Monday, November 26, 2012


I always imagined my daughters would get married where they were raised. Here, in New England. I pictured elegant brides, photographed against a backdrop of stonewalls and apple trees and red barns and white colonials. There would be a trace of fireplace in the late fall air and we would gather at the quaint, white Congregational with the the high steeple and bells that actually ring on Sunday mornings. Who wouldn't get married here if they could?  What's not to love?

Courtney surprised me with the news of her engagement last May. We chatted about early details;  the date, big or small, and, finally, the location. They'd talked about it. She and John would be married where they met, where they worked, where their friends were and where John's family is - in Cleveland.

Apart from knowing where Courtney lived  and where I stayed when I visited, I didn't know Cleveland at all.  I couldn't picture a wedding there, much less could I picture how I would be present in the planning.    

Friends assured me that mothers and daughters manage wedding details from different locations all the time. But it only made me feel worse to know we would not manage those details together - details which make weddings a creation rather than a date on the calendar.  Now, she would visit florists,  pick music,  sample menus, visit cake designers and pick save the dates - alone. She would travel around from vendor to vendor, trying to pick the right thing, her decisions becoming burdens, her joy dissolving into stress and tears while I, here in New England, would be as helpful as a kindly neighbor at the mailbox:  "So dear, how are you doing out there, with the wedding?"

I moped. Until Courtney told me she wanted to buy her dress in Boston.

L'elite...where I became
a crying person
And so, last weekend, accompanied by her aunt Christine and maid-of-honor/sister Jacqueline, we went shopping.  Everyone said I'd be a wreck, tears, tears, tears. But I am not a crying person.  I am a Shirley MacLaine-making-the-nurses-give-her daughter-the-shot person. I  wanted her to find what she loved and not  be pressured into it by ambitious bridal consultants. I wanted her to be shown budget-appropriate selections and not dresses that were $10,000 too much with snide comments like "Darling, this is Newbury Street." I wanted nobody telling her something looked fabulous that only looked wrong. 

I was not teary. For this detail I was present and on task.

She came out of the dressing room with the first dress on and looked straight at me. 
"Lovely," said a consultant.
"So pretty," said another.
But Courtney didn't love it.
"What do you think?" she asked me.
"What do you think?" I answered.
"I think I'll move on," she told the consultant who shrugged agreeably.

The three of us waited, chatted, looked at the traffic on the street below,  talked about details she would need to handle and how we could help from this end and bachelorette parties and reception logistics and then the curtain opened and Courtney stepped out a second time.

I gasped, and covered my mouth. The dress was an creamy ivory classic with a gentle slope of a skirt that fell like a soft cloud at her feet.  It showed off her pretty curves and ebony hair and was layered with the kind of fine detail that made her look as though she'd been sprinkled with tiny diamonds.

For a surreal moment, she was not my twenty-six-year-old who had started the day in easy to change-out-of clothes and flats, but an older, more sophisticated person I'd never met.

But had pictured a million times.

"Top of the wedding cake," said her aunt. 
"Oh my God," said her sister.
Courtney stepped onto the pedestal and stared at her own image.
"Gorgeous," said the consultant, "just so gorgeous."
I walked to the pedestal and we looked into the mirror together.  
"What do you think?" she asked.
"I love it."
"I love it, too."

She went back into the dressing room, while I became a crying person.

Distance is painful for brides and mothers of brides, both. But thankfully, there is a shot for that. Today, I talked to Courtney about my wish to fly in monthly for planning visits. Would it be all right, I asked,  if I stay with her and John every so often? She was delighted.

Mothers and daughters do it all the time, coordinate weddings from a distance. They  call and e-mail and send links and photos and text little observations and thoughts along the way. They book flights and arrange planning visits and do what they must to be sure the experience is a shared one.

But they don't do it because they're apart. They do it because they are close.

Monday, November 12, 2012

There's a hotel in my closet

One day long ago, while I was looking for something fun to read, I came upon Linda Goodman's "Sun  Signs."  In her description of Tauruses,  Linda referred to us as "creatures" who are highly  enslaved by attuned to their senses; drawn to  things that look and taste and smell and sound good, and feel nice to the touch.  In gracious astrology language, she predicted I would be a "home and hearth" type. 

I found Larry, to whom I was as attuned as a person can be without being sewn to him, and we started our family. I became a stay-at-home and hearth mother which, as Linda predicted, was as easy for me as breathing.  Eventually I discovered Pottery Barn and we became a catalog. What's not to love about that?

This is what.

 "Home and hearth" also describes a person who is averse to unfamiliar surroundings.  In other words, we they don't travel unless we they have to.

I am hotel-challenged. I wake up in the night disoriented and panicky as if  I've fallen off a cliff. If I can go back to sleep, I wake up moments later and it starts all over again - fall off the cliff, wake up, fall off the cliff -  until I  reach the somewhat acceptable hour of  4:00 to rise. Then I make coffee and read and wake up Larry. The second night always goes better because I'm too tired to be apprehensive.  

This kind of mystifies me.  I don't have a terrifying hotel memory or a scary association with hotels at all.  They are just, upon waking suddenly, in every way, unfamiliar. But for me and maybe other home and hearth people who are enslaved by attuned to  their senses, it is the grown-up equivalent of a monster in the closet.  

For a long time I was too busy homing and hearthing to travel anyway, so it made no difference. Now, my children have left home and taken my excuses with them. The world just beyond my familiar surroundings  feels like a party invitation that I declined while everyone I know is talking about what to wear.

I kind of have to change this, and kind of right now.

I will pause here to mention that this is another kick-ass thing about entering the fifties. It doesn't take years to understand things about yourself anymore. When you're older, you understand things about yourself while you're walking to the kitchen from the living room.  You have to.  If you plan to do anything useful with your revelations, you can't dawdle.  I more than kind of like that.

Three things have brought my hotel-issue home, pun intended.

First, I want to make new memories with my friends, and they - all of them - travel.

Second, I will be a certain type of older person some day. I can be the eighty-year-old who is enriched by the unfamiliar or, I can be the eighty-year-old  who knows what's on sale at Pottery Barn, where the phrase "home and hearth" was born.

Third,  my friend Kris Lucas, who pleasure-travels far and wide and more often than anyone I know,  posted this picture on Facebook recently: 

She is boarding a Piper which will fly her to the bottom of the Grand Canyon where she will connect with a helicopter which will connect her to a pontoon ride on the Colorado River with Hualapai natives. Look at her with her cute wash-and-go blond bob and face caught mid-laugh and little bag which probably holds a change of clothes and essential toiletries. She looks like a celebrity en route to a friend's private island.  There is nothing about this woman that says "I would, except that I'd have to stay in a hotel."

I want to post a picture like that.

And so, I have made the decision to start traveling. And not sissy-traveling by car, either - I didn't get over my fear of flying for nothing - but by plane/boat.  I'll do it in stages, backwards. I'll book a cruise - which combines fear of flying, fear of falling in the ocean, and fear of hotels  all in one club sandwich of anxiety. However, because cruises don't set sail for several decades after the deposit is made, I will have plenty of time to bond with transportable comforts for sudden wake-ups; special music, special pillowcase, special eye mask, etc.

I'm kind of excited. This could kind of work.

We are the same age, Kris and I. She is vastly more knowledgeable about different parts of the world than I am today, and gratefully so, considering how she has inspired me. By the time we hit our late seventies, I'm hoping it might  be my photo that inspires a person to pick out an outfit and go to the party.  

Because what a party girl I will become, once I lose the eye mask.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Care. It's free.

Here are two little stories worth mentioning, even if it isn't Monday yet.

Recently, Larry and I went to Symphony Hall in Boston to see a nearly sold out performance of Rachmaninoff's 3rd Piano Concerto. We arrived close to the start of the concert and a hurried crowd formed behind us at the stairs to the entrance. Ahead of us, an elderly man, probably late eighties, struggled  with the help of a cane to navigate the climb. A young man ahead of him, probably late twenties, opened the door - and held it open - for the couple of moments it took the older man to reach the top of the stairs. He could have suggested that in the future, the ramp might be easier. But he didn't.
"Take your time," he said quietly. 
The older man nodded his appreciation.
"Have a lovely evening,"  the younger man said, and then followed him in.  

Inside, a clutch of women sat around a small table having the last of their champagne before the start of the concert. Like most of us, they were looking forward to the "Rach 3" but unlike most of us, they were just-out-of-college age.  While one of them entertained the group with pictures from her phone, another spied us and said,  "Excuse me, could one of you take a picture of all of us?" I pointed to my husband and said, "You want him." Larry aimed the phone, took the picture, and showed it to them. They looked at it with polite approval.  
"Thank you so much," they said.
"Wait," Larry said, "let me take a couple more, one of you didn't look ready."  
They were delighted.

It always gives me pause. 

How little it takes,  how nothing it costs.

To bring a moment of real happiness into the life of another.

When you just care a little bit.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A bad October day for Someone

Hard to imagine what lies beyond
Someone I am close to is struggling with depression.  It won't last and I have said this to Someone. But depressed people believe they'll feel differently like they believe happiness fairies will visit them in the night.

When we last spoke, it was a  drizzly, chilly day in late October. Outside, leaves covered the ground, and the sky  looked like handfuls of gray cotton.  "Everywhere I go, I think about things that are over, things I wish I hadn't done, things I lost," said Someone, watching that sky.

There is not a more helpless feeling than to sit across from Someone in this state.  You love the Someone. You want - badly -  to help them turn their own engine. But you can't, because along with energy and exercise and rest and a better diet and professional help and maybe meds at some point,  it is required that Someone possess the imagination to see themselves on the other side. But depression chokes the imagination.

I wanted to offer something like this: "Life is a puzzle cube. You can't go back and change a piece and keep your results." But I was caught off guard and it came out more like this:  "You know those puzzle things that look like...kind of like a lattice work...wait, more like little stacks of wood...what's that game we used to play, it starts with a 'J' and it has little pieces that fit..."

This is how you sound if your mouth keeps talking when your heart and mind should be in charge.

Now that  I've had a few days to think about it and reflect on my own regret-fests, I  can do better than teabag wisdom. And so to Someone,  I am dedicating this post...

Dear Someone,

Everybody gets this way. To whatever the degree, everyone has long, rainy, low-energy days when they treat themselves to the melancholy combo platter: lost focus with nostalgia, maybe reflection upon a conversation that went wrong,  maybe a stretch of guilt, maybe some preoccupation with a sad event.  

It's a party of woe, these regret-fests. Self-pity arrives first, followed by other-pity as you consider mistakes you've made as a  parent,  friend,  daughter, son, brother, sister, wife or husband and overall person.  I know if I don't excuse myself from my own regret-fests quickly, I will start to believe that even the cat would be better off with someone else feeding him filtered water and playing the *which-box-is-the-rattle-ball-in-Gus? game (Instructions below).

Someone,  we all do this,  lament moments in the past which we made or didn't make happen.  Young adults regret how they treated a classmate, a sibling, a parent. Older adults regret loss of temper, faulty judgment, negligence,  proud displays that cost more than they gave back. Even young children regret things (once they've gotten away with them).

But, Someone,  there isn't anything less productive  than to use your current mind to go back and assess behavior that occurred in younger years when your entire environment, frame of reference, maturity, motivation and knowledge base were different from what they are  now. We can remember a lot, but most good or bad moments cannot be remembered  as they actually happened or why. It's true. I looked it up.

Someone, people minimize the meaning of whole lifetimes - all they've learned and all they've earned -  when they lament what they never got and fail to understand what they got instead. 

And Someone, as miserable as regret-fests are  they usually last as long as they should - until you learn something from them, or determine that you won't.  But when woe ceases to be useful it's time to muster a Rocky-training-in-Philadelphia moment when you throw open the curtains, stand up straight, bounce on the balls of your feet and say to the cat, "I've had just about enough of me."

You should really do that, because you'll laugh involuntarily and maybe turn your own engine.

Life for all of us is what it is, but also what it will be nextSo spend the time you must to let go of what was, and then, know that soon:

You will know things you don't know today.

You will feel things you don't feel now.
You will experience things you wouldn't have appreciated before. 
You will be like this guy and kick depression's ass.

And Someone, no matter what  you feel, remember, for better or worse, it won't last.


*Directions for Which box is the rattle ball in Gus?
Your job:  Roll a golf-ball size rattle ball into one of three empty boxes (These can be found at Petco across from the drinking fountain that I  paid too much for, according to the website which sells it for $20.00 less).
Cat's job:   Figure out which box the ball is in, then go inside and bat it around.

To make this more challenging, consider a little variable reinforcement. When cat fetches ball and accidentally brings it to you, offer lavish praise and a food treat. Repeat for several years.