Friendship and being the odd-girl out

When I was in eighth grade I tried out for the role of Yenta the Matchmaker in the school’s production of Fiddler on the Roof. Prior to tryouts, I spent hours in my room practicing how to sound like a Jewish grandmother – the kind who “doesn’t want to bother anyone, she’ll just sit in the dark.”

Much to my disappointment, the part went to Cindy Berkowitz, who was the only other girl able to channel her inner Yenta and, perhaps not so coincidentally, was best friends with the girl who had already nabbed the part of Golde, the female lead.

Looking back, despite not landing that plum role, I’ve realized that all that practicing might have paid off after all, albeit not in the road-to-Broadway kind of way I had hoped for at the age of 12 or 13. Rather my attempt at playing Yenta the matchmaker seems to have turned me into a sort of friendship matchmaker, a skill that, unfortunately, has left me the odd-girl-out more than once in my life.

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The first time my Yenta skills were put to the test was when I was 12.

I was friends with a girl who lived a few doors down from me; we’ll call her Laura. I also was friends with another girl, we’ll call Jennifer, who lived several towns over but who would spend summers with her relatives who lived in our neighborhood.

At first, I was caught in the middle. Laura wanted to play but I was busy with Jennifer or Jennifer wanted to get together but I was busy with Laura. They both felt hurt and left out and I didn’t know what to do. Finally my mom stepped in and suggested I bring the two of them together so that we could all play together.

I guess my mom hadn’t experienced the curse of the threes, as in, never put an odd number of girls or women together because someone will be left out. That person ended up being me.

It happened again in college.

Sara and I knew each other from the dorms and had become good friends. Leslie and I were both members of the same club. The only thing Sara and Leslie had in common was me, until I introduced them and we all decided to get an off-campus apartment together. I’m not quite sure how or when I became the third wheel but eventually, they became best friends and I was left looking for a new roommate.

But my most successful match, the one that would have Yenta herself kvelling (Yiddish for bursting with pride), is the most recent pairing between my friends Susan and Carla.

As Yenta would say, it was a perfect match, a fit like a glove.

Like many people, Susan and I met through our kids. She was fairly new to the area and we bonded instantly. Carla and I also met through our boys. Our friendship took a bit longer to develop but over the years we have grown closer. It never dawned on me to introduce the two of them, despite our boys all being about the same age. Then one day it just happened.

Once they met, it didn’t take long for all of us to realize just how much they had in common. And over the course of the past year, my two twosomes have morphed into a threesome. Whenever Susan and I talk about getting together, she suggests including Carla and the same thing happens when Carla and I talk about getting together.

Now, the threesome is more like a twosome with an invited guest, me. Or at least that’s how I feel.

I know this is my issue. Both Susan and Carla would be shocked and perhaps even a little confused by my feelings. And of course I would never say anything because even I feel a little silly feeling the way that I do. After all, this isn’t middle school, we are three grown women and there’s room in this friendship for all of us. Logically, I know that. Emotionally, well, that’s a different story.

The funny thing is, and I’ve done this each and every time, once the match is made I tend to drift away. No one asks me to leave the group, I just find myself disengaging bit by bit. I’m sure it’s some defense mechanism as in, “I’ll leave them before they leave me.”

The problem with being the drifter is that I end up being the loser. I’m the one left out. Of course, I’ve convinced myself that they have left me out but at least in the case with Susan and Carla, I don’t think that’s really the case.

Someone suggested, that bringing Susan and Carla together should make me feel good. After all, it’s not everyone who has such a gift, such a talent, such a skill. It’s not everyone who can make such a perfect match.

Yeah, it’s a good thing. And I’m a mature woman now; I can handle this.

So why do I still feel like the old Jewish grandmother, the one who will just sit in the dark so I shouldn’t bother anyone?

Why I stayed and why I left

I was 16 and he was the first boy to ever show any real interest in me. I was flattered and excited. Even though we were in the same high school and had a class or two together, we never really talked much until the night of a mutual friend’s sweet sixteesundress-336590_1280n party.

The party was held at a local hall that hosted weddings and proms. My mom had taken me shopping for a dress and I found a wonderful red velour dress that made me feel special. We couldn’t believe our luck when we noticed the price tag, $9.99, which was a bargain even in the 70s.

It didn’t take long for him to approach me. He complimented me and told me how pretty I looked. After that, nothing else really mattered because it was the first time a guy other than my dad had said that to me.

We starting dating the following Monday.

At first, it was fun. We met between classes and held hands in the hall.  He lived in the neighborhood behind the school so sometimes I’d go home with him to hang out. His family was nice; his dad was a cop and his mom was a homemaker. He had two younger brothers, the middle one was a bit of pain but the younger one was sweet.

He had recently turned 16 and had his own car. We went to the movies and to dinner, it was perfect.

And then things began to change.

He started saying and doing things that seemed out of character. He was a bit more emotional about school, friends and us. He was becoming more possessive of my time and more critical of my friends.

We were beginning to look into colleges and he was adamant that we go to the same school. The only problem was that I was looking at schools in upstate New York and he was planning on staying home – he wanted to be a cop just like his dad.

One afternoon, we were in his basement hanging out and I said something that upset him. I think it had something to do with going away to school but I can’t remember. What I do remember is what happened next.

He began to cry and hit himself with his fist. He then got up and banged his head on the pole in the basement. He walked over to a table across the room, picked up a baseball mitt and threw it in my direction.

I was stunned. I did everything I could to calm him down. The only thing that worked was promising him that I would consider staying home for college.

Over the next several months, he became more possessive and more adamant about me staying home for college.

When I got a job at the local mall he yelled that it would ruin everything because it would take time away from us. I told him that I wouldn’t let that happen and we continued to date.

I knew my parents weren’t thrilled that we were dating but, generally, they kept quiet about their opinion about him.

Finally, after about a year of dating, I had had enough. I had lost contact with my friends and I knew that I wanted to go away to college so I broke it off with him.

He was at my house and I told him that I didn’t think we should see each other anymore. He got angry, stood up and yelled at me and called me names. I left the room and told my mom that I needed her help.

Together, we tried to calm him down all the while moving him towards the door. After he left, we both knew that we had dodged a bullet because if  my dad had been home chances are someone would’ve ended up in jail and most likely it would’ve been my dad.

A few days later, we were taking the SAT exam. He approached me after the test and asked if we could talk. I’m not sure why I agreed to follow him but we went behind the gym for some privacy.

He asked me why I had broken up with him. When I told him that I thought we had different goals, he looked at me, smirked and spit in my face.

That was the last time I ever spoke to him.

My 16-year-old boyfriend never physically abused me – most of the time he physically abused himself. But there was abuse – emotional abuse. And who knows if that would’ve escalated.

Despite this experience, I’ve never considered myself a victim or survivor of domestic abuse. I usually don’t think of it much at all. Until the Ray and Janay Rice story made the news and people started asking the question, “Why do women stay.”

So I’ve asked myself, why did I stay with him as long as I did and, at the age of 16, how did I have the fortitude to leave.

I stayed because I was 16. Because I wanted a boyfriend and because I thought I could help him.

I left because I could.

Because I had the support of my friends and family.

But most importantly because I had the confidence to believe in me.

Hopefully, the publicity that has come from the Ray Rice situation will help others believe in themselves too.

My husband is a sports FAN-atic

1914163_1244356875250_1984476_nIt was his reaction to a 73-yard Hail Mary pass that made me wonder if he was truly the one for me. Crushed that his team had lost in the last six seconds of the game. Speechless that they had let the win slip from their hands. Outraged by their incompetence, my then boyfriend lapsed into a sports-hazed coma and sulked like a 5-year-old who had just been denied some candy.

But I married him anyway

In the beginning, I went with him every Sunday to the sports bar because he’s a Packer fan living in the South so seeing the games takes a little extra effort.  I wore a team jersey and celebrated with a high five and a smooch every time the team scored. What can I say, we were newlyweds and in love. At the time, I appreciated his passion for the game and thought it was sweet that he showed so much loyalty and support for his team.

And then we had a baby and everything changed, at least for me.

Sunday at the sports bar was no longer an option with an infant so we sprung for a satellite hookup and invested in the NFL package. Every game, every week delivered right to the comfort of our own living room. It was pricey but it was a sound financial investment and it guaranteed that daddy would be home every weekend to help change some diapers, at least during halftime.

Now, after close to 20 years of marriage, very little has changed.

Every Sunday during football season it’s the same thing. It starts with the selection of the team jersey or t-shirt, which is ceremoniously replaced by a shirt with better mojo whenever the team is struggling and needs some extra help. The other spare jerseys hang from the banister and Styrofoam cheese and Title town towels decorate the mantle. Our teenage son is sent back to his room to change when he undoubtedly comes downstairs sporting the colors of the opposing team, just to get a rise out of his dad because that’s what teenagers do.

An hour before kick-off, with his computer perched on his lap, he clicks to various websites combing articles for team updates and injury reports. He then gets his lucky Packer beer mug and puts his trigger finger to work on the remote toggling between pre-game shows watching to see who of the various prognosticators will “get it right” this week by picking the Pack to win. Of course, the others are dismissed as idiots who don’t know anything about football.

It has become quite the production and one that is well known in our circle of friends and family. They know, not to call during the Packer game. And should the Packers lose, our friends know that they probably won’t hear from him for a few days while he regroups, licks his wounds and reads every post-game article as if he was studying for his master’s.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy sports and I get the whole cheering your team on to victory thing. I’ve even become a Packer fan myself. But my darling husband tends to take it to an extreme. And his, well, let’s just call it enthusiasm, is legendary.

During the game, if isn’t going well, the offers from friends, near and far, start flooding my Facebook wall letting me know of a spare bedroom I can use, just in case I need to escape.

And no matter what happens each week and each season, he remains steadfast in his loyalty and support for the Pack. It’s a relationship that I have not only come to admire but appreciate. Because his passion, loyalty and unwavering support, albeit oddly directed towards a bunch of men who don’t even know that he exists, says a great deal about this man that I married.

Because he is a man who is a loyal and supportive husband, father and friend who stands by us no matter how many times we fumble. He always expects the best and cheers us on even when things look bleak.

Just don’t let him catch you wearing a Vikings or Bears jersey, especially on Sunday.

This column was originally published in Cobb Life Magazine September 2014 issue – click here for the digital version of the magazine (page 82)

My love/hate relationship with top 10 lists

shareasimageScroll down to the bottom for my list of Top 10 things only women understand

I’m a big fan of lists.

At work, I have a “To Do” list. It’s supposed to keep me on track, making sure I stay on top of projects and get things in on time but it usually becomes more of a “Put This Off Until Someone Asks You For It” list.

I also have a “Honey Do” list at home. But he’s not the handiest of honeys and so that list just becomes the “Crap We Need to Pay Someone To Do” list.

So, I’m on record as pro lists.

But lately I have become a bit overwhelmed by the proliferation of lists on the internet. Almost every article has some number theme such as:

  • The Top 10 Reasons to Be a Librarian
  • 5 Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth
  • Top 10 Ways of Getting Arrested

And the list goes on and on.

I realize that this isn’t anything new, magazines have been masters of lists for years plastering their covers with top five or ten lists of reasons, how to’s and whys. I get it, lists sell. They are quick, fun, sometimes even informative.

Yet, I have developed an irrational love/hate relationship with these list articles.

Irrational because I can give you a list (I know) of reasons why I actually love them.

  1. Some writers are brilliant and can make lists very funny and enjoyable to read.
  2. Others have a knack for providing valuable information that are digestible in bite-sized pieces, which is very convenient.
  3. I’ve already established my own affinity for lists.

Yet, I can’t really give you one, let alone a top 10, list of reasons these articles annoy me.

I’m sure someone funnier, more creative, or more prolific will probably come up with some fabulous top 10 list of reasons why lists are so annoying. If so, I tip my hat to you.

But for now, I will leave you with this simple David Letterman-type list that I wrote many, many years ago.

It was a one-hit wonder, my 15-minutes of fame of being a “published author.” I submitted it to a magazine, which I’m not even sure is still around. It was accepted but sadly ran without any byline.

Hopefully, I’m not breaking any copyright laws (not that I remember signing anything) by sharing it on my blog.

10 Things that Only Women Understand

  • Spending $35 on cosmetics you don’t need just to get the free gift.
  • The joy of spotting cellulite on a younger, thinner woman
  • The difference five pounds can have on your life
  • Why you can always “use” the restroom even if you didn’t feel the “need”
  • The rationale behind chocolate chip cookies and a Diet Coke
  • The sense of accomplishment that comes from a clean refrigerator, clean toilets, clean clothes, a stocked pantry and a full gas tank
  • Decorative pillows and baskets – lots and lots
  • Cleaning the house the night before the cleaning people show up
  • The joy of finding a “skinny” mirror
  • The importance of knowing the difference between charcoal grey, barely black and black

 

My husband is not my soul mate

photo_16274_20100115Several years ago, a friend of mine was going through a rough patch in her marriage and asked me if I believed in soul mates and if so, did I consider my husband to be my soul mate.

At the time I was married about five years and gave her what I thought was a truly enlightened answer. I told her that I didn’t believe that we have one soul mate in our lives. I believe that we have many soul mates.

And yes, I believe that my husband is one of my soul mates.

Well, that was almost 15 years, one child, and at least four or five jobs ago.

So now, after close to 20 years with my prince charming, I wonder, does he still fit the bill? Is my husband my soul mate?

I mean, really, wouldn’t my soul mate intuitively know that my vision of cleaning the kitchen includes wiping the counters?

So I thought about it and did a quick search online and found that there’s a lot  on the subject. I found “10 Traits of Your Ideal Soul Mate,” “How to Know When You’ve Found Your Soul Mate,” and lots of quizzes including “What Candy is Your Soulmate?” (mine was a Mars bar, chocolate and caramel there’s a surprise).

And of course there are the definitions, most of which romanticize the idea of soul mates like this one from Dictionary.com

“Your soulmate understands and connects with you in every way and on every level, which brings a sense of peace, calmness and happiness when you are around them. And when you are not around them, you are all that much more aware of the harshness of life, and how bonding with another person in this way is the most significant and satisfying thing you will experience in your lifetime.”

Seriously? If this defines your relationship then more power to you but I don’t think it’s a sense of peace, calm or happiness that I feel at three in the morning when I get woken up from a sound sleep because my soul mate is conducting a symphony of teeth grinding and snoring.

Don’t get me wrong, I like romance. I’ve watched the movies and read the books. I too had visions that one day a man would walk through my door and say, “You complete me.”

And I do love my husband, we have a wonderful life together and he is very supportive. But does he complete me? Do we connect in every way and on every level? The honest answer is no.

But what if a soul mate is something entirely different? What if your soul mate is not the person who brings you peace and calm or the person who completes you.

What if your soul mate is someone who makes life more difficult by challenging you to see the things about yourself that you didn’t want to see.

Would that be someone with whom you’d want to share your life?

Take a look at something else my search turned up, a quote from author Elizabeth Gilbert:

“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back…A true soul mate… tear(s)  down your walls and smacks you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave.”

Yikes, why would you want someone like that in your life? Someone who exposes my insecurities, who tears me down, who makes me look at my imperfections?

Hell, if my husband did that he’d be out on the street.

So, no thank you. I don’t need my husband to be my soul mate.

I’m perfectly happy believing him when he tells me that my outfit doesn’t make me look fat and that he really does like my singing.

Because it’s those little white lies that we tell each other that bind us together. The ones that pump us up rather than tear us down.

It’s being there for each other, through thick and thin, good times and bad that really matters.

Because after all, what’s a few crumbs on the counter?

 

*photo credit: Karen Pagayon

I shop at Chico’s and I’m not afraid to admit it

Last weekend, I took my son and mother to the nearby outlet mall for a little back-to-school shopping – yes I know it’s ridiculous to think about school in the middle of the summer, welcome to Georgia.

My role began as chauffeur, banker and fashion consultant for my 15 year-old son. That was until I dared to question one of his fashion choices and was ceremoniously fired.

So I joined my mom, who was really just along for the ride, for bit of retail therapy. I wasn’t planning on buying anything. I mostly went into the store with her to put some space between the teen fashion plate and me.

But there were signs everywhere screaming at me, “40% off the entire store” and, in fine print, “including sale items.” It was just too much to ignore.

I saw a pair of pants and top that I liked. I tried it on and fell in love. I did a quick calculation in my head and decided that with the extra 40% off they were practically paying me.

I made my way to the cashier, handed her my credit card and smiled when she complimented my selection. I watched as she carefully folded and wrapped each item in tissue paper and placed them neatly in the bag.

As I walked out of the store, despite how flattering and incredibly comfortable the clothes were, I knew with that single purchase, that I had finally jumped the shark — I was a Chico’s shopper.photo 1 copy

And it wasn’t just any outfit. I bought a pair of elastic waist, stretch crepe black pants with a print tunic that covers the area I still blame on the C-section that brought young Mr. GQ into this world 15 years ago.

What could possibly be next? Buying shoes from Naturalizer? (Too late, I did that a few years ago. But honestly, they have really upped their game since my grandma shopped there for shoes to accommodate her bunions).

I know what you’re saying, “You’re young, just because you’re turning 51 doesn’t mean you have to shop in ‘those’ stores.”

You’re right. And I’d be lying if I told you that I loved everything in Chico’s – some of it actually scares me.

At the same time, when I turned 50 last year I was expecting to have some great epiphany. I expected to wake up with a newfound level of confidence. One that would allow me to shed the insecurities of my younger self. After all, wasn’t 50 the year that allowed you to stand up and tell the world, I don’t give a rats ass.

But it never happened. I never felt any different. It seemed I was still carrying around the same insecurities that I had when I was 20 and 30.

It wasn’t until I put on those elastic waist pants that I finally felt comfortable in more ways then one.

I tried on the outfit again when I got home. When I looked in the mirror I saw a confident woman staring back at me. The kind of woman who knew that she looked good.

The next day I wore my new ensemble to work.

On the way, I stopped at Starbuck’s for my grande, nonfat, latte with one Sweet’N Low.

As I scanned my Starbuck’s app to pay for my drink, the cute 20 something barista behind the counter smiled at me and said, “I love your top, that’s a really cute outfit.”

“Thanks,” I said with a smile. “I got it at Chico’s

I forgot my son’s first word and lied about it…so sue me

First, let me say that I love my son. He has brought more joy to my life than I could ever have imagined.

Good, now that we have that straight, I must confess.

I don’t actually remember all of my son’s firsts. Nor do I have video documentation or an alphabetized library of scrapbooks as proof that my son did indeed take his first step or speak his first word. But, I can promise you that my now 15-year-old son is a walking, talking teen who can string sentences together and walk from place to place all by himself.

I know you’re thinking, he’s probably that forgotten middle child or one of 19 who just got lost in the mix.

Nope, my son is an only child.

*GASP*

Come on, admit it. When I said he was an only child you judged me, even if it was just a little bit.

I understand, because not only have I judged myself but just the other day my son became judge and jury when he asked me, for the umpteenth time, what his first word was and when did he take his first step.

I gave him the same answer I’ve been giving him for years. Your first word was “mama” and you began walking at 13 months. I’m not sure if he keeps asking because he never truly believed me or if he’s hoping for a different response. But there was something in the way I answered this time that made him question me.

“Are you sure,” he asked as if he were a detective trying to solve a case.

“Of course,” I said, avoiding eye contact and with as much conviction as I could muster.

“Really?” he replied, giving me another chance to redeem myself.

Don’t ask me why, probably mother’s guilt, but instead of sticking to my story, I looked at my grown baby boy and said.

“Perhaps your first word was dada but I’m sure that you started walking around 13 months.”

“Perhaps? Around? Are you kidding me? You’re a terrible mom, how could you forget my firsts?” He asked in the same exacerbated tone I’ve used with him a hundred times before.

I attempted to defend myself but realized he had me. And I knew that this would probably be the thing that would send him to therapy at the age of 30 – blame the mother, they always blame the mother.

Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that while the information was of interest to him, what he really wanted was the story behind his first words and his first step. And I wanted to share that with him the same way I had shared so many other stories with him about the cute things he had done or said as a little kid.

These stories, the ones about his own childhood, and the others that my mother, my husband and I share with him about all of our crazy family members, are his stories and his history.

Many of the stories are pretty funny whether we’re sharing embarrassing situations from our own childhood or telling him about the silly and crazy things his grandfather did when he was a kid. They are stories that make him laugh and allow him to connect with relatives that he knows, hasn’t met or who passed before he was born.

But each of these stories also provide him with another piece of the puzzle that together provide a more complete picture of who he is and where he came from.

And while I may not be able to offer him a collection of beautifully crafted, Martha Stewart-esque scrapbooks or a Hollywood style video of his early years (or really any years), I can share with him the boxes of loose photos and the memories they conjure up. I can share with him the stories of my own childhood and those of other family members that have been passed down to me that make me laugh, think or reflect on who I am and where I come from.

But most of all, by telling him that teeny, tiny little white lie about his first word and his first step, I have given him a precious gift. I have given him a story of his own to tell his children…

“You think you have it bad….did I ever tell you the story about how your crazy grandmother couldn’t remember my first words and then lied to me about it?”