Becoming My Mother

911My mom called the Jones Beach State Police on me when I was seventeen years old. Maybe on me isn’t the correct term…more like about me. I was mortified. My boyfriend, Seth, and I had fallen asleep at the after-prom celebration on Gilgo Beach, a remote Long Island strand of sand on the Atlantic Ocean that you may have heard of thanks to the multitude of bodies that were sadly found there. Back then it was not known as a homicide dumping ground, but was simply the place we headed to for a bonfire (and probably beers, though I never drank in high school; too terrified of getting caught). My mother had called all the other parents to see if their kids were home. Everyone else had returned sometime before dawn, but Seth and I slumbered peacefully until arriving fishermen woke us up. (After I got over the embarrassment of my mom calling all of my friends’ houses and then the police, it did make for a good story…especially once I was an adult.)

This was before we all were attached to cell phones, of course. My mom could not track me on “Find My Friends.” She could not call me to see if I was okay, or if I was “dead in a ditch somewhere,” the imagery most often invoked if I didn’t get home on time. Of course, as a parent I understand the fear now, and the impetus to call the authorities. You see, I have officially turned into my mother. You know all the times your parents would say, “Just wait until your child does this to you.” Well, that may have been the only time I warranted that…and let me tell you, karma is a bitch.

I may have overreacted recently. I may have panicked just a bit unnecessarily when I called the police to check on my son in the lot where he parks for school (which is not on school grounds, but in a community park down the street and across a main road). But, let me give some background before you judge for yourself. Just walk a bit in my shoes, and then you can decide if I’m being too hard on myself…

Right after dropping his brother at school and parking the car, my son texted me that he hadn’t taken his anxiety medication for two days (turns out it was really three). That is a long time to skip anxiety meds. Stopping that medication for that long, without tapering is incredibly dangerous, both for the physical side effects (“brain zaps;” dizziness; headaches; tingling; weakness; general illness and more) and the fact that if one does not take very much needed anxiety meds, anxiety goes through the roof, making it harder to take those much needed meds, creating a vicious cycle. And of course, anxiety induced behaviors—like self-harming—that are tamped down by the medication can rear their ugly heads, even if they are not usually present.

I also knew that my son, who battles emetophobia and Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, hadn’t been eating enough, because I had found his uneaten lunch in his backpack from the day before. And I noticed after he left for school that morning that his breakfast was unfinished, as well. He had told me that he made another sandwich when he got home the day before, but I didn’t see him do that, so I couldn’t be sure it was true. So, now that you have the background on what made me panic; here’s the story…

My oldest son had been battling a health crisis (Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss—a very scary condition) for the preceding week and a half. And I was getting ready to drive into Manhattan to NYU Langone Health Center to take him to see neurotologist—a specialty I had never even heard of before my crash course in hearing disorders. So, I was already stressed. My husband was out of town, and the morning was hectic. I answered my son’s first few texts about his medication, but because I was rushing to get ready, I did not answer his last text, stating that he wanted to come home. I didn’t even see it until twenty minutes after it arrived. I texted back immediately that I would call the school and say that he needed to leave to take his medication.

When I didn’t receive a reply, I checked my son’s location and saw that he was still in the parking lot. I texted again, asking why he never went to school, as he was quite late at that point. My first thought was that he simply left his phone in the car and was actually in school. When I received an alert on my phone that he was absent from second period, I panicked. I asked the attendance secretary if a security guard could go to the park to check on my son.

Instead of a security guard, my son’s amazing guidance counselor and assistant principal went to check themselves. I called my son twice and texted him three more times saying that if I didn’t hear back, I would call the police. First text said five minutes, and I’d call. Second text said three minutes, and I’d call. No answer. My oldest son even said he’d go to the park with me, and he’s normally the least alarmist person I know. So, the fact that he was worried enough to insist on going with me, convinced me that I was not overreacting. That was when I texted, I’m calling the police now and dialed 911.

Before this episode, I had called 911 about my kids three times, all well over a decade ago. The first time, my oldest, who was a bit shy of three, locked his eight month old brother in my bedroom. The baby was in his crib, but he was crying, gasping and “crowing,” thanks to a breathing disorder, and I didn’t know how to get into my room. We had been living in the house for less than a year, and I didn’t even realize my bedroom door had a lock on it! (Before you judge that, I was a young mother of a toddler and an infant—I was too tired to need to use a lock for anything.) The police came and broke into the room, at which point, my son had already cried himself to sleep and was breathing normally.

A little less than two years later, the same son who was locked in the room locked himself in my car. I had buckled him in his car seat, threw my keys on the front seat, and turned to close the garage door. In that split second, he locked the doors from inside. To this day, I don’t know how he reached the lock while buckled in his car seat in the back. It wasn’t roasting hot, but it certainly wasn’t cool. I think a neighbor managed to break into the car before the police got there.

The third time my youngest son was two years old, and he had what seemed to be a seizure. He stared into space for a few moments and then his eyes rolled back in his head. He kind of flopped in my arms. Again, by the time help arrived he was fine, playing with wrapping paper rolls on the floor, since I had been wrapping Chanukah presents when it happened. He had a skull fracture at a day old (you can read about that in Forgiving Myself), and I’m sure I panicked that it was some residual damage that was rearing its ugly head. It was a decade later, almost exactly, before he started doing the “eyes rolling into the back of his head” thing again. The doctor said it was a tic.

So all of those times, even though my kids were fine by the time the police or ambulance arrived, were warranted. I was not embarrassed. This time, I was embarrassed beyond belief, especially since the final time I tried calling my son while we were on the way to the park, he answered his phone, with, “I’m okay. I’m okay.” I answered, “Why the #*&! didn’t you answer my calls and texts then?” I never curse at my kids or in front of my kids, even though at twenty, eighteen and fourteen they have heard it all before—that was the first time. I was thrilled he was okay, but not very happy he didn’t answer his phone, and he didn’t go to school. The reason: he was so tired, he decided to take a nap in the car.

I hung up and called 911 again to cancel the first call. They canceled the ambulance, but apparently the police still had to go. They obviously had to question my son, but according to him they said it was “ridiculous.” I don’t know if they were talking about his nap or my call…most likely my call. But, I never in a million years thought that my son would think, “Hmm, maybe instead of going to school, I’ll take a nap.”

After the furor calmed down, I sent a lengthy email to the guidance counselor and the vice principal apologizing for any inconvenience I caused in making them go to the park. They each graciously replied that being proactive is important, and it is a priority for them, as well. They even erased my son’s cuts from that day. A week later my son’s therapist concurred that it was smart to call, because he really could have passed out from Zoloft withdrawal symptoms. That made me feel better, but the whole episode shed a light on my tendency to worry about the worst possible outcome of any situation, mostly when it comes to my kids’ safety: I hear sirens when they are out driving, I check Find My Friends to make sure the car is moving. My youngest son doesn’t come home on the bus, and was not supposed to stay late and is not answering his phone, because it’s dead (which I know when I can’t find his location)…he’s definitely been abducted walking home and the abductor took his phone and turned it off. (My mom may have put this thought in my head when I couldn’t get in touch with him once when she was with me, but I’m pretty sure it was there already…the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.) You get the picture—I don’t need to keep giving examples of my neuroses.

So, there you have it—have I turned into my mom? Probably. But, the good thing is that now, two weeks later, I can laugh about it. And I think it will turn into family lore, much like the Jones Beach story did. And the story gets better, which will only add to it’s patina as it ages, and perhaps my son shares it with his own children…

Just two days after the “incident,” my son won the prestigious “Principal’s Award” at Senior Awards Night. The principal explained to the audience of family and friends and to the students on the stage with him that he chose nine students out of three-hundred and sixty-three for his personal award. It was the last award of the night, and my son had just texted me from the stage that he thought it was a mistake that he was invited, because he hadn’t received an award, and the night was just about over.

As soon as the principal explained the award though, I knew the invite was no mistake. The principal said that he specifically chose students who have persevered under tough circumstances and still show up at school every day ready to learn and take advantage of all the school has to offer. He added that the students he chose are especially kind and make others feel good about themselves. This describes Joshua perfectly (and explains why it never occurred to me that he would nap in his car, instead of going to school). After the crowd dissipated and the last congratulations were doled out, we sought out his amazing principal to thank him. I took a photo of my son with him, and we told him how much he appreciated the generous award. He said he was so happy to give it to him, but without missing a beat added, “Please just don’t nap in your car anymore.” And that makes for a way better story than my Jones Beach one.

An Open Book

openbookI ran into a friend at the salon the other day and she mentioned to the hair colorist we share that my life is an “open book.” I laughed and agreed, but when I thought about it a bit later…I realized, it’s really not completely open. Yes, I share the difficulties of parenting children battling mental illness and disordered eating (really two sides of the same coin), but I haven’t been completely open about myself, and my own battles with anxiety. I know, I’ve shared my eating disorder battle in Hungry. But, I have never owned this truth…

After my youngest son, Aidan’s, therapy session several months ago, his therapist asked to speak with me alone for a moment. As she closed the door, I thought perhaps she would offer some insight into Aidan that she didn’t feel he was ready to hear…instead, she offered insight into me. She is the sweetest person and hesitated for a moment before speaking. When she did, she spoke quietly. “I believe you have OCD, as well. I’ll try to treat you both, because it will help him too.” I breathed out a sigh of relief. That was all? I had known that for almost a decade. When my middle son, Joshua was diagnosed at the age of eight, I finally had a name for my own torment.

It started when I was twenty-seven years old, right after I had an anaphylactic reaction to an antibiotic. It felt like my brain chemistry changed, leaving me with waves of dizziness and anxiety while I sat at my desk at work. Some of that could be attributed to the sulfite allergy I developed after the anaphylactic reaction (and the sulfite-laden tuna or turkey sandwich I would down at lunch, but I can clearly remember my first actual obsessive compulsive moment (for me, it was only the obsessive part, a subset of OCD).

I was waiting for my then-boyfriend (future husband), Jeff, to come out of a rest stop on our way from Boston to visit my family on Long Island. I remember thinking, If I drive away, he’ll be stuck here at a rest stop in Connecticut. For some reason, the fact that I even thought that completely freaked me out. It didn’t matter that I would never act on it…I knew that I must be a horrible person. Why would I even entertain the though of leaving my boyfriend, whom I loved, in Connecticut? It never crossed my mind that thoughts like that flit through people’s heads all the time, but it doesn’t mean that they’ll follow through on it…nor did it mean that I would either. It never even occurred to me that perhaps the reason that popped into my head was that it seemed to me that he was dragging his feet to get engaged after we had been together for over two years already (and I knew my mom would ask me if he was going to “shit or get off the pot” when we arrived for our visit).

That one episode snowballed into continuing invasive thoughts and worries for the next four or five months. I’d have panic attacks, worrying that I was a bad person. I’d feel like I was living my life in a fog. I went back to my therapist from a few years earlier when I was battling the eating disorder, and she told me that I was simply giving my thoughts too much power. I knew she was right. And then…it all disappeared. Around the time we got engaged (not a coincidence, I’m sure), the fear and crazy thoughts just evaporated. I felt myself again. I relished planning my wedding and honeymoon. Four months before our wedding we moved into a charming apartment in a hundred year old house, with a window seat, front porch and fire place with beautiful mantle…all the things I dreamed of in a first home. I was happy.

At my wedding, though I had chest pains and was short of breath while dancing the hora. I panicked that I’d have a heart attack at my wedding (now I know that it was an asthma attack). On my honeymoon I got stabbed by a cactus, and my leg swelled up. I was sure that it was poisonous. My health worries took over my worries that I was a psycho. The background to that: my sister fell ill on her honeymoon and ended up having heart and brain surgery not long after. I’m sure subconsciously, I thought of that. But, here’s the thing – the health worries weren’t so bad, because they made me realize how much I appreciated everything I had. You only worry about losing what’s important when you have something important to lose.

There were even times that I’d be out, and I’d pay attention to where the nearest hospital was, in case I needed to be rushed there. And here’s the background on that: I did have to get rushed to the hospital not long after we returned from our honeymoon, because I didn’t eat enough during the day, and fainted while waiting for a table at a restaurant. I had an inner ear infection, almost constant vertigo, and couldn’t bring myself to eat. Even after that cleared up (6 weeks later), I still felt very sick.

Looking back on that time, I understand why I felt like that – it was one part psychological yes, but it was also a big part physical. My sister had been diagnosed with cancer (psychological), and there was a tiny gas leak in my apartment from the stove the entire year we lived there (physical). We found out the day we moved out. It wasn’t enough to kill us, and my husband wasn’t affected at all, but it was enough to plague me with headaches, dizziness and fatigue. I weighed about ninety pounds, which didn’t help matters at all.  I still remember a lot of happy moments, though.

And moving out of that beloved apartment (gas leak and all), actually ushered in a new stretch of bliss. I felt better, even though I had a car accident that left me with neck pain and forced me to quit a job I loved. I got pregnant, and I LOVED it. I did not have anxiety. I relished every moment. My next pregnancy was plagued by anxiety and to this day, I wonder if that’s why my oldest does not battle mental illness, but his brothers do – the cortisol coursing through my veins and into the placentas of his younger brothers leaving them with lifelong issues.

The next two decades unspooled with moments of joy and moments of darkness. I have risen above anxiety, and I have let it cripple me in my head…though outwardly, I don’t think anyone could tell (aside from a trained professional, like my son’s therapist). The OCD (or rather “Pure O”) has reared its ugly head in various forms. It was worse post-partum, especially whenever I dropped a feeding. I could go into all the details, but that would entail thousands and thousands of words…that may work for a book, but not a blog post. When I started taking inhaled steroids for asthma, it spiked again. I have tapered myself down to every other day, against the advice of my asthma doctor, simply to save my sanity.

So, what type of OCD do I have now? Well, there’s the one that led my son’s therapist to diagnose me…I don’t eat without cleaning my hands, and I always have hand sanitizer with me. That habit started when I was thirty-five, and had a seemingly endless case of strep. My doctor told me that I must never eat without cleaning my hands, after I admitted that a week before getting sick I ate a slice of pizza at a gymnastics birthday party and did not wash my hands first. He said, “All you need is to do that once and a week later, you’ll have strep.” Then he suggested I get my tonsils out. No, thank you…hand sanitizer became my constant companion. I also wash my hands for twenty to thirty seconds when I’m home before I eat or unload the dishwasher. But, to be honest, while that may annoy others (like my husband), it doesn’t really affect me that much.

The one that affects me the most is probably what I call “clothing OCD” (and no, I don’t think that’s an official term…it’s probably a subset of “just right” OCD). I often feel as if I’m wearing the wrong thing (and therefore, people may judge me). I have had that worry for as long as I remember, but it was not as overwhelming as it is now…and I blame that on social media. Usually, I feel okay in what I’m wearing until later on when I look at photos and decide I look “hippy” (as in wide hips, not as in a flower-child…); or maybe my hair is a mess; or perhaps my shirt is bunched up in a weird way.

Sometimes, I’ll realize in looking at photos that my cleavage was a bit too, um…cleavagey (not a word, I know). I’m very short and wear a D or DD, everything that fits in the chest ends up being low-cut. I try to fix it by wearing camisoles under everything to cover up what a low neckline doesn’t, but sometimes they slip down, and I don’t realize until I look at a photo. If it’s a date night, I don’t really care, but if it’s a school event that I looked busty at…let’s just say I’ll be wracked by anxiety that I looked like a fifty-one year old tart. Not very becoming…

Sometimes, my anxiety comes from my feeling under-dressed for an event or even over-dressed. I tell myself that blending in means that my unique self will never shine, but OCD (or maybe it’s more social anxiety) doesn’t care. For instance, the last night of a work trip with my husband in the Bahamas there was an awards banquet. I had one outfit left – two skinny ribbed tanks layered (black over white), a silky, black wrap miniskirt with a white blooms splashed across it and a three-quarter sleeve plain, black bolero sweater. I wore black and gold interwoven flat sandals to finish the outfit (because I can’t wear heels). Sounds pretty cute, right? Only, I was horrified when I showed up and most of the women were in gowns or at least cocktail dresses. The dress code for evening events was listed as resort casual. Where gowns fit in a resort casual dress code, I have no idea. That didn’t make it better.

I still remember the outfit, because I while I had fun that night (Matchbox Twenty was the entertainment for the private concert…of course I had a blast), afterward I ruminated over what people must have thought of me dressing so casually. (No one probably thought twice – they were all too busy having fun.) The next day I bought a pretty, floral, strapless maxi dress on the beach before we left and wished that I had seen it the day before. I came home and a few days later bought a beautiful, pink silk wrap dress on sale and wondered why I didn’t hit the store I found it at before taking off for the beach.

And this is the crux of my “clothing OCD” and what separates it from the run of the mill anxiety many people have about how they look in photos on social media. (Who hasn’t been quick to click “untag,” praying none of your friends have seen a post yet, upon discovering an unflattering photo in which you’re tagged? I would guess only people without social media or those with amazing self-confidence, whom I admire more than I can say…) I ruminate. I think about what else I could have worn that would have looked better. I zoom in on photos of myself, picking apart my appearance.

This is not normal, and I’m not proud of it. It’s especially not normal, because I weigh less than one hundred pounds. Or at least I do again now. Over the winter I put on some weight after fracturing both feet a few months apart (I’m still in a surgical shoe after stepping down from a boot) and having complications after surgery that left me prone on the couch for weeks. (In the past month I have discovered health conditions that led to both of those things, but that’s another blog post…)

During that time, I was hypercritical of my appearance in Facebook photos that others posted of me. I was sure I looked fat. Mind you, I gained five pounds and weighed about one hundred and two to one hundred and three pounds in most of them. Typing this out, I know how stupid it sounds. But, five pounds when you’re not even five feet tall feels like a lot. And, I’m ashamed to admit this, but lately I have found myself thinking, I’ve been under a ton of stress, but at least I’m back to my regular weight. Again, not normal.

My son, Joshua, who has spent a lot of time in eating disorder programs, both residential and outpatient of varying degrees, told me that I sound anorexic or at least like I have body dysmorphic disorder. To which he adds that “All girls are like that.” I don’t disagree with him about myself. I know I’m not anorexic at all. I don’t limit my calorie intake, that’s not how I lost weight. I just don’t have as much of an appetite when I’m stressed, so I naturally lose weight. I eat a Greek yogurt or a bowl of cereal for dinner a few nights a week when I make my kids something that I don’t like or can’t eat due to allergies. I’m not starving myself. I’ll still eat ice cream, but maybe just a spoonful or two on a graham cracker sandwich, rather than a half cup, when I’m stressed. I’ve also been going up an down my stairs A LOT, trying to catch up on the laundry that swelled during my injuries and post-surgery rest.

The body dysmorphic thing…that’s probably true. I tried on a dress while shopping with my mom. I told her it made me look “hippy.” She told me I was crazy and should buy it. So, I did. I figure that’s a step in the right direction. If I can wear it and not zoom in on a photo of myself and decide that she was wrong…now, that will be a victory.

We all have something…and I decided that it was not fair for me to share my kids’ issues and not my own, simply because it’s scary peering into the dark corners of your psyche and then spilling out what you find onto the page for everyone to read. But, if I’m going to wear the mantle of being an “open book” as a writer and a person…I need to earn it.

 

Postscript: It took me about four days to write this. A big part of that was a health crisis my son has been having that I’ve been focused on, but when he’s been out, I’ve been working on it, and it still took me a long time…I’ll admit it’s nerve wracking to post it, now that it’s finally done. But, if you’re reading this, I got over that and hit “publish.” Thank you for taking the time to read this longer than usual essay…

 

 

 

Carnage

ca-bar-shooting-4

Photo: MSNBC

I couldn’t fall asleep last night. Lack of sleep (ironically) and frayed nerves left me too wound up to drift off. I lay in bed thinking, Okay, if I fall asleep now, I’ll have five and a half hours of sleep…” And then I had an idea…I would post on Twitter about how I’ve got so much weighing on my mind and asking if my followers could reply with something funny or cute. I imagined waking up to fluffy kittens, prancing puppies and chuckle inducing jokes. I figured with a little under 6,000 followers, someone would respond. I actually fell asleep before I could post, probably because thinking about that let my mind stop racing for a moment. I forgot all the bad stuff in anticipation of something positive.

When I glanced at my phone this morning, I remembered my idea last night. I got on Twitter and was going to ask for something positive, anything, to start my day and mitigate the sense of dread that was already enveloping me at the crack of dawn. And then I saw it…another mass shooting. And my problems, though substantial, paled in comparison. It was a reality check and a perspective check. The fourth shooting in two weeks; at this point, it’s not even shocking. There was the white supremacist, anti-Semite and the violent misogynist, both of whom shattered peaceful moments in a spot that should be a sanctuary from the outside world and the day to day grind. Oh and there was the racist who gunned down two African-Americans wanting nothing more than to buy food.

And now college students out for a night of fun have been cut down in their prime (as the mother of a college student myself, this terrifies me), violently robbed of their potential by a psychopath who should have never had a gun. It was a gut punch. All of the people who have been killed were doing mundane, but important, acts of self-care…praying, buying food, doing yoga, drinking and dancing. These were all positive moments that were destroyed.  And all of the gunmen were white, home-grown terrorists who gave off plenty of warning signals that they were at risk of a violent melt-down. (But, let’s definitely keep worrying about a caravan of those fleeing violence, many of whom are women and children, still one-thousand miles away. When will people understand that the risk is inside…the classic the call is coming from somewhere in the house?)

Every single one of these murderers legally owned the weapon he used to rain carnage down upon the innocent. Now that the Democrats are in control of the House, will hope and prayers finally give way to common-sense gun legislation? Or have we not learned anything? There must be some way to get guns out of the hands of those who are likely to use them, even if they were legally obtained. If someone is spewing hate on social media, threatening people; if deputies are called to your house and find you “irate and acting irrationally,” as was the case with Ian David Long, the Borderline shooter, in April; if you’ve been discharged from the military for assaulting your wife…you should get your guns taken away, plain and simple. All of those scenarios fit shooters over the past year.

There have been 307 shootings in 2018. 307. I specifically used numbers, rather than writing it out, as I usually do, because it has more visual impact. 307 is an insane amount of shootings. The only reason for the government not to try to control the bloodbath, is if the NRA is more important than innocent lives. I’m not saying that the second amendment needs to be abolished. I’m not saying that all guns need to be confiscated. I do believe in responsible gun ownership (say the owner of a store in a crime-ridden neighborhood keeps a gun under the counter as a safety measure). That’s okay. But, to bestow every person who wants to pull the trigger the right to do so is madness. And until our government gets out of bed with the NRA and acts in the best interest of Americans, who are rightfully terrified of leaving their homes at this point, the bloodshed will continue.

The Back Burner

calendar.jpgRaise your hand if you put yourself last. I can guarantee that hands shot up for at least two-thirds of you, maybe more. You may have kids to take care of or perhaps aging parents. Or maybe it’s work that you put first. It doesn’t matter what it is, we all do it. We all find other things that absolutely need to get done, before we can get to self-care. But, what’s the price we pay for that? What’s the price we pay for putting off doctor’s appointments when we don’t feel well, but decide we’ll tough it out?

I dropped my phone on my foot two weeks ago. Immediately, I said that it felt broken, but my husband said, “Your phone can’t break your foot!” (Spoiler…it can.) And I had a million things to do all week. Finally, a week later, my middle son, Joshua, who’s quite good at diagnosing injuries, insisted that it was fractured, and I needed to see a doctor. I texted him a photo after my appointment of my foot, wrapped in an ace bandage, in a surgical shoe, and told him that perhaps he should pursue pre-med when he heads off to college next year. So, the price I paid for that was some discomfort walking around with a fracture for a week. I survived, though. I’m pretty tough when it comes to broken bones, as I’ve had more than my fair share…

That wasn’t a huge deal. But, the spider bites I had this summer may have been a bigger deal. My husband was traveling. My mom and my sister were recovering from a bad car accident, and needed my help. My other sister was recovering from life-threatening surgery. By the time I saw a doctor, I looked like I had been hit in the face with a baseball bat. After two rounds of antibiotics, the nasty case of cellulitis was better, albeit with a scar left on my forehead that looks disturbingly like a wrinkle… At the same time, I put off something else that still has the potential to be more serious.

In late June I was told by a radiologist before I even got off the exam table that I’d need surgery to remove something that looked benign, but could be cancerous or precancerous. But, here’s the thing…I didn’t have time for a two week recovery. I was the only one left standing in my family, besides my brother…and he lives an hour away. So, I pushed it to the back burner. And to be honest, the thought of general anesthesia, a day spent in the hospital during the summer, three or four days completely laid up, and two weeks of no fun summer activities, left me less than anxious to get it taken care of, especially since my doctor didn’t even call me with the results, even though the radiologist sent them to her right away.

I finally called my doctor a month after the test that found the (hopefully benign) mass, only because when I went to the same testing center for my mammogram, they chided me for not have it removed yet. I said to my doctor, “It can wait until September, right?” assuming that if she didn’t feel it was important to call me, there wasn’t any urgency to taking it out.

Her answer made me realize that putting things on the back burner when it comes to your health, is not the smartest move… “It should be done right away, because it could be abnormal.” But, I couldn’t do it. We had vacation planned less than two weeks after the date I was given. I pushed it off until September 13th, because my calendar was packed until then. And then, I pushed it off another week, because that day was back-to-school night.

So, here I am the night before surgery I have pushed off for three months, thinking, Was this a mistake? Six years I saw my mother and sister’s gynecological oncologist after some concerning blood work results. That doctor told me my blood work was fine, but my family history was problematic. Being that he saved my mother and my sister’s lives, he would know. He looked me right in the eye, and said, “Why wouldn’t you just get everything out? You likely have nasty stuff waiting down the line for you that will likely kill you.” His bedside manner and proposed solution of a radical hysterectomy left me in tears.

I promptly went for a second opinion at world-renowned cancer center, Sloan Kettering. That doctor referred me to the gynecological oncology geneticist on site. At my first appointment he saw something on the ultrasound and performed a biopsy right then and there. It was the start of what seemed to be a cascade of biopsies. I’d gotten used to getting used to those, though…those little snips in the office to check for cancer, in and out in an hour. This is a bit different though. It’s more than a little snip, and it’s general anesthesia in the hospital. To be honest, I’m annoyed that my doctor never called me with the results when it was something that needed to be taken care of, which doesn’t put me in the best frame of mind to have her perform surgery on me.

So…here I am, up way too late when I have to be at the hospital early in the morning, blogging for the first time in ages. I blame my superstitious tendencies… I always wrote a blog post before biopsies, until the biopsies became such a regular occurrence that I was worried my readers would sigh, “Again…” with each new post. But, I’m still superstitious, so I’m tapping away. Will it change the results? No? Will it perhaps make another tired, overwhelmed person think twice before putting off a medical test, doctor’s appointment or surgery? Maybe, and that would be worth the bleary eyes in the morning…

 

Resilience (Book Talk)

blogspl3I usually get book talks down on paper pretty quickly—they’ve always been about one book—the one I’m signing that evening…And I go through the nitty gritty details of that book’s journey—from inception to publishing. I found this book talk, which I gave at the Syosset Public Library for the Local Author Showcase, a bit more challenging. For one thing, I had limited time—just five minutes, since there were 11 authors speaking. An economy of words was very important. And I was signing both books. So…I decided to focus on one aspect of the writing life…resilience. “More than just speaking about a book’s inspiration,” I said at the outset, “I hope this can actually inspire you…”

Here’s the rest…

“You don’t need to be an author for resilience to be integral to your success and happiness. (Of course, if you’re an author, it’s a requirement.) Here is the one nugget I’ve learned being a writer for more than half my life…Don’t give up. My creative writing teacher in college inscribed this message in my class journal: ‘To be a writer is a truly honorable thing. You will be ostracized and rejected, but when success comes—and it will—it will be sweet.’ I memorized those words decades ago and have kept them close to my heart. The journey from being a college student dreaming about getting my words out into the world to being a published author finally at just shy of 47 was long and arduous. I had dozens of bylines as a music and arts journalist, but I wanted my fiction out in the world, not just my profiles of other people living their creative dreams.

To be honest, there were more times than I can count that I nearly gave up. Believe it or not, though—some of the rejections kept me going. There was a page-long one from an agent who counts among her clients famous best-selling authors. She wrote: ‘…your work is fabulous, your energy is terrific, and this story will find many readers!’ So, I kept plugging away, sending my book both to those who requested it and to those with whom it would sit in the slush pile. Exactly 2 years later, almost to the day, my first book, A New Life, an ebook novella’ about new parents trying to reclaim their passion, was accepted for publication by The Wild Rose Press. I sent it to just one publisher, and it was accepted right away. Of course, I had written it 15 years earlier in an amazing workshop I took with two literary giants—Jill McCorkle and Elizabeth Cox. That acceptance infused me with renewed energy and determination—six months later Goddess of Suburbia, a story about a tired PTA mom embroiled in an Internet scandal whose life implodes when she’s suddenly hounded by the paparazzi, was accepted by Booktrope. Less than a year after that, my second novella, You & Me, a sweet second chance romance with dark undertones, was picked up, again by The Wild Rose Press—after I pitched it typing furiously on my iPhone while standing in a towel, dripping wet—a first for me.

But, even after I had 3 published books under my belt, there still came a moment when I felt like giving up—when Goddess of Suburbia’s publisher, Booktrope, closed its doors a month before the release date for my second book with them. The moment my first novel disappeared from Amazon felt like a gut punch. Waking up the next morning realizing my publisher, and my book, were both gone, was much like waking up the day after a bad break-up, realizing the empty pillow next to you will stay empty.

But, just like a bad breakup, no matter how hard it is, you have to pick yourself up and keep going. You need to keep the good times stored in a little compartment in your heart and kick the bad stuff to the curb. I’ll always remember the thrill of Goddess of Suburbia hitting best seller and other amazing moments with Booktrope (a fun blog tour, a fancy dinner in Manhattan with the head of Booktrope, upper management and other writers). But, I knew I needed to move on. My novellas still had a home, and I would make sure Goddess of Suburbia and Boys, Dogs and Chaos, a book of essays spanning twelve years of my parenting journey, had the same, even if I had to create it myself.

And that’s exactly what I did, starting my own imprint, Gold Coast Press when Booktrope closed. Boys, Dogs and Chaos was almost ready to be published, and my team from Booktrope stayed with me to help me get it into the hands of readers on my own. My proofreader, publisher and even the head of production all played a part in getting it into the world just months after its original release date. I’ve published two other books under the Gold Coast Press imprint—Goddess of Suburbia in ebook format and a very short story—Girls’ Night Out. In the future I’d like to publish other authors. It felt amazing to take control of my destiny—to say, ‘I won’t let this setback define me, and I will succeed on my own terms.’ No more waiting to hear back from agents and editors, no more languishing in the slush pile.

Writing is the thread that’s woven through the tapestry of my existence—from childhood through today. At the tender age of eight I decided I wanted to be a writer. My desire only grew over the years. I was traveling on a plane in college and had to close the book I was reading, Beaches, because it was making me cry, and I was embarrassed. Instead, I picked up my journal and wrote, “…I hope I can do that—make people cry on airplanes. I want to write things that make people feel. Things that make people have to swallow hard and close my book when they’re on mass transit.’

Not long after I found the journal with that entry, I met a reader who loved Goddess of Suburbia. We were chatting about the book, and I told her what I had written so many years before in that journal and how writing words that make people feel, and hopefully even cry on mass transit, is still my goal. She looked at me and said, “You’ve already done that.” That was one of the best things anyone has ever said to me about my writing. To know that my words make readers—or even just one reader feel—is a gift. It’s a more important measure of success than money (let’s just say it’s a good thing I didn’t become a writer for the money…). It makes me feel all the roadblocks I’ve hit, all the struggles, are worth it.

So, I’m saying to you…even if it seems like you’ll never get to where you want to be, even if it seems like the road ahead is so daunting—surely paved with rejection—don’t give up. You just need one yes, and then every no you’ve ever received won’t matter. And sometimes, that ‘yes’ just needs to be from you, from inside—you just need to believe in yourself and take the leap.”

This was a very different book talk for me, and it was a bit nerve wracking, because I found myself comparing my words to the other ten authors who mostly described their books. (Full disclosure—I added in the book descriptions here, I completely forgot them during my talk!) I didn’t know if I made a mistake veering off, but I knew that I couldn’t possibly talk about my books in any persuasive manner in two and a half minutes each, so I took a different tack. (As I mentioned, I added in a few embellishments for this—no time constraint in a blog post.) I second-guessed myself as I walked out of the theater. But, after my talk my normally reticent, almost 20 year old son came up to me, hugged me and told me I did a good job. And that’s enough for me…

The Sign

 

Time still unfurls after a loved one passes away, the days spinning into years. And yet, there are moments the wound can still feel fresh. One of those times is the anniversary of your loved one’s death. It’s almost a shock to the system to realize that days stack upon one another and turn into years. And while the intense grief is tamped down with time, there is always a hole in your heart that doesn’t quite seem to narrow. Looking back at Facebook “On This Day” memories, it seems like there couldn’t possibly be so many years of posts marking both the day of passing and each subsequent anniversary, but there are.

It was seven for me this year, starting on May 1, 2011. Seven posts…the first one opening with, “This is a status I never wanted to share…” In each year following I posted a photo and perhaps an anecdote. One year early on I wrote that I felt guilty that I didn’t go to the cemetery, because I had my youngest son, Aidan, home sick, and I had to take him to the doctor. At eight years old, he was too small to stay home alone.

This year, I had Aidan home, as well. There was a violent threat at his school scrawled across the mirror in one of the bathrooms. It was too much of a bad luck day for me to send him. I told the school the truth about him, even if I didn’t mention my trepidation. He had a stomachache and anxiety, and they know he battles obsessive compulsive disorder. Some of his friends were staying home and we went back and forth, but in the end, I decided I’d rather be overly cautious, than sorry.

He could have stayed home while I went to the cemetery; he is thirteen and a half years old now, after all. But, he really wanted to go with me. I’m so glad he did. If he hadn’t, I may have thought I was going bonkers. And even if I didn’t think that, anyone I told what you’re about to read may have thought it, without another person as a witness to back me up… (Of course, I’m aware some of my readers may still think I’m bonkers – this isn’t for them, this is for those who take comfort in thinking that maybe loved ones who have passed somehow remain a part of our lives.) This may be my most personal essay yet…

“You’d be proud of Joshua, he really turned it around and is getting an award from school.” I said this to my father’s grave, so I added, “I don’t know if you can even hear me or know what I’m saying. But, I just wanted to tell you.” I paused. Aidan and I looked at each other. We smiled. “Send me a sign if you can hear me,” I said.

“Yeah, a crane fly or a spider,” Aidan added.

“Or a ladybug.” I paused. “But, I don’t know if that can happen,” I told Aidan. “How can a bug just appear?” There weren’t any crane flies nor spiders around us. And being that there weren’t any plants that aphids congregate on, I doubted we’d see a ladybug. A few large black flies buzzed around, I guess sensing a place of death and decay.

For some reason, I looked down at that moment to pick up a small white rock to place on my father’s headstone, even though we had already left rocks we brought from home.* And we even picked up more than a few at the cemetery, placing them carefully on the gray granite already crowded with stones left by my siblings and my mother, as well as my family, over the years.

When I reached down for the rock, I noticed another one out of the corner of my eye. It was in the shape of a heart and had a triangular base that lifted it up out of the dirt. “There’s our sign,” I said to Aidan. “Look at this – it’s a perfect heart.”

But then, something else caught my eye. A small spider quickly scurried up the side of the headstone, and quick as a flash crawled over the rocks. “Look, quickly – a spider!” I implored Aidan.

“Do you see that?” I asked. He did and broke into a huge smile. But, when we tried to follow it’s path as it went over and under the rocks, it simply disappeared. We checked the back of the headstone, and it wasn’t there. I peered under rocks. Nothing.

“That was definitely a sign,” Aidan said happily.

I couldn’t help it, I started to cry. I mean, a spider suddenly showing up out of nowhere on the headstone and then simply disappearing? Crazy as it may sound, it sure seemed like a sign to me too. I never really believed that the dead could communicate with the living. I figured once you’re in the dirt six feet under, that’s it. You can’t know how life has gone on without you. You can’t feel anything, and you certainly can’t send your loved ones messages. But, after my father passed away, I started experiencing signs that he was closer than I thought. You can read about that here.

Aidan said, “Okay, we’ll know it’s really a sign if we get in the car and there’s a song that relates to him somehow.” He said this, because right after my birthday dinner we decided to make an unplanned stop, and on the way back from there (at a time we wouldn’t have still been in the car) a song came on that meant so much to me, “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Middler. I had danced with my dad to it at my wedding. It’s not a song that’s on often, and I got a bit teared up, thinking it was a sign from him on my birthday. Aidan remembered that.

At that moment, I looked down at the gray cotton cardigan tied around my waist. A black ladybug with two red spots had landed on the sleeve, a type I had never seen before. (A little digging around told me that these “twice-stabbed ladybird beetles” disappeared from the New York area for thirty years and first reappeared in a Brooklyn park just six years ago.) “A ladybug!” I exclaimed. And an unusual one at that.

“Another sign,” Aidan said. I agreed, especially when this tiny creature crawled into my sleeve and also simply disappeared. I opened the sleeve and peered in – nothing. I shook it slightly. It was empty. I didn’t want to put it on and accidentally squish it, so I checked carefully. As Aidan and I pondered what all this meant (“Can he hear us right now? All the time?” he asked), I felt something flutter against my upper back, above my tank top.

I swatted at it and asked Aidan, “Is there a bug on my back, I feel something.” He looked. There was nothing there.

“You know it’s Papa,” he offered. At that point, I was starting to believe that it could be him putting his hand on my back for guidance or even comfort. And I suddenly felt a sense of comfort – as if things would be okay. If he really was communicating (and I wasn’t crazy), then perhaps the wall of separation that immediately goes up at a loved one’s death was more permeable than I thought. Stuff could somehow get through…signs.

We lingered a bit longer, and then said our “goodbyes.” I slid into the car and turned on the radio. Aidan and I waited breathlessly to see if another sign would show up. I gasped… The song on the radio was “Daughters,” by John Mayer. That was pretty much a sledge-hammer sign. No subtlety. The next song was “We Stay Together,” by Andrew Galucki. This was all on a station I don’t listen to often, Coffee House. Somehow, something made me land on it when I turned on the radio. My mouth fell open when I heard the lyrics to “We Stay Together.” I had never heard the song before. Here’s a snippet:

“…The hours and days
The memories we made
Are yours and mine
The highs and the lows
The long winding roads
Are yours and mine

We stay, we stay together
We stay, we stay right here
We stay, we stay together
Oh we stay right here

Seasons will change
We will remain
Who we are
Simple and true
The old and the new
It’s who we are…”

At this point, we were still sitting in the car on the narrow road near his grave. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I was practically bawling over the song (well, maybe a little embarrassed). It was more than a sign, it was an abundance of signs and it continued with every song that came on for the ride home. A cover of “Yellow” I had never heard came on next. I never noticed the overtones of death in the song until listening to the spare accoustic arrangement.

I felt better returning from the cemetery than when we left, which was pretty miraculous. But, what happened later on in the evening was even more miraculous… As many of you know, Aidan battles severe obsessive compulsive disorder. One of his great escapes, maybe his only escape, is playing hockey. He joined a “Dek” hockey league in March, and his championship game was that night.

While totaling about three or four assists during the season, he hadn’t scored a goal. Usually, he’s not a starter. But this game he was, and on his first shift – the very first shift of the game – he scored to put his team up 1-0 and on the path to a championship victory. After the game, despite his usual intense fear of touching any object someone else has touched (he wears a plastic baggie on his hand in school to open doors), he lifted the “Stanley Cup” over his head in celebration…after others had already done so.

After the celebrations died down, in a quiet moment as we were walking out, he said that he felt Papa was with him, helping him score the goal. I agreed. And as we pulled out of the parking lot he confided that he had a feeling that would happen…or at least he hoped it would. I turned on the radio, and Aidan and I started laughing.

“Yup, Papa was definitely with you,” I said, amazed. The song on the radio? “The Sign,” by Ace of Base. The next song was “Calling All Angels,” by Train. I had been singing that quietly at the cemetery when I asked for a sign… “I need a sign to let me know you’re here…”

I got the sign – we got it – and more. And although the anniversary of my father’s passing will always be a difficult day, this one was made a little easier.

dadson3

dadsong2

dadsong1

I snapped photos of some of the songs that felt more like messages…

I did some research on spiritual communication and whether it’s a common phenomenon to feel as if your departed loved ones are communicating with you through signs, including music and the appearance of bugs (or other animals). Apparently, both are the most common signs reported. Below are two of the articles I stumbled upon…

https://www.amandalinettemeder.com/blog/signs-from-spirit-a-meaningful-song-on-the-radio

https://www.wisdom-of-spirit.com/afterlifecommunication.html

*Jews place rocks on headstones, rather than flowers, for many different reasons. I wasn’t entirely sure how the custom started, so I also did a little research on this. There are too many reasons to list, but you can click below to learn a little more. My two favorites are that, unlike flowers, rocks last forever and that the stones keep the soul in this world.

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/ask-the-expert-stones-on-graves/

 

 

 

 

 

#NeverAgain

School_Shooting_Florida.JPG_t1140Here’s the one impression I had about Parkland, Florida before the rampage that left seventeen dead – fifteen children and two adults who tried to protect them: it’s some sort of idyllic utopia in which to raise your children. I formed that impression from eavesdropping on two other moms during a Little League game. Yes, I know that eavesdropping is wrong, but as a writer, sometimes I can’t help it. Plus, we were all in close proximity on the bleachers – if they didn’t want anyone else to hear their conversation, they wouldn’t be having it.

One of the moms said that she and her family were moving to Parkland soon. The other mom said that she would be moving there, as well. They talked about the other families from our town who had moved there already. They both agreed that it was similar to our Long Island hamlet, except with lower taxes, abundant sunshine and a more laid back and affordable lifestyle. One of the moms said that it was a welcoming community with many Long Island ex-pats. Or at least that’s what I remember of the conversation. (Our town does indeed have connections with the community, according to an email from the superintendent of our school district. Our thousands strong local Facebook moms group even sent a banner of support to Parkland, to hang in the school when students return, and collected donations to help survivors.)

I’m sure I was envious as I listened to those two moms chat about their future sunshine-filled, warm and welcoming new home. A punishing winter had just wound down, and the spring was still quite chilly. I was wrapped in layers and a fleece blanket, and I remember thinking, “Hmm…maybe we should look into moving there.”

Of course, we never did. I’m probably just as likely to pick up and move to Florida, as I am to move to Bali, even though my husband travels to Florida often for business and could easily transfer. It’s just an amazing fantasy, especially in the cold, dark days of winter…but it won’t happen (especially now that my son is in college in Massachusetts). Still, as soon as I heard about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I immediately felt a connection, having mused about moving there and knowing that families from our town live there now. I’ve always felt that town (along with the surrounding area) is really like Long Island south.

Of course, being a mother to nineteen, seventeen and thirteen year old children automatically gives me a connection too. Watching the grieving parents on the news was gut-wrenching and left me in tears I couldn’t quite stem. And it left me angry, furious really. Why does this have to keep happening? Why do politicians place the National Rifle Association over our children’s lives? Why do I have to be scared sending my kids to school, not knowing if some monster with easy access to weapons of war will stride in guns blazing?

Two days after the Parkland shooting, the police came to my son’s high school – a student astutely reported an Instagram post by a classmate that featured the girl holding guns, along with a racist threat about using them. I didn’t see the post, but we were kept in the loop immediately by both the principal and the superintendent. It was a relief to know that the school was on top of it, and that a student was smart enough to report it. That’s all the information that was shared. (This is public knowledge and was reported in local newspapers, so I feel that I can share it, as well.)

I heard that the Instagram post was up for a while, and it wasn’t until the school shooting stoked fears that it was reported. My question: why didn’t Instagram report it to local law enforcement or to the FBI? Why isn’t there a safeguard in place that threatening posts, especially featuring guns, are flagged by Instagram internally and immediately referred to law enforcement? Nikolas Cruz posted violent, disturbing images on Instagram, featuring weapons and animals he killed. That should immediately have been flagged by Instagram and not left up to users to report.

Thankfully, someone was alarmed enough to anonymously report the disturbing, violent posts by the student at my son’s school, but if there hadn’t been a tragic school shooting, would it have gone under the radar? It did for some time before. No one knows the girl’s true intentions – if it was for shock value, or if she would have shown up at the school and brandished the guns in her post, and carried out her racist, evil agenda. There has to be some sort of filter on social media – not just Instagram, but all social media – to catch these threats, before they turn into tragedies.

Perhaps more importantly, there has to be a ban on both AR-15 semi-automatic weapons and gun sales to people under twenty-one years old. Nikolas Cruz could not legally buy a beer, but he could legally buy a weapon of war that allowed him to inflict the most possible carnage in the least amount of time, short of a banned automatic weapon. He was known to have received treatment for mental illness, and yet he could legally buy an AR-15, because he self-reported to the gun store owner that he was not mentally ill. What mentally ill person wanting to buy a gun would admit to having a mental illness? Why is self-reporting even allowed? By the way, I have two children who battle mental illness, and I HATE the stigma that the mentally ill are all capable of committing mass murders… It’s NOT true. BUT, I still believe that those with mental illness should not be allowed to buy guns. I also believe that Trump rolling back a still to be enacted Obama-era rule that made it harder for the mentally ill to buy guns leaves blood on his hands for any future shootings, whether or not it would have stopped this one.) Additionally (and unfathomably), Nikolas Cruz was known to have been expelled from school for violence, and yet he could legally buy an AR-15. There were forty-five calls made from his home to law enforcement about him and/or his brother. He pushed his mother into a wall when she took away his XBox. And yet, he was able to legally buy an AR-15. He was reported to the FBI more than once, and still he could legally buy an AR-15. What is wrong with all of this? Everything. It’s no coincidence that this is the longest paragraph in this essay – the one listing all the reasons that Nikolas Cruz should not have been able to legally buy an AR-15.

There has to be change. The survivors of the Parkland shooting are the catalysts, and they are doing an amazing job of trying to hold the adults who have failed them accountable. But, as was evidenced by the heartless – and heartbreaking – way the Florida legislators blocked even discussing and bringing to a vote a ban on the AR-15, with Parkland students in attendance, no less; it will take a tremendous and concentrated effort to pry politics loose from the death grip of the NRA. I believe in them – their awe-inspiring behavior and resilience in the aftermath of such a senseless tragedy speaks volumes about the type of town Parkland is and reinforces my first impression of it as an amazing place to raise children.

As an aside…the day that the Parkland students bravely descended on Tallahassee, demanding change, the Republican majority did pass a bill. It was one declaring porn a public health risk, because, you know, porn kills as many people as assault rifles. I’m guessing the porn industry doesn’t pay off politicians to do their bidding.

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with a responsible gun owner owning a revolver or a pistol (with the emphasis on responsible). I shot a small handgun once. My college boyfriend had a legally owned gun, and he took me to field one sunny day to shoot cans off a fence – it was actually fun. The next guy I dated also legally owned a gun, but I found that more troubling, since he had possessive tendencies and a jealous streak, even as he professed his love for me. I broke it off after just a few months.

Now, if he had an AR-15, I wouldn’t have dated him at all. Because there is literally NO NEED to own an AR-15, unless of course you want to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. The students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School know this. They’ve lived this, and it will stay in them forever, a small broken place, no matter how much they heal. That’s what trauma does; it leaves a little (or big) scar that never goes away. But…it’s what that scar inspires you to do that really matters.

And these students, and others in their generation, are doing something amazing. They will be the ones to effect real change in the ongoing battle to wrest our country away from the NRA and enact common sense gun control laws that will save lives. They will be the ones who will lead us into a time where we can say, “Never again,” and mean it. And if the adults in charge keep ignoring them and keep letting them down…these students will be voting, if not in the next election, then in the ones after that. By 2022, most of this generation so determined to be the change we need will be voting. And they’re coming for every single politician whose pockets are stuffed with blood money.

 

If you wish to donate to donate to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Victims Fund, click here.