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An Open Letter To My Son

19 Mar

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My Sweet Son,

I know there are things you are anxious to try: things that your friends might be doing; things that are wrong. Please wait.

You may not realize it but you are still a child. You have your whole life ahead of you to do grown-up things. I know you may think you’re ready for these things. You are not. You only get one childhood. You should live it as a child.

I wonder if you also know how dangerous some seemingly innocuous things might be. Perhaps even lethal. There are multiple reasons why some activities have minimum legal age limits. One good reason is because your mind and body are not mature enough to handle them. You should respect that. And while we’re on the subject, you should respect girls too. Listen to what they say and remember to be kind always.

It is ok to say “no.” Don’t let anyone ever make you feel like you are lesser than they because you won’t try something stupid. If you say no and that person gives you a hard time, you should lose them as a friend because they are not your “friend.” A true friend would never do that.

I know you are bound to make mistakes in life and it is my job to let you fail and make them. It is the only way you can learn. But you are too young to make some mistakes you may be contemplating. You are too young to pay the price of such errors. You are too young to learn these lessons. Trust me. I am your mom.

Most important, if you do make some wrong decisions, or if your friends do, your father and I will always be here. We respect honesty and will always have your best interests at heart. If for any reason you feel you or a friend is in jeopardy, please call us at once, even if you are unsure. I am more concerned about the safety of you or a friend than lecturing you on a rule you may have broken. I promise.

I’m not going to tell you about the innocent days of my youth when none of this existed and everyone just rode their bikes around until they left for college. That did not happen. There were plenty of ways for kids to get into trouble, just like there are now. And I’m not going to tell you about the car accidents, hospital admissions, and deaths of people I knew who made such decisions. They speak for themselves.

I’m just going to tell you that I get it. That I’ve been there.

Life is full of crossroads. No matter which ones you may reach, I am always here to guide you and to love you, even if you make wrong turns along the way. But please, do not make those turns just yet.

Love always,
Mom

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The Soundtrack of My Life

30 Jan

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My father is singing Cat Stevens’ Moonshadow to me. I am 3 or 4 or 5 years old. I wonder about the limbless body singing until all the parts of him are gone and he is seemingly nonchalant, perhaps even grateful to be without eyes and a tongue. My father continues to sing the same song to me like a lullaby.

I am in a full body cast in a hospital. I am 6 years old. My mother is sitting, surrounded by sick children, with her ukelele, playing and singing Puff the Magic Dragon. I am proud and yet jealous. I do not want to share her with the rest of these patients. I want her to sing and wrap her oversized heart around only me.

I am in my Mustang convertible while Carole King’s Tapestry cassette plays on a loop. I am 17 years old. I am weeping. My boyfriend is going to college and every single song was written for me. I Feel the Earth Move, So Far Away, Home Again, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Where You Lead, Beautiful. My boyfriend makes several stops to say goodbye to friends while I wait for him in the passenger seat, disconsolate. He gets back in the car and gives me an inscribed locket I will wear until the picture inside is all rubbed out and he breaks my heart years later.

I am lost. I am 18 years old and without a sense of direction. I am listening to Van Morrison’s Moondance album. I am driving my car from Connecticut to New York and it is midnight. I finally find a commercial area where it feels safe enough to get out of the car and make a phone call. I call my father from a  pay phone. I beg him to rescue me. He tells me to find my way home and that it will be good for me. I get back in my car and blast “Caravan.” I circle who knows how much of the tri-state area before I pull into my parents’ driveway sometime after 2 am. I have found my way home.

I am standing amongst piles of boxes in my apartment in Brooklyn waiting for movers. I am 23 years old. The only thing not yet packed is my stereo. I am listening to Nanci Griffith CDs for hours as the movers have forgotten me. By the time they pick me up, I am distraught, fearing NYC condo regulations will forbid me from the late move and I will be temporarily homeless. Two men load up the packaged belongings comprising my life and offer me a ride uptown. I sit in the front seat of the movers’ truck as we drive up the FDR to my new home on East 81st. I lean my head against the window, listening to Nanci Griffith on my walkman, equally terrified and excited about this move. I dislike change even though this is a good one. My parents are waiting for me and it is all ok.

I am getting married. I am dancing with my husband to Ben Taylor’s version of The Beatles’ I Will. We are alone on the dance floor, moving in choreographed rhythm thanks to Ernesto of Arthur Murray’s East 86th Street studio. I can see him counting beats in his head as he leads me. We later break loose to The Emotions’ Best of My Love. We don’t yet know that both songs will feature prominently at the bar mitzvah of our first son.

I am in my apartment on East 75th Street. I am nearing the end of my 20s. I am pregnant with my first child. I am working from home for the day, listening to Counting Crows’ This Desert Life. My belly tightens and my son kicks and flutters every time this album plays. He has good taste. I know I will love him.

I am rocking in a glider in the bedroom of my baby boy. He is sleeping on my chest and I think I might never move. I sing him every song I know and love. It goes like this every night. Sweet Baby James, The Way You Look Tonight, Annie’s Song, An American Tune. I sing him Moonshadow and deposit him back into his crib. He tucks his legs beneath him, looks briefly at me, and goes back to sleep.

I am at the obstetrician’s office. I am alone. I am 7 weeks pregnant. My husband is traveling for business. For days I have had a premonition that my doctor will tell me he cannot find a heartbeat. The doctor squeezes jelly over my belly and after several minutes of searching, says “Lisa, I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.” I am even sorrier. Sorry to be right. Sorry to lose a baby I already loved. Sorry. I listen to Eva Cassidy’s cover of Fields of Gold over and over, weeping until I tell myself I have punished myself enough and I turn it off.

I am again rocking in a glider but I am in a new room in a new house beside two new babies to love. I sing them the same songs I sang to my first baby. I sing them Moonshadow. I put them into the same crib so they know each other’s presence.

It is my son’s 10th birthday. I am listening to the Circle Game. I cannot believe I am at the second verse. I do not know where the time has gone. I know I will be at the third verse in six short years. I am dragging my feet to slow the circles down, Joni Mitchell.

It is my birthday. 10,000 Maniacs’ These are the Days is playing on my desktop. We have just returned from dinner with my family and I am making my husband and sons dance with me in the kitchen. I will do this every year as long as they will. I turn up the music as high as it will go and watch my family in the reflection of the windows in my kitchen. They indulge me because it’s my birthday but I hope there is enough time in the song for them to feel how much music can lift you, how it can intoxicate you, how its joy is utterly contagious, how necessary it is to be in love with music: to let it infuse your heart, your mind, your soul. To let it literally play the soundtrack to your life.

Bullies and Bullshit

5 May

I hate bullies. I really do. I’m not a fan of liars or phonies either but that’s a different post.

It seems that no matter how old you may become, how many hurdles you’ve cleared, how many miles you’ve put on this body of yours, you don’t outgrow susceptibility.

At the age of 8, my parents let me know they were fulfilling my dream of going to sleepaway camp. My dream was actually to see Saturday Night Fever as I had no idea what sleepaway camp was. Regardless, I was leaving the end of June, for 8 weeks with strangers, for the same camp my mother attended for 14 years in upstate NY. My parents took me to see Saturday Night Fever (a consolation prize), and then to the candy store where they let me buy enough Nerds and Pixie Stix and Delpha Rolls licorice (my favorite) to fill a lunch bag. The following morning, they put me on the bus, kissed me on the cheek, and waved goodbye until the bus rolled out of sight. I looked around me, crying. I knew no one. I wasn’t even sure where we were headed. At some point, I started sharing the candy with anyone seated near me. By the time we pulled into camp, I had 3 new best friends.

These girls became my life for those 8 weeks. We formed tickle trains, we gambled for stationery, we shared secrets. We did everything together, walking around arm in arm during the day, telling each other ghost stories at night. I loved sleepaway camp for the next three years. The fourth year was another story.

For some reason, I was separated from these girls, who were now on the other side of the bunk. One day during the first week or so of camp, these BFFs bullied someone in my bunk. I don’t recall the specifics of the incident but I know this much: I defended the girl being bullied. They were cruel to her and I told them to stop. And that was the end of my best friendship. No more gambling, no more tickle trains, no more secrets. For the remainder of the summer, I was prey.

These bitches stole and destroyed letters I wrote to my parents, told me they hoped I “would drown” when I was on my way to waterskiing, and reduced me to tears on a daily basis. Seems like solid revenge against a girl who stuck up for someone who was simply defenseless. The counselors were aware of the situation and seemingly impotent. These 11 year old girls held all the power in their small, menacing hands.

One day in particular, while washing my hair inside the bunk’s stall shower, I bent down to get my soap. I opened the soap dish to find a human shit inside it. Being only 11, I recall thinking “that is really weird.” It was not until more than a decade later that it struck me that that shit landed in my soap dish intentionally. That that was how depraved and disgusting these girls were. That that was how much they hated me for sticking up for another girl they were in the midst of shredding.

I switched camps the following year and did not keep in touch with the palm reader’s daughter, the asshole from Staten Island, or the foul-mouthed, smoking daughter of the woman who worked the canteen (who I later learned gave a baby a hickie, and who died in prison from cancer before the age of 30). One of them did send me a “hi, remember me?” message through Facebook several years ago. I would have enjoyed taking her apart and making her feel some guilt for that summer (Yes, I do remember you! Are you still a vicious beast?), but I simply deleted it. Goodbye, good riddance, fuck you.

Sometimes when I tell people this story, they seem surprised. “You? You were bullied?! You don’t seem like someone who would be bullied.” What does that even mean? That you think I’m tough? That you think I’m incapable of being victimized? Probably not as much anymore. I’m not sorry for that young girl, naively staring at a soap dish full of human excrement and not even realizing it was dropped there as a present just for her. She stuck it out that summer and learned at an early age how to behave, and how not to behave. And how to spot a bully in girl’s clothing.

To this day, I have no tolerance for nonsense or bullies. When I detect even in the slightest that someone might lean that way, someone might make someone feel small, or less, or insignificant (just because they can’t get over their own issues), I disengage. There’s only so close I will allow myself to become with that person, fair or not, because someone already shit in my soap dish once.

Women are funny. They’re strong and smart and horrible and bitchy and disingenuous and loving and important. The key is to find the right ones to surround yourself with. Quality over quantity. Any day. And I am truly lucky to be surrounded with the incredible and beautiful women in my life. Because they are, genuinely, gifts.

Ann Arbor’s Smartest

20 Apr

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I was always attracted to intelligent, semitic-looking guys. They didn’t have to be particularly handsome; just super smart. (And if any old boyfriends happen to be reading this–you’re gorgeous; I am definitely not talking about you.) Nothing turned me on more than a cerebral, dark-featured guy with a pair of eyeglasses. Thankfully, the University of Michigan admitted tons of them.

One day, in a class that focused solely on Chaucer, a boy who I never noticed, raised his hand and interpreted an Old English phrase with alarming ease. He was no looker but my goodness, he was bright. At some point, I won his attention and we went on a date.

After dinner, he walked me back to my sorority house. It was a chilly, clear night, even for hormonal 19 year olds.

“Lisa, I truly believe that I am the smartest person in the whole school.”

He leaned in for a kiss. I was intrigued. Not by him. But by his admission.

“Wait. Undergrad or the whole school?

“The whole school.”

He leaned in again. I backed away. I was not personally offended that he thought himself brighter than me. Frankly, I was happy merely to gain entrance to the University of Michigan, my #2 choice (#1 choice Northwestern can suck it). Rather, I was floored by his swagger.

“There’s 30,000 people here. You think you’re smarter than all 30,000 people? The Med School students? The Law School is in the top 5 in the country.”

“Yes, I have no doubt that I am the smartest person here. I am taking Russian just to read Dostoevsky in its natural print. Are you free tomorrow night?”

I wasn’t free. I was turned off. The fact that I later learned he had to routinely have a fraternity brother shave his neck didn’t help either.

We didn’t go out again although he did stalk me for three years, even once professing that he was in love with me. He couldn’t have been that smart because I told him many times that I was not interested. Senior year he refused to talk to me altogether and that was okay too.

After all, it was only one date and there were approximately 15,000 other less intelligent women to court.

After college I learned he only graduated cum laude. And hey, so did I.