Thursday, December 12, 2013

In his words

It was one of those “share 5 things about yourself or your relationship” things on Facebook. I never participate but love to read them.  My dear old friend, Biff, fell into the trap this week and while perusing the comments left by his friends who followed into that hole, one really caught my eye. The candor, the choice of words – the clear importance this person places on relationships resonated with me for obvious reasons.  What I found really staggering is the clear connection still found in loves long gone and the admission that each of these people – lovers or friends – have forever altered who he is.

I have never met this person.  I am re-posting this with his permission. Aside from a few minor edits for easier reading and the changing of names, these are his words.
Share five relationship things eh? Hmmmn... Ok. I'm not married, or close to it, so I shall reveal some important relationship events to me.  In reverse:

5.   Abigail
When I left for college, I had started dating a spunky brunette, Abigail, a fireball with an extra tank of kerosene! I know, I know I was young- but young love is still love! We wrote letters and talked once in a while, best of friends with benefits, best indeed! We last talked at Easter about my birthday in May, I was going to be flying home that day and we were going to catch up that night. My flight was on time. I landed at BWI. Hopped into the car for the ride home. On the way we came across a car accident. Mangled metal. Glass everywhere.  Somber EMT's going about cutting a car open... I found out later that that was her car and that she had been struck by a drunk driver. The tears that streamed down my face tried to fill the void in my chest to no avail. Every birthday, I blow my long gone friend a kiss & never have I ever driven drunk.

4.   Tara
My sweet Tara, New England gal, Mayflower Blue Blood with strawberry locks. Loving and kind: a true gem. Six months to our dating, her mom passed away. A year to the day of her burial, the house she and her younger twin sisters grew up in burned to the ground. Their father lost his mind and shut down as he fell down from all of this. Meanwhile the twins were prepping for college. The young ones were sad, lost, hurt, confused about what their future was going to be, where would they live, how to get buy...So Tara & I became the guardians of twin teenage girls: signed their loans, moved them from Mass to Va, clothed them, fed them, gave them a home and a sense of stability.  In the process of this, we lost each other. We lost 'us' as we became 'all of us.' It was a tough, honest move for us to part ways, and we are better because of it.  Some years later, on the night before her wedding, two things happened:

--> The fiance's mother came to me with a ton of town folk to meet and thank me for having been a good man to Tracy and the twins for all those years. It was humbling. She also wrote me a lovely birthday card because my effing ex had to get married on the first available spring day, yes my birthday..We had never met prior and now I cannot go to Boston without saying hello.
Tara’s hulking father reached over at the bar and lifted me up onto his 6'8" frame proclaiming, 'This my friends & family that do not know is Texas! Yes, THAT TEXAS!! This is the man that took care of my girls when I could not! This is the man I had hoped was going to be my son in law!', Humbling and crazy all at the same time.

3.   Ellen
Ahhhhh Ellen! All 6'3" of javelin, discus and volleyball Latina Amazon! We drove from El Paso to San Diego to go to a football game and chill with her family only to find out that her cousin’s daughter was having her Quinceanera that weekend. We rode with the family to Mexico City. Partied like it was our birthday and danced til dawn! Still drunk from the night before we went out into the city, ate and drank and drank some more. We passed out at the house & woke in a panic: it was Sunday and we had to get back to school. So we limped our besotted selves to the train station, boarded, napped, woke, napped again until we arrived in Juarez and strolled to the border to march into El Paso to eat and pass out in our bed.  It wasn't until I was in the middle of my Physics lab at 10 the next day that I remembered that the car was still in Cali. Some eight years later she waited for three hours to see me for 15 min at an airplane exchange at LAX in order to meet my momma.

2.   Lena
Lena! Lena! Lena! A PhD student studying nuclear physical chemistry from Lebanon. Whip crack smart Mediterranean beauty. She had to teach her grade school classes from under the desks because of the constant shelling going on, it was a civil war after all. On one of our outings with her other 'refugee sisters' (a Serbian & an Iranian) we decided to stop at the Georgetown Diner for late night drunken eats. The diner was busy busy busy! Amidst our joking & eating, the table behind us started speaking (in Arabic) 'highly' of Hezbollah: they are great... they will do so many things for our people... they will liberate the Middle East and unify the Arabs... getting applause and cheers from most of the room.  Lena started yelling back at them in Arabic & some poor fool chimed in for her to 'shut up' in French, where all three of the women went off, cursing every soul in the room that supported terrorist regimes. Lena hoisted herself on top of the table to make sure EVERYONE could hear the three of them curse the room out in Arabic, French, Farsi and English. By now, I too am standing, waiting for the onslaught as Lena calls them brave cowards because they are here in the US and not back at home working towards a solution.  At that moment as half of the room stood up, two of DC's finest strolled in quelling the issue by accident before it popped off.  She finished her degree and went home to help rebuild Beirut from the rubble it had become into the Paris of the Middle East once again.

1.   Jacqueline
While in school in El Paso, I dated & loved a young woman, Jacqueline. Long legged, West Texas, red head: Slue-Foot-Sue to my Pecos Bill. Sweet, sunny, funny & smart. We got stuck in a highway close in Colorado due to snow and called her ma to say we were not making it back for a few days until the pass was clear. Her ma told her, “I know he saved you when the arroyo flooded and y'all were tubing, or when you passed out at that party before you started dating and he carried you home and slept in a chair to make sure you were going to be ok, or for that matter the rock climbing incident in Big Bend, or his getting stung by scorpions helping you and Jan out of that mineshaft hole you fell into in Arizona, or the sun stroke he stopped y'all from getting at White Sands... look Jackie, if you get pregnant we won't be mad, that's how much I love that boy. He's done a good job thus far of keeping you safe or helping you when you can't help yourself.' We should have gotten hitched, and our lives are different because of that. My ma & pa became ill and I had to return to DC without a true idea on a return to Texas... The two of us were heartbroken and did not speak for several several years. While traveling to South Carolina for a wedding, I stopped for some gas & thought I saw her drive away. 'I'm tired', I thought to myself.  A minuet of a minute later I heard a car crash and called 911.  We drove by the accident: a truck ran a red light and T-boned a car, the EMT's were busy talking to the driver and cutting the auto away. 'Whew!', 'Thankfully they are ok', I thought as I drove off.  Not being able to get Jackie out of my head, I wrote her a letter and mailed it from the Carolina border.  A few months later I received a phone call.  As it turned out: that was her in the accident. We were in the town next to where she was living. She was driving down the highway thinking she had seen me at the gas station.

My life is strange…fun, funny, sad, honest, humbling, loving & strange. And I would have it no other way!
So to my new friend, Texas – we may have never met but I feel like I know you already.  May your journey continue to fun filled with such wonderful people, may you continue to share your stories…and may you and your Big Susan’s laugh long and loud.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

'Tis the Season and All That Other Crap

I’m having a hard time feeling the season this year. Maybe it’s because Hanukkah was so early that all the other fun stuff happening around me feels like background noise. Or maybe it just feels that way because I’ve been sick since the day before Thanksgiving and I’m so congested and clogged I feel like I’m in a tunnel. I digress.

This time of year is always so busy. There are so many things going on – deadlines at work, school projects, parties, gift buying, travel planning, visit anticipation and more.  I find it so easy to say no and just hibernate because a.) Mini-me is a home body and really loves just hanging out, and b.) I can still pretty much prevent Mini-me from hearing about cool happenings out and about so she doesn’t nag me to go.  But now, I want to get out, see, enjoy and relish.

Everyone has lots of traditions this time of year. As usual, we will repeat some, tweak a few others and cast a few aside to embrace something new or special, even it’s only this year.

Every year, we go to the boat parade. We bundle up (yes people, it gets cold in Arizona) and head down to Tempe Town Lake where boat owners decorate their rides for the holidays and then drink until dark when they then navigate down the watery parade route while singing very off key Christmas carols.  This year, we got invited to a party for the same night.  A party where friends we don’t see nearly often enough will gather to visit and celebrate the season. I readily accepted…and forgot about the conflicting date. Upon this realization, Mini-me tilted her head, pushed her glasses up and decided that we’ve seen the parade so many times and that putting on some party clothes and seeing friends would be well worth the break in tradition. (Holy shit, when did Mini get so grown up?)

So, this weekend we won’t go to the boat parade but we will have some much anticipated time with friends.  Mini-me will be baking horse treats with her Barnstormer friends, we will finish our holiday shopping, there will be Sunday schooling and present wrapping.  Somewhere in there, we will be cookie baking and chili making. I will not let any grinchiness invade our days.

Like other years, we will celebrate Christmas with my family in CA.  We will take walks; there is lots of hot chocolate, some baking, drinking (okay, probably more than our fair share of that) and lots of visiting.  I’ve decided to embrace the craziness that is the season, especially in that neck of the woods, and take Mini-me to see what happens in those communities.  I’m breaking the tradition of Mini watching too much TV and me sitting on my ass reading the cool catalogs and magazines that pile up and we’re going to get out and do. I’ve got some ideas….and even if no one else is brave enough to join us, we will embrace it. Fuck the traffic, screw the crowds - there are beautiful decorations up, lovely music playing and amazing windows to admire.  We will fully embrace it because this tradition may change next year.

And, upon our return home – the celebration for Mini and I will truly begin. That is when our time with my Big Susan, Geek and her mini-geek, Kooky, begins.  There will be visiting, nonstop chatting, shopping, sleepovers, desserts before dinner, just dancing, roller skating and lots of laughs.  That is when our friends that are our family surround us – Tia Bra and Tia Crafty (sisters to Geek) and their families – it’s not the holiday without being with this bunch.  Mini-me is already complaining she won’t be there for Noni’s Christmas Day schnitzel but I’ve promised her we’ll make some just for her. This is where Noni hugs Mini-me and yells at her like any of the other grandchildren. It is where the Tia’s include Mini-me in the kids’ activities.  It is where I sit with my crazy half-Mexican/half-German pseudo-sisters and gossip and laugh.  It is where we send the kids outside to play, where we all visit and catch up, where we shake our heads at how much the kids have grown and where I realize that I’m so lucky to not only know these people – but love them.

I’m excited about my time off. There are lots of projects around the house calling my name. There is cleaning to do, organizing that has to happen. None of it matters. I will celebrate the season – and cast those things aside for one more visit with family or a friend, one more long walk to admire the lights, another exhausting outing with all the kids or one more cup of tea with Geek. I will let the Mini-Me and Kooky stay up way too late and eat too many cookies.  I will not spend my time trying to get just the right picture but instead live in the moment and treasure the memory.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Latkes, turkey, roast beef and a side of gratitude

Thanksgiving weekend dwindles to a close.  My house is quiet and feels empty now that my family has left.  I’m on my fifth load of laundry, beds are remade and the fridge is my emptier (though my wine rack much more full – thank you Mini-mom and her husband, Gardener!!)  We’re ready for the week ahead but I would be remiss if I didn’t express some long overdue thanks for the recent days.

I know it’s that time of year when we should profess our thankfulness and our gratitude while plotting which stores to hit and how to beat everyone else to the sale to get that one thing we don’t really need but have to have so that we can be thankful for it the next year. Now, I’m no Pollyanna – I like nice things as much as the next person but I’ve really been working on dialing it back and trying to really appreciate and use what I have.

So, in that spirit I have much to be thankful for this year – and I try to keep the gratitude greater than the grief.

I’m beyond thankful that Neiman has beat cancer.  It has been a gift to be able to support her through this journey and I’m glad I was able to be by her side.  I will always be grateful that Robert, her mighty oak, was by her side as well.

I am saddened by the loss of such a mighty oak.  And while I will always appreciate the way the stars aligned that allowed me to be there, supporting Neiman, when we said goodbye to such an amazing man – the fact we had to say goodbye was a dark spot in this year.

I’m feeling cautiously optimistic that the bullying Mini-Me has experienced is tapering off – or at least maybe going dormant.  The start of the school year was terribly difficult but Mini-Me has come through stronger and braver than I could ever have hoped.  I learned how to better support her – so she could support herself.  I’m grateful for those that helped us along the way.

I continue to be deeply bothered that the bullying exists. That our schools don’t do enough, that they leave these children “to work it out among themselves” and that parents don’t know or acknowledge the role their own child may have played (and all the kids involved played a role – even mine.)

My year was made brighter by two visits with my dear friend, Runner!  She and her sweet daughter visited in July and just a few weeks back, she and her husband were here on business. We were able to really visit, catch up and share more laughs than drinks, which is just how it should be. 

As always, I relished the two visits we had with Geek and her sweet girl, Kooky.  Despite the fact that we talk every single night (and have for almost 7 years), the in-person visits allow us to connect differently. Mini-me and Kooky play, get annoyed, laugh, shriek and don’t want to leave each other’s side.  We are all content to just hang out in close proximity.  Mini-me and I are already excited about seeing them later this month.

Belle and I took our annual September trip to the beach. Once again, Patron and Beach were out of town and graciously let us take over their oh-so-comfortable home.  For a few days, we beached, relaxed, shopped and just hang out.  We visited with Mini-Mom and her family, took the girls to a few new places and even enjoyed the mind-numbing ride on the 10.  I’m grateful for that time with friends and that my family welcomes my friends so readily into their homes.

Last Wednesday, I watched Mini-me, my nephew and niece light the Menorah.  I heard them say the prayer and I got tears in my eyes.  I could easily blame it on the onions that were grated for the latkes…but I won’t take the easy way out.  As we raised our glasses – my table full of Mini-Mom, Gardener and the swimmers, my dear neighbors and friends – the gratitude was overwhelming. So blessed to have such good friends in my life but on a more significant note, thrilled to have kindled the lights with my sister, with whom I have not done so in more than 20 years.

So, at the end of this Thanksgiving weekend, I am most grateful that I was joined by my sister and her family.  Like many great things, our relationship has not always been easy – we’re sisters after all. We’re as alike as we are different.  But, oh how we laughed.  I loved how the swimmers made themselves at home.  I loved hearing the kids laugh.  I loved drawing with my nephew, watching Mini-Me look up to my niece (literally and figuratively) and just hanging out. I loved that Gardener took the time to share ideas about updating my kitchen and even showed my some things in Home Depot that could work. I even loved our 4.6 mile Thanksgiving morning hike – despite the fact I had the worst cough and laryngitis and could barely breathe. It wasn’t pretty but it was great.

I did miss our other siblings. We usually spend Thanksgiving at Patron and Beach’s house but if I was going to do something different – I did it right this year.  Both Neiman and the original Big Susan celebrate their birthdays around Thanksgiving.  I miss the former and know she’s only a phone call away…but the latter, well; I take comfort in knowing she and my mom were together. In matching robes and drinking black coffee. I miss my mom – I made her stuffing (though a slightly new version) but I know it would have tasted better if she had made it without the change.  I miss the early morning call from my father. I miss my stepfather telling me to add extra garlic to the turkey rub.  I remind myself that I’m lucky to miss such wonderful people.

Tonight, as Mini-me and I walked the dogs, she declared she had been really lucky this weekend. She said she had delicious Hanukkah and Thanksgiving dinners, she discovered she liked brussel sprouts (‘cause bacon makes everything better), got great presents, had fun with her cousins and aunt and uncle, learned to draw some new things, and went to some really cool places.  Very lucky my sweet Mini-me. We’re very lucky indeed.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Friendship - should it virtually matter?

I just read about someone complaining that they were tired of reaching out to friends, doing all the work and getting nothing back. Another bemoaned that they couldn’t believe people couldn’t take the time to “like” a picture or post or wish someone a happy birthday. Others stated that they weren’t interested in being friends with people who didn’t comment or interact with them as it was viewed as spying – be it family or friends. 

I almost nodded my head in agreement and was than horrified. At myself.  Have we really come to that?

I consider myself a good friend. I value the friends I have and am grateful that they are a part of my life. Does it bother me when I don’t hear from them? When they don’t just ring up to say hello or text a quick “how ya doing?”  To be honest, sometimes…but then I got to thinking. Why on earth would that bother me?  Should they be bothered if I don’t check in with them as often as they would like? If I don’t ask “how ya doing” often enough? I sure as shit hope not.

What I love about my friends is their humor, their wit, their ability to say just the right thing, pour the perfect drink or just go along for the ride. I am grateful for their shoulder when I cry and their strong backs when I need a lift. Their potty mouths, their ability to talk me off the ledge, or laugh with me. I love when I can help them – and return the favors so often bestowed on me. I value their willingness to accept me in all my imperfection – including my sometimes lax communication.

With all the Facebooking, texting, Instagramming, and Tweeting, we have this mistaken belief that every single thought we have, opinion we voice, picture we post, or “meaningful” quote we share must be acknowledged for us to feel valued. Trust me – that dinner you made last night – well, I hope it was great but I can assure you it did not change my life. If I didn’t “like” the picture, it doesn’t mean I’m not impressed by your culinary skills but that I simply didn’t click a button.  Don’t take it personally.  Some folks have hundreds – even thousands - of social networking friends. Do we really need to wish each one a “happy birthday” on their big day and comment on each post?  I don’t know about you, but I have a job, a family and a real life that isn’t online.

I’m a Facebook regular. I post, I share, I upload. I appreciate the interaction with those who respond – I’ve learned a lot about my friends both old and new. It’s a quick and easy way to communicate.  But, if I look at my friend list of 250, I can count a handful of really good friends, some long distance friends and many acquaintances or folks from my previous lives.  Facebook allows us to peek at each other’s lives and feel a modicum of connection.  Yes, even to be a bit nosy – but admit it, there are friends on your list that you never communicate with – you just look at the pics and maybe snicker about something you don’t agree with.  Yet there are others -  good friends who rarely, if ever, log on and I have to connect with them offline and in the real world.  Sure, a comment on a post or anecdote is nice; but when we get our knickers in a twist because someone didn’t like or comment – well, seriously? Do we have such an inflated sense of self?  I have a couple of sisters – both lurk around on Facebook with nary a comment or like.  I can see one sister like other pictures or comments – but never mine.  Never. It never even entered my mind to hold it against her, unfriend her or use that to gauge her love for me. Why? ‘Cause she’s my fucking sister. I can call her up and tell her about my life. She’ll call me and tell me about hers.  She knows if there is a picture I really want her to see, I will email it.  Because honestly, and this may be shocking, but monitoring posts, liking or replying to a comment posted to the world is not a priority for everyone.

I recently joined Instagram – not because I’m so popular or because I have even more to share but to monitor Mini Me as she starts to navigate social networking.  I immediately had people “following” me and I laughed so hard I nearly peed my pants. I don’t even know how the fucking thing works – I’m really just trying to practice a modicum of responsible parenting. I’m honestly not that interesting.  I have no intention of Tweeting. Frankly, no one is that interested in what I can say in140 characters or less. Even this blog – I write because I have things I want to say but I don’t need anyone to hear me.  Writing is cathartic for me. I was a journal keeper and now I’m a blogger. Sure, I hope folks read – even enjoy it - but I’m not offended if they don’t. Hell, I’ve got some family members that don’t even read it.  But, it doesn’t mean they love me any less. At least I don’t think so.

Keep it real - not virtual.

But reading that Facebook exchange really made me think. I’m sorry that folks are placing so much value on social networking interaction. I want the people in my life to think better of themselves, to focus on real connections – not just those online. To invite a friend for coffee, to arrange a playdate at the park with a group of mom friends you haven’t see in a while. To call that friend you haven’t heard from and ask how they are – even if you leave a voicemail that isn’t returned. Find value in the real world and not the virtual one. Stop keeping score – it’s a friendship, not a game. You either both win or both lose.

You see, my friends (and sisters, brothers and sisters-in-law) – well, we’re friends despite our busy lives, crazy schedules and time spent apart. We’re close in spite of our inability to chat often enough or even finish an entire conversation. All those things make our time together sweeter.

So my friends, let’s pour a glass of wine and catch up. When we find time. In the meantime, don't hold it against me if I don't "like" or "comment."  Know I love you and you matter. In the real world.