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What I won’t forget

standard April 16, 2013 3 responses

I remember lying in the OR, moments after she’d been extracted via c-section, and hearing my baby draw a breath and howl for the first time. I remember being flooded with relief that she was okay, and that, more importantly, she was alive. Joy mingled with relief as tears streamed down my face.

I remember feeling conflicting joy and jealousy as my husband and daughter played and laughed in the other room while I tended to my fussy newborn second daughter.

I remember driving like a bat out of hell towards daycare when they called to tell me the little one was having an asthma attack and was having trouble breathing.

I remember moments of great exasperation, great joy, great exhaustion.

I remember many of the little moments that make up motherhood, that make up wifehood, that, really, make up life. And for each of those remembered moments I know that I’ve forgotten 20 more.

I sat in my bed this weekend reading What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty, my bookclub’s pick for the month, and I tried to wrap my head around the thought of forgetting 10 years worth of memories.

In the story, Alice, the protagonist, is happily biking away at spin class when she loses her balance, falls off the bike, and bashes her head in. She wakes up convinced it’s 10 years earlier and that she’s still pregnant with her first child and head over heels in love with her husband.

She quickly learns that she and her husband are on the outs and she actually has 3 children. Three children she doesn’t remember.

I wept at that point.

Imagine waking up and not only not remembering your children, but having been robbed of all those little memories that make up our lives, the memories that are the fabric of our relationships.

A first look, a first shared laugh, a first kiss, a first argument, a first shared secret.

I mourn my next child daily. I all too often think about how I’ll never carry him in my womb, will never nurse him for the first time, will never see his first smile, his first walk, his first day of school.

It’s something I struggle with even while having experienced and treasured all those moments with the two children I do have. Imagine waking up one day, being told you have three children, and having absolutely no memory of any of those moments.

As the story unfolds poor Alice not only has to deal with the fact that she doesn’t know her children, she also has to process the fact that somehow, over the course of 10 years, the husband who was as devoted to her as she is to him now loathes her and their break-up was at her instigation.

I wept at that point too.

If I look back on my life I can point out a number of relationships that I would have sworn would stand the test of time, but that instead have petered out, faded away, or spontaneously combusted leaving behind devastating bits of shrapnel that still smart today.

Today my husband and I have an amazingly loving and mutually supportive relationship. despite having lived through quite a few unexpected challenges along the way. But, what if, much like Alice, I just don’t yet see the hurdles that might eventually cause our downfall.

I think we’re smarter, better prepared, more mature than she was, but, as life has a tendency to enjoy demonstrating, we really have no idea what the future holds.

That scares me and makes me want to hold M and the girls tight.

I finished the book at 1am on the day of the bookclub discussion and I spent all day, after tossing and turning my way through an all too short night, in a book hangover state pondering the fleeting and intangible nature of memories all while mentally patting myself on the back for having journaled and blogged my way through my children’s early years. Even if I were to suffer a severe knock on the head, I have pages and pages of archives available to help me re-experience my life.

But reading about my life wouldn’t be the same as remembering it.

Some books are great for escaping the day to day grind of life. This book reminded me to stop rushing around, to really soak in the little moments, and to keep my eyes wide open for the big and little things that could trip us up and steal our joy away.

I can’t control and stop the really big hurdles that life throws our way, but I can keep working hard to make sure the important stuff doesn’t get buried and forgotten in the fallout.  And I can keep writing down all the little things in between, so I can make sure to never forget any of it.

Are we fighting the wrong people?

standard March 19, 2013 1 response

This month my book club read Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a book that was pretty far out of my reading norm. The story, set in modern day Mumbai, India, was written by Katherine Boo, an American woman who spent three years in the slums of Mumbai interviewing locals and observing the daily comings and goings of the residents.

Let me preface this with a small disclaimer. I am something of a Pollyanna innocent. I tend to see the best in people. I tend to imagine that people are better off than they are.

I knew that many people in India live in extreme poverty. I just don’t think I grasped just how atrocious their quality of life really was.

The book was incredibly well written and researched. It read just like a novel, and it was hard at times to force myself to remember that it was all true, all documented, all still happening today.

Aside from being an incurable Pollyanna, I also happen to be a bleeding heart liberal. And, let me tell you, that’s a terrible combination.

See, until I dove deep into this book’s story, I kinda harbored some faith in the notion that if you donate enough time and money to a cause you can actually help people.

But no. See, what I wasn’t taking into account was the rampant corruption this book exposes. Start with money and good intentions at the top, but by the time it trickles down, lining pockets as it goes, it won’t get to the people who need it most.

Now, one of my friends last night exhorted me to come up with a solution, but I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t have one.

How do you help people who have no interest in helping each other?

I’m glad I read this book, but a little part of me would like to still live in my head where people down on their luck still find it in their hearts to be kind to the people around them, just because it’s what people do. (It’s pretty in my head. You should come visit. We have tea and cookies.)

The thing that’s still going around and around in my head is this.

India houses 1/4 of the world’s hungry, 1/3rd of the world’s impovrished. If those people stopped fighting with each other, stopped stabbing each other in the back to get a tiny bit ahead, stopped robbing each other blind, if those people started working together, trusting each other, helping each other, they could overthow the entire country, the entire corrupt system, in a matter of weeks.

I woke up this morning with the same thought buzzing in my head. Then I hopped onto Facebook and saw that the topic of the day was once again “the Mommy Wars.” (Thank you CNN.) Once again, as we hash out Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, we’re once again seeing women spend countless hours tearing each other down, discrediting each other, back stabbing each other.

I have news for you people.

We’re fighting the wrong people.

Tearing another woman down in an effort to get ahead only serves to bring down all of womankind. You’re not gaining anything.

What could we achieve if instead of envying others their success, if instead of wasting time sabotaging others, if instead of judging, critiquing, and tearing down, we stood shoulder to shoulder and helped each other up?

Maybe, like the residents of the slums we could also overthrow a system that doesn’t serve us. Or are we, like them, too wrapped up in our pettiness and envy to ever achieve that goal?

Wonderful read. Truly eye opening. But don’t believe the cover, there wasn’t a lot of hope in there.

What if you had a drinking problem?

standard January 19, 2012 5 responses

Let me preface this by saying that I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not even a heavy drinker. I enjoy a glass of wine here and there at dinner or out with friends, but, in reality, I loathe losing control of myself and my emotions.

In fact, I can distinctly remember the handful of times I’ve drunk myself blotto, and let me assure you, you really only do need one hand to count the occasions.

That’s why it caught me so off guard this year, when, often after a stressful sleepless night or an intense morning drop off commute, I walked into Starbucks ardently wishing that they sold Irish coffee.

I laughed it off each time, indulged in a latte or a pastry instead of my usual drip coffee and banana and found my peaceful center through a chat with a friend – either virtual or real.

And so, one day at a time, I navigated my way through the year’s challenges without turning to any substance stronger than coffee or candy to see me through. I didn’t stop every day and think “another day, yay.” I just did it, and until I read Amy Hatvany’s book Best Kept Secret over Christmas break I thought nothing of it.

The story unfolded in front of me – sad tale of a newly single mom who finds herself drinking more and more until the drinking is out of control – and I couldn’t stop reading. One line played itself over and over again in my head. “Plenty of mothers use alcohol to manger stress. You just happened to get caught.”

It could so easily have happened to me. It would have been so easy to break open a bottle of wine at the close of every stressful day. To have a glass at lunch to fortify me for the afternoon. I never did though. I never really even wanted to. The need to rise to the occasion again and again was stronger than the occasional urge to find some sort of escape. 

Was it because I’ve seen it before? Was it because I’m aware of the risks? Was it because deep down I know I might have an addictive personality?

I don’t have the answer. I don’t really know why I didn’t start drinking heavily this year. All I know is that I never did and I’m grateful for it.

I read the book and gained a better understanding of the struggle that many face with alcoholism. In hind-sight I now know, or at least suspect, that a friend who estranged herself from me was probably heading down the same path the protagonist took, if she wasn’t already there. Did she drift from me because she didn’t know how to talk to me about her problems? Or was it because she saw the look on my face when she told me about a bad night she suffered through? Odds are high that I’ll never know.

I wish I’d know more back then. I don’t know that I would have been able to help her, but at the very least I could have been more understanding. Maybe a little less judgmental.

When I finished the book I let the story rest inside me. It was heavy, full of sadness, and yet uplifting in an odd way. The protagonist’s strength was admirable and despite the sad ending, that’s what I took away. Like so many mental illnesses, alcoholism is an object of shame, stigmatized by society, punished by the family courts. With the right support, the right education, the right resources maybe parents wouldn’t lose their children, maybe spouses wouldn’t feel the need to leave, maybe friends would be able to help.

As I often do I turned to Facebook to share my thoughts with my friends and sat there, blown away by something I’d never noticed before. I’m friends with a lot of moms on Facebook. Some I know personally, some I know virtually. I’m on there daily, chatting away, and until I’d read Best Kept Secret I never noticed just how often people post about wine or booze. To most, like it’s always been for me, it’s nothing. A post here or there in passing. A recommendation for a bottle of wine. A comment about how the cocktail is helping recover from a hard day. A whine about needing some wine. A reason to laugh and commiserate with others about the challenges that parenting brings.

But to someone struggling daily, for someone who fights alcoholism every minute of every day, this virtual world where I, and so many other moms, find so much of the support that keeps us going, must be just another source of anxiety.

I have no solutions or answers to this problem. I’m sure none of those moms are even looking to me to supply the answer. I’m just grateful that, thanks to one book, my eyes are a little more open today.

Join us Jan 26th, 8-9pm CST for a virtual Twitter book club hosted by Great Thoughts featuring Best Kept Secret and Amy Hatvany (@amyhatvany) herself. Follow the conversation with the hashtag #Gr8Books. 

Lunch in Paris: A life unlived

standard April 4, 2011 8 responses
M on our tiny balcony.

Our apartment was tiny, at the top of our eight story building, with a door so narrow a real couch wouldn’t fit through it. The kitchen was odd — beyond narrow, but with counters so high that I needed a stepping stool to do the dishes or stir dinner. We did all of our living in the main room — at times bedroom, dining room, living room, or office, depending on which direction you faced — and not only were we perfectly delighted with our tiny love nest, we were grateful for it.

France is a place of magic and wonder, cheese and amazing bread, love and passion, and a million other things that make people’s eyes get all wistful when I mention that I grew up there. When I tell them I lived in Paris they usually sigh.

Yes, Paris. City of love. Home to perfect baguettes and croissants. Amazing architecture and everything else you’ve heard about it.

And Paris, home to hair-pulling bureaucracy, ancient rituals and systems, and societal norms mired in tradition.

That last line is the reason we don’t live there now, the reason — much to M’s chagrin — we will never live there.

Paris doesn’t have much room for a bi-cultural couple. Doesn’t have much place for bi-cultural children to thrive.Trust me. I lived there as a bi-cultural child. One with flawless French and perfect wardrobe, who still didn’t quite fit in.

In the US it’s possible to embrace what makes you different and unique, in France, it’s best to buy the dark wool coat, tame your frizz and accent, and do your best to blend in.

I could have met a French man and blended completely. It could have been a happy life — if one completely different than the one I know now. But the day I fell in love with an American man I knew I was making the decision to ultimately leave.

I’ve never been able to explain it to M, never been able to put it into words. He lived there with me for 13 months and loved every single moment of our magical life. We had the perfect apartment, lived half a block from the best boulangerie, spent our weekends walking around Paris, discovering new neighborhoods and secret alleys. We ate amazing food, had lively conversations with my friends, and lived up being in the heart of the most romantic city in the world. It was all amazing, even the evil neighbor who filled the elevator with fetid cigarette smoke every day.

Compared to that my feeble arguments fall pretty flat. 

Then I read Lunch in Paris, and now I’m making him read it too. I’ve read books before that outline the cultural differences between France and the US. Many have made me laugh and nod my head emphatically. But never before has one put into words the reasons why I’m reluctant to live there.

I am a working mom to two little girls. I spend morning freelancing and working on a novel and afternoons working part time at a job that I became good at through sheer determination and experience — not education. In my spare time I’m studying to become a Life Coach. Right there you’ve read four things that I most likely wouldn’t be doing if we lived in France. I can’t even find the words in French to explain that last one.

It’s hard in France to deviate from the norm. Hard and rarely rewarding. I don’t want to live somewhere where I have to teach my girls how to fit in rather than how to let their innermost selves sing.

Today I explained to C that I rarely get embarrassed because I simple don’t let other people’s judgmental thoughts get in the way of me being me. She looked dubious, but really, that’s OK. I have a lifetime to show her how that works. Something I could never do in the land of wine, cheese, and croissants.

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes

This post, written as part of the From Left to Write book club, was loosely inspired by the book Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard, brave American soul who moved to France, married a Frenchman, and embraced all the cultural quirks that caused me to flee. I didn’t take her path. I took my own. But I’m very grateful for this book that helped me put into words why I’m reluctant to go home.