- Capacity: Ample room so that it could almost be considered carry-on luggage, but at the same time doesn’t look like my son’s book bag.
- Strap strength: Durable, medium width, firmly stitched where bag meets strap.
- Fabric: I prefer leather.
- Style: Simple and functional over flashy and cool.
You cannot dispute the importance of a woman’s purse:
- My purse as a weapon – If I had a sturdy enough strap and just the right carry through with an intense swing, the weight of my purse could render an attacker unconscious, possibly dead.
- Like MacGyver, my purse holds everyday items that, in the right hands, could possibly make complex devices in a matter of minutes.
- Headache? Cut? Sore throat? I’m you’re go-to gal.
I can’t comprehend how some women can leave the house with a credit card sized purse and not a care in the world. What if they need a pen or elastic or an Advil? Perish the thought!
I’ve tried to lighten my pocketbook, but end up in anxiety mode because what if I’m out somewhere and I don’t have what I need?
Don’t ask me what this “need” is that I’m referring to. I couldn’t tell you, but if I don’t have my stuff, I get twitchy. Could I possibly be one of those women that writer Mavis Gallant referred to when she said, “She had the loaded handbag of someone who camps out and seldom goes home, or who imagines life must be full of emergencies.”
Guilty as charged.
Honorable mention and shout out to my computer bag and canvas lunch tote that I lug to work. The sheer weight of it all could cause a lesser or lighter woman to need a hip replacement.
I’ve even tried the unfashionable fanny pack. I had a Coach fanny that had a surprising amount of space and stuffed it so full that it was like holding a pudgy baby on my hip all day.
Perhaps I’m dealing with some deep separation anxiety from my household and having my “things” with me lessens this feeling?
Or maybe I’m a purse hoarder, like those house hoarders, only I hoard in my purse? Is there a purse intervention person?
Or maybe I’m overthinking and I just like my shit with me.
I kinda think it’s the latter.
Whenever my shoulder feels like it’s going to come out of its socket, I vow to cut back on my purse load. Purse cleaning is a mixture of excitement and dread. It’s an opportunity to reorganize my life, and if I happen to be changing pocketbooks, I get the benefit of new pocketbook smell; fresh glue and good old leather greet your nose at the unzipper.
The bottom of my pocketbook could easily be a contender for Dirty Jobs. I begin by dumping the entire contents of my purse on the kitchen table, which resembles the mess at the bottom of a man’s toolbox, only instead of screws and woodchips, one finds barrettes and month old mints. Remnants of indistinguishable receipts look like they were thrown into an angry ocean, torn and battered from being tossed into the vast center opening. Shuffling through the mess, I find: endless to-do lists – some checked off, some ignored – loose change, which always comes in handy when you’re at a tollbooth, a Splenda packet that had been slain, pierced by a sharp object, no doubt a pen. Tiny grains of sucralose line the bottom of my purse, leaving white dust on a few pieces of gum that had escaped their package.
It’s always difficult to say goodbye to a purse. One of my favorites was a Burberry canvas purse/backpack with two black patent leather straps and adjustable buckles. It was love at first sight. The flap-top opening and long body made for generous room, and because it was backpack style, I didn’t have to worry about the future of my rotator cuff. I wore that Burberry out like an old pair of comfy shoes. I almost wept when I retired it.
Of course, having a heavy purse has its downsides. Lopsided posture, wear and tear on the old joints. And yes, if I were at the Cape on my in-law’s boat and somehow went overboard, I’d sink clear to the bottom, as if chained to a boulder.
But let’s not dramatize.
I recently attended a bridal shower where the guests played a game called “purse raid”. The bride-to-be called off items that may be found in a purse and guests got points for each item they had. You received 10 points for a cough drop, 15 for an expired coupon. Flash drives were 50 points.
“Who has dental floss?”
“Doesn’t everybody, I wondered?”
“Who has a gift card?”
“Me, that’s who.”
“Old sales receipt?”
“Please, challenge me.”
“Three of them.”
MacGyver ready, per usual.
I was the lucky recipient of the bulging purse prize and went home with a lovely basket of goodies, none of which would fit into my purse.
When I was a teen the only kids that sported tattoos were the bad ass ones; roses on boobs, skulls and crosses on arms, flowers on ankles. At 17, I desperately wanted a tattoo, but my parents would have killed me and quite frankly, I didn’t have the nerve. Mini needles drilling into my skin, pain, fear of ink poisoning, no thank you. Nineteen years later, I was ready for my ink.
New Hampshire tattoo parlor, weekend getaway with my husband, who had already planned on getting a tattoo, so I figured carpe diem. I had three children; surely, I could handle this. I perused the artwork and settled on a dragon design for a couple of reasons; it would complement one of my husband’s tattoos, and I liked the fact that the dragon stood for courage, strength, and wisdom. Even better, when I informed the tat artist of the probability that my threshold was about 20 minutes, he told me that this tattoo fit my criteria. When the stencil was placed on my ankle, trepidation hit, and I mentally planned an escape route. If it all went bad, a line or two could be chalked off as a birthmark, but once the outlining was underway, I’d be in it to win it.
Okay, you know how they say tattoos hurt? Know this: they do. I looked at my husband for support. He smiled in a please suck it up, don’t make a scene way. Dammit, why didn’t I go with a girlfriend? And just like that, my wish was granted. She was tall and blonde with a plus-sized body that was squeezed into many sizes too small biker chick clothes. Her Dolly Partons bulged out of a shirt that fit her like a condom and her nails were red talons. She was loud and raucous, and carried a tray of Jell-O shots that she had gotten from the bar next door.
She heard me whimpering and rushed to my side. “You can do it honey,” she smiled, her red lipstick framing perfectly white teeth. “Look at my rose,” she said, leaning the girls close enough to touch my cheek, revealing a blue rose that looked like circa 1970s. It was like resting my face on a pillow, and better yet, it distracted me from leaping out of the chair.
“Here, squeeze my hand,” she smiled. This chick was like the Jillian Michaels of tattoo coaching, and for the next 20 minutes, this boisterous beauty was my new BFF. When my two-inch long by one-inch wide dragon tattoo was complete, I thanked her for being my personal cheerleader. She laughed and hugged me – hugged meaning her boobs momentarily absorbed my face – and took her Jell-O shots to the bar next door.
We’re moving ahead seven years, present day:
To celebrate her 18th birthday, my oldest child, and only daughter, announced she was getting a tattoo. I asked if I could go along with her two friends for the historic moment and she said yes, as long as I didn’t tell the tattoo artist what to do.
Oh, please. Like I’d tell a tattoo artist their job.
I’d suggest maybe, but definitely not tell them what to do. Geesh.
My daughter wanted a dragon tattoo for the same reasons I did; she liked what they represented, and she wanted to compliment mine and my husband’s tattoos. She described the tattoo to the artist, and like magic, he sketched a design. “I love it! It’s everything I wanted,” she beamed.
We proceeded to the back room where folks were getting branded with loved one’s names or symbols that held special meaning, their faces a mixture of pain and pleasure. My daughter’s friends took turns holding her hand, the four of us giggling and wincing together. During the process I said to her, “It’s big, huh? It’s going to be weird to have that on your foot.” And she said, “No, I was ready. I said goodbye to my foot this afternoon. I said, Goodbye plain foot. This is the last time I’ll see you like this.” I smiled at her, content that her tattoo decision had not come lightly.
An hour later, my daughter was sporting a fine looking dragon on her foot. She received the proverbial pat on the back and looks of admiration from other artists and patrons. My daughter’s tattoo happened to coincide with the release of a movie and I’ve given her the nickname of…wait for it…the girl with the dragon tattoo!
Senior year teaches parents what parents initially taught their child: how to sit, crawl, stand, walk, and finally, how to let go. For this year long new rite of passage, I found it necessary to commiserate with women who were walking in my shoes, consumed by the crazy senior year agenda that included visits to campuses, financial aid and college dorm shopping. It’s a good nine months of vacillating between wanting the tedious deets of the search to be over, and knowing when it is over, you’re going to do the ugly cry. For some of us, this was a virgin voyage; for others, it was the beginning of an empty nest and uncertainty over where our lives would take us now that we didn’t have to buy food in bulk.
I didn’t want to hear parenting advice on how I should embrace this exciting milestone and look upon it as a magical time for both me and my child. Logically, I understood this was a natural transition, but for me, this had nothing to do with logic, it had to do with emotion. For the past 18 years, I could pinpoint my daughter’s whereabouts on any given day, and now I was hoping for the occasional touch base text. My breakfast of champions was putting every emotion I owned into a blender and waiting to see which one was poured into the glass first. This natural transition didn’t feel natural at all. I pleasantly nodded to those who freely dished out unsolicited advice and told me to take a deep breath. Things would never be the same, and I wasn’t ready for it.
I knew from the moment she was born that this day would come, that the process of letting her go began the minute she took her first steps. I raised her to be independent, so that she would leave our nest armed with basic knowledge, from household chores to grocery shopping to business and career decisions. I watched as she developed into an individual with a strong sense of determination and responsibility. I covered all the ethical and moral bases I could think of because I knew that soon enough the time would come for her to venture out on her own. What I didn’t know was how fast “soon” would come careening around the corner. I want to pick her class schedule, choose her friends, put a camera in her college dorm so I can be part of her life on a daily basis – not because I’m creepy, but because I don’t want to miss one day of her life.
Yes, I know. It does sound creepy, even though I’ve clarified myself.
I want to text her constantly, skype her, call her hourly, and send her emails.
Wicked creepy. Duly noted.
After years of encouraging independence, I found that I wasn’t patting myself on the back for a job well done, but desiring to micromanage her – not forever mind you, only until it’s my turn to visit life everlasting.
Oh, give me a break. Two weeks prior to her leaving, this was me:
- I have a headache.
- My lower back is killing me. It might even be broken.
- I’m so excited for her!
- My jaw hurts. My sinuses hurt. Everything hurts.
- Yay, she got into her first choice!
- I think I’m getting sick. I’m sick. I just might be dying.
- Can’t wait to go dorm shopping, whoop!
- The air is too thick; I can’t take a deep breath. Where the hell has the oxygen gone?
- Funny, I don’t remember drinking 10 cups of caffeine this morning, yet…
- WTH, I’m a bloated pig. Forget this, I’m taking Xanax.
- I’m so excited for her!
Moving day didn’t turn out as dramatic as I’d predicted. After a morning of unloading and room decorating, my spirits were lifted. My daughter was beaming, and I realized it was hard to be sad seeing her this happy. During lunch, my twelve-year-old asked, “Do you get to eat like this every day or only because we’re here?” When she answered, “Every day,” I thought he would ask for his own room. Crème brulée and soft serve ice cream? Yes, please.
I envisioned our goodbye a bittersweet parting. We’d hug, wipe away a few tears and I’d hand her a letter I had written that summed up my belief about the strong woman she had become. That was not the exit. We were surrounded by dozens of people, and although I was perfectly able and willing to cry in the messiest way possible, I wanted to spare my family from such a scene. I hugged her, handed her the note, and pulled the maternal parachute chord. “So, give me a call,” I said. “I will,” she smiled, her body in that half turn ready to bolt stance.
She made it four steps before I dove like a linebacker and death gripped her ankle.
Aw, come on.
No, I didn’t. I turned away and then turned back for one last look. She was walking away from us, toward a friend’s dorm and low and behold, it wasn’t my four-year-old cutie pie anymore; it was a beautiful, young woman venturing out into the wide, wide world. On the way home, I did what I needed to do. I cried. I went to bed crying and woke up crying. I went grocery shopping and in the produce section, “Hey, Soul Sister” blared over the intercom. More tears. It’s not easy to pick non-bruised fruit through tear stained eyes.
Over the course of two days torrential tears switched to heavy downpours to light showers, and finally to sprinkles. My tears emancipated me, and little by little, my aches and pains disappeared. I felt my jaw unclench and my body relax, and more importantly, was extremely happy for my daughter. I want her to thrive and grow and bloom, and she can’t do that under my supervision because I’d just be telling her what to do and how to do it, and that is not a mother’s job. My job is to let go.
As parents, we hope that the college years will be filled with a maturity that develops with higher learning, new relationships and dorm partying. This is the time of their lives, their opportunity to learn how to be an adult without the adult baggage that will come to them soon enough. Before she left, the thought of inevitable change frightened me. I feared that my mystical maternal instinct, the one that has not failed to alert me when my kids need me, was going to go haywire if my daughter wasn’t physically home. It didn’t. Things have inevitably shifted. Things will continue to shift. Change is hard for humans, but it’s not change we should fear. It’s the not letting go that will cripple us. Over time, I adjusted to our family’s new normal of one less person in the house, and although I still missed my daughter, I could only think of two words to describe her future: how exciting!
It was a no go, but because one’s general mood of the moment can easily sway perspective, I like to give books a second shot. A month later, I tried again.
The book was too something – juvenile, ridiculous, a bit cruel how the boy was forced to sleep in a cobwebbed cubby of a closet – that it prevented me from reading beyond the first chapter.
It wasn’t until three or four years later that I understood the infatuation with the boy who lived. I had injured myself in an accident that left me immobile for two weeks. I don’t know about you, but there’s only so many cooking shows or reruns I can watch before television starts to blend into a cluster of garbled crap. I hobbled around the house searching for a book and came up wanting. As I passed by my daughter’s room, I glimpsed the familiar cover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The way I saw it, I could read the book or go back to watching Charlie’s Angels reruns. No contest. The Angels were killing my self esteem with their million dollar smiles and perky boobs.
I became lost in Potter world for two hours. This Hogwarts was good stuff. There were spells and potions, places called Diagon Alley and Gringotts. There was a sorting hat and a sport called Quidditch. What fascinated me was that J.K. Rowling had conjured an impressive and compelling tale about an 11-year-old boy doomed to die at the hands of the book’s antagonist, Voldemort, a.k.a. Tom Marvolo Riddle, a.k.a. the Dark Lord, a.k.a. You-Know-Who, a.k.a. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. There was so much to absorb, so many ways to interrupt and analyze the story.
Within two weeks, I finished all the Harry Potter books released to date. As Harry aged, so did the plot, with the storyline taking on a more grown up magic. I wanted to MapQuest Hogwarts and hang out with the Weasleys. I wanted to see a Norwegian Ridgeback dragon. I wanted to visit the Ministry of Magic. I wouldn’t even mind seeing He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named from a distance.
Most of all, I wanted my own wand. As a busy woman, how awesome would it be to own a piece of wood that, when you point and shoot it, you receive immediate gratification? Lost something? Forget the St. Anthony prayer; grab the wand and say, “Accio”. Sick of broken or chipped plates? “Raparo” will fix them, free of charge. Clean my toilets? No problemo. Ready, aim, “Scourgify!” Pissed off at a coworker? Get ’em in the parking lot with “Stupefy”. That’ll make ’em think twice.
Harry Potter discussions became the norm with my daughter, Jocelyn, and her best friend, Erika, a.k.a. E. We attended the Barnes and Noble midnight releases of books 5 and 6, standing in line for hours so that we could deep dive into Harry’s next venture. Pretty soon, Chris (E.’s mom) jumped on board and began reading the series.
Chris and I started a tradition, taking our combined six kids to all Harry Potter movies to date. In short, we became fanatics. The girls have read the series countless time. I’ve read book 5 three times and the last two books four or five times. I couldn’t even begin to count the amount of times we’ve watched the movies. Over the years, we’ve had hours of discussion on spells and potions, psychoanalyzed Snape, and recited lines verbatim. I’ve taken multiple online sorting hat quizzes. I thought I was a Ravenclaw, but I’m a Hufflepuff/Slytherin. Go figure.
We attended the Harry Potter exhibit at the Museum of Science for my birthday, where we purchased “Muggle” shirts. I also got a wand. This summer, E. went to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal. We were all jealous. My daughter is going this spring.
Our movie tradition lasted until this summer, with the release of Deathly Hallows, which I ordered temporary Death Eater tattoos for. The anticipation building up to the two-part ending caused a flurry of conversation and admitted regret that this was the end of an era.
Author Howard Pyle said, “The stories of childhood leave an indelible impression, and their author always has a niche in the temple of memory from which the image is never cast out to be thrown on the rubbish heap of things that are outgrown and outlived.”
Over the course of ten years, Harry and company have given me and my daughter and to some extent, my two sons, an avenue of communication that wouldn’t otherwise exist. Chris, E., Jocelyn and I have a common bond that can’t be broken, that we’ll cherish forever, and that we’ll never tire of. An eternal comfort zone. Who would have thought such a favorable link would be created from a children’s book about a boy with a lightning bolt on his forehead? Not me. But it’s exactly why I’m wild about Harry.
No matter your size, bathing suit shopping is not easy. Every spring, I prep myself for this daunting task, venturing out to find that elusive suit that will enhance the body I already have via cleverly bunched spandex. How a piece of thin spandex can do that, I have no idea, but that’s my mindset and goal.
Before I go further, I want to qualify that I have a normal sized body that I’m not unhappy with. I eat a balanced diet, exercise, and live a healthy lifestyle. I do, however, think that anyone can get body dysmorphic under unflattering fluorescent lighting in a dressing room where the mirror seems to depict an image similar to a warped amusement park mirror. Here’s what can happen within minutes: Hello stretch marks, and hey there unsightly cellulite. It’s been a while. A whole winter, in fact. Did something just jiggle on my arm when I moved? That cannot be my ass. Pfft, this mirror sucks. Glad I came. This was super fun.
In years past, I’ve launched a plan of attack visiting select stores and driving home empty handed where the end result yielded a summer in the same suits I’ve had for oh, the past four years. Avoidance is so strong that I have even taken to wearing my sports bra with my bathing suit skirt in my pool. This year was going to be different. This year, I would not end up wanting. The hunt for the perfect spandex that would satisfy my fashion sense and flatter my physique was on. At the mall, I passed by Everything but Water, a boutique shop I swore I would never enter. I can’t reconcile doling out $200 for a two month season. I mean $80 bucks. For a top. For the water. That you wear at the beach, probably covered by a shirt half the time. A suit like that better be second to plastic surgery. Because I waited too far into the season, it was a chore to find the color, size, or style I was seeking. Out of sheer frustration, I reneged on my promise to steer clear of pricey spandex and cautiously stepped into Everything but Water. Maybe they were magic spandex, and if this were the case, well, you can’t put a price on magic. Crossing the threshold, my mind did this: ooo, eeee, ahhh. They really did have everything but the water! Admittedly the suits were high quality, but nothing resonated enough for me to make a purchase, and I left deflated.
A week later, I saw my girl Sonia in a suit that I thought I could absolutely pull off. Fun and daring, I asked her where she got it, and if she minded that I copy her? Of course not, she said. I spent a week looking at images of the suit online before I went to try it on. Here’s the suit.
Stunning, isn’t it? Here’s how I envisioned myself coming out of the water:
While basking in the sun, I’d look like this:
And my ass? Here you go:
What? I would so look just like this. Off I went to the mall, excited about my pricey, yet worthwhile purchase. No daughter or girlfriends in sight, I brought along my 19-year old son, who was less than thrilled to be my sidekick. I grabbed the suit off the rack.
“What do you think?” I asked him.
“I dunno,” he commented uncomfortably, taking a seat outside of the dressing room.
“I’ll show you when I have it on, you can give me your opinion,” I smiled.
This alone may have scarred the boy.
Looking at the suit, you would think it would have a bit of stretch, some give if you will.
It did not. Houdini would have struggled putting this thing on. Nonetheless, my efforts, I was certain, would pay off. I knew once the suit was on, I’d look just like…
Holy unforgiving stupid florescent mirror. This is bullshit. That cannot possibly be me.
I’m not ashamed to say that I have loose flesh around my middle. It’s a result of giving birth to three beautiful children, the scars of motherhood I’m proud to have earned. It’s no problem I don’t have a jacked up six pack. However, it was a problem that this demon suit managed to gather what small amount of loose flesh my midsection owned and bunch it up under the eyelets. Like, in a pucker, so that my skin was perforating through the eyelets in mini flesh bumps. What madness was this?
Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten dinner first?
Maybe if I sucked in my gut…more.
Maybe….I ran out of maybes and exited the dressing room, placing the suit of my dreams back on the rack.
“What’s the matter, you didn’t like it?” asked my son.
All I could do was shake my head and in a restaurant whisper, the whispered yell you do to your kids when they’re acting up in public, said, “This is just a weird suit. It’s not right.” (See, right there, I held the suit accountable).
I actually went back with my daughter to give the suit another try because it is one killer suit. I tried on a larger size in case this was one of those suits that required more space. Her comment was, “It kinda gives you upper back butt. See there, it’s pinching your back together.”
Upper back butt? That’s a thing? Exit stage left.
The good news is that I found the suit in skirt style online, which of course will make all the difference in the world.
The below is how I’ll look:
Com’on now. You understand that having a skirt makes absolutely no difference, right? Live the lie with me. If it doesn’t work out no harm, no foul. Another summer in the same old same old suits me just fine.
Whether it be sexy legs, naturally buff arms or a J. Lo butt, there is at least one feature we tend to favor. Mine is my hair. I have ample fine hair with a slight wave, neither bone straight nor frizzy. Under normal conditions, I can hold a curl without hairspray. The dark ashy blonde blends well with highlights, and I have very little gray so I can go months without coloring. I’ve had every haircut and color imaginable – from the Stevie Nicks poodle perm to the Flock of Seagulls asymmetrical cut to auburn to platinum blonde to red. I can pretty much beat it up and it still comes out shining. For me, I rationalize haircuts and colors like this: It’s hair, it will grow back. If I hate the color, I’ll change it. To keep my hair in tip top shape, I use quality products that I don’t mind paying for because after all, I love my locks.
Until I decided to go groupon.
One of groupon’s biggest fans, I shop for anything from exercise classes to theater tickets to massage parlors. When groupon started advertising hair salons, it peaked my interest, though I did get a ‘maybe not a good idea you get what you pay for’ feeling. My friends forewarned with scrunched faces, “You’re doing what? That’s risky.”
I love my hairdresser, but with our combined schedules, it had become increasingly difficult to get an appointment. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking our hairdressers are second only to our families. You get an appointment and you don’t cancel – not for flood, fire, or injury. If you accidentally cut off a finger before an appointment, damned if you don’t use duct tape to hold it in place and go to the ER after your bob is styled, because a good haircut is like an attitude adjustment. And what do you do just before it’s time to get your hair done? You tell a friend, “I’m getting my hair done today, I’m so excited. I so need it!” Almost in the same tone as, “I just got engaged!”
You find a good hairdresser, you stick with her. Changing hairdressers is a precarious business.
But I was feeling dangerous.
I researched every salon that sparked my interest, and found one I felt was credible. I called and spoke to the manager, asked them about the groupon, told them I wasn’t looking for a newbie, explained that I’m a hair snob. They stated no problemo, see you on Saturday.
Flash forward to my appointment. I didn’t go fancy. I had a one color process, a lighter blonde, and asked her to follow my current haircut. I left the appointment fairly satisfied. It didn’t rock my world, but it was fine. The next day while blow drying my hair I thought, “Huh, that’s odd. Either my head got crooked overnight or my layers are lopsided.” I shrugged it off to hair shock; my hair always needs a day or two to adjust to its new cut and color.
A few days later, my husband remarked how brittle my hair looked and said, “I feel like it’s breaking off when I touch it. What happened?” I knew it was looking dry. My brush was getting stuck in it and it was not falling into its usual behave mode. Because of this, I began blow drying my hair and putting it in barrettes. Yet, I held out hope that my hair would somehow fix itself.
Later that week, my girls Chris and Sonia were dropping off money for a fundraiser. I took my hair out of my barrettes and asked their opinion. Said Chris, “Oh…my…oh, did she cut your hair off to the side, do you think? Did she use a razor or something?” Asked Sonia, “Do you think she was trying to go for an asymmetrical cut?”
Let’s go back to my what’s the worst that can happen rationalization – I’ll change the color, wait for it to grow, or cut it shorter if it stinks. So you know how something is all fun and games until it’s not? Folks, what you are about to see is not a dramatization. Three days after my haircut. Note the frizz, uneven ends, fraying bangs. This was not done with a razor, and by the way, I attempted to style it.
Now in panic mode that my brittle hair was going to fall out due to breakage, I called my hairdresser and got an appointment for the following week. In the meantime, I contacted the owner of the salon that I purchased the groupon from. She asked me to come in so that she could assess my hair. She took one look at my straw-like locks and apologized. She offered to fix my hair, or do whatever I needed her to do. I told her getting my money back to defer the cost to my hairdresser was what I would like. She agreed, handed me a few tubs of heavy duty hair conditioning repair cream, and told me to leave it in my hair overnight, and every night for as long as the dry lasted.
I mentally prepared for my next appointment. I knew my hairdresser would have to chop off my hair, probably circa Dorothy Hamill. That was fine, it would be healthy, and it would grow. What I didn’t expect was her saying, “This one short layer is a problem, and you have a chunk of hair missing on this side. You can’t really go short because you have no hair there. I can blend it, but this is going to take a few haircuts before it looks better.”
Steps? I hate steps. I’m more of a wipe the slate clean and start over gal. Dang. My dream of ridding myself of hay hair and getting silky smooth back was dashed. Many snips and shorter layers later, hair I am…
Lesson learned: when it comes to eating out and seeing plays, go groupon. But when it comes to haircuts, don’t dare greatly.
I don’t know how old I was when I realized my father was adopted. It wasn’t hidden knowledge, nor was it brain surgery to deduct that a Germanic looking man would not be born into a family of Southern Italians. Fair and blue eyed, my father was adopted when he was three weeks old. It wasn’t that it was a taboo subject, but more a basic understanding that questions about my father’s adoption be avoided in front of my grandmother, so ya, taboo.
Because of this, his adoptive past turned into a Pandora’s Box, one I wanted to open, but not at the expense of my grandmother. I wasn’t searching for a family I wished I had; on the contrary, I don’t think I could have been blessed with a better set of grandparents. What I felt was a healthy curiosity and a sense of being disconnected from my gene pool. This wouldn’t be a betrayal, as my grandmother may have feared, it was information gathering. Throughout my childhood, I fantasized about where my father was from, who his parents were, why he was given away, what they looked like, what their medical history was, and what, if anything, there was to learn from the people who were my relatives.
I also had the occasional thought that one of my kids could end up marrying their first cousin. So there was that. Ick.
Not long after my grandmother passed away, I asked my grandfather about my father, and with as much description as he could recall, he shared his story about the day they drove from Massachusetts to Maine to collect their son. He described how frightened and excited, how fortunate and blessed they were that God had given them a child that they couldn’t have on their own. I think it gave my grandfather a sense of comfort to tell the adoption story because when I asked about the birth mother’s name, he knew it off the top of his head, like he’d been waiting for someone to ask. That day, I had been given enough information to begin a process that would take me 14 years to complete.
In 1994, before social media simplified finding folks on the internet, I manually gathered what information I could, writing down names and phone numbers of potential relatives. The only lead I had to go by was the birth mother’s name. I found the name through directory services and, without a practiced speech at the ready, braved up the courage and dialed the phone number. Busy signal. After a half hour of redialing, I placed the phone back on the receiver and told myself this was a sign, that it wasn’t meant to be and that maybe: I would inadvertently hurt someone by contacting them, my bio fam was psychotic, if he was given away, then “we” were given away for a reason, and maybe I should leave well enough alone. My interest in my gene pool had peaked and plummeted, and I tucked away my bio fam’s information, telling myself that someday, if the timing were right, I’d try again.
My inquisitive personality craves facts, making it impossible to let go of a project I’ve begun to research. Sometimes weird events happen that propel you to continue on, informing you that it’s not yet time to give up, that it’s okay to delve into the unknown, even if it feels murky and uncertain. Here’s the weird: My brother, who possesses a strong instinctual nature, was visiting my parents this past October. From what I understand, he was at the computer, and for no apparent reason, asked my father what his bio mom’s name was. When he Googled her, an obituary appeared explaining that she had died just two weeks earlier. Reading the blurb off the Internet caused me to Google further until I found another obituary, one with a photo. At first blush, I could see my father’s blue/gray eyes, square jaw, and wide smile. I studied her photo for quite some time, disappointment washing over me that time had run out, that I had missed the opportunity to meet her. I asked her what she wanted me to do with this new knowledge, and waited for that photo to speak to me.
And it did. The news of her death reignited my desire to find my biological family, and my super sleuth skills were set into action…
…okay, right here, I kind of want to boast about being all Sherlock Holmes with mad deductive reasoning, but FYI, anything can be found at the click of a mouse, provided you know where to hunt, and I’m a pretty good bird-dog.
The obituary told me who my relatives were. I wrote down the names of her living siblings and searched for other living relatives on all social media sites I was connected to, investigating anyone with the same surname as my biological grandmother. I looked for babies born the same month and year as my father, and queried local town halls asking where I could gain access to original birth certificates.
From what my grandfather told me, and from looking at the ages of the relatives I could find, I determined that my best bet would be to contact the biological aunt, who was somewhere in her late 70?s. My only hesitation was that she may not have been aware of my father or of the adoption, and that I would shock her. Or give her a heart attack. Or something awful would happen and a can of worms would open that I wouldn’t be able to close. It took another two weeks to dredge up the nerve, and if weren’t for the support of my best friend, Agnes, holding my hand (literally) I never would have found the courage.
Calling the sister of my biological grandmother felt like this: guarded, shaky, fearful, like I’d just sprinted down the street breathless and on caffeine, tongue tied, simultaneously projecting the best and worst outcomes.
Here’s what happened: The carefully planned out explanation that I had written down and rehearsed with Agnes didn’t matter. The aunt trusted that I was who I said I was, and before I could launch into an explanation of why I was calling, said to me, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
It was eerie, like in the movies: “I’ve been waiting all my life for you, what took you so long, finally, you’ve come to me.”
Do you have the chills yet?
My Great Aunt’s name was Janet, and she connected me to my father’s sister, Aunt Pat. I gave Pat my father’s phone number and within a couple of weeks, he met his two sisters for the first time. What he learned was that his mother loved him, his existence was known in the family, circumstances led her to give her son up for adoption, and that for the rest of her life, she mourned the loss of him.
A few weeks ago, I meet my Aunt Pat, Aunt Anne, and Cousin Mary. I was greeted with warmth and hugs. We shared photos and noted resemblances in features among relatives. At no time did it feel awkward or uncomfortable. Surreal, yes, but also a sense of connection to a long lost family.
Facts I discovered along the way: My maternal grandmother and my father’s bio mom were born on the same day of the same exact year. According to records, my biological great grandparents are buried in a cemetery with the same surname (Bruno) as my father’s adoptive parents. My father has two biological sisters; their first names combined equal my mother’s first and middle names (Patricia Ann), and my father and his biological sister were born a year apart and a day apart in the month of May.
I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe that if you pay attention, you’re directed to where you’re supposed to land. It’s the paying attention part that always foils us humans.
Was my brother unwittingly a channel for my biological grandmother? Did she get the ball rolling because she wanted to reunite her family? Did she speak to me through her photo, guiding me to make the calls I needed to make?
I believe she did.
For three weeks, Danny wasn’t looking himself. I went through the mother’s checklist: no fever, no stomachache, ear, tooth, or body aches, and no sore throat. No swollen glands, no sign of infection on his skin. I couldn’t put my finger on why Danny didn’t look good, but it was the kind of not good that triggers the maternal panic button. A perpetual bullet of activity, his desire to hang out with friends diminished, and when questioned, he stated he was too tired. The best I can describe it, he looked “mystery virus” worn out. To pacify myself, I felt his forehead often and continually asked if he was feeling ill.
Later that week, my husband, Danny, and I headed to my daughter’s apartment in Amherst, where we were looking forward to a five day vacation and a two day lacrosse tournament that Danny was participating in. We walked through town and stopped at an ice cream parlor. After drinking a large smoothie, Danny complained that his back hurt, and when I touched it, he winced in discomfort. Once again, I went through the laundry list of potential ailments, and wondered if it wasn’t his appendix, but no fever and no pain in that area. I went to bed the kind of unsettled you get when your kid is so sick you want to sleep next to them with your hand on their chest so that you can feel it rise and fall. The next morning, I woke to what I’ll forever refer to as my ‘God moment’. What if it’s diabetes? I promptly phoned my girl Sonia, whose son was diagnosed two years ago.
“Is he drinking a lot?”
“The other day, he downed a half gallon of orange juice in one gulp.”
“Is he eating a lot?”
“Is he peeing a lot?”
“He’s mentioned having to get up a couple times a night,” I said, worried the symptoms were too close for comfort.
“Is he tired? Lost weight?”
“He looks like the walking dead, and yes, he looks thinner. This past week, he’s complained of blurry vision. I was going to call the eye doctor on Monday.”
“Okay,” Sonia said calmly. “I’m not saying that it is diabetes, but if you told a doctor what you just told me, they’d be taking his blood sugar. I think you ought to get him checked out, like now.”
Flash forward to the urgent care center.
“His blood sugar is at 587,” said the nurse’s assistant.
“That’s damn high,” I replied, feeling the room spin.
“Yeah, it is,” he said, and left to get the doctor, who promptly called an ambulance.
Within the half hour, we were at Baystate Medical Center, where Danny was stabilized. From there, we were sent to Children’s Hospital for a two day stay where we were given lessons on my son’s diagnosis, Type I Diabetes.
You know how when a diagnosis is given to you or a loved one and your brain tries to skirt the issue?
That’s what my brain did. I wanted it to be anything else – mono, appendicitis – something that would be a temporary pain in the ass, not a lifelong hindrance.
I questioned my son’s diagnosis to every nurse or doctor that entered the room. I told them that perhaps the diagnosis was made in error, that maybe it could be something else. Danny was on prednisone for poison ivy and that does elevate blood sugar, which could, I argued, give a false reading.
It wasn’t until I was sitting across from the diabetic counselor that his diagnosis sunk in.
“I keep thinking the prednisone is giving a false reading,” I said.
“Not likely. Prednisone can elevate blood sugar, but not to 587,” she replied.
“But it could be,” I pressed.
She looked me in the eye and said, “I wish I could say otherwise. Listen up, there is nothing else this could be but diabetes.”
For a solid month, my husband and I ran on automatic pilot. Our job was to check Danny’s blood sugar 4 to 5 times a day, including in the middle of the night. We administered two kinds of insulin, one during the day, and one for bedtime. There were calculations that involved carb counting, meaning my lifelong aversion and fear of math promptly came to an end.
A month into his diagnosis, here’s how I felt when hit with the realization that my child had an illness, which if not treated properly, would threaten his existence: like the pointy end of a spear hit me center gut. It was a long summer of sleepless nights, daily learning, doctor appointments, blood tests, and more follow up appointments. I felt irritated when well meaning folks told me that diabetes wasn’t a big deal, that one can live a long and happy life. Studies have shown that men with Type I lose about 11 years of life expectancy compared to men who don’t have the disease. This is because it affects major organs in your body, including heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys. One doctor told me, “How you treat your body will determine whether you live to fifty or to seventy.”
Anger at the lack of control I had over this disease, and the fear of losing him was like a constant background noise in my head, and I thought about his well-being all day. It took some time before I realized that I no longer needed to think like a person in crisis mode. This wasn’t my disease, it was my son’s. I was looking at it from a mother’s perspective, and I was mourning the death of his beta cells. Losing his beta cells was losing a part of my son, but it wasn’t losing my son.
Danny understands his diagnosis is not something to take lightly and has proven to be amazingly resilient, faring much better than my husband or I have. He’s also developed a level of maturity I hadn’t expected. It took under a month for him to take over the regimen, and now he’s the supervisor of his diabetes, and his family a team of coworkers.
Sonia has been my go-to guru, who I’ve called with a multitude of questions and/or observations, one of which is the confusion between Type I and Type II, two unrelated diseases.
“It can be frustrating at times. People don’t understand that Type I isn’t about sugar. It’s not about cutting out one food item or one food group. It’s about every food group, and accounting for just about everything you put in your mouth. It’s not like cheating on a diet where there’s a Monday morning do-over. Type I isn’t a diet you can break,” said Sonia.
Over the summer, a friend noticed Danny checking his blood sugar.
“You’re being very responsible,” she commented.
“I have to be, or I’ll die,” he replied.
Fair statement, and as morose as it sounds, it’s something I would like him to always remember.
Although I have my moments, we don’t talk about diabetes like it’s a bad thing; we consider it more of a nuisance. We try not to micromanage, but do keep an eye on his numbers. The initial fear that he was going to go into a coma with the littlest sway of his glucose has vanished, replaced by knowledge and time, and witnessing how well he has taken care of himself. I’ve even stopped trying to talk him into getting “Type I” tattooed on the inside of his wrist so he never has to worry about forgetting his bracelet.
This is my new normal: “How was your day did you check your blood sugar?”
This is Sonia’s: “Hi, run your number.”
I’ve considered celebrating the death of his betas (of which I’m sure I’ll be the sole participant) to commemorate the ending and beginning of this lifelong journey. Maybe I’ll even sport a diabetic mom tee shirt, or be one of those people who post diabetic things on my social media wall. I recently started browsing Pinterest for diabetic posts, some of which have made me giggle. When I showed Danny the diabetic humor like it was our inside joke, he rolled his eyes and said, “Momm, you don’t have diabetes, I do.”
Crash course in Type I Diabetes
This is a high level overview of the way we process food: You eat, glucose passes into the bloodstream, and insulin is released, which regulates your blood sugar. Now onto Type I diabetes.
Type 1 is an autoimmune disease, meaning that, for reasons unknown, the body, thinking it’s its own enemy, attacks itself. What this means for a Type I diabetic is that the body attacks and destroys insulin producing cells called beta cells. Beta cells will not repair, and new ones will not be produced. Once they’re gone, they’re gone, and so is the body’s ability to produce insulin. Because of this, a Type I diabetic will need insulin via an external source in order to live.
End of course
Want more info? Visit this site.http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/diabetes-statistics/
For six years, I ran at five-forty-five in the morning. Three years into the six, I added two days of sculpting classes at five-thirty in the morning. When I turned 40, I began getting lower back pain that would last for an hour after a run. I ignored it, not the best laid plan.
When I told my chiropractor that I wanted to run despite the pain, do you know what he said?
He said, “I know you don’t want to hear this, but you don’t have a runner’s build. The human body is meant to self-destruct, and running in and of itself wears the body down. You may want to try another route of exercise.”
Moving forward a month: I’m doing yoga core work, feeling stronger, walking two miles per day. I want something more. I need something more. I need to flail. I have runner’s itch, but am not a fan of perpetual ice packs and Motrin.
You know how you’re in a funk where you just don’t know what to do and you hope for a sign, some sort of direction? Enter my friend, Marie. Marie had started taking Zumba classes and was thrilled with the results. She loved it so much that she worked herself up to four classes a week and even purchased Zumba dance shoes. Well, if Marie thought that highly of it that was enough for me.
For those of you unfamiliar with Zumba, it’s a type of dance that blends Latin rhythms with dance steps. Sometimes the music is fast, sometimes it’s slow, but you’re always shaking your booty. And I mean shaking it. A few of my girlfriends were also interested, and we all signed up for a Tuesday evening class. I met my girl Wendi outside of the building where we both admitted to performance butterflies. We entered a large, spacious gym with no mirrors where 35 or so women were gathered, all ready to express themselves through dance. By the end of the first dance class, I was sure I was going to pass out. By the second class, my Zumba reservations had all but disappeared. Here’s how it went: Key music. I’m throwing my hands up in the air singing along with the song Dynamite by Taio Cruz. I’m feeling the groove. Feeling the love. My money maker is shaking up a storm. The music switches gears from Latin to African to hip hop. I’m no longer a stiff-hipped white woman. I’m a devil-may-care Latina beauty. I’m an African Queen. I’m John Travolta’s dance partner in Saturday Night Fever. Remember the Solid Gold Dancers? I’m the lead dancer! I’m the boss of hip hop ~ dare I say a pro hip hop dancer?
Yes, I dare.
I had no idea I could bust a move like this. I think I’m skinnier than I imagine myself to be because man, I’m like the wind! We’re back to me with my hands in the air saying AYO, gotta let go. Grapevine, hip thrust left, hip thrust right, hip circles and clap. Here we go, two steps up, two steps back, hip circles, clap and step and…and so it went. I caught glimpses of my friends biting their lips or sticking out their tongues in concentration. Not to compare, but they were a bit rigid. I think I had better range. After all, I did dance throughout my childhood. I felt a slight pity towards their inability to pick up the moves as quickly as I did, but hey, not everyone is an African Queen trapped in a white woman’s body.
Fast forward: I’m driving home in a satisfying sweat, the kind you get from healthy overexertion. I enter my abode in high spirits, walk to my laptop, and You Tube Dynamite so I could bust Zumba moves in front of my full length mirror. Key music, and…
Oh. My. God. Something is horribly wrong with my mirror. My mirror sucks.
I’m not seeing an African Queen or a Latina beauty. And whose ass is that? Certainly doesn’t belong to me. My hips were definitely moving ~ in a devil-may-care special needs way. Oh, how to describe: uncontrolled, spastic at times, doing the overbite thing, and sort of, but not really, in time with the music. Oh boy. I had myself on Dancing With the Stars and now I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t qualify if there was a town-wide dance contest held in the Zumba gym and three people showed up.
Yeah, so…I return for my third Zumba class thinking maybe I should tone it down a bit. Control my moves. I’m still not sure it’s great for my groove thang anyway; this is merely a trial class. Key music. Dynamite comes on. I’m overtaken by both the dance bug and my natural disposition for “more”. Suddenly it doesn’t matter to me that I’m sucking in my lips in concentration and missing every third step. We’re all too busy trying to follow the instructor to look at each other anyway. Before I know it, my hands are in the air like they’re possessed. I’m singing AYO, gotta let go.
And for the rest of the class, that’s exactly what I did.