What Freedom Tastes Like (Apparently: Porkroll)

It happened earlier this week: On Tuesday, my youngest turned 17 and left the house before sunrise, returning a few hours later triumphant, with his new driver’s license in hand. I often say that he’s not the worst teenager I’ve ever met, and generally cheery, but this new found independence sent him into a profoundly manic state.

“This is, like, the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said, sitting at the counter in our kitchen examining his new license. He couldn’t stop smiling and said it was the best birthday present, even though I’d just given him new AirPods.

We sat and chatted for a bit and then he ordered a porkroll-egg-and-cheese on a roll (no salt/pepper/ketchup) from a nearby deli, which — if you live in New Jersey — is apparently what freedom tastes like. Then I watched as he slid into the Honda Civic I’d leased a few weeks ago and backed out of the driveway to go pick up his celebratory sandwich and head to school and bask in all the birthday good wishes.

It wasn’t until later, when I was thinking about my youngest child’s new set of wings, that it occurred to me that for the first time in 27 years, I was no longer pinned to one of my children’s pick up and drop off schedules. That I, too, had been set free.

I’ve been towing kids around for so long that when I had my first baby in 1992, new parents were instructed to strap rear-facing infant seats into the front seat of the car. Like, a crybaby was my copilot for a good year until his sister came along and all of a sudden, all cry babies were mandated to be moved to the rear.

I shuttled my kids all over creation, like every other mom, in vehicles littered with crushed goldfish and empty juice boxes they’d stuff into cupholders, leaving a sticky residue on everything they touched. I can’t tell you how many times I had to disassemble a car seat to wipe barf from its every nook and cranny, and as this was well before the dawn of smartphones and iPads, we listened to a lot of Broadway cast recordings and could sing the entire libretto of The Music Man and Oklahoma at one point.

And as my four kids were spread out over 10 years, all that driving went on for a very long time.

The driving pinnacle came when I had four kids in four different schools, had gone back to work full time and was in the midst of a contentious divorce. I’d race to pickups muted while listening in on conference calls while the high school kids argued about who should have been picked up first. I even outsourced driving the youngest back and forth to preschool by signing him up for one that provided bus service. 

Eventually — meaning 17 years later — they started to get their licenses and we slowly began adding used cars to the fleet so they could get themselves where they needed to be (school, work, practice). When my third kid got her license, I finally had someone who could also help with errands and she gladly went food shopping and to Costco for a toilet paper haul. And she happily drove her little brother to and from wherever he needed to be.

But when she went away to college five years ago, that driving gravy train screeched to a halt and I was back shuttling the baby around. 

The upside to the fourth kid, though, is that he’s pretty resourceful and usually gets himself where he needs to be. My biggest driving responsibility the last few years has been getting him to school each morning, which I kind of strong armed my neighbors into sharing with me, dangling the promise that once my guy got his license, he’d gladly drive their kid to school until he got his own license. 

In fact, when I texted my neighbor on Tuesday to tell her the good news, that we’d NEVER have to be part of the terrifying drop off situation at the high school, she replied, “That’s a fabulous Christmas present for us all!!”

My third kid lives right outside DC now and she and I Facetimed on Tuesday after her little brother got his license and she joked that now I could just send him to the market to buy his own ham, which is what he eats every day for lunch at school and it seems like we’re always running out and I need to go buy more. 

“You just need to give Nick a credit card and you never have to do anything again,” she said, and we laughed at how true that was.

He’s lined up a babysitting gig for tonight — which means I can go out without worrying he’s going to throw a rager at our house and that I also don’t have to pick him up anywhere; and on Sunday he can drive himself to a 6 p.m. indoor lacrosse game a half hour away so I can go to my girlfriend’s holiday open house; and on Monday, he can be the Uber driver for me and my girlfriends so we can have a glass of proseco at our annual holiday lunch. 

Honestly, this kids growing older thing is really working out for me, and it was only 27 years in the making. 

Did you know I send out a newsletter on (most) Fridays, sharing all my faves-du-jour plus snippets from what’s going on in my life? Well, it’s true and you can sign up to get it plopped right in your inbox each week, by signing  yourself up.

If you are reading this on your phone, scroll down to the bottom, past my face, until you see NEVER MISS A POST.

If you’re on the computer, simply look to the right for the same form to plug your email into. 

Let the Holidays Begin! Sigh.

IMG_3537Over the course of this past weekend, I had to yell at not one but two of my neighbors – both grown men – for causing me undue stress and anxiety.

There they were, with the Thanksgiving dinner a not-so-distant-memory, wrapping lights around anything not moving in front of their houses. There were wreaths and swags and twinkling shrubbery while over at my ranch there’s just a lone pumpkin leftover from Halloween sitting on the front step.


By the time I saw a third male neighbor busily stringing lights on a garland above his garage doors, I didn’t even have the fight left to say anything. I just stood on my lawn and watched. I was outnumbered, it seemed, by holiday cheer.

Of course, as the kids and I pulled out of the driveway late yesterday afternoon and they saw how festive the neighbors’ houses were looking — the lights twinkling in the dusky twilight — they lamented that we had, as usual, nothing.

Now, I could blame it on the fact that we don’t have an official man-of-the-house living here who, though some quirk of genetic coding, would feel compelled to wrap strands of lights around things. It’s like setting fires and shooting stuff for the Y-chromosone.

But in reality, when we did have a guy here who liked to decorate the outside of the house, I really tried to kibosh most of his ideas.

I like things plain and simple. I don’t do icicles, colored lights or haphazard tree lighting. If you are going to light a tree, don’t just wrap two strands around a trunk and half a limb and think it looks good. It doesn’t. I want Disney-style lighting, covering every last branch and twig, and because that’s just too much — I mean, really, who has time for that? — I opt for nothing.

But nowadays, you can’t just hang a wreath and call it a day. There needs to be some lighting element involved, which is challenging when you do not have an electrical source in the front of your house or the inclination to light stuff up.

But it’s important to the kids, like our yearly Christmas card and the candle we buy that makes the inside of our house smell warm and piney. They want some razzle dazzle to come home to and my lone electric candle-in-every-window routine is just not jazzy enough for them.

So today, thanks to the magic of Cyber Monday and LED technology, I ordered a battery-operated pre-lit wreath, which will join my battery-operated strand of lights I bought last year that I will wrap around a garland and drape over the front door. Add the candles in the windows, and it will be downright festive around here.

I have a plan, ladies and gentlemen.

It will not be Rockefeller Center, but it will be something.

And the pumpkin, I can assure you, will be nowhere in sight.

Speed Daters

photo(75)Just back from a quick trip to the Land of Grim the other night and I’m here to report that love, alas, is not waiting for me in a New Jersey strip mall.

My also-single girlfriend and I drove about 40 minutes north of where we live to take part in a round of Speed Dating, which I think one of us had seen advertised on Match.com like a month ago and neither of us needed convincing to sign up.

Now, this is the same woman I’m going to a shooting range with this weekend — and salsa dancing a few months ago — so when we heard about the speed dating, we were like, “Ohhh, let’s try that.” It’s the same way I felt about competing in a triathlon or having a baby (although I stopped at two triathlons).

It’s also the same impulse I have for trying skydiving, and although I’ve yet to jump out of a plane, it’s on my list of terrifying things I might want to try. Maybe, I don’t know. I would kind of like to have that experience in my back pocket to pull out in a conversation, like to be able to casually mention “that time I jumped out of a plane.”

It’s mucho macho.

Or stupid. One or the other.

Another factor in my decision to sign up for the speed dating was to satisfy my now-eternal quest for content. I need shit to write about, dudes, or this blog will become the equivalent of a Seinfeld episode. It will be about absolutely nothing.

Case in point: I sat in bed all day last Saturday and read an entire book.

End of story.

(In case you’re interested, it was an Anne Lamott novel that I don’t necessarily recommend unless you, like me, just finished reading her memoir on writing and then you might find the way she wove bits and pieces of her personal life and advice into her fiction as fascinating as I did.)

And of course, there was also the hope, deep down inside, that the speed dating thing would pan out. There was the “you-never-know” factor at play. People are always telling me their stories about their divorced sister-in-law who met the man of her dreams online or the friend from high school who reconnected with her college love. And I am an avid reader of the New York Times wedding announcements. So, I know love shows up in weird ways and sometimes when you least expect it.

Let me go on the record right now as saying that there is no love going down at a cheesy Italian restaurant in a New Jersey strip mall, the epicenter of all that is grim in this world. It’s just not possible and in retrospect, I don’t even know what made me think that it was worth a shot.

Eternal optimism, I suppose.

And really, isn’t that what brought all 14 of us there (six men and eight women)? I went with a friend but most everyone else there seemed to show up alone and probably also in hopes that the $28 fee for the event would be the ticket to meeting a special someone.

But love was not in the air for me Tuesday night.

I met some very nice men with whom I had pleasant conversations as they rotated to my table (#4) every eight minutes. It was quite the cast of characters. One of them was definitely somewhere on the spectrum – he was very intense about country music – and I question whether another of the guys fit the 40-54 year old age bracket stipulated for the evening. Plus he was married.

But here’s the thing: for as much as I was thinking none of the men was really my cup of tea, the guys were apparently feeling the same way about me.

The nerve.

You get a sheet to rate everyone throughout the evening and then the event coordinator emails the following day to let you know who was interested along with their emails in case you want to follow up.

Out of the six dudes I chatted with, only two were interested in me. And one was the married guy.

What could this possibly say about me?

Luckily, I’m not too broken up over it. Maybe if there were someone I had really been into, I would have felt differently. I think it’s more kind of funny than sad and should be filed under who-do-I-think-I-am life lessons.

When I got into my friend’s car to drive there Tuesday night, we laughed and said who would of thought when we were busy trying to pick just the right books to read for our mother-daughter book club all those years ago that ten years later we’d be heading off on a speed dating adventure.

“You just never know,” my friend observed.

And she’s right.

Ten years ago, my head was filled with thoughts about redoing my kitchen and what to buy the kids for Christmas. I never imagined myself sitting across from a Staten Island police officer as a potential love interest and having a timed conversation.

But that’s life. You never know what’s waiting for you around the corner.

So what’s the moral of the story? Is there an important takeaway?

For me, it’s that I want to be in the game. I want to experience life. The good and the bad.

In the future, I am just going to try to avoid doing so in strip malls.


My Hurricane Sandy Story

IMG_4059The PTSD kicked in earlier this month, when the weather around here started to cool down but not enough to warrant switching the heat on in the house.

On a few of those days, sitting in my chilly kitchen mid-morning working – before the afternoon sun warmed up the front of the house – I’d flash back to those few weeks last year when the sun was the only thing we had to rely on to heat the house.

Or brighten it, for that matter.

When Hurricane Sandy blew threw this part of the Jersey Shore one scary night a year ago tomorrow, she took a lot things with her like heat and electricity, and all those modern conveniences I had come to rely on like morning coffee, the Internet and hot showers.

She also took with her my sense that I didn’t need anyone. That I could handle anything thrown my way.

And while I fared so much better than many people in my small town – families whose homes were ravaged by floodwater that surged through their bedrooms and kitchens, destroying every last slipper, cookbook and photo album – the storm was still traumatizing.

For the second time since my old husband moved out of our house five years ago, I felt incredibly alone. It quickly became clear that no one would be checking in on how the kids and I were doing, no one would be offering us a place to stay and get warm.

It was every man for himself, so to speak.

We had a giant maple tree slice through our back yard as the storm really started to kick in that terrifying night. The tree, which had stood just on the other side of the chainlink fence in my neighbor’s yard, had been a source of irritation, dropping some piece of detrius or another into my yard – and the nearby pool in particular – for years. So it was fitting, really, that the one tree to come crashing down would be that annoying one, and while it missed the corner of my house by about one or two feet, it did manage to slash through the pool cover and crush everything in its path.


So on top of caring for the two children I had at home at the time and working 24/7 as a reporter covering the storm and its aftermath locally, I also had to contend with getting that thing out of my backyard and figuring out who was going to pay for it.

And it was cold. Motherfucker, it was cold. And dark.

I’d be okay in the earlier parts of the day but when the sun would start to set in late afternoon, and shadows would fall in the bathrooms and kitchen, I’d freak out knowing it was only a matter of time that the kids and I would be left, sitting in the dark surrounded by our hodgepodge assortment of candles and flashlights.

And there is only so much Yahtzee one can play.


We’d trudge upstairs by 9 those nights and retire separately to our bedrooms, slipping under piles of blankets wearing layers of socks and sweatpants to keep warm.

We even had a generator, briefly. A friend in town had a truckload shipped up from somewhere down south to distribute gratis to those in need, but it was old and needed to be revved up to start like a lawn mower. It was the only time in my life I wished I had experience mowing a lawn so I would have understood the motion required to get that thing going – and how to operate the choke, for that matter. Instead, the two kids and I stood outside trying to get it to start and when our neighbor came over to lend a hand and got it started for us, its noise and fumes filled our garage even though it stood on the walkway outside. I wasn’t in the mood for CO2 poisoning on top of everything else.

While later, I would hear stories of how some neighborhoods banded together and made lemonade out of the situation, pooling resources and commiserating together over bottles of wine, it was pretty lonely over in my neck of the woods.

The only person who seemed pretty happy during those first few days was my then-9 year old who spent the time running relatively unchecked through the neighborhood with his friends, released from the bonds of school and homework. As the fourth child, he’s used to fending for himself – over the years he’s taught himself not only how to tie his own shoes buy how to ride a bike. He came inside one day to rest for a moment and I really got a good look at him, how he’d added a warmer layer to his go-to soccer ensemble and sported a knit cap on his head. As he sat on the couch pouring over some newly-discovered catalog, I noticed how his knees were covered with cuts, scrapes and dirt.

I understood then I was witnessing a Lord of the Flies transformation firsthand. It was only a matter of time before he’d be carrying around a conch shell and mounting a head on a stake.

So needless to say, when I heard that my mom got her heat and power back about six days into the ordeal, I immediately invited myself to stay there. I packed the kids off to their dad’s – who had also gotten his heat and power back – and relocated about a half hour south.

And from there, it got pretty good. Once I was under her roof, my mom took pretty good care of me, serving some type of hot cereal each morning and even halving my blueberries and setting it all out in pretty cups and bowls.  She was good company and once her cable was restored, we liked to sit and watch Nashville together.

I’d make the drive north each day to check out what was going on around town for work and make sure my cat hadn’t frozen into a block of ice. And when it seemed the kitty – who had survived near-starvation, some kind of burning that singed the whiskers off her face, and who know what else before we found her – had had enough, my favorite cat-lady friend came over and stuffed her in a carrier and I boarded her at the local vet.

And that’s my hurricane story. I stayed at my mom’s for about a week until my own power was restored and the kids and I could move back in. I’ve slowly had repairs made to my deck and replaced the gas grill smashed by the tree. But there’s still a portion of crushed fencing that needs to be replaced and I just haven’t had the extra time, money or energy to get that job done.

And I know firsthand how fortunate I am. That it’s just fencing and a pool cover that needed to be replaced. As a reporter, I’ve had the opportunity to witness just how devastating the aftermath of the storm could be. I’ve spoken with homeowners who weren’t just uprooted for a week or two, but remain, one year later, out of their homes. And I’ve seen what it’s like when some have stayed in their homes, that look as if they’re living in a war-torn Eastern European country and not a middle-class suburb of New Jersey. They have to deal with insurance companies and and flood maps and the government and that is truly traumatic.

What I mostly learned about myself during those two weeks after Hurricane Sandy struck was that being alone is not always so great. That it would have been nice to have someone else help shoulder the burden the storm brought. Someone to help empty out the bags of thawed Lean Cuisine boxes, ice cream containers and chicken nuggets from the freezer. Someone to sit with by the fire each night and warm up next to under all those blankets at the end of each cold, dark day.

Because being independent is one thing but being alone, I learned, is something very different.