Friday, February 20, 2004

On Becoming a Soccer Mom

So, we took the plunge and bought a minivan last week, after years of cramming both of the kids and their car seats, diaper bags, strollers and toys into my cramped sedan. The very next day Bug came home from school with a signup sheet for the local Challenger Soccer league. As I enthusiastically made plans to enroll him, I bemoaned the fact that I was on a fast track to becoming a suburban cliché.

Truthfully, I could not be more thrilled to be planning something so refreshingly conventional . . . so NORMAL. As a special needs mom, sometimes that is what I long for the most. Ever since Bug was an infant, I have always felt a bit cheated out of many simple, basic pleasures of motherhood. Instead of going to play groups and Mommy and Me classes like other new moms, we spent his first few months parading around to a variety of doctors and specialists who checked him for heart problems, retinal damage, congenital deafness, and the myriad gastroenterological issues that so often accompany Down Syndrome. While other parents stimulate their newborns with classical music and Baby Einstein videos, we employed a troop of physical, occupational, speech and early intervention therapists to help him learn basic skills like sitting up straight, chewing his food properly, and picking Cheerios off a plate.

Sure, we did a lot of ordinary things too; we snuggled and tickled and picnicked in the park and visited the zoo, played “This Little Piggy” and watched hours and hours of Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues. But inside I always felt alienated from other parents, who got to do things like sign their kids up for swim lessons or Gymboree classes without having to muddle through hours of explanations or modifications.

This is why I have a much keener appreciation for the normal moments I DO experience, like last July’s end-of-summer-camp dinner at the JCC. I was positively euphoric as I walked to my table, balancing a paper plate full of hot dogs and macaroni salad. I was overflowing with gratitude, towards the camp director and staff who were so willing and eager to accomodate Bug, to my mom for shuttling him back and forth across town each day, and to the other campers for accepting and including him without hesitation. Because of them, for once I got to be just like all the other parents as I admired the papier-maché pencil holders and clay sculptures in the crafts room and watched the kids sing and perform camp tunes with joyful gusto. To see Bug dressed like all the other kids in a lime-green Camp Shelanu T-shirt, running around and giving high-fives to his counselors, was something I will never forget.

Once soccer season starts I have a feeling my life will be like that of so many of my friends, involving a lot of carpooling, uniform laundering, post-game pizza parties, and time spent shivering in the bleachers – and I will relish every moment of it.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

All the Good People I've Left Behind

When I first met Eva she was fifteen years old, and I thought she was the most eccentric hippie I'd ever seen. She wore a metallic Harley-Davidson shirt with a skirt she sewed herself out of an old Charlie Brown bed sheet, and boasted a near-encyclopedic knowledge of art, beat poetry, and 1960’s music. We met on a road trip to Los Angeles with our youth group, during which she detailed to me her lifelong dream of starting a combination organic subsistence farm and donut shop. I was enchanted - by the time we arrived home we were best friends. Over the next few years we spent countless hours gorging on garlicky homemade guacamole or chocolate tapioca pudding, scribbling in our journals, listening to scratchy Bob Dylan 45s, collecting Bay City Rollers memorobilia and obsessing over our unrequited high school romances. Our friendship continued through college and beyond; she held up the huppah when Chef and I got married and wrote me letters of encouragement when I found out I was pregnant with Bug. And then I stopped talking to her for five years.

There is no good reason why. I certainly wasn’t mad at her, in fact I missed her intensely much of the time and desperately wanted to get back in touch – but I was too embarrassed at how badly I had dropped the ball of friendship once again. She moved to Houston for graduate school, I gave birth to my first child, and before long a few months went by, and then a few years, and I figured she had lost patience and given up on me – and I was too scared to find out for sure.

It wouldn’t be the first time I have lost a good friend due to a shameful lack of effort on my part. At almost any given time in my life, I seem to be in the process of picking up the pieces, sending tentative exploratory emails or leaving long apologetic phone messages trying to explain my mysterious disappearances. So many people have been unbelievably forgiving – having two young kids seems to be a plausible excuse for falling out of touch for long stretches – but some friendships are sadly damaged beyond repair.

It’s way too late to patch things up with Ashlyn, my confidante through high school and college - that is until I abruptly stopped calling her weeks before she took off for a whirlwind trip to England with some friends from her dorm at USF. She sent me an angry letter from abroad, rebuking me for my behavior and effectively ending our friendship. I was shocked, not by the contents of her letter, which I richly deserved, but that she actually cared enough to write it. From my perspective she was living such a glamorous life, with her dates and boyfriends and sorority parties and rich beautiful friends, that I had to be nothing more than an albatross around her neck - a boring plain Jane plodding through junior college and still moping moodily over the boy who dumped me years earlier. I truly believed she’d be relieved to be rid of me, and was surprised and sorry to find that I actually hurt her deeply.

In a way it was probably best that I pulled away, because I was so in thrall to her – her confidence, her beauty, her intelligence, her knowledge of all things cool, the most exclusive dance clubs and clothing boutiques and underground punk bands – that, from politics to perfumes, I happily adopted her every opinion and never established an identity of my own. Similarly, for my own self-protection, I NEEDED to cut ties with Stefanie, a wonderful and incredibly loyal friend, who after all couldn’t help the fact that she had the sophistication and beauty of a young Vanessa Williams, with an exclusive European wardrobe to match. Already mired in a crippling cesspool of insecurity, I was becoming utterly destroyed by the fact that I was absolutely invisible to everyone, male and female, when I was with her. I started to dangerously internalize my feelings of low self-worth, leading to a series of dreadful and degrading non-relationships from which it took me years to recover.

Still, I’d love to know how they both are doing today, along with the other friends I have left by the wayside: Marisa, who introduced me to camping and reggae and vegetarian cooking and played an amazing original keyboard composition for our wedding; Joel, who patiently put up with all my immature shenanigans during high school and continued to value our friendship even after a most disastrous romantic setup I arranged for him; Monique, who always made me laugh so hard I cried; and Susan, my roommate and fellow radical feminist and Barry Manilow fan, who made my years at Humboldt the most fun time of my life. Heck I even wish I had left the door open to a friendship with Elon, my first love, because I am sure he has grown into a remarkable person who I’d like to know.

Mercifully I am getting a second chance with Eva, who wrote me a long letter out of the blue and is coming to town this weekend. There is no way I can get back the time we lost, during which she received her MFA in Creative Writing and had several pieces published, and I started a new career and bought a house and had two children. Our lives have changed so much, I can only hope that our shared past will be enough to re-establish the bond between us – and that I don’t let it break again.

Friday, February 06, 2004

In Which Manny Throws Me a Bone

When I started this blog, I reveled in the sheer anonymity of it. Only two people knew of its existence, and those two friends are so sweet and non-judgmental that I never had to worry about censoring myself or sounding self-indulgent and whiny. It felt good to start writing again after all these years; it was therapeutic to put my thoughts in order, editing and refining my words, and to find some space for *myself* outside of my role as mommy, daughter, friend, sister, employee, or wife. I even began to enjoy playing around with the template, using my rudimentary HTML knowledge (combined with a handy cheat sheet) to make little cosmetic changes, adding a link here and a change of color there.

Of course, it wasn't long before I had a small but nagging desire for a larger audience. I suspected that J. would get a good laugh out of my Stampin' Up entry, and I knew my dad would relate to my piece about crossword puzzles. Maybe there were even special needs moms out there that might find comfort and connection in my musings about Bug. But something kept me from going "public." Part of it was that I wanted to be able to write freely about my life and family and friends without misunderstandings or hurt feelings. For every new person who reads this I have to go through and make sure there is nothing objectionable - I wouldn't want Rabbi Rachel to see the entry about her friend and colleague Mrs. Guitar, and I would NEVER forgive myself if my dear friend C. ever came upon my snide comments about her party.

There was a larger hurdle too, and that is the sheer, naked vulnerability of putting my thoughts out there for people to judge. I have wildly ambivalent feelings on the matter. Part of me is convinced that my writing is stale, cliche-ridden, trite, clumsy and awkward. I have always had a bit of a self-esteem problem - and that's another issue. Would my friends feel differently about me if I was honest about my shortcomings as a parent, or if I revealed what a hopeless misfit I was in grade school? Writing is best when it is heartfelt and true - and I am not at all sure I am ready to broadcast that truth for all the world to see.

On the flip side, what if people read my blog and thought my writing was actually GOOD? Then I'd be back to where I was 25 years ago - people expecting me to "do something with it," which would only set me up to disappoint everyone all over again. I'm not going to do anything with it. I know my limits - I write great job postings for work, and my emails can be witty, but anything beyond that is out of my league. Even if I was good enough for something more, I couldn't take the endless cycle of hope and rejection. I have already made my peace with this - I don't need that particular Band-Aid ripped off again.

Little by little my persistent ego began to win out. I showed a few entries to Chef, and then I sent to link to J. She called me afterwards to tell me how much she enjoyed reading it, and I was so pleased and embarrassed that I could barely stammer out a response. She said she especially liked the essays about Bug, which led to a more honest talk about my feelings and challenges with him than we have ever had before. After much hesitation, I finally sent the link to my dad so he could read my crossword puzzle piece - and then of course, to be fair, I had to send it to my mom as well, who then sent it to my brother.

Next thing you know, I got an email from my personal idol, crossword constructor extraodinaire Manny Nosowsky himself! Somehow, my dad obtained his address and sent him my website - and he liked it! He really liked it! In fact, I will take the liberty of pasting my favorite part of his email here:

Cheers, and keep that blog going. Debbie and I were both admiring your writing last night - she remembers you from Beth Sholom when you were a kid.


Did you read that? The great Manny, toast of the New York Times, father of a senior editor at the prestigious Farrar, Straus and Giroux - admires MY writing! I pored over that nugget of praise every few minutes yesterday, glowing a little each time. If Manny thinks I have talent - well, maybe I *should* at least keep up my weblog regularly like he said, just to stay in shape. Giving in to the urge to brag a little, I forwarded his email to my dad, who replied:

See, everyone is impressed with your writing, like I've been telling you for the last 25 years!

Get on with it!

See you tomorrow,


Sigh. And so the cycle begins again . . .