Friday, December 24, 2010

And here it is:

Ha ha ha. Very funny. Though I tried to ply Sadie with visions of her in the cute red dress with fur that's "just like Santa Claus," she did not bite. Ergo, this is what I have to wear for Christmas Eve and Day, instead of the cute little black dress I just got at a clothes swap that is cutey cutey cutey. Jon says, on the plus side, he's in no danger of anyone else trying to pick me up. I'm all his, that's for sure. I feel like a Mennonite at the Bon-Ton (see earlier entry). A shout out here to my dearest friend, Laurie, who said she'd come over tonight dressed in the cheesiest outfit she can find and dress her baby to match best as she can manage. Ah, girl friends. Gotta love 'em.

I can't resist posting about this, though I know my mom has read at least some of the entries because the other night at dinner she and my dad said, about the fertility/best laid plans entry: "This is the kind of thing you read on the last page of the New York Times Magazine," to which I replied, "That'd be great, if you can just let them know, it'd be much appreciated..." So if you're reading, Mom, I apologize for harping on the outfit, but knowing me and my short skirts, baby doll tees, and skinny jeans (which I can still rock at 39, goddammit, though the other day a third grader at Sadie's school asked, "Ms. Erika, are you wearing red skinny jeans?" "Yes I am, dear. Yes I Am.") can you see how a shapeless floor-length skirt and matching vest is a little bit of a bummer? Especially in L.A., where there's only a few opportunities a year to really sport the fancy dresses and even on holidays, most guests still show up in flip-flops...

Okay, done complaining. This is "Positivity Dammit," not "Bitch About Feeling like your Mom Dressed You On The Cusp of 40, Dammit." I'm making a playlist, wrapping the last of the presents, cleaning a bit, deciding that spotless is overrated, and listening to the Beastie Boys. Recipe for happiness.

Happy Holidays to everyone and their families!!! Enjoy wearing whatever outfit you desire tonight and if you start to feel insecure about how you look, just scroll up, take a glance at me (sung to the ABBA song), and feel a whole lot better about yourself. That, my dear friends and readers, is my Christmas gift to you. L'chaim and love.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mommy-Daughter Matching Outfits

(Picture of my family circa 1978) Note the patterned shag rug in the foreground, and the fabulous tan 3-piece suit on dad)

When I was 6 or so, my mom made matching outfits for us to wear to my first opera. It may actually have been my second opera. I think we went to Hansel and Gretel when I was five and La Boheme when I was 6. La Boheme: A light-hearted romp about impoverished bohemians dying of consumption. (For those non-opera people in the house - and I count myself among you - it's what Rent was based on). In order to prepare us, my mom made paper dolls of all the characters and we "played" La Boheme at home while listening to recordings of the arias. I particularly enjoyed making paper Mimi cough up a lung as she died, tragically young. Just your average suburban family fun. My parents didn't like board games. The outfits my mom sewed are long, to-the-ground skirts with matching vests and little tissue purses (purses for tissues - remember, we were going to the Metropolitan Opera to watch a tragedy).

For this story to make sense, it's important to know that four years ago my parents moved across the country to be near us. Well, to be near our then 2-year-old daughter...and us. Along with my parents came entire Fisher-Price toy sets in pristine shape; all my Barbies with their unfortunate mullet haircuts that had seemed like good ideas at the time; buttons to match pretty much any shirt that has ever been worn by any member of our family; miles of embroidery floss, categorized by color and shade; and my brother's and my bronzed baby shoes and favorite stuffed animals. My husband, daughter, and I live in a house with a garage and plenty of closet space, an attic even, and yet when we need fabric for a craft project or specific size screws for a broken gadget, we call my mom before heading to Michael's or Home Depot. Usually, she's got it. It's kind of a miracle.

Of course, when you grow up with a mother who has cards for every occasion perfectly organized in an under-bed box, your office supply area tends to be a bunch of random boxes filled with envelopes that don't match; rubber bands twisted around bent paper clips; and papers, papers, papers, important papers in recycled folders that are labeled with what was in them three lifetimes ago. It's not that I don't appreciate organization: it's as if my DNA forces me to reject it. Teenage rebellion so imprinted in my bones it's almost physically impossible for me to successfully organize. I try. I really do. I put labels on plastic boxes for my daughter's art supplies: "stickers," "markers," "assorted found and recycled craft stuff," but I can't keep up with it. My desk has several upright cardboard boxes - given to me by my mother of course - and I periodically make decisions: this one's for stamps and envelopes - things that have to do with mail; this one's for all my pages of notes that might find their way into my novel or a script or something brilliant I'm just about to write; and this one is for all the stuff having to do with my daughter's school. Did I mention that I love the semi-colon? My husband and I were working on a script for Nickelodean recently and he kept taking my semi-colons out of the dialogue. When I finally confronted him: "Where are my f#$&%ing semi-colons?" He told me that he'd been taught not to use semi-colons in dialogue because actors don't know what to do with them. Silly actors; semi-colons are your friends. A pause, slightly longer than a comma. A way to really organize a list. Hey, look at that: I'm all about the organization in my writing. M dashes, colons, semi-colons, commas - they are all my friends. But within a week, those desk boxes have begun to infect each other - school papers in with stamps, bills and receipts - where do they go? - in with my jotted note things, checkbooks and notepads sticking out like they're trying to breathe...

I love my mother. I love my mother more every day. Watching her volunteer her time to come to my daughter's school and read to the children, spend extra time running a center for second-language learners who need a little more attention, sew soft, squishy pillows for the school library and colorful aprons for the art hut...I just adore her. The things that drove me mad as a teenager I now find endearing and tender. They were tender then too, of course, but it's hard to take so much tender when your 13, 14, 15, when all you want to do is get out, separate, expand beyond! When I was six years old, I loved that matching skirt and vest. As a teenager and young adult, I considered that outfit proof that my mom wouldn't give me any breathing room at all, ever! "Look," I'd say to therapists and friends and in angry lyrics in my all-chick band, Big Panty (not kidding), "She even wanted us to dress alike - she couldn't stand for me to be different from her! I am different! I am!!!" (the lyrics held the sentiment, but were a little more...well...lyrical.) I've referenced that matching outfit so many times throughout my long, hard-fought differentiation that it's taken on a life of its own.

And today, for the first time in 33 years, I saw those matching outfits in the flesh. Or in the faux-velvet, I should say. From the miracle closet, my mother pulled out those matching outfits and I waited for the anger, the frustration, the feeling of not being able to breathe, of being shrink-wrapped or straight-jacketed, or otherwise...

What I felt was...tenderness. Love. All the love that my mom must have poured into those black faux-velvet matching skirts and vests over three decades ago were intact, in the material. For a moment I thought my mom and my daughter would wear them on Christmas eve. It took me a long, confused moment to realize that she had saved them with the hope that I would one day wear the grown-up one. My daughter was, of course, thrilled. "Let's wear them on Christmas Eve AND on Christmas Day!" she cried. "Sure, hon," I said, wondering if photos of us would be fodder for her therapy in twenty years. Something will, chances are, whether we put on these outfits or not.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chet Baker and peace in stormy L.A.

A quick note about the last blog entry: Thanks for all the feedback I've been getting about the story I wrote of challenged fertility and coming to peace with the family you have vs the family you pictured. Thanks also for the amazing personal stories that readers/friends are sharing. Most of you are emailing or FB-ing them rather than posting them, due to wanting anonymity or not wanting to have to register. To that end, we are working on a website dedicated to the project. I'll keep this blog going here and let you know when the site is up and running. At that point, you can post your stories anonymously or signed, and without having to sign in. Stay tuned...

It's been raining in Los Angeles for days. It's not a Los Angeles rain; it's what I imagine a Seattle rain or London rain might feel like. Falling asleep to the gentle pounding, waking up to a glary gray sky and windows spattered with drops. My two best friends from childhood live in those cities and I picture them wet, mossy, moody, cozy, a little sad. I looked away from the keyboard as I tried to type "moody" and I accidentally typed "mossy." I left it in because I liked the way it sounded. Mossy. That's how I feel right now: a little mossy. My husband and 6-year-old daughter just headed out to see Tangled and do some Christmas shopping, generously giving me a couple hours to write. Now that I've come back to it, if I don't have some writing time every day, I feel out of sorts, off, irritable. I remember reading Rainer Maria Rilke "Letters to a Young Poet" in college and he wrote about how a writer has to write every day. Over the years I'd question myself - am I a "real" writer? I don't write every day. Now I realize that a day when I write is a better day.

I have the IPod on shuffle in a docking station and some songs are just right - an Elvis Costello ballad, an old standard sung by Mel Torme, a silly Belle and Sebastian tune, but something just came on that is like that screech across the record album, "Ain't no cure for the summertime blues," sung by some bad country act. One of those - why do I have this on my IPod - moments? I'm getting up, excuse me...okay I'm back. Well, that was a big bummer. Turns out it was James Taylor (who anyone who knows me knows I love love love beyond reason and beyond criticism) on a recent Covers album he did. It was orchestrated like bad contemporary country and I am now working on flushing that sound from my memory lest it color my deep love of JT. Okay, got on Beck, singing Debra - "I wanna get with you...and your sister, I think her name's Debra..." That's so much better. Ahhhh.... Even though he's a scientologist. I probably shouldn't have typed "scientologist" into my blog. They're probably reading this as I type, internet spiders honing in on anyone who mentions the word.

Yesterday I was driving down to Playa Del Rey to swap some clothes at this awesome designer swap place - - feeling aware of my privilege and of the fact that we are living slightly above our means right now and fighting the urge to go get a thai massage just to really drive that home - and I passed a long line of parents and children, huddled under umbrellas, outside the police station. It took me a second to put it together: Toy Drive. Every year the police station by our house collects new toys then has a toy drive at which parents can come get free toys for their children. The parents have to bring the children with them. I think the rule is that one child has to be there for each toy. I wonder if they're wrapped - the presents, not the children. If not, doesn't it ruin the surprise? I guess the surprise is pretty limited when you've stood for hours in the rain to earn your own present. Or does it give it that much more values? I've been struggling with how to help my daughter see the value of what she has, without stooping to the "There are children in Africa who would kill for that spaghetti you are poo-pooing! What's it like to be those children, standing in the rain with your parents, watching them accept your gifts from police officers? Normal, I imagine. Just like anything, it's just the way those families do Christmas. Is it any weirder than parents shopping without you, sneaking presents into stockings and claiming Santa Claus?

I waited to feel sad, guilty, even enraged at the social injustice. But this weird feeling came over me as I sat at the red light and watched the families huddled under big umbrellas, socializing, laughing, sharing free cups of hot chocolate. I felt a little jealous. It looked like such a community. It looked comfortable and friendly, if a little cold and wet. The kids were running around on the slippery patch of grass outside the station. The line was moving pretty fast. It was about half as long as the previous year when it was standard L.A. sunny outside. I wondered if the parents on line felt lucky that it rained, if they'd get a better pick or maybe even extra gifts this year. I am so glad we are building the public charter school that I'm sure I'll write more about in this blog over time, as it's the center of our family's social/educational/emotional/physical life right now. I finally feel like we have a community in L.A. It changes everything.

Chet Baker just came on my IPod - "Although I can't dismiss the memory of her kiss, I guess she's not for me..." oh God I love his voice. Crap, just got followed by Gloria Estefan, put on the IPod by my husband, I swear. Yep, my husband likes Gloria Estefan - should've put something in the wedding vows - "in bad musical taste and good..." I jump up, run over, turn it off, flip to "artists," select Chet Baker, it'll be all Chet for the rest of the morning. Perfect for a rainy, chilly, L.A. day. Two sweet neighbor boys just brought me a bag of lemons from their lemon tree. Dominic was just a baby last time I looked, now he's got a mohawk. The gratitude is seeping back in as I write all this down. It doesn't take a masters in psychology and a license in marriage and family therapy - (Both of which I have by the way. Just saying) - to know that writing is therapeutic. That the act of slowing down and honing in, noticing the details of the day, recording them, brings a sense of purpose that's hard to achieve any other way. The wind is picking up outside and against the pale sky the undulating trees look unstable, overwhelmed by the sudden dramatic weather. Tonight we will take my dad out for a belated birthday dinner, then come home and start a fire in the fireplace. We will drag my daughter's futon in and cuddle up. Tonight's plan is a family camping trip in the living room. For now, Chet Baker's trumpet, stormy winds, a cup of mint tea, and gratitude. So much gratitude.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Best Laid Plans: Family Edition

I was writing the following blog entry, which I didn't post yesterday because halfway through the writing I realized I want to build on it and move it into book-land. (Yes, I understand the irony that just a few posts back I was ruing the "book-dealiness" of blogville). So I'm exploring the idea of a book but I want to post this here now because so many people I talk to and hear from are going through intense stuff right now, especially in terms of building their families and reflecting on how they thought their family would look and how it actually does...

OKAY, back to the school for a teacher / staff appreciation event, then pick up my daughter, then playdate, then writing group. Busy busy. Here's the entry:

I just got two emails, back to back, from two of my favorite women in the world,
and my heart is hurting. One is splitting up from her husband and the other,
while in a happy marriage, is feeling really low about career and life. Both are
looking at what it means that they are coming up on 40 / in mid-40s, and do not
have children. My heart hurts. I am sending them love. I am thinking about
having children, how easy we think it will be, what an ordeal it's been for so
many of my friends, what an ordeal it's been for us. I am loving my daughter.
I am feeling sad. I am feeling grateful. I am writing this to these women I
love and to all women who struggle with the decision to have children, or the
ability to have them, or the regret of not having them. I'm writing this to my
friends who had more than they imagined they would and love them incredibly but
are tired and cranky and their feet hurt. Basically, we all struggle on this

I feel like half the people I know are dealing with some sort of fertility
thing. Environment? Waiting too long? Stress? It took my husband and me a
year and a half to get pregnant the first time around even though I was
thirty-one and healthy and all tests came back normal. We had just made an
appointment with a fertility doctor, which we triumphantly canceled after the
pee on the stick turned blue. Pee on the stick makes me think of Hotdog on a
Stick which is a truly strange name for a food stand. I digress. My daughter is
a miracle.

We have one child. People love to ask me about it, as if there isn't a sad,
private story behind it, behind everything. "Just decided to have one, huh?"
the dweeby engineer guy who sat next to me on the airplane coming back from
Maryland asked, just yesterday. "She must be really spoiled, huh?" I've found
the best way to go is just ride along with it, like when a wave takes you or in
martial arts, follow along with the hit rather than pushing against it. So I
say, "Yep, just one. Spoiled rotten. Queen of the world." I just surf it and
move away from the subject before the part that is straining against my tight,
aching gut comes out and yells, "Do you want to hear? About the miscarriage?
The silent weeps on the toilet when I feel my period coming?" The other thing
that continues to floor me is how often people like to point out that you have
an only child and imagine that she must be spoiled, expect everything her way.
Can you imagine if I went up to the ubiquitous two-child families and said in a
friendly, we're-all-in-this-together voice, "Oh, you decided to have two, huh?
You must really divide your attention and not give either of them the love and
care they deserve, huh? They must be really insecure, right?"

Over the years, I've lost count of the silent weeps I've had on the toilet as I
see that first evidence of my period, still trying to convince myself that it's
just the normal spotting of early pregnancy and that the cramps are eggs
implanting rather than fleeing my uterus. I've lived through that even worse
moment after the excitement of the positive pregnancy test, trying so hard not
to tell anyone, but of course it sneaks out here and there, when suddenly you
feel the cramping, and the bleeding, and the miscarrying. And after it all, when
you bump into the mom at the park who has two, notice her eyeing your stomach,
realize you talked to her about your nervousness at being about to have two
under the age of two. Not a problem, anymore, you say.

I've used the ovulation kit, thrown out the ovulation kit, pretended we're not
trying anymore as if I can trick my reproductive organs into relaxation, visited
the absurd Beverly Hills reproductive endocrinologist's office where they
actually have a concierge, left that office and decided not to do the drugs. My
husband and I looked out at the stunning view of the hills while the concierge
offered us tea and we agreed that we'd prefer an affordable doctor to one with a
concierge. Concierge. I can't stop typing it, it's just so ridiculous. We've
decided against fertility drugs in the light of some scary stories, then
second-guessed our choices as years have gone by without a single pregnancy
scare/hope/reality. I've taken all the crazy suggestions - shot egg whites up
my hoo-ha, stood on my head after sex, forced all sorts of weird vitamins on my
husband - and the not-so-crazy suggestions - thyroid pills, acupuncture, oil
shot through my tubes - that feels good - several times. I've fought with the
insurance company repeatedly when they denied our claims, citing "infertility"
as not covered. "Fertility TESTING," I've yelled into the phone many times,
fighting back tears, tears, always more frigging tears, with this stuff, "I have
a child. I'm not infertile." Except, after 2 years, then 3, then 6, pass,
apparently I am.

I've walked away from this post three times now. Done some laundry, poured some
tea, made a few business calls. This is painful. But I remind myself it's that
good pain, that get-it-out pain. It's a big infertility splinter and it'll feel
a lot better after it's out. And I am soooooooo not alone. I know that.

Last Spring, my husband and I did five weekends of all-day seminars to qualify
to Foster-to-Adopt. I'd been working as a therapist with families dealing with
child protective services and thought the workshop would be a piece of cake. "I
know all about the trauma, the horrors, the abuse," I said when people asked if
we were prepared to deal with all that. I wasn't cavalier, but I was confident.
Over-confident, it turns out. By week three, when we were really thinking
about how it looks to bring a child with severe trauma into our home, into the
home of our kindergarten-aged child who still needs all of us, every minute of
every day, I began to have my doubts. We are currently on pause in this

A few months ago, I was driving with our five-year-old daughter - our only child
- and talking about some of the new babies in our lives. Many of my best
friends are about to hit 40 and the ones who can are getting knocked up just
under the wire. There are also the ones who can't, or whose husbands didn't
measure up to the vows they took, or who waited just a little too long to
decide. It is not easy. So my daughter and I were talking about the rash of
new babies and how they will be like little cousins, or almost siblings, to her
and she said, "I wish I had a sibling." Venice Blvd got all blurry in front of
me. One thing about being a mom, you get really emotional, and even better at
holding it together. I tear up in front of my daughter, I've cried in front of
my daughter several times, even wept when our puppy died. But I do not fall
apart in front of my daughter. If I'm really a mess, I hand off and fall apart
in the other room. I think she needs to know that I am human, but that I am
also sturdy. So I kept driving, wiped the tears quietly, and told my daughter
that we were still trying and we didn't know what my body would do, but we were
planning to build our family, by adoption or biologically. It was silent for a
while. Then my daughter said, "But one thing, Mom. Even if we have another
baby, you'll always love me the most, right?" I thought my heart would burst.
Having one child is a precious thing. It's not better or worse than having
more than one, but it is different. I was never an only child.

"I know this is impossible to imagine," I said. "It's beyond impossible for me
to imagine. But what all my friends with more than one kid say is that you love
them all differently, but you do love them all equally. I think that's the deal
with having more than one kid."

It got really quiet in the car. Finally I got to a red light and looked over my
shoulder. My daughter was sitting in her booster seat, silently crying. Tears
ran down her cheeks and her face was crumpled, but she didn't make a sound. It
wasn't the scream-y, tantrum-y, disappointed cry of a five year old. This was
the quiet crying I know so well. I reached back to touch her leg and she kicked
me off. The car behind us honked and I looked forward. It was a green light.
I started driving.

"Do you want me to hold onto you the best I can right now?" I asked.


"Let me know if there's anything I can do. Otherwise I'm just here, okay?"

Silence. My daughter sat in the backseat realizing what it would mean to share
love. It was heartbreaking. I know that if we are able to have more, it will
be wonderful and the love will multiply and it'll be great if we can get
pregnant and I'm sure that adopting would be incredible and on and on and all
the things that people say to me all the time. But for this child, the reality
of it would also be devastating.


Last month it hit me that I'm gonna be 40. Soon. Really really soon. And I
asked my husband, "Are we gonna do this? Make a final push? Give it the old
hollywood try? Fertility? IUI? IVF? Start the adoption process? Or is it time
to shut it down?"

We hadn't fully decided when another of my good 40-year-old friends popped out
her first and probably only baby and I was talking to my daughter about how many
years difference there was between the two of them and what it would look like
at different ages when they'd play.

"So when I'm 8, how old will she be?"


"And when I'm 13?"


We did the math game for a while and then I said casually, "There'd be about
that spread if I have a baby, too."

And without a pause, she said, "I decided I don't want that. You can stop
trying to do that."

I asked for more details, said that it still might happen, and she said, "No, I
think you should stop trying."

At that point it occurred to me that while I'd been very upfront about the basic
process of baby-making, I certainly hadn't shared that it was also a
recreational activity, so our daughter thought she was freeing me from an
activity that there's no way I'd be doing otherwise. We left it that it could
still happen, but that I had registered her input. Since that conversation, it
feels like a big ball of pressure is lifted. My "only" daughter is not
traumatized by being an only. My faulty uterus, or pokey tubes, or hostile
mucous or whatever the heck's going on in there, is fine. We are a family. A
small family. A different-looking family than I'd pictured, that's for sure.
But an amazing family. I wish that - whatever that looks like - for all the
women I love. I wish that for everyone.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Do what's right for your kid... what people say to justify leaving public schools that don't fit their kid's learning style, to talk to the teacher about making changes to curriculum, to judge whether they need more homework, more discipline, a gentler touch, and on and on. Obviously a helpful phrase. And a necessary one. Having spent the last several years in public mental health working often with cases referred by Department of Child and Family Services for abuse, neglect, cases I try not to think about too much but that still show up in dreams, I know that not all families have the knack of doing what's right for their kids. That's the really painful reality and it tends to make me more compassionate with parents, usually from higher socio-economic backgrounds and high expectations of schools and life in general, who expect schools and classes to be exactly geared toward their child's learning styles and needs at all times. Or the hyper-attentive parents in the playgrounds, or the over-scheduling afterschool activity parents, or even the home-school / un-school / make sure your child is happy at all times parents. I get it. I feel for them.

That said, I feel like the phrase "you have to do what's best for your child" without any mitigation or parameters is becoming another American problem. It's that old entitlement thing that gets me right in the gut. When parents use that phrase "I have to do what's right for my child" to attempt to torpedo a teacher or a school or a program that's working out for the other 19, 30, or 140 children in the same program. Or when parents use the phrase "I have to do what's right for my child" to do what's right for them, never bothering to get down low and check in with said child. He or she may be thriving in an environment that is uncomfortable for the parent. And what about at least adding to the phrase so it goes something more like, "I have to do what's right for our child and all the children of our community." Or at least try. I feel like there'd be a lot less whisking out to private school if parents felt that all the children in the public schools are their children.

I'm feeling my role as president of the community association of my daughter's school this morning. Feeling the responsibility, the weight. I'm not light this morning. My desk has so much friggin crap on, which I try to "organize" by sticking different types of crap into different cardboard box things, but there is no order. I turn my head to the left and there's the two pieces of felt waiting for me to sew a pillow with my daughter for her secret santa, who apparently likes orange and blue, elephants, and beards. So that's all incorporated into this upcoming project. And I am not a crafter. This is potentially going to be one sad pillow. Wait. Wait. Here's that power of positive daughter and I are going to kick that pillow's ass. Yea.

There's just so much stuff here, laundry running and dog hair to be vacuumed, random beeping - the coffeemaker? the washing machine? something deep inside my head trying to remind me of something? I feel guilty writing this, but I miss the quiet non-responsibility of the hotel. Where any mess was mine and minimal and clean-up-able and where the linens had no stains and someone came in and made my bed. Where I walked downstairs in the morning and ordered a starbucks, charged it to the room, wandered around, the quiet, the peace. I was lonely there and I missed my family. But now that I'm back, I'm already struggling with this low-grade irritation feeling, like a little infection that keeps nudging at my brain. Off to couples' therapy now. I find that keeps things honest at least. I think I need to make a list, get some stuff done, then when I pick my daughter up, just concentrate completely on sewing a blue and orange bearded elephant pillow and being with her. Computer will be off. Texting off limits. Dinner will be simple. Bedtime will be early.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cynicism Hooray.

Cynicism Hooray is what my husband just said I should rename my blog because I'm in a dark space tonight. Tough re-entry made tougher by the fact that none of the video of the holiday concert shows my freaking daughter! I get that each parent filmed their own kid, but my kid happened to be way on the bottom right-hand corner and basically cut out of all the video I've seen and it's turning me all nuttato. I'm suddenly a crazy mother, screaming into the wind, "What about my child? Does no one film her?" And of course particularly blaming my husband because if not him, then who? To which he countered - "You brought the camera - our camera - our only camera - to take photos of you and Big Man Tesh..." Or something like that. I may have embellished. And he may be right. But that doesn't dim my sense of self-righteousness and indignant fury! Okay, that's out.

What I want to write about tomorrow is the overused refrain, "Ultimately, you have to do what's right for your child." It's not a bad phrase. And obviously, we all do have to do what's right for our child, our family, our tribe. But what's the relationship between that and our responsibility to our community? Other families? Other children. More on that...stay tuned...and hope that this cranky passes in the night.

Home for the Holidays

Home from Maryland, about to take a long bath, which I've been missing - my hotel room in Maryland had no bathtub. Probably a good thing, as I would've spent as much time in the tub as I did flipping through late night t.v. and eating the John Tesh Amway snack packs they left for me in a gift bag. So happy to be home and also already missing the anonymity and zero responsibility of a hotel room. I've returned home to my daughter reminding me that I have to help her make a felt pillow in the shape of an elephant with a beard for one of the kids in her class - her secret santa - apparently he really likes elephants and beards. I am not crafty. Nana is crafty. But my daughter specifically wants me to help her with this sewing project, NOT nana. I feel it's like a challenge to my craft-challenged ways. I will try.

Just downloaded the video of the holiday concert I missed this morning, taken by another mom in the class, and she somehow managed to exclude my daughter from pretty much every second of the song. In my fragile post-travel state, it just rubs in the fact that I missed it. Basically, I'm a finalist in the pissy wet blanket contest tonight instead of the positivity contest. Give me a hot bath with lavender suds and a good night's sleep and tomorrow I'll write the story I want to share.

Getting on the plane...

One last thing I have to share that is just cracking me up as I wrap up this Hagerstown experience. I decided to comment on John Tesh's FB page and let him know about my blog, because who knows, maybe he wants to read it? Stranger things have happened, (like me crying at a John Tesh concert, for instance). In order to comment, I have to "like" him. So I hit the old FB "like" button, and now, instead of the suggestions I used to get on my profile page, like "maybe you'd like Franz Ferdinand" I do! or "Fight to legalize gay marriage" I will! Now I'm getting "Looks like you would like Yanni." AGGGGHHHH!

Mennonites at the Bon-Ton

So the first comment I got on my early blog entries was from a Trekkie friend correcting my Star Trek reference. "He's Dead, Jim" is apparently the correct phrase. What's "It's over, Jim"? A figment of my imagination? I'm still in Maryland, sitting in my dreamy quiet Courtyard Marriot room across from the mall at Hagerstown. Mall at Hagerstown: same stuff pretty much as malls all over, with a couple exceptions. While wandering yesterday morning, I saw two separate couples wearing bonnets and bowler-type hats - Mennonites? Amish? What would they be doing in a mall? If I have any Mennonite readers yet, please inform. Also, there was a JC Penney, a Sears, and a Macy's, but there was also a Bon Ton department store. How can there be an entire department store chain that I've never heard of? I feel like I have traveled from a foreign land - what is this Bon Ton? - though I grew up in Jersey.

Thanks for all the comments on the blog, and yes, my friends, you can still think John Tesh is cheesy. Just because he made me cry doesn't mean I didn't also occasionally cringe. I'm not even 40 yet for God's sakes!

Here's a link to the website of Caitlin, the gal who won the ten grand in the positivity contest:
She was pretty great, with her youthful enthusiasm (said with a nostalgic, slightly quivery, almost 40-year-old voice). I had a decade or even two on most of the entrants. Several brought their parents with them. I suppose I should've realized that Caitlin was going to win since the final winner was chosen by internet votes and every time she talked about her project she used the term "gone viral." "It started with a stickie note on a mirror, then I took a picture, blogged about it, and it "went viral."" I'd like to go viral, just once. But I'm not willing to make a sex tape and I'm not so good with gimmicks. And I can be really lazy. So...maybe not so much with the viral.

I think about the whole "gone viral" thing a lot. The cynic in me is, well, cynical about all this stuff. I think back longingly to the early days of blogging, when bloggers blogged because they liked to blog, because it gave them an outlet and a way to connect with others about the stuff that circled around in their minds. I suppose some still do. I suppose I am. But it seems like once the first blogger got a book deal, writers began to blog specifically to get a book deal. The blogging became a means to an end and everything had a hook. Like that whole Julie and Julia thing. Seriously, if Julie Powell didn't see that becoming a major money-maker, how in the world did she manage to keep up with all that cooking and cleaning and shopping? That sounds exhausting and hard to keep up, unless you know Meryl Streep's gonna be starring in your blog at some point down the road. (Reference "laziness" in previous paragraph). Who would star in my nascent blog? Why, John Tesh of course! And Connie Selica could play me.

The point of outing my cynicism about blogs and self-promoting, and corporate America and the commodification of art (and a few other simple little themes like that)? I guess to see if others think maybe they/we/I use that kind of cynicism as a good old excuse to not write in the first place. When I start to think about friends of mine who got out of control and then somehow, thank god, got sober, and then were given, oh my goodness, a book deal? Moi? I get dark. I start to feel like people mess up their lives only to go on television and cash in on America's obsession with a good redemption story. I feel my snark a-rising when I catch even a glimpse of celebrity rehab. But the thing of it is, I still have to write. Just because I am grossed out by the self-created and extremely profitable exploitation machine, that doesn't let me off the hook to put my own voice out in the world. I mean, it actually gives me a very good excuse, but excuses are just excuses and they're the opposite of action.

Is it possible that good action is just good action, whether it comes from a religious place, a secular humanist place, a firepit of social justice place, or even a guilty place? Who cares, if you're doing good? Who cares, if you're putting your voice out there? Who cares, if you're creating rather than complaining? And so I am writing, whether to readers I know, strangers, or the ether...

Now I've got to put on my bonnet and hightail it over to conquer my fear of the Bon Ton before my flight back to L.A. See y'all on the other side (of the country that is).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Why Did I Cry at TESH you ask?

I'm following the first blog with this real quick-like because an awesome mommy friend from WISH read the first blog and wrote, "You never really said why you cried at the Tesh concert." Fair enough. Probably because I was still trying to maintain some semblance of too-coolness. But you know what? It's over, Jim. (That's a Star Trek thing, right? I thought quoting Star Trek would show how serious I am about embracing my lack of cool. - Said with love, my Trekkie friends). Anyway, I think I started crying when he played a really New Agey song from Red Rocks and I realized it was going to go on for 2 hours... See, there I go again, falling back on my old cynical ways. But it's funny, and I do love the funny. You can take the girl out of Jersey, but you can't take the Jersey...

Seriously though, John Tesh talked about his wife, Concetta Siellica (I'm sure I'm butchering that spelling), better known to the commoner as Connie Selica, and how inspirational she has been to him. He talked about his 10 years on Entertainment Tonight, rattling off celebrity birthdays and how empty it became. How she told him that the only thing that made him truly ecstatic was playing the piano, and maybe he could trick a whole bunch of people into coming to see him do that. So he did. I honestly had mixed feelings about the music, though I LOVE Christmas carols (yet another piece of evidence to be entered against any future claim I try to make of coolness), and he is traveling for the first time with a horn section which could seriously kick the collective ass of many serious jazz players I know. I scanned the stage carefully and I'm almost a hundred percent sure I never slept with any of them back in the day, though I think one of the trumpet players might have gone to Manhattan School of Music with a drummer I had a wild affair with back in the mid-90s. I digress. I found it so moving that he is doing what he loves and affecting people's lives. Maybe it isn't the concert I would've chosen in my top...a lot, but I'm really glad I was there.

Am I avoiding writing about the crying? Perhaps. Here goes. John began to sing a song about how the holidays at home were meaningful because of his family, holding his baby, being close to his wife, connecting with old friends, and I just went there, got all mushy-gushy grateful for my husband, my amazing daughter, my incredible friends, old and new, the parents and teachers and administration and our charter school, and most of all, my parents, who do so much for our family and work so hard to stay in the positive (to my annoyance as a teenager and my deep gratitude now). I'm tearing up as I write this. My dad turned 76 on Friday, and he told me that his ability to concentrate has really deteriorated lately and it makes it hard for him to write and compose and do his Calligraphy. Now I find it important to point out to my 76-year-old father, who lived through several wars, taught English for 40+ years, and has written several self-published novels as well as composed lovely, orchestrated classical music, that I had to Google "fancy writing is called" in order to find the word "Calligraphy", which had completely deserted my 39-year-old brain. I think he's over-worried. Or I'm in a lot of trouble.

My dad told me in his worried voice that his time spent volunteering as "Poppi Librarian" at the new charter school, and mom's time assisting with art classes and serving lunches, reading to the children, and helping out the first grade teacher, is keeping them happy, keeping them alive. We all need a purpose and human contact and to feel needed. I get pretty emotional thinking about these people who raised my brother and me and obviously imbued in me a sense of personal and social responsibility that dwarfs my punk-rock, anarchic facade. I feel so grateful that I now have this daughter and this incredible school to offer to them, to give them hope and purpose and joy.

Basically, I cried during John Tesh because he truly does good in this world, and I aspire to do the same. I get there a different way. My inspirations may look different, come from different books, speak in different tongues. But I was moved. So there. Dammit.

Because I cried at a John Tesh Concert.

I've blogged before. I mommied blogged back when it was still sort of original, though not very. I free-range blogged. I public-school blogged. I'm starting this brand-new blog because I figure there's no better time to blog than when you've just found yourself in tears at a John Tesh concert. Didn't see it coming, little embarrassed about the whole thing. Outing myself here, because, dammit, I was moved. Why was I at a John Tesh concert in the first place? 3,000 miles from my home? In a quaint little town in Maryland of all places? Well, that, my friends, is the story.

I've been researching, writing, (and occasionally getting funded) grants for public schools for a while now. This year I've focused my energy on an amazing little start-up public independent charter school on the west side of L.A., which our family was lucky enough to get into in a competitive lottery. By the time our "little school that could" opened its gates on September 5 of this year, I was president of the parents/community organization, writing grants like crazy, scrubbing toilets with the amazing committed parents, planting gardens, painting murals, interviewing teachers, and writing more grants. I stumbled upon this "Amway Positivity Contest" and had my daughter's first grade teacher film me on her Flip after school one day talking about "the power of positive" and how awesome awesome awesome it felt to be building a school with a community that was invested in it, rather than spending that same energy raging against the giant broken public school disctrict behemoth. You can still see the video on and you can tell how much I love the school by how little I cared that I was being filmed with dirty hair in a ponytail, no makeup, and terrible lighting, as I edge up on 40 - 40!!!. I look like an advertisement for Botox. But I am comforted that my passion for this school and for quality, innovative, exciting public education shines through the crow's feet.

Cut to: a month or so later and I'm in the top 25, chosen from over 200 entrants by a panel of life coaches, Amway execs, and, if I am to believe the hype, John Tesh himself. Now, at this point, I have to back up and let those of you who don't know me from any of my previous blogs or real life in on a little secret. I pride myself on my cynicism. I'm from Jersey, Goddammit. I don't fall for these "life coach," "self help," " affirmation-y kinda things. When my shrink talks about energy work, I hold my face tight to suppress the grimace. I've lived in Los Angeles for 12+ years and I still shudder at anything vaguely New Agey. But here's the thing. I freaking love being of service, volunteering, fighting for social justice, and especially giving voice to the underrepresented. It's hard to be this passionate and be a true cynic. It is time to let that cynic go. She's old and wrinkly and cranky and she weighs me down. I want to believe in change and embrace it. So there.

Next starts the online voting - and we go as viral as a tiny charter school in its first year can go. Lotta Facebook posts, a few tweets from the youngsters, friends and relations of friends and relations voting for the project daily, and so much enthusiasm and support. It becomes a really unifying, exciting experience for all the families at our charter school and beyond.

Cut to: an email from Amway - I'm in the top 10. I've definitely brought in $2,500 for WISH - hooray! - and they're flying me to Hagerstown, Maryland for John Tesh's Christmas concert where we'll go up onstage after the intermission and Tesh himself will announce the grand prize winner. At this point, I'm just stoked about a paid flight, a solo room in a Courtyard Marriot for two nights, and some quiet time to wander with a large coffee in the snow. I'm also increasingly excited to meet the other people in the contest, like the 20-year-old girl who has been recycling cell phones since she was 13 (13 years old!!!) and using the money to buy calling cards that she send to servicemen on active duty, and the pair of ladies who launch laugh-ins and dance-ins throughout the country just to up the irreverence and joy in society. I want to be cool and cynical and joke about the fact that I --former lead singer of the all-chick band, Big Panty, tough rock-n-roller from New Jersey -- is heading to a John Tesh concert, but the thing is...I can't.

I can't get it up for the cynicism like I used to be able to. That doesn't mean I'm not irreverent or edgy or at times even snarky. I did not drink any Kool-Aid and I can still be prickly as needed. But I just want to live positively, man. I want to fight for causes I believe in and to do that, I need to believe that change can happen. I believe that incremental change is generative and that the little independent charter school we're building for our children can effect public education nationally. I believe that the hour we all spent with Connie Sellica's uncle or cousin (I never got clear on that) Vinnie, hanging up decorations at the Hagerstown Hope Mission for the Christmas party for low-income and homeless youth is worth something, and that each of these sweet little positivity projects puts some chips in the good side of the scale, tips us toward change, tips us toward truly caring about and taking care of each other.

And here's the best part. John Tesh is hilarious, irreverent, even a little edgy at times. He went on this long diatribe mid-concert about the studies that show that doing volunteer work and being of service to others raises dopamine equal to taking Valium. Then he weighed it out: 5 hours a week is like taking 2.5 Valium, which means that 10 or more hours of volunteering probably feels like Heroin. He said it in an even more funny way, and coming out of his mouth, it was really unexpected and awesomely shocking. When I met him after the concert, I wanted to say, "What happens if you do a lot of volunteer work and also take a lot of Valium? That's gotta really be something." But I didn't. Instead we talked about charter schools - his daughter went to one in Van Nuys and he really support what we're doing -- and I felt happy and honored to meet him. He is a kind and kinda great guy. So you know what? Positivity Dammit. I'm in. Even with my prickles and edges and Jersey shudders at too much gush. I'm in because positive action is the only way to keep moving forward and believing, and that's my choice.

Challenge: Find one thing this week you really feel passionately about and take one small, simple action that affirms it. Yes, I just used the word, "affirm." Ack. Please write about what you do, be it a bag of groceries on the step of a struggling neighbor or an act of kindness on the road when rage would've been your go-to move. That's right, mofos, I'm asking y'all to pay it forward and share how that worked out. I'm Out.