Birthdays Can Be Hard When You’re Single

I turned 52 in the back of an Uber last month, crammed alongside my three adult kids on our way home from sweating on a crowded dance floor as we sang and danced to one of my favorite bands late into a Sunday night.

We jumped up and down to the opening chords of Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” shouting the OH YEAHs and ALL RIGHTs while pumping our hands in the air. Later, I saw that my oldest son had posted a video of me on Instagram, dramatically singing every word to “Born to Run,” my 24yo daughter looking on with a big smile, as I pressed my hand to my heart and swore to die with Wendy on the street tonight in an everlasting kiss.


I like to elbow my way up to the front of the dance floor, especially after a few vodka clubs, so I dragged the kids with me so we could watch the band up close. Later, we agreed we were slightly deaf from being so close to the stacks of speakers and wailing saxophone player.

I’m not sure what we talked about after we tumbled into the Uber car to go home. Initially, my older daughter was pissed because the rest of us were kinda wandering around deaf and tipsy outside the bar and having a hard time following directions. Eventually, she herded us into the car she had called and at some point during the half hour journey home, the clock struck midnight and the kids started wishing me a happy birthday.

And even though I really love my birthday, I mostly remember feeling relieved that I’d done the obligatory celebration and that it was almost over.

Here’s the thing about birthdays and holidays when you are single: they are hard.

I mean, maybe they’re hard for folks in relationships, too, but for some reason, I don’t remember it that way. Of course, holidays were always stressful, regardless of my relationship status. Every November I’d be sitting on my therapist’s couch complaining about how some of my family members would show up empty-handed to Thanksgiving or sometimes, just not show up at all.

But back when I was married, I mostly remember my husband doing all of the heavy lifting around my birthday. He was always good for getting tickets for us to see a show I wanted to see, or planning a gathering with friends. He loved a reason to celebrate.

Normal people probably don’t need a big commotion around their birthdays, but sadly, the Leo in me demands attention. She will settle for nothing less than a day in the spotlight filled with people celebrating her. 

Another driving force behind my birthday planning mania is that there’s also something super-depressing about having nothing to do on your birthday, especially in the age of social media. Your birthday needs to be all Insta-worthy to complement all those Facebook birthday messages (of which I’m always hoping to break 100 hbds).

Now that I’m divorced, the burden to plan and execute the kind of birthday extravaganza I need has fallen upon me. I now need to be a shameless birthday huckster and convince people to go along with it. And mostly, it’s been working.

The worst was turning 50.

While other people’s husbands I knew were organizing big parties or taking them away to Hawaii or Italy to celebrate the half-century mark, I was wondering just who I could convince to go to the movies with me, or maybe out to dinner. To make things worse, my 50th birthday fell on a Saturday, which added to the pressure to come up with something worthy of an entire weekend. It felt like I needed two-days’ worth of activities to live up to the hype.

But the problem with weekends, as any single person can tell you, is that your married friends are doing things with their husbands-slash-families. It’s hard for mothers and wives to get away on a Friday or Saturday night. When you are uncoupled, you’re more of a Monday-through-Thursday playmate.

Which left my four children to pick up their mother’s birthday mantel.

I ended up buying tickets for us to go see a matinée of the play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” which was playing at the time on Broadway. Most of us had listened to the audiobook on our way down to my older daughter’s college graduation in Virginia a few months earlier, and we ended up talking about it all weekend — joking about the characters and trying to speak with British accents. It got to the point that we began to annoy anyone who hadn’t been in my car and listened to the book.

So I returned to New York, the city of my birth — 50 years later and this time, by bus — and my children complained about the melting heat as we walked along 41st Street and cursed my parents for having me in August (“What were they thinking?” the children moaned). But other than the excruciating weather, we had a lovely day out. The kids took me to brunch where we were served pitchers of mimosas and ate chicken paillard and the play reminded us why we had liked the book so much on that long drive in the spring.

Then it was my BF’s turn to share my 50th birthday burden, and she hosted a little gathering later that night with some of my favorite ladies where I received an alarming amount of wine and appreciated their group effort to make me feel loved and give me the attention I needed.

Another year quickly flew past, and I found myself still single and needing to come up with a plan for turning 51. Since the recipe the year before had worked so well, I decided to get us tickets to see another show and started stalking the Internet for cheap tickets to see “Dear Evan Hansen,” of which there are none. Finally, after a lot of agonizing and rationalizing — not to mention needing to see Ben Platt sing “Waving Through a Window” IRL — I broke down and bought the tickets for a matinée on my Sunday birthday that I’d had in a shopping cart for a week.

The next day, my oldest son found me in the kitchen and announced that he’d heard Ben Platt wasn’t going to be in the performance we were going to, and I went upstairs to my bedroom and cried. 

Eventually, my older daughter came up and sat on my bed and assured me that we were still going to have a great day together. That was all that mattered, she told me. I heard the logic in her reasoning and eventually dried my tears and went downstairs with lowered expectations, to match my new credit score.

We took the bus back into the city on my birthday and returned to the same restaurant we’d gone to the year before, and drank more mimosas and I had that delicious chicken again. I am a strong proponent of sticking with a formula that works.

And of course, I don’t need to tell you how phenomenal the show was, despite Ben Platt’s absence. I had a feeling the story would resonate for us, but didn’t realize how much until I heard my daughters crying on either side of me. Then, towards the end of the musical, my older daughter grabbed my hand when Evan Hansen’s mom sings:

“Your mom isn’t going anywhere

Your mom is staying right here

No matter what

I’ll be here”

Seriously. Who wouldn’t have paid money for that? Then later, after we returned home, my 15yo son came downstairs and announced he already knew every word to every song, and sometimes when we’re driving around, he’ll put one of them on and we’ll sing along. Ka-ching.

Then, and I swear the years are coming at me on an accelerated cycle where 365 days have been compressed into maybe 300, yet another birthday approached.

The nice thing now is that my kids just assumed we were doing something to celebrate 52 together. “What are we doing this year?” they started to ask in, like, June.

Since my credit cards cannot handle five tickets to see a Broadway show, I needed to think cheap. For the last few summers, I’ve headed south with a group of women I like to call my Little Mommies to a Jersey Shore summer staple, the Parker House, to dance on a Sunday night. It’s a a big white house two blocks from the ocean with a wraparound porch where you can sit and eat and a bar inside that’s pretty clubby on a Friday night in July and where anyone over 30 would look really out-of-place. But on Sundays, they have bands down in the basement tavern that play lots of Bruce and Tom Petty and the likes and it’s a blast being down there with a big posse pushing your way up front to dance the night away. It’s pretty joyful.

As my birthday fell on a Monday this year, getting a group together to head to the Parker House seemed like a good way to celebrate my birthday, and then I wouldn’t care what I ended up doing on the actual day of my birth. It also helped that three of my four kids are now 21 and that my baby was not the kind to feel left out.

I put an invitation out in text and email to all my groups of friends but, as it was August, folks were away or busy entertaining out-of-towners. In the end, two (Gold Star) Little Moms hauled themselves down to show their love and dance — and it was perfect. We met up with two of my sisters and a brother-in-law and later, my baby girl, who’d been making beds as an intern at the Hotel Hershey all summer, arrived after her shift to join the fun.

We tumbled out into the warm August night and my inner Leo was satisfied with the celebration.

Lately, my dad has taken to telling me that he is impressed with the relationship I have built with my kids (he’s also always telling me that I don’t want to die alone, which is his way of saying, “Start dating, already.”). He admires how the kids and I still go on vacations together and that they show up to celebrate my birthday. “You have a family,” he says, and it resonates since I struggle with my family of origin. Even though my divorce shattered the fantasy I clung to of creating some perfect family, I think I might have ended up with what I really needed instead.

Jennifer My Therapist often reminds me of this phenomenon. She’s impressed that my adult children actually want to pay to go on vacation with me. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a whole lot of dysfunction swirling around us — you should have seen the argument the kids had in Florence this spring that erupted over a pizza drizzled in pesto that should have been the real reason for tears, it was that good. One child stormed out of the tiny pizza place — where one little Italian man kept shoveling slices in and out of a giant oven, taking orders from a long line of customers — and I went out to reason with that kid and came back inside to talk to another kid, when all I really wanted to do was sit there with my glass or red wine and enjoy the magical pesto pizza I’d dreamt of eating for months.

But to our credit, I really think we’re all trying to figure it out. I think we all feel deep down that it’s worth trying to work through it all. When we are able to see past each other’s masks — through the hurt feelings and miscommunication — to see the person struggling inside. I think that’s what keeps us together. Pesto helps.

Prior to heading out to dance on my birthday eve, my two older kids and I had a drink, and my oldest son took a sip of the margarita I had made and asked if he could give me his birthday card.

“Well, my birthday’s not until tomorrow,” I told him. “Why don’t you wait?”

“I can’t,” he said, handing me the grey envelope. He’s the kind of person who gets a bee in his bonnet and just can’t shake it. The card itself was pretty funny, with a cartoon of a little yellow duckling on the front asking its mom if she remembered all the times he had said mean things and did things she told him not to do. “Thanks for letting me live,” the little duck says at the end, and my son thanked me for letting him “live 25 years on this Earth,” in his note below.

“I love you more than you know,” he wrote, and although there have been times when I’ve really wanted to throttle my oldest kid, I know that deep inside he’s a mush. He’s like my very own M&M, sweet and gooey deep down, once you get beyond the hard outer shell.

Tucked inside the card were two pieces of paper folded together, and when I opened them up, saw that they were two tickets he’d purchased for a performance next month of the show “Mean Girls” on Broadway. 

This. Was. Unexpected.

“I got you two tickets, but I was hoping that you’d bring me,” he said, and I told him that sounded like a perfect date. My daughter joked that she should have given me her gift first, and we finished our cocktails and called an Uber to go out and dance.

Happy birthday to me.

It turns out, my inner Leo is hungry all-year-long! Please consider feeding her by signing up for my highly-erratic newsletter, which sends my latest post right to your inbox (who needs Facebook?). 


Waving Through a Window

This summer, there have been times that it’s felt like the whole universe has been conspiring to get me back here, to my dusty old blog. There have been some moments it’s felt as if the Blog Gods have grabbed me by the shoulders and given me a good shake before asking, “Amy, wtf are you doing?”

The truth is that I’ve felt stymied for a while–creatively, professionally, economically. I’ve reasoned that I should find places that pay money for my writing instead of giving it away for free here. But then I lack the motivation and chutzpah to pitch any of my work. I compare myself with other writers I read and admire and think that my writing could never measure up to what they produce so–it seems–effortlessly. If you looked at my Documents folder, you’d see dozens of unfinished essays, which is def a metaphor for my modus operandi.

Then there are all the other voices in my head. All of those mouthy bastards. Some of the internal monologues come through distinctly in my voice — the snipes of self-loathing and indecision — but there are other voices festering in there as well. Family members from whom I’m estranged. People I used to be married to. The mother of my good friend. A writing mentor.

I hear those voices and I cringe any time I read something that I’ve written. It’s like, “What am I thinking? Who cares? Will they care?”

Sometimes, all those voices seem to be standing in the way of me telling my story, which is all it really is, my take on things that happen in an ordinary life. But really, I’m starting to think it’s just me unable to get out of my own head.

Recently, I’ve gone back and read some of the things I’ve posted here over the last 5 years and am sometimes shocked that I went as far as I did in some pieces. That I shared as much as I did. But at the time, I had zero issues with occasional oversharing. It felt kind of cathartic.

I’d like to get back to that.

It’s what connected me to every person who’s read something of mine and said, “Me, too.” Not in a #metoo, Harvey Weinstein/Matt Lauer, kinda way, but more in the, “Totally,” vein. As in, “I totally get it.”

The kids and I got to go see “Dear Evan Hansen” last summer, which is something I highly suggest you refinance your house to do. It’s epic. Anyway, there’s a song the main character sings in the beginning, called “Waving Through a Window,” and it’s about how all any of us wants is to be seen. To be heard. To be loved. It’s what connects us all at our core. You can watch him perform it here to get a sense of just how moving the song can be (here I pause to watch for the 100th time).

When I first thought about writing personal essays, or maybe a bigger memoir, I felt hampered by the fact that my story was just so ordinary. My divorce, in the scheme of things, was pretty run-of-the-mill. I mean, we had some exciting moments, don’t get me wrong. But it wasn’t like my ex had a second family stashed somewhere in New Jersey or had gambled all our money away. We just didn’t get what we needed from each other, and no amount of couples therapy or red wine was ever going to fix that fact.

(Teachable moment: Kids, don’t get married when you’re 24.)

I remember saying this to a college friend early on in my separation, how my story was a dime-a-dozen. We were sitting around after dinner in her Brooklyn Heights apartment with friends, sipping grappa, which I was about to find out was not only very strong but could lead to blackouts. I told her what was holding me back and she shook her head and told me that my thinking was all wrong.

“People read to feel connected,” she told me. “They want to know that they’re not alone.”

Of course, it would be another few years before I put that logic to the test here on my blog, when I quickly found that both men and women, folks my age and way younger and older — some with kids and some without — would tell me they could see pieces of themselves in my stories. Snapshots from their own lives.

I was sitting around a long picnic table having dinner with friends this summer in Montauk, all the way out at the very end of Long Island, where glass box beach houses sit atop a bluff overlooking the Atlantic and there are long stretches of beach with more rocks than people, when one of the women in our group starting talking about my blog.

“You were so fucking brave,” she said of the things I wrote, and I felt kind of proud because this woman was no shrinking violet. I also noticed she’d been speaking in the past-tense.

Earlier in the summer, I met some women at a local bar that sits along the Shrewsbury River and offers a front row to a spectacular sunset most nights. It’s all pinks and purples stretched across the sky and slowly dipping into the water.

We stood in a circle with our drinks in clear plastic cups and someone that I knew introduced me to the gal she had come with. “I don’t want to come off as crazy,” this new girl quickly said, “but I love your blog. I even wrote you fan mail a few years ago.”

And this woman in neither divorced nor as old as I am. Just another human struggling on this planet to make sense of things.

Finally, just last night, I was at a mixer for my baby’s high school football team at a local bar where we stood outside on a deck and clung to our icy vodka drinks to help us not melt in the oppressive New Jersey heat. I ran into a gal I went to high school, with whose son is now in high school playing football, and she always has something nice to say about whatever crazy thing I’ve written here over the years.

“I’m not getting your posts any more,” she immediately told me. “Do I need to sign up again?”

I told her that no, I’d just been lame lately, and she said she missed reading my stuff.

“You’re in luck,” I told her, “because I am posting something tomorrow.”

You know how Oprah is all, “Pay attention to the whispers of the universe”? That eventually, the universe will start shouting at you if you don’t?

I’m pretty sure that’s what these most recent incidents were. The universe shaking me by the shoulders and telling me to write. Anything. Just write.

So, that’s what I’m going to do.

Are you waving through a window, too? I totally see you. Sign up to get my posts right in your inbox in the erratic fashion I’ve accepted, after 52 years, is just the way I operate. We can wave to each other (I’ll try to remember to comb my hair and put on a bra).

I’m 50, Dammit

Credit: Dominique Browning (I think)

Credit: Dominique Browning (I think)

Well, it totally happened this weekend. Some time while I was sleeping and probably in the midst of dreaming about snakes or giving birth, something far more sinister occurred.

I turned 50.

Yes. I know. It’s true. And contrary to popular belief – er, that is, what I assumed was going to happen – it did not hurt one bit. There was neither pain nor hair loss nor bleeding.

I just got out of bed and started my day.

And maybe that’s where my 50s will be different from my 40s. I turned 40 in the emergency room of our local hospital, which is a story for another day, but needless to say, I was less than thrilled. But that night kind of set the course for the rest of the decade. In 10-years’ time, I’d change pretty much everything about my life. Oh, sure, I still want to lose 10 pounds and remain a dedicated procrastinator – I defy you to out-procrastinate me – but most everything else about my life has changed.

I ended my marriage, got a full-time job, started a blog, sent three kids to college, sold my house on my own and bought and renovated a new casa. I even went out on some dates and am way blonder than I was as a young girl of 40.

Are things perfect? Absolutely not. Have I figured this whole life thing out? Please, on a daily basis at least 1.3 of my children is mad at me.

But I like to think that I’m a work in progress. And even though I’ve figured out what some of my issues are, like not feeling good enough and the aforementioned procrastination, it doesn’t mean that I’ve gotten a handle on things. I get snagged thousands of times each day.

That’s why I’m in therapy.

But in a weird way, I’m kind of looking forward to what the next 10 years brings. There’s still so much I want to do. So many places I want to go. People I need to meet. And stuff I need to work through.

I hope I stop caring what other people think about me and start accepting people for who they are rather than who I really want them to be. Because getting on top of that shiz will free up a lot of time I would have used to fret and, as we all know, I am not getting any younger.

Honestly, I’m just glad it’s over. The day had been looming for about 18 months and I just needed to get it behind me. It was kind of like wanting to not be pregnant any more and just have the baby already, without all the crying (okay, I cried a little).

But so far, my 50s are going quite well. I spent the weekend celebrating and being showered with all the attention a needy Leo demands. There were lunches and dinners and cocktails and so much dancing that my feet feel like they just turned 60. Friends and family proved how well they knew me by giving me perfect gifts, like the stack of rings from my mom that I’d been lusting after to an autographed copy of Nora Ephron’s I Remember Nothing from my pal who takes such good care of me and a weird amount of booze from everyone else.

But maybe the best part of my birthday weekend was getting to spend a big chunk of it with my four children, who had no choice but to go along with it and act like they were having fun. We took the bus into Manhattan and I sat next to my oldest child, who is sometimes hard pressed to even say hello to me, and listened to him talk pretty much nonstop about his job during the hour’s ride in. We ate a delicious lunch in the Theater District that included thin, salty French fries and big pitchers of perfectly-proportioned mimosas, light on the juice. And when the check came my three oldest children surprised me and footed the bill.

Then, because it was literally (okay, not literally) 1,000 degrees on Saturday in New York City and felt like we were walking through the inside of an oven set to broil, we walked very slowly over to the Barrymore Theater to see “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time,” which we loved. We tried to go to a rooftop bar in Times Square afterwards that proved slightly challenging to locate and when we finally found the place, discovered everyone in our group needed to be 21 to enter so my highly disgruntled party and I found ourselves back on the hot, hot streets of New York. And instead of Googling the perfect place for post-theater cocktails, we ducked into the closest bar and drank cold beers and ate chicken wings while the 13yo sprawled out on a couch and watched the Olympics and everyone was happy. When we finally arrived home that night, we all went our separate ways and that did not make me one bit sad. It was time.

By my calculations, I held the children captive for nine hours, which is about eight hours and 55 minutes longer than our usual time we spend together as a family. And I guess if it took turning 50 for me to get that kind of gift, the gift of my children humoring me and going along with my one-big-happy-family fantasy, then it was totally worth it. Plus, I’ve got enough tequila to last me until I’m 60.

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When Family’s Not Family Any More

IMG_1963At least once a day this summer, I will notice a woman of a certain age out of the corner of my eye and think, just for a moment, that it’s my former mother-in-law.

Maybe it’s the color of the woman’s hair as she moves briskly through the parking lot of our local farm market. It’s cut short and straight, the way my mother-in-law began to wear her hair after she’d finally forsaken the permanents she had endured every few months to give her locks the curl she always admired on others. Or maybe it’s a certain type of beach cover up that catches my eye and the tote bag she’s carrying, similar to the canvas one my mother-in-law would bring to the beach each day, neatly packed with all of her reading essentials. There would be whatever book she’d most recently checked out of the library along with that day’s The New York Times and probably some gardening magazines for inspiration and brochures for whatever European bike trip she and my father-in-law would embark on in the fall.

When I spy her doppelganger, my gut reaction is relief. There’s been so much I’ve wanted to talk to her about. I’d want to know what she was reading and how the tomatoes in her garden were doing and whether she’d seen a certain smash hit on Broadway and if she loved it as much as I did. I’d tell her all about my new house, how some mourning doves built a nest in the branches outside my daughter’s bedroom window, and we’d talk about how wonderful it was that my two oldest kids had graduated and landed grown up jobs. We’d shake our heads over how quickly they and all the grandkids were growing up. And, man, would we both have a lot to say about Donald Trump.

But then, just as quickly, I realize that it’s not my mother-in-law after all. It’s just another small-framed woman in her 70s with short hair and not the woman I met right after my 16th birthday who taught me how to add bone meal and fertilizer to the soil before I planted something in the earth and that All Things Considered makes for good company while cooking dinner. That same woman with whom I’d end up spending countless hours over 25+ years talking about our gardens and politics and what we were reading and the kids.

And although her family would often joke that their matriarch sometimes lacked that filter the rest of us have between our brains and our mouths, the one that prevents us from really telling people what we think (and she had some pretty infamous zingers), I’d say about 95 percent of my interactions with my mother-in-law over the years were perfectly pleasant.

I mean, I also don’t remember childbirth being that big of a deal so obviously I am pretty good about glossing over the more negative stuff in life. It’s a gift.

All the same, I think it would be fair to say that my mother-in-law and I were cut from a similar cloth and as such, were pretty fond of each other.

I got the call that she was in hospice one Monday afternoon in April as I was just sliding back into my car after picking up some dinner fixings at the market. It was my sister-in-law, we’d both been married to brothers, calling to tell me that our former mother-in-law had suffered a stroke that morning and was in the hospital down in Florida where she and our father-in-law had spent their winters for about 20 years.

And even though in retrospect I probably should have been preparing for the call for a while, I’ve never been really good about reading the writing on the wall. Instead, I found myself stunned and sobbing in the car.

I mean, I knew her health hadn’t been great these last few years. She looked so frail the last time I’d seen her. I’d heard she’d started to need an oxygen tank to help manage her COPD and that she had fallen and broken her hip a few months earlier. But I was under the impression she was on the rebound. I’d overheard her voice when my oldest son called to check on her while she was in rehab and was glad to hear how strong she sounded on the other end, promising him she’d be out of there in no time.

That last time I saw her was at my son’s college graduation last year. Honestly, I was irritated at first when I noticed her and her husband making their way up to where we were all sitting in the football stadium, me and the kids and their dad. I was still so angry with her for believing she needed to choose sides following the divorce and, frankly, that she did not choose mine. I still have dreams in which I find myself screaming at her for dropping me like a hot potato. For forsaking all of the hours we logged together over the years sitting on the beach or around each other’s houses for holidays and birthdays or summer days reading on the porch of their cabin in the Poconos. Hadn’t that meant anything?

I had known that their family’s immediate response to conflict was to cut a person off, so I had written a letter to her in the throes of the divorce in an effort to circumvent an estrangement. I tried to reason that we could still be a family even though I was no longer married to her son, unto no avail.

In short time her presence began to fade from my life. Gone were the Christmas and birthday cards and thoughtful gifts – the glass hummingbird feeder for my garden or the copper mixing bowl like the one she used to whip cream for her famous chocolate cake. She no longer called to see what I thought the children might want for Christmas and when I ran into her on the sidelines at one of the kids’ soccer games once, she gave me a perfunctory “hello” and went back to watching the action on the field. She acted as if I simply didn’t exist.

And it kinda broke my heart.

One of the things that attracted me to my former husband way back in the day – aside from the killer blue eyes and smooth bad-boy ways – was his family. Especially back then. They enjoyed being together and I loved being a part of that. Spending hours around the coffee table in the living room duking it out over Trivial Pursuit or out in the yard throwing bocce balls on a warm summer night. That sense of family unity was something that I desperately craved. I still do. And even though things changed over the years, the kids got older and we started spending less time together, my mother-in-law and I could pick right back up and fall into our old, comfortable groove whenever we were together.

And all of those days and hours and conversations have infused much of who I am today. A good mother. A reader. Gardener. Ardent Democrat. Someone who’s gone on vacation by herself and owns a cooler with a flat top for the beach because that only makes sense.

But as I watched her at the graduation slowly make her way up the stadium steps to our row, I began to soften. She was winded by the climb and the early-morning Virginia sun was already strong and I could tell she was not doing that great. Over the next 24 hours we engaged in pleasant conversation, just like the old days. We talked about books and the kids and when it came time to say good-bye, we both had tears in our eyes as she gave me a big bear hug. We stood and embraced surrounded by black-robed graduates and proud families, and it was like we silently forgave each other. In a weird way, as I watched her slowly walk away, I knew I’d never see her again.

She died a few hours after I got that call about the stroke and just a few days before she was to have celebrated her 80th birthday. In a sad twist, her four children and a couple of grandkids had tickets to fly down to Florida to surprise her that weekend for her birthday. But it had all happened so fast and she was gone before anyone could get to her to say good-bye.

The kids and I cried long and hard after we got the news that she was gone. The girls were still both away at college so we commiserated over the phone but the two boys were at home so we sniffled together on the couch. It’s the kids’ first brush with losing someone they loved and the first time for me since the last of my grandparents passed away some 15 years ago.

The day after she died, I went food shopping and bought devil’s food cake mix and a package of pudding and baked my mother-in-law’s chocolate cake, even though only the two boys were home to eat it and I really need to lose 10 pounds and not gain 10 pounds. But it felt good to pull it out of the oven and remember all the times we ate that cake together over the years for birthdays and barbeques, the warm, chocolatey slices slathered in the whipped cream she’d beaten in the icy bowl pulled from the freezer.

Then I dragged my youngest guy over to my in-law’s house in the next town to see her garden. I hadn’t been there in years and it looked like it was waiting for her return from Florida and bring it back to life. I’d spent so many happy hours in that yard, swinging in the hammock and playing bocce. Getting a tour of the garden from my mother-in-law as she pointed out the bright red poppies blooming along the side yard or the tangle of pink roses at the end of the driveway. And man, did I cry.

But I was also glad for my 13yo to see me so sad as he came over to the middle of the yard and wrapped me in a hug, leaning down to rest his head on my shoulder. For him to understand that even though I wasn’t married to his dad, I could still really love his dad’s family.

Because they had been my family, too.

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Magic on the Sand


Here’s a story about finding your place, and a little magic, on the sand.

I saw a little piece of magic this weekend, right here on the Jersey Shore. Something that reminded me, not for the first time, that I am right where I’m supposed to be.

The celebration of our nation’s independence stirs up a lot of emotions for me. I mean, when you’re divorced, all holidays kinda suck, but the Fourth of July a few years back marked the end of my almost 18-year marriage and the beginning of a whole new way of life for our family. It’s become the delineation between our “before” and “after.”

For me, that means I no longer spend my summers at the hoity-toity beach club where we raised our four children – our days filled with swim team practices and tennis lessons and where beach boys set up your chairs and umbrellas – to a much more low-key situation about a half mile down the beach to the south. There’s a snack bar, bathrooms and a pool but parking can be challenging and I now own a rubber mallet to help secure my own beach umbrella.

Honestly, that fancy beach club – with its dramatic arches, mullioned windows and black-and-white-tiled ballroom – was probably one of the reasons why I stayed married for as long as I did. It was a part of my super-shiny identity. You know, that part of me that secretly loved the club’s parking sticker on the front bumper of my car and Sunday happy hours in my oh-this-old-thing Trina Turk cover up. Or humbly telling folks, when asked, that the exclusive club was where I planted my umbrella during the summer months. Oh, you know. NBD.

But it’s also where I hauled my children – and their playpens and buckets of toys and our cooler filled with juice boxes and ham sandwiches with neatly trimmed crusts – every single summer day for 15 years. Seriously, I was like a pack mule. We’d set up camp in the morning and stay until dinnertime. I was the boss at getting babies and toddlers to nap and later, I’d carry them into one of the club’s shower stalls and rinse the sand from all their chubby little nooks and crannies before heading home for the day.

As the kids got older, there were early-morning swim team practices and tennis lessons later in the afternoon and then swim meets at night. The kids would go to bed sunburnt and exhausted and – aside from the sunburnt part – I’d felt like I’d crushed my job as a mom that day. And then we’d get up the next morning and do it all over again.

One of the more interesting dynamics of this club is that members sit with their families on the beach or – if you were so blessed – in front of coveted cabanas lining the boardwalk. As my then-husband’s parents were the original members to the club, we spent our days sitting with his family. We’d sit in a circle on the sand or watch the kids together up at the pool and a lot of times, sit together at dinner in the club’s Tea Room overlooking the ocean. And honestly, I didn’t hate it. I mean, I’d complain sometimes and roll my eyes behind their backs about this or that but really, I could do the same for my own family. Probably your family, too. We’re all a little annoying. A little bit crazy.

But I spent many a pleasant summer afternoon sitting with my former in-laws, taking turns filling inflatable pools with big buckets of ocean water for toddlers to splash in and chatting and reading the paper. The ladies would talk about the books we were reading or the trials and tribulations of raising children and the men would dig holes and play basketball on weekend afternoons (while the women back on the sand watching the kids noted how annoying that part was).

The years went by and the kids grew older and those traditions became woven into the proverbial fabric of our lives. We had the sweatshirts, trophies and the kids’ names engraved on the plaques that line the club’s walls to show for it.

When my marriage ended, I fought hard to stay at that club and help maintain those traditions. I reasoned that even though the marriage fell apart, everything else in my children’s world didn’t have to. I’d been down that road when my own parents’ marriage dissolved 30 years earlier and didn’t want my kids to have to experience the same type of disruption in their lives. The abrupt end to everything they knew before the fall.

Sure, their dad would still be a member, but he worked full-time and – if we’re being really honest here – I was the glue that kept all that family stuff together. I embraced his family and made their traditions ours. And a big part of that was the beach club. And at the time, I still had four kids from about 5 to 15 to entertain for four months out of the year.

But neither the powers-that-be at the club nor, sadly, my in-laws subscribed to that broader type of thinking. They were all immune to the idea that divorce doesn’t have to end a family. That it could be, instead, a different way of being a family; a group of people who, despite the lack of a marriage license, still care about each other after years of sitting around and talking in the sand.

Instead, lines were drawn and sides were chosen and I was left looking for a new place to park my beach chair.

So I headed south and fell into the big, wide safety net held up by my new beach family. The men and women who made room for my beach chair in their circle and offered me their company – not to mention some super-spicy margaritas – when my going got tough.

Sitting in that circle in the sand this weekend I thought about how far I’d come in the six summers since my marriage ended. How, at first, I felt so out-of-place sitting on that new beach as a single person. I felt like an intruder among the couples. I mean, I didn’t even know how to put up my own umbrella. Back then, I figured it was as good enough place as any to bide my time and besides, my youngest was thrilled to get to spend his days in the ocean with all his friends.

But now we’ve logged a lot of hours together on the beach, bonding while kids swirled around our circle, looking for towels and fins and money for the snack bar. We save places for each other in the sand and talk about our kids and what we’re reading and roll our eyes at the guys and come back the next day and do it all over again.

Just like any other family

As the sun began to set on Sunday, I noticed a couple of kids running to stand at the shoreline and point towards the ocean. I turned and saw a fin rise out of the darkened water before slipping back down and soon we were all on our feet watching a line of dolphins swim north past us, close to shore.

We oohed and aahed as they began undulating a little higher out of the water, exposing more and more of their sleek gray bodies. And then, as if on cue – as if the animal knew an audience stood gathered on the beach watching the parade go by in wonder – one of the dolphins jumped completely out of the water and gave its tail a shake before plunging nose first back into the ocean. The crowd erupted in hoots, turning to each other in amazement, as the pod continued to make its way north under the setting July sun before we all settled back into our chairs to wait for darkness to arrive.

And I have to believe that the dolphin’s thrilling leap was a sign from the universe that there is magic around every corner – no matter where your umbrella is planted – and that I was right where I was supposed to be, on a beach in New Jersey surrounded by friends on a warm summer night.

Looking for magic? Well, actually I’m not really a magician. But you can sign up to get all of my latest posts sent right to your inbox by typing your email into the box below. And that’s kinda magical. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

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Back to the Future

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Here’s my wish for mankind: That when the zombie apocalypse has come to a close and the aliens land and try to figure out what the fuck just happened here on Earth, they don’t crack open the little safe on the floor of my closet and start reading my cache of journals for clues.

It will not make us look good as a species.

I spent the weekend reading the collection of notebooks from the beginning, when I started writing in earnest early each morning about a decade ago, and I am here to report that my musings are insufferable. Like, I want to go back in time and punch myself.

Here’s how best to sum what I’ve read so far up: I am insane. I say this because, as my therapist Jennifer likes to point out, the very definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over and expecting different results.

There’s a lot of hand wringing over things I continue to worry about a good nine years later:

Seriously, if you read any post I’ve written in the last week in the notebook I use as a journal, at least three of those topics have come up. Jesus.

Obviously, something needs to change.

Another interesting observation is that for all the very, very serious shit happening in my life around that time (the second half of 2007) – I mean, my marriage was going down in flames – I make very little mention of certain critical events. I go on an on about driving the children all over creation and wondering whether or not my marriage will ever work, but gloss over some major episodes that precipitated the divorce.

And interestingly, I fail to write anything in the weeks leading up to and including the triathlon I competed in that September that kind of marked the start of the change that would take place inside me. When I discovered how satisfying it was to really to commit to something and that if I (a person who does not really like to get wet, swim or offer myself up to sharks like a bowl of chips) could swim a half mile in the ocean, I could do pretty much anything.

Including get a divorce.

Instead, I write about the frittata I’m bringing to a baby shower and the banana muffins my daughter and I baked and agonize over how to decorate our den. Whether or not I should buy a leather chair.

It’s like I’m going down on the Titanic and worried about what to wear to get into the lifeboat.

One of the fun things about reading journals from so long ago is that I already know what’s going to happen. It’s like watching “Fear the Walking Dead” and knowing that that nice high school principal staggering around the hallways isn’t just running a high fever. “Shoot him in the head!” you want to scream. That’s how I feel reading some of the things I wrote. “Just get a divorce already!” I want to yell. “He’s never going to treat you with respect and neither will your children if you stay!”

But we won’t even separate until near the end of 2008 so I guess I’m going to have to put up with reading a lot more wishy-washy bullshit until that happens.

But when it does happen, the divorce marks the start of me making more well-informed major life decisions. Up until that point, most of the pivotal moves I made in my life were kinda done on the fly. Or without much real thought other than some stubborn determination to complete the rosy picture of my life I wanted the world to see. Four-bedroom colonial. Four kids. Big SUV. Happy, happy, happy.

I’m not a great decision maker to begin with. Just ask my mom. It makes her nuts how long it takes me to do the simplest thing. But I like to mull things over. I want to do things the right way. I want things to be perfect. Often to the point of paralysis. While some of life’s determining factors were decided in an instant, often with alcohol involved. I can’t tell you how long it took for me to pull the trigger and buy the pricey Maclaren stroller I lusted over for my fourth child or order the sweet iron beds for my two daughters from The Land of Nod (my youngest girl was still in a crib at four), but I quickly agreed to a knee jerk marriage proposal even though my fiancée-to-be was scheduled to go on a date that very same evening. With another woman.

I know. I’d like to smack me, too.

My biggest regret is that I didn’t start recording all this drivel years earlier. That it took me so long to just start writing, even if a lot of it is inane, Dear Diary-kind of stuff. I wish I’d done a better job documenting how I felt when I first became a mother or going back even further, when I became a wife.

I know memory can be a slippery thing. I remember when the kids were young as some of the happiest times of my life, all those trips to the library for storytime and going on bear hunts around the neighborhood. But according to the journal from 2007, my youngest child drove me bonkers when he was a preschooler. So who knows? Maybe the other kids did, too. Maybe there’s a whole lot of romanticizing and demonizing of the past that transforms how we remember things. And even though I seem to be glossing over some serious issues in my life back in 2007, at least the journals provide a window into who I was back then. A person with pretty low self esteem who had long ago lost her voice. Someone who was desperately trying to hold together this picture-perfect life she had created.

I like knowing that as much as things have not changed all that much — the wine, the struggles I have with certain people — not everything has stayed the same. I don’t eat Doritos any more and now I have a much lower tolerance for bullshit behavior.

All I really know is that if I’m still wondering at the end of my 50s if I’ll ever lose 10 pounds or write that book, I am going to figure out how to go back in time and smack myself.

Of that I have no doubt.

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The Price of Freedom


Celebrating a different kind of freedom.

I don’t really love the 4th of July. I feel like it’s the summer version of New Years Eve. There’s like some weird pressure to have come up with fabulous plans to celebrate our nation’s independence, when all I really want to do is power wash my pool deck and read a book.

There’s also a cloud that hangs over all the barbecues and fireworks for me, kind of the way the new movie “Inside Out” shows how happy core memories can be colored by sadness. 

I found out my parents were getting a divorce on July 5, 1978, a month shy of my 12th birthday, and it marked the beginning of a long period of feeling like the rug had been pulled out from under me. It took a long time for me to find solid ground. 

And then about 30 years later, this happened (originally posted here last year).

My ex-husband and I finally and completely called it quits on our marriage on July 4, 2009. Afterwards, even though he was the one who pushed me off the steep cliff of indecision, he sent me a text wishing me a “Happy Independence Day.” And while that was kind of snarky thing to write, it was also kind of true.

I was finally free.

We had initially separated about seven months earlier and then agreed we would go to counseling together and try to find a way to make things work. But honestly, I don’t think I ever really thought that was going to happen. Neither of us ever got what we needed from the other.

And I keep going back to the notion of things we want versus things that we need. Because even though I initially wanted to stay married and keep our family intact at all costs, a divorce was the one thing I really needed.

I remember standing in the foyer of our house after he’d rushed over early that July 4 morning to confront me about something that had happened the night before. Something pretty stupid and not something you’d end your almost 18-year marriage over. But we were at the end stage where you didn’t really need much to snuff out whatever life was left in the relationship. It was like the bad fall that beats cancer to the punch.

As we stood there by the front door and he asked me if I was sure I wanted to end things, I remember thinking about how good his arms looked. He was wearing a sleeveless grey workout top and his biceps looked pretty great after months of living on his own during our separation and working out twice a day. It was hot out and he was kind of worked up from the heat and the situation and his tanned arms kind of glistened from the exertion of it all and I stood and admired how good he looked and thought how much I’d miss those biceps.

And then I looked into those beautiful blue eyes of his – the ones I looked into that rainy day all those years ago when we said “I do” and the ones I kissed, between and over his perfect brows countless times – and told him that, yes, our marriage was over.

And he walked out the door.

At the time, I didn’t even shed a tear. I was more terrified than sad about the rapid turn of events. It would take at least another year and countless hours on my therapist’s couch to really start feeling the sadness of what happened. To start burrowing a tunnel through the fortress I had built around my heart.

But over time, I’ve learned that the takeaway from my marriage is that being a part of a relationship shouldn’t cost you anything. Sure, you might have to barter and trade for certain things – you need to be willing to compromise – but you shouldn’t have to pony up, like, your dignity or self-respect just to be a part of a couple. That is a steep price to pay just so that you don’t have to be alone.

This revelation came in handy recently when I found myself seeing somebody who just couldn’t give me what I needed and my options were to go along with it but feel yucky about myself, or cut bait.

And because I can no longer compromise what I need out of a relationship or the way I have to be treated, I had to cool things off. We didn’t totally close the door, but we’re taking a break.

But I’m just not willing to sacrifice the freedom I’ve tasted to be a part of a couple. I’ve worked too hard trying to be true to who I am for that shizz.

I still miss the barbecues and fireworks we shared as a family and of course, those really nice biceps, but not how much it all cost me. I really want to be in a relationship – I know that now – but not at any price.

Freedom is too expensive to waste.


Ben & Jen Are Getting a Divorce. WTH?

This is me after I heard the news.

This is me after I heard the news.

The kids had dinner at their dad’s last night and I have to say, that’s one of the few upsides of divorce. I love that at least one night a week I don’t have to come up with an answer to “What’s for dinner?”

It’s also the one night a week I don’t have to struggle with not eating something, like the pasta I’m serving with the chicken meatballs or the udon noodles that go with the stir fry. I make something just for me.

So I opted for my usual single lady dinner – poached egg, faro and arugula – along with a glass of crisp Sancerre and sat down to eat at my island and thumb through a magazine while an NBC Nightly News story about Misty Copeland played in the background.

I must not have been paying attention because all of a sudden I heard the aggressive intro to Extra — you know, that daily TV show that celebrates all things Bieber and Kardashian — and was stopped in my tracks as I got up to switch the channel.

There was a time I watched Extra, along with its identical sister show Access Hollywood (which immediately follows), almost every night. I’d forget to turn on Jeopardy, which makes me feel less bad about having the TV on in the kitchen, and instead get sucked into celebrity gossip.

Don’t get me wrong: I love celebrity news as much as the next guy – I’ve subscribed to People and Entertainment Weekly for years. But I’m starting to feel bad about it. It’s bad karma feeding off famous people’s problems. And sometimes I worry that I know way more about Caitlyn Jenner than ISIS.

So I’m turning around to get up and switch on Jeopardy when I hear Mario Lopez break the news: Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck are getting a divorce.


I actually screamed that alone in my kitchen.

And I mean, I don’t know those guys or anything about their marriage but they at least appeared to have it all together. Of course, I know that that’s total bullshit. Some of us try very hard to make everything at least appear all bright and shiny on the outside. You never really knows what’s going on in anyone’s marriage.

I think what’s so disheartening is that if those two – who conceivably have access to all the babysitting help and marriage professionals and everything that might help keep a couple together – can’t figure out a way to make it work, then the rest of us are fucked.

I was so riled up I actually tweeted Mario Lopez regarding my distress.

I really want to believe in marriage but am starting to think maybe it’s impossible to spend decades with the same person. Or maybe it’s just that men and women are wired completely different. Maybe we should just stick to our own kind.

Coincidentally, the topic of marriage came up while I was sitting with a couple of girlfriends on the beach yesterday while our sons rode wave after wave on their boogie boards in the cold June ocean.

I was telling my friends – who are all a couple of years younger than me with younger children, to boot – that they were in such difficult places in their marriages. They’ve been with their husbands for almost two decades, have kids in or near their teenaged years, and it’s like their relationships are big ticking time bombs.

“You’ve just gotta get through it,” I counseled.

Then my very funny friend, who can get pretty sassy sometimes, says, “And then what?”

And there I paused. She stared.

“And then maybe everything will be okay?” I answered, giving my shoulders a shrug.

“It better fucking be,” she roared, “or I’m gonna have to write about it on that little blog of yours.”

We laughed for a while and then started talking about our kids or whatever else it is that a bunch of 40-something-year-old women talk about when sitting in a circle on the sand on a lovely summer afternoon.

But I don’t envy them. For as much as I write about not being a part of a couple, I know it’s a lot of fucking work. It requires a lot of energy to sustain a relationship. Maybe there’s something to be said for doing whatever the hell I want – I mean, within reason – and not having to answer to anyone.

The good news is that I woke up this morning to discover that Mario, too, shares in my sorrow over Jen and Ben’s split.

And my tweet got 68 favorites which impressed even my never-impressed 22yo son.

And my tweet got 68 favorites which impressed even my never-impressed 22yo son.

And I never thought I’d say this, but now I am TOTALLY rooting for Brad and Angie. #whoknew

The Third Wheel

Learning how to be enough.

On Saturday night I went to a super-fun party in my small New Jersey town and danced like there was no tomorrow.

The luau-themed affair was a fundraiser for our school district’s parent-teacher organization and it was held under a big white tent on somebody’s beautiful front lawn where very cute waiters passed precious hors d’oeuvres and bartenders filled our glasses from big pitchers of sweet mojitos.

I wore my very-favorite Forever 21 party dress, the one I picked up on a trip to San Francisco with my sisters maybe eight years ago – back when you could still find a gem or two at the now-ubiquitous mall store – and even though it’s made of acetate and cost about $20, it somehow makes me feel pretty whenever I slip it on.

The organizers had hired a fun local band and my gal pals and I jumped around to Hall & Oates and Journey songs on the packed dance floor late into the humid June night. And of the almost 300-and-something mommies and daddies crowded under the tent and singing along to songs from the 80s, I was probably the only one to have purchased just a single ticket for the event.

There are days that go by that I never even think about being single. The thought never crosses my mind. My life is full of my four children and lovely friends and books and writing and hiking and food shopping and juggling this whole shebang of a life and sometimes I’m really surprised when something reminds me that I’m divorced. Sometimes it really catches me off guard.

But Saturday night I really felt my singleness, but want to make it clear that it’s not because anyone made me feel that way. It’s just because it’s my own shit. My own internal hot button that gets pushed when I feel the absence of a plus-one. I feel the humiliation that comes from thinking anyone might be feeling sorry for me. That my aloneness is somehow kinda sad. I hate to think that husbands think of me as their wives’ perpetually-single friend who’s now become their problem.

Because right now I’d much rather be in my own company – which I kind of enjoy – rather than make any kind of compromise just to be a part of a pair. I mean, I’ve written about this before.

I came home from my nephew’s fourth birthday party earlier on Saturday – which had a superhero theme and the highlight was getting to snuggle somebody’s three-week-old baby – and realized I had nobody to go to the luau with. I had not made plans to attach myself as a third wheel to one of my couple friends. I laid down on my bed and struggled to decide which was the sadder scenario: inviting myself to go with friends or arriving by myself. I can’t tell you the wave of sadness that I felt and considered bagging the whole thing except my daughter had given me wavy party hair earlier and I hated to see that, and the $65 ticket, go to waste.

But when you are not a part of a couple, you’re also not included in a lot of couple-driven stuff. It’s not that you’re excluded; coupled folks just don’t think to include you. I have wonderful friends who have scooped me up and wrapped me into a lot of their fun but the trouble probably is that they’re all married.

And really, how am I ever going to meet available men if all I do is married-people stuff?

The feeling sorry for myself part lasted about 30-seconds. I got a little teary eyed and then realized how ridiculous I was being and picked up my phone and started texting friends and in no time a car pulled up and I squeezed in with some of my favorite couples as their seventh wheel. Once we got to the party, the men gravitated towards other men and women did the same and by the end of the night we were all standing around another couple’s kitchen and laughing over cocktails and pretzels and I had long stopped feeling sorry for myself and my single status.

Because let’s face it: we want to be part of a couple and then we are involved with someone and then we wished we were alone and then we’re finally alone again and then we start thinking it might be better to be a part of a couple. It’s crazy.

We’re never fucking happy. Nothing is perfect.

There are wonderful things about being alone – full power over the remote control is just one thing that comes to mind – and there’s lots of good stuff about being part of a twosome – like you never have to arrive solo at a party or sit alone at a bar.

Maybe it’s just a matter of enjoying where you are in the process and for me, it’s knowing that right now, I am enough. And maybe, just maybe, I should just stop thinking and dance.

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How Not to Be a Jerk

thejerkI can’t say I was really happy yesterday morning when I got in my cold car around 7:30 to drive an hour and 45 minutes north to go skiing.

In fact, when I saw my girlfriend later that morning on line to take the gondola up to the top of the mountain, I told her that the only thing that could make the day any better was if there was going to be some kind of math involved. “Are we doing any word problems later?” I joked as we inched our way up to the front of the endless line.

My 12-year-old son, on the other hand, was practically giddy.

I heard him hop right out of bed when his alarm went off at 6:30 and then he poked his head inside my room to see if I was getting up.

“A few more minutes, buddy,” I told him, probably not in my cheeriest voice.

When I finally lumbered downstairs 15 minutes later for coffee, he was sitting on a stool at our island eating the toast slathered with peanut butter that he’d made himself and already dressed in warm layers for his day on the slopes. The night before, while I sat on the couch and watched “How to Get Away With Murder” and pretended the following day wasn’t happening, he was busy packing up all his ski gear in a backpack and laying out his clothes for the next day. He even put my skis and boots in the back of our SUV.

I am a reluctant skier. I came to the sport later in life and never found it very natural to strap sticks to the bottom of my feet and shoot down a mountain. It ain’t right.

But my ex-husband was passionate about the sport and back in the day, I really wanted to be the kind of girlfriend who was up for anything. You know, the Cool Girl. The one who, according to Amazing Amy in Gone Girl, “is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain.”

But I don’t think I ever totally fooled him. For one thing, I’m a scaredy cat and not a really good sport. I’m sure I didn’t make things easy. But God bless him, he was patient with me. He helped me put  my boots on and carried my skis and poles around. He followed me down the mountain and reminded me to bend my knees, lean forward and not swing my arms around. In fact, to this day, I still hear his voice in my head as I make my way down a mountain and adjust accordingly.

When our kids were old enough to hit the slopes, he’d get them all ready for a day in ski school – stuffing little bodies clad in pajamas and turtlenecks (this was before all the fancy long johns came along) into bibbed snow pants and putting all the right socks and boots and gloves on all of those little hands and feet – and wrangle them over to their lessons. Then later, he’d take them out himself, showing them the proper way to get on and off a chairlift and skiing backwards down the mountain as they followed behind, their little skis making a “pizza slice” as they plowed their way through the snow.

A couple of times he even took the older three kids away for the long President’s Weekend to ski with his sister and her kids while I stayed home – secretly relieved – to take care of our little guy. While I sat on the couch, watching movie after movie and drinking red wine, they mastered moguls and learned to ski through wooded glades and by the time I got back out on the slopes with them a few years later, found myself once again the slowest and most remedial skier in the pack.

So when my marriage was finally ending, I joked that at least I’d never have to ski again. “It’s the silver lining,” I’d like to tell people.

Except my kids missed it. While I saw it as one giant, expensive hassle that resulted in staring down a steep, icy slope with frozen toes, they grew up thinking that nothing could be more fun. And because we’d taken them away on a bunch of ski trips over the years, they also associated it with cozy nights sitting on the floor with their cousins playing Spit and Rummy and splashing around an indoor pool.

While I was going through my divorce, my girlfriend offered me her condo in Stratton, VT for a weekend to take the kids skiing and I saw it as an opportunity to prove to myself that I could do things like that by myself, even though I still had a 6-year-old to manage. The trip started badly when I discovered, after I’d gone and rented all four of them equipment from a local ski place, that our fairly new SUV didn’t have the proper bars on top to clip on our old ski rack. I’d have to shove them inside along with all our bags and helmets and groceries I’d bought for the long weekend.

And that’s when I sat down and started to cry in the family room with my daughters looking on. But in the first of what would be many times when the kids would rally around me, the girls assured me we’d be able to fit everything inside our truck and even though we were probably pretty squished on the five-hour drive north that Thursday night, not one kid complained.

We were up bright-and-early the next morning to catch the 8:15 shuttle from the condo complex to the mountain, standing outside with all of our bags and equipment in the freezing January air, when after a while, one of the maintenance guys drove by and told us that the shuttle did not run on weekdays. So we shoved everything back into our truck and headed over to the mountain and when we pulled into the lot, saw that the shuttle bus was loading passengers to take them to the lodge.

We made a mad scramble to get all the skis and poles, helmets and bags out and over to the shuttle and I ushered all of the kids up the steps and into the back. It was the kind of bus that I imagined was also used to shuttle migrant workers around to jobs, with a big, open back where passengers stood and held onto poles.

The kids and I pushed our way into the bus that was mostly filled with silver-haired retirees, who were probably taking advantage of the smaller crowds and cheaper pricing of weekday skiing. I ordered all of the kids to hold onto something and started counting heads.

One was missing.

“Where’s Nick?” I shouted, and the three older kids just stared back at me.

“He’s over here,” came an unfamiliar voice from the back of the bus, very near the opening where I could barely make out trees rushing by as we headed towards the mountain. And then I saw my 6-year-old standing really close to that gaping opening.

“Can you grab him?” I yelled to the nice woman who’d alerted me to his whereabouts and she yanked him away from the opening and held him by the shoulders until we pulled up to the ski lodge.

I bought lift tickets and clipped them to everyone’s ski jackets, wrapping the long sticker onto the wire and thinking how easy it had looked when the kids’ dad had put our tickets on us all those years. The little guy went to ski school and the other kids and I spent the day going up and down the mountain.

But in the end, it wasn’t as much fun as it used to be. Something was missing. And maybe it was the expense of it all or that teenagers had no interest in going anywhere with just me, but we never went again.

I’ve gone a couple of times with girlfriends since then and took my youngest to learn how to snowboard at a place about two hours from here, and I waited in the lodge while he took a lesson with some friends.

But he’s been dying to do it again. And it’s not enough that his dad is taking him away for a weekend to ski this month. He needed to go skiing with me.

So when a couple of families in town were heading to a mountain in New Jersey to ski on Sunday, he was all over it. Initially I said I’d take him but just hang around the lodge while he skied with his buddies because A: I don’t really need to ski and B: I’m not the richest cat right now. I’d rather spend that $65 on a manicure and a pedicure or when the kids and I go to Hong Kong next month.

“Why don’t you see if Dad wants to go skiing with you, dude?” I suggested.

But he looked at me with those big blue eyes of his and said, “But Mom, it can be our thing.”

“I’ve never even seen you ski,” he added.


I mean, who around here even wants to do anything with me any more? Pretty much nobody. And soon, this kid won’t want to either, as evidenced by his actions last summer. 

And for as much as I complain about skiing, there’s really no better family activity. Nothing beats having a teenager trapped next to you on a chairlift on a long ride up a mountain or laughing over dinner at night on who fell during what run or who was the last to the bottom of the trail (usually me).

So that is how I found myself on Sunday standing on a line akin to one you’d find waiting for Space Mountain on Good Friday to rent the kid a snowboard for the day. We stored our bags in lockers and made our way outside and I marveled for not the first time at how easy my ex had made all of it look. And after a rocky first run that found my son on his butt more than standing upright on his board, he quickly found his rhythm and we had a great day. Even though he had two buddies to fool around in the terrain park and see who could catch the most air, he also wanted his mom as part of the pack.

After one run we stopped at the bottom to take some pictures of our group with our phones and I asked my friends if they’d take one of my son and me. As we stood with our arms around each other’s waist and our helmets touching, he said, “I really like seeing you ski, Mom,” and I cursed myself for being such a dick earlier that day. For even considering not doing something that would bring him so much joy.

Sometimes, it pays not to be a ... errr ... jerk.

Sometimes, it pays not to be a … errr … jerk.

It’s like those old MasterCard commercials, in which I’d tally up the costs of our ski day – the lift tickets, equipment rental, $4 slices of pizza, my lost beauty sleep – and then tell you, in no uncertain terms, that the end result was truly priceless.

(And look, there was even some math involved.)

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