middle MIDDLE middle

It's been hard to write the past year.  I am no longer the wife who just lost her husband or the woman I will become. I am in the middle. I am rounder around the middle. I am middle-aged. In the middle of a sentence, I can't remember what I was saying. 

It's the kind of middle that feels like I am sitting on a bus in-between two strangers who used to know me, or the first day at the all-girls Middle School and my new plaid skirt is too stiff.  It's like when I take my dogs on a summer walk and at the point where I turn around to go home, they settle onto a wet patch of grass and don't want to move.

It's an exercise class that is only halfway through and I thought it was almost done. It's the middle of the night when I am wide awake and say "Alexa, what time is it?" and she says "1:30 AM;" or a mid-life crisis when I buy a new car and it does make everything a little better until my 15-year-old daughter backs into the deck pulling out of the driveway.

It's the 13.1 miles into a marathon when the crowd has thinned and all you can hear are feet hitting the pavement, moving on with busy lives. I run faster to keep up with their expectations, but they are out of sight. It's usually mid-July when it seems everyone is on a family vacation.

It's the so-so kind of middle. I can't complain because life could be worse, but I miss the days when I was excited about a date night at Target followed by a movie. 

It's the middle of a movie and I don't recognize the plot, but I am the writer so I try changing my lines.


The middle is binging on Netflix mid-day on a Sunday afternoon. A 70 degree day in mid-February, the big blue sky out west in the middle of nowhere, and a full rainbow centered perfectly in the sky.

It feels like a second wind at the half-way point of a marathon. And the smooth pit of an avocado cut in two.

It was Jan and Peter Brady and being old enough to stay up past midnight to watch Friday Night Videos. It was my older neighbor explaining the meaning of the middle finger, and feeling a little cooler.

It's knowing that is my son playing mid-field in lacrosse by the color of his socks. It's seeing my daughter sing a duet center stage at her 8th-grade graduation. It's when my husband comes up in the middle of a conversation with my kids and it half-way brings a smile to our faces.

It's the friend who in the middle of her own life, does not forget to check on me. It's an invitation at exactly half past the hour when we need it the most. 

It could be the intermission of a Broadway musical and the second act has all of my favorite songs and being half-way through a book you can't put down. It's deciding that the middle of your life can be like chapters from the Choose Your Own Adventures books you read in 6th grade. 

It's the moments betwixt & between when I don't wish I was younger, and I stop telling myself I am getting old. It's adorable babies smiling in the middle of the grocery store, and being happy to come home to my daughther and her friends hanging out in the kitchen. And then knowing better than to interrupt them in the middle of their conversation.

It's winter break between semesters or summer solstice in the middle of the sun's journey around the Earth. Or in the middle of folding laundry, finding the lost earring he bought me in my pocket, and standing next to my handsome Middle School son and realizing he is almost taller than me.

It's counting the number of times my friends make me laugh and when I come up with the average, deciding I am not too busy to meet an old friend for lunch at noon. It's finding myself in the middle of a messy house, on my laptop, writing again. 

It's closing a door and being hopeful about what you can't see behind another.

It's the end of who I was and the beginning of who I will become. I get to write the beginning, the middle and the end. 

Whitney Houston, The Greatest Love Of All (frequently seen on Friday Night Videos) - the photo is my favorite place to be in the middle.

Who Goes With Willy Wonka?

I saw her get off the treadmill, soaking wet with sweat as she sat down to pray. She was in a hurry because,  as usual, she procrastinated too long and now had only ten minutes to shower and get ready. She always wanted to be more spiritual but seemed to often only remember after exercising when she needed a few minutes (she did not have) to rest. She was ignoring her dogs who were patiently waiting by the treadmill for her, hoping that the headphones and blue Nike shoes meant they were going for a walk. 

I knew my dogs were disappointed, in the same way, I am afraid I have disappointed my kids this Halloween. We have a basement full of Halloween decorations from my daughter's Boo (Bat) Mitzvah Halloween party two years ago, and I could not find the inspiration to put them out this year. It is the first year my son did not ask and a few times; I gaged my kids to see if it bothered them. "Should we put up the Halloween decorations or is it too late?" I asked my kids. "Sure" and then my daughter followed with  "but a lot of people on our street have not put out their decorations." It seemed to me that every front yard on our street was decorated, but it made me feel better when she said this.

She was too worried about making her kids happy. She could not stand the thought that they might struggle in ways I did.


I told my kids we were not going to the Halloween store. My reason being it was out of the way and crowded this time of year. But I caved, as I often do, and we went to the Halloween store. Someone said to me it is the little moments that hit you and there they were as I walked into the store yesterday.
Grief is in details like the lighting outside on a cloudy day and the first colder temperatures of fall that felt as it did two years ago when I met Jay for a mid-day rendezvous during the week without the kids to shop for costumes for the Halloween party.  I don't remember noticing such details at the time, but in hindsight, memories take on senses giving them a vague dimensionality. It tricks you into thinking if you try hard enough, you can walk back into them. 

He wanted to be Willy Wonka.  She wanted them to dress up as a couple. "Sonny and Cher," she said or "Johnny and Roseanne Cash."  I don't think he understood. "But it would be so fun to be Willy Wonka," he said on the occasions when this came up in conversation. "Who should I be then?" she asked, "Who goes with Willy Wonka?" He did not have an answer.

He went as Dracula, and I was a witch. It was not quite a couple but close enough to where I was happy but just far away enough from the truth. It felt romantic to shop for Halloween costumes without the kids.  I called my mother-in-law after we parted ways as I drove home “you will not believe how handsome your son is going to look in his costume.” I felt like things were going so well. I wanted to be in love and looked for every reason I could find. On this day, I was head over heels for Dracula. "You are the hottest Dracula ever," I said to him more than once.

Who goes with me when your father suddenly dies from a heart attack age 6? I really was daddy's little girl being the youngest of five. Who goes with me when your mother, who works full time, has five kids to take care of and no family in town? Who goes with me when many friends of my parents disappear with my father? Who goes with me when there is little community to support my grieving mom? He may have been Dracula and not the Johnny Cash to her Rosanne, but he went with her and she had been looking for that for so long.

I am a creature of habit. Jay and I bought a treadmill before we had kids and I use it often. Jay and I did the same pattern for as long as I can remember in ten minute cycles: 4 minutes fast, 2 slow, 2 fast, 2 slow, repeat 4 times. I always have on headphones, I to listen podcasts, I sometimes pray when I am done and I usually have on out of style work out pants and/ or socks that don't match since no one is watching. Well, that is, no one but Junebug and my dogs. She goes with me now, you see and usually my dogs hop along for the ride too.

 

"I Was Walking Far From Home" by Iron & Wine

Following Goldfish and Cheerios

I was peeking through the bookshelf when I saw you. The library was quiet, and although there were so many books to read, I decided to write instead.  I sat on the floor by the mouse hole, and once I began, it was hard to stop. When I finished, I stood up just enough where I could slip my note on which I had written through the cracks between the books.  

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I Want To Go Home

I was quickly packing for my first weekend get-away from my kids since losing Jay. I have always been a last minute packer. Jay, on the other hand, days before typed out a very detailed packing list divided into specific categories. His suitcase was zipped and ready at least 24 hours before leaving where I was always, like on this day, running around scattered from room to room remembering this and that, unzipping and zipping my suitcase over and over until I felt ready to leave.

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Dragon Park

I was sitting at Dragon Park, down the street from where I live now and where I grew up. Zoe was playing in the sandbox, and I was on the ledge of it watching. A little girl sat next to me. She was wearing silver angel wings I guess in the same way girls wear princess' dresses and red sparkly shoes just for fun. Junebug wore a cowboy suit most days to preschool for that same very good reason. The little girl and I spoke, and as we did, she moved closer and closer to me as if I was an aunt or a close friend. She was about five or six at the time.

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Happily Ever Afters

I have fallen from happily ever after many times. Junebug fell into the world after a long birth when her mom had a pulmonary embolism, and they both came close to not making it.  She was seven pounds and beet red from all of the blood she swallowed. She came home to her four older siblings, who were 8, 10, 11 and 13 years older. Her 10-year-old sister wrote her birth announcement with many words misspelled.

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Time After Time

We moved to Duloc. We heard things are looking up there. While Simon and I are still loyal to Hamilton, it feels good to take a break from history. So we have decided to hit the road, my little buddy and me because all we need "is a path and a pal and a song" and Shrek, which takes place in the Lordship of Duloc, is the next middle school musical at my son’s school and auditions were a couple of weeks ago.

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Lucky Ticket

You know when you get a lottery ticket, and scratch it off to see if you won? The odds are not in your favor. Most of the time you will come out a loser.

I can feel the same way. Some days I feel that beneath the surface, I am a loser waiting for the moment this truth is exposed to the world. I know I am not but there is nothing rational about shame, and when mine is out of the gate, I often trip over that awkward, embarrassing teenager I once was, and it is hard to get back on my feet. I finally decided to write about this knowing that my words help me begin a new story and pull me up to standing stronger.

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Lost

After a year I thought it would be easier to find a parking spot. A couple of  weeks ago I was driving to my favorite coffee shop to write.  I drove to the rear parking lot which was closed for repair, so I attempted to squeeze my huge rental SUV into the one remaining spot in the very cramped front parking lot until I quickly realized it was a handicapped space. I felt awkward as I tried to back out my Tahoe into busy Nashville traffic.

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The First Year

I was sitting next to my sister in orchestra row F, seat 15 at Hamilton at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City the day after Thanksgiving. My 14 year old daughter and 11 year old son were sitting  behind us. I spent way too much on the tickets but I was desperate to rebuild my family of three after losing my husband right before the confetti of New Years fell into 2016.

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A Love Letter

I can imagine catching him right before he turns the handle to leave out the back door. I see through the years the quick goodbye kisses before work, and the messy kitchen I am cleaning in a quiet house. I can hear music blasting from the car before Jay pulls out of the driveway headed to take the kids to school, and the stomping and slamming of angry goodbyes with anxious butterflies flying out of our mouth and following us until we can’t stand it, and we apologize.

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Junebug Interrupted

Junebug always wanted cool boots. She sat in the back of the pickup truck on the way to the barn to ride horses with the other kids and hoped no one would notice her shoes. Her bowl haircut and Buster Brown lace-ups and Levi‘s paled in compared to the pretty riding boots, cute jeans and braided hair of the other girls.  She put one foot in the stirrup and pulled herself up on those horses anyway. Often she felt like the leap was big, but she never stopped trying.

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I WANT TO FEEL FINE

I am starting my blog with an except from a story that Jay's grandmother, Dorothy Rosenblum, wrote about her family coming to America. I wish you could hear it in her very memorable  Southern drawl. She was a very warm woman who wrote using lots of exclamation points which I love! 

"It was no wonder that while we were forced to love in Minsk, my father decided to go to America to build a better life for us there. He saw no future for Jews in Russia. Although it would mean a hard journey and a long separation, even his father urged and encouraged him to go.

To get out of Russia was no small feat, even then. His experience and trials were many. All the ports of embarkation to cross the Atlantic were closed because of the war. After a long and arduous trip through Siberia, China and Japan, my father finally boarded a ship for America in Kobe, Japan on December 3, 1916. He arrived in San Francisco on January 1, 1917,"

And then in 1921, Dorothy continues....

"My father, aunt, uncle and cousins, Sylvia and Rebecca, met us at the Terminal Station on Spring Street, where the Richard Russell Federal building is now. The train pulled up to the platform and there was my father, just like his picture! I went right into his outstretched arms and hugged and kissed him - and I did so forever after."

-Written by Dorothy Rosenblum, 1994

 Dorothy Rosenblum, known by her Grandchildren as Ma-Ma

Dorothy Rosenblum, known by her Grandchildren as Ma-Ma

 

It has been the end of the world in many ways as I know it and I want to feel fine.

It was Saturday late afternoon last weekend and I was at Starbucks because I needed some caffeine to feel fine.  It was the day of the marches and as I looked down at my phone to check Instagram and Facebook while waiting for my drink, I was relieved to see those who I knew had marched safely. As I took a thankful breath, I was not expecting to the hear the escalating arguing I did right next to me and as an Asian woman quietly left, I was even more surprised to hear yelled at her  “you need to learn our customs.

I am not one to always speak up but it felt too eerie to be quiet. I decided it was time to march in my own way since I had not that morning so I followed the woman who was leaving and said I was sorry for what happened. And I then marched back in and said calmly to the woman who yelled at her, that what she said to the woman was not necessary or nice. I am not saying this to brag because like many of us, not speaking up seems like less and less of an option.

I was prepared to walk away if she got angry at me but it actually turned into into a civil conversation. As a group of young adults took over, she explained and defended herself and then said turning to me and then to them “you are right, I should not have said that and I am sorry.” And as she walked out to to leave, she said crying “but you don’t know my heart. You think you do but you don’t.”

I did not think I could feel empathy for a woman who said something that I thought was so offensive but I did.  I understand how it feels when people abruptly make decisions about your heart.


I remember playing the game Jenga with my kids when they were younger. It was one of the very few games I thought was fun. You build a standing structure with rectangular red, yellow and blue bricks and then very carefully choose and remove one brick on your turn. If on your turn, you remove a brick that causes the entire structure to collapse, you lose the game. The best strategy is to remove bricks that are not needed to hold the structure in place but you never know which brick will cause the rumble.


That’s great it starts with an earthquake

It’s six o’clock TV hour and every few minutes a breaking CNN news alert comes on with a new executive order. Every one feels like another brick being pulled from our already divided country and I feel on edge. It seems the patriotic and symbiotic hope our country was founded is on shakier ground than ever.

2016 was a year of aftershocks for me after Jay died, and finally one day I could clearly see that all of the bricks had fallen to the ground in my life and I knew what needed to be done. My work in progress is to rebuild myself and a strong family of three, (plus our two dogs of course). It seems the work ahead for those who are afraid for our country will be simiiar as we step on bricks being pulled out from under us, and do our best to use them not to continue to build a wall of division in our country but to rebuild our faith in humanity.


I could choose to call the woman in Starbucks racist but I think the path of judgement is too worn in our country so I will use it as an opportunity to believe that we can stick around for hard conversations and find ways to come together.  We are a country of diverse beliefs and experiences and if I can remember that, it gives me a little more room in my world for others.

I am going believe that the woman in Starbucks has a good heart and that most of us do because if it's the end of the world as I know it, I have to find a way to feel fine. It's been my only choice.

I will end with these words of Jay's grandmother:

"There are many people in my life that I have enjoyed and loved. I by no means like everyone I met, but I am thankful I never had the need to "hate" and for the abundance of people in my life whom I was privileged to have loved as family and friends."

 REM It's The End Of The World  (which is quoted in this blog)

 

 

Road Map

A picture showed up on my Facebook memory yesterday of Jay and me in Telluride two years ago. Jay had skied maybe once if at all, and it had been a couple of decades since I had been on skis, so we did ski school together. Although in the picture we were happy to be done with a long day on the slopes, it was not as easy as the smiles on our face made it look. It's often the story behind the photo that tells the real truth.

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