a lot to do before the trip, I decided I’d wait to read my chosen coursework until we were “officially” on the trip.  Which means, once we get on the road or to the airport.  Mostly because at that point, there is nothing else I can do to get myself/child/partner/pets/house/car in order.  In this instance, we had decided to fly since it was just T and me; and, because in the previous five weeks, between the two of us, we had already made the driving trek to Michigan five times (various business trips intermingled with family visits), with one more to go (our summer family vacation; and no, we don’t normally get to spend so much time in our home state.  It’s just worked out that way this summer).  So with great anticipation, I cracked the spine on my primer when we arrived at our gate.

I Feel Bad About My Neck is the book I chose to begin my education.  And it was a post-doc level course.

Nora2I laughed so hard and out loud on the plane reading it, I think T was actually pretending not to know me for the entirety of the flight.

When we landed, I reluctantly put the book away for later.  We were there for reasons other than relaxation, and it wasn’t until bedtime that I had an opportunity to extract the book from my carry on.  While T finished up some work on his laptop, I lay in bed, laughing; folding over page corners for reliving later; thinking “me too!” more times than I could count; and wondering how in the world this woman had exactly the right words in exactly the right order to recount periods in her life with such exquisite perspective.

I sighed when I finished — much like after a wonderful meal that fills you, not only with food, but with gratitude that you had a seat at that particular table.

“I may as well just stop writing now,” I said to T.

“What?”

“I will never write like Nora Ephron,” I said.

“Well maybe it’s something to strive for,” he replied.

“No, you don’t understand,” I replied earnestly.  “I will never write like Nora Ephron.”

At that point, he decided to just nod vaguely in agreement and leave me pondering this slim volume of wonderment.  (He’s a wise man.)

I decided to do a little background research on my new-found teacher, and that’s when I discovered I have the same birthday as Nora Ephron.  That must be some cosmic sign she is to be my muse, right?  (Of course, there are lots of other people who were born on that day in May.  Including one of my ex’s much younger girlfriends.  Some people think I must be offended by that in some way.  Not really.  I had that birthday first.)  I was on a first-name basis with Nora by then, so it was an OMG moment for certain.  I posted it on Facebook.  I tweeted on Twitter.  I shouted it to my family (“Who?” said my teen).  Ok, I was getting carried away.  I can see that now.

But it’s NORA FREAKIN’ EPHRON!  And she’s one of the most brilliant writers ever, whether it’s for print or movies — geez, she could write directions for an oil change and it would be awesome.

Much of my life goes irrelevantly on, in spite of larger events,” she wrote.  As the song goes, “I know nothing stays the same…”

And yet she still believed strongly that “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”  Hell to the yes!

At the same time I was voraciously reading Nora’s essays, I picked up a copy of a book T’s mom had told me about regarding the history of the feminist movement.  This happened to coincide with Hillary Clinton’s nomination as the first woman to head an election ticket by a major party.  AND, guess who was quoted throughout the book?  Nora.

Nora3So how timely and apropo was my discovery of Ms. Ephron?  From needing some direction as to my writing future to commentary on women in politics, Nora came into my life at just the right time.

Nora would have been 76 this last birthday of ours.  But the world lost her marvelous voice in June of 2012, to stupid leukemia.  I don’t have many regrets in my life, but I do regret not having discovered this remarkable woman earlier.  I would have written a letter to her, in the most fan-girl of ways, saying all these things I’ve learned with help from her.

In retrospect, however, I do believe I came across Nora Ephron exactly when I should have.  Any sooner, I may have just chuckled and moved on.  In that time period, from when she left us to my discovering her on that bookshelf at Barnes and Noble, I have changed in so many ways — I think for the better.  Nora has given me so many master-classes in not just writing, but in how to look at the world through a different lens; finding humor in places I didn’t know I could; accepting myself fully for who I am in every way; looking back through the history of the Women’s Movement and learning things I never even guessed at growing up in the 70s.

NoraI know nothing stays the same, but it’s ok, she assures me.  Because if things don’t change, we’re actually all the worse for it.  So the changes I’ve weathered, the changes I invited, the changes I made willingly and excitedly, even the ones I didn’t — they’ve all made me who I am now, and have led me to discover my writing anew and shown me where I can fit in to the literary world.

Thank you, Nora.  I needed that.

Until next Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

drawn heart

Change happens

Carly Simon’s song “Comin’ Around Again” has special meaning to me for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s Carly Simon.  Second, it was featured in Nora Ephron’s movie “Heartburn” (NORA FREAKIN’ EPHRON).  Third, the lyrics are so much my past life.  So, so much.

Sometimes it does take the Universe seizing our life, turning it upside down, and shaking it as hard as it can to see what remains inside.  What was left for me was my son, my dog and two cats, my real friends, and my trusty old Subaru.

That was pretty much all I had left.   No bearings as my internal compass had taken quite a hit.  I had a part-time job, but that didn’t give us any health benefits.

Then everything happened that happened in between then and now.

Maybe I’m ready to tell the story now.  My son is currently at college making the beginnings of his own life, so he isn’t in any danger of reliving it with me, what we went through back then.

It seems so long ago.  It did begin a long time ago — and then my ex stretched it out even longer.  And then longer again.  It seemed like The Big Bad Awful would *never* end…. Seven years is a long time to spend in and out of courthouses and lawyers’ offices.

But I finally feel I have some distance, a buffer, from it all.  Not that time will ever really change how I look at it, nor will it soften the jagged edges.  But it can’t hurt me through the self-protecting padding — my good, true life — I’ve built around it.  I can look at it, turn it one way, then another, and examine it, and it can’t cut or burn me anymore.  It’s not a threat to me or my son anymore.  So maybe it’s time to tell this story.  I don’t know where, or how it will fall.  But it might be time.

Comin’ Around Again

Baby sneezes.
Mommy pleases.
Daddy breezes in.
So good on paper,
So romantic,
So bewildering.

I know nothing stays the same.
But if you’re willing to play the game,
It’s coming around again.
So don’t mind if I fall apart:
There’s more room in a broken heart.

Pay the grocer,
Fix the toaster,
Kiss the host goodbye.
Then you break a window,
Burn the soufflé,
Scream a lullaby.

I know nothing stays the same.
But if you’re willing to play the game,
It’s coming around again.
So don’t mind if I fall apart:
There’s more room in a broken heart.

And I believe in love —
What else can I do…
I know nothing stays the same.
But if you’re willing to play the game,
It’s coming around again.

I believe in love.
Now who knows where or when,
But it’s coming around again.

I know nothing stays the same —
But if you’re willing to play the game,
It will be coming around again…

                                       ~ Carly Simon

*Bill the Cat, “Passed Out From Life,” by Berkeley Breathed

Did I?

My son’s first two weeks at college haven’t gone as planned.  In all honesty, with the exception of the people he’s met so far, I’d have to say these first days away have been pretty crappy for him.  He’d probably use a lot stronger adjectives to describe the time.

Not that he’s been sheltered, nor has he had life handed to him, but he’s had a series of “welcome to real life” smack-downs in such quick succession, it’s a testament to his stubbornness that I haven’t received a “come and get me” phone call or text.

In just nine days, the short list looks like this:  his bike was stolen; the bookstore ran out of the books necessary for two of his classes (BEFORE classes even started); he caught a bad cold; there was a shooting not too far from campus; the insurance company suddenly decided they weren’t going to fill a (very necessary) prescription for him without making him jump through a bunch of hoops, paperwork, and delay; he overslept one morning, missing an 8:00 class; and he just found out he has to work the day of the first home football game.

To some, that last detail about the football game may seem trivial.  But you need to know, my kid LOVES college football.  Fanatically.  Although it wasn’t a (completely) deciding factor, his college choices came down to Big 10 football schools.  He’s been making plans with other football-crazy new friends since orientation in June.  When things started going off the rails a week and a half ago, that football game was his light at the end of the tunnel…

My heart hurts for him.

He dealt with the stolen bike immediately, reporting it to campus police, filing a report, and even called local bike shops with the serial number and his contact information in case it showed up.  Although he texted me asking how he should best deal with the insurance/medication debacle, he’s handled that on his own.  With the MIA books, he immediately got on Amazon and ordered them.  He texted and asked which medications would work best for his cold symptoms (he rarely gets sick, so is unfamiliar with that portion of a medicine cabinet).

When we talked at the end of the first week, after the bike theft and the shooting, I reassured him that he was in a safe community — that there is crime in every town.  We talked (again) about being aware of his surroundings.  That just because he’s male, that doesn’t make him less of a target if he’s walking alone at night, and that his computer and his phone need to be in his hands or locked up at all times because that’s just the world we live in.

But the football game…

I so wanted him to experience that part of college life with his new friends as much as I want him to go to classes and learn.  This is a kid who loves school, who is excited about his majors and the honors college, who is outgoing and is a proud “nerd.”  And life came along and whomped him up one side and down the other in a very short time.

And I can’t fix it.

I can console him; I can send funny memes; I can write him letters and send care packages.  But I can’t fix any of it.  Ouch.  I told you all I was doing fine after dropping him off.  But not being able to help him is what made me cry… several times.

And now the doubts roll in…

Did I teach you everything you need to go out into the world on your own?

Did I teach you to love enough, hard enough?

Did I convince you that you ARE enough?

Did I teach you to ask for help when you need it?

Did I give you enough ammunition to fight for what you believe in?

Did I teach you how to find answers?

Did I teach you enough about compassion?

Did I encourage you enough?

Did I teach you enough about how to be a good friend?

Did I teach you how to recognize the imposters?

Did I show you how to be grateful for what you have?

Did I show you how to find the funny in dark times?

Did I teach you how the only way to get over pain was to go through it?

Did I teach you that whatever you feel is real and it’s true , not right or wrong — but how you choose to act on those feelings is what counts as right or wrong?

Did I reach you?

Did I let go soon enough?

Did I hold on long enough?

Did I do enough?

Did I?

This too, shall pass.  And we will all be ok eventually.  I know that in my head.  But my heart aches, and I can’t hug him.  And that’s the change I didn’t think would come so soon.

Until Friday, Friends ~

Recalculating

I know the analogy “life is like a journey” can be a tired old cliche, but as a parent, it really is the best metaphor you can use.

crazy-carBe warned, though: this journey is a road trip, and you didn’t pack enough snacks, everyone needs to go to the bathroom exactly 2.36 miles past the last rest area and/or McDonalds (even though you asked “Does anyone need a bathroom break?” long before you reached the exit), someone gets carsick, the GPS isn’t working, and you threw out the old, ripped, mis-folded and mashed-up paper map when you were scrambling through the glovebox looking for napkins.

And naturally, there’s always someone who thinks they know best when it comes to the best route, and/or your family.  Whether it’s your mother, father, pastor, neighbor, pharmacist, plumber, mechanic, or the person who bags your groceries at the market, there are people in your life who don’t know when to keep their advice to themselves.  It’s just like having Siri on 24/7 and you can’t switch her off.  It will happen from the time you announce you’re going to be a parent until well after the kid(s) are older and have started their lives apart from you.

Keep smiling, say “thanks,” and move on.

You owe those people nothing more than that when unsolicited advice is thrown at you, much like when you decide that the scenic route looks far more interesting than the main highway and Siri responds in thamapt frigid voice “Recalculating.”  Yeah, your mother may purse her lips and shake her head when you do things your own way, but she’s not driving this bus, is she?

What happens when we screw up?  (because we all do)  Well, apologize; fix what you can; move on.  Really.  I used to beat myself up about all manner of things.  Not anymore.  Kids have remarkable memories.  Believe me, they’re going to remember far worse and more embarrassing moments, and will happily blurt them out at the most inopportune moments in the future on this trip we call Life.

And guess what?  No one is going to need therapy!  Because “normal” is, after all, just a setting on the dryer.

You’re driving.  At least until the kids are 16, right?  Even if you’re winging it (like me), you’ve got a general destination in mind, and although you might not have the most dicountry-roadrect route mapped, you’re getting there.  In the meantime, let someone else drive once in a while; crank up the tunes and sing along; look out the window; be glad you’re taking the scenic route, and enjoy the ride as much as you possibly can whenever you can.

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!drawn heart

A Funny Thing Happened After My Son Left for College….

Last week, I’d written an entirely different blog for this week.  It was about the angst I was feeling as a Mom about whether or not I’d prepared my son enough for Life On His Own at college.  I was certain those feelings would follow me into this next chapter.

But after having dropped him off, I don’t feel that angst anymore.  I am angst-less.

How did that happen?

Well, Z did go off to three weeks of summer camp every year for 7 years — and they weren’t allowed to bring electronic devices, so the only way to keep in touch was by old-fashioned letter writing.  Maybe my brain just thinks we’ve dropped him off at camp…

Perhaps writing about the conflicting emotions here on the blog over the summer was a kind of journal-therapy…

Or maybe laying out what I was feeling and unflinchingly looking at the pesky tear-jerking thoughts helped me work through them by the time it came to say “good-bye”… Not to say there weren’t tears and lots of hugs and “I’ll miss yous,” there were, but not long and protracted.  Although part of that may have been due to pure exhaustion…

(I’m pretty sure I’m not a cold-hearted monster who is incapable of feeling, so we’re just tossing that idea out right now.)

Whatever the reason, I’m ok.  Ask me again next week and that answer may have changed, but for now, I’m good!

My kid was one of the first of my friends’ kids to head off to college this month.  And now those friends and friends of older kids keep asking how I’m doing.  Messages on Facebook encourage me to “hang in there,” texts reassure me “it gets better,” emails remind me to “keep breathing”… Normally, I’d be so grateful for commiseration and encouraging words, but I’m rather confused this time, because I don’t need them right now…

I know most all of us get excited for our kids’ new adventures.  Maybe the excitement I feel for Z starting this new chapter has overwritten the sad “empty nest” feelings for me.  Do I miss him?  Of course.  Is it disorienting not being a part of his everyday life?  You bet.  Do I wistfully walk by his bedroom on the way to my office?  Sure, sometimes (but it is all neat and tidy now with the bed actually made, and I do like that part).

Do I expect that feelings of missing him will ambush me in the coming weeks?  Probably.  I’m prepared with tissues at all times, just in case.

What I do know for sure is that I spent the last 18 years raising a kind, funny, smart, curious person.  He sprouted wings and wanted to use them sooner than a lot of his playmates, and I could either accept this as part of the person I was raising, or squelch the fire that fueled his curiosity.  Frankly, having been squelched a lot myself, I had no desire whatsoever to try and change the course of my son’s trajectory.  So maybe I’ve been preparing myself all along for this giant leap.

That little person turned out to be a pretty terrific young man.  Far from perfect, but pretty amazing all the same.  I trust in that.  I also know without a doubt that he will sometimes fall; he will at some point(s) fail; there is turbulence ahead, and he will need to learn to navigate all of that and more.  I trust I was able to teach him to find, and use, the tools he needs; but above all, I hope he learned to trust in himself, in his absolute capability to deal with what Life brings.  He is resilient, and now he needs to believe in that resiliency.

And here I am, cheering from the sidelines now.  Always.  Some days I feel like I’m flying blind — we’re in uncharted territory: Life After Kid.  I’m not abdicating as his Mom, but he is sovereign now.

Until next Friday, Friends!

The Present

To my College Freshman…

The day is here.  

                    And you are ready. 

But here’s the problem, babe: we spent so much time and energy getting YOU ready, we forgot to get ME ready.  

I know this is the life you’re making without me, and you’ll get to make up new rules along the way.  

But I don’t remember what my heart felt like before you were with me!

So please cut me some slack, and be patient as I learn how to Do This.  

Forgive — in advance — the many texts, emails, and phone calls I am going to be making.  Please know they will be just a fraction of the total I will want to send and make.  

I hope the amount of “real” mail you will receive from me doesn’t embarrass you.  

I hope future care packages will smooth over any embarrassment caused.  

I hope you will accept me wanting to see you once in a while.  Either with you coming home for a break, or me coming to visit you.  This is as much to see you as it will be for me to get to know your new environment — and to reassure me you haven’t forgotten where you came from.  

Now, just because I would like that, I know there will be times it won’t work.  Trust me when I say, although I will be terribly disappointed, I will survive it.  I am a tough (yet tender) cookie.  Don’t forget it.  

I hope you will reach out to me, too.  Please call or text or something if you’re feeling down or overwhelmed or lonely.  If you need me, I will drop what I am doing.  I will answer a call day or night.  

Let me know if a class isn’t going well.  Even if you’re failing it.  Remember, I’ve been to college, I really do know what it’s like.  

Tell me the good things happening, too!  I will answer day or night…

Are the other kids what you expected?  What surprises you most about college-living?  What’s easier than you thought?  What’s harder?

Tell me about your favorite place on campus.  

Tell me how the food is, and how the spaghetti isn’t NEARLY as good as mine.  

Once in a while, tell me that you miss me (even if you don’t really). 

This will be one of the greatest challenges of my life: learning how to not be part of your everyday world — and not having you as part of mine. 

I’ve taught you well (I hope; I’m pretty sure) how to be a good person, how to go out into the world and work for what you think is right.  How to work towards what you want.  Now you’ll learn by doing.  I believe in you, with everything in my heart!  But there are going to be some times when you fall…. and I won’t be right there to help.  

It’s in a Mama-bear’s nature to want — and need — to help her cub.  

But I know I won’t always be able to, whether it’s distance, or rules, or because it’s something you need to take care of yourself (See?  I’m learning…).

And you need to remember I am always in your corner.  Got that?  ALWAYS.  ALL WAYS.  

I’m proud of you.  I love you.  And I will miss you —  because I like you.

       Always and forever.           Love, Mama

… before everything changes

Flashback to over 2 years ago….

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’ve just returned from a long weekend trip with my 15-soon-to-be-16-year-old son.  It was just the two of us.

We’ve made several of these trips over the years, but none before had felt so IMG_3714*delicate* – like a beautiful soap bubble, reflecting watercolor-like images of us.  Knowing it would probably be the last – or at least the penultimate – trip before his life changes dramatically: getting his driver’s license, then getting a job, then going to college….

Our trips would drive others mad.  We don’t plan anything. We pack books, and crazy card games, comfy clothes.  We don’t set alarms, we don’t make reservations (except for a room).  We pack swimsuits, just in case.  We might load the bikes onto the car rack like we did for this trip even though the weather forecast was icky (and it turns out we never did get to ride them). We buy junk food. We watch movies. We sleep until we wake up. We talk. We’re quiet together.

We drive, and drive, and drive a long way from our home for these trips. Once we even flew. The unspoken rule is that it needs to be a place on the water.  Any body of water.  And it needs to be just the two of us.

These trips don’t happen every year, but as he gets older I want a bajillion more of them! What makes them so special to me is that he WANTS to go. Not only that, Z is always the one who brings it up.  And he made my heart sing when he asked a month ago if he and I could take one of our trips.

This year, Z did ALL the driving.  The six hours up to the Northwoods of Wisconsin, in and around the quaint towns, and back home again. I must have looked to my left at the young man driving a thousand times that trip, and all I could think was “It used to be me driving him around…”

Z and I have always been close. It’s been the two of us for most of his young life.  I am his constant. No matter what or who comes and goes from his life, he knows he is stuck with me.  I’ve made sure he knows that. Always and forever.

He still talks to me about all manner of things going on in his life, including crushes and periods of uncertainty. He still asks me questions about sex, and what girls like best about boys. He listens carefully and intently when we talk about “no means no for anyone saying it” and that mutual respect is a key to any healthy relationship.  He listens and asks more questions when I tell him integrity is the quality I value most in my friendships and other relationships.  He asks what integrity envelopes, and we talk about what it means when someone calls him a “young man of integrity”.  I tell him first of all, I think it may be the greatest compliment anyone can ever give him.  Then I tell him I hope he always strives to be a man of integrity.  Always and forever.

But those conversations are for at home. On our trips, it’s nothing heavy, nothing earth-shattering. We catch up with the little things. He asks about the book I’m reading; I ask about how everyone at the lunch table is doing. We talk about music. We talk about cars (well, he talks, I listen). Sometimes we don’t talk at all and are just *together*.   We play card games that devolve into mild smack talk and laughter so hearty our sides-ache-our-eyes-water-and-we-can’t-breathe-together. We breathe. We just are together.

Z is an adventurous kid. He loved preschool the moment I dropped him off. When I mentioned summer sleep away camp one spring, thinking he might want to talk roots and wingsabout it later, he asked how soon he could leave. He was 8 years old (fortunately, the camp we chose had an opening that summer). It’s 3-weeks long and 7 hours away. He’s gone every summer but one ever since. He’s a genuinely nice person, and makes friends easily – both boys and girls. His friends are nice people, too, and as they all get older (and get driver’s licenses) they are off doing more things away from us parents. He is working on earning money for his French Club trip to Paris next spring – he’ll make it to France before I do. He has no qualms about going away to college. He is already planning his semester studying in Europe. And he talks about living abroad to work on his graduate degrees.

All of these milestones, all of these “venturing outings” are amazing and awesome to him. He knows he’s lucky to get to do a lot of the things he does (and I will strive to make sure he can). He has no fear. I love watching him spread his wings and fly!

It also breaks my heart a little bit more each time he flies a little further.

This fall he’ll be heading into his junior year.  God help me. I’m not ready for that and I know it. As long as he’s ready though, it’ll all be good.

And if I get one more trip – one more lazy, perfect trip with Z before he flies off to find his future, I’ll be thrilled. In the meantime, I have all the memories of trips past to cherish. And if this was the last of them, then it will be enough.

Always and forever.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Today ~

It was, indeed, the last trip just the two of us took.  Life happened, and he got a job, and a girlfriend, and more AP classes, and and and and….  But I was honest about that trip being “enough” if it was truly to be the last…  I was also honest about wanting more.  So maybe somewhere down the road we’ll have one more trip, just the two of us… before everything changes again.