The Cranky Yankee “Does” Gratitude

25 11 2010

For those of you that populate our Facebook-ed/ Tweeted/ Blogged world (of which I am clearly a member), it is fashionable for the month of November to embark on a “Thirty Days of Gratitude” journey. For some of my friends this has been a wonderful exercise, and really who could find fault with daily finding something for which to be grateful? Yet while I’ve enjoyed reading them, they do all start to blend together after a while, all those amazing spouses, angelic children, warm houses and food on the table. The exercise was in full swing today on a blog forum for progressive/liberal moms, where my fellow writers have christened me the “Cranky Yankee” because of my utter lack of sentimentalism and frequent eye-rolls. I’m the last person that most of my friends would expect to indulge in listing all my blessings, I’m far too cynical and sarcastic after all.

Well, yes I am. And for the past few years Thanksgiving has been one of those holidays that magnified my crankiness. It’s a cook’s holiday and I don’t cook. I’ve never roasted a turkey or hosted a holiday meal in my life. It’s a holiday that gathers extended families together and I didn’t have an extended family. All that togetherness just served to remind me of what was missing, and left me longing for the days when my mom’s gravy bubbled on the stove, my brother mashed the potatoes, my sister put the rolls in the oven and my dad worked on a few bourbon manhattans. I even found myself longing for the warm comfort of the Thanksgiving gatherings at my ex-mother in law’s, where Liza has spent every Thanksgiving of her 11 years. My Thanksgivings seemed destined to be haunted by the ghosts of my dead family members and the ruins of a failed marriage. Oh of course I had my Kelly for those years and of course that made all the difference. But even her job as a nurse kept her working most Thanksgivings which left me alone most of the day to take long walks, shed a tear or two and, like today, to write and to try to ignore all the lengthy gratitude posts about families and home cooked meals.

But not this year…this year I’m married. And with that marriage comes a list of things I’m thankful for a mile long. Oh don’t worry. Marriage didn’t turn me into a sentimental, over-indulgent sap and I have no intention of losing my edge or my sarcastic gift for wry observational humor. But marriage has changed me in ways I didn’t expect — grounded me, and calmed me. And as even the most hardened cynics are allowed an occasional foray into earnestness, for today, the Cranky Yankee is going to take a backseat to a thankful, thoughtful, Katie. And so, in no particular order, I present a little gratitude, with a side of humility, and a generous serving of amazement for:

• My brother Patrick, with his curly hair and 20 year-old suitcoats that used to belong to our dad, his inability to understand his cell phone, his loping walk, encyclopedic baseball trivia knowledge, converse sneakers, and a sense of humor that even today gives his kid sister something to look up to. The oldest and the youngest are all that’s left of the Youngs family and knowing he’s still there looking out for me, keeps me connected me to a past that is now shared only by him.

• The kind of technology that brings me a cup of hot chai from my Keurig, assigns “It’s Raining Men” as my best friends’ ringtone, brings me updates from friends I thought I’d lost along the way, magically records Great Performances on PBS, keeps my favorite music with me all day long, and lets me write from the comfy spot in the corner of our new sectional.

• My best friend Joe, who has the ability to turn even the saddest of occasions in to ones of laughter, to inspire me, encourage me and call me on my own foibles. To think of a life without Joe to talk to, eat with, text with, eat with, laugh with, eat with, gossip with, and eat with is inconceivable. The fact that he’s also the greatest godfather in the world is pure icing on the cake.

• Modern Family, and Glee for renewing my faith in television and bringing my little family together every Tuesday and Wednesday nights on the aforementioned sectional

• For our friend June, who opened her home and her heart to us on our wedding day with an astonishing generosity of spirit and the critical ability to remain calm and unfazed in the face of a gigantic tent in her garden, power outages, wine shortages, blaring music, and dozens of pairs of heels sinking into her beautiful lawn. As we prepare to join June later today for Thanksgiving dinner we are reminded how blessed we are to have her not just as our friend but as our family.

• For the Collins/Pendergast/Bray families who have welcomed me as the newest in-law and made me feel like a member of a family again. For new nephews and (finally!) nieces, and brothers and sisters-in law that make me laugh and who love me for loving their sister.

• For hefty doses of Stephen Sondheim, Jason Robert Brown, Stephen Schwartz, an occasional smattering of Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Webber and Rice that bring me together with my daughter each morning for epic car sing-a-longs.

• For my dearest friends, Dana, Katie, Margaret, Meghan, Maureen, Tara and Vicki, Susie and Peter, Lisa, Matt and Lisa, and Nathan and Chris who never fail to make my day brighter and whose presence and love on the biggest day of my life was the greatest gift I could have ever asked for.

• For my awesome new name that, after a year of dithering, seems so very very obvious to me now. This is the name I’m supposed to have for the life I’m supposed to lead.

• For new friends who take the chance to reach out and say ‘we like you, let’s make a friendship shall we?”

• For the Acting Loft and its teachers and directors who have given me and my daughter an artistic home again, and who challenge and support my daughter as she begins her journey as an actor.

• For Michael at Gibson’s Bookstore who, in spite of being even crankier than I, never fails to find the book I need, even if he sometimes mocks me for my choices.

• For Liza Minelli. Because really? What would life be like without the original Liza in it?

• For Mothertalkers, Banshees, and May Moms, the best cyber and real life friends a woman could ever want.

Ok so I lied. There is a bit of an order to this. If you’ve been reading this listing thinking “um, what about your wife and child Katie?” I’ve saved the very best for last.

• For my daughter Liza. My tempest in a teapot, my sensitive artist, my snuggle buddy, my sidekick, my fashion critic, my keeper of holiday traditions, my comedy partner, and on many days my mirror and truth teller. For the blink of an eye that she’s been in my life she’s changed it and changed me and I wake every day looking forward to what mountain she’ll climb next.

• For the state of New Hampshire for standing up for equality and giving me the freedom to marry the woman I love. And for every volunteer, elected official, and ordinary citizen that is working hard to make sure that freedom doesn’t get taken away.

• And finally, for my wife Kelly. For the way knowing I get to go home to her makes me giggle every night when I reach our exit off the highway, for the text messages that tell me she “lurves me,” for her willingness to cook every, single, dinner because she knows I can’t, for the way she turns off NHPR to let me listen to show tunes, for the way she has to have her Judge Judy time after work, for the adorable way her eyes sparkle behind her glasses, for the way she kisses me good bye each morning before leaving for work at 5:45, for her patient help with endless pages of long division homework, and for giving me a home and a future as the woman I was meant to be.

So there you have it. Tomorrow the Cranky Yankee will be back again I’m sure complaining about Black Friday crowds, post-turkey weight gain and middle-aged creaky bones and joints. But for today we’ll let her be, while we give thanks for all that we have and all that makes our worlds complete. Happy Thanksgiving.


Exit Two

2 10 2010

A few weeks ago Kelly and I took Liza for her final fitting on her dress for our wedding. The bridal store was just off Exit Two in Nashua and as I drove down the long exit ramp I suddenly flashed back almost seven years to the time I got off Exit 2 to go to the movies for the first time with Kelly.

At that time in my life just getting out of bed was a challenge. I was in the process of divorcing and I was terrified about what the future would hold and how I could even begin to think about surviving as a single mom. I felt as though I was standing on the edge of a steep, tall cliff and I was either going to crash in pieces at the bottom or figure out how to leap hard enough to make it to the other side. I had lost my sister and one of my best friends within a year of each other, and I was unsure how or even if I could tell my mother that I was finally going to come out as a gay woman. A terrific network of friends surrounded me for whom I will always be grateful, but I was fearful of becoming “that” friend. You know the one. The one you see coming and think ‘Oh great, here comes Katie moaning about her divorce and her dead sister again.” I had no idea which direction to turn in, what road to take or how to parent my child. I was wracked with guilt about hurting my ex-husband and breaking up our family. I was lost. Sitting up one night I searched the computer for any kind of support group that might help a woman in my unique position. While I didn’t exactly find that I did find a notice for a local gay women’s group advertising a Friday night “Food Night”at a restaurant about 25 minutes away. I thought, “Well, I can talk to anyone over dinner. Maybe I’ll meet some new friends.” Let’s be clear here. I was not looking for romance. I was not looking for anything other than maybe finding a few women who might have been through similar situations and who might help me find some good resources to figure out where I was going. Taking a deep breath I emailed the event organizer, got directions and put my name on the list. It was time to start leaping.

I found my way to the tiny strip mall that housed the inauspicious Thai restaurant and entered to find a group of women chatting while the hostess arranged for their large table. A woman in a plaid shirt, baseball hat and I started talking about the latest season of “Survivor” (Pearl Islands in case anyone is keeping track) and instantly bonded over who we were rooting for (Rupert). “I know. Rupert right?” the woman said and then stuck out her hand to shake on it as if our shared backing of a bearded reality show contestant was a deal we were closing. “I’m Kelly.” She said. And so it was.

That night I laughed harder than I had in years. Laughed in a way I thought I’d forgotten how to laugh. Kelly mocked my choice of wine. “Ooh Shiraz…FAN CY!” (I loved this, for, like most people who use humor as crutch, I only mock people I really like). We chatted about seventies television, Oscar winners and tried to out-trivia each other. After dinner she invited me to join her and the group for ice cream down the road and we headed out with her best friend Jackie and Jackie’s then girlfriend in a convertible that nearly took our heads off when Jackie accidentally started raising the top back up. I didn’t recognize myself it was such a leap for me. But all I knew was I was laughing and happy in a way I’d forgotten how to be. When I got home that night I had an email waiting for me from Kelly. (This was pre-Facebook, otherwise I’m sure she would have ‘friend-ed’ me).

A few weeks later Kelly invited me to join her for a movie at a cinema near her home. “I live just off Exit Two” she said giving me directions. I accepted with a combination of excitement and trepidation and as I drove down the exit ramp I wasn’t sure what to expect. But then there she was opening the door of her condo and somewhere deep down I suspected life as I knew it was about to change. I didn’t start dating Kelly that night or for many months to come. I was skittish and nervous and busy trying to make some kind of order out of my new life. But little by little Kelly’s presence in that new life became a constant. She was there shoveling my driveway (which by the way she’s not so enthusiastic about anymore), taking me and Liza on outings and adventures, cooking me risotto, and leaving funny songs and trivia questions on my voice mail each morning. And little by little I found myself letting go of that breath I’d been holding. Little by little I found my smile again, my laugh again, and let down my guard and opened my heart and my life to this woman who lived off of Exit Two.

Today is our wedding day. After nearly seven years of movies, road trips, horrible tennis games, helping Liza with her school projects, and white wine and brie on the deck on Friday nights; after nearly seven years of growing together, leaning on each other, loving each other and most of all laughing with and yes at each other, we are getting legally married. And I’m so glad that the scared woman I was nearly seven years ago took that chance and made that drive down to Exit Two. Happy Wedding Day Kelly. I love you.


28 08 2010

When I started writing My Imperfect Truth I began with the assumption that anyone reading would either be a friend or family member and would already know that I’m gay. Somehow starting a blog with a great big “hey y’all did I mention I’m a lesbian” essay seemed disingenuous and a little attention-grabbing. After all, I reasoned, other writers don’t provide any back story that begins with “so I’m straight…” Being gay is just one of the many things I am, along with freakishly tall, bad at math, a snazzy little dancer, Irish-Italian, and a mom. Besides, every gay person has their coming out story and most of my close friends know mine. Well a glossed-over version of it anyway. I had also made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going detail my coming out story here because it involved the end of my marriage, which was an understandably painful event for my ex-husband. I have too much affection and respect for him to publicly revisit that time. So, to save time, the answers to the questions I invariably get in odd places (cocktail parties, business events and recently a friends wedding reception) are: A) yes I suspected my sexuality from a young age, B) no I didn’t get married hoping it would make me straight. I loved my ex husband and in spite of the marriage ending there were some really terrific times and a pretty spectacular daughter along the way. And, C) um, no I don’t plan to ‘go back to men.’ (I was recently asked that question with Kelly sitting right next to me. Dude really? ). And really that’s always been the end of that. After nearly seven years with Kelly, the most recent of which has been spent happily co-habitating, building a great family home life, traveling together and planning a wedding, I thought I had finally leaped over most of the coming-out hurdles and could sit back and enjoy our happily wedded life. After all, it’s been a long time coming.

When I first came out, my life was a combination of outright terror and tentative excitement. Moving on as a single mom (although one blessed with a supportive and involved co-parent) was scary, and there was some rough water to navigate. My coming out changed my role in many of my personal relationships. I was no longer the straight tag-along to my gay friends and in many ways those relationships required the most care and feeding. Some friends gay and straight felt a bit betrayed by this secret I had kept, others felt I was just being trendy and wasn’t “really” gay. There were some harsh words, some misunderstandings, and the loss of one very dear friendship completely. And then there was my parenting life. Suddenly I was very different from the other moms dropping off their new kindergarten-ers at the local Catholic school where we had decided to send Liza.

I know. This is where I get the inevitable. “Wait a minute, you’re gay but you’re sending your kid to a Catholic school?” question. And my short answer is this: “Yes.” My relationship to my faith is complicated and it’s very personal to me, but at the end of the day it is my faith and I wanted my child raised in that faith, for even as the politics of my church turned its back on me, the prayers, rituals, and hymns comforted me at a time I needed it most. I wanted Liza to attend a school where the academics were rigorous, where the emphasis was on respect and personal responsibility, and where she could be fully a part of the school and parish community. It was absolutely the right decision for her but I was understandably nervous enough about being welcomed as a divorced mom at a Catholic school, let alone a divorced gay mom. For nearly five years I kept that part of my life quiet when dealing with her school. Kelly wasn’t living with us then and aside from a few of Liza’s friends who spent enough time with us to know that Kelly was usually around, no one “officially knew.” But as I grew to trust that the moms and dads of her friends were o.k. with the situation, and as Liza matured, I finally felt comfortable enough at the end of her fourth grade year to ask my friend in charge of volunteers for a school fundraiser if Kelly and I could volunteer together. We were greeted warmly and enthusiastically as we handed out pizza and desserts and Kelly’s joking demeanor was a big hit with the kids. That was the first time I introduced Kelly as my partner to other parents and teachers at her school. And after that we never looked back. Kelly has been there at concerts and plays and when she picks Liza up at her after-school program the teachers never have to ask what child she’s there for. Last spring, when I read of a boy in Massachusetts being denied entry into a Catholic school because he had two moms, it made me doubly thankful for the warm and supportive environment we had found at Liza’s school. This week as the start of sixth grade was upon us, and as our wedding draws closer, I let out a sigh of relief that surely the biggest coming out hurdles were behind me. I was wrong.

There’s an expression in the gay community that you don’t come out just once, you come out over and over again each time you meet someone new. I hadn’t thought until this week how that expression would also be true for my daughter until the night she burst into tears and told me how embarrassed she was that I was gay, and how afraid she was of having to tell new kids at a new school next year, how she was afraid she’d be teased for it, that when we go places as a family she wonders what other people are thinking. The rawness of her emotions slammed into me and I found myself grappling for an answer. I took a deep breath and told her that the people who matter will accept her and her family and the people that don’t are not going to be the people that matter. That we don’t live our lives in secret as if we’re ashamed of who we are, and that by living honestly and openly we are taking away the opportunity for others to use our life as a weapon against us. I told her that sometimes I wonder what people think of our family too, but then I remember how awesome our family is and I remind myself that what other people think is their business. She listened tearfully and said she was done talking about it. I gave her a hug, went into the bathroom, got into the shower, and cried. My coming out had been over 30 years in the making, but Liza had gotten dragged along on my ride and now it was finally catching up with her and it was killing me. Suddenly I doubted everything. Had I handled this the wrong way? Should I have remained closeted at her school and around her friends? I’m used to parental guilt but this one was a doozy. For the next week I proceeded to tread Ilightly and didn’t force the subject. I held my breath that Liza wouldn’t be embarrassed when one of her teachers inquired about what caterer we were using for our wedding and wished us well. Although she was a bit more scowly than usual for a few days by the end of the week we were back to sitting on the deck laughing at wedding scenarios (like Kelly’s suggestion that we have the guests greet each other by rubbing noses) and I hoped that the storm had passed at least for the moment. Kelly thinks I’m naïve to think that my sexuality will never be an issue for Liza with her friends and peers. I continue to maintain that the only way to change minds is to simply live our lives and by doing so show that there’s nothing unusual about our family (well other than the fact that Kelly likes to eat pretzels with taco seasoning sprinkled on them but that’s another blog post entirely). I know most kids are embarrassed by their parents at some point in time and I know Liza wishes I wasn’t so fat, that I could cook, and that I would never again do any show with the local teenage actors who are her friends. But I hope that she can find it in herself someday to be proud that I finally found that courage not to hide who I am. That she can be proud that I’m out.


16 08 2010

Six weeks from today I’ll be a married woman. Again. For the most part my path to the altar with Kelly hasn’t been all that much different than any other bride and groom…or bride and bride…or groom and groom. We’ve debated the merits of marinated asparagus spears versus warm spinach puffs, we’ve alternated between hard and fast “That’s. It. No. More. People.” discussions about the guest list and spontaneously inviting people we just met at a party. We’ve ordered and returned at least two or three wedding ensembles between us and grappled with the realization that, as lesbians, we somehow missed the straight girl shoe-shopping gene and have no idea what to wear on our feet on the big day. We made a half-hearted attempt to register at Crate and Barrel but abandoned it when we conceded that two middle-aged women who already live together really don’t need a new set of salad bowls. We’ve curiously fielded some petulance at not being invited and a few out right requests (and an occasional demand) to be invited, and threats of “oh I’ll just crash.” We realized it’s flattering so many people want to be there with us but I admit to feeling more than a little befuddled at the forwardness. (After all my mother quoted Emily Post like the Bible – it would no more occur to me to demand to attend someone’s nuptials than it would to ride my bike naked through the town. I’ll give you a minute to get THAT image out of your head…) And through it all, like most couples on the threshold of matrimony we’ve had moments of looking at each other and thinking “Are we SURE about this?”

Of course we’re sure. I’m sure as can be that Kelly is my lobster, my mate for life. I can’t imagine a life without her humor, her ability to finish my sentences, her reassuring presence at night, her penchant for spending eons in the produce section, the way she always lets me have the big chipped Tiki Lounge coffee mug that used to be hers, and her random “how’s my lady?” text messages. (I could however, do without her continuing insistence that taking photos of me from behind is a good idea). I’ve even made the big name decision and am eager to start referring to myself as Katie Collins. (The minute a co-worker told me it sounded like a talk show host I was sold). I’m sure about the marriage part. It’s the wedding part I’m starting to get scared about. What if I look like Moby Dick in my white suit? What if I spill Shiraz on my white suit? What if all the things we’ve planned that we think are funny…aren’t? What if we’re not taking this seriously enough? What if we’re too flippant? What if my penchant for making fun of myself makes others think it’s open season to do the same? (Hey it’s the fat girls first line of defense, mock yourself before others have the chance to. But sometimes it backfires).

You see, this weekend we attended the wedding of two of our best friends in the world. It was a picture perfect day full of color and flowers, the brides looked drop dead gorgeous and the ceremony was thoughtful and earnest (and hopefully not ruined by the insecure fat girl in the corner who couldn’t stop giggling). It seemed full of meaning. It seemed important. Ours? Is kind of shaping up like a Saturday Night Live skit. Oh sure eventually vows will be exchanged and I’ll finally get to wear my amazing new wedding ring, but for the most part? It’s one big joke-fest. Now it’s true we are those kinds of people. For us humor at our wedding is as important as making sure everyone has plenty to eat and drink. But it’s more than that. Humor for both of us is a defense mechanism when we’re feeling uncomfortable or as a means to deflect attention away from actual deep feelings. And no day is inspiring deeper feelings that my approaching wedding day. I’m to-the-bone afraid of how I’m going to look on my wedding day. I’m not pretty, never have been. I hate myself in photos and am slightly nauseous at the prospect of so many of them. I’m easily 60 pounds overweight with a strangely put together set of features. So I’m hoping if I cover up that particular terror of being on display with a few good one liners no one will notice that I had to have my outfit made because I’m basically too big for retail. (Kelly and Liza of course will be gorgeous, THAT goes without saying!). I know this seems at odds with my work as an actress but that’s different. It’s not me up there then it’s the character. This time it’s allllllll me baby…and that terrifies me.

So I grapple with my doubts and lie awake wondering what I’ve gotten myself into when we just as easily could have waltzed down to city hall, gotten hitched and taken Liza to TGIFriday’s to celebrate. (Hey c’mon, their deep fried green beans are pretty awesome). Why did we think this was necessary? Think of what I could have spared myself — all the angst over the outfit search, the worry over having enough money to pay for a great party, the gnawing cold hole in my heart where my mom and my sister should be during all this planning (oh please my dad would be on the deck with a manhattan). I haven’t been to a wedding in years, now suddenly this summer I’ve been to one with another looming in a few weeks, each one making me wonder if I’m somehow doing this the wrong way, if I really have it in me to pull off a wedding. If that hard edge I have so carefully cultivated can withstand that much well-wishing.

But then in the midst of an ordinary Sunday night dinner of Shake ‘n Bake and asparagus, with the iPod on in the background, Kelly calmly comments that she put the song “Hot Stuff” on her iPod wedding mix and that she’s thought of several new additions to our program, each one more hilarious than the next, and she’s already worked on her vows and wants to go first so she can ‘take all the good jokes”. And I realize that if she’s all in then I’m all in. Jitters or no jitters, fat girl complex or no fat girl complex, insecurities or no insecurities, meaningful ceremony schmeaningful ceremony, this is the right step. I want to marry this woman just the way we planned, with a lot of laughter and in front of a large crowd of our favorite people. Because nothing in this world makes me happier than watching my Kelly make people laugh. And I never ever want to miss a laugh. Here’s to marriage and here’s to laughter and here’s to the lady who has brought both of those things into my life. Cheers.

Marginal Thoughts on a New Life: Ogunquit, July 2010

26 07 2010

It’s 6:30 am on a summer Sunday morning. My iPod delivers the first “whoa whoa whoa”s of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” into my waiting eardrums as I set out to walk the length and back of Ogunquit Maine’s Marginal Way. Leaving Kelly sleeping off last night’s “Tini” part of our dinner at “Tapas and Tinis,” I walk and walk feeling the warm early morning sun on my cheeks as I share the walkway with serious joggers, early morning fisherman, and the occasional retiree with coffee and paper. The tide is just beginning to return to the shore. I grew up on an island, I know the rhythm of tides as well as I know the overture to “Gypsy,” I should find it comforting, familiar… but I don’t. I feel restless, unsettled, and as if I’m looking for something. I continue through Perkins Cove and over the drawbridge as far as I can before I run out of walkway. Reluctantly I decide against tramping through stranger’s front yards and turn back towards the village where I buy a coffee and a paper and sit outside with a family with early-waking toddlers and a group of elderly men partaking in what is clearly a weekly if not daily ritual of coffee and company.

I try to focus on my Maine Sunday Telegram but instead my thoughts wander and I find myself thinking, not for the first time, what it would be like to live in this village, to be a part of a town part artist colony, part tourist destination, part gay and lesbian hotspot. To be part of the community, work on committees for town celebrations, know my neighbors, and complain about the logjam of tourists every summer. For the past few months Kelly and I have been talking seriously about selling the condo once Liza goes off to college and moving this “beautiful place by the sea.” Make no mistake about it, this is not some ill-thought-out plan that presupposes every day will feel like vacation (like when Kelly moved to New Orleans because Mardi Gras was so much fun. . .not the most brilliant of ideas). For me it would be returning to my home state and most of all returning to a place in the world where the tides help define the rhythm of life and the smell of salt is thick in the summer air and you feel part of a town that knows you.

Before heading back to New Hampshire we spend the day driving neighborhood after neighborhood in Ogunquit and into neighboring York ,looking at houses and speculating about cost and where the nearest grocery store would be and how we’d make a living. We know our real estate and know that even the tiniest ramshackle cottage costs four times what I paid for my condo. Kelly and I are well matched on excursions like this. She goes right to “Would you want the gray clapboard shingles? I like the natural tan ones better,” and persists in driving down long windy drives to million dollar homes that would never in my wildest dreams be ours. I’m the realist. The one who tempers her enthusiasm with “if we even manage to be able to afford to move to Ogunquit you need to know there’s no way on this earth we can live on the ocean.” Usually her enthusiasm is contagious and I find myself thinking about waking each morning to the sound of surf as I did throughout my childhood, to coffee on my deck, to finally having a home that can indulge my love for company, where Liza could return on school breaks with friends. I imagine her rolling her eyes and saying “come visit me in Ogunquit. We’ll go to the beach to get away from my moms, they’re driving me crazy. “ But today I can’t shake the restless frustration that dogged me during my morning walk. It’s more than a longing for something that I know is well, well beyond my means. I grew up among the rich and super rich, and spend my working days asking them for charitable gifts. I’ve long since moved past being envious of a monied lifestyle. It’s not envy of the wealthy whose houses open onto ocean vistas that fills me now. My vision of our life in Ogunquit has never been one of material things or a fancy home. What churns inside me now is a battle between the voice cautioning me not to dream this too hard, I’ll only be let down and the one telling me if I don’t dream it, if I don’t cling to it I will surely be let down. This life I’m about to embark on with Kelly by my side calls for something more, something that will make all the parts whole. A true extreme life makeover. I don’t want to raise money for the rest of my life, I don’t want to foot the bill for someone else’s creativity anymore. I’m selfish. I want my own life of writing and performing and waking each morning excited about what the day will bring rather than resigned to another day of lists and grants and spreadsheets and ticket sales. It is this restlessness I felt on my morning walk, the niggling feeling of knowing where I want to be but unsure how to get there. Allowing myself to be content in the moment of the morning is suspect…I know it’s fleeting and soon I have to return home to my ‘real life.’ I’m grumpy with Kelly, sullen and uncommunicative on the ride home, resenting the inevitable march toward Monday morning.

Kelly, as usual, is patient with me, giving me some space and teasing me out of my funk with her humor and a particularly well-made Caesar salad for dinner. Later that night as we sit together for the premiere of Mad Men comfortably sharing space on the sectional, I realize that seven years ago I fought similar voices inside of me. The ones telling me to stuff a longing for a different life down deep inside me where no one would find it, to ignore it, to fight it and it would go away along with voice that told me that not fighting for this new life meant slowly dying inside. I realize I have already done what I once thought was impossible. Started over, found and been found by love and forged a new path for myself, a journey that in two months time will culminate with marrying the woman who saved me, who loves me, who laughs with and at me, and who showed me that daring to dream a new life isn’t selfish, it’s necessary. I turn to her and joke that if we wait 11 years to move to Ogunquit I’ll be eligible to live in a 55+ planned community. She smiles and says “we won’t wait that long I promise.” And I believe her. And in that moment I let the dream come in and open the door to a life by the sea that I know is out there for us. Even if now it exists only in the margins of my mind.

The Blink

18 07 2010

A dear friend and her husband just welcomed an adorable baby girl to the world and are happily embarking on the adventure of parenthood. As I look at her photos of that teeny baby snuggled and cuddled and loved and coo-ed over I feel that tug that so many moms of older kids feel. That “where did the time go?” feeling. And of course my friend is now hearing what all moms of newborns hear, “don’t blink or you’ll miss something!” Or “you watch, you’ll blink and she’ll be grown!” I steal a glance at my 11-year old sprawled on the couch in her pajama shorts and tank top, fully engulfed in a Lady Gaga video and ponder that parenting phenomenon known as “The Blink.”

Now let me make something clear. I am not one of those sentimental moms that saves every lock of hair, charts every milestone, and has saved every school project or drawing in a colorful bin labeled ‘precious memories.” I’ve chronicled on these pages before that I have never been a great mom and at times never even been a good mom. But even I was blindsided by The Blink. I started thinking about The Blink the other day when trying to remember what summer we took Liza to Storyland. It was then I realized that I don’t think in years. Rather, I think in terms of what grade she was in, what dance recital or play she was doing at the time, but rarely, if ever, by how old she was or what year it was. Looking at a photo of Liza at the pool the summer we moved to my condo I struggled to think how old she had been and was stunned to realize she was just five. FIVE ! A lifetime ago! Yet, at the same time, a mere blink in the endless cycle of back-to-school shopping, Christmas concerts, Easter masses, and Fourth of July fireworks that make up our lives. Here’s the thing, I don’t really remember Liza being any specific age except for four, because that’s the year we first took her to Disneyworld and also the year my marriage ended. (Ok, I also remember the year she was 9 if only because it was a singularly difficult year for both of us and I wasn’t sure we were going to survive it intact). But ask me what she was like at 7 or 3 or 5 and I’ll look at you blankly and then I”ll do my “let’s see…7..that would have been um… 2nd grade? The year she did Jungle Book? Or was she 8 when she did Jungle Book? Hmmmm….” routine.

Here’s my next confession. I vividly remember Liza’s birth, but I don’t remember much about the long hot summer that followed other than my complete inability to effectively parent an infant. And the toddler years after that? One big blur. I was blessed with the world’s greatest daycare providers who surrounded Liza with love and support and guided her through those first steps, toilet training, and her ABCs. To some moms I know this is seen as abandoning my child, for me, it gave me the support network I needed. I didn’t take to motherhood easily. It blindsided me. I was ill-equipped to deal with long days on the toddler swings, nap schedules and Barney. My personal life at the time was troubled and I wasn’t present physically or emotionally in the way I should have been, I call them the lost years. This gap in time is not helped by the fact that I possess photos of Liza as an infant and scores of photos of her from ages 5-11 but nothing from ages 2-4. I think I left those photo albums at her dad’s house – and rightfully so as he should have his share of photo memories of her. But that lack of a visual record does make it hard for me to remember what she was like. It’s almost as if I went straight from that squalling irritated infant to the tween I just bought size 9 adult ballet slippers for. From folding onesies to picking up a tank top in the laundry and wondering if it belonged to the girl or to me. From preparing bottles for her at 2am to asking her to refill my coffee while she’s in the kitchen. From holding hands with a little girl on the beach, to putting my arm around a young woman nearly as tall as I am. The Blink happened.

As I smile as I read my friends exuberant Facebook posts about those heady early days of motherhood, yet my heart aches a little for the baby Liza was and for the kind of intuitive mom she never had. I love being around new babies, I love holding them and smelling that awesome new baby smell and seeing those little faces so full of promise of the world ahead of them and I love seeing those new moms so in love with them and so sure that they will memorize each moment, that they won’t be a victim of the Blink. I look at Liza and search for reminders of her chubby toddler face where the blasé face of a confident young woman now lives. I stop her suddenly in the supermarket and kiss the top of her head so fiercely she pulls away from me with a horrified “MOMMMMM!” I can’t bring that toddler back, that 5, 8 or 10-year old back nor, honestly, would I want to. Liza has grown into a young woman whose company comforts me, whose humor delights me, and whose talent humbles me. But in this moment when I feel that I finally have a handle on this whole mom thing, I hold on to my 11 year-old with all my might because I know. I know soon she’ll be gone on her way to a future bigger than we can imagine. And I’ll be wondering when I blinked.

There’s Always Time for TV

23 06 2010

Last week a friend of Liza’s, a delightful and studious young woman, was over for a visit. As we hung out around the dining room table the talk turned to the most recent season of American Idol. Much to Liza’s shock, our young guest confessed she had never seen the show, announcing she “didn’t have time for TV.” “Oh my dear,” I responded, “the rule in our house is that there’s always room for ice cream and there’s always time for TV.” My proclamation was greeted with smiles from Kelly and Liza and nervous laughter from Liza’s friend, as if she didn’t quite know what to do with the knowledge that we were an unabashedly TV-loving family. Later we chuckled over her reaction, but it got me thinking about my lifelong love affair with TV and how at times it’s an addiction I hide like my love of Little Debbie Donut Sticks.

When I was a kid, growing up on an island, with much older siblings, I was on my own quite a bit. Fat, awkward, and constantly confused by the fast friendships of kids my own age I discovered a new set of friends on the sitcoms, game shows, and buddy cop dramas of the 70s and early 80s. They were always there for me when I’d come home from a day of being called Elephant on the playground. I’d fix a snack (of course) and settle in for an afternoon of Hollywood Squares and Match Game (looking back on my young fascination with Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly is it any wonder I grew up to surround myself with gay men?). If I was lucky there would be a Star Trek repeat on, and then following dinner I could settle down with the CBS comedy line up of Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda, the ABC Saturday night one-two punch of Love Boat and Fantasy Island. I read TV Guide’s like they were novels. I could explain in detail who had replaced whom in the squad room of Barney Miller or the kitchen of Mel’s Diner. I stayed up late crying the night Carol Burnett went off the air, and lived for the Emmy’s or better yet the fabulousness that was the Battle of the Network Stars. To the fat lonely girl on the island waiting for her brother and sister to come home from college, these characters became my friends. I knew them better than I knew the girls who sat around me in grade school or junior high, with their alligator shirts tucked into their khakis. I felt sure that while these girls would never understand me, it was ok because at home my real friends waited: Julie and Barbara, the teen daughters on One Day at a Time, or Kelly, Jill, and Sabrina, those angels of Charlie. I knew that Starsky and Hutch, or Kirk, Spock and Bones could rescue me from anything, but most of all from the crushing weight of my loneliness as all around me my friends developed social lives and worldly ways that left me baffled. I wanted a best friend who would run through a burning building for me like Johnny would do for Roy or a best friend that would make me lose my composure the way Conway did to Korman. I wanted someone love me the way Luke loved Laura, or heck, even the way Mike Brady loved Carol (talk about acting!).

My clandestine love affair with TV continued in the safe confines of my family until I went to college. While I was happy to escape my tiny town, I was still that shy fat girl nervous about making friends – so I took the best ones I had with me. Armed with my tiny 13 inch black and white TV, I entered my dorm room where I was alarmed to find my roommate (who would actually become one of my best friends and stay so ‘til this day) was an athletic type, majoring in science and clearly not one to have time for television. I continued to nurse my addiction in secret, sneaking in shows when she was out of the room or at the library studying. Time and a bit of maturity intervened though and as I spent more time in rehearsals I spent less time with my TV friends. And it was finally in college that I met Joe. Joe was that best friend I’d been waiting for, that person who cracked me up with a look or a word, but who more delightfully could also work references to Shirley Hemphill, (the sassy waitress on “What’s Happening?”), name all the kids on Eight is Enough, and most of all would so wonderfully play Charles Nelson Reilly to my Brett Summers. (And while I’m fairly sure either of us would run into a burning building for the other I hope we never have to find out). With Joe, it wasn’t weird that I knew that former Broadway hoofer Betty Garret played Laverne and Shirley’s landlady or that the youngest girls on Little House on the Prairie were played by the Greenbush twins. In fact, my secret love affair with TV, which once marked me as a major high school loser, became something I could celebrate with Joe. Nearly twenty-five years later, we can still make each other laugh at inappropriate moments just by invoking Bea Arthur or quoting our favorite Carol Burnett movie spoof (which we feel strongly was “Mildred Fierce”, even more so than “Went with the Wind”). I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t found Joe and I can’t even imagine how grim life would be without him.

In my youth once a show had aired it was over – until the summer repeats, and the excitement of syndication. But in my early post-divorce days, feeling lonely and scared I discovered a wonderful new development. My 70s shows were out on DVD and they were all there for the taking on Netflix! I’d get Liza settled to bed and hang out with a few Wild Wild West episodes or Starsky and Hutch, (who really always were my go-to guys). They connected me to a time when my problems could be solved with a good cry in my mother’s lap or a walk with my dad and their familiar opening credits were like visual comfort food. Now, comfortably ensconced in my mid-forties and on the cusp of a new life married to Kelly, I still love my TV. And while Kelly will occasionally greet one of my TV references with her patented “nope I didn’t see that I had a LIFE in high school,” I know she understands. We’ve worked our way through seasons of Mad Men and Big Love and House, and don’t even get me started on all the incarnations of the Real Housewives My love affair with television is perhaps one reason why I, unlike many moms my age, don’t fret about Liza watching TV. We’ve cuddled together for nine seasons of American Idol, shared popcorn during our Sunday night Amazing Race nights and recreated the best musical numbers from that week’s episode of Glee I used to turn to TV to find friends or a little comfort, but those early days in front of our Panasonic did something else for me – it helped me take life less seriously, made me a force to be reckoned with at pub trivia nights, honed my comic timing and gave me a lifetime of zingers. So fire up the set my friends and enjoy. There’s always time for TV.