Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Be Careful What You Wish for

I don't believe God is in the business of paybacks or getting even so I'm not sure who to blame for my current state of heartbreak. Maybe there's no one to blame but myself. For years I wanted nothing more than for my kids to grow up, to need me less, to give me back my freedom. I fantasized about having my own apartment to get away from the demands of parenthood. Unlike most moms I didn't cry when they went to kindergarten, though in retrospect the happy dance at the bus stop may have been a bit much. The point is, I didn't enjoy being a mom in those early years; I wanted them to end. And in the blink of an eye, that's exactly what happened. Now, when at last I’m in love with being a mom, my job is nearly done.

Last night Ian left for Singapore and I'm pretty sure my heart went with him. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I've never felt like this. There’s an ache that I'm afraid won't go away for the 120 days that he's gone. I may stop bothering with makeup for the next four months because the tears make it pointless.

I think it’s worse because I know he’s so far away. If he was going to California for four months I might be okay. Even Europe feels bearable. But knowing he’s a half a world away is causing me physical pain. What if he’s lonely or homesick? What if he changes his mind about this whole thing?

I know what you’re going to tell me. It’s going to go quickly. He’s going to have such an amazing experience. You’re being selfish. And I know all of that is true.

I think there’s an underlying explanation for the depth of my hurt and that is the realization that this is only the beginning of losing him (with Abby soon to follow).  Each and every day he grows more mature, more independent (just like I always wanted him to be…practically since the day he was born) and more likely to choose a life somewhere far away from me.

Insert Cat’s in the Cradle song here:



Even though I have a pretty full life of my own, I prefer a life with my kids in it. A life where we continue with family game night and dining out to avoid my cooking. A life where we all yell at Lily to stop barking and stealing food. A life where Ian and Brooke snuggle on the couch and Abby bitches about something or someone at school.

I now fully understand how my parents have felt for years, wanting nothing more than for their girls to be home. I understand how hard it is for them to say goodbye to Dawn when she returns to Colorado from her biannual visits to PA. And she’s not even their favorite.

But I also know what it’s like to be the child who’s hurting them by not being around enough. It’s not a lack of love or appreciation that keeps me from seeing my mom and dad more, it’s life. I have one that’s filled with work, family, friends and activities. And thinking about that puts the pain of missing Ian in some perspective for me. He’s doing what he has to do. He’s experiencing all that the world has to offer. He's living! His being gone has nothing to do with me, other than that I have given him the wings to fly.

If he can do this, I can do this.

Still, a few of your prayers wouldn't hurt...


Thursday, December 29, 2016

25 Gifts for Christmas

Well, I did it. I successfully de-Grinched myself this holiday season. I stuck to my plan--daily texts of appreciation to my husband and kids, and daily journal entries reflecting on the gifts I already have in my life. It seemed to do the trick. For the past month I've felt better than have in a long time.

Just in case you need to be reminded of some of the gifts in your life, here are the 25 I counted down to Christmas with (and they were written as the spirit moved me, appearing in no particular order):

1: Antidepressants. Okay, an odd choice, but a serious game-changer for me. I'm so thankful that there are options for people who struggle like I do.
2. My friend Karen A. I can tell her anything and be myself 100% of the time. I have a blast in her company (she's the friend most likely to get me into trouble), and yet I can cry and bear my soul with her, too. I'm praying that 2017 is really good to her. She deserves it.
3. Occasions with friends. What a gift! Whether it's watching a PSU football game with my Freakin' Angels, their spouses and kids, or enjoying a girls' night out, few things are better than spending time with my "sisters."
4. Bubble baths. We take them for granted, don't we? Millions of people in this world don't have clean water to drink and we fill a tub with gallons of it, just so we can soak away our First World troubles.
5. My job. It was kind of a down year for me professionally. Just wasn't feeling it. Guess the depression didn't help any. But I am thankful for meaningful work to do, and even more grateful that it comes with tuition remission.
6. Working out? This is a tough one. You know I hate exercising, but I'm thankful that I'm strong and healthy enough to do it, and I appreciate the results.
7. Eating out. The only thing I hate more than working out is cooking. Every meal I don't have to make is a gift.
8. Good TV shows. Television is in a renaissance period. The network shows may suck (with the exception of "This is Us"), but Showtime, Netflix and Amazon Video are more than making up for the dearth of quality entertainment that we experienced for the past several years.
9. Books. Give me the shore, a boat, the sun and a good book and I'm a happy girl. Read almost 25 books this year and there were some good ones on that list. I'll share them in my 2016 Entertainment Year in Review, coming soon.
10. The Christmas Spirit. I was feeling it on December 10! I had breakfast with my friend Emily whom I hadn't seen in ages. Then I hit the gym. Then I made real pine boughs for the windows and played with Lily. I hung the stockings with care, went shopping and wrapped some gifts. That night we had an MPC deacons' party. It was a really good day.
11. MPC. Have I told you we have a new pastor (not an interim!!!) at Media Presbyterian Church? And have I told you I think he's awesome? For the first time in years, I'm happy to invite one and all to join me at MPC some Sunday morning. If you're looking for a church family, your search is over!
12. Vacation days. Even if you do nothing more than organize the house, it's such a joy to take a day off.
13. Free classes at Villanova. Even though I didn't like my Voice & Movement class this past semester, I appreciate the ability to take courses that interest me. Next semester I'm taking Playwriting.
14. Lily. She steals food and is relentless about the garbage, but I love her to pieces. One of the greatest joys in my life.
15. Christmas cookies. I know no limits when it comes to eating them, which is why I'll be instituting a rigorous workout schedule come Jan. 2. Until then, I'm going to pig out, so if you notice that my jeans are unbuttoned, there's no need to bring it to my attention.
16. Great movies. Apollo 13 was on television on Dec. 16. Reminded me how powerful films can be. It's been a while since I've seen anything as good as that one, unfortunately. What have you seen in 2016 that you think hits the mark?
17. Games! I LOVE playing games with my family and friends. I'm lucky that my kids are game people, too. It's made for many a happy night together.
18. Ian. He came home on Dec. 18 for Rob's mom's birthday. Every time we're together I'm reminded just how much I love being with that "kid." He's smart, interesting and interested, and funny. He's engaging and engaged. I couldn't be prouder of the man he's becoming.
19. Hair cut and color. 'Nuff said.
20. Theatre. My "debut" this year was was just about everything I could have hoped for. It helped pull me out of one of the most severe depressive episodes in my life. I hope there's more of it (theatre, not depression) in my future.
21. A really good cheeseburger. I had an amazing BBQ bacon cheddar burger on Dec. 21 (Avenue Kitchen in Villanova). It was worth each of those 5000 calories.
22. The dog park. I love the dog park in Haverford almost as Lily. It's a sanctuary of sorts for me, and it brings me great joy to watch the dogs play.
23. Family outings. They're increasingly rare and as a result they mean that much more now. Once upon a time I couldn't wait to have "me" time, or time alone with Rob. Then one day you wake up and "me" time is the rule, rather than the exception. On Dec. 23 we (all four of us, plus Brooke) went to Booth's Corner for the first time. Had a blast, then came home and made Christmas cookies.
24. Abby. Where do I begin to describe the gift that is Abby? She's a one-of-a-kind force of nature. Tough, but warm to those she loves. She appreciates what she has and never asks for more. I'm so proud of her.
25. Rob. My greatest gift by far. A living, breathing example of God's love. I'm blessed with one of the best marriages of anyone I know. I guess that's what happens when you marry your best friend.

Your turn. What gifts did you discover this Christmas?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

In Need of a Good De-Grinching

Aside from setting out a few Christmas-y dust collectors and loading up the tree with the dozens of ornaments we've collected over the years, I do not deck the halls for the holidays. I consider decorating to be a form of arts & crafts, which is among the many maternal skill sets I lack. I thought this shortcoming would become less important once the kids grew up, but alas, Abby has once again voiced her disappointment at our Grinch-like abode.

Truth be told, I feel rather Grinch-like and it's not just the depression that's keeping me green and grumpy. I've felt ho-hum about the holidays for years now. I'm not sure where things went wrong for me. Perhaps when the kids became too old for toys (or at least toys that don't cost hundreds of dollars)? Perhaps when I became too old for toys? Perhaps when Christmas getaways began taking the place of gift-giving? Perhaps when I decided the loneliness of a mere family of four at the holidays was too big a bummer to bother truly celebrating? Perhaps when the radio stations started playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving and the stores decorated for the holiday in October? Regardless of the cause, I've definitely lost the passion for Christmas, which means I'm obviously missing the reason for the season.

This year I'm going to try something different. In an attempt to beat the Grinch at his own game, I'm going to decorate my heart and soul with 25 daily gifts of love. Wow, that sounds super corny, but work with me here. I'm thinking that rather than an advent calendar counting down to Christmas with chocolates, I'm going to remind myself daily of all the gifts I already have in my life. One gift each day, recorded in my journal so I can reflect on it. And to share the love, which is the whole point of Christmas (remember?) from December 1-25 I'm also going to "gift" my family with simple reminders of why I love them. My hope is that I can think of 25 reasons for each of them this countdown will fill my heart with the joy of the season.

I'd love to hear about the special ways you celebrate Christmas/Hanukkah. And if you want to get together over the holidays, give a call. Time spent with friends is one of the greatest gifts of all!

Monday, November 7, 2016

The End is Near! Or Maybe It's Just My Beginning?

Tomorrow night I officially take the stage, a real stage, for the first time in 30 years. And no, that's not an exaggeration. I haven't been in a theater production since high school when I performed in Leader of the Pack my senior year. I wore a black leather jacket in that role. In Marisol, I play “Woman with Furs” and I wear an amazing coat. I obviously have a gift for attracting roles with good outerwear.

Rehearsals for Marisol began in early October and the time has flown by. Along with the passage of time, I'm happy to say that my depression has eased dramatically (pun intended). I guess being part of something bigger than yourself and staying busy keeps sadness at bay. It doesn't hurt that I'm surrounded by a supportive family (now I have two!)—with me in the solo role of middle age woman. I've enjoyed the hugs (thank you, Rachel), loads of laughter (thank you, Nick and Leo) and ridiculous amounts of talent (thank you, all). Whatever it is, I've consistently looked forward to rehearsals, and there's little else I feel that way about these days.

The joy I've experienced throughout this process is all the more remarkable when you consider the size of my role, which amounts to one scene at the top of Act 2. A small part was ideal in the early days of rehearsal when it meant I didn't have to be there every night or stay for the entire time, but come the week before the show, a small part translates into more sitting than I've ever done in my life. Friday evening, the first of our tech rehearsals, I spent no more than 10 minutes on stage in four hours. On Saturday, during an 11-hour rehearsal, my stage time was about 15 minutes. It's no wonder I've gained weight over the past month. It's either all the sitting or the banana chocolate chip, french vanilla chip, or chocolate cheesecake muffins I've been eating regularly for breakfast.

All the sitting aside, I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Of course, I can say that now, before the performance, before the nerves attack and I forget all my lines and burst into tears on stage. At least I'm thinking positive. So let's say that barring a catastrophe, I'd love to do this again. Will I do it again? Probably not anytime soon. It's a lot to ask of my family as long as Abby is living at home and needs me for transportation. And I do miss time with family and friends. And speaking of missing things, would you believe Rob is going to Punta Cana for work later this month and I could have gone if it weren't for Marisol? Alas, the show must go on. And while we're speaking of Rob, can I publicly thank him for being so supportive? I know it wasn't easy, but this experience really has brought me considerable joy.

But enough about me and my emotional catharsis, it's time to tell you about this amazing show. First, it's not for everybody. I'd give it a PG-13 rating. If you believe the “F” word warrants an R rating, then it should be rated Triple-R. But “F” bombs aside, Marisol is an amazingly thought-provoking show. It will make you laugh, cry and cringe. It will make you consider the presence of God and guardian angels. It will make you wonder about this world we live in.

Here's the official description:

Brooklyn is a war zone, coffee is extinct, the moon has disappeared, and angels are trading in their wings for machine guns. As a celestial battle against an old and senile God brews in heaven, the rebellion spills over into New York City. Without the protection of her guardian angel, Marisol Perez begins a surreal journey through the chaos of a crumbling world to find her way home. Met by vagrants and vagabonds at every turn, she must salvage what hope remains amidst the rubble of the apocalypse. 

Perhaps one line in the show best sums it up:
“What a time to be alive, huh? On one hand, we're nothing. We're dirt. On the other hand, we're the reason the universe was made.”  
To learn more about Marisol, check out the website.

Performances run from tomorrow through November 20 at Villanova Theatre in Vasey Hall. If you're interested in seeing it you can order tickets at villanovatheatre.org or 610-519-7474.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Whom Would I Be If...?

Have you ever stopped to think about whom you would be if you became wildly wealthy or found yourself in a position of great power? Sometimes I ask myself those questions, often when there's a big lottery win on the line or when I encounter an executive asshole. I recently wrote an article in which I had the middle initial wrong for a bigwig, and "his people" were quick to let me know. To be fair, they weren't jerks about it, but I wonder, if I were the bigwig, would a mistake like that phase me in the least? When I’m mistakenly referred to by Rob’s last name I don’t make it a point to correct the individual in question, but if I were someone who “mattered” would I suddenly start railing against the offenders?  I’m curious, which comes first, the ego or the executive title?

I recall years ago when I worked in publishing we were producing a compilation of sermons and I had to choose just a few preachers' names for the back cover. I inadvertently left off the name of a nationally-known minister/author who proceeded to berate me, threatening to pull his sermon from the book if he wasn't properly recognized. Christian behavior at its finest. So was this guy a jerk to begin with, or did he grow into it, along with his fame?

Maybe I’m naive, but I like to think that no matter how important I became, I'd still treat everyone the same way I do now. Which to be fair, isn't spectacular because I'm actually pretty introverted and small talk kills me. Still, I can't imagine I could talk down to anyone, or lash out if someone dropped the ball where my identity is concerned.

And then there’s money. Does money change everyone? Is it a given? Maybe it depends on when you become rich. If I had millions of dollars fall into my lap at this point in my life, I really doubt that it would change who I am at the core. I’d buy a shore house immediately, but I’d invite everyone who likes this post all my friends and maybe even discount the rental fee. I'm generous like that. And I don’t think I’d suddenly be okay with $200 jeans or $500 haircuts. I’m pretty sure I’d still clip coupons and shop at TJ Maxx, Marshall’s and BJ’s. And I’d probably drive my minivan into the ground before picking out my dream convertible. If I were wealthy, I’d still nag my husband to use the dozen-plus brewery growlers he keeps in the basement instead of always getting a new one. And I’d remain pissed off at the way the dog has ruined the couch by treating it as her personal jungle gym.

If I were rich, I know I’d increase my tithing at church, give to those in need, and buy my dad a bigger boat, but I probably wouldn’t start paying for all my friends every time we went out for dinner (that could become awkward). I would go out for dinner much more often, however, because there are few things I dislike as much as cooking. Maybe I’d hire an in-house chef. I’d still eat peanut butter sandwiches because I don’t like anything “good,” but Rob and the kids could eat better.

Speaking of the kids, they wouldn’t find themselves living on easy street. No big handouts coming from mom (dad might be a different story). I’d still make them drive the crappy, seriously-used cars they have waiting for them now. And they’d still be responsible for filling them with gas, bought with the money they earned from their jobs. I think nothing is more dangerous than a free ride. Pun intended.

So how about you? Would fame and fortune go straight to your head or would you remain the individual we know and love? Have you experienced a change in title or wealth that tempted you to become someone else? What would others say about you? 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

How Do You Say...?

I do not like voids in my life, therefore, when the opportunity arose to fill Ian's spot, I took it. Within days of Ian moving to Villanova, I moved Gautier into his room. Gautier or Got (pronounced "Gote") is a 16-year-old exchange student from Tours, France. I took "exchange" quite literally, trading in one teenage boy for a new model. Not that Gautier is a French model. I wouldn't want a gaggle of teen girls showing up at the house with misinformation.

You may recall that I attempted this exchange student thing before, about four years ago. Jess, however, was from Quebec, which doesn't really count, plus she had already graduated from high school in Canada, which means she had no skin in the game. What I'm trying to say is that it didn't work out with Jess. She left us a couple months early. Boyfriend troubles, apparently, though there were rumblings of dissatisfaction around a certain family member's bathroom habits. We won't go there. No pun intended.

Filling the empty hole in my soul from Ian's leaving was not the only reason we ordered an exchange student. I also was looking for free labor, someone to empty the dishwasher and wash the cars, much like Long Duk Dong’s host parents in "Sixteen Candles." Abby also wanted an exchange student from France. She's taking French and figured it'd be like having a free, live-in tutor. Unfortunately, she didn't count on having to tutor him in English, and let's just say patience isn't her strong suit.

Got’s English is passable, but there are definitely conversations where I’m lucky if I understand half of what he says. While it can be difficult, personally, I’ve found much of the language barrier to be charming and/or amusing. For example:

“What was your day?” (translated: How was your day?)

“They don’t have bus for to go home. I will work.” (translated: I missed the bus. I will walk)

“Thank you for your helping.” (translated: thank you for your help)

“I past the first test. I don’t understand all the answer.” (translated: I finished the first test. I didn’t understand any of the questions)

“I work outsider with lily.” (translated: I took Lily for a walk)

“For this moment I don’t really have hungry.” (translated: I’m not hungry right now)

I also love the way Got describes nearly everything as “big,” which is certainly appropriate in America where everything from meals to our vehicles are overly large. He noted that the only thing small around here are teenage girls’ jeans. Actually, that was me. He hasn't mentioned girls' jeans. Got also refers to many things as “funny,” when I’m pretty sure he means nice or good.

While I pick up a decent amount of what he’s trying to communicate, I’m pretty sure Got gets about 10 percent of what I throw at him. I’ve learned that if he gives me a straight "yes" or "no" answer it means he doesn't understand what I’ve said and is trying to fake it. There have been some alarming examples of this. For instance, he responded “yes” to questions like "Will you try to kill me in my sleep?" and "Do you have any intention of hitting on my daughter?" And he replied "no" when asked "Do you like my cooking?" and "Do you think we’re a nice, normal family that you’ll enjoy living with?" Clearly these were not the responses I was looking for, nor the answers I believe he meant to give. Although, to be fair, he probably doesn't like my cooking, as evidenced by the fact that he keeps offering to make meals for us.

The most important thing to know about Got (besides his potentially murderous intentions) is that he’s very polite, respectful and eager to help. Kinda like I imagine my children are when they’re with anyone but me. He’s also a big fan of the way Americans treat our flag. Apparently that level of respect and display is unheard of in France, or many countries for that matter. It’s pretty cool to hear him talk about it.

Overall, I’d have to say things are going well. When I asked Got about his next host family (he moves to a new family in January), he informed me that he’s planning on staying with us. I told him that's fine, as long as he takes over all the cooking. Anyone interested in a nice French meal?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Empty Nest Symptoms?

Someone once said she appreciated how "real" I am.
I told her I'd prefer to be a little less real.
Last week I had one of my worst emotional breakdowns in 15 years. For anyone who's struggled with depression, you know that these episodes are terrifying. You can't breath, you can't stop crying, and you're paralyzed with the fear that you're never going to get better. Suffice it to say that depression sucks.

I've been in a pretty lousy place for about six months now and I'm starting to wonder if I'm ever going to feel like my old self again. It's not that my old self was anything awesome, but I liked her better. She laughed more easily. She made others laugh. She cried at happy things. She wrote funny blog posts and Vacation Bible School skits.

I'm not entirely sure what prompted last week's meltdown, but my guess is that it had something to do with being lonely. Honestly, loneliness has taken me by complete surprise. I craved alone time for most of the past 15 years, and now that I have it, I'm miserable. I never thought I'd be the mom who falls apart when the kids leave the house. I thought the whole empty nest syndrome was a bit ridiculous and only applied to moms whose entire lives were their kids. But here I am, the mom who paid as little attention to the kids as possible, now hates the thought of them leaving. And it's not like Ian's going to college across the country, for crying out loud (no pun intended), and I still have Abby for a few more years (though she's constantly busy). Woe is me! I've turned into my mom. Time to stock up on those guilt-inducing comments.

What concerns me most about this loneliness thing is that it's not as if I have nothing else to do with my life. I go to the gym (and as an aside, a meltdown post-workout is truly adding insult to injury. I exercise because the freakin' endorphins are supposed to help my mental health. It's totally uncool for them to not hold up their end of the bargain); I make dinner (it's been known to happen when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars); I play with the dog; I watch two episodes of my new favorite show Jane the Virgin (no more than two, because I want to make them last); I write, read, or pay bills or practice an audition piece for a play I may or may not have the nerve to try out for; I drink wine; and then I have mini panic attacks when I allow my mind to wander for more than a minute.

Most likely I'm overreacting. It's only the calm before the storm. Life will pick back up again and I won't have time to be looney lonely. Soon school will resume and I'll be chauffeuring Abby to and from soccer practices and games.  And did I mention we're taking in an exchange student from France? (His name is Gautier; he's 16. What could go wrong?) And I'm taking a Voice & Movement class at Villanova, returning to the theatre program. I also think I'm going to try out for a play, which would keep me busy six nights a week, at which point I'll have a breakdown because I'm overwhelmed. There's no keeping me happy. Aren't you glad you're not Rob?

Thanks for listening/reading. I know this isn't a particularly uplifting post, but I figured someone out there would be able to relate and might have something to say to make me feel better. Or, I'll make you feel better knowing that you're not half as crazy, lonely, sad, etc. as the girl who writes the Freakin' Angel blog!