Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Yesterday, I Attended the Wake of a Life Long Friend

Yesterday, I attended the wake of a life long friend.

You hear someone say this and you think of years of weddings, parties, holidays, your children playing together, decades of commitment and memories.

The problem is, I am only 36.

In the past two years, four of my friends have died. These men were all in my age group, all interesting and fantastic in their own ways. Not one of them (minus one with a young son) got to build a family, spend an afternoon on the floor with their baby and a stack of wooden blocks, have their friends shower them with love and bubbles upon turning away from an officiant to face the crowd, hand bonded to someone who made them genuinely, deep down happy. My friends have died because of an epidemic sweeping New Jersey, permeating suburbia, causing young men with futures to lie, to disappear like so much air.

It's the vicious path; take the painkillers, run out, have less money to spend,  take the blue pills, run out, have less money to spend, snort the heroin, die.

I've watched what this does to families. I've seen my friends cry over so many less years than we all deserved together, over lost opportunities at family barbeques and rocking chairs on porches and satisfaction.

Yesterday, I attended the wake of a life long friend.

The one sentence I heard more than anything else was, "How could I help him when he wouldn't admit what he was doing?" You see, the issue is with the "open secret." We all know he's doing it, but when we confront him, he lies to our faces. Not maliciously, you see. An addict doesn't really understand how those lies will kill them. It's just the way to get to the next fix without having to listen to a bunch of bullshit about how they're hurting themselves. So, if you say, repeatedly, "Please, stop doing this. I know what you're doing. We all know what you're doing," you expect a reaction. Maybe some tears, some attempt at redemption or explanation. Instead, you get, "I'm fine. Stop worrying about me so much. I'm not going to do anything stupid."

That's what my life long friend told me a month ago, when another friend of ours died of an overdose. "I'm fine. Stop worrying about me so much. I'm not going to do anything stupid."

Yesterday, I attended the wake of a life long friend.

How many of you out there suspect that someone you love is abusing painkillers? Taking pills? Doing hard ass drugs that they warn you about in high school, the ones you see people in movies taking and you wonder,

How could they let it get that far?

Because listen to me. If you don't do something, if you don't stand up, if you don't stop taking no for an answer, they will die. I've seen it. I've seen too many photo collages, too many crying mothers, too many young men blubbering over of the caskets of people they grew up with. This isn't going to end well.

I'm pretty sure there are others in our circle still doing this. I can't prove anything. All I have is second and third hand information and fear loading up in my belly like bricks.I'm currently taking no for an answer.  But I'm ready to make this shit stop. Let's save our friends. Let's help the cops find the people who are killing our friends.

I have to do something before I'm the only one left standing.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What Babies Need

When I was pregnant, I posted on Facebook asking all of my mommy friends what they suggested I put on my baby registry. The list was overwhelming. There were so many suggestions for where she should sleep, what kind of clothing she might need, what baby toys would be best for her development, what she might want to snuggle. After the post had been up for two hours or so, I went to check the comments and immediately felt like I needed to go sit in a dark room and take deep breaths.

Then, a good friend of mine, an amazing mom with three kids and the most laid back attitude I've come across, gave me a piece of advice that still sticks with me ten months into first-time motherhood: "The baby only needs what you tell the baby to need."


Bam! The registry was no longer a dejected puppy staring at me with sad eyes, begging me to take it home and think about it every living moment. It suddenly became very clear - she's a baby!  A tiny, sweet baby who will need me to change her and love her and feed her and rock her and cuddle her and entertain her and challenge her. As far as I could see, I could do most of that with hugs.

I know, I know. What a mush, what a delusional hippie I am. But really, what do babies need? Let's think about this logically:
  • Diapers
  • Diaper Cream
  • Soap
  • Clothes
  • Food (Formula or Breast Milk to start)
  • Lotion
  • Blankets, Sheets
  • Place to sleep (crib, co sleeper, your bed, bassinet, etc...)
  • Books
  • Medical Supplies (Tylenol, nail clippers, saline drops and bulb, thermometer)
  • Something to cuddle besides Mama and Daddy
  • LOVE
As they get older, this list gets longer. A playpen was helpful, a swing. But really, if you have limited space, you can make things work. At ten months, my baby is crawling and getting into everything, but a good, old fashioned pillow fort still works to keep her sort of contained and safe. People will buy your kid so many toys, clothes and books you won't know what to do with them. You can let go of the list that scares you even though you're the one who made it. 

Seriously, step away from the list.

Now, make a new one. Think of what you really need. Stick some stuff you want in there because you're pregnant, your hips hurt and you deserve random cuteness. And go put your feet up. nap contentedly. Spend your time on stuff that makes you happy and NOT STRESSED AT ALL. All that's over soon, Mama!  ;-)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

My First Mother's Day

Today I was telling my husband what I want to do on Mother's Day.

It is, after all, my first one.  It's like a rite of passage, being loved on that special Sunday when there are flowers and jewelry blanketing the public like sky. I suppose that in that moment, I thought I deserved to relax, to be paid attention to.  But the truth is, that's not what it's all about. I don't want to lay on the couch and watch Scandal. I don't want to get a massage. I don't even really want to sleep in and miss the look on my baby's face when she wakes up happy, standing up in her crib like a big girl, bouncing up and down to get to me.  I suppose I am a mother because all I really want is to be with her.

Don't get me wrong - it's been awhile since I've slept late.(Understatement of the year. Mamas, am I right??)  And at the very least, I will take my husband up on his offer of hanging with the baby while I go for a run all by my lonesome with earphones and no specific mileage in mind - and then take a long, hot shower after.  I am human, you know. But mostly, I just want to strap the baby into her stroller or car seat and show her stuff.

Flowers, aquariums, zoos, parks, picnics, trees, all manner of Spring and play. Her face as she discovers a new texture, the air on her face - this is what I want to spend my time looking at.  Olivia Pope, I love you, but you're just not as amazing as that ten month old little girl.

So on Sunday, I'll be right here with my baby. I don't need jewelry or sleep or chocolate. I just need baby giggles and snuggles, gummy smiles, shaky steps and a crawling munchkin zooming across the room to me. My first Mother's Day - and all I want to do is be a Mom.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

On Improving Myself

We all need to improve, right?

Someone said to me recently, "I'm done with all this self-help bullshit. It makes it all too complicated. If you want to improve, just improve." I have to say, I agree with such sentiment. The amount of self help books I've read, videos I've watched, "gurus" I've listened to can seriously boggle the mind. They all have a program with steps that you can take.

Be more effective!

Kick your bad habits!

Change your state!

And listen, I get it. There are habits I want to kick. Ways that I want to be a better person and a better mom. But the thing is, if I'm truly being honest with myself, I already know what I have to change. So, as mentioned above, can't I just ... improve?

Why should I have to listen to some dude I don't know in order to gather my own strength?  Help is always good, but I can't help but feel like using a self improvement expert and leaning on this person goes against the whole point. How can you learn to improve yourself if you can't be strong enough to do it on your own?

Let's take a look at some really famous self help books:


We all want to have spiritual growth, be effective, stop worrying. But aren't we all capable of identifying our own worry? I agree that certain approaches can be helpful, but I think there's an overload of these sorts of texts. They stare at us from the bestseller list, daring us to fix our lives on our own.  In the end, though, people figured out life long before all of this. So tell me, what is it that you want to fix? Do you think you can do it on your own?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

I've Made a Decision and It's Going to Make Disney Mad

I'm the first time mom of an 8 month old and I've made a decision; I just don’t want her to love Disney princesses. Don’t get me wrong. I was a HUGE Cinderella fan as a child. Something about the idea that  your dreams could come true if you wished hard enough, that if you were a good person, good things would happen to you, drew me in. For a good year, I watched that movie every single day when I got home from school with a bag of nachos and some heated Cheez Wiz. (Listen, my diet is not the issue here.) It was the first “I’m enjoying myself by myself” ritual I can remember and one that resides happily in my heart.

But Cinderella was a weakling. She couldn’t get herself out of a bad situation, could not rise above the poverty line without magic and a man to save her.

And let’s not stop there. Ariel gives up her actual identity just to be with a man who does not even recognize her. I mean, with the whole scene of her singing and looking at him longingly with her impossibly big eyes as he lays there, you would think her face would be burned into his consciousness.

Snow White takes it upon herself to clean the dwarfs’ house before she’s even met them, because that’s just what women do. Sleeping Beauty can’t possibly wake herself up. Little Red Riding Hood is a stupid girl who cannot look out for herself or foresee any danger in her future. She’s can’t even tell that her grandmother is not her grandmother but an actual wolf, a disgusting, feral wolf who probably smells like wolf and can’t even bake a good pie. These women are not strong. Their stories do not present a world in which my daughter will be able to see herself taking care of herself, being strong and independent, being her without a him, without magic, without the mercy of a huntsman who, of course, is the only one who can spare her life.

So, how do I teach her about the lessons that matter from those stories - mercy, love, belief in the good of the world - without her subconsciously grasping onto the absolute weakness and inability to be self-sufficient that many of these princesses represent? After all, it’s not all bullshit. Just the parts about what women do.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wait, so why do Kim Kardashian's nude photos constitute news?

Let me be clear from the start; I am a pop culture junkie. I talk about movies at dinner, text with my sister to address Julianne Lewis's frowny face in Secrets and Lies, (the struggle to smile is real, people), and love to watch Jimmy Kimmel's "Celebrities Read Mean Tweets" series.  As a professor of mostly 18-19 year old millennials, I like to keep up on what's going on.  I mean, they asked me about the blue and gold (yes, I said blue and gold) dress a couple of weeks ago when I walked into class. How would it have looked if I had no idea what they were talking about? (Also, I'm only 36. It's not like I'm listening to Frank Sinatra, complaining about the price of milk.)

But I just don't see how Kanye West posting nude pictures of his wife is news, even pop culture news. We get it, she's hot. I think the world has known that for some time, even before Kanye and his over-willingness to tell/show us all stuff we didn't need to know about his love life. And I'm not one of those people that will say, "Oh, there are real struggles going on in the world. Who cares about celebrities?" I believe that celebrities and popular news allow us an escape, create broader conversations and listen, after a day of being a professor, a mom, a wife, an intellectual, someone who can carry on an intelligent conversation, I could stand to read some slush.  But this? This is just stupid.  I don't know of another way to say it.

And "Swish?"  What the hell does that mean?  I'm reminded of Mean Girls. I just don't think "swish," like "fetch," is really going to happen.  Also, Beck is awesome.  See the connection I made there? Heh?


So, while I won't say that we should be paying attention to the larger issues in the world instead of celebrity news (we should, but hey, we all need a break), I will say that there is better celebrity news out there than this pompous, albeit amazing, rapper, showing us all his wife's boobies. Get over it, dude.  We've all seen it before.  And we don't all want to look like that.  And really, as a woman, I'm kind of pissed off at you ogling someone you see every day, and asking the rest of the world to ogle her too.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

I Used to Be a Waitress

Last night, I had the dream again.  I was waiting tables and I was in the weeds.


If you have never heard this term or you never worked in food service, allow me to explain. The weeds is a place you know you will visit on the busiest night of the week, but you always hope it will be just a bit more welcoming, a bit less like the place you think you will finally die. It's when the server in the section next to you comes down with the stomach flu at 7:00 on a Saturday night and you take over her tables. It's when you have three orders to take, five drinks to get and a some woman is changing a diaper on the table where you need to drop off sizzling fajitas. It's a place where you feel like you'll never get your breath back, there's a line out the door and an hour long wait for a table, an 18 year old couple just left you $3 on a $70 check and you just got sat with a brand spanking new ten top.  It's the busiest, most multi-tasking place you'll ever be, but it's the only way you'll make money and it sure does make the shift go by faster.

So, here I am, about 11 years after the last time I worked at a restaurant.  I'm a college professor. I have a family. I attribute many of my  multi-tasking skills to Chili's or Outback Steakhouse on a Saturday night (or IHOP on a Sunday morning. Really.  Check that place out the next time you drive by. It's as if pancakes are only served for five minutes and everyone's trying to eat them at the same time). And every now and then, I have the dream.

In the dream, I'm in the weeds and it's all very specific.  I can never remember my employee number to enter into the computer because even in the dream, it's been awhile and my boss always has to look it up.  The dream always take place at Chili's.  The boss is any one of the many I had at the many restaurants where I made rent money, tuition money, drinking money in college. There are variables; last night, for example, the Chili's was in London.  But no matter what, I'm always in the weeds.  I get chips and salsa for the table and when I turn around, it's gone.  I go to the bar to get the drinks for another table and we're out of Jack. The cooks are angry at me for being away for so long and my salads aren't ready. I finish the shift with a piddly amount of money in my pocket, feeling like I've never been so bad at this. Ever.

I'm helpless. And I'm in the weeds.

I'm pretty sure I don't need one of those overpriced dream dictionaries to figure this one out.  I have to hone my multi-tasking skills. I must feel, deep down, like I'm lacking, like I can't handle what's being thrown at me.  But the thing is, I survived those nights. I survived multiple Mother's Days at Outback. (You wouldn't think it, but this is the busiest day of the Outback year. I remember running to the basement to smoke a cigarette after ten hours straight because I just couldn't take it anymore.)  And I did it well, for years.  So, how hard can the rest of this be?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Envisioning the Future

It's hard, right? To look into the future and "see" what it will look like, the way all self help gurus want you to. It's as if you should be able to clearly see yourself doing all of the things you want to do. It should be as sharp as your HDTV and you should believe it immediately. And they're all going to "give you the tools you need" to get there. And you're picturing this svelt, yoga-doing, stylish CEO of  a mom who balances her job and her kid and her husband and her dog and her charitable work perfectly and still finds the time to have brunch with her girlfriend and still finds the money to spend $500 on a pair of shoes that she'll wear once to a wedding to impress the chick her high school boyfriend left her for in 1997 when she was just a schlub writing poetry in a flannel shirt and workman's pants and beat up old Vans. And you're sure as you listen to this self help guru that you can do it. And then three weeks later, the image has become blurry and you need those future shifting glasses back and they're not there because you've finished the book. And then what?

I propose that this woman who's being fantastically created in our imaginations is not real.  Oh sure, she's something to strive for, and don't get me wrong, I will damn well make sure I'm balancing it all at some point, but if you're picking "this woman" who you should be, you may just lose sight of who you are.


Yes, the first step in any self-help regimen is identifying who you are.  And once you do, you're supposed to be able to "fix" whatever is wrong with that you - the you who can never find the time, doesn't make enough money, is just disappointing - and move on from that you, the you who you were before you decided you were unhappy.  There is validity in wanting to change to better your life, and I'm in the process of doing so myself right now. But the other day, I was in the car and an older punk rock song (or really, punk rock opera of sorts - NOFX's The Decline) got me pumped up. I found myself missing those 16 year old Doc Martens and the cursing of the establishment, that soul searing satisfaction you feel when you're sure someone else is to blame for all of the world's problems, and realized that I don't have to be nostalgic for that person. I don't have to lose that person because she doesn't fit the picture of what the gurus and society as a whole expect me to be as a professional woman, a mom, a wife, a human.  I can still have me and change for the better. I just have to change that which I actually want to change, not that which I think others might want me to change.


In my rambling here, I'm trying to say that you should, absolutely, envision your future.  Identify what you want to do that you're not doing already and do it. But don't forget who you are - not who you were.  You can leave parts of yourself that no longer serve you on the road behind the truck, but that which makes you feel, that should hang out somewhere near you, maybe in a box, a trunk, a bag, until you decide it's a great car ride home to listen to some punk rock and take it out again. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Leaving My Daughter With Someone Else - Will She Freak Out?

The question all working parents face: Will my kid freak out if I leave her with someone else?

The nerves that accompany this question are like little germs making their way to a host, quietly spreading their negativity and malice. As if you don't already feel nervous about a million and one things concerning this little human (Does she feel warm? Are those pjs too small on her now? Is she going to choke if I give her a Cheerio?), now you wonder if she'll feel abandoned when you leave her at day care. You ask the woman there not to let her see you walk out the door, you picture all manner of crumbling, red, forlorn, screaming baby face for an hours long stretch while you - gasp! - enjoy your job. You're so selfish, mom. You're so selfish, dad.


The platitudes and advice from others come ferociously.

"It will be good for her."
"She needs to socialize."
"She'll adjust after a couple of days."

All well meaning, and probably true, but does that stop you from irrationally telling yourself that she's going to hate you well beyond her teenage years, not invite you to her wedding and write memoirs about her self-involved, pathetic jerk of a parent? Hell no.

The truth is, you won't know if she'll freak out until you do leave her there, and you can't NOT leave her there if you want to keep your job, and you have to keep your job if you want to buy her pjs that fit and keep her in Cheerios. Just know we all understand, mama (or dada). You're not alone. We're all worried about this scary, gut-wrenching, necessary milestone called The Babysitter.

UPDATE: Tomorrow is the day. Aside from her food, I have all of my little bird's stuff packed up for daycare. I have, intellectually, come to terms with the fact that this is good for her, that she will need to be around other children, that I am lucky to not have to be on-site to teach five days a week, that this is a way for her to learn to interact with others. I totally get it.

But am I still dreading the drop off?  You bet.

UPDATE #2: Dropped her off today and cried after in my car.  How could I not? When I called to check in, I was told she cried the first 20 minutes or so and then was fed and happy for the rest of the time. I guess this is harder for me than it is for her!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Snapchat, Social Media, and Feeling Old at 35

Today, I started a new semester teaching First Year Writing at Montclair State University. I love the start of a semester.  There's just a feeling of newness and hope that permeates the hallways. Anything, any grade, any opportunity is possible.

I also love talking with my students.  Like it or not, they are of a different generation and I learn a lot about current popular culture by hearing what they have to say. For our first unit, we are working on analyzing social media and modern day communication, so today, I had them talk about what social media platforms they are on.

Predictably, almost all of them said Facebook.  (Whoever says it is going out of style for teenagers clearly needs to rethink that position.) However, there is a point in the afore-linked article; students are using more messenger apps on their phones.  In addition to the old standbys, Facebook and Twitter, a good amount of them mentioned Instagram and also Snapchat.

Before today, I had NO idea what Snapchat was. "With this mobile app, users can send photos and videos to their friends. These messages promptly disappear after one viewing, which, in the minds of teenage viewers, allows for greater security" (Daniels para.1). The problem is, the images don't really disappear, or so I've read. I mean, this is the internet. Are we really to believe anything ever disappears?

Regardless, it seems that it is that which offers more for a shorter attention span that has become more popular. I would say a good 90% of my students today said they are on Snapchat, and said it with major enthusiasm.

So, just now, I searched for a Snapchat meme to include in this blog post and almost everything that came up had to do with sex. Ugh. And now I officially feel old and oblivious, because I really, naively, didn't realize that the allure of instant pictures that "disappear" would be to send graphic photos. I have a six month old daughter and am officially horrified.

Please allow me to return to my blissful ignorance and my old people's social media of Facebook and Twitter now. I'm good on the Snapchat.

Monday, January 19, 2015

An Ode to Single Mothers Everywhere

Dear Single Mothers,

My husband recently went on a trip to India. It came at an interesting time. My six month old was just starting antibiotics (for the second time and this time, on Augmentin. Ever seen a baby's poop on Augmentin? Don't even get me started) for a wicked double ear infection. It was the first time she was really, truly sick; she had a high fever, lots of greenery coming out of her nose, was unable to eat without taking breaks because of the congestion and certainly was not sleeping through the night. Thankfully, I'm a professor so I was on winter break, but still...

I have to give serious kudos to single mothers everywhere. It was difficult even to do this temporarily with one kid, a baby. I can't even imagine doing it constantly with more than one child, older children and babies at the same time, etc.  My mother had three children under the age of 10 when my father died and I have never respected her as much as I do right now, an hour before I leave to pick my husband up from the airport.

Ladies, you are awesome. I realize you probably have to pull some magic strings to shower, to put make up on before you leave the house.  Keeping the house clean, sticking to routine, walking the dog - it's all on you.  So, as I sit next to a napping baby who is finally feeling better, I absolutely salute you.  Your house may be a mess at times, you may have to wear your child in the freezing cold while you walk the dog, you may not remember what an adult movie looks like, you may forget to eat.  But you take care of your children.  Rock on, mamas.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Late Introduction...

So, since I already wrote my first blog post, please allow me to introduce myself.

I am a writer, a poet, a professor, a wife, and now, a mom.  I have many identities, it seems. Over the years, I have tried my hand at blogging but can never really find one subject that interests me. Then it dawned on me; I don't have to focus on just one subject!


Primarily, I have always written poems. So, I figure here, I can write about anything I feel doesn't fit into a poem.  I may focus on parenting. I may focus on education. I may focus on self - promotion (I mean, come on...give me a break! I have a chapbook coming out this year for God's sake!).  But overall, I hope you'll enjoy it all and feel free to talk with me in the comments section.

I am a Mother, a Writer, a Professor. Can I Find Time to Clean the House?

Balancing it all is an interesting concept. I've been reading a book lately, What Happy Working Mothers Know: How New Findings in Positive Psychology Can Lead to a Healthy and Happy Work/Life Balance.  One idea that it presents fairly early on is the idea that I can be the "CEO" of my family.  The idea of this is really attractive, right?  Picture it:

I wake up in the morning and immediately find time to wash up.  My boobs are not too full because they are used to my baby's eating habits. I put on a sports bra that fits well and work out without waking up the baby. I shower.  I wake the baby and feed her, get us both ready for the day before leaving for work.  At work, I am a model of success. When my husband or the caregiver texts in the middle of the day with a question about the baby, I have the answer immediately and without worry. I handle my job with the ease of a true professional, not a hair out of place. I commute home and the traffic does not stress me out. My evening is spent playing with, bathing and feeding my baby and she goes right to sleep when I put her down. I then get lunches and food ready for the next day and spend time with my husband watching a show we both like, speaking deeply on issues that matter to us and spending satisfying time together before falling off into a dreamless sleep. My baby doesn't wake me for hours. I am in charge of everything.

Sounds perfect, right? Full, but manageable, if not a bit glossed over. I mean, nothing is planned out perfectly. Routine is all well and good, but my baby may decide she wants to eat before I work out.  I haven't worked in time for personal pursuits like writing or learning Bengali and practicing the guitar. I haven't spoken honestly about how hard it is to pump in between the classes I teach at the university so I can continue to breastfeed my baby.  And when, exactly, does my house get cleaned, organized, sanitized for that little baby?

I am blessed with a husband who is willing to help with all of this, but he is busy as well. And there are only so many hours in the day.  So, while I continue to read books about being a successful working mother, managing my time effectively, remaining calm in the face of 103 degree fevers, messy diarrhea, complaining students and a sticky kitchen floor, I wonder if being this CEO is possible. Perhaps I should read a book on positive thinking next.