Concussed… and Changed

Two-and-a-half weeks ago, I fell down the stairs and got a concussion. There’s no sugarcoating it: getting a concussion sucks. I hate pretty much everything about it.

Except I think having the concussion has changed my entire approach to life, parenting, and how I treat myself. And I think this approach is better than my old one.

But everything else I hate.

One of my favorite refrains is, “I got this.” It’s a source of encouragement when I’m overwhelmed; a battle cry when I’m underestimated. A 12-hour work day on five hours sleep? I got this. Boot camp, despite a knee injury? I got this. Installing a dishwasher by myself? I GOT THIS.

Most of the time, perseverance is a really good thing. But sometimes, this insistent independence can be a problem. See, I’m super awful at asking for – or accepting – help. I usually try to go it alone because I don’t want to bug anyone. I got this.

Likewise, I am terrible at giving myself the chance to rest. Days after my c-section with Annie, I defied my OB-GYN’s orders, lifted up two year-old Ella, and tore my stitches. Years ago, after pulling a hamstring, I eschewed rest and began to run again almost immediately… which, brilliantly, resulted in my inability to run for a full 12 months.

Resting is anathema to my ADHD self. Even when I follow the experts’ advice and “rest,” it’s a modified version – like when you tell kids not to draw on the walls and they draw on the door instead and are all, “WHAT? I’M NOT DRAWING ON THE WALL!”

Then, I fell down the damned stairs. And everything changed.
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Langston was very concerned about me…

Not that instant, though. Even as I huddled on the floor, bruised and bleeding, I brushed off Nick’s concerns. “I’m fine! Nothing’s broken!” I showered and got the kids off to school as though everything were normal. And then my head really began to hurt.

After posting a self-deprecating story on Facebook , several friends said they were available to offer assistance, so you’d think I’d have taken them up on the offer.
Nah. I got this.
Totally drove myself to urgent care because I didn’t want to be a bother.

Lemme tell you what would have been an even bigger bother: asking a friend to post bail if I’d hit a tree  because my concussed brain couldn’t think straight. SUPER AWFUL AT ASKING FOR HELP.

Honestly, I figured I’d be back to mostly-normal pretty quick – modified, Emily-style “rest.” I told Nick, “People get concussions all the time. It’s no big deal.” “No,” he countered, “People get concussions all the time and they think it’s no big deal, which is why they’re not taken seriously.”

It became apparent really fast that a concussion can, indeed, be a big deal, and that I couldn’t “rest” my way out.

No matter what I did (or didn’t do), exhaustion would overtake me. I hated that.
I hated being tired. I hated napping. I hated that this one little fall, this seemingly innocuous event, had turned me into a version of myself that I didn’t recognize and didn’t want to be.
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Flying + Concussion = VERY SPECIAL

I couldn’t drive. For a week. Not even home from urgent care (Nick got me).
I hated it.

I hated not being responsible for my own self. I hated Nick leaving work to take me places. I hated feeling like I was burdening him.

Nick never once complained. NOT ONCE. Not even when he drove – after a full work day – to the wrong place to pick up the printout of my CT because I neglected to tell him it was at urgent care and he drove to the radiology office instead. This is a man who lays on his horn at least twice daily, and not once did he so much as raise an eyebrow at being my taxi. Which was more than a little humbling.

People like to help. I know this, because I like to help. One of my biggest parenting priorities is showing the girls how amazing it feels to help others.
But receiving help was a whole different ballgame.

The “cure” for a concussion? Lie down, I’d been told. Minimal screen use. Don’t read. Dim light. Limited exercise. Most important: rest. Let your brain rest. It’s been banged up. It needs to heal. REST YOUR BRAIN.

Well, let me be the first to tell you that resting your brain is REALLY FREAKIN’ BORING. “Boredom” is not something I typically experience. I am Energizer Mom, Super-Emily. Even in my so-called down time, I’m multitasking – folding the laundry while listening to the girls read; sorting recipes while watching a movie; painting nails while drinking wine (#fail).

Heck, at least when I’m sick, I get to dive into a good book or watch a Star Wars marathon. I hated not even being able to read a magazine or scroll through Instagram. I hated being unproductive. I hated feeling like I was wasting time.

Still, just this once, I listened. I took it easy. I was tremendously fortunate that last week was spring break because it allowed me the opportunity to rest and withdraw without missing out on work or the girls’ activities.
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Lying on a beach chair is good for a concussion

We headed down to Kiawah and visited my dad and stepmom. I think I now understand what nursing home patients feel like, with their caretakers all up in their business, not allowed to do even the simplest of tasks. My dad would not let me be. “How do you feel? No, you may not ride a bike today. How’re you doing? How’s your head? Lie down. No, you’re not doing that. Yes, you are doing this. How do you feel? Let me help.” 

I hated it.
I hated feeling trapped. I hated being hovered over.
I also hated that I really needed it to happen. 

I’m still annoyed with the whole nursing home treatment, but I know he was right. I’m lucky my dad was there.

Before we left, he admonished me to continue to take it easy and not immediately return to “Supermom Emily-who-does-everything.” At that, Annie piped up, “She really does do everything. She helps with our homework, she listens to stories, she fixes things around the house, she teaches, she exercises, she cooks dinner…” She looked at me, eyes narrowing, and finished with, “You know mom, you really do do everything.” (Well, duh.)

That’s the way that it is for so many of us moms/primary caregivers, isn’t it? We do everything. We got this. It’s an image and a role that I’ve not only assumed, but cultivated – even reveled in. Moreover, I like it. I like showing Ella and Annie that we as women are capable of doing whatever we set our minds to, from designing websites to lifting weights, repairing washing machines to running corporations. I’ve never wanted my girls to think that being female is a detriment, and I’ve done everything I can to lead by example.

Except… in doing everything, in always soldiering ahead, in perpetual “I got this” mode, I’ve forgotten to show them that part of being a badass, confident, capable and healthy woman is treating your body with respect when it needs to heal – and that accepting help from others is not weak, but strong.

At first, I was embarrassed for the girls to see me couch-bound. Pre-concussion, this would have been unthinkable. I was sad and worried they’d see my incapacity and view it – view me – negatively. I’m the Energizer Mom, damnit; I keep going. Instead, they were confused… but then kind of awed. “Whoa. You’re napping. You must really be tired… And you didn’t try to stay up late doing laundry.

Mom. That’s pretty awesome.”

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Also awesome: the sweet shades Annie helped create to help me use the computer.

Rather than see my doing less and giving myself a break as a bad thing, they’ve become my biggest cheerleaders – and leaders, period. Three days ago, I became exhausted attending Annie’s soccer team dinner. Ella told me to sit down. “But I’ve never met these parents! I should be polite!” She physically took my arm. “Mom. You need to sit. No one will care – and if they do? That’s their problem.”

She was right, of course. So I sat. I accepted her advice, her assistance. This is uncharted territory for me – requesting, and taking, help. But since the concussion, I’ve had no choice. I’ve needed help. I don’t got this. It’s difficult and humbling. I mean, I know it’s true that being willing to admit vulnerability and ask for help is not weak; it’s brave.

I know that.
I suck at doing it.
But I’m learning.

I’m proud of the strong, independent, kickass example I’ve been setting for Annie and Ella. But there are different kinds of strong, and sometimes “independence” goes too far. By neglecting to take breaks when my body needed them, by pushing myself too hard, by trying to go things alone and always trying to “got it,” I’ve done us all a disservice.

How can I expect my daughters to respect their bodies and themselves if I don’t do it, myself?

For the past 18 days, I’ve been trying.
It’s a slow process. I’m not myself yet. I still hate it.

But this *%&$ concussion has caused me to change my approach to nearly everything… which is one of the best things that ever happened to me – and to my girls.

(Plus also I’ve discovered podcasts. HOW DID I LIVE BEFORE PODCASTS??)
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Knocking Down Hurdles

In a matter of minutes, all hell broke loose.

We’d just returned from Minnesota – 12 lovely, fun-filled, family-rich days. It was a great trip, especially watching Ella and Annie enjoy the heck out of their cousins. Still, 12 days is a long time (for us; okay, for me), and – creature of habit and structure that I am – I was looking forward to being home.

The Re-Entry Itinerary contained some standard hurdles to leap (or, in my case, to knock over; according to the Olympics, basically anything goes with regard to hurdles, right?). Dirty clothes, empty fridge, unpacking. The grass was at least 8″ tall and we had the usual back-to-school litany: teacher meetings, orientations, sports, shopping.

All perfectly do-able — but, still, a rather jam-packed couple of days that would require me to turn off my Summer Brain and dial back into something vaguely resembling Competent School Year Brain. I just needed to keep my old, uninvited visitor, Anxiety, in check, and all would be well.

I’ve done pretty well making Anxiety talk to the hand this summer. I mean, summer and I will never be BFFs, but I’ve learned how to acknowledge Anxiety’s presence while not allowing her in.

Although the flight home was uneventful, traveling is always a bit exhausting, and I was doing that self-talk thing that we who struggle with anxiety know all too well: It’s all good, just keep going, I’ve got this. Not ten minutes after walking in the house, we discovered that Langston had a double ear infection. An Urgent Vet Visit had not been in the Re-Entry Itinerary. But, in between the grocery store and mowing and swim practice, I could slip in a trip to the dog doctor. Deep breaths. Hurdle added. I’ve got this.
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Pitiful vet-visit face.

Since, in that moment, I couldn’t help poor Lang out, I decided I might as well accomplish something and took the first load of Minnesota Trip laundry down to the basement. There, in front of the washer, lay a strip of dried-up blue duct tape – the “fix” I’d applied to the tear in the rubber seal to prevent it from leaking. Anxiety raised her hand, contemplating knocking, but I told her to back off – then took another deep breath, gave myself another pep talk, applied another strip of tape, stuffed a towel at the base of the machine, and hoped that it would hold.

It wasn’t until I turned around to go upstairs that I scanned the room and saw, clear as day, at least an inch of standing water covering the far side of the basement. A further scan revealed a wide-open window (screen still attached), the cinder block wall damp beneath it.

Hurdle. Added.

(Our best guess was that a huge rainstorm must’ve overloaded the window well, causing the window to burst open from the pressure. GOOD TIMES.)

A review of the damage revealed that my teaching boxes, stacked under the window, were soaked, their cardboard frames flimsy and soft. Nick’s music equipment – guitar pedals, sound-effect-thingies (that’s the technical name), microphones, speakers – sat on the floor, surrounded by water. Without thinking, I grabbed a towel (not the one protecting the washing machine, thank you very much) and threw it into the lagoon; instantaneously, it sank to the bottom, useless and drenched.

My old, uninvited visitor was now persistently banging on the door. I could feel warmth rising in my chest; my pulse began to throb in my ears. When you regularly deal with anxiety, you learn which “helpful” strategies work for you and which make you want to punch someone. For me, mindful, slow, feel-like-an-ass-but-it’s-actually-calming breathing is my go-to. Deep breaths. Come on. Innnn two-three-four… Out two-three-four…

Surveying the mess, I understood this was not something I could tackle on my own. I don’t have this. Not right now.

I went to get Nick.

Together, we got the music stuff out of harm’s way, closed the window, picked up the sopping wet rugs and dragged them outside, rearranged the furniture so it was no longer in the lagoon, gathered enough towels to actually absorb the water, and made sure the dehumidifier and a fan were running. The non-stop action enabled me to momentarily suppress the panic that was waiting impatiently on the doorstep.

Hurdles: not gracefully leapt, but definitely knocked down.

The dog to the vet. The soaking wet basement. The potentially ruined items. The discarded rugs and the water they tracked through the house. The towels that now needed washing – in addition to our Minnesota Trip clothes. The faulty window. The mold that appeared to be growing on the basement wall.  It was a lot to process, and my processing skills – exhausted from the deep breathing and Anxiety-fighting pep talks – were zilch.

When everything goes wrong at once, it’s probably a lot for anyone to handle, but for those of us who battle anxiety, it can seem temporarily insurmountable. Anxiety is a real bitch. She whispers in our ears that we do not, in fact, have this. She reminds us of all that can go wrong – and then, when we attempt to counter her, counters us right back.

This is a disaster.

If I take it step by step, it’ll seem more manageable.

Maybe someone snuck in through the broken window. It might not be safe here.

The screen is still intact and the petsitter would have noticed.

If the infection has been there for a while, Langston’s hearing could be affected.

I’m sure he’ll be okay. I’ll bring him in tomorrow.

What if that’s not enough? What if you aren’t enough?

I’m trying. I’ve got this.

Do you, though? I bet other people don’t feel this way. You’re obviously broken.

That’s the real kicker. In addition to causing you to feel nervous and unsettled over even minor things, to making you go down every absurd rabbit hole and through all the obscure What Ifs, anxiety makes you question yourself. Can I really handle this? Why don’t other people do this? What’s wrong with me?

It was now well past 6:00 and the girls were starving, so I ordered dinner. I’d planned to cook but I – mercifully – decided to give myself a pass. It’s most important that they eat. It’s okay. Give yourself a break.

IMG_8422August sunset on Long Island.

While waiting for the order to be ready, I ventured back to the basement to change the laundry… and found, yet again, a puddle in front of the washer. The duct tape hadn’t held. We needed a repair person ASAP.
More hurdles. The course was getting long.

Anxiety, impatient, began to open the door.

Before returning upstairs, I stopped to check on the drying-out process – and was stunned to discover another big ol’ pile of water in the middle of the concrete. Assuming there was some scientific explanation (the water was sucked back to the surface through blah blah, science-y words), I knelt down with yet another towel to sop things up… and heard the dripping.

The air conditioner unit was leaking. A lot.

Somehow, not only had the window burst open in a torrent – flooding the basement – but the A/C was also hemorrhaging water onto the floor. How this twofer managed to occur at the exact same time is clearly the work of the devil.

Anxiety stepped in and closed the door behind her.

The sides of my vision began to darken. The warmth in my chest turned to heat. My stomach began to knot. In addition to my heartbeat flooding my ears, there was also this rush of nothing – like white noise – that grew ever louder. My hands started to shake.

Innnn two-three-four… Out two-three-four…

I debated getting some medication – the kind specifically prescribed for times like this – but heard Anxiety telling me it was a stupid idea. “Other people don’t need that. Don’t be weak. Shouldn’t you be able to manage on your own?”
Another ironic kicker: that anxiety can make us too nervous to take our anxiety medication.

Nick found me in the kitchen standing at the counter and immediately knew something was up.

“I’m having a panic attack.”

Rather than running, rather than ignoring, he came closer. Putting down what he was holding, he took me by the shoulders and told me, measured and calm, “Okay. Let’s do this. We can figure it out.”

Yes, we can. I can. Breathe, breathe, breathe.

I told him about the air conditioner (we added more towels). He hugged me; tight, long.

“I’m sorry that I’m sort of broken.”

“No. This situation just really sucks.”

I’ve had panic attacks before and know their paralyzing horribleness. I also know, every time, I’ve gotten through them. I know that they end. I know, if I’m persistent, I can shove Anxiety back out the door. But I still need to remind myself each time it happens.

Between Nick’s reassurance, my breathing, the eventual return of my self-belief, and deciding that taking Xanax was actually the smart, strong way to go, things got better. My heartbeat returned to normal. My vision cleared. My stomach relaxed.

By the time dinner was ready, I was back to myself. The girls never even knew what happened – which was both reassuring (I wouldn’t want to worry them) and disquieting… because I want them to know that this is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. In fact, my hearing Anxiety’s self-doubt-filled warnings, flipping her off, and doing whatever it took to kick her out are not only not shame-worthy; they’re powerful and awesome.

We, as a nation, do such a poor job handling things like anxiety and depression. Their taboo nature makes difficult situations even more difficult. I want to show the girls that, despite my own statements to the contrary, I’m not broken. I’m me – strong, smart, kind, Starbucks-loving, kickass me – and just because Anxiety has barged in, those things don’t change.

Also? I’ve got her number.

Less than 24 hours after the panic attack, the A/C guy had come (sweet fancy Moses), the groceries were purchased, Langston got to the vet, the floor was dry, and I’d made appointments with the washing machine and mold folks. I also mowed the lawn – where, mid-backyard, the mower cord snapped and I sprained my toe. Two more hurdles. But this time, instead of panicking, I boldly kicked them aside.

I wrote about the whole shebang on Facebook, treating it more like a joke. 24 hours later, it was a joke –  but that was only part of the story, and I know that so many other people have similar stories… but we rarely share them. That’s why I decided to write about it: so that all of us who struggle with anxiety – or who recognize ourselves in this scenario – might feel a little less alone. Only by talking about it can we de-stigmatize it. So here I am, talking about it.

If you, too, battle anxiety, know that you’re not alone. You can do it – maybe on your own, maybe with the help of friends and family, maybe with the help of medication – but you can, and all of that is okay.

The hurdles will always appear… but remember that you don’t have to clear them. You just have to knock them down and keep going.

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The girls having a blast at the Minnesota State Fair.
They keep me going.
Them… and caramel macchiatos. And Xanax. Amen.

Stuff Families (with kids) On Vacation Say

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There’s something about traveling – especially to a place that caters to families – that tends to bring us all together… in a fashion, anyway. Last week, after returning Fenwick for Advanced Training, we headed down to Florida for a Disney Cruise followed by a day at Universal Studios.  Both adventures were generally excellent — and both reinforced something that we’ve been telling our girls for years:

Families are families. We say the same stuff.

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Don’t all Caribbean pirates drink smoothies in light-up cups?

This realization/reinforcement started a good number of years ago, while visiting Disney World, when we heard another family utter one of the parental phrases that Nick and I use in our own house (I honestly can’t remember which phrase it was, but imagine something along the lines of “Leave your sister alone” or “I don’t like your tone” or “We don’t put glitter on the dog” [wait – is that just our family?]).

The moment our girls heard these words, their heads whipped toward us with incredulity. “Wait. You mean other families say that too?” Which led to our asserting that Families are families. We say the same stuff.

This was especially true at theme parks (big and small) and family-friendly destinations – from the Rainforest Cafe to the Mall of America to baseball stadiums. These phrases seem to coalesce and crystalize in places like Florida, where half of the state is dedicated to families riding roller coasters and taking photos with adults in animal costumes.

The more we paid attention, the more we noticed the same basic admonishments and sentences being uttered over and over again. Race didn’t matter; we saw people of every skin tone saying these things. There was no religious divide; we heard families wearing crucifixes, hijabs, and yarmulkes making these statements. Different cultures meant different accents (or languages), but the basic gist remained the same. Socio-economic status, age, sexual orientation, family size, political bent, and milk-or-dark-chocolate preference similarly played no role.

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We got to Diagon Alley early enough to see it nearly empty in the morning…

IMG_6861… and then found ourselves amongst the final visitors that night, too, so we saw it nearly empty again. Quite magical, indeed!

After listening long enough, we decided to start keeping track of what we heard. Eventually, the items on the list began to repeat… So we figured we’d conducted enough of a social experiment to share our findings with y’all.

If you and your family take a vacation – whether it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or a staycation – one of the adults in your group is all but certain to speak (or yell. Or hiss. Or growl) at least one of these phrases during your sojourn.

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And so, without further ado (and in no particular order), we bring you:
Stuff Families (with kids) On Vacation Say

  1. “You’ve got to watch where you’re going.”
  2. “If you don’t knock it off, we’ll leave and you’ll have to walk home.”
  3. “You really don’t have your sunglasses? REALLY? Okay, fine. No. We’ll wait.
  4. “You’re not allowed to touch him and he’s not allowed to touch you.”
  5. “That is not a toy.”
  6. “If you don’t stop, we’ll go right back to the hotel.”
  7. “We didn’t come all this way just to sit in our hotel room.”
  8. “What do you say?”
  9. “Don’t touch that.”
  10. “Do you see any other little girls behaving this way?”
  11. “Hands to selves.”
  12. “This is your last warning.”
  13. “We are just looking. We aren’t buying anything.”
  14. “We already bought you three things yesterday.”
  15. “Do you have any idea how much that costs?”
  16. “When it’s your own money, then you can buy one.”
  17. Excuse. Me.”
  18. “Do they sell alcohol in here?”
  19. “Don’t hang on that.”

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    I’m just now noticing Nick’s left hand on Ella’s arm… probably to separate her and Annie and prevent them from destroying the statue.
    Why, yes, I did come in first in the Disney music trivia contest – and, yes, I did choose to wear my Winner medallion to dinner. Thank you for noticing.

  20. “Sit down.”
  21. “Get up!”
  22. “Just keep walking.”
  23. “Please be still!”
  24. “You need to move!”
  25. “One… Two…” (Alternately: “Un… deux…”, “Uno… dos…” and “Eins… zwei…”)
  26. “Don’t eat that.”
  27. “You need to take at least three more bites.”
  28. “There’s a trash can right over there.
  29. “Can you hold it?”
  30. “You just went.”
  31. “Why didn’t you think of that before we got in line?”
  32. NOW.
  33. “Where’s the bar?”
  34. “Leave. Him. Alone.”
  35. “Be quiet.”
  36. “How many times do I have to tell you?”
  37. “I’m not going to say it again.”
  38. “I know. Everyone is hot.
  39. “This is the Happiest Place On Earth! WE SHOULD BE HAPPY!”

 

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Ahhh, vacations with kids. SO RELAXING.

By the time we all get home, though, and the luggage is put away and the clothes are in the wash and we’ve bathed ourselves in Purell and we’re finally kicking back with a glass or a cup, you can bet at least one adult can be found saying…

40. Can’t wait to do it again.

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The New Thirty (But Even Better)

So. I’m 40 now.

As I’ve said before, I like celebrating my birthday. While I know that some people would rather ignore that date on the calendar, I’m solidly in the IT’S MY BIRTHDAY SO EVERYBODY CELEBRATE camp.

There had, of course, been our trip to Mexico this summer. I also wanted to get away with Nick so that we could commemorate the occasion, just the two of us… And so, two weeks ago, we headed to Florida for one glorious day at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival.

I’m basically still full, which doesn’t bode so well for Thanksgiving.
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Yep. I bought this ridiculous, ridiculously overpriced photo. It was worth it.

Given that I’d already gilded my lily not once but twice, I decided that I didn’t really want to do anything major on my actual birthday (this past Sunday). One of my BFFs, Sarah, and I are So You Think You Can Dance devotees; we always try to see the tour together. As luck would have it, the SYTYCD tour was coming to Buffalo on Friday night, meaning Sarah could fly up, we could catch the show, and then spend my birfday weekend in Rochester.

Ella, Annie, and I met Sarah and her son, J, at the airport, took in the show (awesome!), then drove back home — where Nick and the rest of Sarah’s family (her husband and son, Z) were waiting. We spent the next 36 hours hanging out, throwing a freakin’ awesome party for Ella (more on that later), laughing, opening the 40 presents Sarah had wrapped for me (omg), eating like foraging animals, and generally reveling in one another’s company.

After Sarah and Co. left on Sunday afternoon, the girls began begging me to open my other birthday gifts. While Nick and I sorted through everything (we’d had souvenirs and Christmas gifts sent back from Epcot, so there were a whole bunch of boxes), I noticed that there was nothing from my dad and stepmom, Meg.

This seemed really bizarre — my own dad hadn’t recognized my birthday, not even with a trinket? I tried to reason with myself that it didn’t matter – he and Meg had mailed a card and we’d FaceTimed that morning. I didn’t need things. It was just a birthday. No big deal.

HOLD THE PHONE THOUGH. ‘Cause it was a big deal. Not the presents, but the very idea that they’d essentially treated my FORTIETH(!!) BIRTHDAY like any other day was really starting to bum me out. Nick and I made our way back upstairs, boxes (but none from my very own father, thank you very much) in hand, and turned the corner to where the girls were waiting for us in the living room…

Except it wasn’t just the girls.
Seated between them on the couch were my dad and Meg.

They’d flown up from Long Island to surprise me.
Because 40? 40 is important.

I almost had a heart attack.

As I’ve watched my fellow 1975ers hit this milestone, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what turning forty means and why it mattered so much to me. I distinctly remember my parents turning 40. For years, my childhood home held a framed copy of the invitation announcing my dad’s big day: “Lordy, Lordy, Look Who’s 40!” There were also the photographs of my mom attending “Over The Hill” birthday parties; she and her friends powdered their hair to look gray, donned old lady sweaters, and rented walkers and canes.

Forty was something. Forty was momentous.
And, to my twelve year-old brain, 40 was OLD.

Forty doesn’t seem even remotely old to me now. If anything, forty is young, maybe because it happened so freakin’ fast. In my mind’s eye, college – even high school – are just a blink away. The memories are so bright, the smells so strong, the sounds so clear, it amazes me that those days were (quite literally) more than half a lifetime ago.

I don’t miss those days, though; I rather prefer it here. Having more living beneath my feet gives me firmer ground to stand on. It’s not that I’ve left behind the person I was in my 20s and early 30s, but rather that I’ve brought her with me; together, we have worked damned hard to become who I am today.

I like me today.

At forty, the fragility and uncertainty of life are simultaneously disconcerting and empowering. I’ve had friends lose their parents, their spouses, and their children; I’ve had friends who, themselves, did not live to see 40. It’s no longer a given that tomorrow will come. But that doesn’t scare me. If anything, it’s a reminder of how important it is to make sure that the life I am living is the one I want.

By the same token, I’ve also seen people of a far more, ahem, advanced age make mind-boggling life changes. Attending college in their 80s. Riding a scooter at 94. Switching careers at 65. Getting married at 50. Finding love again after decades of thinking it was lost. Life is what we make of it; change is always possible; nothing is set in stone.

At forty, my convictions are so much stronger than before, but with one very important caveat: they can evolve at any time as soon as I gain more knowledge or see things from a new perspective. Learning is more critical to me than ever before; how else can I figure out where I stand and where I’m going if I don’t even know where I am?

At forty, I’ve finally figured out why I’m on this planet, what my mission is (not in the espionage way, although that would be really cool). The vague outline of the idea hit me out of the blue this summer and I’ve been honing in on it ever since.

I’m here to make connections.

Connections between facts and fictions. Connections between them and us, whoever that is. Connections between here and there. Connections between thoughts and actions.  Connections, most of all, between people. We are not in this alone, this whole life thing; we are meant to do it together.

It’s not easy – being honest, reaching out. It scares the heck out of me. But every time I do it – every single damn time – it feels amazing. It is the right thing to do. It’s why I’m here.

In honor of my birthday, I decided that I would do 40 random acts of kindness – one per day – leading up to Sunday. They ran the gamut, from paying for a stranger’s groceries to letting people merge ahead of me in traffic, putting “Safe Travels” notes on airplanes to donating to charities, placing flowers on windshields to leaving positive comments at the grocery store or the Y.
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There’s a pack of Extra gum beneath the little card…
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Attached to an airplane tray table…

40 for 40 dollar store
Left in the dollar store.

Sometimes, the RAOKs were entirely anonymous. Other times, they were anonymous but accompanied by a card (see above) identifying what was going on (while searching the internet for RAOK ideas, I came across several research articles detailing how people are more likely to spread kindness when they hear people talking about performing acts of kindness; connections, people!). And other times, I decided against using the little identification cards but looked people straight in the eye as I handed over a Starbucks gift certificate – because, every now and again, no matter how difficult or awkward it feels, that whole connecting thing is the most important and powerful part of all.

I loved the RAOKS so much, I’m kinda gonna keep doing them. Because is there ever too much kindness? No, there is not.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend shared this on Facebook:
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It got me thinking. A lot.
Is this where I want to be? If my life were the same, would I be happy? If not, then what?

I like my life now. Scratch that: I love my life now. It is a good, true, purposeful, fulfilling, enriching, invigorating, exciting, simple, joyful life. I am absurdly fortunate. For that – and for my loyal and hilarious and intelligent and good-hearted friends, for my family, for my health, for a job that challenges and strengthens me, for growing faith, for a neighborhood I’ve always dreamed of, for Nick and the girls (who make all of this, all of everything, worthwhile) – I am so tremendously grateful.

This is the life I’ve worked for. It hasn’t been easy getting here, but it’s exactly the life I want. Yeah, I’d like to lose five pounds. I still want to learn the cello. I plan to visit more of Europe and drink Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand. And, by God, I need to get myself to bed earlier.

But, in ten years, if my life looked like it does today?
I’d be thrilled. And damned lucky.

I don’t know if this is what I thought forty would be, but I’m so very glad that it is.

I am 40. FORTY!!!! And it is good.
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At Least It Wasn’t Me

When we headed down to Cancún, I fully expected that I would commit some sort of embarrassing/hilarious (and perhaps ADHD-influenced) snafu that would be worthy of sharing with everyone back home. Perhaps I’d forget to remove the cardboard insert from a new pair of shoes or I’d encounter a wild animal that I would attempt to take home as a pet. At the very least, maybe I would scream in terror and cause another hotel guest to do the same.

The possibilities were endless, really!

Alas, by the end of our trip, no particular story emerged as one that was terribly share-worthy; my adventures were remarkably un-embarrassing. Don’t get me wrong – there were plenty of amusing moments during our 5.5 day sojourn. Our guide to Chichen Itza spoke incredibly good English but repeatedly uttered the phrase, “Let me be honesty with you…”, which caused our group to smile. We sat through dinner at a restaurant that was so uncomfortably and ridiculously hot, we sweated so much that we couldn’t finish our meals. We sang karaoke and brought the place to a halt with our rendition of “We Are The World”. (Several days later, people would approach us and say, “Wait! You’re the ‘We Are The World’ guys, right?” Indeed we are!)

Let’s not forget when Kiki and I participated in water Zumba. That was pretty damned amusing.
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And then there was the time I ordered three drinks all for myself and drank them at 10 p.m. while wearing a sun hat, but that’s neither here nor there. 

But overall, nothing of the Of COURSE It Was Emily variety.
All we had to do was get home.

One of the benefits of Nick traveling as often as he does is that he accrues a lot of airline miles, which can then be applied to upgrades or “free” tickets. Because of the celebratory nature of this trip, Nick decided to splurge and use his miles to get us first class seats for the Chicago-Cancún portions of our journey. It’s already been established that first class and I don’t get along so well, but this seemed like a good opportunity to mend our  differences and move forward.
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This was taken on the way TO Cancún; I know because there is a Bloody Mary and a mimosa involved.

Everything went swimmingly for the first half of the flight. We enjoyed our lunches but completely eschewed the alcoholic beverages; turns out, it’s definitely possible to reach your limit after five days of all-you-can-drink booze – who knew? I’d taken the aisle seat because I tend to need to use the bathroom at least twice during every single flight, so that when Nick required a trip to the loo, he had to maneuver around me to get to the aisle. He got up out of his seat just fine, began to scootch in front of me… and promptly spilled my entire cup of ginger ale — and ice (lots and lots of ice) — into my lap.

The sudden chill in my nether regions was what alerted me to his gaffe. (Have you ever dumped an icy beverage onto your lady [or gentleman] parts? If not, allow me to assure you that it is REALLY FREAKIN’ UNPLEASANT.) As the frigid ginger ale pooled onto the seat below my rear end, I immediately lifted my tush off of the seat to get away from it – but quickly discovered that I couldn’t quite escape the deepening disaster because my seatbelt was still fastened.

Safety first!

If you’ve spent any time in a car or plane with a seatbelt on (and really, you should; buckling up saves lives, for real), you know that straining against the belt makes it infinitely harder to unbuckle. The more I pushed upward to avoid the icy mess, the more impossible it was to unhook the clasp, meaning that for a good 20 seconds I was hovering with my tookus three inches above my soaking-wet seat while madly trying to release the hinge on the buckle (which made a delightfully angry clang! with each successive attempt).

First CLASSY, wouldn’t you say?

At last, I realized that, in order to extricate myself, I had to create a little slack in the line – which meant I had to lower my caboose a couple of inches back into the freezing puddle. Once I was free of the seatbelt, there were still the problems of a) the contents of my cup of ginger ale that were now seeping into my seat and b) my soaking wet pants and lady parts. After apologizing profusely for his mistake, Nick had hustled himself off to the bathroom… so I had to request some clean-up help from the flight attendant. When she handed me the wad of napkins to soak up the spill and the extra blankets to place on the seat (to “save” me from getting wet?), she did so with a look that clearly indicated she thought that I was responsible for the debacle.

Which, normally, would have been the case – but this time?? SO NOT MY FAULT.
Once he returned from the bathroom, do you think that Nick ‘fessed up and explained that he, not I, had spilled the drink and created this ruckus? Of course he did not.
And we hadn’t even been drinking. OH THE IRONY.

Miraculously, the blanket trick worked; by the time we landed at O’Hare, my pants were dry enough to not necessitate purchasing anything new for me to wear home. (Bonus: ginger ale dries clear, even on khakis.) We had seats in coach from Chicago to Rochester, which was probably good for everyone involved.

We are currently visiting family in Minnesota, as we do every summer. When Nick found out that he’d been upgraded to first class for one of our flights, he graciously offered his seat to me… and I graciously accepted. I regret am pleased to inform you that the entire flight went off without a hitch; nothing was spilled and I even managed to use the tray tables quietly. Go me!

There’s always the chance he could be upgraded on one of our return flights, however. If he does, I’ll be sure to keep you posted.
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On the first flight to Mexico. Don’t we look bright-eyed and un-spilled upon?

It’s not CAN’T-cún… It’s CANcún*

This – 2015 – is a fairly big year for Nick and me: it’s the year we both turn forty. Upon realizing this several years back (yes, we had to realize it; getting older is rough, y’all), we decided that our upcoming forty-ness would be the perfect excuse to embark on an adults-only vacation – ideally with a bunch of other friends who were also 1975ers (or close enough).

After nearly four years of planning, in mid-July we found ourselves at an all-inclusive resort north of Cancún*, a spot chosen both for its geographic middle-ness (for friends from both coasts) and its ability to serve our needs perfectly.

* the joke in the title was made by one of my BFF’s husbands. It is awesome.

Want to just lounge by the pools and beach all day, every day? That was do-able.
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 The pool area was pretty much fabulous.  IMG_3961
Those chairs? Yup. IN the water.

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And beyond the infinity pool… the ocean. Not too shabby.

We – eleven of us in total, some of our closest friends and some delightful friends of friends who became our buddies, too – all spent ample time by both of these bodies of water. Yes, they were bath-water warm… but the air temperature hovered over 100* (without accounting for humidity), so they were still refreshing.

Want to relax in your hotel room in air-conditioned splendor and take in the view? We could accommodate that.
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The rooms were really quite lovely. And air-conditioned. Very, very air-conditioned.
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The ocean was SO RIDICULOUSLY TURQUOISE BLUE.IMG_3979
Hazy morning shortly after sunrise… It was already at least 93*.

Want to trek 2.5 hours inland through the jungle (no, I mean that literally; except for the developed areas, which are not large, the Yucatán Peninsula is essentially all jungle, with vegetation so thick and lush, you’d be hard pressed to physically fit between the trees) and visit one of the most incredible archeological, astronomical, and architectural displays imaginable? We could make that happen.
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This is what we saw as we crossed from the Gulf of Mexico over onto the Yucatán Peninsula, on which Cancún is located. That green stuff? JUNGLE. Real, live jungle.
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Helllooooo, Chichen Itza. 
In other news, the Mayan people were SERIOUSLY BADASS and WICKED SMART, yo.IMG_1475
Very sadly, you are no longer allowed to hike up the steps to the top.
So we posed (with Ryan, one of our best buds from college) in front instead.IMG_3890
Also? The Mayan people were serious about their ballgames.
As seen in this etching/carving (found on the side walls of the “ball court”), the warrior/player has a blade in one hand and the DECAPITATED HEAD of the captain of the WINNING TEAM in his other hand.IMG_3892a
Why, you ask, did the VICTORIOUS captain lose his head (as depicted above – look closely and you’ll see the kneeling warrior [one knee on the ground, the other bent] with his  missing head)? Because such an “honor,” after playing so well on the field, resulted in his immediately becoming a god and joining the other Mayan gods before him. Immortality and eternal praise? Not a bad prize, eh?!

Want to cool off after trudging around historic Mayan sites in the 105* Mexican sun by jumping into a cavernous sinkhole that’s more than 150′ deep? That could be arranged.
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This is the Ik-Kil cenote. It is crazy cool, both literally and figuratively.IMG_1515
I was too chicken to jump from the raised platform (up the stairs to the right; Ryan and my friend, Sarah, took that plunge), but I did jump in from the lower platform. After wandering around in the blazing jungle sun, it felt positively heavenly.

Want to take in some local sites and cuisine? That was do-able.
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Purchased at a roadside taco stand on the way to our resort.
When I say that I want to eat like the locals, I mean it.
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A gloriously colorful side street just off the main drag on Isla Mujeres, an island just across from Cancún.
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On the ferry to Isla Mujeres…

Want to just relax and never leave the resort, preferring instead to savor the all-you-can-eat food and endless alcoholic beverages? That was very, very do-able. IMG_1516
The ocean was very, very warm.IMG_1687
There are iguanas EVERYWHERE.IMG_3936
The pool complex at our hotel was right perty at night.IMG_1573
My mom sent me with these napkins to share with everyone. They were awesome.
CELEBRATE TURNING 40, DAMN IT!

Want to just soak in the splendor of the local colors, all of which are, somehow, more vibrant and vivid and awe-inspiring that anywhere else I’ve seen? We had that COVERED.IMG_1569
Do you SEE how insanely turquoise this water is??
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Regular old Cancún sunset, nbd.
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Purple and pink palm trees during the same sunset. Again, no biggie. They’re used to it.

Want to get a special little souvenir for your children and take photos of it all over the island? Have at it.
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 This is Itza, taking a dip in the ocean.IMG_1554
 She also enjoyed being poolside.IMG_1553
An evening sunset wasn’t so bad, either.

Most importantly, want the opportunity to get together with friends – some of whom you were meeting for the first time, some you hadn’t seen in years, and two of whom included some of your very best, closest friends on the planet… but who had never met one another before? And then maybe revel in the true deliciousness of having days and DAYS to hang out together and eat together and drink together and lounge together and talk together and drink together and sing together (karaoke, poolside guitar, and a cappella; we took the resort by storm, y’all) and relax together and drink together? (Yes, I know I said that three times. I do try for accuracy.) 

That was the most do-able — and the very best — thing of all.

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Nine of the eleven of us, post cenote-jumping and Chichen Itza exploring. We were very, very hot and very, very ready for a beverage (or several) back at the hotel, but also very, very excited to have seen such an incredible historical site. Plus also the van was air-conditioned.

I think this turning-forty thing may not be so bad. I’ve got several more months to go, but in the meantime, we are already on our way to forming the oldest group in the next Pitch Perfect movie. And I have some delicious Mexican chocolates to keep me company until then, too.IMG_1657
With two of my very bestest friends, Sarah and Kiki – who had never met one another before this trip – and their excellent, harmonic husbands.

 

Friends are Good

Three weeks ago, I left on a trip from New York to California. Normally, I wouldn’t ditch my kids less than 48 hours into summer break – but this was different. I needed to go.

As I’ve mentioned before, when I was pregnant with Ella, I joined an online community for mothers with December 2004 babies. A couple dozen of us became fast, genuine friends and have remained in touch for over ten years. These days, we communicate – as a group – mostly through Facebook. We’ve also met in person: whole-family gatherings, moms-only getaways, one or two friends getting together here or there. Plus, we text and email and send cards and talk on the phone and all that jazz.

Simply put, they’re some of the best, truest, most wonderful friends I have, despite rarely being face to face.

Since we have known each other, one of our friends, Sarah, has been uniquely inspiring. She and her husband adopted a medically fragile boy, Angel, when he was three years old; he was five when our December ’04 babies were born, so for the entirety of our friendship, we have followed Angel’s journey. In (very) brief, he was born extremely prematurely and, subsequently, had most of his small intestines removed when he was only weeks old, making him dependent on TPN (a form of IV nutrition). TPN gave him needed nutrients but caused his liver to fail. As a result, Angel had two multi-organ transplants — the first when he was eight and the second (because, like many gut-area transplant recipients, his transplanted organs went into rejection) when he was twelve.11138167_891123404281480_8905777230879185759_n
This photo – of Angel clowning around with his mom and dad – was taken on the day of his second transplant. It is shared with Sarah’s generous and loving permission.
(You can learn more about Angel on his Facebook page. It’s so worth a look – and a ‘like,’ if you’re on Facebook. Sarah posts not-infrequently and her writing is beautiful, insightful, informative, thought-provoking, and generally wonderful — as is Angel’s story. Check it out, for real.)

This would have been wildly difficult enough, but even more crazily, following his second transplant, Angel also battled not one but two bouts of PTLD (Posttransplant Lymphoproliferative Disease), a rare form of cancer that can occur in transplant patients. He faced chemo. He underwent radiation. His family and his remarkable team of doctors — transplant, oncology, neurology, pediatrics, you name it — worked to find a treatment balance that would fight the cancer and protect his organs, all the while preserving the quality of life that Angel wanted.

As for Angel? He wanted to fight. And so he did. He fought. He battled. He persevered, no matter what the obstacles; and always, somehow, incredibly, came through not only stable but smiling. Laughing. Joking, always joking! The word “miracle” is tossed around fairly lightly, but the number of times Angel faced seemingly impossible scenarios and emerged victorious is nothing short of miraculous in the truest sense of the word.

For the past ten-plus years, and especially since the summer of 2008 when Angel underwent his first transplant, we December ’04 mommies tried to rally around Sarah, Angel, and their family. We sent care packages. We made t-shirts and organized fundraisers. We joined the Facebook page that had been created to chronicle Angel’s journey and shared Team Angel status updates often and loudly. We let Sarah know that our private Facebook space was a place where she could come to talk, to vent, to cry, and that we would always be there for her, no matter what.
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The girls and me in our Team Angel gear in 2008…306020_338032399590586_696390150_n
… and again in 2012.

But then… the unimaginable happened. This past January, just a month after Angel’s 15th birthday, he went in for a very risky but, to Angel – who so wanted to fight – absolutely necessary surgery to assess the damage to his liver… and did not survive.

Our friend – our dear, beautiful, inspiring, uplifting, funny, kind, intelligent, delightful Sarah – lost her son. Her Angel. Vivacious, impish, silly, strong, determined, courageous, joyful, imaginative, happy Angel. He is gone. It’s been six months now and I’m crying as I write this.

As a parent, there is no greater fear than losing one of my children. I cannot even imagine it, let alone consider how I would manage to go on without them; it is simply unthinkable. But Sarah does not have a choice; the unthinkable has happened and she must go on, must figure out how to navigate this world without her son.

When Angel’s condition began to decline in the last weeks of his life, Nick told me, “If he doesn’t make it, I know you need to be there for Sarah. Don’t even question it – just book the ticket and go.” It was never up for debate. Sarah is one of my dearest friends. She is experiencing the greatest tragedy a parent could incur. I love her; I needed to be there to support there. Because that’s just what love does.

Originally, I’d planned to go to California for Angel’s memorial… but, in a burst of wisdom that could only come from Sarah, we – the December ’04 mommies – were told: Come, if you’d like. If you feel you need to be here for his memorial, by all means, please come. But if you’re coming for me – if you’re coming to be with me – then I would like to ask that you choose another time to visit because I know I’ll be so busy and distracted during his memorial weekend, I’ll hardly have the chance to even give you a hug.

And so, seeing the sensibility of Sarah’s request (plus also, let’s be honest, two tickets to California might be… a lot…), two other friends and I picked a weekend when we would come out — no kids, no husbands, just us — for four days to visit Sarah and simply be. Which is how I found myself leaving my children and flying across the country less than 48 hours after Ella and Annie began their summer break.
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Our first California meal… At In and Out, naturally.
Yep, I ordered my fries Animal Style. They were DELICIOUS.

We came from all over the USA – me from New York, Karen from Texas, Jenifer from Tennessee – and landed at LAX, having not seen one another in person in over eight years. At first, we were so stunned to be in one another’s presence, we were almost too giddy to do much of anything but hug each other and stare (Sarah would occasionally reach over and “pet” my arm, saying, “I just can’t believe you’re really here!”). Los Angeles is not kind to those who want to take things slowly, however, so we soon found ourselves grocery shopping (we know how to live it UP, folks), grabbing dinner at In and Out (a novelty for those of us who don’t have the iconic burger joints just around the corner), and heading up the Pacific Coast Highway to a house on the beach.
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Who knew it was so dang foggy this close to L.A.?!IMG_1114
I nearly made Jen drive off the road when I saw this rock formation and began yelling at her about how terrific it was.

And after that… we talked. And talked. And talked. We would go to bed around midnight and were awake by 8:00, leaving us 16 hours of time to fill… and I would bet, in all seriousness, that we talked for 15 of those 16 hours for three straight days.

Before the trip, I’d have said that communicating on a near-daily basis with these women for ten years would mean that we might not have a lot of ground to cover, discussion-wise. I would have been dead wrong. We talked about our families. We talked about our daily lives (somehow, after all these years, we’d never simply asked one another what a “typical day” looks like). Given that the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality was released on the Friday of our get-away, we held intense and fantastic discussions on gay marriage and religion.
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Sarah had warned us that the beach we’d be visiting – Oxnard – was in a sort of industrial area and, despite being a near-L.A. locale, wasn’t really known for its touristy vistas…IMG_3323
I beg to differ.

As we planned our long weekend, we all said that we’d be perfectly content to simply stay at the beach house, relax, and chat. While we did exactly that for at least half of our time together, we also managed to get ourselves out and about. We had an awesome lunch with another December ’04 friend. We walked around Ventura and sang Taylor Swift songs at a public piano.
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That’d be me, Dana – our fabulous and gorgeous friend who joined us for part of Friday – Jen, Karen, and Sarah.
Yes, I left my own sunglasses at the beach house so I borrowed a pair belonging to Sarah’s (very stylish) six year-old daughter.
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Well. Alrighty then.
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When you’re given a direct order, there really isn’t a choice but to comply.

We visited a favorite doughnut shop and ogled doughnuts the size of dinner plates. We shopped and explored. We attempted to get into the Johnny Cash music festival but turned back when we learned that admission was $35 a head. (True story: while browsing in a Ventura tourist shop, I was asked by the saleswoman if we were local or visiting. When I said that we were visiting, she then asked me if we were in town just for fun or for the Johnny Cash festival. We hadn’t even known about the festival, but this struck me as so absurd, I found myself unable to respond in anything but the affirmative. “We do all love Johnny Cash!” I lied straight to her face. Then I began to panic because I could think of exactly three Johnny Cash songs off the top of my head and basically everything I know about him comes from the movie Walk The Line. Thankfully, Jen, Sarah, and Karen had my back – true friends don’t blow your baldfaced lies – and we got away undiscovered.)
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The doughnuts on the left are normal-sized, meaning the glazed in the upper right is on freakin’ steroids.

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Sarah and me trying wetsuits on for size in a different touristy shop.

And, of course, we visited the beach.
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Obligatory beach selfie, as taken by Jen.

We rented – and watched – a movie  (McFarland, USA — it’s really good; go see it), ate at a Thai restaurant, baked brownies, and made sweet tea (Jen did, anyway; a good Tennessee girl needs to bring the sweet tea, y’all!). The rest of the time? We talked. Sarah and I gabbed while we waited for Jen’s plane to land. Jen and I talked for the entire two hour drive up the PCH. Karen and I talked on the second-story veranda outside our bedrooms the moment we awoke on our first morning together and again, over wine, while Sarah and Jen went to rent the movie.

And the four of us talked – in the living room, in the master bedroom, around the kitchen table, on the beach, in the car, as we strolled around Ventura and contemplated scaling the chain link fence that kept us from attending the Johnny Cash festival (as true fans, we felt we should at least make an effort to be there). We talked about lighthearted things… vaccines, gun control, abortion, gay marriage – again and again – God and heaven and the Bible… Plus also our kids, our husbands, our high school teachers, our boobs, our mistakes and successes, our dreams and fears, our self-sabatoging traits (as a life coach, Karen had some pretty excellent advice on this front), Harry Potter, makeup, tiny hands, and how we dispose of eggshells when we’re done with them.

On Saturday – our final night together – I interrupted Sarah mid-sentence to tell everyone to look outside (having grown accustomed to my ADHD over the course of the previous two days, they were gracious about my blurting-out). From within the living room, I could see that the sky had grown a vibrant shade of pink; it seemed that a gorgeous sunset was just around the corner. Without a word of protest, we all headed outside – I grabbed my camera but neglected to take a sweater or even put on my shoes – to see for ourselves. As we entered the street just beyond the beach house, I audibly gasped as this greeted me:
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Sarah just laughed, however, literally pulling me onward and explaining that if I thought that was something, I really should see what would be happening on the beach.

She was right.
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These pictures don’t begin to do it justice; it was, hands down, the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen, molten gold and melting rainbows. As we stepped onto the sand, I actually began to cry – happily – at its splendor. For twenty minutes or so, all we did was stare and marvel – at the sight before us, at ten years of friendship, at being together.

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Sarah took my camera from me and snapped these while we watched.ca sunset5
It was actually really chilly – see how my southern friends are all bundled up? – so I regretted my sweater omission pretty quickly.

Eventually, the colors began to fade into the night… and we were all chilled to the bone… so we wandered back to the house, filled with a sense of awe.
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It’s hard to take a properly lit selfie when the lighting is so crazy, yo.

We’d planned to watch another movie but soon found ourselves – wait for it – talking, still having so much to say and hear and so little time to do it. We’d been mentioning Angel all weekend long – he naturally found his way into our conversations – but Saturday night, it was different. Sarah began to really talk about her boy, sharing stories and memories – some we’d heard before and some that were new to us – answering our questions, and telling us about when she and her family had to say goodbye to him.

Even when I already knew a particular story, when I’d read it on the Team Angel Facebook page or when Sarah had shared it on our December ’04 page, it felt entirely new hearing it from Sarah herself. Her inflection, her cadence, her facial expressions… The look – the one that only a mama can get when she talks about her child – that she wore when she told us about him… I thought I knew his story, knew her heart, but hearing it directly from Sarah, sitting beside her on the couch looking at photos of her beloved son, made for some of the most intensely beautiful moments I’ve ever been privileged to witness. That she trusted us enough to share him with us in this way was beyond humbling.

I have never experienced anything quite like it.
Jenifer and Karen and I had wanted – had needed, from our very cores – to be there with Sarah, to hug her, to laugh with her, to cry with her, to just listen and listen and listen. It was, for all of us, as profound an evening as we’ve ever had. It was why we’d come. Love and connection and friendship, pure and simple.

Sarah kept telling us how she just could not believe – even though we were there – that we would come all this way for her. We kept telling her that there was no other possibility; we loved her and she needed us, so we came. What none of us could have anticipated was how profoundly the weekend would change us all – give us hope and fill us up.

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… or maybe it doesn’t stay at the beach…

We continued to talk about everything under the sun (or the moon, by that point) well into the night, only going to bed because we were simply exhausted. All too soon, Karen, Jen, and I were winding our way back down the Pacific Coast Highway, hardly pausing for breath for the entirety of the two hour journey.
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What we did not do, however, was say goodbye; Sarah wouldn’t hear of it. Instead, we said we’d see one another soon. And you know what? We meant it.

Yes, friendships can be cultivated – can blossom and bloom and thrive – from afar. I’ve done it, and will continue to do it, many times over. But there is something magical about physically being with the people you adore – being able to give real hugs instead of virtual ones, being able to rest your head on someone’s shoulder as you double over in hysterics, being able to look into someone’s eyes as they tell you about their precious son.

I probably won’t be seeing these ladies on the sidelines of soccer games or swim meets. I won’t run into them at Wegmans. We can’t get together for coffee. But it is something mighty incredible, indeed, to know that if I needed them, they’d show up. In the meantime, texts and Facebook will have to suffice…

Although there is a Johnny Cash Festival coming up in Arkansas on August 1st. Road trip, anyone?
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