I Thought Motherhood Would Come Easy but Life Got in the Way

How I ended up being the mother I was always intended to be

Image by Марина Вельможко from Pixabay

There was never any doubt in my mind I would be a mother. As with most everything in my life, I had a plan: College, Career, Marriage, Children (four was the magic number — two of each). We’d grow old, retire, and wait for grandbabies.


Life would be as simple as blowing soap bubbles. With a little effort, each stage would inflate and delight with iridescent elegance. It would drift away when the time came and a new radiant bubble would wondrously take its place.


Somehow, in my youth, I failed to acknowledge that bubbles are bound to burst.

“Mother is a verb. It’s something you do. Not just who you are.”

Dorothy Canfield Fisher

It all began perfectly enough. I received my degree, started my career in public relations, and married my high school sweetheart.


I knew pretty soon after we started dating, he was father material. He treasured his nieces and nephews. He had a knack for connecting with any child, no matter what the age. It planted a seed in my maternal heart. I couldn’t wait to start our family.


When we decided the time was right, we tossed aside the birth control and got down to the business of making babies. But no matter how much time and energy we were putting into the project, we could not generate a profit. The plus sign would not appear in the urine-stained window.


Off we went to the doctor to get to the bottom of our elusive dividends.


Diagnosing and treating infertility is not for the demure. Blood tests, vaginal ultrasounds with an acoustic dildo, and post-coital exams to rate the hospitality on my uterus were on my agenda. (Nothing like your vaginal canal getting a Yelp review from the gynecologist.) More blood tests and monthly cup deposits delivered in a brown paper lunch bag were on my husband’s.


After 18 months of mood-altering medication, biweekly doctor visits, and sobbing at Huggies commercials, the test came back positive. The doctor beamed. The nurse cried with delight.


Our first son arrived early — he couldn’t wait for us to be a family either. Our second came less than two years later. We didn’t want to go through the physical and emotional turmoil of fertility treatments again, so we resolved to let nature take its course — or not.


Our offspring were capped at two, but it didn’t matter anymore. The seed that sprouted my maternal heart had taken root and blossomed. I was a boy mom, and I was ecstatic.

“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had.”

Linda Wooten

Even before your children are born, you begin planning the life ahead of them. Merging your hopes and dreams with theirs and contemplating the milestones along the way.


Having one of them develop a life-threatening disease is usually not part of the equation.


When our eldest was two and a half, he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Within hours, our entire family was drafted into a life-long battle with his condition. We entered diabetes boot camp and learned how to manage his disease and hopefully, not kill him in the process.


And so began our months (and then years) of every-hour-on-the-hour glucose tests, monitoring everything he ate, keeping track of exercise, computing insulin intake, and praying he didn’t catch some illness that would send his sugars soaring.


But in the process, I became a warrior mom. I steadfastly guarded his health like a sentry. I studied his illness, educating all of us and others. I defended his rights and taught him how to do the same. Eventually, the power of my son’s own wellbeing was passed on to him. The tour of duty was complete.

“When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.”

Sophia Loren

Life during my children’s elementary school years was going according to the “new plan.” (I was still naïve enough to think that I was done with any further disruptions.)


I worked part-time as the school librarian and was active in the PTA. Saturdays were spent at the local recreation center where my husband coached whatever sport happened to be in season. Sundays were filled with church and extended family get-togethers. We were in our element. We were prospering.


Until one day — we weren’t. When my children were six and eight years old, their father was diagnosed with leukemia.


Girded by my warrior training, I went back into battle. Alongside my husband, I contended with hospital stays, complicated medication regimens, and cross-country trips for vital treatments.


All the while, I fiercely defended my children’s sense of normalcy even when we were anything but. They never missed a day of school. To help them feel secure, family members stayed with them in our home when we were away. Their father valiantly hid the full extent of his suffering and I followed suit.


I was the mother offering hope — right up to the day he passed away.

“Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life.”

Sophocles

If it wasn’t for my children, I don’t think I would have survived the loss of my husband. They gave me a reason to function — to hold onto life. I was a hollow robot, mechanically going through the motions.


Somehow motherhood — that deep-seated desire to tend to my boys — provided the strength to endure. They already had their world torn in half; I couldn’t bear it if I caused it to be obliterated.


Ever so slowly, the need to stabilize our family drove me to reclaim my humanity.

“When we have joy we crave to share; we remember them.”

Rabbis Sylvan Kamens & Jack Riemer

When my husband was first diagnosed, I began mentally preparing for the inevitable. There is plenty of material on how to withstand — or even understand — the death of a spouse. I, myself, have written many times on the topic.


However, I was completely caught off guard by what widowhood would do to my identity as a mother. Suddenly, I was the sole captain. My co-parent — my child-rearing partner — was gone. The one person who could wholeheartedly share in the sorrows and revel in the joys of raising our sons was absent.


I lacked backup when I needed it and a contrary opinion when necessary. I’m sure my boys grew tired of my voice and longed for the counterbalance of their father’s baritone.


The title of “single mother” never seemed to fit. Single = One. One is a whole number. I was fractioned — incomplete. It took me years to accept this new individual version of motherhood.

“Motherhood is the biggest gamble in the world. It is the glorious life force. It’s huge and scary — it’s an act of infinite optimism.”

Gilda Radner

I often wonder if life had gone according to plan, would I be the same woman I am now. What kind of mother would I be? Would I be as resilient or empathetic? Would my children?


The trials we encountered brought out a fortitude I never knew I possessed; a steely determination to nurture no matter what the circumstances. Like apprenticeships, each struggle provided the preparation and developed the strength I would need for the next one.


My boys are now adults. I can only take partial credit — or blame — for the men they have become. Their personalities are unique and innate. It filters how they perceive and respond to whatever lessons I may have tried to impart.


Many mistakes were made along the way, but I have cast aside the guilt. (Well, most of it.) I know I did the best I could with the tools I had at the moment. How can I regret anything that helped produce the remarkable sons I have today?


Motherhood was not — or continues to be — entirely what I expected, but what in life is?


The bubbles may continue to burst, but they leave rainbows in their wake.


Originally posted on Medium.com

I Let Depression Tarnish the Last Months I Had With My Husband

Confessions of a guilty widow

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

If I confess my deepest darkest regret, will you think less of me? Will the colorful image you had of my character fade to gray?

I guess I really can’t be concerned with such matters. The need to be authentic compels me to admit:

During the last months of my husband’s life, I was a wretched wife.

When your spouse is diagnosed with cancer, a halo is promptly bestowed upon your head. People behold the aura of an angel, a selfless guardian.

The moment your beloved dies, you are bequeathed sainthood. No canonization investigation required — you’re decreed a living martyr.

I wasn’t worthy of either title.

For years, I was able to pull it off

From that fateful day in 2001 when his leukemia was detected and throughout the stem cell transplant in 2003, I was my husband’s fierce warrior — his faithful companion.

I eagerly attended every doctor’s appointment. During the transplant, I sat by his hospital bed with my notebook of lab results, daily stats, and Q&As for the attendings. I kept track of how many ounces he drank — and expelled. I’d help him shower if he had the energy to take one and especially when he didn’t.

For eight weeks, I monitored and worried. His steadfast sentry, nothing was going to be missed on my watch.

The 45-minute drive home each night was my time to cry — that is, if I could allow myself the release. Gasping sobs would have to wait. One can only shed so many tears when navigating a freeway.

Our two young sons, ages eight and ten, would greet me at the door, anxious for news about when their Daddy — their hero — might come home. I never had the heart to tell them the odds were he wouldn’t.

Once he was released from the hospital, the location had changed, but the vigil continued. He was in lockdown for 100 days while his immunities were rebuilding. Every morsel of food and drink was strictly controlled to prevent contamination. I flushed his Hickman twice daily so we wouldn’t need to hire a nurse.

My husband’s only excursions were visits to the doctor, where I diligently came prepared with my ever-expanding notebook. I reported on his progress and tattled on him when he “misbehaved.”

Part scolding, part admiration, the three of us would laugh and cry, smile and cringe about the pace of his recovery.

Throughout it all, he would hold my hand and thank me. Silently sing my praises with a sly smile. I would soak it all in — letting his pride in me briefly douse the dread simmering in my soul.

I was a triumphant wife.

Reality settles in

We soon learned the harsh reality of “surviving” a stem cell transplant. Remission does not equal well. It only means cancer-free.

When they bring you to the precipice of death, there are going to be consequences.

My husband was in a ceaseless war. His immune system had been overthrown by the transplant and it wasn’t going to give up without a fight. Every skirmish left a little more devastation in its wake. His body was the battered battleground.

As he bravely soldiered on, I slowly withdrew. I continued the day-to-day activities of being a wife and mother, but I retreated from us — from him.

I was a fraudulent wife.

I was repulsed not by him, but by the disease slowly taking him away from me.

Every ailment withered his physique, but strengthened his resolve. The more he suffered without complaint, the more I wanted to scream about the injustice of his illness. I seethed with selfish anger and writhed in empathetic pain.

The two of us continued on in a stoic hush, not wanting the world — or each other — to realize just how fragile we were.

Not comprehending that isolating our feelings would soon isolate us from each other.

I could handle much of it: the perpetual sores on his feet that he spent 30 minutes each morning dressing, the near loss of his vision requiring contacts only available across the country, and the limp that took stole his weekly game of basketball.

It was the rest that made me go AWOL

First, it was his drastic drop in weight. I used to joke I didn’t marry a man who was thinner than me, playing on his ego to try and get him to eat. But that was only the truth floating on the surface. From the center of my being, I ached for his strong, muscular arms that would make me feel safe and protected.

Each pound he lost tolled how precarious our life had become. He finally stopped telling me his weight. I would never ask again.

Doubly desolating was the siege of his mouth. Dry and full of sores, he couldn’t muster enough saliva to eat normal food nor tolerate any sort of spice. Nearly every meal I could make caused him pain. When he stopped joining us for dinner, I gave up on cooking.

No amount of breath mints could disguise the scent and flavor of sickness inhabiting his mouth. The mouth that gave me my first kiss. The one I used to spend hours savoring was now sour — a distasteful reminder of a life being vanquished. Our affection became relegated to pecks on the cheek.

He developed a form of scleroderma. The condition marched across his skin, laying the foundations for its eventual sarcophagus. Disfiguring and immobilizing everywhere it advanced, we knew it was only a matter of time before it hit below the belt.

I was a neglectful wife

Each night, my husband would retreat to our bedroom soon after dinner. A full day’s work for him was exhausting. After the kids were put to bed, he’d ask me to join him. Sometimes for intimacy, mostly for simple companionship.

To my profound regret, more and more often, I’d come up with a reason to decline his request.

From “I’ve got a headache,” to “There are bills to pay,” to “My favorite TV show is on,” I guiltily spouted them all. Dejected, he eventually stopped asking.

My love for him never wavered, but truth be told, I was resentful, morose, and a sad excuse for a wife. I fumed that every waking moment was dictated by his disease. Embittered that our children didn’t remember life with him well.

I was despondent over being robbed of our happily ever after, even as I was robbing him of the closeness he needed — and deserved.

I was in mourning before he was dead.

It never occurred to me I was suffering from depression.

The other shoe drops

For seven years, the WHEN? shadowed us during the day and loomed in our dreams at night. We tried to pretend it wasn’t there, but it haunted us all the same.

His death brought forth a cavalcade of emotions: Shock, sorrow, and deep-seated anguish that left me hollow. It also brought relief. Relief that he wouldn’t have to endure another minute of suffering. Relief that cancer no longer ruled our lives.

Relief that I didn’t have to take care of him anymore.

Then the guilt would wash over me like Bactine. I would sting mightily with shame and then go numb.

I was a grieving widow.

Clarity comes in the aftermath

It’s been 12 years since he’s been gone. A dozen years living with this secret disgrace.

I’ve chastised myself a thousand times for falling short. Remorse still prowls my cheerful memories, waiting to pounce and condemn.

Only recently have I acknowledged I was depressed. The years of “being strong” had left me weak. There were only so many hours in the day I could keep a smile on my face. I was also suffering from an autoimmune disorder that sucked dry any reserves I may have had.

Desperately working with my meager coping skills and failing miserably, I simply thought this was par for the course when confronted with cancer. Too dumbfounded to recognize that I needed — we both needed — help.

I was doing my best, but I know it must have hurt him deeply. If I could change one thing, I would have swallowed my pride and reached out to someone.

Maybe then, I could have settled into his embrace each and every night of those last months. Let him kiss me like he did our first time under the mistletoe.

Remind him — remind me — that our love could soothe all wounds.


Cancer caregivers experience depression at more than double the rate of patients

The American Society of Clinical Oncology reports that up to 59% of cancer patient caregivers experience some sort of depression, compared to up to 25% for patients. Continual, untreated caregiver burden can negatively impact the health of the caregiver as well as the patient.

If you are a cancer patient caregiver and feeling overwhelmed, please don’t keep it to yourself.

Most cancer centers will have an oncology social worker on staff that can direct you to nearby resources. Seek out support groups where you can express your anxiety in a safe space. Check out the National Cancer Institute’s Caring for the Caregiver.

Getting assistance will only help you — and your loved one.


This piece was originally published as an P.S. I Love You Editor’s pick on Medium.com

When it Comes to Women in Their 50s, Google is Shamefully Wrong

Apparently, we are dowdy, decrepit, and hard up.

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

I’m not sure what possessed me — boredom, gluttony for punishment, or morbid curiosity — but I googled Women in their 50s. According to their almighty algorithms, our sense of style is up there with the People of Walmart, our bones are as brittle as October maple leaves, and we’re toting vaginas that are enticing as Death Valley.

Good God! Call Kevorkian already!

I had half expected to see the famous pair of Jennifers @50, JLo and Aniston, topping (taunting) my search and spouting how great life as a quinquagenarian can be. (Say that one 50 times fast.) Instead, the article atop the page was WebMd’s Your Body in Your 50s.

This charming slideshow describes the delightful deterioration of your health when you reach half a century. Some of these include:

  • Diminishing Brain Health: No need to dwell on your cognitive decline — you couldn’t concentrate on it long enough anyway. Just eat more fish swimming in olive oil and you’ll forget all about it.
  • Failing Mentality: Warnings of depression brought on by menopause and alcohol. Their solution, “sit less and move more.” I’ll get off the couch eventually, but I need to gulp down my wine first.
  • Immune System Malfunctions: Not only does your immunity weaken, but it slows to sloth-like momentum and can even “attack itself by accident.” So, the Invasion of the Body Snatchers was just an allegory for a mid-life health crisis?
  • Hearing Loss: Excuse me, did you say something? I couldn’t hear you over the sound of zombie T-cells gradually devouring my organs.
  • Vision Loss: Did you know you can no longer shift your focus easily is because your eyes “get stiffer with age?” “Hey! Eyes up here mister! Oh, you’re 50+? I’ll give you a minute.”
  • Menopause: Their solution for hot flashes, mood swings, and painful sex? Antidepressants, sleep, and lots o’ lube. Pharmaceuticals and Slip N Slide sheets — mandated midlife mood enhancers.
  • Bone Disintegration: In your 50s, your broken-down bone cells outnumber the stronger ones. You’re just one trip and fall away from being left out on the curb. Best have a P.I. attorney on speed dial.

The odds of finding useful information are 50–50

I love going down a research rabbit hole, so I’m always game for the other topics the learned browser might suggest. In their “People also search for” box, they list Goals for a 50-year-old woman, Things to do when you turn 50 years old, and Finding purpose in life after 50. Looks like Google supposes that without their guidance, we are all wandering around apathetic, lethargic, and aimlessly waiting for the inevitable dementia diagnosis.

The People also ask section also lists these popular queries:

  • What should a woman in her 50s wear? According to AARP — Dark denim, more dark denim, and cardigans. So, Mr. Rogers on a casual Friday, got it.
  • What should you not wear in your 50s? Old fashioned skirts, fleece, and loud makeup. No Caroline Ingalls/Nike/Tammy Faye Bakker ensembles — understood.
  • At what age does a man stop getting hard? Yeah, I know, but it appears it’s something us horny 50s-year-olds with dehydrated vajayjays are very curious about. (If I’m understanding the math correctly — about half the men in their 50s suffer from ED.) The stiffer the eyeballs, the softer the johnson?
  • How do you sexually arouse a woman in menopause? Again, it looks like we are clueless (and obsessed) in this department, too. Their suggestions: Lubrication (Tip to 30-year-old self: Buy stock in Astroglide. It will come in handy. Yes, all the puns intended.), bolstering yourself with pillows (more cushion for the pushin’ against that delicate skeleton), and “going solo.” If we were experts at the last one, would we even need to ask this question?
  • What foods should you avoid after 50? Cut down on sugar, salts, carbs, and alcohol. Doesn’t the internet realize that a steady diet of banana bread, French fries, and cabernet is keeping me sane as I approach the last best years of my life?
  • What is the average weight for a 50-year-old woman? I won’t dignify that body-shaming search with the answer, but suffice it to say, I’m four pounds over. I’m tall, so it evens out. But, then again, I live in Los Angeles. I’m considered a behemoth.

The cyber search for meaning continues

Interspersed with the tales of health horrors and aging beautifully tips are the articles on reinventing, rediscovering, and reclaiming your identity. Finding the “courage and the freedom” to be your “true self.” It’s as if the first five decades of our lives didn’t amount to anything.

Did we spend all that time in hiding, waiting for the world to acknowledge our greatness? Were our personas that precarious?

I don’t know about you, but I think have done a lot in the first half of my life: I married my great love, raised two boys into adulthood, survived widowhood and breast cancer, traveled abroad, and reinvented my career more than once.

My list is not complete, and I plan on accomplishing much more. I have no doubt your lists are just as impressive.

Originally, I was going to say, “even more impressive.” I grew up believing it wasn’t ladylike for a girl to toot her own horn. That is the one thing I have realized in my 50s — I haven’t found my voice, I’m finally comfortable with using my voice. If that makes others uneasy, so be it.

Mid-21st-Century Modern

There still is a long way to go equal pay/opportunity department, but we are a lucky generation. Our current role models for those in our fifties include the aforementioned Jennifers, Padma Lakshmi, and Sheryl Sandburg to name just a few. There are hundreds of vibrant, intelligent women breaking through boundaries and straddling all industries for us to chose from.

When we were young women, the 50-something role models presented to us were The Golden Girls and Queen Elizabeth — aging females with one foot presumed to be in the graveyard.

It looks like Betty White and Her Majesty had other plans.

Do not deprive me of my age. I have earned it. — May Sarton


This post originally appeared in P.S. I Love You @Medium.com

Tribulation

A poet’s plight

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. — Robert Frost

Tormented by prose,
there is no repose until composed
Stowaway brainchildren shoplifting daydreams
pilfering notions and whims
Tinkering with mental trinkets to keep themselves amused

Fractured figments infiltrate slumber
Tirelessly inscribing, reciting
depriving sleep
Nocturnal visions usurped by urgent soliloquies

Desperation demands, commands
purging the pangs fermenting my soul
Bloodthirsty, I breach, leach
the clamors tearing my heart asunder

Revelations outcry, testify so that I
may be shanghaied from my purgatory

Visceral scripts cast off clouds of gloom
until there is no longer any room for agony or anger
Allowing me to breathe, bathe
under sun-soaked lapis skies
where tears have ceased to linger

And sometimes — in due time
I bide my time
while inspirations ignite and speculations spark
lighting fire to introspection

Librettos written
Choral hymns sung
Declaring sacred secrets
and contemptuous contemplations

Harmonious musings
Discordant discourse
Communally coexist
Live together
Lie together
Symbiotic scribbles
Sprawled, scrawled
Laid down on the page
Relinquished to the reader
for final judgment


Originally published on iPoetry @Medium.com

Looking for Love? Maybe You Need to Change Your Point of View

What you find is up to you

Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash

Tucked in the upper right corner of my garage rafters lies a box containing an enormous vase. It has earned that spot because it is simply too large for any indoor closet. Scarlet and urn-shaped (an omen, perhaps?) it was a gift from my late husband on a bygone Valentine’s Day. He promised to fill it with roses each year after that. He made it to three.

Guiding like a beacon, it is the first thing I notice when pulling into my home. Sometimes, all I observe is the tattered, dusty edges of the box — how empty that picture of the crimson glass vessel appears. Most of the time, however, I recognize it as it truly is: A loving cup brimming with memories. It all depends on my point of view.


Now here I am, a dozen Valentines since my husband’s passing, without a holiday mandated significant other. Lavish bouquets will not be exhibited on my Facebook feed. No one is sending me sweet love notes this year.

But here’s the kicker — I am teeming with loves just as significant, if not more so, than the adoration of a spouse or partner. And, I bet, my fellow non-plus-oners, you are, too. You just have to recognize them and, most importantly, resolve to take heed of their beauty.

Only in the eyes of love can you find infinity
-Sorin Cerin

The Greeks defined eight types of love. Why eight? I’d like to think it’s because eight is the number of infinity. Universal love can’t be comprehended in a single construct.

My favorite synopsis of this Grecian octet is a blog post on the FTD website. I know, cheesy, but good content is good content. Plus, this is a Valentine’s piece, so what the heck.

Here they are, with a little commentary thrown in:

  • Philia: Brotherly Love. Kindred Spirits. The kind of person who understands that pineapple has no business being anywhere near a pizza, but completely understands why ketchup on tacos is the bomb.
  • Pragma: Enduring, mature love. A cultivated, shared history that has withstood the tests of time.
  • Storge: Natural, instinctual love. The instant love a parent has for their child or the immediate affection felt between childhood friends. BFs forever and all that.
  • Eros: Romantic, physical love. Hot, sultry hormones pulsating. Bounding with lustful energy. Soft caresses leading to wild abandon. Whew! Ok, I digress… Get a grip woman!
  • Ludos: Playful, flirty love. Infatuation. Frisky behavior that makes everyone else in the room gag just a bit.
  • Mania: Obsessive love. Jealous and possessive. Sheer madness.
  • Philautia: Self-compassion. Revering, accepting, and honoring yourself. Choosing love that builds you up.
  • Agape: Selfless love. Putting others above yourself. Recognizing and respecting the humanity in all of us. Sadly, there hasn’t been much of this going around as of late.

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”
-Audrey Hepburn

The Greeks never intended for these loves to be mutually exclusive. Like features in a luxurious landscape, they are to be planted together; complementing and highlighting what is sown alongside.

Love is never monochromatic. It can be dappled with a few complementary hues or bursting with psychedelic shades. Your preferences, your environment, help to select the flora.

So Cupid be damned! This Valentine’s I am going to shift my focus to the loves that presently adorn my life, instead of longing for those of seasons past. Like any landscape artist, I am working with the abundance of botanicals presented to me. Hopefully, you find it as breathtaking as I do.

But first, the fertilizer

Ever since my husband’s original cancer diagnosis (on the eve of 9/11 — another omen), one could say my life has been a reoccurring shit show. An endless carnival of freak occurrences and rarities that would amaze even Ripley.

Contrary to the old adage, my shit does stink. Big chunks of putrid stank bobbing in a viscous cesspool. That aroma, believe it or not, is peculiarly intoxicating and addictive. The compulsion to anoint oneself with sorrow’s perfume overwhelming.

But, to my surprise, it is within these piles that my loves have sprouted. Instead of prompting repulsion, these predicaments have fertilized my blessings. They laid the groundwork for my bountiful garden.

Mia famiglia: Storge-Agape-Philia

I used to take for granted my strong, extended family. I’m sure it’s partly due to my Italian heritage, but, to me, it was a given that everyone had one. Only recently, have I recognized my privilege.

My family is voracious in their appetite to make it all better and I admit, I lap up every morsel of their compassion. There is my mother, who bursts in with a month’s worth of homemade ragu and biscotti; her arms laden with bags of herbals and vitamins. Whether the ailment is physical or emotional, she has a supplement for it.

Her maternal might set to 11, my mother will nestle in for days or sometimes weeks to tend to her firstborn. Three square meals a day (always organic) her manna from heaven.

My father, in turn, will drive to the ends of the earth — and Costco — to gather provisions. Tucked within his bags of supplies will invariably be a surprise luxury item (jumbo shrimp, baby lamb chops, juicy rib-eyes) that he and I both adore. It’s a wink and a silent, “I’ve got you covered, honey,” that rings loud and clear in my heart.

Each of my siblings is steadfast as a succulent. A variegated array of devotion, their loyalty never waivers.

Then there is my cousin, who has made it his mission to make me feel attractive even though lately I feel about as appealing as a corpse lily. I know he is at the ready to beat down any dude he feels has done me wrong.

Treasured old friends: Philia-Pragma-Storge

Fortune smiled upon me when it granted me a fellowship of life-long friends. Most budded in elementary school with one germinating in our infancy. Beloved companions for 50 years, they are my roots. We have grown, matured, and endured alongside each other like a redwood forest.

We have experienced the trials and joys of all that life has to offer from youthful shenanigans to the frolics of middle age. Boyfriends, careers, marriages, and births have been our summer solstice. The biting frost of illness and death’s devastation our frigid winters. We have a symbiotic history that grounds and nourishes us. They know and cherish me to my core.

The Posse: Philia-Philautia-Agape

My posse, along with their spouses and children, is my trellis — my backbone. Interwoven with strength and radiance, this sisterhood+ rallies like a fire brigade as soon as a distress call pings our group text. Ever ready for the rescue, they’ve arrived within minutes whenever I needed a lift to an appointment, a toilet unclogged, or gallons of libations to drown my sorrows.

These families have cheered on my children, coaching and stepping in as surrogate parents when my capacity was waning. Even more glorious, they have always included me in their social gatherings. I’m not weeded out as the solo attendee or tolerated as the pity invite. Within this lattice, I am welcomed.

The greenery

No landscape is complete without a bit of foliage providing an anchor or a touch of flourish. There is the former coworker who has become a dear companion and priceless dispenser of wisdom, the countless clients who unknowingly offered inspiration when I was desperate for validation, and, of course, my two sons who supply me with abounding purpose, pride, and hope.

“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” –Henri Matisse

I’ll admit, I still pine for a season of roses. It’s easier to be content with discontent. When the next storm arrives, I have no doubt I’ll find myself, once again, slathering sadness like a warm blanket.

But when that happens, I am equally assured that one of my loves will sprout anew and tenderly wipe the tears from my eyes. My focus cleared, I’ll soon notice the grandeur blossoming around me.

So what is blooming in your garden? Which of the eight loves decorate your landscape? Are you dazzled by their brilliance? Or are you struggling to see splendor amidst some desolation? Are you basking in a verdant meadow or shriveling in a barren desert?

The view is up to you.


Orginally featured in P.S. I Love You @ Medium.com

After the Storm

A poem of survival

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Thunder heralds
the tempest’s arrival
There is no eluding
the impending turmoil

Lightning shots snap
Glaring x-rays blaze
illuminating the scourges
of storms gone by

Currents caught in a perpetual loop
Static sparks sizzle and singe
The needling cocoon
your only shelter

Bellowing winds howl
Bringing you to your knees
Cat o’ nine tails gusts
flail at your sins

Wildly biting
Frost relentlessly nips
Staccato hail pelts
hammer your heart

With cold, callous blood
the icy assault persists
numbing you to the bone
begetting amnesia

Flashbacks surge
Contentment is forgotten
Comfort hushed
to nebulous whispers


Grifters of tranquility
tempests are transient
Abandoning their onslaught
once depleted

Fragile and fatigued
Will your wounds take root?
Lesions hemorrhage and
nourish stagnation?

Or will your scars stoke resilience?
Cultivate your resolve?
Deem yourself worthy
To endure
To survive


Drained of their tears
Their grey weight dispersed
Clouds adorn the indigo sky

Alabaster luster glistens
the promise of hope


Previously published in Being Known @Medium.com

Damming Love

Photo by Garon Piceli from Pexels

We shared a lifetime
a lifetime ago

Flawed, yet unbroken
Beautifully blemished
Burnished to a luster
reflecting devotion

Eager archaeologists
we examined tenderly
Ardently unearthing
our unique treasures

Intimately excavating
Discovering
Learning
until love was clairvoyant

We knew Us
by heart

Youthful — Innocent
We had commenced
only to be aged
beyond our years

Invaded — Tormented
Cancer corrupted
Our perfect union
prematurely extinct

Nearly a decade required
to cast aside mourning
Shed my shroud
Discard my armor

Unaware of my naiveté
I auctioned my affections
Inept as an ingenue
Headed for slaughter

At first, I sought
lightening in a bottle
but flashy liaisons
promptly implode

Still desperately seeking
I mistook
desire for romance
Fleeting attention
for adoration

I settled for inadequacy
Forged perfection
Alluring courtships
proved to be counterfeit

Am I greedy?
A relationship glutton
trying to echo
our marital harmony?

Or am I an addict?
Craving the fix
of holding someone dear?

Earnestly yearning
to be cherished once more

Now a wary skeptic
disquiet compels retreat
to lick my wounds
Safeguard my heart

But my soul pours out
The floodgates have opened
How does one dam (damn?)
the desire to love?


Originally published in P.S. I Love You @Medium.com

From Happy Hours to Sober Vacations

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Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

 

How an average social drinker gave up alcohol for a week and found a community.

Whether it be through the disease of alcoholism or some other occurrence, we all are kindred spirits of past brokenness and despair — feeling out of control and forsaken. It is in the rising from ashes that we forge a strengthened renewal and realize our common humanity.


My friends and family were stunned.

“Let me get this straight. You are going to Mexico and not having one drink?”

“Yes,” I feebly explained, “It’s an alcohol-free vacation.”

“Oh, I get it. You’re staying at an all-inclusive. That means the alcohol is FREE, right?”

“True, but all the booze will be stored away while our group is there. We are completely buying out the resort to make that possible.”

“But…
Tequila.”

I just shrugged and told them I would provide a detailed account of my coping skills once I survived the ordeal.

Just your average middle-aged inebriated woman

Eight months earlier, I had taken a position with a company that created week-long travel events for those in the twelve-step community. Each winter, they would do a complete buyout of a tropical resort. Speakers, workshops, shared activities were brought in and the spirits were moved out. The cocktails that usually greeted guests would be replaced by exotic juices and smoothies. Sober alcoholics could relax in their vacations, instead of always having to be wary about what may be lurking in their food and beverages. I was about to embark on my first such event.

Although a regular local Happy Hour patron — mostly for the social aspect — I wouldn’t say I am a heavy drinker. Still, I’ll have an occasional glass of wine with dinner, and once a month, an evening could include a handful of cocktails. Like the average traveler, my alcohol consumption increases exponentially while on vacation. After all, it’s all part of the fun, isn’t it? How would I fare where such inebriation was prohibited?

El Grande

I had been helping to prepare for the “Sober Village” since I started at this position. The annual big trip of 400+ clients traditionally was held in February. Not only was it our star vacation, but it also provided the majority of our funding for the entire year. With an over 80% repeat customer rate, some clients had been traveling with us for almost three decades. It was a combination of retreat, family reunion, and tropical vacation. This year we were going to Club Med in Ixtapa, Mexico.

Truth be told, I had been fretting over how I was going to perform during this all-important week. Statements such as “You’re going to have so much fun!” were often contradicted by “You’ll never work so hard.” “Our clients are the best!” was in direct contrast to the numerous lessons on how to handle a cantankerous guest. Many of the logistical details of the week were quite vague and I knew I would be flying by the seat of my pants.

Plus, there were personal doubts: I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not sober. Would I know how to interact with clients? Would I be accepted or ostracized from the tribe?

Taking great pains

I had arranged to sleep the night before at my sister’s house as I had an 8:00 am flight and she lived fifteen minutes from LAX. My brother-in-law had graciously offered to drop me off at 6:00. I was exhilarated with anticipation and barely slept, checking and rechecking if I had my brand-new passport and other essentials, As we were making our way to the car, I slipped and whacked the back of my ankle against the step leading down to the garage.

F******€K!!!!

There was no doubt what had happened as I had just recovered from the same injury six months prior. I had re-ruptured my Achilles tendon. My right foot dangled like a broken marionette. Seeing the profound horror on my face, my brother-in-law rushed to get me an ice pack, ACE bandage, and Advil. He asked if I wanted to call and cancel my trip. Convinced I would lose my job if I did, I sucked in the excruciating pain and asked if we would still make it to the airport on time.

My head spinning like a tilt-a-whirl, I somehow made it to our meeting place. The cacophony of a major international terminal agitated my interior turmoil. Fueled by pure determination and heady with pain, I was resolute not to disclose my impairment until the last possible minute. When they finally noticed I was a bit unstable, I downplayed it, “Just twisted it again,” I lied. “Clumsy me.”

We always arrived a few days before the Sober Village start date to allow time to get things ready for the buyout of the resort. The good part was this gave me time to adjust before clients appeared; the bad was it prolonged the trip to twelve days instead of seven. My first order of business was to find the Infirmary and see what assistance could be rendered. As it turns out, I would have had better luck at a Civil War field hospital. Crutches? Non-existent. Ankle wraps? No comprendo. Pain meds? Not available nor an option. The last thing I wanted to be was loopy in front of our clients.

Each night, I crafted a makeshift ice pack from the liner of my room’s ice bucket and cubes from the bar. In the morning, I would inch my way back to the Infirmary. Shuffle and drag. Shuffle and drag. I limped along like an upright Quasimodo.

Mexican resorts don’t have ADA standards. The entire place was a labyrinth of concrete steps and patios flanked by sand. Doing his best, the nurse would wrap my ankle in gauze as thin as single-ply toilet paper, give me a handful of travel ibuprofen packs and send me on my way. They ran out of supplies on day eight, so we had to rinse and reuse the flimsy bandages from that point on.

Opening Day

There is nothing like the crush of 400 travel-weary individuals registering for an event in 12 hours. Most are exhausted, hot and hungry — wanting nothing more than their name badge, room assignment, and where to eat. But they are also jubilant — grateful to escape an East Coast winter to the warmth of a tropical location. The onslaught was almost continual save for the brief breaks between shuttle buses. My coworker, Q*, and I manned the registration table along with an independent event contractor from Mexico. Nicknamed Mama, she also served as a translator and an extra liaison with resort staff. M.A.* handled customer concerns. S.A.*, our founder, greeted the arriving guests with a smile as broad as Ricardo Montalban in Fantasy Island.

Time and time again you’d hear the gleeful cries of old friends reuniting; their joy reverberating throughout the lobby like church bells announcing a celebration. Some of the earlier arrivals would linger in the reception area, eagerly awaiting the appearance of their yearly comrades. Often, Q would burst out from her post to join in the hugs and the festivities. It seemed like everyone knew everyone else — except me. As they graciously introduced the “new gal,” I wondered if I would be able to enjoy the familiarity they shared.

Trudging along

My nonfunctional ankle prevented me from walking on the sand, let alone join in excursions, so my outings were confined to the main area of the resort. Not that there would be any time, anyway. Mornings were spent at the information desk, answering questions and putting out any fires that may arise. Afternoons were spent getting ready for the evening’s events. Guests had their choice of daily 12-step workshops, morning meetings, and the nightly big meeting — the main event of the day — along with all the amenities Club Med had to offer. This was not a 9–5 assignment, as I was representing the company from the moment I left my room until I was in for the night.

I would hobble by the pool on the way to breakfast around 7:00 am and routinely be greeted by the early rising clients. After the initial “What happened to you?” questions, I’d be peppered with queries on how was I feeling or comments about the day’s activities. These chorus of good mornings were a lovely start to a long workday, albeit not quite yet the fellowship I had hoped to find.

We had received feedback over the years that our group could be “cliquey,” causing some newcomers to feel excluded. One of my roles was to engage as many clients as possible and make them feel welcome — especially at mealtimes. Normally, this was a no-brainer for me, but I was in pain, in unfamiliar surroundings and uncertain if they would accept a “normie” (nonalcoholic). Throttling back my fear of failure, I inserted myself into tables with an extra chair. Secretly, I longed for an invitation to join. Or, even better, a saved seat.

I can’t remember the circumstances, but day three was particularly difficult. Whimpering, I crawled into bed, resigned that I was to feel lost and alone for the entire trip. As I entered the dining hall the next morning, I received not one, but two requests to join and an invitation to dinner. The week progressed from there, culminating in an impromptu escapade into town that involved a trio of women, myself included, squeezed in a dilapidated Mexican bus wearing nothing but our bathing suits and cover-ups.

Last Call

The staff always stayed an extra day to ensure most of our guests got on their way back home safely. The last morning, as I shuffled and dragged across the pool area, I had to dodge numerous children and preoccupied adults. My greeting choir had flown home. No one recognized me. Then, it dawned on me — I hadn’t missed the alcohol, but I missed my people.

Discovering common bonds in adversity

I didn’t attend any meetings the first year, as I erroneously thought it wouldn’t be my place to intrude. By the second, I understood how off-base that assumption was and began attending the nightly meetings. I would hear commentaries about the speakers throughout the week and wanted to share in my clients’ — and new friends’ — enthusiasm.

One night, midway through my third trip, we had a spitfire of an Al-Alon speaker. She spoke faster than a machine gun and I took a liking to her immediately. Interwoven with hilarity and sorrows, she told her story of how she desperately tried to manage her husband’s disease of alcoholism. If she could just prevent this situation from arising… If she could swiftly diffuse an oncoming predicament… She could make her spouse well. An absurd premise, the more control she sought, the more powerful the disease became.

Tears flooded my face as I recognized that same mania within myself when my husband was diagnosed with cancer. I micromanaged and helicopter spoused nearly every waking minute in my quest to bridle his disease. To feel safe. In the end, the only illnesses we can govern are our obsessions.

With seven sober vacations under my belt, my list of client acquaintances has bloomed into a large circle of dear friends. Q is one of my most cherished confidants. Mama is a fellow normie. We all chat via Facebook and text throughout the year.


It took three years and seven surgeries to regain the function of my ankle. My fellow brokens prayed, cried, and cheered me on throughout the entire process. They admire the battle scar that runs the length of my calf. Proof that I, like them, have persevered.

On a trip, I am now the one frequently checking the shuttle schedule, ready to burst out and delight in their embrace. To share, once again, in the joy.


*Initials used instead of names in keeping with twelve-step protocol.

This post previously appeared on
Change Becomes You | The Good Men Project | @Medium

Answering a Craigslist Ad Led Me to the Job of My Lifetime

How a random ad and a bit of kismet transformed my career

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Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

I had spent months perfecting my corporate interview attire: Navy sheath dress. Mid-heel black patent pumps. Black leather tote just the right size to stow spare copies of my resume and sturdy enough to stand upright beside my discreetly crossed feet. My online research had indicated that a slouchy handbag puddled on the floor would project unprofessionalism.

It never occurred to me that sheer desperation would soon prompt me to answer a small ad on Craigslist. I certainly didn’t envision that hitting send would embark me on the path to self-discovery and career fulfillment.

Not your typical job applicant

I was at the end of my rope and at the precipice of drowning in debt. Widowed eight years earlier, working full-time at this stage in my life was not part of my initial life’s plan. But, my sons were now both away at college. I had depleted what reserves I had. I needed a steady income — and a reason to get up each day.

Out of work for quite some time, I was the most unlikely candidate for every position coming across my Indeed feed. I was just recovering from a six-month stint on disability and over 50. My resume was all over the place: Public Relations straight out of college, stay-at-home-mom, part-time elementary school librarian, full- and part-time volunteer positions, and a recent stretch as a content creator. (Turns out, their particular office environment was not a good fit and partially led to my illness.) Instead of presenting a steady rise to success, my CV read like an Emergency Room EKG: Glitchy ups and downs and currently flat-lining.

A kind relative had treated me to a session with a job counselor. Since the traditional format would only highlight gaps in my experience, she suggested I create a skills resume. This style did not have to be linear but focused on my areas of expertise. She also advised treating my volunteer work skills with the same importance as those garnered from paid employment. When all was said and done, I thought my innovative document conveyed I could tackle anything presented to me.

When people would ask what type of job I was looking for, I could never give them more than a vague answer. I could only describe the feeling. “I want to work at a small company where I can make I difference,” I would attempt to explain. “It could be public relations, event planning, insurance, I don’t care. Just somewhere that appreciates my work more than just hours on a timesheet.”

And so, I applied for nearly every position that struck my fancy: Public Relations Manager — I’d carnival pitched with the best of them. Administrative Assistant — Gatekeeping? Making copies? Correspondence? I’m quite adept at multitasking. Non-Profit Volunteer Coordinator — I had just spent four years rallying troupes and raising funds for a large high school football program — I could do that one in my sleep.

I visualized myself being a star employee in any of these positions. The problem was no one was taking a liking to my sparkle.

Take a chance on me

When I realized my unconventional resume wasn’t making it past corporate filtering algorithms, I decided to take a chance on Craigslist. Nestled among the posts for telemarketers and dubious work-from-home opportunities was an ad for a Customer Service/Office Assistant position with a small, family-run company. There was a little subtle wit in the ad that told me these could be my people. The ad ended with a “Must Love Dogs” tagline, so I included a postscript in my cover letter. Written in the voice of my pup, Jenny, I assured them of my dog-friendliness and snuck it a bit of my creative writing in the process.

A boisterous Samoyed greeted me upon arrival. While attempting to avoid him, my heels scraped into the cracks of the shale path that led to the office — a converted detached garage next to the owner’s home. My straight dress was a bit snug causing me to do a little shimmy and then “plop!” into the rolling chair offered to me. Careening across the floor, I quickly regained my bearings and faced the staff of three: Founder (S.A.*), Son (M.A.*), and Assistant #1(Q*). M.A., the main interviewer, was clad in a faded millennial style t-shirt — appeared threadbare, but most likely brand new and purchased on Melrose — and shorts. The others were dressed just as casual. “No need for an office attire budget,” I noted to myself as the white beast of a dog rummaged a Luna bar out of my tote.

The meeting started with brief company history: Just over 30 years earlier, S.A. was a newly sober travel agent. He realized that most vacation spots are rife with alcohol and loads of temptation. Counting on strength in numbers, he reached out to his friends in the twelve-step community to see if they would like to join him. He had over 200 people on that first trip. By the next year, they were buying out entire resorts for a week and the company was born.

Fellowship, self-care, and fun were the hallmarks of the trips — nicknamed “Sober Villages.” The entire premise was you could have just as much joy — if not more — on a vacation without the assistance of alcohol. Their signature trips had grown so popular, they were adding additional events to their roster. Hence, the need for another assistant.

I hesitantly noted that I wasn’t “in the program,” certain it would be an immediate disqualification. They assured me it wasn’t an issue. While S.A. and Q were sober, M.A. was not. I would just be balancing the foursome.

The trio then took turns commenting upon and complimenting nearly my entire resume. It was the first time my volunteer experience was given equal weight. I was flabbergasted. There was no need to pitch how my atypical skillset could best serve their company as I had at countless other interviews. “If someone is bright and willing to learn,” Q explained, “you can teach them anything. What you can’t force is chemistry.” I knew all my random talents and bag o’ tricks could be utilized and appreciated.

Call it providence, serendipity, the universe’s plan — whatever you’d like — but there are times when things inexplicitly progress like a prewritten tale. You feel a little unsettled. You can’t quite control the narrative, but it’s oddly comforting. This was one of these times. I knew within ten minutes I wanted the position. By twenty, I knew I had pretty much nailed it. Before I even arrived home, I received the call asking when I could start.

Alchemy is the art that separates what is useful from what is not by transforming it into its ultimate matter and essence — Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus

To date, I’ve worked on four Sober Villages and several side tours. My job has allowed me to visit Mexico, Turk and Caicos, Jamaica, Italy, Greece, Croatia, France, Spain, Monte Carlo, and Hawaii. An extremely limited traveler before the position, I am now the envy of my at-home friends. “If you should ever need an assistant…” is a common request when I regale tales of my adventures.

I’ve made my mark on the company by creating a Day of Service on each of our big trips. Giving back is a pillar of the twelve-step program. The projects entail identifying a local school in need of assistance, then soliciting our guests and our host resort for donations. We have collected and distributed thousands of dollars in school supplies, water systems, and playground equipment. It all culminates in a single workday where hundreds of man-hours are devoted to repairing and beautifying the school. These days are my proudest career moments.

This position has provided the opportunity to create my personal job title: Director of Client Relations. I have been able to craft something uniquely precious — and entirely my own. I’ve been granted the gift of knowing my talents are valuable. With each trip, I have become more secure in my role and confident that this amalgam of tour operator, travel logistics, party planner, and client care was my true calling. I have discovered my artistry.

COVID Epilogue

Travel bans have placed my career in limbo and I am uncertain whether it can be resurrected. Will I be able to forge a new path? Transform yet again? With a stroke of luck and, perhaps, a bit of help from Craigslist, anything is possible.


*Initials used instead of names in keeping with twelve-step protocol.

This post previously appeared on
Change Becomes You | The Good Men Project | @Medium