gratitude-a-thon day 418: teaching an old dog new tricks

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Last Sunday I hobbled to the Westin Hotel (with absurdly swollen eyes from crying the previous night over the news that a friend had died) for something my husband and I had signed up for the previous month, called One Day University, sponsored by the Globe. And yes, I graduated.

There were eight classes offered and you got to choose between two every few hours. Because the Jimmy Fund walk was going on, the Westin, literally 15 minutes from our house took an hour to get to because we were re-routed through the North End, so we missed The Civil War and Abraham Lincoln: What’s the Fact and What’s the Fiction. But we did make the Science of Happiness (kids don’t make you happy, but people think they will, gratitude will improve your happiness–can you say gratitude-a-thon), The Genius of Michelangelo (he was really egocentric, with good reason though, right?), and Untangling the Web: Why the Middle East is a Mess and Always Has Been (which by the way, did not untangle the web for me and left me even more confused, as if that’s even possible).

Anyway, this thing was really fun. There’s another one in March, and I think we’ll go again. And if my son doesn’t do more studying and less partying this year, it may be a good school for him to transfer to.

gratitude-a-thon day 417: it’s what you do with the mess that interests me

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“Father Knows Best” perfect was what I looked for my whole stupid life, until I realized it was just a tv show.

It used to be that i was enamored of anyone whose life looked easy. If you could tell their story in two pages of Cosmo with glossy photos, you had me. I was a member of the small church called “What You See, Is What You Get,” really believing that people were as they looked. It was a non-denominational place of worship, where we souls who grew up in families of dysfunction went to get what we needed for ourselves: the belief that there was a normal. See, for me, growing up with an alcoholic, with a bad temper and a sharp dagger like vocabulary, who never admitted his alcoholism, forced me to hunt for “normal” my whole life. So I grew up wandering through the world making people into one dimensional cut outs that appeared to be the normal I sought. This isn’t to say that I didn’t have deep friendships, because I did, and all of those people were (and are) people of great dimension, character, hardship. But they were the “us,” not the “them.”

I used to have my “family of the year” game. I would meet a family who seemed from the outside the very letter of perfection. I would compare them to my family of origin, and think how it could have been, if only. I would marvel at the ways in which they appeared to have it all going on, like a picture in a frame you buy. And then one day, they would dimensionalize, and reveal their real life problems. The dad had another family in another country, the mother had substance abuse issues, the child was being treated for an eating disorder. Take your pick. At the first sign of them being real, I would demote them and look for another family. And so it went. I believed there was a normal. I needed there to be.

Two things happened as I got older. One thing, was, I demolished the family of the year program, because it got harder and harder to find applicants (on account of THERE ARE NO PERFECT FUCKING FAMILIES). The second was, that the people I  became enamored with were the people who had shit storms and ran obstacle courses, the ones who had terrible stories and pain that barely fit inside their bodies, BUT WHO KEPT GOING, GOT UP AND MADE EVERY DAY A GOOD ONE. It’s taken me a lifetime to understand “normal” is a relative term. It was sad at first, and I had to mourn it. But then, it was better. It’s the way we react to the things that fall into our paths that make us who we are. It’s what we do with what we’re given, how we overcome, accept and move through. It’s the people who are most challenged, but undaunted who are heroes to me these days. They’re the ones I use as my models, the picture frame-worthy, battered and bruised, who pop up after a cataclysmic fall, yelling, “I’m ok!” Those are the people behind the real “families of the year.” After a damn lifetime of searching for it, needing it, longing for its existence, I finally found it where I least expected, there in the underbelly, the parts that aren’t always visible, and right there inside myself, there it was, finally: normal.

gratitude-a-thon day 416: covering the gray with a ride on the side

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What? Just because I’m wearing a boot, you thought I was going to let my hair go gray or something?

On Thursday, I had a hair appointment. I’m still in the boot, and can’t drive, and Peter couldn’t take me and nether could the two other friends I asked. So, I emailed my hairdresser, Ron and asked if he’d pick me up! WHAT, YOU THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO STOP HAVING MY HAIR DYED BECAUSE OF MY STUPID FOOT?

Anyway, I have talked about Ron here before. He’s been my go-to guy for 23 years. Minus the year he lived in San Francisco, which was sort of fine, because I was pregnant and just grew my hair out mostly, anyway. He’s not only a great colorist and stylist, he’s a really great guy, and a really great friend. And he not only picked me up, he also brought me home, and because he knows so much about computers, (he could also work for the freaking Genius Bar), he actually came over and fixed my time machine, which had stopped working. But not before we stopped at Clover to get the egg and eggplant sandwich, fries and asian celery salad. We gobbled them down in my backyard, with the sun shining down on us (slightly bummed that it was a tad too early for some wine).

I’m always grateful when I get to go have my gray disguised, but this past week, it was a whole other story. I mean, talk about service. Thanks, Ron! See you in three.

gratitude-a-thon day 415: small bites friday

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It’s that time. Small bites Friday. Some little things I’m grateful for.

Ok, good news, I can stop shaving my chin, standing next to my husband.

Sorry, Kim, but I’m only upset that dude didn’t smack some sense into you.

Guess who gets to wash her foot today?!!!!! It’s the little things, people.

Only four more days until Lena Dunham’s book arrives. For a girl who mostly needs to keep her foot up for another two weeks, this is like she wrote it just for me.

shopping

The movie is out. The Times doesn’t like it. I’m still going.

Does the NFL think we’re as intelligent as the stupid game they play?

Round up of the 25 best design blogs. Hey honey, let’s re-do the whole house.0057778756b7c7004f61eef2ac1b846b

I don’t know, I’m not so sure bigger is better.

It’s maze time. I got lost in this one once (talk about no sense of direction).

Want, need, must have. 8565550_fpx.tif

gratitude-a-thon day 415: community

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I’m so damn grateful I live in a community where people come together to celebrate, to grieve, to laugh, to be there for one another in all sorts of ways. The small subset of Brookline that I live in is called The Village. And for me, while the houses aren’t John Henry huge or Tom and Giselle posh, and none of us have much of a yard, it’s the nicest place to live in this town. Thanks to, as my friend Liz called them (us) , “the wall of mom’s,” who have been connecting with one another and checking on each other, offering solace, from the simplicity of a heart on a Facebook post, to a text, an email, a phone call, for the past days, in an effort to make sure we were all doing ok in the face of such a tragic loss.

I just want to say thank you to those “mom’s.” Community is important. I’m gosh darn lucky to live here.

gratitude-a-thon day 414: saying goodbye, and why we ever said hello to start with

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Today I will go to the funeral of my friend Katie. It will be a hard day.

Some people are surprised I knew Katie, because of the 23 year age difference, and because my kids were older than her son. It’s funny how during the school years, your schedule often only allows you to pair off with the people who are doing exactly what you’re doing, or who have children who are close enough in age, that you can throw them all together while you have an adult conversation, or make a meal, or polish off a bottle of wine (or two).

For a while I thought I might open a store, and for a few years I sort of set up a store in my living room with a mix of what I would sell in a real store, as kind of a test kitchen. It was also kind of a party, with food and wine and girl talk. Anyway, that’s the first time I met Katie. Someone brought her over to shop. And I was literally stunned by how beautiful she was. I think I said to her, “You are gorgeous, Who are you?“She was like 5’9, with long hair and perfect features, and a great body and killer style. Anyway, I talked to her and we clicked in some funny way, and then I saw her at a party not long after, and then we just sort of had this funny little relationship, in which we didn’t spend a ton of time together, but we messaged a lot on Facebook, and we just got each other. There was some sort of no bullshit zone we got into. She told me her whole story, because as she said to me, “You’re so open, it makes me want to tell you everything.” She acknowledged it was odd, that she didn’t really do that a lot. But I understood, and appreciated it. Because that girl had a lot of story. And I could hear it, I could take it in, because I am older, wasn’t her contemporary. And because I have very openly on this blog shared my own difficulties, with my dad’s alcoholism, and how that has affected every part of my life. She liked that age hadn’t diminished me. She liked my kind of 55, and knowing that’s what hers could be like. She appreciated where I’d been and wanted to know what I thought about things she struggled to try and figure out, that I’d already been through, stuff lots of 32 year olds struggle with, and then some. She loved the blog. As for me, I loved her incredible energy, and her quick mind, her take on the world, and the way she worked at her life, to make it good, to make it right. It wasn’t easy for her. She had such a brilliant mind. It was unusual in its brilliance, like the brightest star you’ve ever seen in the sky. Amidst all the serious talk, we would also talk about clothes, and where to get a good blow dry, and girlie stuff like that. It was kind of hilarious to be in the middle of some intense topic, and at the same time discuss the merits of highlighting your hair.

The last time I saw her we had lunch at Rifrullo. She wore a shirt with a big heart on it. And we talked a lot. And I ordered the gluten free bread, which I’d recently had there for the first time. And Katie was on a no carb diet, but she had to taste it, and she went bananas over it,  just like I had a few weeks earlier. I told her  that Colleen the owner had given me the recipe. She messaged me later in the day for it. I sent it. Ironically, It was called The Life Changing Loaf of Bread.

I am going to miss that girl, that sparkly, ball of brilliance. I will really miss those conversations. She had zillions of friends, so I feel lucky she streaked through my life. Because I loved our funny little friendship. It made me think, and made me laugh, and made me better.

gratitude-a-thon day 413: being real about fucking depression

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A lot of people read this blog yesterday. In fact, it got more than 1,100 hits. I’m guessing it’s less about me being an extraordinary writer, than it being about the confusing news that someone who was so absurdly beautiful, so wildly intelligent and so filled with a supersonic life force could possibly be dead. And while it confused me too, while it made me reflexively scream out a searing guttural sound when I heard the news, I also knew the reason.

“For the last few years Katie has been fighting a severe and intensifying form of bipolar disorder – a disease which ultimately took her life,” said the announcement of her death made by her husband, son and brother. This wasn’t common knowledge. And now it is. And the bravery this took to make public, to state the simple truth, creates awareness of all kinds of depression. Because who better to be the face of depression than a girl who looked like Katie, who had everything, who in fact, was everything.

Katie told me she wanted to tell people about her disease, because she knew she could do more good that way. But she was concerned about the stigma for her son (and she was all about her son). And there it is– one of the biggest problems with mental illness: the fucking stigma. You can have cancer and continue to be a well respected citizen, getting sympathy, offers of help, people understanding that this isn’t something you chose, or that you can control. But if you have mental illness, people get uncomfortable, wonder why you aren’t just using your will power to stop being crazy. The thing is, that it’s just the same as cancer. It’s a disease. It’s not about being too lazy to do better.

Mental illness is rampant. And it’s not Jack Nicholson in the Shining. It affects ordinary people like your neighbor, like the barista who makes your coffee. Captains of industry have it, and foodies, fashionistas and athletes, policemen, students, doctors, lawyers and indian chiefs. It’s organic, like farm fresh eggs, and we need to do better. WE NEED TO DO BETTER. No, there is not enough affordable help out there, but before that very complicated part, there is this part: the stigma part. That’s not something that has to cost a lot of money to fix. It’s something we can all do our part in changing. Watch out for the signs in the people you know, the people you love. Talk about it as a disease like cancer, that it’s never a choice. Don’t glorify it, but normalize it. Display an attitude that lets those around you know you won’t run shrieking from the room if they ante up the guts to tell you they feel depressed. We need to do better. And we can. Each of us. Let’s take it on. For all of us. For Katie.

From her family’s announcement:

To honor Katie’s memory, donations can be made to
The International Society for Bipolar Disorders; c/o Chad Daversa, P.O Box 7168, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. Please note on the check ‘In Memory of Katherine McQuade Toig.’

 

gratitude-a-thon day 414: a heartbreaking work of incredible genius

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She was staggeringly beautiful and brilliant. Her talents defied right brain/left brain categorization. I was mesmerized by her presence. It was colorful, and graceful, and bawdy and big, filled with a contagious energy. Her heart was ten times the size of the moon, and her love for her son was huge and deep and desperate. She had a particular brand of magic that always left me thinking, out of breath, happier. There wasn’t anything about her you could call ordinary. Her engagement with life was deep and meaningful and soulful and silly. She ripped into it like you’d bite a sandwich after you hadn’t eaten in three days. She hungered to help the world, add her mark to improve the parts that were broken. She was a singer/songwriter, a nurse practitioner, a volunteer, a model, a daughter, sister, wife, mom and friend. She told me she wanted to be me when she got older. I told her she must really aim higher! She was only 32. And this weekend she died. I am grateful to you Katie McQuaid Toig, for allowing me in. Your departure seems a sin against mankind. The sky was the most delicate color of pink last night, and in a moment it was dark. I feel quite certain that was you. Telling us you’d arrived in a happy place. The tragedy of your loss has pulled a black veil over my heart. But I will remember that sky, when I remember you.

gratitude-a-thon day 413: the girl has balls

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After-goal glow. Ally’s the one with her whole face visible. The happiest one!

To be a good soccer parent, 9/10th’s of the law states “NO GLOATING. EVER.” But just for today, just this once, I’m going to have to break that law. So throw me in jail. Go head.

Yesterday Ally’s team was playing the rival team of Newton North. Last year they won the State Championship, and crushed us. They’re always, in fact, crushing us. What with their giant, gorgeous new school, and their great sports teams, they are usually, in all sports, the team to beat. Anyway, this is always a big game. And it’s always even bigger for Ally because the coach of Newton North has been her Club Team coach for the past three years. It was super beautiful out, I crutched myself there, along with the boy’s Varsity soccer team, and a pretty big crowd of parents and kids. N.N. had a slew of graduating seniors last year, so we knew their team was not going to be in its usual kick-ass form, and  with our awesome new coach, and a bunch of strong new freshman, we had our fingers crossed.

We dominated, but we couldn’t seem to score. Our goalie got knocked out by a deep cut, which required stitches, so we had to use a field player as goalie (the other goalie had a possible concussion). Things were tense, when Miss Ally Lansbury made a left-footed goal. OH YES SHE DID! The crowd went wild and I totally wanted to abandon my boot and dance, but realized that would not be a smart move, so instead I screamed more loudly than I ever have. In my life. Like, ever. I tell you, the parents in Newton who weren’t at the game, must have heard me. (I’m hoarse today). For a moment the world actually stopped. Seriously, I’m fairly certain if you check your watch, it is exactly one minute slow today. It was just a perfect confluence of things that came together to make a memory that will be with my family until the day we breathe our last breaths, and then some.

Here’s why it was extra special cool: Ally’s Club coach has always given her feedback about “finishing,” that she’s a great player, but she has to finish. So the fact that she did and that it “finished” his team was just as good as it gets. Ally’s goal was the only goal of the game, which, if you haven’t already put two and two together, means we won!

So, sorry for gloating, but that one perfect moment is too good not to share. It’s funny how sometimes things come together like they did yesterday. And when they do, you gotta take notice, on account of how much they don’t. So, Gooooooo Warriors. And congratulations to my rock star daughter.  OH YES I DID.