Friday, July 28, 2017

Why are people trying to throw shade on my tan? #imtryingtogetdarkAF

 March, 2017


“Not you, red-boned,” yelled one of the four or five guys leaning against the bathroom wall at Ho Chi Minh Park.  He laughed and sucked his teeth as he looked at my friend Dana.  I had only turned around because his teeth sucking sounded like air hissing out of a tire, “ssssssssssssss.”

Red-boned? Is he talking to me?

Turning scarlet, I kept my eyes forward and continued walking.   I stopped once I rounded the corner, letting Dana walk ahead.  Dana was mocha brown with small breasts and a round butt that filled out her Levi’s 501’s (nicely).  Guys always tried to catch her eye when she and I walked down the street.   I looked away from Dana (who was now being hemmed up against the wall by the teeth-sucker) and inspected my arms.  True, they were skinny and my wrists looked they belonged on a five-year-old, but it wasn’t like my bones were actually VISIBLE. 

Did he call me red-boned because I’m so bony? But why RED?

* * *

Three months later, while visiting my dad in Ft. Lauderdale, his girlfriend, Dale took me to a daytime party in a park.  I thought I looked pretty in my new, yellow terry cloth romper that we had bought earlier that week at this amazing indoor mall/market called a "Swap Meet." While Dale said hello to people she knew, I walked around in complete awe.  There was a small, makeshift stage with a DJ, a boom box and speakers blasting Soul Sonic Force’s, Planet Rock.  I could feel the base in my chest and in the bottoms of my feet.

I had never before seen so many Black people in one place.  All around me were 200 or so stunning faces and taut, muscular bodies in beautiful shades of plum, molasses, butterscotch, brown sugar and dark caramel.  I turned around in circles, watching them all do the Electric Slide and the Cabbage Patch with an energy that I’d never before witnessed or felt.  I was just about to tentatively join in on the tail-end of an electric slide line when I heard that familiar moniker again.

“What up Red?”

Red? I'm wearing yellow! Is he color blind?

“Is he talking to me?” I whispered to Dale who had mysteriously reappeared by my side.

Dale laughed and pushed my shoulder, causing me to fall back into the ample bosom of a “Cabbage-Patcher”.  “Do you see any other red-bones around here?”

Red-bone! There’s that word again!

“Red-boned? Me?”

“Yes, girl, of course.”

She didn’t seem to understand why this confusing to me.

“But, why?” I said, side-stepping an over-zealous dancer in a see through Dolphin’s jersey and speedos.

“Why, what?”

“What does it mean?  Red-boned?”

After another peal of laughter, Dale placed her face closer to mine.  Her brown eyes were so clear that I could see the shapes of the people behind me in them.  Her deep, cocoa-with a-touch-of-milk skin glistened from dancing in the 90-degree sun.  I marveled at how smooth and soft her skin looked.

“Are you serious?” she said, her voice scaling up.  “YOU, girl.  YOU are light-skinned – RED BONED.”

She said RED-BONED like I was hard of hearing — or slow-witted.

My mind felt like it was frozen.  I tried to make sense of what she was saying.

Light-skinned means red-boned? Why?  What does red have to do with anything? And why is it important to identify me as light-skinned?

“So, my skin color — uh, I mean because I’m light-skinned (I tasted those words on my tongue for the first time) that means I’m red-boned?”

She turned and faced me.  “You really don’t know?”

I shook my head, holding her eyes with mine.

“Okay," she said, looking as though she were summoning some patience.

“Yellow or yellow-boned, that’s those really light-skinned girls that almost look white, but they might still have nappy hair, though."

“Okay,” I nodded, wishing I had something to write with.

“You’re red-boned, because you’re light-skinned, but you’ve got more a little more brown or red in your skin, like you got some Indian in you or something.”

Okay that makes more sense (even if it is a little racist).  Red for Indian blood.

“Got it,” I said.  “And us ‘red-bones,' we can have any kind of hair?”

“Yeah, but it’s usually some grade of nappy.”

I patted my little curly Afro, stretching a small lock until it was straight and then letting it snap back into place.

Some grade of nappy…

“And those, really white-looking Black girls,” she continued.    "With pale, pale skin and long, stringy White-girl hair.  They call those high-yellow.  Like those Creole girls over in New Orleans.”

“High-yellow,” I said in a voice that showed her that I was paying attention.  “Pale skin, White-girl hair.”

Dale nodded and turned to say hello to someone who had grabbed her hand as they were dancing by.  I waited until she turned back toward me.



“Is it only girls or can boys be high-yellow or red-boned or whatever?”



She sucked her teeth in exasperation. 

“Boys can be high-yellow too.  But I like those chocolate ones, like your dad.  I’m not interested in those high-yella fellas…”

“Um, um, MMMM!” The man next to me interrupted us.  He was drinking in a deep-brown woman in biker shorts and a lime green tube top dancing next to me.  

“Y’all hold the cream,” he said licking his lips.   “I like my coffee BL--AACK!”

I found myself staring at the woman too.  Her ebony skin shimmered like velvet in the hot sun.  It was maybe the most beautiful skin that I had ever seen.  I had to clasp my hands together to keep from touching her arm.

“Black Coffee” glanced over at me, thinking I was staring at him.  He tilted his head with an impatient nod, like I was somehow messing up his chances with the chocolate woman.  He said something inaudible to me as he chased her down, shouting more complimentary words at her.  It wasn’t until they had both disappeared from sight that I realized what he’d said as he sped passed.

“What up, Red?”


*  *  *

When I deplaned in San Francisco at the end of the summer, my Mom was waiting for me.  After hugging me for a long time, she straight-armed me away to get a better look at my face.

 “You are SOOOO tan!” she screamed.    “It’s absolutely gorgeous!”

“I was in the sun all the time,” I beamed, conscious of how white my teeth looked against my “new and improved” skin color.  “Dad took me to the beach every day!”

“THIS is your color!” she exclaimed in a serious voice, still holding me at arm's length so that she could admire my skin.  “You are EBONY.”

Later, when we grabbed my hard, gray suitcase from baggage claim, I caught a glance of a beautiful, dark-skinned girl in the mirrored wall behind the conveyor belt.  I startled when I saw that she was wearing the same shirt as me. 

Oh my God! That beautiful brown girl is you! 


“What the fu%@ are you Nigg$#’s doing on the beach?!!!”

Kelly and I startled, raising our heads to look at each other.  I could see my own fear/confusion reflected back in her eyes. My heartbeat was visible under my Wonder Woman bikini.

“What the fu@# was that?!?” Said Kelly.

Kelly was my best friend but she could have been my sister.  Our skin and hair color are almost identical, we have similar shaped eyes and mouth.  Kelly had moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Ft Lauderdale with me earlier that year.  I had wanted to go live with my dad (who was raising my 6-year-old brother, Kofi by himself) and she was just ready to be somewhere new.   

Coming from the Bay Area, neither of us was prepared for how little racial “integration” there was in south Florida at that time.  All Black people were dark brown and White people were pale or had “Barbie and Ken” tans.  We NEVER saw any mixed couples.  And we almost never saw any Black people like us  — light-skinned, American Blacks.

And even though we didn’t look typically “Black” (at least by South Florida standards at the at time) we certainly didn’t look White either.  If we went shopping in the mall, we usually caused quite a stir.   Confused store managers, would send over a Spanish-speaking salesperson to help us because they assumed that our lighter skin meant that we were either Cuban or Puerto Rican. 

More often than not, wherever people met us for the first time, White and Black people alike would usually interrupt us mid-sentence to ask, “Excuse me, what are you?”

“GO HOME!!!!”

The source of the angry, husky, male voice was hidden from view, but we had raised our heads quickly enough to see a yellow pick-up truck speeding by with a confederate flag in its rear window and a Davie license plate holder.  

Kelly got up off her towel, sand sticking to her stomach and the top of her emerald-green bikini.

“FU#$ YOU!” she yelled after them at the top of her lungs, bouncing up and down on her toes.

“Uh, Kell…” I said looking around. 

Our section of the beach was practically deserted. 

“There’s no one else here.  What if they turn around?”

Kelly looked down the street after them and brushed the sand casually off her arms.  

“Fu#$ them,” she muttered. 

“Maybe we should we go,” I said getting up onto my knees and gaging the running distance between my car and us.  It was only 11:00am.   Kelly and I had gotten there early so that we could lay out for at least a couple of hours before it got really hot.  This had become our weekend routine.

“Naw,” she said.  “I’m not black yet.”

I laughed nervously and looked back at the almost-empty road.  Out of nowhere, a police cruiser pulled up across the street and parked in a loading zone.    

Thank God

I looked back toward the sand and saw an older man with a metal detector coming down the beach.  There were no other sounds except for seagulls crying and the gentle lapping of the Atlantic Ocean on the shore.

Okay, even if they came back, the police are right there.  And the sun is really good now.

I flipped the waistband of my bikini bottom down so I could see if my tan line was darker.  It was, but I wasn’t as brown as I’d hoped.  I tapped Kelly’s shoulder and pointed at the police car.

“I think we’re okay now,” I said.

“Hmm, maybe,” she said dismissively, turning over onto her stomach.

I grabbed the oil and then started giggling uncontrollably.

“Hm?” Kelly looked annoyed.

“You know what?” I said.

She let out a deep sigh and opened her left eye. “What?”

“We must really be getting black,” I turned on my side so that I could look at her.

“What?” Kelly opened both of her eyes now, her eyebrows were knit in consternation.

“They saw us from way over there on the road and they called us Nigg#$’s.”

“What are you babbling about, Laurda?”

“They knew we were Black!  From wayyyy over there!”  I pointed up toward A1A.

Kelly propped herself up on one elbow and smiled at me.

“I mean, yeah, it’s really fuc&%d up, but that’s something, right?”

Kelly laughed with me, laying her head back down on the towel.

“Yeah, you’re right," she mumbled sleepily.  "Those Davie crackers called us Nigg@#’s.  I guess that does mean that we’re finally black.”

“Who’s red-boned?” I smiled.  “No red-bones here!”

I held out my hand for her to give me “five”.  She lifted her arm reluctantly and tapped my open palm with a limp index finger.

“You crazy, you know that?”


“You look different,” he said.  “Are you TAN?”

“Yes,” I beamed.  “Scottie and I just got back from Kona, Hawaii.”

I was a shade of Black that was reminiscent of that 1978 tan.  I was over the moon.

“But wait, you TRIED to get that tan?  You – laid out in the sun!?”

Ewwwwww! Shade!!

He wasn’t the first person who had greeted me this way.  It wasn’t all, “Oh you look great, what’s different?” Like I said, it was definitely shade.  

But when I have a tan, that's how it goes.  Black people say to me over and over again, “Why would you want to get darker?” And White people usually say something like:  “Wow! I didn’t even know that Black people GOT tan, at least not on purpose.”

Some people look away from me when I’m tan, as if they’re avoiding having to talk about it, because it makes them uncomfortable.  Other people actually seem to be personally offended that I covet a particular shade of richness that only occurs after browning in the sun for a few hours (well, okay -- days).

And yes, I totally get that some people are genuinely CONCERNED, because of the things that today’s sun can do one’s skin.  I am too.  I wear sunscreen -- lots of it every day, not only when I'm  tanning.  And I go to my dermatologist regularly to get a head-to-toe check.

But CONCERN isn’t what I’m getting from most people.  Most people seem to genuinely be confused by my ambition for the darker shade of brown that I hope to coat myself with during every vacation. 

"What does Scottie think?” someone once asked with a horrified expression.

The truth is that Scottie loves my skin tan (and my hair in wild curls).  He loves the buttery, burnished color that I take on after a few days in the sun and so do I.  Scottie and I BOTH come back from every vacation with a tan, but no one ever questions his “motivation” for getting one. 

Why is that?

Do they question my motivation because they are truly perplexed about my tanning-ambitions?  Or is it because of the not-so-subtle messaging that Black people receive in this country from the day that we are born – That BLACK (skin, hair, culture, mannerisms) is NOT really beautiful.  


In fact, Black is something to bleach, “correct" surgically, weave and/or straighten.  It’s always felt to me like Black is something for people to try to erase, not something for people to celebrate. 

Thank God for that girl in the mirror at the SFO airport that day in 1978.  Thank God for my mother’s words when I stepped off of the plane from Florida.  I saw myself dark and I saw beauty.  That has made all of the difference in my life.  Like it or not, not only does race matter, but skin color and shade matter too.  There are over 50 different derogatory words and terms online that BLACK PEOPLE use to describe OUR different skin-colors (yellow, red-boned, black, burnt, high-yellow, dusty, ace of spades, etc.).


Why is it necessary for us to classify ourselves according to who has more European blood or who has more African blood?   And why is one more valued than the other? And really, why have we allowed this to continue into 2017?  2017 people!!

I know that I am fortunate because I happen to love both the color that I was born with AND the color that I’m able to become in the sun.  And if you're a person "of color" too.  I hope you don't let the limited, petty, dated, slave-mentality view points of some people deter you from feeling good about the skin you're in.  I think you're beautiful.

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?


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've 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.


Fu#% Everything And Run

False Evidence Appearing Real

Frantic Effort to Avoid Reality


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:



Old and alone



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.”


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 MaĆ®tre’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?”).


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.