Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Learning to fly

The robin is plump and strong, her orange-red breast flashing across the yard to the nearest tree when we approach the front door. She built her nest there, above the porch light, while my parents were on vacation. It is made of sticks and straw and spit, and it is here she has chosen to have her babies, and launch them into the world. We have peeked inside to find three blue eggs, more beautiful than three nestled boxes from Tiffany’s.

My sister, my mother, my nieces, my son, and I watch and sneak looks into the nest, careful not to touch anything. I lift my son onto my shoulders so he can look, and we are awed when we see that one of the eggs has hatched, two days later. The newly-born baby bird is moving around the nest blindly, his beak wide open, waiting for mama to return.

It is here, in the house where I grew up, that I was a baby bird too. It has been a long time now; decades, even, since I grew up and flew away to feather my own nest. A series of memories flood my mind in this space, and one in particular reminds me of the ways I learned to fly.

In this memory, I am standing with Tina and Angie in front of Angie’s early 1980s-model Corolla in her driveway. It wasn’t particularly road worthy or exceedingly safe, for that matter. But it was the newest car of the three of us, and the most likely to take us on our journey without incident. With any luck.

Who knows how the start of the idea of this trip began; perhaps in the hot tub at Angie’s parents’ where our ideas often germinated. Big, grand ideas came from sitting in this hot tub with our girlfriends, relaxing into the steam and dreaming of our short- and long-term futures late into the night, long after everyone else had fallen asleep. In any case, the three of us decided that our high school graduation present to ourselves was a week on the open road.

Tina and I were already 18, having turned the milestone earlier in the year. Angie was still 17, and we planned to celebrate her birthday while we were traveling. In that picture in my head, I can see our smiling, excited faces to take that week and make the best of it.

At least two of our other friends were not permitted to go with us; I felt lucky that my parents said yes. Just a couple of years before that, they said no to me driving down to Indianapolis, three hours away, with friends to see U2.  See, mom, I told you I’d never forget that.

Our parents saw us off from Angie’s driveway, and we waved until we couldn’t see their faces anymore. Armed with travelers’ checks, cash, maps, snacks, and the best mix tapes we could create, we headed east.  Times were simpler, in a way, because we didn’t have cell phones, and our parents knew that we could not be reached in a moment’s notice, as they can now.

Angie collected money from each of us in a Ziploc bag for community funds for things like fuel and hotel rooms. On a very tight budget, we had planned on only one or two hotel room nights and plenty of gas. We dangled our arms out the windows and laughed and talked all day.

Starting in northern Indiana, we drove all the way from our hometown to Delaware, our first stop on the map, where we stayed with Angie’s uncle. 

672 miles down the road, with many more to go.

Making our way up the coast, we cruised by the New Jersey shore, but didn’t have a place to stay. We decided to veer over to Philadelphia for the night, and convinced a hotel clerk to rent a room to three teenagers with cash in hand. It took some convincing; we didn’t have any other option but to find a hotel or sleep in the car.

The name of the hotel has long since left our memories, but the sign had a large red apple atop the roof. We had a balcony, and we took the chairs from inside the hotel room and set them up in the hot summer air, each drinking a beer we had procured before leaving Indiana.  We felt so grown up.

Venturing onto the old streets of Philadelphia, we happened across a palm reader in a tiny house on a side street and impulse drove us inside. Walking in the front door, bells jingled and beads tickled our heads on the way in. Madame Palm Reader gave us our readings separately and told us our fortunes; we compared notes in the car later and gave each other our own fanciful readings as we drove north toward upstate New York. None of us could have dreamed how life would really turn out.

In upstate New York, we stayed with Tina’s grandparents, relief etched on their faces when we pulled up the gravel drive. After spending the night in bustling Philly, the cool forest soothed us, and we stayed for two nights to soak it in.

We left New York and approached the Canadian border with our driver’s licenses in hand, because we could do that back then. None of us had or needed a passport, at the time. The border crossing was uneventful, and we noticed the beauty along the highway on the Canadian side, all green and gorgeous. We kept going and going and going, opting to drive all night. We didn’t want to finish our vacation sleeping in the car, and we were out of money.  After some discussion, we agreed to a plan.

Motoring back across the border into the U.S., we arrived on the other side of Michigan at Warren Dunes State Park, a place we knew well from Senior Skip Day and so many other weekend days as teenagers; we stopped and stretched. 

We slept on the beach at sunrise, huddled together in towels and sweatshirts against the cool morning.  Peering into our plastic community bag, we had just enough to buy breakfast. Tired, happy, spent, we ate quietly, readying ourselves for the transition back to our safe nests.

One week. 1600+ miles. Three teenagers, flying on their own.


Angie is now the mother of eight, and I see her every summer when I go home to Indiana.  Tina lives in Texas, a few hours from me, with her beautiful family. They are still in my heart, often.

I asked Angie’s mother, when I saw her last weekend, if she had been nervous to let us go.

A little, she admitted. But I knew you were going to stay with a couple of relatives along the way, and you promised to check in.

It’s hard to let go, isn’t it? I said, inclining my head toward my four-year-old, building a sand castle next to me. I’m trying to learn how to do that even now. 

It is very hard sometimes, she said. But it’s necessary to give them wings to fly on their own.

I thought of those baby birds hatching above the porch light, pink and new and mouths open wide. Soon, they will get their feathers and fly, and their mother will watch them go, proudly, if all goes as planned.
I thought about this gift of freedom we were given to explore and wander.

As my son grows, one of my greatest challenges may be to learn to let him fly, little by little. I may not always like it. I will worry, and there is no stopping that. But I will boost him onto my shoulders and let him see the world and what it has to offer, and he will decide which direction to go.

It will be terrifying.

And exhilarating.


Friday, July 4, 2014

Friday Favorites - July 4

Happy 4th of July! My Italian grandmother had a way of saying that phrase with an exaggerated accent, and every year my mom and I call each other and say it in the same way and laugh.

We're headed to a family reunion next week in New Jersey, to see family I have not seen in more than 20 years, in some cases. I can't wait to see my cousin Kelley, who has gotten married had two kids since I last saw her six years ago. I look forward to seeing my aunts and uncles from my dad's side, and my cousins from my mom's side. It's going to be a whirlwind of travel, but we're ready.

In the meantime, here is some excellent reading from around the web for your long weekend.  

When I was a kid, my family took some epic road trips - this post from Angela at Jumping With My Fingers Crossed made me smile: 
"Give me a map, a minivan and a few kids with a sense of adventure and I am good to go."

If you have small children, this post from Arnebya of What Now and Why will resonate with you now. If your children are grown, you might miss these days

How do you define beauty? Jennifer's words:
"Beauty is in the way that we love. It is the shoulder that we cry on and the arms that embrace us. It is not the shape of our bodies or the color of our eyes. It is the fire in our hearts that lights us from the inside."

Speaking of beauty, check out these gorgeous photos of children playing around the world:

I loved this post from Kiran at Masala Chica about finding the positive in a tough situation:

This essay by Candy Schulman reminded me of the relics from my grandmother's past, and is a beautiful reminder of passing on a legacy to our children:

Looking for travel ideas for the rest of the summer?  Great post at National Geographic:

In the past few months, I have helped a few moms who are returning to the job market with their resumes. This is great information, and important for anyone who wants to stay connected to the job market while raising little people:

One of my favorite quotes right now:

"Above all, don’t ever change just to impress someone who says you’re not good enough.  Change because it makes you a better person and leads you to a brighter future.  People are going to talk regardless of what you do or how well you do it.  So worry about yourself before you worry about what others think.  If you believe strongly in something, don’t be afraid to fight for it.  Great strength comes from overcoming what others think is impossible."


Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday Favorites - June 27

I had the opportunity to explore Edmonton this week, briefly, on a short business trip. It's gorgeous, and I love that the sun doesn't go down until well after 10 PM and rises around 4 AM. I hear that winter is the opposite, however, and may be less joyful with 6 or fewer hours of daylight.  Now I'm finished with business travel until September, which is wonderful.

On the way home, I had a three-hour layover in Minneapolis, and my friend Tracy of Sellabit Mum drove over to the airport with her youngest daughter to have coffee with me. Having friends all over the country really is an awesome thing; there is no substitute for in-person hugs with someone you adore.

I had a chance to catch up on some reading on the plane, and I'm enjoying Clive Cussler's latest novel, The Bootlegger, which is set in the prohibition era. There is a Russian coalition building a bootlegging dynasty in order to fund their intended takeover of the US, and a private detective agency is on their trail. It's exciting and perfect summer reading.

Speaking of books, I just finished one that I want to recommend: After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Her publicist asked me to read an advance copy, and I have to tell you that I am so grateful. I started reading it, got hooked on the characters, and couldn't put it down all day long. Luckily, I had two long flights last week, and devoured it. If you're married, you'll appreciate the struggle. If you're not, you will enjoy the insights. It's like watching your favorite romantic comedy, except that you get to cast the characters in your own mind.
Click here for more info on Taylor and the book.

Need some more reading material from the web this weekend? Try these:

1)  This mother to be was told at the 20-week mark that her baby would be born with multiple deformities, along with club feet. This is the story about the worry she carried all those weeks, and then the joy she felt when he was born. It's beautiful.

2)  Sherri Kuhn's babies are grown, but that doesn't stop her from loving, or even kind of wanting, another. This poignant post made me want to rewind already, and my son isn't even grown yet.

3)  Since becoming a mother, I have many, many more fears. I identified with this post at Brain, Child about fear and letting go, little by little.

4)  Does your preschooler listen to you? Mine doesn't always either. This post from Leigh Ann at Genie in a Blog with the always-wise Ask Dog G is right on target.

5)  Last weekend was the Postpartum Progress Climb out of the Darkness all over the world. There were well over 1000 walkers who raised over $150,000 to help educate new mothers about postpartum mood disorders like postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. I participated in Austin, and the group of women I met were strong and hopeful and loving.

"That climb was BRUTAL. Rock scrambling. Dancing across rocks dripping with snow melt. 20 degree windchill at the top. Still nothing compared to what I've already triumphed over," said Susan from New Hampshire after her climb.

Miranda summed it up beautifully here:

Lastly, the first book in which I am published will be released soon - it's called My Other Ex, and it is a collection of stories about friendships lost. The other writers in the book are all women I admire and respect, and it's an honor to be included. My essay is“Friendship is a Verb,” which tells the story of a friendship that simply disappeared without any explanation, and the space that is left behind.
Click here for more information on purchasing the book

Happy weekend!


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Ring

I saw the ring in a magazine for brides-to-be, and it caught and held my eyes for what felt like a long and lingering stare.  It was a white gold Tacori design, cradling a sapphire at its center, with small encrusted diamond and sapphire accents encircling it.

It winked at me in the full-color, full-page ad. I could be yours, it whispered.

We had been discussing marriage in very vague terms over the years in the course of our tumultuous five-year relationship. Two cities and several apartments later, there we were in our new town, and it was decision time. I didn’t like the idea of an ultimatum, and at the same time, I was getting impatient.  How long was I to wait before my own fairytale walk down the aisle? I was still seeing through the rose-colored glasses I was born wearing; I could not see the end of the relationship looming down the road. Actually, I could see it, but I refused to acknowledge the specter of it.

I brought him to the jeweler to see my ring of choice one day, and he made all of the right noises about how beautiful it was. I signed the paperwork myself for the order. After all, I was the one with the job.

I was, in effect, proposing to myself.  Willing myself to believe that it was all going to turn out just fine. 
And it’s true that I loved that ring when it arrived. I didn’t care a bit that the center stone wasn’t a diamond; I had always been partial to gems of color. Twirling it around my finger and gazing at it during the day convinced me that all that glittered was, indeed, white gold. 

I had ignored every red flag that unfurled in front of my face throughout the doomed relationship, hoping against hope that everything was going to turn out just fine. After all, didn’t Prince Charming always come around in the end? I clearly had watched Pretty Woman too many times. In this case, the prince wasn’t going to step up and be the husband I always wanted. In fact, he wanted to date other people and moved out.

When we went our separate ways, four years later, I took off the ring and put it in a velvet-lined drawer in my dresser. It sat way in the back, where I couldn’t lose it or look at it. It was an ill-kept secret in my drawer and in my head for months, gathering dust and memories. I thought about it and thought about it and considered what I should do.

Shall I have it melted down and made into a pair of earrings or a necklace?

Save it?

Give it to one of my nieces?

Finally, I decided it was a talisman of bad fortune, and I was going to sell it. Looking at the possibilities of pawn shops, a newspaper ad, and private shops, I searched for a jeweler who bought estate jewelry.  I dialed the number of a store on the east side of town, and verified that they would take a look at my ring.

Walking into the shop, bells clanged as I opened the door, and I approached the counter. The jeweler took his loupe to my ring, examining it every which way before handing it back to me and making an offer.  The estimate, sadly, was approximately one-tenth of what I had paid for it. I looked at my ring for a moment, and handed it back to him, pinching it between my thumb and finger with a final squeeze before letting it go. This small piece of jewelry, the one that had fit my hand perfectly for four tumultuous years, represented the hope that I kept in my heart for all this time. Letting go of that hope was one of the hardest parts. 

Goodbye, beautiful sapphire.  Goodbye, ring.  Goodbye, old life.

I paid for that ring my own money, and I loved it well. Now it was time for it to go.

I went home and paid for a much-needed air conditioner fix for my house, a few new dresses, and an outrageous pair of sexy, strappy shoes.

The relief washed over me; I felt good about it. I had already taken a plastic bag - or ten - to throw away all the vestiges of my former life: photos, letters, mementos… even my wedding photo negatives.  Selling my ring seemed to be the next step in my metamorphosis, and shedding the skin of my marriage gave me the impetus to move forward.

I repeated the mantra I had been telling myself since he walked out the door: I am strong, I am beautiful, I will love again, and I will not be bitter.  And I emerged from the house in my new shoes and into my new life.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday Favorites

Hi! *Waves from the sky*

I'm on a plane, coming home from Montreal, and I love it when I can be online and charge my laptop at the same time. Thank you, Delta.

I have been writing, quite a bit, actually... just not as much on my blog site in the last month. I have been writing shorter observation stories on the Two Cannoli Facebook page, I wrote a guest post for Jennifer Hall, and I wrote two chapters for an upcoming book by Carolyn Savage. Two chapters. In a real book.

I am pinching myself. One of my fellow chapter writers, Diana Stone, captures our feelings well in a post on her blog.

More next week, from me and a special guest post. In the meantime, check these out:


Speaking of books, I want to recommend the new one launched by my friend Keely Flynn Schoeny, and since she is hilarious, I'm looking forward to reading it.

Click here for more about Expecting: A year of fixing up and breaking down


It's no secret that Lindsey Mead is one of my favorite writers, and I love this post she wrote at Medium. This one reminds me of all of the cathedrals I visited between Paris, Brussels, and Rome when I used to travel internationally for work.

Cassidy Santaguida was one of the cast members of Listen To Your Mother Austin, and she is a dynamo. She does two things that scare me immensely: improv and stand-up comedy. This piece talks about what she has learned from doing those things:

This piece, from Meredith McGee, was stunning. The story, richly told with great detail, highlights a major horrific life event that affected two young women profoundly. It's sad and stunning, but worth knowing.

Last, but not least, this essay from Drew Perry at Huffington Post, called "Love in the Time of the Toad" was so beautifully written that I found myself reading it three times.

Happy weekend!


Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday Favorites

Today, I took my son to the park and to Pinkberry for a cold treat, and as we were enjoying our frozen yogurt, a group of middle school boys walked in, loud and gangly. The first thing I noticed is that not one of them was talking on a phone or looking at a phone. They were talking to each other. The second thing I noticed was that they all had their yearbooks in hand with a tie-dye motif on the cover.

Maybe my disaster of a yearbook cover wasn't so bad.

The boys smiled at me and my son, and I felt a lot of hope for the young man my son will become someday. With the horrific events in California in the last week and resulting fear and rally, it has been a tough week online. I hope that you find some peace and comfort and joy over the weekend.

Here are some of my favorite posts on the internet this week:

This post stands alone from my friend Tracy at Sellabit Mum. Her brave post will break your heart and make you feel strong at the same time for women everywhere:

Elaine of The Miss Elaine-ous Life is conflicted about how she feels about summer vacation - with three small kids, it's completely understandable:

This mom has some tough and real words for her son about sex and relationships and women:

Lara's post on how she doesn't do it all resonated with me - don't be so hard on yourself, either.

Slow Family Living's Bernadette Noll always has fantastic ideas - this one is easily repeatable to capture the moments of your child's school year:

It's summertime, and kids all over the country will be swimming. This article is not meant to scare you but to educate you on something you may have never seen or even heard of: secondary drowning.  Thank you to Laura Willard of An Uncommon Family for sharing it:

Dynamom wrote a post at Scary Mommy that has resonated to the tune of almost 190,000 shares on Scary Mommy: 10 Habits Parents Need to Break. In particular, I like #2. 
See more at: http://www.scarymommy.com/10-habits-parents-need-to-break/#sthash.m75o9Ww9.dpuf

I love this idea from A Cup of Jo - a scheduled date with your child, especially when you have more than one. The photos are gorgeous.

Katie from Sluiter Nation is a caring and loving teacher, and when a senior girl at her school lost everything in a fire, including everything she owned for her baby boy, Katie sprang into action. She gathered donations from friends and went to Charlotte Russe to buy a gift card for the young woman and to Target for gift cards to buy the baby everything he needed. While she was buying the gift card at Charlotte Russe, the cashier said, "Well SOMEONE is getting a fun shopping spree!" Katie just smiled and nodded. Then she asked who it was for and Katie told her "a student of mine lost her house in a fire and has nothing. This is just a small thing to get her some back some stuff."

The cashier started crying. The teenager said, "Oh my goodness! That is the best thing I have heard in my life!" Katie said, "I can't take all the credit; lots of people loved on her to get this, and really $100 is small compared to losing all your clothes and favorite things, but it's what we can do."

Great story.


Monday, May 26, 2014

To all the Maggies of the world

Last June, photographer Sara Naomi Lewkowicz won the 2013 Ville de Perpignan RĂ©mi Ochlik Award for her work documenting Domestic Violence. She had followed a couple, Shane and Maggie, for several months and photographed moments of their lives in great detail.

“I had originally intended the story to focus on the difficulties felons face once being released from incarceration. My intention was to paint a portrait of the catch-22 many individuals find themselves in upon release, the metaphorical prison of a stigma they can never seem to escape. The story changed dramatically when one night, Shane and Maggie got into a fight. Shane began to physically abuse Maggie, slamming her up against walls and choking her in front of her two-year-old daughter, Memphis.”

- Sara Lewkowicz, on her site.

Sara asked someone else in the house to call 911, and she documented the abuse.




All the while, Maggie was being tossed across the room and choked in front of her tiny daughter until the police arrived.

My friend Galit Breen of These Little Waves asked me to make a statement for an article she was writing for All Parenting about the story. I had seen the headlines, but hadn’t yet clicked through the photos when she asked me to contribute my comments. When I finally looked at the whole series, the tears rolled down my face before I could stop them.

I told Galit: I cried for Maggie, and I felt her fear and loss and pain. I felt her wish that she could change him. I cried for the children, watching this play out, and wishing for them a better future. I cried for the feelings I had when I was punched in the jaw and kicked and screamed at. I detested the photographer for standing there, snapping photos, while this family fell apart. That's what my heart said.

Maggie is now in Alaska, reunited with her husband and father of their children. She is fighting poverty, age, inexperience, fear, stress, and a history that now includes battery. It’s a Sisyphean task.

When I split up with my husband, it wasn’t after he wrapped his fingers around my neck and socked me in the jaw. In fact, I married him after that. I know just how hard it is to break away from the erosion of self-esteem to find the true you again. And I didn’t have kids at the time.

I have been thinking of Maggie every day for a week now, and I’m willing her with all my heart to push through this. For herself, for her kids, for her husband… for the rest of her life. There are far too many Maggies in the world.

I want to gather all of the Maggies in my arms and hold them and tell them this:

He’s going to tell you that it’s your fault.

It’s not.

He’s going to tell you that you pushed his buttons and made him do it.

You didn’t.

You’re going to think that you’re crazy.

You’re not.

I know you feel worried that you will never find someone else to love you, because your worth has been compromised.

I know you are afraid that he’s right about all the things he says about you.

I know you will feel nervous about dating someone new and you doubt your judgment.

I have been there.

I doubted my worth, my self-esteem suffered, and I worried that my judgment was not just askew but absent.

It’s OK to quit a relationship. You are stuck in a riptide; reach out for the nearest hand and grab it and let them pull you ashore before you drown. I told different people small pieces of my story but told no one the whole story. I was afraid that they would tell me to leave him, and I was not strong enough to do it.

Know that this is your chance to teach your children about healthy relationships.The last thing you want is for your son or daughter to grow up thinking that they can be treated this way, too.

It’s OK to feel sorry for him. I know you want to fix him. I know you are hoping that love will carry you both to the happily ever after. It will not happen as you’re getting hit. He needs help that you cannot offer.

Don’t kick yourself for missing the red flags along the way. It is never too late to change. If you are afraid for your life, listen to your intuition. You are not insane. You know when it’s wrong if you listen to your heart.

It’s OK to feel scared and unsure about what your life will look like without him. You will grieve the relationship, the loss of hope, and the emotions that you thought were love.

It’s OK to wonder if you can live without him.




Believe it. Tell it to yourself every day.

Real love does not hurt - physically, verbally, or emotionally.

I love you. Love yourself enough to break the cycle. No one else can do it for you.

* * *

I have written about my own experiences here on my site as well as for Violence UnSilenced.


I want better for the next generation.
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