Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Replacement

My husband always tells me I wear my clothes way too big. He says I’d look thinner if I wore tops that are form-fitting. It’s not that I mind when he’s giving me constructive criticism, as he is one of my biggest supporters in life but honestly, every time he says that, I think…are you crazy?  I intentionally search for clothing that is non-committal, the antithesis of form-fitting.  The last thing I want is for my shirt to grab on to every one of my nooks and crannies, for goodness sake.  I’d rather someone say the clothes I wear are too big than the clothes I wear are too small.  I’m not the only woman who feels this way, am I?

Even though I usually tune him out when he talks such nonsense, there are times when his words haunt me, echoing in my mind until I think about addressing them.  Maybe on some level this happens when I agree with him.      

Let me give you some background.  The hallmark of my winter attire is a North Face jacket I bought about 6 or 7 years ago.  It’s black, as are most of my clothes.  I know it’s probably at least one size too big – it’s an XL (and I’d venture to say that a L in this style would have been sufficient).  It’s cozy over the short-sleeved scrubs that I wear to work and it’s also perfect when I wear a heavy sweater.

It’s pretty ratty now.  My doggy chewed off a piece of each of the two arm snaps about four years ago when he was just a few months old, and I’ve been telling myself ever since that once I find this jacket on sale, I’ll purchase a replacement.  Maybe I would consider a smaller size, assuming I don’t expand too much by then (I'm always allowing for some growth…just saying).

One night last winter, I went to REI after work in search of my new black North Face, stopping first at the CLEARANCE rack.  No black, only purple.  Hmmm….this color would be a huge departure for me, but I was willing to consider it.  First I checked the size:  XL. I was conflicted whether this was good or bad news given my husband’s objections over my generously-sized wardrobe, but I was secretly happy inside.  I checked the price tag: 50% off.  I felt my excitement mounting.  I was starting to hyperventilate. 

I tried on the jacket expecting it to be quite roomy like my other XLs, but it wasn’t.  It was much daintier yet I actually liked it, so I ended my own debate over the matter knowing my husband would be so pleased that I now have a jacket that fits. Sold. 

It was love at first wear just a couple of weeks ago, not last year when I bought it (don't ask), and I haven't taken it off since.  It’s already my new favorite jacket, right up there with my favorite blue jeans (which are stretch, by the way).    

Now on to the story.  So last night, as my husband and I were leaving for the restaurant to have dinner, I grabbed my new go-to jacket for our ride home.  Something very strange began to happen as I tried to put it on.  I found myself squirming about as the sleeves of my big black sweater were bunching up underneath the new North Face.  Once I got that under control, the next hurdle was lining up the two sides of the jacket to zip up, which again was a struggle.  Was I on Candid Camera?  Had someone switched my jacket with a smaller version?  Had I pigged out even more than normal this time?  

I glanced at my husband, who looked puzzled too, bordering on disturbed.  He asked me when I purchased the jacket.  I am certain he must’ve been thinking I bought it when I was 50 lbs. lighter.  I proudly told him that it was 50% off (I thought he’d appreciate that) and that I chose this petite style knowing he’d find the fit more appealing than my original very spacious North Face.   

After a moment’s hesitation - he was probably thinking how he could delicately respond - he said the new jacket would look fine over my scrubs as it wouldn’t be so snug, but he wouldn’t recommend my wearing it again over a sweater.  I could feel my disappointment and am sure I looked like a wounded puppy when I asked “Why?”

He then said that dreaded 8-letter word that no woman my age or any age, really, would want to hear:  “Because it makes you look…P-R-E-G-N-A-N-T.”  Yikes. Maybe I really did. 

Talk about hyperventilating. He crossed the line. Doesn’t he know a man should never say that to a woman?

I should have congratulated him.  Let him hyperventilate for a minute.

Well one thing is for sure. You most likely won’t be seeing me in my new purple jacket unless you also work at Marlton Pediatrics. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Chirp Chirp

Saturday morning at 7 a.m., I woke up to birds chirping!  That was music to my ears.  I am like one of Pavlov's dogs when I hear birdies sing, as my thinking shifted from what I needed to do that day…to summertime…and then WOW…bag the errands and my daughter Amy and I will head to the beach!  Why not, I asked myself.  We all could use a break from this frenzied time of year.

With bright sunshine and a projected high of about 60 degrees, my new and improved plan was to knock out shopping for Christmas day – since my family is coming to celebrate Hanukkah – and then my daughter and I would embark on our afternoon adventure.   
Unfortunately things didn’t progress as I had initially hoped.  I waited in line for about 50 minutes at the bank and made a few other stops as well.  By the time I got home, about seven hours had passed since the initial thrill I experienced when my thoughts raced from birds to beach.    
At this point, I had grown tired and agitated from the holiday madness that surrounded my every move. I felt betrayed by my own business before pleasure mantra that holds me captive to endless tasks.

I was wistful too, imagining myself seated on a bench overlooking the ocean, most likely with an ice cream cone in hand, wishing I had succumbed to my early morning eagerness to walk barefoot on the sand. 

Today, I didn’t hear the birdies, and the sun was replaced by rain.  I didn’t have that same yearning as I did yesterday to throw caution to the wind, but with a forecasted high above 70, I simply couldn’t resist.  As I headed out to tend to yesterday's unfinished to-do list, off came the UGGS.

And on went the flip flops.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Driving Me Crazy

Last night’s conversation with my husband during our post-Thanksgiving dinner sans the turkey and tofu but with our favorite trimmings—stuffing and cranberry crisp—focused on what we see as each other’s “issues.”  After we agreed that I could name a dozen that I see in him and yet I have nothing obvious—the perennial joke—I admitted there are internal demons I grapple with, that night being a perfect example of a struggle that has tamed over the years but continues to linger.   

Other than regularly sharing my pet peeves such as apostrophes utilized in the wrong place, or quotation marks where they don’t belong, I decided that in the spirit of our partnership, I would give my husband a glimpse of the inner workings of my head and he would see that despite my cool exterior, I was ready to burst! 

Hadn’t he noticed that I had been obsessed with the current snowstorm, looking online at the weather channel, watching every TV station’s interpretation of the forecast models multiple times, and still I was hungry for more information?  This hadn’t just been in recent hours; I felt I’d been ruminating about it for days.

My issue was that once the storm ended, my 20 year-old daughter Amy, who goes to college at West Chester University (PA), would be driving on snow and ice-covered roads in the unfamiliar territory of Newtown Square at 8:30 a.m. the next morning for a new babysitting gig.  We experienced drivers know that early morning hours can be just as treacherous as nightfall, even on treated roads, not having had the benefits of prolonged sunshine and other traffic to melt away remaining trouble spots.   

It wasn’t that she was afraid to make the drive – she wasn’t; it wasn’t that I didn’t trust her to drive safely – I do; it wasn’t that I felt she shouldn’t be doing this – she’s doing exactly what she should be doing.  She was showing the signs of a young lady who is growing up and becoming more independent, the very reason I wanted her to go to college in the first place (academics aside, of course). 

And if I didn’t have a husband who would tell me I’m crazy, or worse yet may tell his co-workers during their daily lunch hour together, I may have offered—although I am sure I’d have heard in the tone of her voice just how appalled she was—to pick her up in West Chester this morning, drive her to Newtown Square and made the return trip…that’s often my first instinct and, granted, that is an issue.  But, she is my baby…need I say more?  

While the thought of her navigating these roads during compromised conditions was driving me crazy, my reaction was actually a drastic improvement over years before. There were times when just the act of one of our children driving anywhere regardless of weather conditions would have sent me straight to my emergency-only chocolate selection hidden in the back of the refrigerator.

Clearly, my concerns have nothing to do with my daughter’s abilities. They are about my letting go and understanding that we are two separate individuals, not one long person with different ages, personalities and interests. It's is my job to continue to encourage her to make independent decisions and not secretly wish she’d crawl back in utero.

She kindly called me this morning before she left as I asked her to, and we discussed defensive driving and hidden black ice and everything I could say (for the umpteenth time) with one breath before she would cut me off.  Her one-word text “Here!” was a most welcome four-letter word!  Now in lieu of that I'm waiting to see her smiling face at my door, having returned not only from her babysitting job but from college for her winter break.    

I think it would be in everyone’s best interest if I keep my chocolate inventory well stocked.    

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Gray, Gray, Go Away

A week later than usual—due to the poor timing of the Thanksgiving holiday this year—I anxiously arrived at the beauty salon to get my hair colored.  I was eager to tell my longtime hairdresser Karen that something went terribly wrong with last month’s touch-up, as gray popped up all over the place, even on my temples where just a couple months ago I didn’t recall having this eyesore.  I assured her that with an adjustment or two on her part, I was confident that this unwelcome hue could take a back seat to my golden-brown highlights or, better yet, go into hiding for another 10 years.   

My wonderfully talented and very diplomatic hair stylist smiled very politely and then, after a moment’s hesitation, reminded me that she empathizes; over time, she too has had to color her hair more often than she had in the past…therein was the truth, which she was gallantly trying not to have to spell out:  that as long as I age, there’s no stopping this wire-like silver presence from running rampant all over my head. 

Had I lighter hair—blonde—for example, maybe I would appreciate the gray complement, or, as my husband says, the sexy and sophisticated new look!  But, since it would present in such stark contrast to the nearly black hair I was born with, it’d be a stretch to embrace it as a natural transition, although it has been infiltrating my roots for some time now…to the tune of nearly 30 years!  I can still recall when I first took note of those intruders, shiny as holiday tinsel.  At that time, I truly believed if I could yank them out—albeit a painstaking process—one by one or give them the evil eye each time I passed a mirror, I’d prevent a mutiny.  

Boy, was I wrong.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Mrs. Lachman

I remember that voice like I last heard it yesterday, and seeing her face a second later clinched it, which is noteworthy for someone like me who has a hard time recalling much of anything.  Right away I knew that the woman who walked in to Joe’s Peking Duck House last night was Mrs. Lachman, my 25 year-old son’s elementary school teacher-turned his middle-school tutor. It had been about 15 years since I had seen her and yet seconds after I said, “Mrs. Lachman?  I am Michael Heiman’s mom…you were his teacher,” that special feeling I got every time she came over to my house returned, this time tears welling up in my eyes, and I was just hoping they didn’t start rolling down my face.  Pathetic, I know, but accurate, nonetheless.

For years, Mrs. Lachman came to my house to help Mike, but I am certain that she made more of a difference in my life than in his. Yes, she helped him to perform well in class, and this led to his feeling pretty good about himself, both of which we all know are critical for the optimal mindset of an adolescent…yadda yadda…but it was her commitment to my child back then that I find so compelling, even 15 years after the fact.

I will be the first to admit that I have always parented best with assistance—enlisting the expertise and grip of a select grouping of special folks I’ve met along the way—and once on my team, that person is a VIP in my world, for life. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Like It or Not

I’m lucky that I’m a pretty good sport about sharing with my ex-husband, since taking turns to be with the kids is how we divorced parents roll.  My crew went to their dad’s the same nights each week until they left for college and, to this day (15 years after we separated), the plan to be with me one year and their dad the next for Thanksgiving dinner remains in effect.

I realize that sharing the kids for the holidays is the only fair thing to do, but I have to admit that there are times I just don’t want to do that.  What gets me is not the compromise of the situation (well, maybe somewhat—after all, I AM the mom!) but rather the more complex matter of not feeling whole without my kids. The emotions are further complicated when the gathering includes my niece and nephew, who I am certain will ask where their cousins are when I walk in to my brother’s house on Thursday. 

Since this is the holiday to give thanks, I suppose I should just man up and be grateful that I get to spend every other year with them while we stuff our faces with turkey and not focus on the years I don’t get to look at them across the table.

This is most likely just temporary anyway, as they will have families of their own at some point and then even more parents to please and add to the holiday rotation, unless they just buck the system and start their own traditions at home which cannot possibly include everyone anyway.  I will be ahead of the game at that time, as parents of intact families won’t be comfortable with sharing their kids at all, and I’ll be a pro, at least in theory.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hanukkah Present

“What would you like for Hanukkah?” my husband asked me.

Feeling very fortunate that he’d pose the question, I thought about my list.  I told him I’d get back to him once I narrowed it down, as I had a lot of ideas to weed through:      

I want to live in a world where people are nice to each other; where our kids go to school and play outside in a happy, safe environment; where men and women talk out their differences instead of hurt one another in acts of senseless gun and domestic violence, terrorism or war; where cures for medical conditions are achievable; where natural disasters lead to research, not death or financial ruin; where people don’t go to bed hungry; where variety of color, religion and sexual preference are celebrated, not denounced; and so on.

But when he inquired again, since the holiday is right around the corner and I hadn’t given him an answer yet, I knew I had to provide something for him to work with. 

So, I told him there’s a really pretty necklace I saw…

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Beyond the Workout

I used to be an avid gym-goer, but after a fairly lengthy hiatus, I had to be forced to get back into the routine. I’m happy to report that not only do I not mind it these days, but I’d go so far as to say that I’m starting to savor the experience again, for several reasons that never came to mind before I turned the Big 5-0. 

Back then, I incorporated my workouts into my day just because my girlfriend Karen, who was a new personal fitness trainer at the time, told me I had to do something to reverse the disturbing aftermath of my 3 C-sections.  It was only when my ex-husband and I separated that this schedule with my friend Rosanne came to a halt, as I was no longer able to go to the gym at 5 a.m.

Today—just to be clear—I would never ever ever get up at 5 a.m. to go anywhere unless I absolutely had no choice, least of all the gym.  I hate to admit it but without anyone pushing me along, I’ve had to look beyond the value of the workout itself to give me the momentum to get there at all. While this may seem like a rather skewed and perhaps negative approach to getting in shape, let me assure you it has produced positive results.  

Here’re the reasons I’ve come up with that support why a gym commitment serves me well, separate from the obvious benefits of exercising:  It’s one hour that 1) – I’m not snacking on stuff; 2 – Everyone I see isn’t obsessing over their electronic gadgets as they do freely almost everywhere else and, although I am guilty of this myself, it’s one of my biggest pet peeves; 3) – All generations and cultures are working toward the same goal; 4) – I’m regularly inspired by the younger set, which really knows how to work their workouts.     

I see young women, for example, displaying all sorts of fancy maneuvers on the big fitness ball, when it took me months to learn to sit on it without falling over.  I see them doing repetition after repetition of creative and strenuous exercises I could never have achieved let alone conceptualized, when in contrast I generally move from one machine to the next and stop at whim vs. a calculated end point.  I see them  focused on their own progress, not looking around for extraneous reasons to justify fitting this designated time into their busy schedules.   

So while at this point in my life I’ve left behind the intensity of the physical challenge, I’m able to appreciate the compelling benefits of one hour at Planet Fitness a few times a week, even if it is unrelated to my working up a sweat.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Story Time

There’s a lot of preparation that goes into visiting my mom. I’m always equipped with the necessities—groceries, household goods, questions about magazine subscriptions and requests for donations—as well as fun stuff, which is comprised of at least two components:  flowers because she loves them and stories about her grandkids because I think she loves them (the kids of course but the stories too). 

On my weekly drive to her apartment, I generally review a running list of what’s occurred with the kids since the last time I saw her so that I can relay the update in as entertaining a manner as possible.  The pattern is the same:  we kiss hello, she assesses the beauty of the flowers in my arms—always remarking most favorably to sunflowers—I sit down at her kitchen table, she asks what’s new, and off I go.  If my plan is to stay for a short time, I’ll give a brief overview; if I have the afternoon free, I can cram in a lot of detail.  My mom is a most captive audience, glued to my words as if I’m narrating one of the books she can’t put down, seemingly absorbed in the trials and tribulations of everybody’s lives. 

A couple weeks ago after a particularly spirited run-down of events, I had to interrupt story-time for a drink of water because I was so parched.  Prepared to continue where I left off, I stopped in my tracks after my mom, who generally doesn’t comment unless I press her to respond, took the pause as an opportunity to say, without prompting of any kind, “You sure have a lot of issues with your kids.” 

On those rare occasions when my mom does make a statement, her words hit me like a ton of bricks.  My first reaction was “Issues?”  I thought I was sharing amusing anecdotes; my second reaction was to strike back and say, “You think MY kids have a lot of issues?  How about YOUR kids?” but then I realized I’d be talking about myself too, so I abided by my third reaction, which was to say nothing.  That said, I gave a lot of thought to her statement for days to come, and it is that one line which prompted today’s blog post.

Upon the 100th recall of that sentence, I realized that, personalities aside—and differing opinions of what constitutes an “issue”—my mom’s experience of being a parent of adult kids is entirely different from my own experience of being a parent of adult kids.  When I was in my 20s, a 5- or 10-minute phone chat between my mom and me once a week was the norm.  Only major developments like pregnancy, divorce, a tragedy or disheartening election results caused more frequent dialogue and even those were limited, especially once I moved to Cherry Hill and landline calls to Philadelphia were “long-distance,” with each minute racking up what could become a hefty bill.  I was, in essence, on my own the very second I left the cocoon of my childhood home, feeling my way through life with very little parental assistance.  My mom hadn’t been privy to my “issues” for many years, as the conduits for free-flowing conversation weren’t in place.  Technology as we know it hadn’t arrived.

Today’s advances—text messages, email, Facebook, Skype and more—may foster closer relationships between the generations as we can interact to our hearts’ content, but is all this communication good for our kids?  Does it help or hinder the ultimate goal of fostering responsible, independent adults?  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Name It

Sharing the same last name—Heiman—with my kids and husband at the time was fun. I took pride in teaching my little ones how to spell, write and pronounce their name, and I got a kick out of the excitement their grandparents showed when the kids mastered these feats.  I also appreciated that our name was a fairly obvious clue for outsiders to make the connection that we’re family, for those times our looks didn’t do the trick. 

When my kids’ dad and I divorced, I went back to my maiden name and, upon remarriage, was happy to add David’s and his kids’ last name, Minches.  These alterations to my name took some getting used to.  With Heiman, periodically I had to spell the name, as it was often confused with its homonym HYMAN.  If I detect confusion with Minches, I simply say “inches with an M in front. For the most part, it’s been a smooth ride overall.   

Every now and then, however, a situation creeps up reminding me that the primary tool for others to link my kids to me is no longer in place.

One such time occurred when I attended an Open House for my synagogue, where I had been a member for about 20 years.  Since I was on the membership committee, it was my job to reach out to potential new members.  I immediately found two fairly unfamiliar young women deep in discussion, so I waited for one to take a breath, and then I extended my hand and very proudly tried out my new name, “Hi, I’m Judy Minches.”  They seemed a bit unsure of what I said—I may have swallowed half of ‘Minches’—so I said the routine “inches with an M in front,” and all was well.   

Once we got the pleasantries out of the way, Betsy went back to telling Eleanor (names have been changed to protect the innocent) that she experimented with a new babysitter for her son and now all he wants is for the teen to hang out again.  As my kids were of babysitting age and not in need of a babysitter, I patiently waited for this topic to end but, as time went on, Betsy became so very animated about her great find that I decided to excuse myself from the conversation.  Just as I was about to walk away, I heard Eleanor ask what the babysitter’s name was and Betsy answered, “Michael Heiman.”

WHOA. Ding Ding Ding. “That’s my son!” I shouted (by the way, he’s OK with my using his name).  Betsy laughed somewhat nervously, appearing to have concluded that I was indeed one of the older crazy ladies she was warned about. They dutifully smiled and nodded but went back to talking about this kid.  MY kid.       

“Did you say Michael Heiman?” I rather loudly asked.  Betsy said, “Yes. He’s such a nice boy.”  Proudly, I said, “That nice boy is my son.”  She said “Oh, NO!  His mother is Edith Heiman” (as you probably guessed, I changed her name as well).

Betsy’s forceful retort even had me momentarily fooled.  Mike Heiman is my son, not Edith’s, right?  Of course he is, I assured myself.  Edith is Mike’s stepmom. I’m the real thing.  In an effort to correct this misconception, the crazy lady reiterated, "Edith married Mike’s dad but is not Mike’s mom.  I am!”

I realized I was transforming this Open House event from something fuzzy and warm to something downright weird for these newcomers, but honestly, I couldn’t help myself. 

After all, I wanted credit for what I’ve done right in the world.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Aging has its Perks

Last week for my first blog I wrote about a perk to aging, that of truly appreciating the special people in our lives.  Initially I wanted every blog to be a pick-me-up for folks like me who may need reminders periodically of why we should be at peace with the fact that we’re getting up in years. But then something sobering happened in this process. I couldn’t dig up any other perks!  Ask me about single life…but aging? No matter how I tried, I couldn’t dress it up.    

I’ve got good news! I discovered another perk!  Now I’m wondering if they’re going to start falling from the sky. After all, tomorrow same sex licenses will be available in the garden state!  We have a black man as president, and perhaps a female is next. 

So yesterday my 24 year-old daughter emailed me asking how I’m doing.  Usually I respond by saying, “Great, and you?”  This time, I decided what the heck—I’m actually going to tell her; after all, she is in HR—and I shared a situation at my workplace that has become quite frustrating.  It wasn’t that I expected her to say, “Gee, that stinks…I’m really looking forward to the weekend,” but her immediate understanding of the situation was spot on, giving me not only support but a very savvy HR professional’s take on the complexities of office dynamics.    

As I shared the story with my actuary husband over sushi, he shared a story of his own.  He had been working on a project which had a particular component causing him angst, and he wanted to run it by someone he could rely on to think outside the box.  So, he called his 26 year-old daughter, a true chip off the old block, actuary and all. He found her take on the matter to be just what he needed to resolve the issue.  

Parenting is filled with ups and downs, and this is by far one of the more thrilling rides on the roller coaster, when we realize just how grown up our children have become.

I'd love to hear some of your stories...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Where Do I Start?

Today is the first day of my first blog which my second husband has inspired me to name "Marriage, Divorce & Everything Inbetween.”  This is where I’m hoping we can share the myriad of thoughts that most of us in middle age - or should I say those of us who have celebrated our 29th birthday multiple times - ponder.

To start off, let me introduce myself.  I’ve been a freelance writer for The Central Record for 14 years. I’m also a patient care coordinator for a pediatric practice. There was an 11-year lapse in employment while I stayed home with three young ones whose ages span a six-year time frame.  I married for the first time at 24, divorced at 38 when my eldest was 11, and remarried nearly a decade ago, picking up two step kids in the process. I’m very sad to say that my 20 year-old stepson passed away three years ago as the result of a very aggressive cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma.

When such a tragedy occurs—as well as infinite other circumstances causing emotional, physical or financial turmoil—it wreaks havoc, inevitably changing the way we think and act.  By our 50s, if not way 
before, many of us find it very challenging to wake up with the energy and optimism that characterized our youth. Sometimes it doesn’t seem possible that I will ever be able to have fun again or a reason to laugh or that I would have anything positive to offer with my damaged psyche. One rough day blends into the next and before long it’s Wednesday—time to take out the trash, again—and color my hair, renew my medication, give my doggy his monthly flea treatment...and I find myself wondering are these robotic tasks the summation of my middle-aged existence?

So while my once-dreamy notions about the future have been replaced by over 50 years of real life experiences—some of which are barely manageable—and the reminder every time I look in the mirror that I’m not 16 but older than three times that, I was startled to find a bright spot pop into my thoughts.

It all started with a visit to my mom—by the way she is 96—and her smile when she saw me.  A few hours later my husband told me that he’s excited to leave work for our “date night” and gave me a nice big hug when he got home. The next morning I joked around with a dear co-worker, made plans to spend the day at the beach with my girlfriend, spent an hour enjoying the fresh air with my longtime walking/talking buddy, topped off the day with hot tea and conversation at a local hotspot, and each of my kids tracked me down via texting or a phone call or on Facebook…

While connecting with everyone is a job in itself, it dawned on me recently how rewarding these relationships are and how lucky I am at this stage of my life to have discovered such a fun and meaningful perk of aging.  It isn’t that I now have more friends or better friends; it’s that I am aware of my newfound appreciation for the special people in my world, who I absolutely adore.  They are my lifeline.      

And for that, I’m deeply and forever grateful.

If you can relate, please share…