Letting Go Part 2

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Seems like yesterday… Now this tiny baby, whom I kept safe in my arms, is off to college…

I have felt like I’m on a runaway train with no breaks skidding toward my oldest son, Drew’s, inevitable departure for college since last fall. Sure we had visited schools before then and talked about college A LOT, but the night I stayed up until 2:30 am helping him get his early action applications submitted was the moment it became real for me. In the time since then, everything in my mind has been framed with that looming event. Our vacation to Myrtle Beach in the spring; our rare family days and almost as rare dinners together (since he’s always running out with friends); the first day of school; the last day of school; his last high school sports game; the last awards night—during each one of these times and many more of the mundane moments in the life of a mom, I thought… This is the last time it will be just like this before everything changes.

I know that everything will change. I was a different person after I went away to college. And while I thought of the house I grew up in as home until I married at twenty-eight years old, I only actually lived there for one year after I graduated. As soon as I found a job in Boston, I moved away from Long Island to be with my boyfriend. And even though we broke up a few months after I moved, I didn’t return to my hometown to stay for nine long years. I got married while living in Boston and had a kid. I was pregnant with my second child, before I returned. I know that kids now move home for the long haul far more often after college, thanks to the economy, but I don’t know if Drew will be one of them. He’s much like I was when I moved away for the first time—fiercely independent and eager to strike out on my own. That’s exactly how I want him to be… It’s just a bit hard.

It’s also been more than a bit hard writing this essay. I started a week ago and got down almost thirteen hundred words (more than half of which I just deleted). Something didn’t feel right, though and I kept reading and rereading it, not ready to post. I opened with a hook, “I had the flu—a knock-down, drag-out bout of it, over 102 fever, chills, cough… I couldn’t move out of bed, so my parents drove five hours to take care of my eighteen-month-old, from whom I had caught the nasty bug…” I went on to talk about how I dragged myself out of bed when my son wanted only me, even though my mom desperately wanted to help. I was the only one who could make things right back then—he knew it and I knew it. I mentioned that I’ve thought about that night as I help Drew pack up for school. I won’t be there if he needs me to make things right. But, to be honest, it’s been a very, very long time since he has needed that, which of course is the jackpot of parenting. I’m grateful that at eighteen years old, my son never needs me to swoop in and rescue him like he did at eighteen months old. That doesn’t make it any easier knowing that I can’t, though.

Tossing Tylenol and cough drops into a cart at the drug store, I realized that if Drew comes down with a cold or cough, I won’t be there to take care of him. I won’t be able to make him my special concoction of tea with orange juice and honey. My kids used to call it “Mommy Magic Juice.” I know it’s easy enough for him to make it—I’ve packed him a mug and bags of tea. He’s got a microwave and can easily grab packets of honey and orange juice from the Dining Commons. It’s not that he can’t take care of himself—he absolutely can and is more than happy to do so. It’s that I can’t take care of him. And that’s a new feeling for me. My kids never wanted to go away to sleep away camp. The only times Drew has been away for more than one night were a ski trip with friends and prom weekend on the Jersey Shore. I was nervous both times. I have to find a way to not be a “Nervous Nellie” when he’s away. And anyone who knows me well, knows that isn’t an easy task.

It’s not just the worrisome things on my mind, it’s all the happy times, as well. I won’t be there to watch Drew play volleyball, if he makes the club team (which I’m pretty sure he will). I won’t meet the girls he dates—at least not at first. I won’t get to know his friends. I won’t hear him in the basement playing the keyboards; the ukulele; the drums; the guitar…a constant soundtrack to our days and nights when he’s home. I think I might miss that the most of all. At least I can look forward to his breaks—the music will be all the sweeter.

I recently read a line that I wrote right before college graduation. It said, “Soon we’ll be looking back on this, instead of into it.” For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought about looking back on something while it’s still happening. The night before I got married, I stared into the mirror in my parents’ bathroom and thought—Soon I’ll be gazing at a married woman. Right before giving birth for the last time, I thought… Soon I won’t be pregnant anymore; I likely won’t be pregnant ever again. Everything will change. Walking hand and hand with my youngest son into the nursery school all of my children attended, I thought… This is the last time I’ll ever do this. Soon walking my children into nursery school will just be a memory. 

Of course, getting married; having a baby; that baby graduating preschool are all wonderful, exciting milestones, but change is always a bit daunting, even if it’s positive. Sending your child off to college is a wonderful, exciting milestone, as well.  But, it can be scary and at times even a bit heartbreaking. I want Drew to go off into the world and do amazing things. And I’m pretty lucky, because he’s attending my alma mater—the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. As much as I’ll miss him and as hard as it is for me, where he’s going feels like home to me. Walking around the campus each time we’ve visited, I’ve been flooded with warm memories. I couldn’t be happier with his choice. It will be surreal and pretty amazing moving him into the same dorm area I lived in at UMass. If I have to let him go, I’m thrilled this is the place he’s going to—one of my favorite places in the world. I know he’ll be just fine (I on the other hand might need a few tissues)…

 

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My Proudest Moment – #AKWritingChallenge

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I’m a day late, but I’d really like to at least take part in as much of this challenge as I can…

I have so many proud moments when it comes to my kids… Watching my oldest son receive scholarships and graduate from high school with honors; watching my middle son skate onto the ice to play hockey for the first time after battling an eating disorder; chatting with my youngest son about politics and realizing that he’s way smarter than most adults. But…

I feel that this challenge is about the writer’s life (though, of course, I may not be entirely correct), so I’m going to share my proudest writer moment—my dream come true… Standing on a podium at the front of an amazing book store, Book Revue in Huntington, NY, with a packed house watching me as I read from my first novel, Goddess of Suburbia, was my proudest moment. Okay, maybe signing books just a short time later while a line of people snaked around the store waiting for their turn may have been my proudest moment. I had imagined that moment so many times.

When I first emailed Book Revue about hosting my book launch party and book signing, I was asked what made me think that I could bring in a crowd as a local author. I was informed that Book Revue hosted luminaries such as Hillary Clinton and J.K. Rowling, which I already knew…that’s why it was my dream. Speakers at Book Revue have run the gamut from best-selling authors to famous athletes to musicians and comedians. It is the stop on Long Island for anyone with a book to hawk and I was determined to make it my first book signing, as well. I posted on Facebook asking if people would be interested in attending. Between a mom’s group I’m a part of, my writer page and my personal profile, I had well over the fifty people I needed to promise in order for the store to have the faith that I could pull in a decent crowd. I believe it was between seventy and eighty. I set up an event page and handed out glossy postcards and did everything I could to get the word out. Still, I was told that it’s commonplace with book launch parties and signings that at least a third of the people expected wouldn’t show.

But that evening, August 25, 2015, at least eighty-five people showed up. Every chair was filled, besides the front few that were left open for my family. And as I mentioned, the line waiting for me to sign books snaked around the store. It was a truly amazing moment looking at all the faces in front of me as I spoke about Goddess of Suburbia and read an excerpt. (You can read my book talk here.) It was a dream come true and truly my proudest moment (that didn’t revolve around my kids)…

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Not a great photo of me, but it’s the only one I have of me at the podium…

 

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30-Day Writing Challenge – What I Wore Today


Normally on any given summer day, you’ll find me in Target sweat shorts and a tank top or layered camis. But this weekend we had two family parties, so I donned a bit nicer clothes. For today’s casual backyard party for my niece on hot as hell Long Island, I wore white shorts and a yellow tank (above). I’ve had the tank for years, to be honest, and haven’t worn it in quite a while. But the sunny yellow hue put me in a good mood and the lightweight drapey fabric kept me cool. (And, full disclosure, I had on a cute tie-dye shark bite hem tank top, but noticed as I was leaving that the little bows on my bra straps were showing behind the spaghetti straps, so I grabbed this top. And I wondered why bra straps need bows that stick out???) The white Bermuda skinny shorts are my go to shorts this summer. They are so comfortable. 

The shoes are the really big change for me with this outfit. If you read Ten Interesting Things About Me, you may remember that I declared that I never wear heels. Well, a day or two after I posted that I found these giant (for me) platforms for 50% off at DSW. Plus, I had a $10 off coupon, so I figured I’d take a chance. Since the whole sole is high, it’s almost like wearing flats; I’m just taller—way taller. It’s an odd feeling, since I’m not quite five feet tall with the shoes off. I lasted half the afternoon, then switched to Dr. Scholl’s sandals. The last time I wore the silver sandals for more than a couple of hours (at a concert in New York City), my husband had to give me a piggy back ride to our car in the garage, because I just could not walk another step. But guess what, I’ll wear these again. After all, fashion sometimes hurts and I kind of like being tall every once in a while…




30-Day Writing Challenge – Things I’d Say to an Ex

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This is a tough one… To be honest, I’ve pretty much said everything I’ve wanted to say to  my exes already. I have no need for closure. I’ve stayed friendly with all of them (you can read about my lasting friendship with my high school sweetheart in another 30-Day Writing Challenge here), and I’m Facebook friends with all of them. There are absolutely are no lingering hard feelings.We were all very young (I met my husband at twenty-five, so these relationships dissolved decades ago) and we all ended up where we should have. But since I jumped back into the challenge yesterday, I do want to tackle this topic. So, I’ll write about what I did get to say to one of my exes not that long ago. In my essay, Hungry, I speak about how watching my son starve himself has been the worst possible karma, because I put my family and my boyfriend through the same thing when I was in my early twenties.

Back then, I couldn’t see how my actions hurt others. I didn’t understand that watching someone you love starve themselves into a skeletal existence is absolute hell. I was far from home, living on my own and I weighed an alarmingly low weight. (Read Hungry, if you wish to know more about this painful time.) My boyfriend tried to get me to eat. It wasn’t easy for me, and it certainly wasn’t easy for him. We fell apart—we likely would have anyway, but the situation hastened the blow. But—and this is the important part—we both put our lives back together with new pieces and went on to have the futures we were meant to have, building our own families just the way they were meant to be.

I gained some weight after we broke up and gained even more when I was preparing to try to get pregnant five years later. There were some bumps in the road… I fainted while waiting for a restaurant table with my husband when we were newlyweds, after not eating much all day (just a yogurt and an apple for lunch hours earlier), thanks to stress and an inner ear infection that left me with little appetite. I knew I had to do something to ensure that I was healthy, so I could get pregnant and have a healthy pregnancy. It took something bigger than myself and thinking about someone other than myself—my future child—to finally change my ways for good. I saw a nutritionist, followed her program meticulously and gained five pounds (fifteen pounds over my lowest weight). I was finally a healthy weight (just three pounds less than I weigh now) when I got pregnant. I put my food struggles behind me and moved on.

Then my middle son battled the same exact issues and the anguish of watching him fade away before my eyes made me realize how difficult it was for my family and my boyfriend so many years earlier. I also starting blogging about this difficult situation and connected with so many people who thanked me for letting them know they weren’t alone. Since Hungry mentioned how bad I felt about what I put my ex-boyfriend through and I linked back to it in a new essay, I gave him a heads-up, just in case he read it. I also told him that I was sorry for what I put him through, knowing now how awful it is watching my son. My ex was, of course, very kind. I probably should have said that I was sorry two decades earlier. But, I was glad that I finally said it a few months ago. And now, there’s nothing left that I need to say to any of my exes about our relationships, except perhaps that I hope they are all always happy in the lives they have built…

 

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30-Day Writing Challenge – Four Weird Traits

 

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I have been so awful in keeping up with this challenge. I tried to think of a more mellifluous word, but I need to be blunt… I’ve been awful, plain and simple. I think this is a good challenge to jump back in with, because I’ve had to step away due to my first weird trait…

  1. I am a ridiculous perfectionist, especially with my writing. A blog post can take me eight hours of writing, reading and rereading. I’ll tweak and tweak and get anxious about posting. I’m going to try to break that and see how fast I can get this written and posted, hopefully in less than an hour. I really don’t know if I can. I know my husband probably doesn’t believe that I can. He requested that I give up the challenge, because I was taking literally the entire day to write one post and neglecting my household duties. Plus, my son is leaving for college soon and it’s time-consuming preparing for that. Each night that I participated, I stumbled into bed around 2:00 am. But, if I can kick that weird and ineffective trait of never thinking anything I write is good enough and just write, I’ll be way more productive and even be able to participate in the next challenge fully.
  2. I’m terrible with numbers. I suck at math. I can’t remember phone numbers at all. My husband memorizes our credit card number within a day or two of our receiving it. I can’t even remember the three number CVV on the back of the credit card. I can’t remember two out of my three kids’ cell phone numbers. And I can’t add any but the smallest sums in my head. The calculator on my phone just might be the feature I use the most. Seriously, that’s how bad I am with numbers…
  3. Since traits can also mean physical characteristics, not just personality, I’ll toss in one of those (I actually Googled this to make sure that it is indeed considered a trait)… I’m allergic to everything. Okay, maybe not everything, but I do have a lot of allergies and also asthma. I had to stop coloring my hair chestnut brown, because I had a terrible reaction to my single process hair color. That’s why I’m blonde now; I can only get highlights that don’t touch my scalp. I even have to use all natural body wash, shampoo and hair product (and I slather coconut oil on my face every night)… I’m also allergic to MSG and sulfites. One of those, or both, are in so many foods, that eating out can be a nightmare. But, I’m exceedingly careful. The only really crappy part is that I haven’t been able to enjoy a glass of wine in two decades. I also have seasonal allergies, but I suppose that’s not all that weird.
  4. I can fall asleep anywhere. In fact, I fall asleep while on my laptop all the time. While writing this, I fell asleep twice. In college, I would fall asleep on my typewriter pretty much every time I was working on a paper. I’d regularly fall asleep in the big cushy chairs in the campus center when I’d go there to study. Okay, make that three times; I fell asleep yet again while working on this and woke up over an hour later at 12:30 am (only because my son came home and knocked on the door to be let in)…

So, did I succeed in writing a quick post and not obsessively rereading and tweaking? Not really…it’s now after 2:00 am. I started at about 9:45 pm and took a snack break and napped three times, but only one was long enough to really affect the time I spent working on this. I’d say this is somewhat of a victory, being that I spent only about three to three and a half hours working on it (not including the snoozes). I reread it about five times and made several edits. Still, perhaps one of my weird traits is now not quite as much of an impediment as it’s has been…

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Dear Mr. Trump…

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A Muslim and a Jew working together to accomplish great things… Take note, Mr. Trump…

Dear Mr. Trump,

In kindergarten, my son met a boy whose family had recently immigrated to New York from Pakistan (and were originally from Afghanistan). We did not shun him, thinking that his brethren might be terrorists. And this was at a time when the bloodshed of 9/11 was a fresh wound—merely two years prior. No, we encouraged the friendship with this devout Muslim boy. As Jews, our faith taught us to embrace those who may not look or sound like us, those who do not necessarily believe the same things we do. And we taught our children this. True Christians believe the same. You Sir, are not a true Christian. If you were, you would not be spewing such virulent rhetoric every single time you open your mouth.

But, I digress from my story about two little boys who met in kindergarten—a Muslim and a Jew—and became best friends. Those little boys are now heading off to college. One will go to Hofstra, where—if you don’t find a way to weasel out of it—you will be torn to shreds by Hillary Clinton in the first debate. Your lack of knowledge on foreign affairs alone (Putin isn’t in Crimea yet? Or wait—no he is, but they want him there. Which is it, Mr. Trump?), puts you at a ridiculous disadvantage. Sorry the NFL refused to play into your plan of canceling the debate, because it’s at the same time as a football game (did you think anyone in their right mind would believe they sent you a letter complaining about it?). But again, I digress…

This is a story about the devout Muslim and the conservative (in religion, not views) Jew. As they grew older, their bond grew stronger. And not only did their friendship flourish, but the friendship of their younger brothers, as well. (This made me very happy—both brothers are smart, respectful and kind, great influences on my boys.) Most summer afternoons could find the four brothers shooting hoops or riding bikes. But, the Muslim brothers have another younger brother who could do none of these things. He has cerebral palsy (we all know how you really feel about the disabled, after mocking the disabled journalist—but yet again, I digress…) and cannot perform even the most basic of self-care tasks. So, what did my son and his friend (remember—the Muslim and the Jew) do? They joined together to design a bathroom for those incapable of self-care. This bathroom design has won many awards, including the Yale Science and Engineering Award, second place honors at the Long Island Science and Engineering Fair (LISEF), among many other prestigious awards. I’m beyond proud of both of them. This design can literally change the lives of millions of disabled people. They used their intelligence and strong bond to work together to make the world better place—a devout Muslim and a conservative Jew. Imagine that?

No really, please try to imagine that, Mr. Trump. Please try to wrap your brain around the fact that there are good Muslims in this country. In fact, there are far more good Muslims than those who have been radicalized. The fact that you have sought to link the Gold Star family of Captain Humayun Khan to terrorists is reprehensible at best and slanderous at worst. The family could easily sue you for defamation. I hope you lose every veteran vote in this country for your failure to show even the smallest modicum of decency. Khizr Khan was right when he said you have “a black soul.”

This is just the latest serious blunder on your part, in a series of blunders that should really have meant political suicide. How you can possibly disparage pretty much every group, except for white men and still have anyone’s vote (other than your rabid—and hopefully shrinking—base) is beyond me. I blame social media. The rise of social media has coincided with the decline of civility. People can say whatever they want under the mantle of anonymity. It’s much easier for a bigoted person to hurl insults when it’s simply his or her fingers flying over a keyboard, rather than in a face to face conversation. And that has given rise to the vast cesspool of hate swirling around the Internet from which your candidacy has sprung.

And your followers eat it up. Anti-semitic memes smearing Hillary Clinton? Check. Promising an entire religion will be banned from our great country, Constitution be damned? Check. Stating that all Mexican immigrants are drug lords and rapists? Check. (Oh, sorry—you did say, “Some, I assume, are good people.”) Mocking the disabled? Check. Reducing women’s worth to merely their appearance? Check. Even supermodels can’t escape your critical eye with your assertion that gorgeous Heidi Klum is “sadly…no longer a 10.” At least she had the last laugh with her cheeky video and the hashtag #HeidiTrumpsTrump.

And that’s all that I can hope for—that the American people will have the last laugh as you are swept into the dustbin of history, along with other demagogues. You Sir, are no more than a small-minded despot who appeals to the lowest common denominator. (And yes, I know that some Trump supporters are good people, because I personally know some friends and family members who support him—I’m talking about the David Duke types.) I know that you will never read this, Mr. Trump—it’s like the letter you write to a horrible ex-boyfriend, but never send. It’s just cathartic writing it. But, I do hope that this story of a devout Muslim and a Jew accomplishing something great together makes at least one of your supporters think twice about voting in a future so bleak, it scares the crap out of me…

Sincerely,

Stephanie Kepke

As a side note, I was told three years ago not to wade into politics as a writer—I would run the risk of alienating my readers. I have not written a political post since. But it’s my job as an essayist to share my views of the world and to me, this election is about so much more than politics. It’s about where this country is headed—do we want to be a society based on fear and hate or one based on love and acceptance? Do we want to see everyone who doesn’t look like us, who doesn’t sound like us as the “other” whom we need to rail against? Or are we “stronger together?” I’m rooting for stronger together…

I wanted to close this with the famous quote about all evil needing to triumph is good men doing nothing. In researching the quote, I stumbled upon a similar quote by Simon Wiesenthal. It was a very powerful moment. You see, Simon Wiesenthal is my cousin. He was my grandfather’s first cousin. He and my grandfather looked very much alike. When I look at my kids and their first cousins, I think—that’s pretty  darn close. Suddenly, it occurred to me that this desire to right wrongs, this desire to champion social justice is actually in my blood. And that connected me to a bigger world and made me realize that making my voice heard is so very important, scary as it is to send this out into cyber-space, knowing that I might have vitriol slung at me from the depths of that hate-filled cesspool of the Internet…

Simon Wisenthal may have very well predicted the rise of Donald Trump with these quotes, published in 1989:

Hatred can be nurtured anywhere, idealism can be perverted into sadism anywhere. If hatred and sadism combine with modern technology the inferno could erupt anew anywhere.—Simon Wiesental (from Justice Not Vengeance: Recollections, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989)

The combination of hatred and technology is the greatest danger threatening mankind.—Simon Wiesenthal (from Justice Not Vengeance: Recollections, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989)

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This quote by my cousin, Simon Wiesenthal, is as true today as when he said it…

 

30-Day Writing Challenge – A Place I Would Live

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Today’s challenge is to pick a place you would live, but haven’t visited. After some consideration, I settled on Key West, Florida. I love the beach and Key West has  a rich literary history, so I’m guessing the beautiful surroundings spark creativity. While I’m dreaming about moving to Key West, I may as well share my dream house…

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And the porch I’d love to be writing on…

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A girl can dream…

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