Friday, July 21, 2017

How do you know when your marriage is over?


The boys and I in 2009 (our first post-divorce holiday card )



How do you know when you marriage is over? 

I stared at the text for a few minutes -- my finger poised to type back an answer.

Is this your marriage we’re talking about, I type back finally?  Or someone else’s?

Mine…

Oh man…

This is such a tender, personal subject.  Anything that smacks of advice as a response feels wrong to me.  I have learned to try not to give out my opinion when it comes to anyone’s relationship — even when it’s asked for (sometimes ESPECIALLY when its asked for).  There is no triumph in this kind of counsel.   If they take your advice and leave their marriage/situation — you’ve had a hand in helping to end someone’s relationship.  If they don’t take your advice and stay the marriage, then they know how you really feel about their relationship and it could drive a wedge between you and your friend (and possibly their significant other).

Even still, every time I am asked this question I’m bursting with all of the things that I’ve been thinking, but never fixed my mouth to say.

Girl,  he’s not trying to change!  But if he were to ever change, it certainly wouldn’t be because of you.

No, it's not normal that he’s stopped being affectionate after ten years of marriage.  Don’t let anybody tell you that sh$# is okay.  

What?!? And you believed him?? Girl, please stop painting your red flags green!  There is NO WAY that man isn’t seeing someone else.

I could go on and on.  I watch my friends enter and endure really brutal relationships where no one ever seems happy for more than a few days or weeks at a time.  And yet, during those “happy” times, they all seem to conveniently forget all of the excruciating the pain and discomfort that they’ve JUST suffered through.   I find that these otherwise, strong, powerful, independent women are suddenly clinging to their marriage like the drowning clings to a life raft.

NO! I will NEVER let go of it (him)!

These women use "banking words" like investment and failure when the subject of divorce comes up.  And if they are anywhere near my age they’ll tearfully ponder the challenges (and humiliations) of being single again:

I’ll have to start DATING?!?!  Oh my God!  What if no one else ever wants me?!

No one else has seen me naked in years!  I might need a whole body lift! 

I’ll have to learn how to use those dating apps.  What if no one swipes right for me?

And if there are children, the conversation takes a more serious, desperate tone.

Two houses?!  Two Thanksgivings?! No way.  I Will NOT do that to my kids! 

Statistically, divorce rates are dropping.  As recently as ten years ago, it was widely reported that half of all US marriages ended in divorce.  But as of 2016, Time Magazine reported that divorce rates DROPPED for the third year in a row, reaching its lowest point in nearly 40 years.   Breitbart News (yes, I know, I know) announced this year, that marriages are on the uptick — reporting the “good news!” that 2015s marriage rate of 32.3 (per 1000 unmarried women) is the highest rate since 2009.

But this “good news” hasn’t really spread here to my corner of the world.  In fact, I would venture to say that I had more friends get divorced in the last five years than married.  But in 2008, when we told our friends (quietly and one at a time) that we were getting divorced, I was a taken aback when someone gasped while placing her hand over her heart, shaking her head woefully:

"NO!  Not you two!  But he's such a good guy, Laura.  What happened??"

and then another I told, (no gasp, but instant, tear-filled eyes)

"Laura, what about your kids?!  Are you thinking about them?"

My kids….

Of course I was thinking about my kids.  Toward the end of my marriage, I realized that I had been enduring my way through most days instead of living them.  I was getting by, but just.  I hated the idea that I was modeling this for my children. I was showing them what marriage looked like.  What LOVE looked like.

They deserve better than that.

He deserves better than that.

I deserve better than that.

And yes it was true (what my well-intentioned but also kind of insensitive friends said): I was in fact married to a good man (and a great father). But the other fact was that we had grown apart.  And still another fact was this: I just wasn't happy.

But so what?!?  Isn't this part of marriage too?  Isn't this why you take vows?  Because rough waters lie ahead and you'll never make it through them if there is no real obligation to stay?  Shouldn't I just keep my mouth shut and make the best of it?

Shouldn't I?

What's that expression?  Women SHOULD all over themselves?

Okay then, SHOULD I "power through" what might be a "rough patch" and stay until... (When? Death parts us? Do we really need to go that far?) 

See, it was just that our "rough patch" had lasted for almost five years.  He was directing movie after movie and I was "boots on the ground" for our two sons who I shuttled back and forth between basketball, fencing, ed-therapy appointments, tutors and play-dates.  He and I would arrive home at different times, thoroughly exhausted (him starving for a dinner that I forgot to prepare and me full from the Koo Koo Roo Chicken that I had scarfed down between soccer and after-school-enrichment-pick up).  Each of us were wound tight with a desperate need to be seen and heard.  Both of us self-righteously-seeking solace and sympathy from the other.  Eventually, even the telling of the goings on in our respective days became a kind of not-so-subtle competition.

"Oh, you think your day was long?  Let me tell you what I had to sit through today..."

After a while, my pills had become my preferred source of comfort.  I just felt so helpless as he and drifted further and further apart.  There were so many times when I wanted to walk in to whatever room he was sitting in/sleeping in and just SHOUT:

"What are we doing?!"

"Where did this huge space between us come from?"

"How do we stop it from getting bigger?  Do we even want to anymore?!"

The persistent thought of leaving my marriage was like a knife jammed in between my ribs.  My pills and alcohol dulled the pain for a while, but eventually they just made everything worse. I was at an impasse.  I felt myself slipping into quicksand.

A voice in my head cried out --  “Divorce?  How can you even think about divorce?  You’re pathetically SELFISH and WEAK.  Think about your kids."

Okay then, how can I know if I’m doing the right thing?  I mean, how do you know when your marriage is over?

But here’s the thing; Divorce is really hard and heartbreaking.  Divorce brings out the absolute worst in people.  Divorce divides families and severs friendships.  And just the idea of my kids packing their stuff in a backpack to go from my house to their dad’s brought easy tears my eyes.

So yes, divorce is something to be afraid of.

But that’s it, isn’t it?  Is it okay to stay in a marriage simply because you are afraid of getting divorced?  

For me, that was question asked and answered.

If I am staying in my marriage mainly because I am just too afraid of what happens when I leave it, then I am making maybe the biggest decision of my life based on FEAR.

FEAR

Fu#% Everything And Run

False Evidence Appearing Real

Frantic Effort to Avoid Reality

Or

Face Everything And Rise...


So I admitted to myself that I was stuck — paralyzed with fear.  And once more, I was in this state primarily because I was too scared of not having a guarantee of "comfort" if I left my marriage.

Am I really still in this just because I’m too scared to be:

Uncomfortable

Lonely

Old and alone

Embarrassed

Ashamed

Financially challenged

And am I really still in this because I’m too afraid of the pain of missing my kids on the weekends?

And then the answer kept coming back  “YES”


*  *  *


So that, my friend, is and was the answer to your question.

I knew my marriage was over when I admitted to myself that I was staying in it out of fear.

But I don't know what your marriage looks behind closed doors.  I don't know how you feel when you hear him come home after work.   I don't know how you feel when he leaves for the day (or night).  I don't want give you cause to blame him or yourself.  Sometimes no one is to blame.  Sometimes time just erodes the marriage away, like waves pushing a rock-cliff further from the shore.

I hope you can ask yourself, "Am I staying with this man because I am happy with him?  Because I can be my authentic self with him? Because I love and accept him just as he is right now?"

If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then my opinion is that you have something too valuable to throw away because of a few petty arguments, a suspicious mind or a bruised ego.

That's right, I'm rooting for your marriage, my friend.  Just because mine ended, that doesn't mean I'm the "Divorce Cheerleader" now, waving my pompoms at everyone who comes across the "divorce finish line."

Whoo girl!  You MADE it!  Hooray!!!   D. I. V. O. R. C. E. !!!

And I'm not only rooting for your marriage, I'm rooting for you — I want you to be able to choose the possibility of happiness — whatever that looks like.  And if you aren't happy, if my story can spare you even one or two of the years of pain that I endured before I could come to the truth about myself, then I am happy to have shared it with you.



If anyone you know is struggling with this painful question, please share this blog with them.  Sometimes the best thing we can do for each other is to say, "You're not alone."

Friday, July 14, 2017

Why I was so afraid to meet his kids #worstcasescenario




“You don’t have to do that, Noodle.”

Noodle?

Scottie grabbed 3-year-old Nora’s doll-sized hand in his and gently removed the soggy McDonalds hamburger wrapper from her disproportionately long, thin fingers.  “It’s not like Hawaii here.”

“No, no,” Jenny chimed in (using that high voice that people use when they’re talking to small children). She took the hamburger wrapper from Scott and walked over to the corner trashcan.
“It’s not like on the island,” she continued, wiping her hand on the side of her khaki shorts.  “People don’t really pick up trash here.”

We were all standing on a bowtie shaped street corner (like Times Square) in downtown Los Angeles.  It had been four long months since Scottie had seen his daughters.  They had been living in Hawaii with his ex-wife, Jenny on the island of Kauai.  Jenny had just recently agreed to leave them in LA with him (us) for a few days while she went on a buying trip for her women’s boutique in Park City, Utah.  There had been a knot in my stomach ever since I’d agreed to come with him to pick them up.

The smell of burger grease (and something even more ripe) wafting out of a disturbingly full-looking McDonalds bag near my feet caused me to cover my nose with my thumb and index finger.  My heartbeat sped up as I looked from Scott to Nora to Lily and then over to Jenny.

Is he going to introduce me?  Should I introduce myself?

A homeless man ambled by and I crossed my arm across my chest, clutching my Gucci Hobo bag closed with my free hand while trying to look nonchalant.

"Hey guys, this is Laura," beamed Scott.

"Hello," said Lily.

"Nice to meet you, Laura" said Jenny warmly.  "Thank you — for coming today."

Thank you?

"Of course," I said.  I looked down at Nora who hadn't yet said anything.  "Nice to meet you Nora."

Nora looked at me wordlessly for a moment before moving closer to her mother.

What am I doing here? This was a mistake.

“Okay,” said Jenny, startling me with a sudden, false brightness.  “I’m going to head over to the California Mart.  I have a ton of places to hit,” she smiled down lovingly at Nora as she ran her fingers through her hair.

What?!  She’s leaving right now?

“I’ll see you guys in a couple of days, okay?”

Lily Slaughter was already holding hands with her dad, asking him questions about lunch.  Nora (Noodle) Slaughter barely looked up as she grabbed her dad's other hand.  Somehow it struck me — that instinctual reaching for the safety of a parent.

I continued to watch Nora as she worked on pushing a black-streaked ball of aluminum foil toward the corner garbage can with her miniature, bright red, flip flop.  Jenny (who I might “celeb-compare” to a young Sally Field) kissed both girls tenderly and then walked briskly to the crosswalk without looking back.

As we all watched her cross the street. My head started to buzz with loud thoughts:

This is wrong.  These girls don’t know who you are.  This should be THEIR TIME with their dad.  You are in the way!

Suddenly Scottie turned to me and smiled. It was a smile that I’d never seen before.

Why, he’s so happy….

I looked from him to his two blond-haired daughters.  Lily’s hair was shoulder length, while Nora's hung just below her ears.  They were both tan from the Hawaiian sun, slight and athletic looking.  While Lily was taller, Nora was a real life pixie — looking as though she might fly off to Neverland at any minute.  I watched Nora watch her mother walking away.  Nora's mid-length floral halter dress fluttered around her knees in the breeze as she stood on the corner.  Her bare shoulders and arms were covered with goose bumps.

She’s SOOOO tiny!!

“Lily’s hungry," grinned Scott.

“I heard,” I said remembering my smile.

Act happier!

I put on a deliberately generous smile and looked down at each girl’s face.

Wow! Lily looks JUST like her dad!  Same shaped face, same eyes.  Nora definitely looks more like her mom, except for the blond hair...

“Isn’t that a diner right over there?” I said, snapping myself out of my assessment.

Let’s get the fu#$ off this street corner!

*  *  *

My head got louder as the hostess brought us over to a booth.  Both Lily and Nora wanted to sit with their dad.  While Scottie was valiantly trying to sell both girls on the many benefits of sitting next to me, I decided to go to the restroom to give them all time to figure it out.


I found myself practicing my best “I’m your Dad’s cool friend” smile in the stainless steel mirror, as I washed my hands for the second time.  Suddenly I could hear Zoe’s voice piercing through the thick, commercially deodorized bathroom air as though she were actually standing there with me.

“What are you doing hiding in the bathroom, Sweetie?  Get out there!  Scott needs you.”

I pulled my Blackberry out of my bag and scrolled down to her number ZOE - SPONSOR.   I could see my heart beating through my short-sleeved, James Perse button down.  I stopped — my finger mid-air above the green call symbol, squinching my eyes shut and pictured the conversation.

Zoe: (Lighting a cigarette) What’s up Honey?  Aren’t you supposed to be with Scottie and his girls?

Me: Yes, but it’s so weird.  They don’t really know why I’m here.  I think they'd rather be alone with him.


Zoe: But you have to be there, Sweetie. Not for them, but for HIM!  This is his first time seeing his kids since he got sober, right?  How long have they been living in Hawaii?


Me: Not that long, under a year, I think.  And I know, I know I need to be here for him, but I still feel SO out of place.  His little one is so little.  I haven’t ever spent much time with girls, especially little ones. I know boys.  I don’t know girls.


Zoe:(Long cigarette exhale) BIG DEAL! You’ll figure it out.  How little is the little one?


Me: (in a small voice) 3.


Zoe: 3?!?


Me: Well, she’ll be 4 in a few days.


Zoe: Oh, so she’ll be with you guys when she turns 4?  You’re going to celebrate her birthday with her!


Me: Oh God – that’s right!  I’m really not ready for this.


Zoe: Yes you are Honey.  Now get back out there!


Me: I...



Just then the bathroom door opened and a blond woman with an unkempt, brunette wig perched on top of her head burst in.  I froze until she (noisily) entered a stall and then I quietly slipped the Blackberry back into my bag and exited the bathroom.

Back at the table, Scottie was sitting between the two girls, all of them were on the same side of the booth.   Nora lay across the table, resting her head on her arm while playing some kind of game with the bright yellow and red salt and pepper shakers.  Lily had planted both of her elbows on the table in front of her, and was reading the large, laminated menu out loud to her dad.

“Hey!” Said Scottie, opening his arms and looking relieved.  “You’re back!”

I gave my best smile to the three of them and then sat down in the empty booth seat.  I felt keenly aware of the unoccupied spaces on either side of me.  I looked around to see if anyone was paying attention to our odd seating arrangement.  I scooted close to the wall so that I was sitting more opposite of Nora.

“Um, Nora,” I said in what I hoped was an enticing voice.  “I thought we’d go to the Natural History Museum today!”

Nora started singing to her salt shaker as she lay its “head” down on a Sweet 'N Low packet "pillow".

This little girl is singing a lullaby to a salt shaker...

“Um, would you like that, Nora?” I said trying to capture her eyes with mine.  “There’s a special dinosaur exhibit!”

Nora glanced up at me.  “I don’t know,” she said finally.  Her voice was barely audible above the din of the other diners.

“My boys love this exhibit,” I said.

I knew I was shouting too loud in an effort to be understood, but I couldn't help it.

“We’ve been like a thousand times!”

Lily suddenly looked up from the menu, “A thousand times?”

I felt myself getting red.  “Well, not really, of course,” I said laughing nervously.  “Maybe more like ten times."

“You want to go, right Lily Bug?” said Scottie trying to save me. I looked at him gratefully.

Lily Bug, eh?

“Lily,” I said, taking his cue and changing tactics.  “You know, you’re about the same age as my youngest son, Justin.  Only he won’t be nine until November.  But he loves the dinosaur show.”

“Oh, is he coming too?”  She was looking me in the eye now.  I saw Nora pick her head off of her arm and look over at me with curiosity.  “I mean are they coming, both of your sons?”

“No, not this time,” I said evenly.

I didn’t want to explain to an (almost) nine-year-old that because my divorce was still so fresh, their dad had just barely met my kids the week before.

(“Hey guys, this is my friend Scott who just came by to drop something off for me.  Say hi!”)

“You have two boys?” asked Nora.  Her voice sounded exactly like Alvin’s (of Alvin and The Chipmunks) her eyes were round with interest now.  “Where are they now?”

“At their Dads,” I shrugged casually, glad for the legit excuse.  “Maybe you’ll meet them next time you’re here!”

Nora seemed to lose interest. She picked up the pepper shaker again.

“So!” I said cheerily, turning my attention back to Lily.  “The museum?”

Lily leaned in toward her dad, grabbing his arm with both hands and pressed her head against his shoulder.  Scottie looked at her and gave her a “chuck” under the chin with his curved index finger like,  “are you okay?”

“Sure,” said Lily.  “I like museums.”


*  *  *


The museum-entry trash can was filled to the top with empty Capri Suns containers, fruit Roll-up and Goldfish wrappers.  I lost my footing in my Audrey Hepburn Fendi ballet flats on something sticky and red in the door way.

Damn kids!

 I left the Slaughters in the middle of the lobby-chaos to walk over to read the day’s exhibit schedule.

“We’re just in time for the next show!” I said turning around with a thumbs up.  “It starts in 10 minutes, its up on the second floor.”

“You’re going to love this,” I winked at Nora, holding out my hand for her.  She looked at me for what felt like a long time before pulling closer in towards her dad’s leg.  He reached down and picked her up with his free arm in one motion, squeezing her firmly to his chest.

“Lets go!” He said winking at me.

There was a man with a dinosaur puppet on the second floor when we got off of the elevator.  He smiled at Nora as “the dinosaur” addressed her:

“Are you here for the show, young lady?” the dinosaur asked.

Nora giggled and hid her face in her dad’s shoulder.  Lily inched closer to the puppet with her finger extended, almost touching his furry, green brontosaurus-neck.

Scottie reached out and touched the puppet's neck.

“You can touch it too, Bug” he said.

Lily’s smile was a sunburst.

“So soft,” she said, burying her fingers in its fur.

So Bug is Lily and Nora is Noodle - got it.

The large hall had no furniture and was already filled with families sitting on the floor.  I tried to remember where the boys and I had sat the last time we had been there.

We had such a great view, the dinosaur did his whole show right next to us!

I steered the Slaughters over to where I thought I remembered seeing the dinosaur actually coming out to start the show.

“Let’s sit here guys,” I said starting to sit cross-legged on the parquet floor.

Yay! They're going to be so surprised!

Lily stood her place and looked around.

“But everyone is sitting over on that side of the room,” she said pointing.

I winked at her and patted the floor next to me, “Yeah, but who’s the one who's been here like a thousand times?” I said with a smile.

Lily laughed.

Lily laughed! I made Lily Laugh!

“You have,” she said still smiling.

“And” I said winking at Nora who was still in her dad’s arms. “I’m telling you — this is the BEST seat in the house!”

Scottie sat next to me and Lily and Nora shared his lap.  Nora’s thin arm trailed a little over on to my left leg.  I held my breath, not daring to call attention to it, lest she move it away.

Scottie leaned over to me and gave me a swift kiss on the cheek.  I placed my forehead against his and held it there for a second.

“They’re going to love this,” I whispered in his ear.  “It’s a really great show.”

“I love you,” he said softly.

My stomach fluttered.

Suddenly the “dinosaur” music started and all of the kids started to yell and scream in frenzied anticipation.  Lily and Nora smiled as they looked around the room, Nora moved closer to me to get a better vantage point.

I bent my head down so I could whisper in Nora’s ear.

“Watch right over there,” I said, pointing to an empty doorway.  “The dinosaur will come from over there.”

“How will he…?” she started.

All at once, from the opposite direction, a large roar filled the hall, making the floor shake like a freight train.   The Slaughters and I all whipped around only to see that the six-foot T-Rex was barreling right towards us — we were pins in a bowling alley.

Screams of delight turned into screams of genuine fear as two and three-year olds held their arms up to be rescued by their parents.  A path began to clear between us and the doorway.  The T-Rex was  picking up speed.   His ear-splitting roar seemed to be coming from speakers hidden all around us.

In that moment,  I was able to see him through Nora’s eyes.

Oh Sh#@!

Nora’s first scream was deafening — it sliced like through the air like a fire alarm.

Lily backed into her dad’s lap so fast she knocked Nora onto the floor.  Without thinking, I grabbed Nora in my arms, standing up just as the dinosaur whooshed by us.

Nora’s screams were now punctuated with choking, ragged sobs.  I shielded her face with my head and ran her toward the other end of the hall, trying get some distance between her and that dinosaur.

"I want my MOMMY!!!!!"

I closed my eyes.  It felt like a stomach punch.

Oh God! What have I done?

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered.  “I didn’t know he’d be so scary. It’s all right now.  It’s all right Nora.”

Nora was hugging me like a koala bear.  My throat and shoulder were slick with her tears.

I want my Mommy.

“Shhhhh,” I soothed her. " It’s okay, baby. He's waaaayyy over there.  He can't get you now.”

Scottie and Lily appeared next to us.  Lily’s eyes were wide with concern.

“Are you okay, Noodle?” asked Scottie tenderly.  He held out his arms and she climbed into them, her cheek hitting his shoulder like it was magnetized.  Nora’s sobs were quieter now, more sporadic, like a series of deep, sudden sighs.

“I’m so sorry,” I said to him.  “I should have known it would be too scary for her – I, I haven’t been around girls too much.  I should have known.”

“It's okay,” he said touching the side of my face.  “Its fine.  You’ll be fine, right Noodle?"

What kind of mother are you?  You really should have thought this through...

"Hey?" Scottie, Lily and Nora were all looking at me now.  I realized that I had tears standing in my eyes.

"What do you guys think we should we do now?” He asked gently.

I stood there staring at him, wishing the floor would rise up and swallow me.

“Maybe another exhibit?” He smiled.   “One that doesn’t have man-eating dinosaurs charging at you?"

I laughed.

And soon Lily and Scottie joined in.  I realized that I’d been holding my breath.  It felt so good to laugh.  I laughed a little longer than the two of them did.

Hey! Nora stopped crying.

“Okay, okay,” I said finally.  “Maybe, we could go by that place that has ice cream back where we parked.  Would you guys like that?”

“I would,” said Lily.  “I was hoping we’d stop there.”




*   *   *

I got a booth at "that place” which turned out to be a combination Baskin Robbins/Togo's sandwiches.  Scottie went up and got the ice cream while Lily sat opposite me at the table.  Lily busily pulled a pile of napkins out from the metal holder, while we silently waited for Scott and Nora to come back.

Scottie turned around from the counter with two cups, one of which looked like vanilla with rainbow sprinkles.

"Do you need help?" I called.

“I’ll help you carry them, Daddy!” called Lily as she bounded over to him.

Scottie and Lily each had two cups of ice-cream.  He was still cradling Nora.  Scott handed me my standard Baskin Robbins order (one scoop of mint chip in a cup with hot fudge) and placed the other cup on Lily's side of the table.

Nora looked up from Scott's shoulder and shimmied down his left side to the floor, losing one of her flip-flops as she did so.

I reached over and picked it up.  “Here you go sweetie.”

Nora looked at me with wonder, as though she was seeing me for the first time.  She took the shoe and slipped it back on to her little foot, wiggling her toes.

Without any notice, she suddenly climbed in to the booth next to me and reached across the table for her ice cream.  Scottie and I looked at each other with conspiratorial surprise.  I bit my lower lip as I watched her tuck her legs underneath her.

As we ate and talked, Nora became more and more cuddly, eventually leaning her whole body against my chest. At some point she simply just moved into my lap.

My left hand spontaneously went up to run my finger's through Nora's hair, as I had seen Jenny do before she'd said goodbye to us on the street corner that morning — but it hung there in air, as if blocked my some invisible barrier.

Am I allowed?  Is this okay?

“Is this okay?” I mouthed to Scottie.

He looked from Nora to me and then nodded "yes".

Nora looked up at me and smiled as though she had heard me.

“It's okay, Laura" she said.
Nora and I at The San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission 2017

Please share this with anyone who is having fear about meeting or getting to know their "significant other's" children.  Also, if you have personal experience with meeting his or her kids for the first time, please tell me about it in the comments.  Thank you!

Final post script to Scottie: Today is the ninth anniversary of the day that we met, Hon!  What magic you've brought to my life!  I didn't know that it was possible to love and be loved like this.  I love our lives together and our crazy blended family.  Happy anniversary Hon!!!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Is it rude to ask someone what they do? #noneofyourbusiness


“We just want to say goodbye,” she smiled.

I dropped the pile of wet towels I had just picked up from the edge of the pool and opened my arms to hug her.

“Thank you for coming,” I said, successfully side-stepping an arc of water from some 9-year-old’s belly flop.  “Your family is beautiful.”

I meant it.  Her family is right out of central casting for a modern-day Cosby Show.  Her kids are various shades of brown with red and blond highlights in their assorted types of curls.  The oldest is a boy — the intellectual one, her middle child, a girl, is the athletic one and her youngest, also a girl, is (to quote her mother) “still figuring out who she is.”

“You can ask her your question now,” she smiled, pushing her youngest one toward me slightly. “Go ahead and ask Ms. Robbins.”

I bent my knees slightly so that our eyes were at the same level.  She was the brownest of the three, with smooth, cocoa skin and dazzling white teeth.  Her dark hair was slicked back into a little stubby ponytail on the top of her head.

I bet she wants a lollipop from the kitchen.  They always want lollipops before they leave.

“What’s your question Sweetie?"

“Ummm,” she swayed back and forth uncertainly, looking up at her mom’s smiling, yet stern face.

“Go ahead,” she said.    “Ask Mrs. Robbins.”

I flinched inwardly at the “Mrs” in front of Robbins.

It's a little thing, I hate correcting people, but I’ve never liked “Mrs.”  -- even when I was technically Mrs. Robbins.  It was always too formal, sounded like some wide-faced, big-busted woman with horn-rimmed glasses — not me.

“What is it sweetheart?” I gave her a genuine “it’s okay,” smile and continued to hold her gaze with mine.

“Ummm,” she started again.  "What do you do?”

Oh.  NOT a lollipop.

I wasn’t expecting this question from an eleven-year-old.

I glanced up at her mother first before answering and stood up tall so that she and I were facing each other.

You should have just asked me.  You’re the one who really wants to know, aren’t you?

I composed myself before looking down at her daughter again and gave a nervous laugh before placing my hand on her shoulder.

I have not yet perfected an answer to this question.  Every time I’m asked, I try out some new answer, but it always sounds incomplete or defensive.  This time, I decided to simply try the truth and see what happened.

“Well, I do lots of things,” I said.  Her mother and siblings were all ears now.  Each one of them nodded and leaned in closer.

“I’m a mom to two teenage boys,” I continued.  “My older son just moved to New York City, my younger one will be a senior in high school this year."

She looked at me as though I had started speaking Urdu.

“I chaired the Sierra Canyon gala fundraiser this year and before that I sat on The Buckley Board for 9-years.”

She turned and glanced up at her mom helplessly.

“Also, “ I continued, “I do volunteer work at a homeless shelter that helps transitionally homeless families find places to live.”

She opened her mouth to speak, raising her hand like I was the teacher.

“And,” I said, interrupting her potential interruption. “I write.  I’m writing a book and I have a blog.”

“Oh….” Her disappointment was palpable.  “But – that’s your job??”

“Well,” I said, smiling warmly.  “ You asked what I do.  That is not everything I do, but it’s a lot of what I do.”

“But what IS your job?!” she blurted out; I could feel her eleven-year-old exasperation coming to a boil.

“Oh okay,” I paused deliberately and looked at her mother again.  “My job, right?   You mean you want to know what do I do for money.”  I felt the smile slipping off of my face.  I felt cornered.

Are you really going to let your daughter ask me what I do for money?

“Yes!” said her daughter triumphantly. She made a half turn with her arm outstretched, indicating the pool, the house and the rest of the yard.

Oh no she didn't!

I opened and closed my mouth to stifle the word that was coming out next.  I turned back to her mother to look for help, but when I saw that none was coming I looked back at her daughter and inhaled sharply.

“Nothing,” I said finally.

I heard the word hit the ground and explode into a million fragments.  I braced myself for the feeling that always follows that admission -- a kind of anxious, shame-fueled desire to give a better answer.

“Nothing???” she repeated.

I mean it’s not that simple (of course), it’s nothing to be ashamed of (I know that) and it’s really nobody’s business (I wish more people knew this).


*   *   *


When I was 25, I was a receptionist for a commercial director in Venice.  At the same time, I also worked as a hostess at a hot Santa Monica restaurant (Bikini) and a hot Hollywood restaurant/club (The Roxbury) a few nights a week.  Back then I hated the question “What do you do?”  I felt like I was so far behind where I “should have been” at my age.   I altered the truth occasionally and said I was a director’s assistant, or I was the Maître’d.  These “more acceptable” versions of how I made money seem to satisfy everyone well enough and allowed me to feel better about myself.

It wasn’t until I became a publicist and then eventually opened my own PR Company that I began to LOVE that question.  I’d wait for it and then answer it very nonchalantly, just to see the look on their faces change to one of casual dismissiveness to one of respect.

“Really?  You own your own company?”

But that all ended a few year’s later when I got pregnant with Miles.  I shuttered my company a few months before he was born.  A year later, while toying with the idea of going back to work (I was going to wait until he was in pre-school), I found out that I was pregnant with Justin.

Well, that’s the end of that.

Since then “At-Home-Mom” has been my standard, lackluster, extremely unsatisfactory answer to the question, “What do you do.”  Whenever I say it, I feel like Lucy Ricardo or June Cleaver, or any other apron-wearing, vacuum-cleaning housewife from a 1950s sitcom.

And after disclosing this tender, fragile, intensely personal piece of information, I’ll usually get back some incredibly condescending version of:

“At-home-mom?  Well, now that's okay.  They say that’s the hardest job of all!”

That's OKAY? Fu%# you…

Maybe I’m prickly about this because when people asked me “what do you do?” It wasn't really just about employment, of course.  When people asked me what I did for a living, what they were really saying was;  "Who are you?  What category can I put you in?"

And this was while I was still married and my kids were little.  Once my divorce was final and the kids were in their teens, the questions became even more pressing (and personal):

"I hope the divorce left you and the kids okay.  Your house is all paid for right?"

This translates in my head to:

“I really want to know the exact state of your current finances.  Now that you're divorced, I want to know if you'll have to go back to work."

These questions always catch me off guard. And no matter how they're phrased, they always feel a little “hater-ish” to me.  Like said person (or the world at large) has spent the last twenty years waiting for me to have what  “everyone else" has — a visible means of support.  

But I digress...

So, yes -- the question of what I do for work is all tied up with my identity and I haven’t quite figured out how to separate the two.  So, the result of this is that I become inexplicably uncomfortable and defensive when anyone asks me what should be a fairly innocent question — actually, in some circles it’s almost a salutation (“Hi, how are you?  My name is Eric.  What do you do?”).

Uggggghh….

So clearly, I have some work to do here.  Like I said, I’ve been playing around with different ways to honestly answer the “what do you do” question for the last few years.  Recently someone suggested that I simply say that I’m retired.

I’ll be 53 this summer, so maybe that could actually fly –

But the immediate response  (when I tried it out last month at a school event) was:

“Retired?  Really?  Retired from what?”

Oh well, back to square one.

But this situation at my pool party wasn’t just a question of what I do for work.  For whatever reason, this mom and her daughter were curious about what I do for money.

*    *   *



Growing up, I don’t ever remember my mother directly telling me not to discuss money with people.  I vaguely remember her cautioning me with her eyes when I would walk into one of my “rich” friend’s homes and bubble over with curiosity about how much money they MUST have in order to live in such an extraordinary house.

“She’s got a two-story playhouse in her back yard, Mommy!  They must be rich, right!?”

But even though I don’t remember her telling me it was impolite to ask about money, I do remember her modeling it for me.  For instance, my mother would NEVER have asked anyone what he or she did for a living as a way to assess their character.  Money was only ever discussed within our immediate family (usually to tell me we couldn’t afford something).  I never heard my mother take anyone else’s monetary inventory.  Whatever anyone else had was theirs and theirs alone, we just worried about what was ours.  And another thing I gleaned from my childhood -- discussing money at any level with people outside of immediate family was always in bad taste.

But to be fair, this was thirty, forty years ago.  Perhaps, never discussing money is an old fashioned stance.  I mean with a mouse click, you can look up the price of someone’s car or you can see what he or she paid for their house, right?  Is it too “nineteenth century” to adhere to the viewpoint that money shouldn’t be discussed everperiod?

So I looked it up.  It turns out that Peter Post (of the Emily Post Foundation) is very clear about this subject.

“Talking about wealth is really crass.”

“It is distasteful to talk about money.”

“Never divulge your income.”

“If asked about money, it is better to deflect the question or answer using percentages or something vague.”

That’s what I thought…

And when fielding the question of:  “Is it rude to ask someone what they do?” Mr. Post had this to say:

“It depends on WHY you want to know.  If you are genuinely curious about the person, then asking may not disturb or offend them.  However, if you are simply being NOSY… or worse… trying to assess their financial capacity, this question is not only rude, but can be a conversation ender.”


So I feel a little vindicated by this (okay, a lot vindicated!).  But it doesn’t make me any better equipped to handle those innocently curious/nosy questions about my lifestyle and how it is (“precisely”) that I support it.  I suppose I’ll just continue to try different versions of the same response in the hopes of finding that delicate balance between staying true to my naturally private nature and not being too defensive or prickly.

And as for my party guest, who perhaps didn’t know that asking what I did for money would be such a touchy subject for me -- I hope that my response wasn’t too off-putting.  As you can see, there’s a lot more to that question than meets the eye (for me) and perhaps others too.  Maybe there’s a lesson here for both of us.


Do you have experience with questions about your job, your identity and money that have made you uncomfortable?  Please leave a comment about how you’ve handled them.  I’m curious (especially since I never discuss money with anyone but Scottie) if anyone else ever feels this way.






Friday, June 16, 2017

My father is the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time)🐐

Circa late '1970s

"Daddy, I have a problem."

I untangled the cold, wet, metal coil that connected the matte, black handset to the payphone.  The  collective rancid breath of the hundred or so other people who had used it that day was almost visible against the fog.  I covered the receiver with my gloved hand and turned my head away to take in a deep breath of sweet, rain-washed air.  Placing other my hand over the coin slot, I pushed my face closer to the phone box so that no one who might be watching could read my lips and figure out what I was saying.

"What is it, Laura?"

I felt my shoulders collapse against the booth.  His voice was that warm, full-toned blanket that I used to wrap myself up in at bedtime when I was little.  I felt as though he was standing there with me even though we hadn't lived in the same state since I was four-year's old.  But I could hear the alarm underneath his cool tone.  I tried to imagine what he must be thinking.

"Laura, did someone hurt you?  Is your mother okay? What's happened?"

"I'm at a payphone," I said finally.

"Okay, I can tell. What's going on?"

Just tell him.

"I haven't told anyone yet..." my voice broke off in sobs.

The rain was starting to come down in sheets.  My breath was a steam cloud that seemed to punctuate each pitiful, choking exhale.  I pulled my navy, JanSport back pack inside the booth with me to keep it from getting drenched.  I pulled off my useless knit gloves and shook the water off of my fingers, one hand at a time before wiping them dry on my painter's pants.  I took a deep breath.

"I think... I think I might be pregnant."

Silence

I'd said it so fast I thought maybe he hadn't understood me.

Oh God!  You said it!  Now he knows you've had SEX.  Now you can't ever go back to being his little girl!  Look what you've done!!! He's going to tell you that you got yourself into this, you can take care of it.  He's going to be like, "LOOK, LAURA! You're almost 18 -- handle it yourself."

I looked around quickly to see if anyone might have snuck up on me and heard my admission over the pounding rain and the downtown Berkeley rush hour traffic.  

"Okay," he said finally.  His voice was unaltered -- completely calm.

Okay??? That's it?!?

"So, what's the problem?" He continued.

So what's the problem?!??

My laughter snuck up on me and caught me by surprise.  My trembling angst and shame faded away for a moment and I allowed myself to feel a modicum of the warm IV-like rush of relief that seemed eager to replace it.

"So, what do I do, Daddy?"

"First of all, you need to find out of you're really pregnant."

"I have an appointment at Planned Parenthood to get a test on Monday."

I heard relief in his exhale.

"Good," he said.

"But Daddy?  What if I am?  Then what do I do?"

"Is it...Mike?" He said tentatively.  "Is he the one who uh -- is the possible father?"

He remembers Michael's name?

"Michael," I corrected him under my breath.  All at once, shame whooshed through my veins like iodine.  Suddenly my NorthFace down jacket was unbearably hot.

"Okay, then.  Do you want to have a baby -- with him  — with -- Michael?"

"I don't know.  I don't think I'm ready to have anyone's baby."

Another noisy exhale — this time it was actually more like a low whistle — "Phewwwwwww".

"Okay then.  Just get the test and we'll see what your options are.  I know it might not feel like it, but this is something that happens every day.  Hell, maybe every minute of every day!"

"But not to me," I could actually feel the self pity steaming out of my pores against the chilly air.

"Hey Laura," he said. "We don't know anything yet for sure, right?"

Only now you know that I've had sex.

But there was that blanket-voice again.  Suddenly, almost against my will, I felt a new sense of calm edging in.  I nodded my head and closed my eyes.

This is why you called him. This feeling right here.

"We'll see what your results are," he continued.

It sounded like he sensed the shift in my energy.  Like he knew that his "daddy-magic-comforting-spell" was working.

"And then whether your pregnant or not, whether you have a baby or not,  I'll handle it with you.  Okay, Laura?"



*   *   *


"Here he is, Daddy!"

My dad had just walked in and put his suitcase down.  He hugged me awkwardly, as four-week-old Miles was in the Baby Bjorn I had strapped to my chest.

My dad peered around the side and lifted the white, cloth diaper off of Miles's head.

"Let me see him."

There is nothing like my dad's smile.  When he smiles, his whole face smiles -- his eyes smile, the black moles that freckle his cheeks smile -- even his ears look like they're smiling.

"Laura, he's so beautiful."

"Can you believe it, Daddy?  I'm a mom!"

I lead my dad upstairs to the master bedroom and we both sat down on my bed.

"You're too young to be a mom," he smiled.

"Some people think 32 is old to be a mom," I laughed.

"You don't look 32,"said my dad with admiration in his eyes.  "You look like you're still a teenager."

"Thank you, Daddy."

I unstrapped Miles and sniffed his thin, wavy, black hair.  The smell of his little newborn head was nothing short of intoxicating.  I held him out a little toward my dad.

"Wanna hold him?"

"Yes!"

It was a strong, definitive YES.  Everything with him is like that.  His "Yes" is the most resolute, most enthusiastic "Yes!" in the world.  His "No" is also, the most resolute and most adamant "No!" in the world.  There is no gray area with my Dad.

I handed Miles to him and watched him expertly adjust him in his arms so that he could put his face inches away from Miles's.  I watched as Miles squirmed and settled, turning his face toward my dad's chest, pressing his mouth determinedly against the cloth of his blue, button-down shirt and thrusting his tongue in and out.

"Ha, ha, ha!" He laughed.  "You won't find any milk in there, man."

He looked up at me,  his brown eyes were glistening.

"Wow, Laura...."

"Daddy?"

He raised his eyebrows in response, like "Yes?"

"Any advice for me?"

"Um, let's see," his deep voice startled the nearly knocked out Miles. "Any advice...."

He stood up and slowly rocked Miles back and forth.  Miles's eye lids began to flutter and close.

"Um yeah, I have something that might qualify as advice," he turned around and faced me.  His right index finger pointed gently toward Miles.

"So look, you're going to feel like smothering this little baby with love.  You're going to do everything in your power to protect him.  You're going to hover too close, you're going to comfort him too fast, you're going to spoil him with love -- DO IT LAURA!  That's your maternal instinct working.  Your job is to love and protect this child.  He NEEDS that love and protection from you — his mother."

"Okay," I nodded.

My eyes grew round as though I were falling under a spell.  I could see the next few years like a movie in front of me.  I could see Miles falling and me scooping him up before he was able to cry.  I could see me sitting in my "parent chair" carefully watching Miles sitting in "circle time" at pre-school, at the dentist or at the pediatrician.  I could see me snuggling in bed with Miles reading "one more story" long after we'd read, "Goodnight Moon."

"And as for Brian," he continued, breaking into my reverie.  "He's going to roughhouse with him, he's going to let do things that you might not want him to do.  He might yell at him or discipline Miles when he needs it.  LET HIM!  That's what he's supposed to do as his Dad.  His instincts may run counter to yours at times.  And that's okay."

He handed the now-sleeping Miles back to me,  carefully wrapping the loose end of his blanket around his bare, feet as he did so.

"Miles is going to need both of those things.  He needs you -- his mother and he needs Brian -- his father.  Do what comes naturally to you and allow Brian to do what comes naturally to him.  That's probably the best advice that I can give you."


*  *  *

"You have phone call."

I jumped up too quickly from the plastic, armless chair in the waiting area, almost knocking it over.  I looked around to see if anyone saw, but no one was looking at me.  The 112 degree heat outside had made my head feel like it was filled with mud.  The two or three other people in there with me were sitting on a beige, leather couch, looking at their hands or at the ground.  One of them seemed to be fascinated by a framed black and white picture of a White, brunette woman sitting on a rock by the ocean — The Serenity Prayer sprawled out in big, white letters near her feet.  I took in a deep breath of cool, air conditioned air to clear some of the fog.   None of us had moved much since we'd been called in out of the heat a few minutes before.

"Thank you," I said finally.

I froze for a minute trying to remember the last time I'd said, "Thank you."
Politeness seemed like it was something we'd done "out there." In here, it felt more like every man for himself.

"Thank you," I said again, popping a Spree candy into my mouth.  I savored the stark sour flavor, which was immediately followed by the syrupy, cloying sweetness of cherry.  One of the couch-sitters startled when I noisily sucked in the extra (bright red) saliva that the Spree made in my mouth.

"Sorry," I murmured as I stepped over his legs.

"No problem, Hon!" said the cheery, stick-thin blond behind the desk.

Why did she think I was talking to her?

She walked around and handed me the old, yellow push-button, desk phone -- expertly unwinding the  extra-long, worn, dingy cord  -- stretching it so that I had could walk around the corner a bit.
I walked as far as I could, making the faded, yellow coils pull into long, curly S's. I turned to look back at her with a question mark on my face.

"It's the best we can do," she shrugged apologetically.

"Thank you," I said again.

Three "thank you's" in under a minute. 


"Hello?" 

My heart started to drum out a protest song.  I wiped away my-now-ever-present band of hairline sweat with my free hand.

Hang up!  You know you don't want to talk to whoever it is.

"Laura?"

The sound of my dad's voice made my knees give out.  I righted myself and leaned against the wall that I faced.  I was close enough to smell the musty odor behind the old, wood paneling.  I held my breath and bit my lower lip.  I felt hot tears racing down my cheeks.

"Daddy?"

"Laura!!"

He sounds so relieved.

"How ah — um, are you okay?"

I swallowed hard.  I didn't trust my voice. I let my Spree fall out to my mouth into my hand.  Blood-red streaks instantly ran out of my closed fist down to my wrist.

"That's probably a silly question, right?" He asked.

I sat there staring at my wrist.  It looked as though I'd sliced it open.

Say something!

"I'm fine, Dad," I said dropping the Spree in the corner waste paper basket and wiping my red, sticky hand on my white cut-offs.  I was desperately trying to keep my voice light.

"I'm mean as fine as I can be, being that I'm in treatment in Wickenburg, Arizona in the middle of July."

Silence.

Oh God!  Please don't let this get serious.  Talk faster.  Say something funny.

"Not very good planning timing-wise to hit my 'bottom,'" I continued.  "If I could have waited until January, I would have had a much cooler stay."

I was so relieved when he joined me (briefly) in my thin laughter.   All at once, we were both silent again.

Oh God, I've failed him.  I'm 44-year's old and I'm in rehab!  He must be so disappointed with his "little girl". 

"I was going to uh, come and see you next weekend..." he started.

"No!"  I was surprised by how involuntary and adamant my "no" was.

I can't possibly bear to see him here.  I can't bear to see anyone.  It destroyed me when Brian brought Miles and Justin and I had to say goodbye to them after a few, short hours.  I can't go through that again.

"I mean, no THANK YOU, Daddy.  I'll be home in a couple of weeks.  You can come to LA then and see me.  Or I can bring the boys to come and see you.  There's nothing to do here.  It's so hot and dry -- much different from Florida.  You'd hate it.  And also..."

"I don't care," he interrupted.  "I don't care about the heat or having 'something' to do there.  All I care about is you."

"I know..." my voice broke.

Doesn't he know that's exactly why I can't have him here?  I can't be around one more person who cares about me that much.  It's way too painful.

Now I was crouching on my haunches near the floor,  covering my ear with my free hand and staring at the reddish, clay tiles.  A trail of ants had made their way out of the heat into the cool of the air-conditioned office.  I zoned out on the "ant-rivers" my tears were making in the caulking between the tile.  I pushed my face closer, captivated by the way the ants noiselessly signaled the others to change course and maneuver around these new "water ways" -- suddenly I heard an unfamiliar sound.

What's that?  Is he...crying?

There was more silence than sound, but he was definitely crying. A deep sense of sorrow filled my gut and sent bile up the back of my throat.  I swallowed hard against it.

I've made him cry!!

I buried my face in the crook of my arm, silently soaking the sleeve of my thin, white, elbow-length t-shirt with my tears.  It went on for a while like that -- me knowing that he was crying -- him knowing that I was crying, but neither of us saying anything.

You see what you've done?! You've failed him. Just like you've failed everybody else.

"This is all my fault, Laura," he said finally.

I was startled out of my quiet sobbing by his words.

What?!?  How could it be your fault?  I'm the one who's failed you!

"I'm so sorry," he continued.

"Daddy?"

Why was he saying this?

"None of this is your fault, Daddy.  This was me choosing 'left' instead of 'right' over and over again.  Plus, they tell me that this is a medically diagnosed disease.  They say that there's nothing you or anyone could have done to prevent me from getting it.  If my being here is anyone's fault -- its mine.  If anyone has failed anyone -- its me."

I was standing up straight now and pacing in a small circle.  I realized that I was no longer crying.  My voice sounded more normal than it had in the two weeks since I'd been there.

"It is a medically diagnosed disease, Laura" he said slowly.  "And if it's not my fault that you have it, then it certainly can't be your fault either."

"Maybe not," I said too quickly. "But I've let you down."  My voice was small now, like a five-year-olds.

"No, Laura -- you have never let me down!"  I could hear his smile through the phone.

"You should hear the way I talk about you to everybody," (He adopted this gregarious, boisterous tone):

"My daughter this, my daughter that -- my daughter, my daughter, my daughter...!"

I heard my laughter before I felt it.

Daddy!

"I can only imagine how hard that must have been -- leaving Miles and Justin and going so far away to get well.  But do YOU know how brave that is, Laura?  Do you know how proud I am of you?"

I licked the wet, saltiness of my tears off my lips and wiped my nose with my bare forearm.  I felt my mouth forming into the beginnings of a smile.

"Thank you, Dadd..." The word was abruptly sliced in half.  I was starting to hiccup.

"Was that a hiccup?" he chuckled.

I was hiccuping and cheese-grinning now -- facing out toward the others who were still waiting for their phone calls. Just for a few moments, despite the hiccups, the heat, the intense sorrow and desperation -- I felt the fringes of a new lightness and sense of hope.  Something that had been unimaginable 15-minutes earlier.  I pursed my lips together and held my breath, attempting to hold on to this new feeling (and hopefully stop the hiccups in the process).

Daddy magic comforting spell...

"I love you, Laura," he said after a minute had passed.

I let out the breath and felt my shoulders relax.

"I love you too, Daddy."

GOAT


Is your father the "GOAT" too?  Please tell me why in the comments section.  And Happy Father's day to all of the dads out there!











Friday, June 9, 2017

"WOKE"



WOKE

/WŌK/


Being "Woke" means being aware.  Knowing what's going on in the community.

(Relating to racism and social injustice)

Person 1: Stop bringing racism into everything
Person 2: You're clearly not woke


*  *  *


"I think this is more about cultural bias, than racism," she said.

I had my phone "on speaker" next to my computer.  After two days of emailing her college essay back and forth, Lily had remembered that she and I could both be on the document at the same time using Google Docs.

"Well, you're really talking about both," I said.  "On the second page you basically say that our conversation in the car during last year's road trip, regarding systemic racism, made you aware of your own biases, right?"

"Yup," she said.

"Okay, good."

My eyes were burning from staring at the screen for so long.  I closed them for a moment and took a bite of the Hersey's chocolate square that sat plateless on my desk.  As the exquisitely sweet, chocolatey-ness melted like lava over my tongue, I couldn't help but smile.

Of all of the things she could have written about, she chose to make this the subject of her essay! Who knew that something so routine for me and my boys would have made this kind of impact on her?

My eyes popped open when she started typing again.  I could see that she was working on another paragraph now.  Panicking that I was falling behind in my "editing duties," I struggled to keep up with her (enviously fast) typing.

"Are you done with those first two paragraphs?"  I asked.

"Almost," she said slowly.  "I want to put in some detail about what it FELT like when I heard you quizzing Miles and Justin on what to do if they got pulled over by the police."

Letters began to appear on the screen.

"My palms began to sweat.  I shifted in my seat.  I had sat there comfortably for hours, but suddenly I could not find an agreeable position..."

"Good, good," I said softly.

I wanted to encourage her without interrupting her flow, so I closed my lips and grew still as she typed.  Both of our houses were silent.  I was bathed in the blue light from the wall-mounted TV in my office.  It had gotten dark in the past twenty minutes since we'd been on the phone and I hadn't bothered to turn on any lights.  Rachel Maddow's almost muted voice cut gently through the quiet.  Lily's finger's were playing the computer keyboard like a piano.  I became hypnotized by the click, click, click sound as I saw her words appearing on the computer screen in front of me.

"The discernible sense of importance was clear in Laura's voice," she typed.  "But masked behind it was something I had never heard before,  fear."

"I like that," I said.

"I was all like -- 'is it okay for me to ask what's going on?'" she said.   "'Why is getting pulled over such a big deal?'"

"Which," I responded, "is totally understandable since as you said, you have a completely different relationship with the police in Stowe, right?"

"Oh yeah, totally," she laughed.  "The policemen here just give us rides home if we need, or maybe a drinking ticket if someone has been drinking.  Everyone knows all of our policemen by name."

"They give you drink tickets?" I said with a slight smile. "Like for free drinks?"

She laughed again.  "DrinkING tickets! Like a traffic ticket, but for drinking.  Mostly they give them at parties and stuff."

I shook my head, trying to picture any kid in LA getting a "drinking ticket" and ride home after being busted for drinking or possession.

"Do you think there's a lot of racial profiling in Stowe?" I asked.

I'm pretty sure I know the answer here.

"No, not really," she said.

Of course not. Everyone's White.

"Do you have an idea as to why?" I asked.

"Ummm maybe," she said thoughtfully.

Could it be --  'cause there ain't no Black folks in Stowe?

"I think," she continued thoughtfully, "I think its because there are barely any people that aren't White in Stowe."

Okay! Points for Lily!  

"In fact, I could probably give you the name of every non-white person who lives in Stowe.  I feel like people think, 'Oh no!  We don't really deal with racism here.' But to me that's because we don't really have very many different races here."

That's facts

All at once, her cursor appeared two paragraphs down.  "I turned my focus back to the road," deleted itself on my screen.  Now I could hear her typing away again.

Click, click, click

"The essay is due on Thursday?" I asked,  calmly perusing the next three paragraphs for typos.

"Tomorrow," she said grimly.

Tomorrow?!?

"Okay, then so let's move onto the 6th paragraph" I said, trying not to sound so panicked.

She's never going to finish this tonight.

"Okay," her voice was full of concentration, she was still typing.

"When you're done with that sentence, let's go to where you reveal that I'm Black," I said.

"Okay, ready."

I saw her cursor move down to the next page.

"My stepmother is black, and as a mother of two black teenage boys..."

As I watched her typing, my mind started to drift again...

This whole step-parent thing...

I've been in Lily's life since she was nine and her sister Nora was four. I love them both, but I'm also very conscious of the fact that Lily and Nora are Scott and Jenny's children...

"I'm going to add that other thing that you said about getting pulled over here," said Lily.

"Which other thing? I asked, coming out of my thought cloud.

"About how if one of them puts their hands under their seats they could get shot."

"Oh yes!" I said.  "Definitely use that!  That's important."

Lily started typing furiously again.  A hip-hop Pepsi commercial suddenly blared through the quiet (disturbingly louder than the Rachel Maddow), startling me.  I hit the mute button and then sat back, marveling at the girl-dancer's flexibility on the now-silent screen while Lily continued to type.

It's just that now our relationship has evolved from a "Daddy's girlfriend level" to a more "parental" level.  You see this?!  She keeps referring to me as her "step mother" and Miles and Justin as her "step brothers...

"Almost done," Lily mumbled under her breath.

"I'm good.  Take your time," I said, tearing my eyes from the TV long enough to glance at the clock.

8:35?  That means it's 11:35 in Stowe!

"That line is important!" She said suddenly.  "It's important, because this one conversation made me see every everything from a different perspective.  Before our road trip last year, stories on the news could be sad or even tragic, but not personal  -- not really.   Maybe I wasn't ready to see it before then, but that conversation on the roadtrip that day made me suddenly want to see past my own perception.  It made me want to look deeper than the first glance."

Right on.


Lily moved down to the next paragraph.

"The simple fact is that I am white," she wrote.   "It had never occurred to me because it has at no point been an important part of my life, or at least not that I realized."

Actually, that's really great.

"So where next?" I asked.

"Umm the paragraph about my mom?"

"Yeah."

"I thought about my mother, how she cried as I backed out of the driveway alone for the first time and she pounded into me the rules of the road."

"I love that transition," I said.

"Me too," she said, keeping up her typing-rhythm.

"Or!  I might have an idea!" said an excited female voice.

Huh?

I froze like my dogs when they think they've hear a critter outside.

Who said that?

 I strained my ears to listen.  I heard Lily's voice scale up.  It sounded like another voice responded.

Wait!  Are there two voices?

I picked up my phone and took it off speaker.  I could hear better, but the sounds were still muffled.

She's definitely talking to someone.

Suddenly Lily's voice was clear, as if the volume had just been turned up.  The hand holding my phone jumped away from my ear.

"I was just thinking it might be good to put that earlier," said the other voice.

"Mom!  That was like three drafts ago.  Please, I'm almost done," said Lily.  I could hear the exhaustion in her voice.

Jenny!

Suddenly I felt as though I'd been busted helping Lily cheat on a test.  I held my breath as I listened to their exchange.  I was afraid to speak and reveal my identity.  I didn't know if Jenny knew who Lily was talking to on the phone, or if she even knew that she was on the phone.  My mind started to race.

What if it makes Jenny feel funny that Lily refers to me as her "step mother" (especially since Scottie and I aren't even married)?  What if she doesn't like the fact that said "step mother" has been spending the last three days helping her oldest daughter with her college essay?  Maybe she thinks that's just a "mom job" (or maybe a "mom and dad" job).  Also, so much of this essay is Lily wondering for the first time what it must feel like to be Black in America.  But what if that makes Jenny feel left out?

"So Laura, what you think of it?" said Jenny, brightly.

She knows it's you!! 

"I think they're going to be blown away by both the subject matter and the writing skills," I said, finding my voice.

Does that sound like I'm taking too much ownership? 

"You're right, you're right," I could hear something clang closed in the background.  "She's doing a great job," she said cheerily.  "I've actually liked all of the drafts so far."

Well, she's been reading it all along!

"Yeah, her piece is really great," I said, hearing the relief in my voice.  "Lily is an amazing story teller."

"Hey, you know what?!" Laughed Jenny.  This could be a blog!  "You and I helping Lily with her college essay from two different coasts at the same time."

I laughed with her and then stopped abruptly.

Hey.....!

"Wait, that actually could be a nice piece, Jenny" I said.  "More evidence of our modern family!"

"Yes!" Said Jenny, "exactly!"

"You guys!!" Lily broke in sounding exasperated.  "Mom, I've got to finish, I need to be asleep before midnight!"

"Okay, okay," Jenny said tenderly.  I could hear Jenny kissing Lily gently on top of her head.

"Laura," said Jenny.   Her voice had a sincere tone.  "Thank you.  Thank you for helping her with this."

"Hey, it's my pleasure, Jenny" I smiled.  "Have a good night!"



*  *  *


Post script:

My "stepdaughter", Lily, on the strength of her essay (and her grades, school activities, athleticism, community service-work, teacher recommendations, etc) was accepted to a variety colleges and universities (UVM, Emmanuel, USC, Occidental, LMU, New School-Eugene Lang and more).  She has decided to attend LMU (Loyola Marymount University) here in Los Angeles, where her father and I live.  But first, she will take a "gap year" during which she will go to Bali with a program called Yayasan Widaya Sari, where she will teach English to elementary school children for three months.  In winter, 2018, she will go on a backpacking trip through Thailand before finally returning to Los Angeles to spend the summer with Justin, her father and I (with stops in Stowe to see her mom, Chris, Nora and Maisy in between every trip -- also Miles will join us all in LA whenever he's home from NY).

Lily's unflappable desire to know more, to explore more, to push the boundaries of her world, makes me well with proud, emotional tears.

*  *  *

To Lily:

I am so proud of the woman that you've become.   I can't believe that you are graduating from Stowe high school tomorrow!!! -- WOW!!!!)

Stay curious Lily.  Keep asking those questions that make people uncomfortable.  Keep pushing the boundaries of what "is" to see what else there is.  Remember that there is never only one way.

My wish for you is that you to stay woke and that you do your best to "wake up" others from your generation.

Congratulations, Lily (class of 2017!!!).  I love you.



(from left to right - Justin, me, Miles, Linda and Lily
Robbins/Slaughter roadtrip 2016




Friday, May 26, 2017

Here's what can happen when you're running late in Los Angeles (and other "sobering" life lessons)


Faaaaaccckkk!  I'm late!

The clock which seemed to have barely moved for the previous hour and a half, was now showing that I had 30 minutes to get to my meeting.

How did it get so late!? 

I had thought about leaving at 9:30, but then I would have been too early (and I hate being too early).  This had become a pattern with me.  I futz around on Facebook or go through emails when I ever have "a few minutes to kill" rather then leaving a little early -- and then the next thing I know I'm running late.

This has to stop! 

But right now, I really need coffee.

10:02

I jumped in my car and screeched out of my driveway, grateful that there was a Coffee Bean on the way to the meeting.

I'll stop there ONLY if it's easy to park in their lot or if I find a meter.  Otherwise I'll just go straight to the meeting.

Congratulating myself on the fair and rational deal that I'd just made, I found myself speeding through a stop sign and then slamming on my brakes in the middle of the intersection.  Out of the corner of my eye, I observed two startled, pony tailed moms, entering the crosswalk with twin, navy blue and white, Mima Xari strollers.

"Sorry!" I yelled back toward them as I gunned the accelerator.

One of them shouted something unintelligible after me, flailing her arms over her head.  I shrugged as I waved to her in my rear view.

"Sorry," I whispered.

Thin, trickles of sweat tickled me as they dripped down from my armpits onto bare my waist and stomach under my shirt.  I raised my arm again and tilted my head so that I could see my underarm in the rear view.  My thin, white, button-down shirt was already see-through with perspiration.  I lowered my arm quickly.

Oh God.

The light at Ventura and Whitsett took forever to turn.  From my vantage point though, I could see that The Coffee Bean looked relatively empty.

Thank the Lord!  Hurry up light!!!

But when the light turned and I rounded the corner to the parking lot, I could see that the lot was completely full  -- all except for one space tucked all the way in the corner by the "exit only" sign.

Exit only?  Is that new?

I considered entering there anyway, but thought better of it.  I would have to go all the way around the block and enter from the other side.

Where are all of these people?!?  There's NO ONE in the Coffee Bean, but the parking lot is full!

I gave my blind spot a cursory glance before I whipped my car into a mid-street,  illegal U-turn.  Someone honked and I heard brakes crying out as I crossed a second solid, yellow line.  I stared straight ahead and kept going, looking for open parking meters and glancing at my car clock as I put on my right turn signal.

10:11

"You're speaking today," I said out loud, under my breath.   "This is madness, Laura.  Just go straight to the meeting. You'll never make it by 10:30."

Okay, if that spot is gone by the time I get around there, then I'll just go straight to the meeting.

10:13

I whooped out loud as I rounded the corner.

It's still there!!

"YESSSSS!  I get coffee!!!"

I did a little "I get coffee dance" in my seat as I raced toward the empty spot.

"YES! I get coo-ffee, YES! I get coo-ffee!"

I was 10 or 12 feet away from the space, when a small, red Nissan darted into the "exit only" entrance (Yes, the one that I had passed up!) and zoomed right into my spot.

ARRGGGHHHH!!!!!

I quickly pulled up to the car, fully prepared to get out and pound on this unbelievable ass#ole.

His plates are green! He's not even from here!

When I got right up behind his car,  I could see that they were Colorado plates.

You Colorado Fuc#@er!!!  You took my spot!!!

I could see him sitting there in the car.  He wasn't looking around.  He wasn't moving.

Sh#$!!!!!

10:15

I hit the accelerator and zoomed out of the parking lot, pulling around the block again.

Fu@#!  Still NO METERS!

When I re-entered the parking lot, I saw a Prius pulling out of a spot across from the red Nissan.  I raced over it.

You're ridiculous! Having a cup of coffee isn't worth keeping everyone waiting.  Don't get out of the car!  Just keep going to the meeting! You can still make it on time!

I shook my head so that I could concentrate on wedging my truck into the Prius's "compact" space. When I banged the door, open, I fell off the running-board, catching myself on the seat belt and stubbing my toe on the cement, parking bumper.

Sh#t!!!

I slammed the door shut without locking it and ran inside the Coffee Bean.  I was immediately hit by the cool air and jazzy music.  Catching my reflection in the large, plate-glass window, I realized that I was running in full stride.  I slowed down to a trot.  All of the inside tables sat empty.

No customers!! Yay!

I did a little internal happy dance.

Oh wait!  There's someone at the counter...

Instinctually, I looked outside and saw that the red Nissan was empty now.

Colorado!!!!

"Welcome to Coffee Bean," I heard the cashier say.  "What can I get you today?"

Colorado was standing at the counter with his back to me.  I strained to see his face so I could "mad dog" him, but he stayed facing forward.

"Well, actually this is my first time at a Coffee Bean," he laughed casually.

WHAT?!?? OH HELL NO COLORADO!!!!!!  You've never been to a Coffee Bean?!?  

"So, do you guys sell food or just coffee?" His nasally voice was a squeaky balloon. I felt myself grinding my teeth.

What do you MEAN??  Its Coffee Bean!  They don't (well they didn't then) sell FOOD.  You come here for COFFEE!  

"We don't really sell food," answered the cashier.  "There are a few things in the case, mainly pastries and stuff. We have yogurt too."

"No hot food, eh?"

ORDER A COFFEE!!

"No, sorry," she said.

"Oh, well... let me see here."  He lifted his  gaze to the coffee menu overhead.  He made small, furry animal sounds while he pondered.

"Hmmm"

"Heeee"

"Eeehhh"

I inched closer toward the back of his neck.  He wore a light blue, short-sleeved, knit polo shirt.  He was shorter than me.  His wispy brown hair feathered down to a blunt line above his collar, like he had a fresh haircut.  I could smell 1980s after shave on his skin.  I felt myself getting sick to my stomach.  I wondered if he could feel my breath on his neck.  I took a small step back.

10:21

"Medium Americano with 2 Sugar In The Raws, 2 Splenda's and room for cream..."

I chanted my Coffee Bean order over and over under my breath.

Please, please Colorado!! Please order! Order anything!!

"I guess I'll just have a black coffee," he said finally.

I threw my arms up involuntarily.

Seriously?!?? All that for a Fu@#in' BLACK COFFEE?!

10:25


I raced out of Coffee Bean with my Americano, securing the lid as I ran.  Scalding hot droplets seared the thumb and index finger that held the cup.  But the adrenaline that was coursing through me acted as a pain killer.  I licked the drops off my hand like ice-cream as I hopped into my car.

10:31

I bolted through the door as they were reading the preamble.  The meeting secretary gave me a happy "You Made It" look and motioned for me to come to where she was sitting.  The older gentleman who sat beside her moved to another seat when she whispered something to him.  I stepped through the circle of chairs and sat down next to her, giving her a brief hug.

"Sorry," I whispered, putting my hand over my heart.

"Don't worry about it," she said, patting my thigh and handing me a sheet of paper.  "You're right on time." She pointed to a line on the sheet.

"Start reading here, ok?"

I nodded, as I fished my glasses out of my purse.

"Are there any newcomers here today?"  I read aloud, setting my coffee down on the floor next to me.

Someone cleared his throat from the back of the room.  "I guess that would be me."

I looked up to welcome him, but his face was obscured by the big-headed man seated in front of him.  It wasn't until he stepped forward to take his "new comer" chip, that I saw the Coffee Bean cup in his hand.

Colorado?!

"Hi, I'm 'Bob' and I'm new to program and I'm also here visiting from Colorado."

"Hi Bob!!!" said the room in unison. "Welcome!"

I closed my eyes for a moment against the laugh that was coming up my throat.

I AM SO GRATEFUL that I didn't say anything to him or do any of those things that I wanted to do! THANK - YOU - UNIVERSE!!!

"Hi Bob," I said out loud.  "Welcome, we're glad you're here."


Please share this post with anyone who has trouble getting out of the house on time (maybe it can serve as a cautionary tale!)  Also, please share you're own"leaving too late" experiences with me in the comments.  Thank you!