Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Friends with benefits - isn't friendship benefit enough?

I heard two people in a coffee shop talking about friends with benefits.  I immediately think of heath care. The proceeded to talk about an early evening romp after a hard day and then hitting the gym before making an early night of it – early work meeting and all.  Evidently, I am old and out of touch. 

One of the great things about good friends is that they love you even though…..(fill in the blank.)  My friends don’t care if I haven’t shaved, have my period or gained 5 pounds.  I am not worried if they are having a bad hair day or have cellulite.  They are your friends even when your clothes don’t match and you haven’t showered. They don’t need to be in any specific mood and they truly appreciate an evening spent having a few drinks while wearing “comfy pants” and no makeup.

Now, sure – we’ve all had one night stands that had less than adequate prep time and unflattering lighting. It’s likely that tequila was involved and your partner was someone you would never consider “benefitting” in normal circumstances. A walk of shame back up your front walk may have been involved (yeah, you know who you are - and yes, it only made it better that neighbors were having a garage sale that morning making this particular walk of shame even more public.) 
I thought maybe I was missing something so when in doubt, Google it. According to Urban Dictionary, friends with benefits are typically two good friends (would hate to think they were bad friends) who have casual sex without a monogamous commitment. In my day, this was dating.  A friend told me that for friends with benefits, no date is required – you go straight to sex. Perhaps my coupled friends can correct me, but isn’t that called marriage? 

Isn’t being just friends benefit enough?  Isn’t my advice, snarky repartee and kickin’ Sangria enough?  Now we need to fuck, too?  My God, I just don’t have that kind of energy never mind the stress of worrying that all parts are appropriately groomed and ready in case benefits are required.  Now, I will admit, it’s been a while since I’ve dated. Single parenthood saps my energy and my job eats my brain cells. I was alone in my family room for almost an hour yesterday before I realized I was watching iCarly.  But surely time hasn’t changed that much. 

Have we become so commitment-phobic that we can’t even admit to dating someone so we invented this whole new category to rationalize the need to spend repeated quality and intimate time with another grown up?  Are we such workaholics that we simply schedule sex with an equally busy friend and with as much intimacy as a visit to the gyno?  Or are we so lazy that we don’t want to put forth the energy to actually date someone?

You know, I often use the phrase “own it” with my daughter.  This applies when she does something that results in trouble. She always says, “It was an accident.”  I tell her to own it and move on.  If folks are friends with benefits, they are dating and too chicken to admit it. If you’re friends, there is some level of emotional attachment. If you’re benefiting, well, it’s dating.  Own it and move on.

For me, well my friends do have benefits. J and K are in medicine and friendship comes with a great bedside manner and quick medical advice.  T is my go-to for work-related stuff, M keeps me from losing my mommy mind and L reminds me family is meant to drive me crazy.  D is my handyman working through the “to-do” list of things around the house.  Other friends and I trade kid watching and others share that much needed drink at the end of a long day. They do not require a bikini wax or soft lighting.  Now, those are friends with benefits.

Monday, June 27, 2011

For Rona, who died too young and will always be missed

It’s been 12 years since she’s been gone.  More than a decade, less than a generation.  Seems like a lifetime. Feels like yesterday.  There are no words to explain who she was and what she meant. Friend doesn’t seem adequate though I was lucky to call her that for 23 years. We laughed a lot, shed a few tears and said few angry words. 

In the early years, we did the typical stuff – school, Bar and Bat Mizvahs, ice skating Fridays, sleepovers, movies, passed notes, football games, cut class, and learned to drive.  I drove a 69 Valiant and she drove an old Caddy with a broken speedometer and floating steering wheel.  We went to concerts.  We shopped, went to the beach, shared secrets, talked about boys and how our parents didn’t understand us.

After high school our friendship changed and grew into something deeper.  I moved away and we re-connected with each visit.  Long before email and the Internet, we relied on long-distance calls and letters. We racked up horrible long distance phone bills and heard the wrath of angry parents when we needed help paying that bill.  We talked college and work.  She kept me up on what was happening back home and I told her all about California.  We talked about boys and how our parents didn’t understand us.  She got sick once in a while and then more often. 

I moved home. We got closer and she got sicker.  We worked, hung out, went to bars, to dinner, movies. Sometimes our hanging out was in the hospital but that didn’t stop us. I brought movies, her favorite foods and sometimes we’d go upstairs to the patio and sneak a smoke. We went to services during the High Holidays and celebrated with one of our families.  My father adored her. She and my father would tell each other wildly dirty and politically incorrect jokes seeing who could out-do the other.  I answered the dreaded middle of the night calls – my car knew the way.  My father called it the “Rona Rush.”  There was often nothing I could do but being together made us both feel better. I held her hand, advocated for care, nursed her as best as I could.  Donating blood became a regular activity for me every 56-60 days for ten years.  I have a small scar on the inside of my left arm.  We went to the beach – spending days taking walks, lying in the sun, reading and eating crabs.  We still talked about boys and how our parents didn’t understand us.

I moved away.  A professional decision with painful personal sacrifice.  Saying goodbye to so many friends was awful but saying it to Rona felt different. I came home frequently and more often than not, our visits were in the hospital.  We still laughed, made fun of people. Still watched movies, ate her favorite foods and snuck upstairs for a smoke.  We talked almost daily. We talked about boys and how our parents didn’t understand us. We talked about what scared us. We talked until talk was no longer possible.

Rona died on June 27, 1999. I was in NC on a business trip and immediately flew home in the world’s tiniest plane. My father picked me up at National Airport. I lit what would be my last cigarette and promptly threw up on the side of the parkway.  I sat in her bedroom, her phone book on my lap along with that infamous pink and yellow phone. I called the friends, many of whom I had not spoken to in years but I was given this job and I couldn’t let her parents down. I held her nephew on my lap while he wept for his tante Rona. I hugged her mother and felt her press a few special pieces of Rona into my hand – for me to have and remember. I joined her family and so many friends in saying goodbye.  We wept, we hugged and we shared stories. I felt a pain so visceral that it lacks words.

I learned a lot as Rona’s friend.  I learned some things that can only be shared by two good friends in private.  I learned that you can cut one heel height off the shank of a shoe heel to make it more comfy.  I learned to steer my car with my knees. I learned that the California Chicken Salad from White Flint really is the best salad, that hard shell crabs are way better with extra vinegar and Old Bay and that you can’t beat Thrasher’s fries.  I learned listening to what is not being said is more important than what is verbally shared.  I learned that friendship born in youth, nurtured through adolescence and appreciated into adulthood is rare and should be cherished.

My daughter’s bears Rona’s Hebrew name – Shoshanna Dena.  I cannot say it without a break in my voice. Rona reveled in her Judaism and observance of those rites and traditions was so important to her. I find comfort (and a wee bit of humor) in knowing her name will be spoken in so many more years of Sunday and Hebrew school.

Today, Rona is the voice in my head that tells me sing out loud and live for today.  That reminds me that family – however annoying and embarrassing – is family and so important.  Telling me that friends are the family you choose and showing that there is beauty and grace even in illness.

So to you, dear Ro – I miss you every day. I am a better person for having known you. Thank you for being my friend.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tinfoil hats aka Love thy neighbor

Okay, let me preface this by saying that I’m a pretty new homeowner but I take it seriously.  I believe that how you keep the outside of your home is indicative of the inside and that it’s my responsibility to keep my yard presentable, tidy and safe.  This increases the odds that my neighbors won’t hate me and that maybe – just maybe – it will help property values.   Becoming friends with neighbors would be a real bonus.

My city has pretty strict rules about yard and pool maintenance, trash and overgrown foliage.  One neighbor is well, less observant of these rules at best.   He tells his daughter that he likes to “keep the pool really shallow” so that it’s safer. Really? That means the pump can’t work and the water become stagnant and that a nightly mosquito party is right next door.  I’m polite and don’t let my daughter swim over there. I’ve also invested in large bottles of Calamine as we’re covered in bites.

That giant fichus in his yard that drops 75% of it’ leaves in my pool? I cut it down the portion hanging over my fence and he doesn’t understand why I don’t pay the gardener to go into his yard and remove it “while he’s here and all.”  I kindly offered the gardeners name and number and tell him (for the fifth time) that I’m only paying for the trim over my yard. 

Now, when I met this neighbor, he said “Don’t sink money into your house, you need to buy a boat and live a little.”  He also brought me a treasure from his dumpster diving expeditions - a tiny boys bike (Spiderman, if you’re interested) with busted tires because he thought “you may like a bike.”  Really? My 6-1/2 year old daughter plays with your child regularly. She’s easily 10” too tall for that bike and clearly not the Spiderman type. I smiled and thanked him. After all, he is my neighbor.

Recently, he has hung large and long pieces of something over two outside windows. These are hanging outside the house. I'm hesitant to mention that perhaps window coverings work best inside as they clearly know this based on the blanket they have covering the window of their front door.  My fix-it guy (another great neighbor) just shakes his head and says, "asshole."

Now, when I moved in, I learned that the land outside my back fence and before the sidewalk is my responsibility.  Inconvenient? Yes.  Annoying? You bet.  Taken care of? Absolutely. A little bit of weed killer (environmental or otherwise) and it’s done. And so we come to this morning.

Behind my neighbor's fence, someone placed a nice bench. I noticed it the other day.  It sits in an iota of shade - one of those old wood and metal deals that sit outside shops in a downtown area. Since it looked like it had seen some better days, I figured my good neighbor had dived a local dumpster, contributed the beauty. Then I get the call from him asking if I put it there. Uh, no. He tells me that “Some retard was sitting on it.” (Don't get me started on his use of that word)  And now brace yourself, he thinks that the bench is a security breach as someone could hear what he and his family are talking about in their yard.  I was tempted to tell him that wearing tin foil hats will prevent anyone from hearing him.

You know, I didn’t expect to become buddies with all my neighbors, I did expect to become friendly with some and hopefully cordial and decent with the rest. I did assume there would be one neighbor who knew everyone and their personal history (yep, he’s here, he’s hilarious and we’re friendly), the young “just starting out couple” (yep, they are here, too – very sweet and getting married this summer), the recluse (yep, very nice but should be nominated for “Hoarders”) and lots of nice folks who have made us feel very welcome.  We’ve shared drinks on more than one occasion, our kids play together, we've gone out to dinner and friendships have grown. A simple walk around the block with the dog can take an hour as we visit with new friends along the way.

But…every neighborhood has “one.” One who, uh, stands out and not for the right reasons.  One who we're friendly with because we're neighbors - we shake our heads, call each other chuckling about the latest "can you believe..."  The one you laugh about over drinks and neighborhood BBQ. Unfortunately, this "one" is right next to me. 

I'm stocking up on tinfoil.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sinking to a 6-year old level AKA Becoming my mother in one more way

My daughter is very social. This is not a secret. Every teacher, every report card, every assessment indicates she’s “very social”, “has a lot to say” and “loves to interact.”  She is a really happy kid with the gift of gab and lots of friends.  This is not always good.

Most of my daughter’s friends are great. When she was younger, her friends were the children of my friends. Win-win. Then she developed a stronger opinion (which is no surprise to those that know me.) She is still friendly with many of those kids but has also developed her own network of friends – from school, the neighborhood, ballet class or the barn.  She will make friends in a random check out line or at the park.  Some I know better than others. Some I like. And, well – some I don’t.

I’m pretty much a tell-it-like-it-is kind a person.  Sure, I can play the game and be polite but I generally don’t hide it if I don’t like you.  And, then I discovered I don’t like some of my daughter’s friends. Some with reason and some just rub me the wrong way.  But, I smile, act nice and schedule play dates.  In my head, I refer to them as “frats” – friends who are brats and I just don’t like.  Completely irrational and that is not the point.

Sums up my very mature feelings about one particular friend.
One friend is older and while they play well together most of the time, she is a wee bit too presumptuous in talking about things that may be okay for her (age 11) but not so okay for my 6-1/2 year old.  She’s a bit sneaky and has tried to get my daughter to trade her brand new toy for some piece of crap she was trying to sell in a yard sale.  A classmate is forever playing the “I hate you/you’re my BFF” game.  My daughter actually said, “Oh she likes me today but may not tomorrow.”  Another one may be perfectly nice but every time they play together, I get a call or note from school.  I not only dislike this kid, but also her mother.  Completely irrational. That is not the point.

I have to admit, I had one friend my mother didn’t like.  She could give me no reason – she admitted that. I met this girl in elementary school and was friendly with her through high school. We’ve long since lost touch but we were good friends at the time.  But, over all those years my mother’s opinion never varied. She used to say she seemed sneaky or untrustworthy.  As I got older, my mother got blunter, “No, she can’t sleep over, I don’t like her.” This is the equivalent of “I’m cold, you need to wear a jacket.”  It’s completely irrational but that is not the point.  My mother didn’t even pretend to be polite.  Evidently, I have become my mother. A more polite version but my mother nonetheless.

I want my daughter to be polite and respectful to all people – whether she likes them or not. I want her to know that she doesn’t have to like everyone and that not everyone will like her and that is okay.  You still need to be polite and respectful.  I try to follow my own advice but to be honest, sometimes it’s really hard.  Sometimes I just want to stick my tongue out at them and blow these kids a raspberry – the pre-pubescent version of giving the finger.  

Of course, I would never share these thoughts with my daughter.  Besides, by the time she’s old enough to read and understand this blog, she will no longer be friends with those kids because I will have finished her indoctrination taught her that mother does know best.  Completely irrational, but that is not the point.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off to work we go AKA Work Friends

You can’t spend 40+ hours a week working and not forge relationships with people. Some of those relationships sputter and spurt and remain completely professional. Others take root a bit deeper and friendship develops.  Like mom’s group friends, some stick and some didn’t.  I feel that each job I have had gave me at least one amazing friend that stuck. Someone that I remain connected with at some level; someone whose presence in my life – regardless of how often or how small – I value.

Working at a nonprofit is a lot like being at college, there is often a dorm-like atmosphere that fosters friendships deep and fast.  I even fixed one of these friends up with her husband –though I wasn’t completely honest about her fixation with ice hockey.  She and her husband sat with me in an emergency room in the early stages of my pregnancy – and held my hand through that scary night.  Her husband was one of the first to call me when we learned my mother was dying.  It was while working in nonprofit that I met one of my Big Susan’s, T.  We met through my boss and within days were taking a work-related road trip and bonding over Carly Simon sung at the top of our lungs while getting lost en route to Richmond.  I will never let her forget that despite her current impeccable wardrobe and appearance, she was wearing shorts kept closed with a pin.

I learned a lot working at a mental health organization. A whole lot. It also brought me some terrific friends.  P, a dear soul who lives around the world and still has a kind word – just the right word - when needed.  And M, who is hard to describe. My inability to share of myself annoyed the crap out of her and was hurtful.  But, she’s still my friend. We’ve followed each other cross country and spent more than one Yom Kippur together – observing this serious Day of Atonement while talking about food.  We talk family in all of its imperfections – endless chats about about how much they annoy us and why they are so important.  I’ve been thinking of M a lot lately and missing her a great deal.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my great friend, G.  He was a volunteer where I worked. He took me under his wing and has kept me there ever since.  He treats me like a queen (and he should know), knocks me down a peg or two when that is needed and had the chutzpah to take me on my first (uh, and only) camping trip.  He’s a brave soul who has seen me at my worst and made me better.  I know my house won’t be fully decorated until he puts on his personal touch.

Work now is different. Most of us have outside families and obligations so daily happy hours are not the norm though we grow misty that the days of a 2-martini lunch are gone.  I’ve met some really great folks and can’t imagine my work days without them.  Sometimes, our work friendship has filtered into the off-hours, sometimes it has not. Regardless, we celebrate milestones – both personal and professional, we have supported one another in grief, where titles and locations drop away and you simply do what is right and what needs to be done.  I remain touched that A called to share the news of her mother’s sudden death.  Despite distance – both geographical and emotional – she reached out to me in a time of grief, knowing I would understand and that no words were required.  I hung up the phone and cried for her. 

Another work friend and I regularly schedule “Break Bread Wednesdays” where we are determined to try new places to eat monthly.  Some of us go up to the cafĂ© every morning to get ice, water, coffee, etc.  We rarely talk work.  We trade recipes, encourage each other to really go home when we’re sick and check in on one another when we’re having “one of those days.”  We send snarky emails or instant messages.  We talk about our pets. We loan each other books and pass along kid toys.  We vent.  We make fun of what people consider work appropriate clothing.

Many work friendships have slipped away. Time, distance or the loss of that common bond? I don’t know. I miss many of those friends. Some I remain Facebook friends with so at least we know what’s going on – even from afar.

For some of my work friends, I don’t know their home phone number nor have I been to their homes.  It doesn’t matter. For 40+ hours a week, I’ve had work friends make me laugh on the worst of days and act as sounding boards so other days don’t get so bad.  They have been and are my work family.  They make Monday’s less blah and punching the time clock a hell of a lot more fun.

Thanks work friends. See you around the water cooler.

Monday, June 20, 2011

I'm here if you need me AKA Friendship is two-way street

To my friend S, who asked me if I was okay this weekend and called me a liar when I said I was fine.

I think I’m a good friend. Most of the time. I’m willing to do anything for a friend. To listen, pick up a child, hide the body, pour a glass or put the straw right in the bottle. I dole out advice and since they often come back for more, assume they like what I offered enough to trust me again.  I am reliable, trustworthy and loyal. What I truly suck at, is sharing.

I’m talking about sharing myself – of what may be bothering me or what I’m working through.  What may be hurting me or keeping me up at night.  All those things that friends so generously share with me to ease their burden – things I willingly take on in the name of friendship and because I love my friends are things I simply don’t share with anyone. It’s not personal. It’s just not for me.  Poor T has learned that the hard way.  “I’m here if you need me…..” is a phrase I’ve heard from her more than once.

That is not to say that I don’t ultimately talk to my friends.  I do – constantly. Just ask T, who listened to me lament this weekend about assorted frustrations  and decisions I’m currently facing.  Or ask M, who heard the same story but often offers a very different response than T therefore giving me a really great range of perspectives.  I call my friends in the throes of anger or frustration. The words, “I need to vent” out of my mouth before they’ve finished the word hello.

I’m talking about the stuff in my head I’m mulling over or simply overwhelmed by.  I’m  the queen of “I’m just tired,” and “Everything’s fine.”  I’ve even blamed my daughter, “Oh, she’s going through a phase and it’s just overwhelming.”  And, while all those things may be accurate much of the time, the truth is that sometimes they are only partially true, easy responses and knee jerk reactions to “You okay?” or “You don’t seem yourself, what’s up?”   They may indeed be contributing to whatever mental malaise I’m harboring but I know they are not completely honest. 

I’m not rude when I’m working through something or hurting so deeply. I’m just quiet. I may not answer the phone because I know that “I’m good” and “Everything is okay” are just empty phrases.  It’s not that I don’t want to their love or support. I know I have that and it means the world. It’s just that I don’t want to talk about it. It’s not personal though I know it’s hurtful. I hope by now my friends trust me and know that I’ll talk about it when I’m ready and I always reach that point.

I also suck at asking for help. I’m not talking about financial help or assistance with things that require professional assistance. I found my dentist, doctor, movers and home fix it guy by asking friends for advice.  But, help for moving a piece of furniture? Nah, who needs that?  I’ll lift one end onto a throw rug and drag that marble top table across the room.  Help with childcare? No, thanks – I’ll juggle my daughter, a conference call, a doctor’s appointment and errands all at once.  

I’d like to think I’ve gotten better over the years.  That I’m more willing to let that needy side of myself show. To ask for help.  At least a little bit.  I call K&D to help me around the house, though I always feel guilty. I told other classroom parents that they had to help or the parties wouldn’t happen because I couldn’t’ do it myself (sigh, of course I wouldn’t let that really happen.) I’ve imposed on S&J to watch my daughter so I could so things that needed to be done.  I’ve told T that “yes, I need you here” and what would have been a cheer-me-up visit turned into a celebration.  M was there, giving me what was needed – until I had what was required.

Maybe I don’t want to appear needy.  Maybe the path I’ve chosen is one of such independence that to express need is to admit defeat.  Maybe I simply don’t want to impose on others.  Or as the old saying goes, “Better to thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.”

Maybe, in order to be a better friend, I just need to be willing to be a bit more foolish.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mom's Clubs AKA Moms Who Whine

There is an old saying, “I’d never want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”  I think that finding a club – mom’s group, book club, stitch-n’bitch, etc. can be the grown-up’s version of a pseudo-sorority. Instant belonging and acceptance to a group of somewhat like-minded people.  Perhaps we envision deep meaningful talks, great camaraderie and that instant intimate bond and lifelong friendships.  What we often get – at least in my experience – is a slightly more adult version of high school. 

You have your Queen Bees who clearly rule the group and around whom all key decisions are made.  These are not bad women – they may be the friendliest or most outspoken, the one who started the group or simply the ones with the most time.  Regardless, you will befriend at least one Queen Bee.  Then you have your Voice of Reason,  often a long time group member who has seen the club evolve.  She may be older or more seasoned and offer a perspective much like a parent offers to a group of disgruntled teens.  There are always the eager beavers –newbies who jumps right in and participate at the maximum level in whatever way is appropriate for that group. She may have joined with the quiet one, a member who doesn’t speak up often but when she does, it’s most appreciated.  More reserved and soft-spoken, it seems as if she would be most comfortable in the shadows but she is really the strong and silent type and has a larger influence than others initially thought.  I will admit to being each of these in different groups while is some situations I am a lurker – staying informed, piping up once in a while and occasionally participating.

There is my single moms group – a wildly diverse group with super strong opinions and even more resources and support.  These are focused, smart and independent women who are determined to meet their personal goals regardless of or despite their current circumstances.  Like any group, there are conflicts. Now imagine those conflicts with a large group of women who are willingly and wildly hormonal - emotions all over the place - and all thinking, trying, being or have recently become single mothers.  This is a sit-com waiting to happen.

When I moved here, I joined a local mother’s group to meet new people.  This is mostly an online forum though there are a large number of moms that connect in real life.  There I met E, a hilariously funny mom with whom most would think I have nothing in common.  We are years apart in age, don’t live near each other, don’t share a ton of interests and sit on different sides of the political fence. But, as E has said more than once, we want the same thing – we just think we should get there differently.  My daughter loves to play with E’s girls and every time we spend time together, we agree we need to do that more often.  And the group we were part of? Well, uh, I got booted out because well, I got snarky (it was more than well deserved snarkiness).  I wasn’t alone and another, snarkier off-shoot was started with a bunch of cool mom’s who are a lot more real, a lot more honest and where smart-assedness is welcome and appreciated.  It’s way more fun. 

But really, the funniest, wackiest mom’s group has got to be those of the parent-teacher organization sort. Oh. My. God.  This is truly high school for grown ups. There is competition, questionable fashion choices, bitchiness (several steps beyond snarkiness) and the ultimate in Queen Bees – all in the name of supporting our children.  Really?  God help if you live in the wrong part of the school district, work full-time, let your child dress him/herself or don’t fully embrace each and every opportunity to adore the teacher, buy some cookie dough or host a carnival booth.  Luckily, I met M at my daughter’s first elementary school – our kids were in the same kindergarten.  She was as normal and neurotic as me – and we had similar parenting attitudes.  We mocked while others twittered about. We laughed while rocking some cool classroom parties. Our kids are now in different schools but we still share elementary angst and make fun of other parents.  We actually went out for drinks with said kindergarten teacher. Uh, that won’t likely happen again but we still laugh about it.  I guess that makes us Moms Who Mock. Hmmm….is there another blog in there?

At the end of the day, moms group friends are pretty damn cool.  I don’t know where those friendships will lead or if they will survive as our kids grow.  I do know that these moms have talked me off the ledge on more than one occasion.  Because no one offers advice or perspective better than a harried mother who is sleep deprived because she was baking cupcakes or making a diorama. Or, doing the pre-assembly for some holiday party gingerbread houses while talking a fellow mom through a rough patch. She may have been working at night because she was volunteering in the class during the day or she may have had a rare mom’s night out and drank too much wine.  What I know for sure is that it’s likely she has a caffeine content in her body that should be illegal. And, her advice will be spot on.

Monday, June 13, 2011

It's All About the Dress

To L, raising a virtual glass and letting you know that you're not alone. I've got your back and I'm right here.


Sometimes, a dear friend or a really special Big Susan is going through a tough time. Not a bad hair day, bought something and then it’s on sale the next day or missed a deadline kind of tough time. A really truly tough time.

My oldest Big Susan, L, is in that place right now. Where life just sucks and you think – no, you know, that you’re doing the right thing but wonder why it is getting suckier.  There is no sugar coating it -things really do suck – but with a purpose. At least there is forward movement and hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train.

So, in the hopes of making L laugh a wee bit, I wanted to share a story that involves her but she doesn’t know.  A lifetime ago, L was getting married and I was in the wedding. The nice Jewish girl in the full Catholic Mass wedding is a story unto itself. But for this, it’s all about the dress.

Oh, we had bridesmaid dresses. It was the early 90’s but with a heavy 80’s influence and our iridescent dark green taffeta dresses featured a giant bow on my ass and required a crinoline and dyed to match shoes. Being a good friend, I smiled, ordered my dress and had it shipped to my office.  The dress arrived about a month before said wedding - I opened it, admired its beauty and promptly threw in the trunk of my “trusty” 1982 Toyota Tercel. A couple of weeks and monumental rainstorm later, I remember the dress and find its moldy remains in the trunk of my car.  What’s a bridesmaid to do? I called, pleaded and begged the store to get me another – I'm sure they felt bad but not sure if it was about the situation or the dress...but at least they had one that was a size too big. A good seamstress would remedy that.  Dress arrives (at the seamstress this time – I’m no fool) and I get measured (uh, so not fun) and come back 2 days before the nuptials to pick up the dress – the bride being none the wiser.  It turns out “good seamstress” is very subjective.  She cut on the wrong side of the pin line and now the dress was too small. I was in my 20’s and broke – buying this dress once was a hardship, twice was unbelievable but three times? That could not happen. The seamstress felt awful and being poor, I had no choice but to let her “fix” it.  She waved her magic seam ripper over the moldy version, finding bits and pieces to make it fit. Night before the wedding, I picked it up and it fit. Sort of.  It was clearly too big in the waist.  As I got out of the limo to stand up for L, Aunt Virginia was under my dress, pinning the waist.  L never knew.

Moral of the story? 1992 was a good year for some things – and not so much for others.  And, always let Aunt Virginia up your skirt.

So dear L, may this have given you a smile, even a chuckle.  The Bitter Barn, Hostile House or Angry Abode – those places where emotions run amok and everything seems overwhelming are scary places to be.  It’s times like this that make it so hard to be so far away from you. What I really want to do is spirit you away from work, kids and the real world for a day or two of escape – a combo of spa-like relaxation and crazy drunkenness.  Here’s hoping that happens soon.

PS – I’m reasonably certain, L’s mom, Mrs. M would just shake her head and laugh. And yes, I still call her Mrs. M because around her, I’m still in 5th grade.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

See see my playmate, come out & play with me AKA Making new friends

Almost three years ago I moved to a new state. I knew a few people from work (work friends are another story) and that was it.  I had to make new friends.

When you’re a kid, making friends is easy. You walk up to another kid at the park, playground or at recess and ask to play.  You find a common bond over the swings, crayons, bikes or something similar. The scenario isn’t much different as you get older and school remains the common denominator. At college there are so many ways to make friends – you join a sorority (well, I didn’t) and immediately have a ton of sisters with a secret handshake and you’re never alone.  You share a field of study, a lab table or a dorm room. You get really drunk at a frat party.  That immediate intimacy forms the bonds of friendship.

But, as an adult, a working parent – single parent no less – you move to a new area and you must have a plan. I joined. I joined the JCC where my daughter attended preschool. I shopped for synagogues.  I talked to people in check out lines, the library and preschool.  I talked to people in the work cafeteria, work gym and parking lot. I talked to any other adult possible because the thought of spending every night talking only to my 3 year old was going to make my head explode.

Now, I recognize that I’m the sort of person that is reasonably comfortable talking to strangers. Hell, I would talk to a tree if there was a modicum of chance it would talk back.  That said, this wasn’t easy for me. Not always confident, I recognized that as the new kid in town folks may be nice but would they turn into friends?

Some did. Some didn’t. But either way, I met some great people.  One of my first new friends was T (a different one than previously mentioned).  Funny and articulate, our kids were in the same preschool class. I became friends with T and her family – went did dinner and the kids played.  She introduced me to others, took me to High Holiday services, and referred me to a dentist.  She sat with my daughter while I got stitches.  We bitched and whined. We laughed. We became friends.

Play dates were scheduled – sometimes as much for the kids as for the moms.  J, S and I became friends. So lucky to find these gals.  Funny and warm, one new to the area and one is a native. S brought me flowers when I returned from my mother’s funeral and J talked me through a health scare. The intimacy of friendship grew. Throw in K and her family and we have a posse.  Our kids play.  We celebrate holidays, we ring in the new year and we BBQ.  We have even planned a group vacation.

But, plans aside, I learned that you make friends in the most unlikely places. Cut to ballet class – across town from where we lived – Saturday mornings and a group of parents sitting outside a window watching 3-4 year olds attempt grace.  Now, pick the two most different women in that group of parents. Yep, me the loud, sometimes brash zaftig Jewish woman and K, the slender, delicate, soft-spoken Texan.  You couldn’t find two more different women – at least on the surface.  She became my friend. Her husband became my friend. Our daughters are so close they fight like sisters. Her sister and brother in law became my friends.  They have become my “in case of emergency” friends.  She and her husband walked through the entire home buying process with me. They were the first people in my new home as he changed the locks, installed every ceiling fan and all the closet systems. K and I painted my daughter’s bedroom and the three of us re-did the hall bath while the kids ran wild through the house.  They spoiled me on Mother’s Day.  Their daughter makes herself at home in my house. My daughter had her first sleepover at their house. They were the first people I called when my daughter and I were in a horrible car accident. Knowing K and her brother in law would be taking care of my daughter made all the difference. I knew she was not only in their competent hands, but hands that truly cared for her. Friends has become rescuers and rocks – that stability means everything in a world that sometimes feels too big and cold.

I feel so lucky that in just under three years, I’ve made some great friends.  I run into familiar faces at the grocery store. I see friends at restaurants and driving down the street. I was invited to my babysitters high school graduation.  I shared pizza and drinks with my neighbors.  My house often has a pile of bikes in the driveway and kids running and laughing by the pool.  Their parents are just as likely to be kibitzing with me out back, often wine is involved.

They say that friends are the family that you choose.  They also say that family makes a house a home.  So, later this summer, when I celebrate three years here and one year in my new house, I am surrounded by friends. And, it feels like home.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Unconditional Friendship is a Lick Away

This post is dedicated to those who have loved and lost a furry friend. They may be four-legged and lick themselves – but they are still some of our truest friends.
My dear stepbrother and sister-in-law, S&S, lost a beloved pet last week. Sweet Zachary had lived a good life and was the sole survivor of a houseful of pets.  A little boy cried for him – old enough to understand what was happening and too young to fully intellectualize it. A wee girl took a more mature outlook and deemed him to be in Heaven.

This just makes my heart ache.  We are a family of animal lovers. We’ve had dogs, cats, a bird, hamsters, turtles, and fish.  We’ve had purebreds and mutts. Give us an animal (except reptiles) and we will love it.
Puck was the first long-time family pet I truly remember. He was a Welsh Corgi and probably my first Big Susan. He was loyal and quite handsome – despite having only one ear that stayed up.  He had brown soulful eyes that wrapped Nannie around his paw. She felt his nose in the morning and if it was warm, she made him a soft scrambled egg and kept ice in his water bowl.  D and I fought about who would walk him – good grief that dog stopped to pee on every blade of grass.  Puck lived 16 years and I wept when I came home and saw his water bowl gone.  I irrationally blamed my stepfather but know he was just the brave soul that had the heart to do what truly needed to be done.  Puck took all my teenage angst and heartache with him – bless his furry little heart.

Licorice was my cat. She was evil but I saw her flaws as quirks. My mother and stepfather just saw her as a giant pain in the ass. She was once found on the counter - on a chocolate cake. Another time, she sampled a large package of hot Italian sausage then she pushed it onto the floor where it was happily finished by Puck.  Oh, it wasn’t pretty. He had to stay outside for three days after my mother stepped and slid in, uh, the leftovers.  Despite being a troublemaker, she was a dear confidante. She listened to me cry over every little thing, cuddled with me when I didn’t want to be alone and was always so happy to see me.

My siblings are also all animal lovers.  Newman, Phoebe, Jessie and Rubi have all been a part of my sister D’s family.  A motley crew if ever there was one and you couldn’t find a more loyal or lovable bunch.  Yitzee and Grey – precursors to the current Margo and Max – lived with my sister S.  Her preference is for the feline kind and she’s had as sweet, needy and neurotic a bunch as possible.  Puck II lived with my brother R. He was another corgi with a big heart who relished the beach life and belly rubs. My siblings would never call their pets anything less than family – and friend.

Beau saw T through the toughest of times. There was no more loyal friend and devoted follower.  He had his own fan club, staying with friends in the big house when T traveled. He was a pampered pooch with his own screened in dog porch with a large comfy chair that he conned from T, a Coach collar and run of the house.  Sometimes, when things fall apart, one person gets the prize. T got Beau and both were the big winners. There was never a more devoted dog – or human.  His loss was heartbreaking.  And though Grace has since joined T in her adventures, there is always a warm spot for dear Beau.

M speaks lovingly of John Doe, a pooch long gone, though her home is currently ruled by Roxy.  Roxy is an escape artist who likes to slink between the vertical blinds – in the middle of the night.  Leaving the house requires quick feet and a squirt bottle but M wouldn’t have it any other way.

Chelsea and Maddy rule my roost. Chelsea is a Maine Coon cat with strong opinions and no problem making them known.  She has curled up on me when I am sad, licked tears away from my face and my daughter’s and kept our feet warm.  She is the first pet my daughter remembers. She likes the shower, the toilet and rolling in dirt.  She brought me a lizard last week.  Maddy, our most recent family member is a poodle-terrier mix with a sad past that she is working to overcome.  When excited, she can scarcely contain herself.  She can jump up to my arms (unlike the cat), eats dirt and poop and has thankfully grown a full coat of fur. Almost.  Her under bite gives her a perpetual smile. Shy around most men, it was big news when sniffed and licked my brother’s toe last weekend. Both greet us at the door each time we come in (even from the mailbox) with wagging tails and joyful noise. They complete our family and make our house a home

There are so many more pets I could name that have a place in my heart.  Hollywood, Lucy, Charlie Brown, Casey, and Kramer.  Gretchen, Daisy, Brandy and Samantha. The list goes on. And of course, Zachary…and his sweet playmates who went before him Tara, Max and Alex.

When I say that friends make our life richer – I mean both human and four-legged friends.  They stand by our side through thick and thin, make us laugh, love us unconditionally and lick our faces.  They may also pee on the floor and eat poop.  I’m just not telling who does what.

Since drafting this, I learned that another friend, S, lost her pooch Stanley. A hell of man-dog with a heart of gold.  I know S will miss him deeply and life just won’t be the same without him around. Woof woof old boy.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sisters, sisters. There were never such devoted sisters. AKA, love thy brother.

My later father used to say that my brother and sisters and I were as “thick as thieves” and that if you cut one of us, all of us bleed. That is probably pretty damn true. We can talk smack about one another but it’s not as tolerable if someone else does.  In many ways, there is no one that knows me better – or knows me less. 

Of my sisters, S was the motherly one, D the outgoing and popular one and me – well, I was the funny one.  S was definitely a bit of an earth mother – sewing her own clothes, embracing the earthy-crunchy long before it was trendy and providing nurturing hugs and advice during angst-filled teenage years.  D was the cheerleader with a touch of glamour and a steady stream of boyfriends. I was the baby – quick with a joke or snarky one-liner but neither earth-motherly nor glamorous. While we have all changed a bit (and D is happily married with no steady stream of boyfriends) those descriptions are still reasonably accurate.

Growing up, my sisters and I would all squeeze into S’s twin bed. I was at the foot while S had the outside and D got the wall.  Those were our places and there was no negotiating for change.  We assumed those positions during storms, scary nights or just to be together.  We created a gym with the bolsters on the bed, understand the implications of either waking or coming home to the sound of a vacuum on a Saturday morning, fondly remember Roberta Fera and count White Christmas as one of our favorite flicks.  No one understood the fights I had with my parents, about my parents or because of my parents quite like my sisters. Only my sisters truly under, “Oh. Period.”

Where was my brother during all of this? Well, R. was there. As the oldest and only boy, he was and is both protector and antagonist.  I remember sneaking into his room and into these cool side closets to get at the chemistry set and being scared shitless by the monkey he had hanging in there.  I remember black light posters and strange smoky smells coming from his room.  He had cool friends and the girls all had hair like Marcia Brady.  My sisters have more memories of him beating the crap out of them when we were young but since I am younger by 10 years – he was hard pressed to find a reason to truly pick on me.  I have used that my advantage ever since.

There is nothing quite like sharing the memories of Nannie and Poppie, Evelyn, Rippling Brook, Gretchen, Puck, favorite or infamous mom or dad moments, and Kennedy High School.  One of us was at Kennedy for 12 straight years.  I’m reasonably sure that Mr. Bellman was glad to see us go.  Together, my brother and sisters and I weathered my parents often turbulent marriage and subsequent divorce. We have buried our grandparents, mother, father and stepfather.  We each carried our own burden of those events but knew we were not alone. 

Despite all this, let’s be real. It’s not all wine and roses. As much as I love my siblings, no one can piss me off quite so much.  We love big and we fight big. One can treat the other like crap not because that is how they truly feel but because they can feel safe knowing that that person will love them regardless. Sounds a bit like a toddler and in many ways, we probably are.  But, at the end of the day – no one and I mean no one – has my back (as I have theirs) quite like my brother and sisters.

Just last weekend, I spent four days with my brother and his family. This was no regular family gathering. We choose to hang out together – with friends, as friends.  We relaxed; he watched my daughter ride a horse and taught her to ride her new bike, we swam, we ate a lot.  We visited with friends.  We drank too much. We laughed long and loud.  I told people I had friends in for the weekend. Friends who happen to also be family.

Today, I consider myself blessed to consider my siblings my friends. Sometimes, we are closer than others. Age and understanding have given us the wisdom to provide space when it is needed with the knowledge that the shoulder is still there.

In so many ways, R, S and D are also my Big Susan.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I’ve been reading a lot about friendship – there are a million books out there. Quirky ones about odd ways friends meet. People that become friends through tragedy. Friends who have grown up together. Unlikely friends. Friends who travel, friends who have “benefits”, book club friends, travel friends and work friends.

But really, what is a friend?  By definition, friendship is an interpersonal relationship with a range of degrees of intimacy on which we place value.

I have great friends. Some  new, some old. I like to think I’m a good friend. But when I truly think about what a friend is, I never had to look any further than my mother. Now, I’m not one of those who was best friends with my late mother. She was my mother – I loved her dearly and miss her daily. But, my mother had the same BFF from the time she was eight until her death at age 78.  “Big” Susan* was always a part of my life.

You could not find two more different women. One neat and tidy; one less so. One super focused on her children and the other not so much. One very fashion-conscious and the other most certainly not. As different as these women were, they were bound together by a mutual love, respect, admiration and understanding that is rarely seen today. 

Big Susan helped me understand my mother. She saw a side of her that I did not. They met as second graders at elementary School in Washington, DC.  They went all through school together, married and raised children near one another. They shared recipes and rides to camp –bemoaning the hours spent sewing tiny name labels into many pairs of underpants. They cooked the same and both have said they could only share a kitchen with the other – everyone else got in the way but they knew just what to do and when.  They supported each other through divorce, the death of parents and a million other hard times.  They shared the joy of each child’s success, the birth of grandchildren, holidays and the assorted rites of passages that come with big Jewish families. Big Susan even hosted my mother’s wedding to my late stepfather, Jack. 

They discussed each and every minutia of their lives. What they wore, what others wore and how they looked, what was served, where they went and how they got there. There were no secrets.  They traveled together, sharing hotel rooms and having great adventures we still laugh about. When visiting one another, we would always find them early in the morning in matching bathrobes, sitting at the table with coffee (and at one time, cigarettes) working on the crossword puzzle or in later years, reading the obituaries to see who they knew. Inevitably, my mother would recognize a name and have to explain to Big Susan how she knew that person.

I cannot imagine my mother without Big Susan. It makes my heart ache to see Big Susan without my mother. I know she misses her dearly.

I often ask myself, “Who is my Big Susan?” “Do I even have one?”

Yes, I do. I have three really amazing friends who I met at different times in my life and I have remained crazy close with. There was a fourth – but her death at age 34 made her the voice in my head instead.  Each plays a special role in my life and knows all my secrets. Is one more of a Big Susan than others? Sure – but that doesn’t diminish their importance to me or the value I place on their friendship. 

My first Big Susan is the one I’ve known the longest – L. I met L in fifth grade – my mother had just remarried, we moved to a new neighborhood and I was getting ready to go to a new school. L lived across the street. We became fast friends and remain so to this day. She knows what it means to play beep on the hill, remembers Winston’s in Georgetown (really, what were our parents thinking letting us go down there at 16 years old on a Saturday night – what did they think we were doing??), cringes with me at high school memories and drama and shared my heartache when I didn’t make the cheerleading squad.  I watched her always meet the nice guys in bars – the guys that wanted her number so they could date while I met guys that just wanted to get laid.  We spent summers at the beach and hours out front talking.  We walked or drove to school every day and she was almost always running late.  We’ve watched each other grow from kids to awkward teenagers to well, equally awkward adults.  We make fun of our parents and then realize we’re becoming them.  L is as much a part of my childhood and adolescene as my present and this keeps me humble.

My second Big Susan is M. We met as single moms through a shared preschool.  Both single mothers by choice – we immediately bonded over the shared challenges and joys that come with parenthood. We are sounding boards about things that don’t really matter – carseats, educational toys, babysitters (or lack thereof), mother’s groups and daycare. More importantly, we were there for the things that do matter – her daughter’s ear tube surgeries, my daughter’s hernia operation, family angst and tough decisions such as moving away. She is patient while I completely over-analyze every friggin decision. She is wildly practical and helps keep me grounded. She encouraged me to make some changes and do things that scared me. She yells at my daughter as readily as she yells at her own and vice versa.  She has brought me into her family, for which I am so grateful.  M has made me a better mom.

My third, and in many ways my ultimate Big Susan is T. We met in 1992 and are actually planning and 20-year friendship anniversary trip. We know folks will think we’re a couple of old lesbians and that just makes us giggle.  It’s hard to put into words how I feel about T – she is the friend I call first. And last. And often several times in between. We have been there for each other during joyful times and heartache.  We have taken road trips – getting terribly lost but really had more fun on the journey than at the destination.  We’ve been drunk.  Really drunk. Really girl drunk and crying about crap – but never about each other.  We’ve packed each other up and watched the other move with big ugly tears. We’ve said so long but never goodbye.  We’ve cried together about the loss of parents, boyfriends, pets and jobs.  We celebrated promotions, new homes, 5 pounds lost and a great pair of shoes.  She still laughs at pantyho’ and commiserates over a Magic Pan moment.  Suffice it to say that she spent 6 days snowed in a hotel with me and my family while we waited to bury my father – we drank, we cried, we laughed, we talked at length about bikini waxes. Now,that’s a real Big Susan.

Who is your Big Susan? And why?