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The following is an actual conversation I had with my husband when I was eight months pregnant:

ME:   I want to go to the city on Friday to visit the energy healer, but I’m nervous. (Author’s Note: File “I want to…visit the energy healer” under things I never thought I would hear myself say.)

MATT:   Why would you be nervous?

ME:   Because. What if someone sees me and realizes how pregnant I am? Then they might kidnap and kill me and cut the baby out and sell him on the black market.

MATT:   (Pause.) What? Why would you think that would happen?

ME:   That sort of thing happens all the time. It’s not uncommon. I heard it happening recently in the news!

Matt’s incredulous, wide-eyed stare indicates that he is weighing the pros and cons of making his next statement….

MATT:   Ummm…Baby? I believe that was actually a Law and Order episode.

I was speechless for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that I had been completely serious in my concern that someone might steal my baby. I was also stunned when it hit me that I had been watching so much TV that the lines between reality and my fantasy-TV-world had become so blurred. I was impressed at how brave Matt had been to break the news to me, because it was entirely possible that in my anger at myself for being such a big loser, I might have shot the messenger.

Reality-check in Aisle 5, please.

In fairness, Law and Order episodes are “ripped from the headlines.” If I was honest with myself, though, the true cause of any confusion was the fact that I had been watching about four hours of Law and Order a day for the previous month. I blame TNT for allowing this to happen – damn them and their beautiful syndication!

Yes, I know there is research that television is bad for you: it’s linked to obesity, depression, homicide, suicide, acne and excessive spending.  So I made some of that up. Nonetheless, most people agree that doing things is much preferable to watching imaginary people do things. But when I am stressed and tired and life is getting me down nothing makes me feel better than snuggling up to my flat-screen high-definition television and some wonderfully cheesy Lifetime movie.

Am I the only one who gets so invested in the television I watch that I sometimes start to think about these people as real? What is it about watching a series regularly that makes you feel as if you know the characters personally? Cheers and Seinfeld, two comedy classics, were hilarious partly because the characters were so well-developed that you could actually predict how they might act or what they might say in a certain situation. This familiarity created anticipation that heightened the comedy, and it also made the characters become friends-in-your-head.

Then there is the consideration that these characters come into your home. They visit you weekly or nightly or even four hours a night like my friends Briscoe and Curtis. They can be in your life for years, especially if you’re willing to mindlessly sit through reruns. In fact, some of my TV friendships have lasted longer than my friendships with real people. As life gets busier, it’s just easier to stay in touch with the friends you can record on your DVR.

Five years ago, when I was going through a divorce and I was feeling very low, I had no energy to do anything other than go to work and pretend that everything was fine. By the time I got home I was completed drained; as a result my evening ritual consisted of sitting on the couch eating Mexican food and watching reruns of the Gilmore Girls. If you need to escape a sad reality, why wouldn’t you go to a place filled with eccentric characters who say witty things while hanging out in a diner? Why wouldn’t you want to visit with people to whom bad things don’t happen, where the worst thing that ever happens is that the main character gets into a fender bender with the car her boyfriend gave her? I can think of worse places to visit than Stars Hollow, and my spending time in that imaginary town went on for months.

So it should come as no surprise that, as I was walking through town with a friend last Friday, I had another mix-up. I started to wave at someone before quickly retracting my hand.

“Do you know her?” my friend asked.

“I thought I did, but it was someone else,” I replied. I had thought it was Lane Kim…one of my friends from the Gilmore Girls.

How pathetic.

I have felt completely stunted, creatively speaking, since the passing of my dear friend, Norman the Cat. I have been writing in a journal but I haven’t felt like composing, and by that I mean putting together a cohesive essay that has a point. I suppose that blogging is really less about composing essays and more about sharing a thought or two, so I think this entry may have to be a stream of consciousness of sorts as a way to get me back in the saddle. As I said in my first blog entry, Operation Peace and Serenity is primarily about my need to express myself and secondarily about making the readers happy – no offense – because I am a recovering people-pleaser trying to kick the habit once and for all. It is hard though; the more that people respond positively to my writing, the more I want to write entries to which they will respond positively. I suppose that is a common problem with art and creative expression, that if you let the audience influence the art it loses its authenticity, although I never thought of myself as an artist until just this second. That’s kind of cool, actually.

Since I lost Norman, it has rekindled strong feelings of previous losses, including people who died, friends who moved away, and expectations or hopes that went unfulfilled. I am not sure if this is an experience unique to me or something that others experience, but I feel like I have lost so many things all over again.

The night we put Norman down, I was lying in bed unable to sleep. My mind meandered, starting with remembering how it felt to hold Norman as he died, to reflecting on my reluctance to adopt him all those years ago, to how much I enjoyed my life back then, to the way my life turned upside down for a long time after that, to missing so many family members who died in the last ten years, to being sad that some of my best friends live so far away and I don’t see them much anymore, to thinking about mentors and coworkers I lost touch with, to wishing my Aunt Pat could have met my son and that my husband could have known my grandparents, to feeling like I lost part of my identity by not having certain people in my life any longer, to missing my old life but feeling guilty because of all of the blessings in my life now, to wishing Norman was lying on me in bed right now because the feelings of loss washing over me were making me feel so desperately melancholy and when I felt this way he was the one who comforted me by just being there.

As an aside, I once met a woman who, within a half hour of meeting me, said, “I would be scared to live inside your head,” and my response was simply, “Tell me about it.”

I have always had the attitude that I needed to tough it out. I grew up on a street with all boys and if you want to play with the boys you can’t cry when you fall out of a tree and twist your ankle. I played sports and when you get hurt playing sports you walk it off, at least you did in the 70s. Somewhere along the line, I decided that being tough was critical to my identity. As an adult, that translated to acting like I didn’t care if a relationship didn’t work out or I had a disappointment at work. It manifested in catching myself if I started to weep at my grandmother’s wake because there were people around and I didn’t want them to see me crying. It made me seem easygoing and undeterred when someone did something mean to me, even though I secretly harbored a grudge. It essentially turned me into someone who couldn’t express a negative emotion; as a friend of mine once said, I had become a Stepford Daughter/Employee/Girlfriend/Fill-in-the-Blank.

This is where having a life-changing crisis comes in handy. Going through an extremely rough personal experience forced me to become vulnerable because I was too drained to keep up the facade that everything was just fine, thank you very much. I finally realized that there is a huge difference between letting things roll off my back and burying them deep inside. I also have to credit my husband, who is a very accepting person, because early in our relationship I realized that if everything was not just fine Matt loved me anyway. If I felt grumpy or tired or sad I could express it and he would not leave the room, withdraw, or be angry with me. So in the days following Norman’s last, I didn’t revert to my old habit of putting on a happy face and acting like I was handling it. Instead, I let myself feel the overwhleming sadness that came with losing my little buddy; I would sob, my shoulders heaving and strange sounds coming from deep inside my chest. In the past I wouldn’t have even let myself act like that when I was alone, much less in front of a man I loved. But Matt has created for me an environment for me in which I feel safe to express what I am feeling, no apologies necessary. And I have also stopped judging myself for working through these kinds of feelings – this time, instead of telling myself to stop being a baby, I let myself feel heartbroken.

Although I miss Norman terribly and still have moments of extreme sadness, I am in a much better place than I expected to be after only three weeks. I firmly believe that allowing myself the latitude to experience my feelings of loss has quickened my healing, even if it is still in process. This has been an important lesson for me and something I need to continue to explore.

In 1998, I moved into a one bedroom apartment by myself.  It was a big change and it was the first time I ever lived completely alone, without roommates, friends or family.  It was scary and liberating all at once, and presented the perfect opportunity to do what I had always wanted to – get myself a dog.  All my life I had wanted a dog, and I spent countless hours trying to convince my parents or my roommates to let me get one to no avail.   When I finally got my own place it seemed like a perfect opportunity, but I was responsible enough to realize that my job requirements, which included long days and a lot of travel, wouldn’t allow me to take care of a dog properly.  A dog of my own was something that I constantly pined for just as some women pine for children; it was my own warped version of a biological clock. 

On New Year’s Day, 2000, I was at breakfast with my brother, John, and my friend, Barb, after a night out on the town celebrating New Year’s Eve.  My brother had a cat that he had been trying to pawn off on me for a few weeks; his landlord wouldn’t let him keep it and he didn’t know what else to do with it.  I kept giving him advice about how to unload the cat (advertise, send an email, ask around) because I really didn’t want it.  I don’t like cats, I told him, they aren’t friendly like dogs.  He was adamant that this cat was cool and I would love him.  My friend Barb had a cat, and she helped John wear me down with comments such as:  But you can’t take care of a dog.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little friend?  Cats are the easiest pets, they take care of themselves.  A cat would fit into your lifestyle. 

Their persistence plus my hangover was more than I could take and finally I said, Fine, I’ll take the damn cat!

A few days later, my brother dropped the cat off to me.  I don’t know what I expected, but when I saw this cat I was taken aback.  He was orange, with long soft hair and a fluffy tail.  Isn’t he cute? My brother insisted.  I had to agree – the cat looked like a stuffed animal who had come to life.  His name, Norman, suited him perfectly.  I guess it was something about his whiskers and the white hair in his ears that made him seem like a “Norman.”

I didn’t know much about cats when I got Norman, but I did know some things about myself, specifically that I need attention and that I can be stubborn.  So when Norman took to hiding under the couch, I would have none of it.  Of course, I gave him a chance to get used to his new home, but after a couple of days I would find myself dragging him out from under the couch and picking him up to hug him.  Norman was very floppy, and so – as I would be hugging him around his middle – his head, front and back legs and tail would be hanging over my arms like a ragdoll.  Try to picture a thirty-year-old professional woman walking around her apartment with a miserable cat hanging from her arms.  I would say to him, I gave you a home and you will love me!  Oh, the psychoanalysis that could follow from that statement…

Nonetheless, the first few weeks of our life together consisted of Norman trying to escape from me while I hunted him down and me holding him on my lap whether he liked it or not.  Then one day something very interesting happened.  I was on the couch reading a magazine, taking a break from torturing the cat, when Norman jumped up onto the back of the couch, walked up to where I was sitting, and perched himself just above my head like a pirate’s parrot.  I was exhilarated.  That’s the big difference between cats and dogs:  Dogs come to you when you call them, they crave your attention and give affection freely; cats are a little slower to warm up, but when a cat decides to give you attention you feel special.  So there I sat, reading my magazine and feeling special because Norman decided to come and sit next to me.

And that’s how the love affair began. 

Whenever I came home, Norman would be at the door waiting to greet me by rubbing against my legs.  When I made my dinner, I would give him his food and then we would both eat a bit together.  When I sat down to do work, he would come and sit on the desk, usually right on top of whichever paper I was working on at the moment.  When I sat on the couch to unwind in front of the television, he would sit next to me and eventually he started to sit in my lap.  When I got ready to go out on the town, he would curl up and sleep in the bathroom sink while I did my hair and makeup, and even though that led to the occasional cat hair stuck in my mascara for an entire evening, I thoroughly enjoyed Norman’s company. 

I am sure at this point I sound like a crazy cat lady, and there were times when I was very self-conscious that I was single, over thirty and living with a cat.  In reality, during this time I was busy with my career, having fun with friends, dating and “getting out there,” as they say.  However, when I came home to take a breath, my little buddy Norman was there to hang with me.  Over time, Norman began to feel like a roommate more than anything else, probably because he was so low maintenance and because he had his own individual way of doing things. 

I don’t know if it was because I treated Norman as the dog I never had or if it was just his style, but Norman developed some quirky aspects to his personality.  He would drop to the floor, stretching out and rolling over so I could rub his stomach.  When I was on the couch and I wanted him to sit with me, I would shout Norman! and he would come trotting up and jump on the couch and into my lap.  If I gave him a twist-tie, he would spend half an hour chasing it and pouncing on it all over the apartment while I just watched in amusement.  He always slept with me and a lot of time he slept curled up on my head.  He liked water and when I was getting out of the shower he would jump up on the edge of the tub so the drips from my hair would fall on him.

Norman was with me throughout a very turbulent period of my life.  In the time we were together, we lived in:

Hoboken, NJ
Austin, TX
Baltimore, MD
Montclair, NJ (two different houses)
Jersey City, NJ
Ocean Grove, NJ (two different houses)

If you know anything about cats, you know they don’t like change.  Yet Norman tagged along as I continually moved from place to place, trying to make myself happy.  He was with me on September 11, 2001, when I was stranded in Texas, far from my family and friends in New York and New Jersey.  Shortly after the Twin Towers fell, I was sitting in the living room, hunched over and sobbing with my hands in my head.  I looked up momentarily, and there Norman was, sitting next to me on the couch and just looking at me.  As soon as I sat up, he carefully walked into my lap and curled up there.  I remember feeling floored that he was so deliberately trying to comfort me.

In retrospect, maybe Norman was sent to take care of me in that way.  As someone who was never comfortable showing sadness to other people, I withdrew when I went through a troubled marriage and stressful divorce.  There were too many days like what I described above, when I was desperately sad and purposely isolating myself from the world.  At those times, Norman not only kept me company, but he made me feel better.  It sounds a bit wacky, but trust me that when he licked my face as I cried, it was clear that Norman was attuned to how I was feeling.

I finally got the dog I always wanted, followed by a husband and another dog (package deal), then a baby.  My husband joked that Norman was always Number One, and there is some truth to that.  I suppose spending so much time alone together allowed us to bond in a special way.  For someone who never thought she would like having a pet of the feline persuasion, I became a huge fan of Norman the Cat (his full name).

Unfortunately, at this moment I am terribly, horribly sad and I don’t have Norman here to sit on my lap and make it better.  Two days ago my husband and I made the difficult decision to put him to sleep because he was so sick from kidney failure.  It feels like ten years went by in a blink of an eye – it wasn’t enough time!  Whenever I walk into a room, I glance behind me out of habit to look for Norman following me; for the first time in a decade, he isn’t at my heels and it feels like I lost my shadow.  As I was lying in bed awake the other night, it occurred to me that it is somewhat poetic how Norman came into my life shortly before I entered a very challenging period, when I dealt with some serious personal problems; now, only six months or so since I truly feel like myself again, he has moved on.  Maybe he was a furry guardian angel. 

I only hope I was half as good to him as he was to me.  Norman the Cat will be sorely missed.

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Following are the ways in which my son reminds me of my dog:

  • Whines when hungry.
  • Constantly drools.
  • Requires the use of sitting services.
  • Loves chew toys.
  • Gets taken for walks.
  • Has been featured on Christmas cards.
  • Tries to eat everything.
  • Requires me to spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with excrement.
  • Plays with stuffed animals.
  • Performs tricks, especially the High Five.
  • Gets excited when we say “Good boy” after said tricks.
  • Is highly flexible.  In my son’s case, he can put his foot in his mouth.  In my dog’s case, she can lick herself in certain hard-to-reach places.

Admit it…at this point they’re pretty similar, aren’t they?

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I wanted to write a funny blog today, but I am still feeling pensive and I need to roll with it. 

Below is a photo I took of my son half his life ago, when he was a little over three months.  At first, I simply considered this a great photo opportunity and I was very self-satisfied with my abilities as a photographer.  Today I looked at it again for the first time in a while, and I found a lesson waiting for me.

Smile

When was the last time you felt this joyful when looking in the mirror?  How often have you looked at yourself, only to be critical of or disappointed in what you saw?  I would venture a guess that virtually everyone would answer, “A while,” and “Too often,” to these questions.   Yet I defy you to find a young child who looks in the mirror and does anything but smile at him or herself.  Young children certainly don’t look in the mirror and judge themselves, that I am sure of.

Many spiritual teachers proclaim that there is no good or bad, there only is what there is.  Over the course of our lives we develop and strengthen our identity or ego, but that is really just a collection of ideas and memories about our physical selves, to which we become attached.  Our egos spend all day judging things as inherently good or inherently bad, instead of accepting them as they are.  The judging we do clouds our view and prevents us from being truly happy and fulfilled.  Our essence or spirit, on the other hand, is unencumbered by judgment or negative emotions; it isn’t attached to how we look or to things we have or haven’t accomplished.  It is our pure potential, as Deepak Chopra puts it, and connecting with our pure potential is the key to happiness. 

My first thought is, “Gee, that sounds like a nice place to be and I wish I knew how to get there…”  But I am starting to believe that we all used to be there, and the challenge is just remembering how to get back. 

I recently read that, until about the age of five, very young children have not fully transitioned into the physical realm and they are still very connected to the spiritual realm.  In other words, young children are still in touch with their essence, and lack a sense of identity or attachment to the physical form they have taken in this lifetime.  Is that why a child can look at him or herself in the mirror and feel pure joy?  Child psychologists might say that developmentally, the child doesn’t yet associate the image with him or herself, it is something that needs to be learned.  Maybe.  But, what if that association is to be unlearned, or if the real learning is to remember that the physical form our soul inhabits is not who we actually are.

When I first became a mother, I believed that much of my role is to teach my child by introducing him to new experiences, but that is only part of this journey.  The other part of the journey is for me to learn from my son as well, and the first lesson is that I must reconnect with my essence.  I must let go of my attachment to my accomplishments, my failures, my successes and my disappointments.  I have to try to remember how to look in the mirror and see past my Self, so I too can experience pure joy.

Over the week or so since my last post, I have been thinking about my Purpose (with a capital “P”).  I have been trying not to dwell on it, but rather to just let it bounce around in my head so that, when I see or hear something that resonates with me, it might help me define my mission in life.

Interestingly, the term that keep coming to me is “philosopher.”  So in my typical fashion, the next thing I think is, “But is that a job?”  I guess what I am trying to figure out is, will someone be willing to pay me to muse about life and its meaning?  I know that is not the way to approach finding my Purpose, it’s just a knee-jerk reaction. 

When I joined Twitter a while back, I needed to write something as a one-line biography.  In Twitter-world, everything has a character-count limitation, so with only 160 characters with which to work I came up with this without any forethought:

Student of life, working mom, business advisor

I think it is interesting that “student of life” just came out.  And what is a philosopher if not a student of life?   But for some reason the visuals I get when I think of philosophers don’t seem to fit me:  the first thing I picture are togas; the next thing is someone sitting under a tree; then I think of a quill pen, you know, with a feather.  Don’t ask me where these associations come from, because I have no idea, but none of them seem to fit me or who I aspire to be.  I mean, I did participate in a lip-syncing contest in high school and we reenacted the toga scene in Animal House for the song “Shout.”  And I like shady trees, but haven’t sat under one in a while.  Can’t say I ever used a quill pen. 

Maybe what I need to do is redefine the term philosopher for myself, and even for the world at large.  Perhaps the modern day philosopher is the one who ponders life, provokes thought, and helps people make sense of the world…from her laptop.

I absolutely cannot think of the word “philosopher” without immediately calling to mind one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies.  In the Roman times part of History of the World, Part I, Mel Brooks’ character, Comicus, goes up the Unemployment Office window and to get his weekly check from the agent, played by Bea Arthur (remember the Golden Girls?):

Unemployment Agent:  Occupation?

Comicus:  Stand-up philosopher!

Unemployment Agent (annoyed):  What?

Comicus:  Stand-up philosopher.  I coalesce the vapors of human experience into a viable and meaningful comprehension.

Unemployment Agent:  Oh, so you’re a bullshit artist…

I think that says it all.

I often joke about the early midlife crisis I went through when I was 37.  It had all of the superficial trappings of such a life-event:  the convertible (Saab, but at least it wasn’t red), the inappropriate relationships (12 years younger), the surprising hobbies (taking up the drums). 

However, there was one aspect of this life experience that was not as frivolous.  I had reached goals I had set out to achieve, then realized I didn’t care about them.  I had climbed the corporate ladder, then felt the urge to jump.  I had acquired the dream house, then resented the time and effort that went into maintaining it.  I started to realize that the life I had created for myself was not the one I was meant to have.  

When I think about it, I believe that every midlife crisis can be boiled down to two key recognitions: 

  • You aren’t sure about your purpose in life.
  • You just noticed that your time is running out.

So this is where I found myself at 37.  Grappling with the age-old question:  “Why am I here?” and its not-so-distant relatives “What do I want to be when I grow up?” and “What will people remember me for when I’m gone?”  It might have hit me earlier than some, but it was painful nonetheless.  It still is painful because, four years later, I thought I had the answer and now wonder if I was barking up the wrong tree…again.

To consider having a life’s purpose or higher calling sometimes feels fluffy to our Western brains.  We are so results-focused, so goal-oriented, so matter of fact, that the idea that we would have a “purpose” rather than a “career” seems silly – purposes don’t pay the bills!  But according to Deepak Chopra (yes, him again), if you can find your dharma, your reason for being on this planet, then the money you need will follow.  That can be hard to wrap your head around, and I suppose it really requires a leap of faith. 

I do know some people who see their job as just that – a job.  They tolerate their job and pursue their passions outside of work.  That doesn’t cut it for me.  I can’t imagine enduring something for so many hours a day so I can live my life on the weekends.  My continual struggle is to develop a vocation – a job that gives me joy, is consistent with the contribution I am supposed to be making to this world, and will sustain my family.  Gee, I wonder why it is taking me so long to figure this out…

I know it is possible, which is why I refuse to give up.  With increasing frequency, I see examples of people who are pursuing their missions in life and finding that it is works out financially, as well as emotionally.  I will leave you with one such example of someone manifesting her purpose.

My friend, Kerri, has always enjoyed bicycles.  She rode them, learned to repair them, and has been working around them for years.  Her love of biking has become part of her lifestyle – she chooses to ride her bike instead of driving a car.  A few years ago, Kerri channeled her passion for bikes into a wonderful organization called The Bike Church.  Through this program, children in Asbury Park help recycle and repair old bicycles, and are given the opportunity to earn a bike themselves in the process.  Kerri had been running this program during her free time, but knowing it was part of a larger mission to get more people riding bikes, she decided to leave her job to expand the program by adding Second Life Bikes, a similar program for teenagers.  She did this without knowing how she would get paid; obviously, she had to have faith and believe that everything would work out.  Well, a wonderful thing has been happening and I have been fortunate to witness it first-hand:  materials, supplies, and financial support keep presenting themselves to her. 

One day in the course of a conversation, Kerri said, “I really need to get an Internet connection in the shop.”  The next day, she mentioned in passing that a friend had stopped by, and while he was there he offered to set up an Internet connection for her.  I said, “Are you telling me that yesterday afternoon, a couple of hours after you mentioned to me that you needed an Internet connection, someone showed up at your space and offered to install one?!”  “Yes,” she said, and her smile said it all:  On one hand she was surprised and on the other she wasn’t.  Everything has been falling into place. 

This has happened repeatedly.  One day, Kerri was thinking that she should order helmets, and later the same day a woman called and specifically said she wanted to donate helmets.   Another time she was thinking about a specific person who someone had mentioned she should call, and that person stopped by.  There are many more examples, and it has been surreal.

Kerri’s experience has been proof to me that when someone starts a journey down the right path, the universe conspires to provide help along the way.  So even though it is exhausting for me to grapple with the Big Question, I know that this is the hard part.  Once I figure out what I was sent here to do, the rest will be like a downhill bike ride…effortless and fun!

I recently gave birth to Max, my first child, at 39 years old.  I mean, I was 39 years old, not him.  This is not a Benjamin Button scenario.  It was all good with the pregnancy, even though the first doctor I went to said he would need to order some extra tests due to my “advanced maternal age,”  which is obviously just a euphemism for old.  I fired him, but not for that.

I am truly enjoying Max, although there are times when I am convinced that old ladies like me shouldn’t be having babies.  I have developed an ache in my back that will not go away.  When I have to wake up a few times per night to feed the baby, which is pretty much standard, I feel as hungover as if I had been on a two-day bender except that I don’t have all of the great stories at the end of it.  But more difficult than the physical adjustments are the behavioral changes I have to make, not the least of which is the dreaded schedule

Intellectually, I accept the fact that children should be on a schedule; structure is very important for children and the predictability and consistency of a schedule helps them thrive.  But herein lies the problem:  I myself have not been on a schedule for over 20 years!  Actually, I have been on a schedule, it’s just a different schedule every day.  Does that count? 

Ah, my early 20s.  Life was so simple, so straightforward.  At that point in my life my schedule looked like this:

  6:30a – Wake and shower

  7:30a – Leave for work

  4:00p – Work on lesson plans (I was a teacher at the time)

  6:00p – Drive home

  8:00p – Order pizza

  9:00p – Watch Melrose Place and heckle mercilessly

10:00p – Procrastinate

11:45p – Finish grading papers

12:30a – Go to bed

On a Saturday, it might have been more like this:

  1:00p – Get up

  1:30p – Get bagels

  2:00p – Start watching movies on cable

  5:00p – Take a break from movies to order food

  5:30p – Eat and finish movies

  8:00p – Shower and dress

  9:30p – Meet friends at 8th Street Tavern

10:00p – Play pool

  2:30a – Go home and go to bed

Years later a lot had changed.  In my late 20s and early 30s I was more focused on my career, and that created its own set of schedule-related challenges mostly due to the ways in which I had complicated my life.  I would characterize this stage of my life as one when I felt lucky if I didn’t have to eat a meal in my car.  On any given morning when I worked too long the night before, I would have a hard time getting out of bed and end up being late, leading to me shoving a bagel down my throat while driving a stick shift and checking voice mails on my cell phone.  I know that is a frightening image but scarier is that I was still driving better than 80% of the people on Route 78. 

One day I would be able to jet out of the office at 5:00p (rare) and others I would get stuck at work until they turned the lights off at 10:00p (sad and pathetic).   Some days I would plan my meetings so I could escape the office in time to get home and eat a meal at my dining table – I paid extra for a condo with dining area, after all – and then my boss would call about some fire-drill that would keep us working until 9:00p.  On nights like that I would stop at a diner or something on the way home and just eat by myself, a situation which made my mother very sad although I think it would have been more sad for me to have been starving and not stopped because I was too embarrassed to sit by myself.  Besides, eating alone at restaurants helped me find my favorite pastime – eavesdropping.  I might have to dedicate an entire post to how interesting it can be to glimpse into a moment in someone else’s life and then make up the rest in your head while scarfing down a bacon cheeseburger.

But I digress, as usual (stop snickering).  My question is:  How in the hell am I supposed to get a new baby on a schedule when I have spent 20 years just rolling with it?!?  What I described above is only the tip of the iceberg.  Somehow I have to find a way to reshape the behaviors that took two decades to develop! 

It all comes down to this…I have waited a long time to have a family because that’s just how things unfolded.  Now I am a mother and I want to be a great one and I know that means putting my child first which I am more than happy to do.  I just never realized the simultaneously subtle and gigantic ways in which I would have to change my life to do that.  If you thought it was hard to start a workout routine, imagine how hard it is to change an entire lifestyle of frenetic unpredictability.

Wish me luck…I need it.

Having a new baby is an amazing experience in so many ways.  But that’s not what we’re going to discuss in this post.  We’re going to talk about how having a baby can be stressful at times:  the lack of sleep, the constantly dirty diapers, the efforts to figure out why the baby is crying, and….trying to dress the baby.  Would you believe me if I told you that dressing my son has been the hardest part of having a baby so far?

Let me explain.  I can’t dress myself and anyone who knows me would attest to that.  I have never found enjoyment in expressing myself through fashion.  For me, wearing clothes is a means to an end – I put on clothes so I can leave the house without getting arrested.  Does this sound like an exaggeration?  Here are a few data points for you:

  • Throughout the 90s, I wore one type of outfit for weekend nights out:  blue jeans, ankle boots and a black jacket, which my friends referred to as my “uniform.”  There were a few variations on this theme, such as replacing the jacket with a black shirt or wearing black sandals in the summer instead of boots, but that was more or less how I dressed for almost ten years.  Once or twice I switched it up and wore a denim shirt and black pants.  Toward the end of the decade my look evolved to a black shirt and black skirt (that’s right) with black knee high boots for winter or black wedge sandals for summer.
  • I wear black almost all of the time.  One of my brothers actually jokes that my closet looks like it belongs to a super-hero because it is just rows of black clothes that look exactly the same.  I used to let people in the suburban New Jersey office where I worked think that I wore a ton of black because I spent so much time in New York City and I was just that cool.  Neither of those things are true.  The real reasons I wear so much black are (1) if I always wear black I could use the same black shoes and purse all of the time, and (2) if I spill something on myself it won’t show (anyone who has seen me eat knows this is a real issue).  For confirmation about my black fixation, see my previous post about my son’s baptism where I am dressed like I am attending a funeral instead of a Christening.
  • At one point, circa 1997, I realized that if everything I ever bought had a little bit of spandex then I would never have to use an iron again.  I never looked back.
  • A woman who worked for me once called me out for wearing the same black boots every day for over six months.  You should have seen her performance review after that!  Just joking, I don’t believe in retribution in the workplace, as far as you know.
  • A man who worked with me once offered to take me shopping to help me expand my wardrobe – what?!  Yes, it’s true.  He and I worked together when the term “metrosexual” became mainstream, which I thought was impeccable timing on behalf of the Universe.  One time he was explaining the importance of spending $100-$200 on a pair of jeans because of how good they make your butt look and I was just floored because it never occured to me to spend more than $40.  Yet, when I needed new sunglasses because the pair I had bought three years prior had broken, I took him with me at lunchtime to help me pick out a pair.  I bought two pairs and I will never admit how much I spent, but I did get a lot of compliments on them.  As I am writing this it occurs to me that I haven’t gotten compliments on those sunglasses in a long while.  Maybe that’s because the shopping excursion was in 2005 so they are probably out of fashion by now.  Yikes.  I might be beyond help.

That’s enough.  I mean, there’s more, but I am choosing to stop because I am becoming appalled with myself. 

So now I am responsible for dressing another person.  That is, I am responsible for it until my son can pick out his own clothes and then we are Big Daddy-ing it all the way, and I won’t care if his teachers call the Division of Youth Services because his outfit raises concerns that he might live alone. 

For the first couple of  months of my son’s life we both wore pajamas every day.  It didn’t make a lot of sense to put actual outfits on him (or me) since we were pretty much homebound while it snowed outside and I spent every day figuring out the whole “Holy crap I have a baby” thing.  That wasn’t such a big deal except that this phase lasted a week or so too long and one day when my mother came over in the afternoon she said “Aren’t you going to dress him for the day?”  I was like, “Um, I guess.”  

There are some things about dressing a baby that are easy, like how you can buy complete outfits thus taking out a lot of the guesswork.  Initially I thought, “This is a cake walk,” and then tops and bottoms got separated and all hell broke loose.  Maybe what happened was he spit up on the shirt so that went into the laundry separate from the pants, or maybe it was just that when things came out of the laundry it wasn’t obvious what went together.  I would look at a little animal on a shirt and ask myself, “Is that a little bear that goes with the pants with the paw print on the butt, or should it go with the overalls with the other little bear?”  One time I chose a cool shirt that said “Future Rock Star,” which had a white background with lines and stars and stuff on it, and I paired it with navy blue pants.  It wasn’t until we got to where we were headed that I realized the lines on the shirt were red and BLACK, not blue, thus thrusting my son right into fashion victim status with the rookie mistake of mixing black and navy blue.  Where are Garanimals when you need them?!  (Authors Note:  In the process of writing this post I did a quick search and found that Garaminals still exist – woo hoo!) 

Eventually I figured out which tops and bottoms went together, and in some cases I even made little outfits out of things that didn’t come together, so it was all good…for about two or three weeks until the unthinkable happened – my son grew!  And the “uniforms” I had established for him no longer fit.  Back to square one.

Below are two photos of my son. The first outfit I have affectionately termed “Laundry Day” and the second was my favorite outfit for obvious reasons (Go Giants!) but it’s too small now.

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That’s it…wish this kid luck that he won’t be a social outcast someday because of his clothes.

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I am happy to report that yesterday my son was Baptized, so now he is officially saved from the fiery pits of hell.  Here he is pictured with his parents and Godparents, whose destiny is a little less certain at this point.

This was an interesting day for me.  Spirituality has always had an important role in my life and has been something I have grappled with for the last few years.  In some ways I feel “less Catholic” than I used to and in others I am even more committed.  I have come to the conclusion that all organized religions have flaws, because all organized religions are based on something preternatural but are developed and managed by humans, and none of us is perfect.  As Eckhart Tolle wrote about in A New Earth, when people get too attached to their dogma everything gets screwed up (I paraphrased).  I guess Kevin Smith had it right years ago…

When I lived on Pavonia Avenue in Jersey City in the mid-90s, I became friends with a woman who was twice my age who lived downstairs.  We used to talk about stuff like this while she gardened and I watched, and I remember telling her that I was a “90s Catholic” because:

  • I don’t believe it’s wrong to use birth control,
  • I support a woman’s right to choose because I don’t think I should force my beliefs on someone else,
  • I don’t believe that people who haven’t accepted Jesus as Savior are going to hell,
  • I don’t believe that partnering with someone of the same sex is a sin, and
  • I believe women should be able to be leaders in the Catholic Church.

Her reply:  ”You’re not a 90s Catholic, you’re a Baptist.”

Her comment made me laugh and then caused me to investigate becoming a Baptist.  Turns out, that wasn’t a perfect fit for me either.  Why?  Because I had some issues with that belief-set as well.  What about Taoism and Buddhism?  Better, but still not a perfect fit.  I was even considering Kabbalah because the mysticism of it is so intriguing, but it was too trendy.  I mean, share a spiritual practice with Madonna and Britney Spears?  Come on!  Even on my path to enlightenment that was too much to take.

This was all a little frustrating at the time, because that was when I believed I was a hypocrite if I didn’t accept all facets of my chosen religion.  Now I know better.  They only perfect fit is the one you create for yourself.  As a wise woman wrote, “there are many paths to God.”  I truly believe that each person has a responsibility to develop his or her own spirituality in a way that makes sense to them.  Since every person is unique, that spirituality will look a little different for each of them.

So for me, I came full circle and I am back at Catholic.  I remember a Jewish friend of mine saying that Judaism is not just a religion but a culture.  Well, same goes for Italian-Catholicism.  When I say something off-color or mean, my immediate reaction is to make a quick sign of the cross.  When we listed our house for sale, my mother brought me a statue of St. Joseph to bury in the backyard.  Whenever I lose something, I pray to St. Anthony and he finds it (no joke, I’ll have to explain in a separate post because I have so many stories about that).

Now my spiritual practice includes studying the teachings of Jesus, going to Catholic Mass because I love the solemnity and joyfulness of it and because it is at least one hour out of a week when I will reflect, and raising my son Catholic because I want him to have a spiritual foundation.  Later, he can change his practice to something that better suits him if he chooses, but I want to instill in him the faith that there is something bigger, beyond what we can see around us.  That sort of faith leads to a feeling of peace, and I believe that developing it starts with spiritual discussions at a young age.  My father did that for me every week after Church, when he would annotate and sometimes modify what the priest said during Mass.  Thanks Dad!

Anyway, I covered a lot of ground in this post when I really just intended to put up the picture and make the crack about the “fiery pits of hell.”  Time to wrap it up…

Peace be with you.

About Me

The purpose of this blog is purely self-expression - being creative for the sake of being creative. It has evolved into a collection of non-fiction essays.

All of the anecdotes and incidents you read in this blog are completely true and not exaggerated, no matter how sad, pathetic or unbelievable they may seem.

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© Operation Peace and Serenity, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Operation Peace and Serenity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.