Making my way through this winter has been challenging. Actually making it through WINTER IN GENERAL has become challenging because as time goes by, I HATE THE WINTER LIKE I HATE WRINKLES, AND LIVER, AND ANN COULTER. I grew up sledding, and building snowmen and ice skating everyday after school, and weekends, too. I liked winter back then. It was, like everything, FUN. In high school, I fell madly in love with skiing. But at the end of college, I herniated a disc in my low back, and my dreams of being Suzy Chapstick disappeared. I went a few times post back diagnosis, and tried not to move while I skied, and finally gave it up entirely in my mid-twenties, after going on a Vermont Ski weekend, with a bunch of fabulous skiers. I looked fate in the eye, when I took the wrong chairlift, which dropped me on trail that was 18 colors beyond my skill level, and covered in a deadly, glistening layer of ICE. I tumbled down that alpine luge slope like a crumpled piece of paper in the wind, and the terror that filled me at the thought of hurting my back even more, caused me so much anxiety, I had a “crazy girl on the mountain” kind of moment. I actually screamed and cried like I had broken MY WHOLE BODY. I never set foot, or rather MY feet in a pair of ski boots again. And that was that, the last thing that had made winter fun for me was done. Anyway, sure, the snow is pretty for like approximately one day. Then I’m ready for spring. I hate the clothes, too — layers and layers of clothes to put on, just so you can bear leaving your bed.
You should see the coats I wear. They’re basically sleeping bags with holes for your feet. I am sure people are impressed with my winter weight loss, come summer, since I look about 50 pounds thinner when I’m not toting around the “down comforter” coat anymore. Also, I CANNOT walk around in the winter without my shoulders hunched up to my ears like Frankenstein. They just won’t go down. And you know, like, THAT’S VERY ATTRACTIVE. And then there is the sweating. I layer myself all up to go outside, but when I go back in, like to grocery shop, or holiday shop, I sweat like I am in a Viking oven baking at 500 degrees, and very much resemble someone having a major heart attack. Again, the attractiveness factor here cannot be ignored. So, I’m grateful to be counting the days (just 49 more) until spring (and what with my math skills, it could be here even sooner).
The gun thing. There are two sides of it. And yet, I can’t imagine anybody not THINKING EXACTLY LIKE I DO HERE. I can’t help myself. It seems clear to me. BAN ASSAULT WEAPONS. WHO NEEDS ASSAULT WEAPONS TO HUNT, OR PROTECT THEMSELVES? WHO NEEDS ASSAULT WEAPONS UNLESS THERE IS A WAR GOING ON AND YOU ARE A SOLDIER ON THE FRONT LINES OF SAID WAR, or you are a hit man in a Scorsese movie? And even then, I hate them, even when they’re pretend. BECAUSE WEAPONS KILL PEOPLE AND I HATE WHEN THAT HAPPENS (and I don’t actually understand why we can’t do what we tell our kids to do when they’re little and trying to solve a dispute: USE YOUR WORDS). As the whole country was shocked by the Sandy Hook shootings, I too, was devastated. Not because I knew anyone, but because it could have been my kids, or your kids. Having grown up in the town next to Sandy Hook, it felt even more real to me than some of the other unspeakable things that have happened concerning guns over the years. I could imagine the streets, and the kind of people who live in Newtown, because that’s the kind of place I’m from. People scream “Second Amendment.” I say let’s mature with the times, shall we? There are no more militias, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. The second amendment was written a very long time ago. THE ONLY ARMS I’M IN SUPPORT OF BARING ARE THOSE OF MICHELLE OBAMA. I say, let’s all pray, or meditate, or whatever you do internally when you want something to happen (I do a sort of a mixture of a prayer/meditation/plea/wish/beg/make-a-deal sort of thing.) that the President can create an environment where Congress will thoughtfully put aside “politics” and the Republican vs. Democrat mentality, and pass the proposals that will at least take some guns out of our hands. Yes, I’m also for more funds and less stigma when it comes to mental illnesss, too (but that’s another post). Right now, let’s get rid of the magazines, unless you’re talking about The New Yorker, or People. Sadly, it took one mentally ill person to shoot up a classroom full of six and seven year olds to make something happen, to cause outrage, to get people talking. Let’s not wait for more children to die in the safety of their school, or street. It’s time. No background checks at gun shows? Let’s remember that we’re all people. Let’s use our words as weapons here, and act as our best selves.
God, I love my son. He is smart, and funny and adorable. And we’re alike in lots of the ways that make us super compatible. Plus we never fight.
That is, until NOW. Until an event so awful, so painful, SO HORRIFIC, and wildly unpleasant, it can only be compared to having to run a marathon while you are smack in the middle of the flu and an outbreak of measles, or being forced not to dye your gray hair, or sitting next to someone on a plane, who has a baby (who can’t seem to stop crying).
What, you might wonder, is this hideous thing? For those of you who currently have seniors in high school, or have at one time, had seniors in high school, you may have already guessed what this apocalyptic misery is. If you guessed COLLEGE APPLICATION PROCESS, you win a free roundtrip ticket to someplace where words like “Describe a specific moment in your life and how it affected you,” or “Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.” are never said.
Jake really is kind of awesome. He’s always been very honest with us, and a very even-keeled, warm and open guy. He’s always done his school work, and never missed a sports practice. He and I have really never had a bad time together, until several months ago, when this ridiculous college thing reared it’s time- consuming and ugly head, and I went from being referred to as the “best mom,” to “that woman who claims she birthed me, but who I hate.”
I began back in the summer, telling Jake that he should start thinking about his essay. We talked about it walking the beach one day, and I was impressed with his idea. It was fluid and smart. This will be a snap, I thought. Check that box. But as the summer progressed, his essay did not. Despite that I continually, IN MY NICEST VOICE, MIND YOU, told him it would probably be a good idea to begin the essay, since he would have school work AND college stuff to do at the same time when school began, but all I ever got back from him was a nasty stare and an, “I will.” We hired a coach. This would be good. He would throw down the sledgehammer, and we would be the cheering, supportive parents patting him on the back, later starring as the perfect mom and dad, when he reminisced about getting into college with his new college friends, who all said some version of, “YOU’RE SO LUCKY, MY PARENTS SUCK.”
But, NO the college coach I ‘d thought had the right personality for Jake, did not. On Monday of the week his first application was due, (one application that took care of five of the University of California’s in one click of a button, oh, and five months of nagging) he was trying out for varsity basketball. This was the culmination of three knee surgeries, and three years of being co-captain on both his freshman team and his JV team. He handed me his computer and showed me a first paragraph of an essay he had hoped he could tailor around the main essay the college coach and he had been working on (which, by the way, still wasn’t finished, and which by the way, had nothing to do with the prompt for the application due in FOUR DAYS ). I felt heartburn down to my toes, nausea so fierce, I thought I might projectile vomit. Total and utter panic. Gimme a paper bag, someone. And then the worst thing in the world happened, (not really, but just listen and don’t question my hyperbole here, ok) he was cut from the varsity team. It was Wednesday.The application was due on Friday.
IT WAS NOT PRETTY, PEOPLE.
Major depression struck. The kid just wanted to sleep. Needless to say, it was not prime time to get his first college application done. I was so preposterously angry, I could barely talk to him. Why had he waited until the week it was due? WHAT WAS HE THINKING? WHERE WAS THE COLLEGE COACH (this was our first inkling that he was not the right man for the job) And by the way, where did that basketball coach LIVE, I had a few choice things TO SAY (and do) TO HIM. But my husband, THE SAINT OF PATIENCE, literally sat with Jake every step of the way, and gave him moral support, and he made the deadline with like four minutes to spare. BUT that was just the beginning of some of the most unpleasant moments I’ve spent with my boy in his 18 years. There was yelling, screaming so loud, I thought the police would come and we would be featured in that section of The Tab called “Brookline Incident Reports,” editing, crying (that was me), stress eating, and watching virtually any kind of tv to avoid working on the dreaded applications.
And there were many, many more wonderful and exciting moments in this super fun, I-Can’t-Wait-To-Do-It-Again process.
But, nothing lasts forever (THANK GOD), and this morning the last application went into cyberworld. We celebrated like you’d think we won the freaking powerball. THERE IS NOT ENOUGH GRATITUDE IN THE WORLD to express how grateful I am that this thing is OVER. The lesson: MAKE YOUR CHILDREN START THEIR COLLEGE ESSAYS BEFORE THEY ARE WEANED FROM THE BOTTLE. I’m telling you, this is good advice. It will save you one day. I know you don’t think so, but you just wait.
Last night on Facebook, my friend Debby Lucke posted something that reminded me why I am so grateful that 28 years ago, the creative director at my first advertising job paired me with this girl. The post was of tortillas with faces burned onto them. “Fresh and Hot Tortilla Portraits” is what she called them. And it’s part of what makes her one of my absolute FAVORITE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD (and a genuine one-of-a-kind, there-will-ever-be-another person). First of all, I LOVE the idea that debby has found a whole new way to make art. This is what I love about art in general, that people take the time to make beauty out of nothing. I believe it’s vital to what makes us human, and I literally BOW AT THE FEET of anybody who creates art in any shape or form. Because I think that the world can’t be as bad as it often sounds like it is, if people are taking time to make tortilla portraits. I’m pretty creative, but I must admit to having never considered creating anything with tortillas, except a big fat burrito (with lots of guacamole, DON’T YOU JUST FREAKING LOVE GUACAMOLE!). Anyway, Debby is hands down THE most wildly creative person I know. She draws, paints, writes, and apparently now does tortilla portraits. i met her at my first copywriting job at a small Boston agency. With exceptional intelligence, a quirky sensibility, an insatiable curiosity, a bunch of advertising awards and an insane work ethic, debby was the perfect person to be my partner, and teach me about advertising. Together we: did some amazing work, smoked cigarettes (until my mother called and told me she had lung cancer and I quit that very day, never to pick up another DISGUSTING cancer filled killer again), drank coffee, discussed every aspect of our childhoods, survived her marriage and divorce, my break-up with a serious boyfriend, and subsequent meeting of my husband, sang the entire Carole King album Tapestry instead of doing work, lived through my moving to another agency, and then to New York to get married, and then back again, where we freelanced together, stayed friends through her move to New York, my infertility, both our career successes and woes, her new boyfriend, my kids, her dog, the film she wrote and directed (and paid $100,000 of her own money to make), the horror of 911 (I instantly called her over and over the minute it happened, but couldn’t get through, and finally did by accident, and helped her call some other people to let them know she was safe), her moving out of the city and into the country, and becoming a children’s book author, and eventually a tortilla portrait artist.
Our lives are such that I never see her anymore, except on Facebook, but I can’t tell you how much I LOVE HER, HOW MUCH SHE HAS INFLUENCED ME, AND HOW GRATEFUL AND LUCKE (I couldn’t resist!) I AM TO KNOW HER.
It’s 3 outside. With the wind-chill, it feels like -29. Although we just got our windows restored, in our 1882 house, the cold air is still doing its best to make our den feel like it’s in the middle of a park in Siberia (do they even have parks there? who would go? Isn’t it too cold?). So, today, after moaning that the den feels like we’re living outside, I got in the car to go buy some space heaters. I was at a light, and there was a man with a sign walking through traffic, an all-too-familiar sight around here. I stopped reading after I saw “homeless”, grabbed my wallet, rolled down the window, and gave him some money (it wasn’t much). “Keep warm, man,” I said. He gave me a big smile and thanked me. I doubt the small amount of money did much for this man, but the encounter did a lot for me. Instead of moaning about my antiquated heating system, and the wind that was blowing through the den, I just sat there feeling ultra grateful that I was not ACTUALLY living outside, like this man, that I had the money to be driving to get space heaters in a really nice car with heated seats to keep me warm, with furry boots on my feet, a long down coat and texting gloves (don’t you love these things!). I was so crazy grateful, I wanted to invite the homeless guy with the sign to live in my extra bedroom! I got to Best Buy and just sat in the car for a minute, thinking about the man, and the randomness of life, and about all the homeless people, and all of their stories, which today left them outside in weather that was made for polar bears, not humans. I sat for a while, feeling sad, and then I got out of my car, cursing the wind, and bought space heaters. Everybody should be so lucky.
Today I am 54. There. I said it. It’s not that easy. In a world that worships at the altar of the young, it’s a challenge to be in the “middle” of it. But you know, it’s also ok. I am also ok. I don’t want to pretend that my life is perfect because NOBODY’S LIFE IS PERFECT (please contact me if your life is perfect, because I WANT TO MEET YOU). But, so far, I have been lucky enough to have had some of the best of it: a man who has loved me for 25 years (I AM THE FIRST TO SAY, I DON’T KNOW HOW), two kids who have forced me to work hard to be my best self, and to accept a kind of unconditional love that is nourishing and enduring and makes me feel the kind of nirvana every yogi seeks (PLUS A FEELING OF WANTING TO SMACK THEM UPSIDE THE HEAD TWICE A WEEK), a big Italian family (many of them now gone) who surrounded me growing up, and now all have lavish hotel rooms in my heart, helping me navigate life, cheering me on, giving me advice, and loving me just because I am, two sisters, who have have acted as guides, protectors, and friends. Without their sisterly love (and jokes) I would never be able to get up in the morning. And I’ve always had the greatest friends, some of the BEST PEOPLE ON THE PLANET! And last but not least, the love of a good dog. I’m not sure he’s not one of my real kids (I CERTAINLY TREAT HIM LIKE ONE). And he treats me like the most special person in the world. My boy Riley has given me a kind of happy that makes me think I might really become one of those old ladies with 197 rescues in an old house on a desolate piece of land in Omaha. People will say, she used to be kind of normal, and then she got A DOG. Yup, my middle is ok. Because the view from here is clear. Life is not about money or stuff, but all about people who love you and whom you love (well, and dogs). And the ability to stay healthy, curious, and engaged (and to have a really good haircut, and jewelry that deflects from your wrinkles, and maybe some awesome boots and lots of flowers in your house, and a good bra). So far, my life’s been lucky (NOT PERFECT), but lucky. Happy birthday to me.
I can seriously not tell you how happy I get before, after, and during a manicure. The thought of having one makes me feel like I am a lady who lunches, and who takes care of herself, and this is just one of the naturally mandatory things on the list. "Jeeves, you'll have to postpone my weekly manicure, I must jet off to Paris, unexpectedly." Not that any Tom, Dick or Mary can't get a manicure these days (and don't laugh, I see lots of Tom's and Dick's getting both their feet AND toes done). If you have $10 and hands, you can walk into any one of hundreds of foreign owned nail salons that exist throughout Boston (and everywhere), which can now be found on every block like a Starbucks. I like the during, because someone is beautifying me and I LOVE any kind of beautification I can get. I am boring, though and probably disappointing manicurists everywhere. I never get the super hot red, or near black, that I might throw on my toes. I wouldn't think of going blue, or yellow, or green, and I abhor anything with a pearl finish. I would never consider having a flower, or stripes, or the American freaking flag painted on my nails anymore than I would go to Seven Eleven for a coffee (this is not because I am not patriotic, it's just that I like my nail straight up). I am a manicure purist. I always get the same color. It's called Waltz from Essie, a kind of whitish/pinkish that makes your nails look super clean, and sets off a tan in the most perfect way, and makes me look slightly beachy brown in the middle of winter when I am paler than a blizzard. It makes sense that I love when my nails look pretty, right? I mean you see your hands like 50 million times a day because they're within your field of vision, unlike your face, which you need a mirror to see, or you ass, which you need a mirror in front of you AND in back of you to see. And because, you're doing stuff with your hands all day and night, and they kind of need your eyes to do the right thing, it’s sort of one of the best things you can take care of, especially if your a visual kind of person.
The only thing I don’t like, is the whole Elaine-from-Seinfeld thing. Maybe you remember the episode? It’s where Elaine thinks all the Korean-speaking manicurists are talking about her behind her back, so she brings George’s dad with her, who speaks Korean, and finds out they are INDEED talking about her. I know they talk about me. They say things I can’t understand and they all laugh. I imagine things they might be saying. “She has an IQ of 4.” Does she think that shirt looks good on her?” “Her feet smell.” But, like whatever. The one thing I know, is they’re not making fun of my nails.