life lessons, motherhood

TO MOTHERS DAY

I was raised with lots of expectations leading me to a lifetime of feelings of not good enough over my lifetime. Expectations are a double edged sword. We set them and expect. We expect certain behaviors, we expect performance, we even expect people to show up and act like they should act based on our own set of standards and values. In a work environment, this is standard practice and is a necessary piece of the puzzle we call careers. In our families, though, at times, expectations can also have layers of guilt attached and this is when they can turn into something other than what was originally intended.

In my family, when I was a kid, there was always an expectation of being good. What does this even mean? We use this one liner well into our adult lives when we say things like, “I’ve been good,” as it relates to avoiding the enjoyment of a nice big bowl of ice cream when we rationalize the stop on a warm summer day. “I’ve been good,” we say when we have decided to stop doing something that could interrupt us mentally or physically like going to the gym, abstaining from the nightly routine of a big glass of red after a long hard day at the office or making a big purchase when trying to say on a strict budget.

I’ve been good is a phrase so easily tossed around when our brains need to change some behavior that may have otherwise been helpful to our beings and we need a rationale for the change. At least this is me and my patterns. It is all too easy to blame this belief system on how I was raised, but the truth of the matter is, expectations are set so we have something to reach. At times they may seem unobtainable but we keep trying to climb anyway. We fall off the horse and we either walk away or we get back on and try again. Sometimes the very expectations that are set are subtle. In my memory much of our experiences are subjective when we look back. Two siblings can live under the same roof and have two completely opposing memories of one experience. I linked an interesting podcast below on the subject of memory from Malcolm Gladwell that will surely question your own memories.

When it came to birthdays and Mother’s Day, I was expected, as many of us were, to give at least a card and as I got older send one in a timely manner. This seems reasonable on paper, but for me, because there was an unwritten code that this was something I was supposed to do, often I would forget or be late in getting the card in the mail. This would cause hurt feelings, causing me to feel like a failure as a daughter, guilty as charged for missing the boat, lacking thoughtfulness and consideration for the person who gave birth to me.

I could never seem to get it right. Mother’s Day is always on a Sunday and if I mailed the card on a Monday, it would surely arrive in time. But Monday seemed to early, so Tuesday or Wednesday would be my target date so the card would arrive in perfect timing for Sunday. But I wanted the card to arrive on Saturday because for some reason earlier than that seemed contrived. At least in my monkey brain of aiming for perfection and then finding myself forgetting to mail the card completely until it was too late thus arriving after Mother’s Day defeating the whole holiday all together.

Clearly there was more to the simple act of sending a card here, years of expectations all fully present in all of this thinking. As easy as it sounds to get birthdays and Mother’s Day right, one slip up and you get it wrong and two people end up feeling bad defeating the purpose. Perhaps if my relationship with my mother hadn’t been so tumultuous over the years, these issues would be non existent. I never forget my son’s birthday or anyone I am deeply connected with. Ironically, this entire problem was solved when my mother stopped talking to me and in some ways it was freedom from the pressure of not getting it right.

The true irony though is not sending my mother a Mother’s Day card when she wasn’t speaking to me became almost painful. So at year two, I sent her a blank one that I had hand written simply, “You are still my mother,” and sent it on its way. In all of the years of those silent thunderous expectations, this card was probably the best Mother’s Day card I had sent. Because it was my own thoughts and heart that sent it, not Hallmark’s, and not my mother’s. Mine. My decision, my kindness.

When I had my own child, I made a decision to not set the barre for any of this nonsense. If my son made me a card, sent me a card, wrote a few lines with a stubby pencil on a piece of scrap paper, simply said Happy Mother’s Day or none of the above, this one day did not summarize his lack of love and adoration for me. I would not allow one day of the year to dictate the other three hundred and sixty four. The feelings of guilt in not getting it right and my own mother’s hurt expressions over the years would not be something I would put on my son. Ever. And I think because of this deliberate act, I have been the recipient of lovely handwritten stubby penciled notes over the years that have more meaning than any five dollar sappy card. As a result I have had lots of lovely Mother’s Days and I enjoy them so much because I know that when if time comes when my son could get married and have children, these Mother’s Days will have a shift for sure. So they are precious and appreciated.

I write this today so that we can remember that days like Mother’s Days are not about professing a years worth of maternal adorations for all of our hard work. If your child forgets to do something special, or not as special as you would have liked, could it be possible to just allow this and use the day to remember how lucky we are that we actually have children? Maybe we could choose to not say anything, not show hurt or disappointment but to just show gratitude for the day.

Every single day is special and as my own son gets older, I am more in tune with the privilege of having a healthy child who is still alive and well, who has made it this far so far. This is the best Mother’s Day gift I could ask for. Keeping this in perspective is the lesson from my mother over the years that I have learned the hard way, but my son gets to reap the rewards from.

one of the many lovely Mother’s Days out for a walk with my boy.

Happiest of Mother’s Day to all of you who get to wake up to your child tomorrow. There are so many moms who don’t. Lets try to remember this as we lie hoping for the breakfast in bed or the call that may not come at exactly the time you wanted or at all. As my grandmother used to quote frequently, “Those who hath no expectations shan’t be disappointed.” Easier said than done, but perhaps just relishing in the day and using it as an excuse for breaking your own rules, going out for your own ice cream sundae or a walk alone in the park listening to the birds and celebrating your own goodness as a mother. Enjoy the glorious day and cherish the little people we have raised. This is something to celebrate for sure.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/free-brian-williams/id1119389968?i=1000413184954
family, life lessons, Uncategorized

THIS IS YOUR LIFE

“Grandpa, didn’t Grandma have a shortened version of a Seder that she wrote?’ I asked him a few days ago. Passover is by far my most favorite Jewish holiday. Jewish families all over the world share the story of Moses (and Miriam for those of us who like to add some female power to the night) leading the Jews out of Egypt into The Promised Land. We eat the symbolic foods and have conversations about freedoms, slavery, privilege, humanity and so much more over a delicious feast all under the full moon.

Passover is one of those transformative holidays that usually gives me some type of spiritual ahha moment and I always wake up with a more grounded sense of myself the next day. What I enjoy about Passover is that is it more than just Let’s Eat, it is a ritual, a tradition and a retelling of the story of a liberation.

The Seder is community and pausing with family and friends. It is celebratory and hopeful and it goes on worldwide with each family adding their own twists and turns. This is how I remembered that my grandmother had made her own service to condense it for the many friends my grandparents have had over the years to make it more personal, more meaningful. And shorter. Because traditional Seders can be many hours long before dinner and this is a recipe in this short attention span life we lead for invitation turn downs at some point. Being in the Reformed Judaism category, I take some bold liberties in making sure that the Seder is both interesting and concise so when my Grandfather suggested that I take a look in my grandmother’s computer, I bolted into her old office.

My grandmother passed away almost six years ago, but yet her computer is still going strong. As I made my way into her office I noticed some vestiges of her still lingering, like the abundance of scratch paper and address labels, you know those free ones you get as a bait to make a donation to whatever charity thinks sending free address labels will get you to do this. But it is her Mac that most reminds me of her presence. Isabelle had a Mac before people were really buying Macs. She was always on the hip side.

I opened up her computer and went to her file labeled “Isabelle” thinking that so much of ourselves, who we are, how we think show up in what is stored and how it is filed. I was also struck by the notion that all may have been lost if I hadn’t been lucky enough to remember to ask about the Seder, too.

As I went through the treasure trove of files, I saw all of the writings I had sent her in my earlier years of writing that she had saved. She too was an avid writer, albeit a closet one, and I quickly discovered every trip she had gone on with the date, her itinerary and even the tour guide’s name. My grandmother not only recorded the sights and sounds of their trips, but she did it all in rhyme and I was quickly transported to China shortly after the cultural revolution. I time traveled to Africa, Tibuktu among some of the points they traveled to in the seventies. There were her trips to Israel right along with the one they took me on in 1977, too.

While their friends were headed to the Carribean and The Grand Canyon for pleasure, my grandparents were off on wild adventures to learn about the world. Because I was the oldest grandchild and lived nearby, their influence on my ability to look at the world differently was significant. I was able to read about her joys in traveling with the love of her life and was reminded of how hip she was. Then like magic, like she had directed me to this very moment herself, I found her Seder outline and printed it, happy to have found her words to share.

Since my grandfather’s stroke almost five years ago, he hasn’t gone out much and certainly hasn’t had any Passover celebrations at his house. I had decided to come down to Florida this year to have a Passover Seder with my grandfather instead of the usual Seder with my lovely son and our circle of friends back home. so that he could participate in one at his 101st year. As I have mentioned in many writings, we never know if this one will be his last one, the odds shorten each year and my pragmatism abounds.

I set up the formal dining room instead of the usual breakfast area in the kitchen and took out the good china, all of the candlesticks, and the cloth napkins. This is the joy of a holiday. The excuse to make something a little more special than just another day. Flowers on the table, special wine glasses, the old china serving dishes that I will never know their origins of. I just know they are old and were saved for special occasions. I used as many as I had food to fill them. And I printed all of her itineraries right down to her memories of her marriage to my grandfather in August 1942. It was here I got to spend some time with her in her recollections of their beginnings, the draft, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and her young life. So right before dessert, I pulled out the story and announced, Herb, this is your life and began reading it as the story it was.

Passover is the story of Exodus, the Jewish plight, the enslavement of people, but also of our own prisons we put ourselves in by our thinking. My grandmother’s writings reminded me that she did not take her own personal freedoms lightly. She lived her life to the fullest, and after re-reading her own writings, I was clearly reminded of why I live the life I do. Even though many of the people I adore were not physically at this year’s Seder either because of proximity or because they have left us, having this Passover with my Grandfather felt like everyone was there at our table. Liberation in our own way, connecting generations on this one special holiday I got to celebrate my fifty fourth year with a most cherished father figure, Herb Horowitz, my shining example that life is what you make of it.

self improvement, self love

IN THE MOMENT

I woke up at four am this past Monday morning and lounged in bed for what seemed like two hours only to discover that just thirty minutes had passed. Every day this week four am has been an unintended alarm so I indulge its inner ring and get up. Why not, may as well enjoy the quiet sound of the morning.

I put the coffee on and grabbed my pillow lowering myself to the floor for another round of While the Coffee Perks Meditation acknowledging myself with a brief mental clap for sticking with this practice. I started this over four months ago and have barely missed a day. The rewards from this are countless and though hard to define them with words, I am a much calmer and focused soul because of this. It makes me feel good and I want to feel good so I march forth.

As I sat cross legged on the floor and began breathing, the sounds of the rain storm and wind surrounded me. I haven’t heard a good thunderstorm in a while so when the electrifying bolts of lightning came along with the thunderous booms I breathed them in. How often does one get to be meditating and at the first breath in have thunder and lightning join you in the party? Wake up! They yelled. And I welcomed the reminder to pay attention. I am. More now than ever.

And it is a conscious daily choice I make to pay attention. In the luscious moment that is right now. Not tomorrow, not yesterday, but right now because really this is all any of us have. The older I get the more I realize that RIGHT NOW is all we ever have. We take time and tomorrow and next week and next month for granted. Or at least I have, all ingredients for fretting and worrying and anxious thinking that doesn’t serve me and my creative self well -ever. I am confident that many reading this today would agree, it seems like this is just one of our traits of being human. When I reflect back on anything in my past that I excessively worried about- like actually lost sleep over- it is virtually insignificant today. As I review these temporary struggles of yester year I realize the value in their lessons in the countless hours I wasted.

Finishing my deep contemplative breathing that is now part of my morning routine, I got myself set up on the couch for my other morning ritual, writing. Trying not to be persuaded by the calls of checking Facebook and email, I dive into my happy place that always keeps me locked into the NOW. I start thinking about the moments this past week that I lived in the actual moment. I am fully aware of the irony of this as living in the actual moment means not headed backwards, but for the purpose of drawing the examples to illustrate when IN THE MOMENT works for me, I must head there.

This past #noplanthursday, I am attempting to add to my list of IN THE MOMENT moments, has been an interesting experiment. Three Thursdays later, I have learned that I struggle with not making plans on purpose. I had to return books that I took out at my new favorite spot I discovered on my first attempt three Thursdays ago. The Redwood Library in Newport, RI founded in 1747 with this as part of its mission statement. Nothing in View but the Good of Mankind. Has an old fashioned ring to it, doesn’t it? This library isn’t just any old library, it is a subscription library and the oldest community library still occupying its original building in the United States. You need to have a separate library card for it and must sign up as a member which I promptly did. The Redwood Library is a magical space to sit and do nothing except read or write or sit and stare in silence. There are lectures and music events as well as special exhibits and I was lucky enough to catch one on Claggett Clocks. This may sound like a big yawner to some, but honestly, imagine walking into a dimly lit room with over forty grandfather style clocks made from as early as 1716, many working and ticking and gonging just as the noon hour hit. This is the thing about not planning anything and finding something without looking. Juicy for sure.

I have this list in my head of the places I have said I am going to get to. Like so many women I know who say, I’ve been meaning to get there, the museums, the walking trails, the kayak trips, the flower shows and the exhibits. Those endless lists of interesting things to do, but somehow the endless lists in our head prevail and the days go on as do the exhibits. What better days than getting to these then on these no plan Thursdays?

I walked there from my partner’s house to return the books after having lots of mindpseak trying to convince myself I didn’t need to leave the comfortable couch with my laptop. What is it about that mind speak saying NO instead of YES? Thankfully, though, the books I took out had to be returned on this very day so I had to get up and go. Books in hand, I made my way outside to a glorious day of sunshine and cool breeze, the ocean at my back and the sounds of nature as my private symphony. It was amazing how quickly I moved from the lists to the moment as soon as the first bird chirped at me.

The smooth and vibrant siren sound of the cardinal rewarded me on my walk. As they always do, causing me to look up and look for him. And her. Vibrant sharp shrills calling me, walking with me, following me the entire way to and from. Making me stop in my tracks with my two books in my arms and look up in search for their beauty. And there they were. Again and again. I was reminded of how happy I am to recognize their sounds so easily and to look up searching for them, eyes trying to follow their calls until they land on that familiar bright red spot in the bare oaks and maples with barely a bud on their branches in this early April. Rewarded by my simple walk to The Redwood Library on a beautiful afternoon just because I “forced” myself to follow my plan of wandering.

Our lives have come to the need to actually schedule a day of not planning and in this itself is actually a plan, but be that as it may, this no plan plan is important for this busy active chick. Cardinals, nature, books, writing and maybe topped off with a dish of Peppermint Stick ice cream reminding me again that the moment, this moment is the very best vacation spot.

Health, self love, Women

NOT DRINKING (TODAY)

We drinking chicks love our wine and our cocktails. We love our rituals of choosing the perfect bottle of Proseco knowing that the front porch on a warm summer eve calls us at 5pm for that first sip of sparking delight. What is it about that first sip, the tiny sparkly bubbles headed from your tongue to your throat that automatically cause a big happy sigh? Or a robust red on a cold winter night after a long day sitting by fire recapping the events from work or life with your partner?

For so many women I know, drinking and its box of rituals have been the norm. We talk about it, we plan around it , we gather together to imbibe with it. Cocktails take the edge off. Off of what? I don’t know because in my circle of acquaintances for the most part, the edge we speak of is life coming at us. Besides the inevitable twists and turns that make up what life is, our edges our pretty mild.

We, of course, have our struggles, but no one said life was supposed to be anything less. Struggles are what make us rebound, strengthen and stand taller. No one wants them, but for a majority of the pain give or take extreme situations, we usually can look back and say the struggle was worth it. With the exception of losing a child, or a person in your life who is far too young to die there aren’t extremes in the world I get to live that causes a pain so deep one can’t climb the mountain. But this is me. And most of my friends. We were raised resilient and we power on.

I have had my share of struggles and have had my share of wine. I have quit drinking on more than one occasion and one time I quit for a full seven years. This was one of my proudest accomplishments because it wiped all of the cobwebs from my foggy brain that I didn’t know what foggy and allowed me to think clearly about my future. Drinking puts a (pun intended) cork in the ability for me to flourish and make serious decisions. Drinking alcohol allows me to put off those decisions, keeping them at bay and removing the emotions that sometimes have to come with those decisions. But none of this is even in my radar at the time. I only have this wisdom when I cease and desist.

I was walking along looking for somebody, and then suddenly I wasn’t anymore. – Winnie the Pooh

You know when you have a plugged drain? But before it gets to the point when you have to call the plumber, you see that the water is taking more time to leave the sink and go down the drain? You let that happen for a few weeks hoping that it will miraculously just go down with a few plunges or some Draino. But we all know that this is highly unlikely. At some point the problem of the clogged drain will need to be solved or else you simply will not be able to use the sink. The residues of toothpaste and face cleanser will leave a circle of film in your sink and the need to clean it will become an almost daily grind because you didn’t take care of the clog when you first noticed it.

This is what drinking is like for me. I come from a family of alcoholics as so many of us do because drinking is just so much damn fun. It is so much easier to pour a glass of gorgeous Brunello instead of sitting on a mat and meditating. Life is short, right? Enjoy the wine. Fuck all these self imposed rules and regulations, right? Just eat the cookie and drink the frickin wine, right? Well not so fast, though I have a lot of friends who can just have one glass of wine and sip it slowly, this is not my gig. I wish it were. My grandfather has two glasses of red every single night at five pm. Without fail. And he is 101. Some people can just have the wine and call it a day. For me, I have the wine and I want more wine. Then the next day I want it again. And the ritual turns into a self talk garble and each day I get foggier and less clear about my purpose. The cobwebs re-enter at a slow barely noticeable pace until one day a few weeks in, I just don’t feel good. I feel imbalanced and emotionally unsteady. I find myself questioning my core. I never do this when I am not drinking alcohol. So I decided the day after my son’s 21st birthday, that I would apply the one day at a time mantra to giving up drinking today. My friends say, “are you drinking or not drinking?” Instead of the black and white yes or no, locking me into the corner,  I say instead, “I am not drinking today.”

Because this is true. Today is all I know. And what I know is that when I don’t drink alcohol I feel a sense of inner power and direction that allows me to get the creative juice ideas headed in the right direction at the speed of light. With no detours and dead ends. I feel good, great, better when I don’t drink. So I am not drinking today. And as life comes at me and the universe tells its story to me the way it is supposed to I come across the article yesterday about this “movement,” this new “thing” called elective sobriety because God forbid everything doesn’t have a branding possibility. Women are consciously not drinking alcohol and cutesy names are popping up all over the place. Mocktails. Soberinstagram. Sobercurious hashtags and websites and pop up gatherings are apparently now a trend. Because in our world we live in, everything seems to need to be something. But in this case, I wholeheartedly agree. Why do we feel the need to escape from our luscious brilliant selves? As Glinda the Good Witch said, “You’ve always had the power, my dear.”

The more we connect with our own true selves and learn who those selves really are, we march forth rather than stay stuck. Sometimes staying is stuck is necessary as it is part of the discovery process, but drinking for me keeps me there. Keeps my foot in the quicksand and the other foot trying to run ahead.

So for today anyway, I make my own mocktails, drink my hot tea by the fire and figure out ways to enjoy the festivities of holidays and gatherings without feeling the need to mute the edge. Because when my edge is sharp, it makes cutting a tomato way easier than trying to use a dull blade. I like the sharpness the gift of not drinking gives me. This alone is what makes the day be the next one and the one after that. So for today, I try again because I have always had the power.


This is the article I read that prompted this writing today. Great post. Thank you @Virginia Sole-Smith

https://elemental.medium.com/the-rise-of-elective-sobriety-8989550afbcb

life lessons

WE BELONG TOGETHER


“Weeeee Belong Together!” Ricki Lee Jones belted out from the fancy stereo in my silly yet stunning car I recently leased. I was headed to Connecticut on a very early morning this past week -so early that it was still dark out. The light mist caused me to use the windshield wipers and the defroster because April hasn’t gotten the memo yet that it is in fact Spring, not winter.

This was no game of chicken, you were aiming at your best friend,” she sang slowly to get to that luscious build up to the chorus of “Weeeee Belong Together!” She seemed to be in the seat next to me singing her brilliant prose. I feel like we grew up together as she was always one of my favorite female vocalists all of these years later.

And just like that I was seventeen. Driving in my beloved 63 VW bug, my first car purchase. Eighteen hundred dollars and I bought it without even test driving it. No parent along with me to help me with my purchase or to even guide me in whether it was a good idea to drive to the house of the owners with a pocket full of cash. My two dear friends, John and Andy were my chaperones. I was afraid to drive the car by myself for its first run so I made Andy drive it back for me. And now that I think of it, I don’t even think I asked my father who I was living with, kind of, if I could purchase it. This seems so unbelievable to me now that I reflect back, but that car was an introduction to life for me. So maybe it wasn’t a bad thing that my father who really didn’t have a clue on how to parent anyway wasn’t micromanaging this very helpful life experience.

And just like that, I was propelled back to 1982. My Christian Dior pale pink vintage gloved hands were on the steering wheel in the lightly drizzling nighttime. This time though Ricki Lee Jones was belting out “We Belong Together” from her new album, Pirates, on the cassette player I had installed as any respectable seventeen year old teenager with her first car would have. Pirates was the album after her first one with her famous song, Chuck E.’s in Love.

Windows fogging because for anyone who has a history with any Volkwagon bugs, Halfbacks, Hatchbacks or Vanagaons would know, the heat never worked and if it did it was full throttle on or off, no in between. A defroster would be the little fans you would have to buy at stores like Benny’s to attach to the dashboard hoping this would help you see out of the tiny windshield. I can still hear the puttering bubbling sounds of my beloved 63 Volkswagon driven on a very quiet North Rd in Jamestown, RI headed to my boyfriend’s house in the evening.

And it was one of those moments. One of those magical moments when everything worked. The car, the music, the weather, the smells, the sounds. And my life.

At seventeen for a brief moment in time, there was nothing better than that particular moment and I remember it like it was this moment. A perfect time travel back to that time as I made my way almost forty years later to Connecticut on a rainy Monday morning. I could almost smell it. I don’t know what made that moment so special for me, but the distinct memory of it has always stayed with me comforting me like the soft blanket you had when you were a little girl that you had to have to fall asleep easily.

Music can do this, sensory awareness, sounds, smells, tastes all can make it easy to time travel. As I reflect back on to that evening, I think it was my first experience of completely living in the present moment. Though I didn’t realize this at the time, I am sure that this was what made that particular evening so special to me all of these years later.

Ahhh that often unattainable PRESENT MOMENT we know we are all supposed to be striving for. Right? Oprah says it. Every guest she has on her Super Sunday says it. Deepak Chopra says this, Wayne Dyer used to say it before he left us. Eckhart Tolle says it. Podcasts, blogs everywhere I turn screaming the importance of LIVING IN THE PRESENT! Another task we are supposed to be striving for and improving on and checking off our lists.

What I know for myself to be true is that when I do manage to carve out just a few moments in the day to make an attempt to take on this call, I feel better. Way less anxious, worried, concerned and stressed. Consciously striving for this is no easy task in our busy lives especially as caregivers, business owners, parents and just humans. Living in the present is a practice– not a one and done check it off my list and move on to the next life goal on my quest for perpetual zen status.

Living in the Present is not compartmentalized into some neat little box ‘over there.’

It is about living in the moment while the moment is occurring. Using driving as a metaphor for this since this piece today features my 63 VW Bug, there are those moments in time when I am driving from point a to point b and when I get to my destination I have almost no memory of how I got there. Some call it absent minded driving, I like to call it driving while thinking too much.

When I was married to Dave, he wasn’t much of a talker and I was. I liked talking about feelings and working on improving but this wasn’t his way of marriage. Often times when I wanted to talk about something, he would go quiet and say, “I’m thinking!” And I would sigh with frustration and think “What is there to think about?” If I would bring the conversation up again at a later time, he would say, “Alayne, you think too much.”

This drove me bat shit crazy, but often in hindsight there was some wisdom in this. I do think too much at times though it serves me well many of these times, there are many times it does not. Being present is being here. Being nowhere and NOW HERE. All I know is that as I get older my goal is to feel good. When I am in the moment, I feel good. When I am fretting and worrying about the past and the future both of which I have no control over, I do not feel good and this is not good. For my health, for my mental and physical state. And for my ability to lead my team and be a great mom and a better human, I must choose to feel good as often as possible.

Perhaps this recent trip down memory lane with Ricki Lee in the passenger seat was a reminder of this. Goodness knows that I must be constantly reminded that I have choices in how I think and what I think. We all do. Our minds are powerful allies when we choose to use them for the good they offer.

Today is my second #noplanthursday so I am off to remember that WE BELONG TOGETHER is a great phrase for me and my present self. Together again.

this isn’t my exact car, but it looked almost like this one except mine was way more perfect.

life lessons

A RISING STAR

I started a second career this past month. Well rather an extension of a long glorious career in the business of beauty I get to lovingly call my career. This second endeavor is as a certified business coach for a company called Strategies. I have written a little about this new experience and like anything new, it has my attention. This is no small feat because for the many friends in my inner circle, they could likely attest to my short attention span. I am filled with one hit wonder ideas on a daily basis, lucky if one percent of them come to fruition.

I have a small barn in the back of my house, some people call it a she-shed. My ideas usually find their way into the barn as the centerpiece. Learning to make chocolate babka, I now want every person I know to experience the delight of this on their tongues, my co-conspirator in all barn ideas, Morgan, kindly and patiently rolls her eyes — and says, “Are we opening the Babka Barn?” Macaroni and cheese? Yes. The mac and cheese barn.

Then there is the Breathing Barn because now I am meditating every day so of course everyone needs to have this experience. Let’s move this to the barn! I haven’t even mentioned the typewriters, but of course that would be a perfect fit in the barn along with the writing barn and the art barn and the visionboard barn. See where I am going? Ideas flow at the speed of light in this entrepreneurial brain of mine. God forbid I have an idea and just keep it to myself, taking my own bath in its essence. Why I need to share every single experience with the world is beyond me, but I accept it as one of my personal core drivers. And as my grandfather says often, “Be that as it may.” And so it is. Never ends. One can see why I need to actively attempt a no plan Thursday. And my struggle with this idea too is that I want to make it a thing. I exhaust myself and likely people around me. Who cares though, I seize time like there isn’t any and it will likely be this way till the day I die.

I am taking this new career path as seriously as most people would when they start a new job. Reading the company manual from cover to cover, studying the material I need to inform myself with so I can pass my knowledge to someone needing to improve their business model and systems and going on the private Facebook accounts and making my comments to other like minded business owners. I may be a bit of an out of the box bohemian when it comes to life, but in working for another company, I respect their rules and regs and try to follow their suggestions for full throttle participation. Overachiever? Maybe. But more now that I am a grown up and much less inclined to do it to impress anyone other than my own work ethic and joy I get from this new experience of ‘employee.’ It is a major and joyous paradigm shift and frankly one I have the luxury of really wanting rather than really needing, A nice position to be in for sure.

This learning brings me back, though to the struggle with the overflowing social media and technology I have had for some time so much so that I — pre-Strategies- was on my merry way back to real paper address books and appointment calendars. This went out the window as soon as I had my first training week since everything is technology. Appointment making, scheduling, calendars, webinars, training, group texts, group emails- all technology. So I jumped back in and figured it would be a great addition to my knowledge base and here I am. If you can’t beat them, join them, I suppose. Kind of, but with caution and trepidation this time around. Back on Facebook daily posting questions about business to the thousands of people who are friends in this private group.

This is now a morning habit along with my while the coffee perks meditation and writing habit and I have surprisingly enjoyed this experience. Maybe because it has a beginning and an end. I only allow myself about twenty minutes to post the question and make my comments to others, then I am off Facebook. I didn’t put it back on my phone and this helps me not become addicted to checking the replies, likes, stars, hearts and whatever other symbols Facebook has created to turn humanity into Pavlov’s dogs.

Yesterday when I was making my post for the day, I noticed that I had a star next to my name. I scrolled through the other names and didn’t see any stars next to anyone else’s names. So I clicked on my name to learn that Facebook in all of its wisdom declared me “A RISING STAR.” Some algorithm has decided that my posts and the comments that follow make me worthy of this new symbol. I wasn’t asked if I wanted this next to my name, I guess Facebook just assumes that every user wants outward star recognition. They didn’t seem to think that before their label, I may have already thought I was a star, they also didn’t think that maybe a star next to my name would make me think of other stars next to people that don’t have such a positive vibe, like those yellow stars Jewish people were forced to wear to identify them. Maybe this is a stretch, but I have just read Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris after reading The Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly and yellow stars and labeling are fresh in my mind.

a poignant read

With anti-Semitism on the rise as close as eight miles away in Fall River, Mass the defiling of gravestones with appalling anti-Semitic phrases and symbols, I am thinking that less labeling is probably a better business strategy. Especially for a provocative and bold lovely bad ass Jewish chick like myself. Some people may be rolling their eyes at this assessment of this star next to my name on Facebook, and maybe it is an overreach, but the labeling of people without their consent or choice gives me the willies. Maybe I have watched too much Handmaid’s Tale, or have read too many books to keep what happened to so many Jews, Romas, gay men and women, disabled and anyone else who didn’t look or fit the part declared by a madman. This was less than eighty years ago and there are still people from this time in history who lived through it to talk about it. Less and less which is why I voraciously read and recommend books that take me back there. As sad and painful as it may be from the comfort of my heated house, packed refrigerator, Mercedes in my driveway and safe and comfortable life I lead, I refuse to take this life I lead for granted.

I am struck by the ease of which we have become used to accepting these little types of recognition as normal. And I don’t want to believe that any of these seemingly innocent Facebook recognitions could be laying the groundwork for some sinister plan, but the Holocaust didn’t happen in a blast. It was a slow and steady stream of propaganda and commentary. It was humankind never thinking that a mind could think the way the crazy man with a mustache and hatred in his heart who I refuse to name in my piece today could imagine. Little dribbles of hatred and labeling of anyone who was the OTHER.

So Facebook, Apple, Google, and all of the other big techs out there we have slowly let infiltrate our life, please think about your power and stop trying to tell me who I am and who I should be by labeling me with a star. I already know who I am and I have already risen.

college, Parenting

MORE COLLEGE PERSPECTIVE

“My mother made me take the SAT six times!” my son’s friend, Jake, announced almost four years ago in the back seat of the car I was driving. The backstory of this announcement was that our dear friend Jake was trying to get into Annapolis. His mom is one of the fiercest mama’s I know and if this was his goal, she was going to help make it happen. 

Getting into Annapolis is no joke. It is a huge accomplishment and with a lot of hard work, perseverance and incredible help (it takes a village for sure), Jake achieved his dream and is about to finish his second year. This is one instance where I don’t roll my eyes at the notion of a SAT repeat, repeat, repeat, you get the point. I mean, come on, ANNAPOLIS, is like Harvard except with many more layers of bad ass.

Meanwhile my son, who was finishing up his junior year of private high school, seemed to be taking the path of least resistance. His first run at his SAT was nothing to scream from the rooftops about, I think it was something in the low 1600’s. Considering his mother took her SATS back in the day perhaps a little on the high side, I mean it was the early eighties and I lived with my father who believed that a sixteen year old should figure herself out by her own errors and judgements. Hence the decision to be baked causing my score to be a number one would expect to see in the movie, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. More on that some other time.

The only reason our son went to private high school was because I used to volunteer in the lunch room of his public middle school. On more than one occasion, many of his teachers would come up to me and encourage me to allow him to go to one of the private high schools. We took the bait. Though I don’t regret it, I know he would have done excellent at our local high school. Michael is a smart young man. He makes good decisions, always has. He is the type of kid who people say things like, “He’s going to go places.” But he is also the type of kid who does what he needs to get by. He was not the type who would join every group and club because it would look good on his college application. He was also not the type of student that would take the SAT again just to get a better score hoping that the college of his dreams would accept him. I distinctly remember his saying this profound statement at his senior year when he was applying to the five schools expected of him by said private school, “If the only reason I don’t get into the college is because of my SAT scores, then the college is not for me.”

This type of comment from my son was not surprising to me. When he was around three, he was in a private home day care around the corner from our house. Often I would walk him in the stroller or maybe we walked, I can’t remember now, but he would refuse to put on his coat. For some reason, I went with it. “Ok, you don’t want to wear a coat, your choice.” And off we went. I was taking him to a house filled with mammas, and my son showing up with no coat on a brisk day could cause judgement and eye rolls, lots of potential tsk tsks. I was seldom the mom who got sucked into that vortex. I was usually an outlier type mom. My son knew his own body temperature. His dad never wore a coat, he ran hot always so I just guessed that my son had the same body heat. I think these small decisions as a parent over time allowed me to be more accepting of his laissez faire attitude when we got closer to the college application circus we found ourselves in.

A circus indeed. At the same time he was applying to college, I had decided to take some classes at our local private university. At the first and only class I took there, I was surrounded by mostly white kids, they looked mostly the same, most from New Jersey, New York or Connecticut. These kids were uninterested in the class, many of them texting while the instructor was offering valuable information. This university was almost 45k per year and these kids were ambivalent, entitled almost. I couldn’t take it. So off I went to Rhode Island College for some classes where I found a diverse population, many kids who were there for the price, or as first generation college attendees. These kids were hungry for learning and I am guessing many of them held full time jobs while trying to get through their classes. Impressive and I had a new found appreciation of our local state colleges and universities.

Meanwhile my son was getting acceptance letters from four of the five schools he applied to. He could have gone to an out of state school for an extra 25k more per year then our in state colleges, not counting the travel back and forth for holidays and every time there was a hurricane warning. But with his unique wisdom, he was not sucked into the bragging fest. He was and still is pragmatic and frugal. His father and I were offering him a free ride at University of RI because that was what we could afford so that he would be able to leave college debt free, if he chose this path. Should he have decided to go to the out of state program, he would have had to take on some loans, so much harder to start his young life with after graduation.

I met a professor from Brown one day who told me that she had a student who was a first generation college attendee who managed to get into Brown the old fashioned way, by actually applying and getting accepted on her merit. She also had to take on student loans that would make your head spin. At the time of graduation she was burdened with over 150K in tuition debt. It is shameful that our colleges are even allowing this. The pressure to get a job right out of school so that they can begin paying their debt down is catastrophic to our children’s futures and their creativity potential. For what? So they can for four years say they went to a fancy school? I am not saying that kids shouldn’t go to these other schools at all. If they can afford them, if their parents can afford them without taking on home equity loans and burdens of debt that make them have to work well past retirement.

Our son gets to leave college with no debt because he had two parents who work hard, saved money and offered him this final gift in his young life. Neither of his parents finished college. We learned trades. Skills. And this has done well by us. I have always said that college shouldn’t be the only directive for our children. We should be allowing them the freedom to discover what ignites their passion and SUPPORT it without feeling like they are failures.

When I dropped out of college and chose the path of esthetics, aka beauty school, I thought my grandparents who were like my parents, were going to kill me. They were not happy. But I persevered; after all it was my life, my money. My problem was the outside forces who try to make our kids feel bad if they decide to go a different path or choose a community college or state university because it is what they can afford. I say bravo every time I speak to one of my son’s friends who have chosen to go to Community College of RI for two years to save money. Of all of the choices, these are the smartest ones. NO DEBT, this is what we should be teaching our children. This is a way better gift then bribing their way into a prestigious university with a brand name.

I think it is time we look at what we are teaching our children by forcing them to choose college as the only path. I know that life is harder without a degree, but I also know that pigeon holing our children from the time they are in kindergarten to think that college is the end all, we are doing a major disservice to the creativity that lies within each of our children. We should be working harder to develop their passions, juices, their entrepreneurial spirits, their community activism. College isn’t for everyone and clearly with this latest scandal it shouldn’t be.

Michael and his friend Jacob way before college became the thing it became.

college, Parenting

THE EGO OF COLLEGE

The latest college application scandal has been all over the news for the past few days. Interviews with college sports directors- the good ones, and interviews with people who help kids with their college applications- the honest ones. Interview after interview, each one more embarrassing to these prestigious schools that parents have paid boatloads so that their children could get accepted into them.

I remember the two years prior to my son going to college like it was a bad dream as I reflect on the absurdity of it all. The pressure between his peers, the parents I spoke to daily and the teachers and counselors. It was like he was getting ready for the Olympics.

“What colleges have you applied to?” People would ask. The laundry list would be repeated, mind you each application had a non-refundable fee, and there would be discussions about the choices as if somehow this was a gauge of worthiness, of intelligence, of prowess for both our son and for us as parents.

Then there were the visits. The expectations of them, the decisions to go to them, the costs involved with them, the time it took to schedule them and the visits themselves. My son applied to five schools. Two local schools in our own state, Roger Williams University and University of Rhode Island and three distance schools, University of Arizona, Florida State and The University of Alabama. He got into four of them, two were a good distance from our home.

He had the same idea as many of his peers to go to a school “far away from this little state we live in, Rhode Island.” The pressure also poured in from the private high school he attended who wanted their own accomplished students to be able to say they went to “acceptable” schools. Schools that would make their roster of students who attended them add value to the price tag of four years of a private high school I suppose so that when parents were shopping for high schools, those lists of colleges that the seniors had recently been accepted into would be that sparkle you see in the rings at a jewelry store. I remember thinking to myself, Am I the only one out here who thinks this is the most ridiculous bullshit I have ever seen?

We ended up visiting Florida State and Alabama, beautiful campuses with all of the bells and whistles you never knew were possible at a college. There were times I looked around thinking, Am I at a college or a country club? Isn’t college supposed to be crappy food and dorm rooms the size of a postage stamp?

I remember sitting in the orientation at Alabama after our wild tour of their football stadium, and boxed lunch at said football stadium followed by a rousing practice cheer “Rolltide!!!” As I looked at my all too happy son and my former husband  screaming Rolltide, I sat wondering if we were ever going to see a classroom.

The starry eyed look in my beautiful son’s eyes as we were promptly dropped in the Alabama store where my former and I began buying all things Alabama like there was no other school in our dreams. Sucked into the Rolltide.com machine. I know for you Alabama football fans out there, this is blasphemy, but I started to question what the 42k price tag was actually paying for. A beautiful campus and I am guessing some form of education, I wouldn’t know, we never saw a classroom. Yes we went to the business school auditorium where the dean of business talked about what else, Football. He did occasionally mention the curriculum, but he lost me when he started a sentence with Irregardless, a pet peeve of mine going all the way back to my teacher grandmother. I saw my son’s heart sink because he knows me well and that one grammatical slip was likely the nail in the coffin.

Then we sat down at the how are you going to pay for this school seminar where we learned that I had misread the tuition costs. I thought the costs were 21k and it turned out that was PER SEMESTER. Needless to say, I felt like an idiot, my ex-husband freaked out like a five year old, reminding me of why we weren’t married anymore (there had to be some bonus to this wacky trip), my son was almost in tears because there was just no way we were going to spend what would have easily turned into 60k per year on college and I felt like a failure as a mother. As we made our way to Florida State somber, but hopeful, I really began thinking about all of this nonsense.

The pressure for what? Except for bragging rights, and connections, wasn’t the point of college to get a degree and get out and get to work? One thing I knew was there was no way I was going into debt for college. I convinced Michael and my former to visit URI. They begrudgingly agreed with their tails between their legs. I became the cheerleader and we found our local school to be a great fit for many reasons. Location, ease of getting there and home for holidays, a good program, and the cost.

If Michael went there, Dave and I could give him the gift of a college tuition with no debt for any of us. I began my sales pitch to my son and we decided that he would give it a year, then transfer if he wanted to Alabama where he would have to pay the difference of the cost of URI. My son is a frugal sort and I am guessing that this alone made him decide to give my idea a try. Well after the first year, he loved it, and stayed.

As he approaches his senior year, I look back at all of the worry and angst as well as the money spent prior on college coaching and sat prepping now through the eyes of this scandal and roll my eyes. Our children are watching us. What are we teaching them when we take our big egos to the college visits and write even bigger checks to ensure their little babies can have the bragging rights they were raised for.

What I also find amusing and disturbing in this scandal is the blatant mentions of the actresses and their names and photos in all of the headlines and not as much attention on the rest of the people who were caught adding another layer of female focus to this embarrassment. The calling out of women in the press adds another conversation to be had, but this is for another piece. Why not list everyone? Why is it only the women in the headlines? Just curious.

If you are a parent getting ready to send your child to college, first think price rather than experience, think education, safety, location, is it easy to get your child back and forth if they want to come home for all of the breaks, how much will that cost too? Four years goes by at a blink. When they get to be an almost senior, all of this worry that seemed so important at the time is forgotten at the same speed. No one cares. Except how you show you care.

College admission has been a great opportunity to set an example for financial responsibility, and we have given our son a gift that allows him to get out of college with no debt. What this gives him is financial freedom to travel after he gets out, to not feel pressure in having to line up his career immediately, to learn what he enjoys so he can choose what he wants to do with his life rather than it choose him. In this scandal I realize that the money is no object here. These people have the money to pay for their children to go to college. Maybe a better use in hindsight would have been to set up a college fund with the extra money that had to allow kids who otherwise couldn’t afford to go an opportunity. One of these checks probably would have paid for five or more kids to have the privilege. Hindsight.

This scandal is about EGO. I remember clearly the pressure coming from all angles and for some reason, we managed to get through it. I hope that this can be a teaching moment for all parents and their kids to settle down here and look at what is important. A good education, as little debt as possible and more important, an honest one.

self improvement, work

NOT THIS WEEK

Though I have been writing for almost my entire life, for the past three years, I have been writing almost daily and putting it out for the world to see. The world I speak of consists of a few followers who kindly take the time to read my writings and others because they see the post from someone who forwards it to them. I am lucky because I get to write continually and people seem to enjoy what I write. The beauty of this exchange is that there is no monetary connector. I am not writing for livelihood and people do not have to take out their wallets to pay to read what I write. It takes the pressure off for sure.

This all started when my beautiful partner said, “Alayne have you seen this site?” He was referring to Medium and it was the first site that showed up in my radar where all of these writings could actually land in a home somewhere rather than a folder marked Alayne’s writings hidden in a closet for my son to find after I was long gone. I remember the first time I hit PUBLISH. It was exhilarating and since then I have published on Medium over 300 essays or as the world calls them now, blogs. I like the word, essays. It feels more elegant and literary, like something Sylvia Plath or E.B. White would have written. Blogs seem to cheapen the process, but I try to stay current and if this is the way people care to refer what I write, so be it. I’ll take what I can get as I am just so happy to wake up in the morning and open my laptop to begin my daily ritual of taking what woke me up and placing it somewhere instead of the drawer in my office.

I noticed as I was posting on Medium a box I could check that allowed my writings to be part of a collection that could actually earn money as people read them. I clicked the box, what the hell, no pressure, if I made a little money because someone clicked on a piece or organically liked what they read, then that would be pretty cool.  So each time I now post on Medium, I click the box and off it goes into cyber space where algorithms take over to determine if my writing is worthy of whatever measurement they deem as such. I am thankful that I don’t have to rely on writing as a means of income; I am not sure I would be a great writer if I did.

I received an email from Medium the other day letting me know that a payment would be getting transferred to the bank account I had connected with my account. No exaggeration here, my heart skipped a beat when I saw this email. I have no idea what they were paying me for, but the fact that some random algorithm in outer space deemed worthy a blog that I posted made my heart sing. Alright so it wasn’t a million dollars, in fact it was $1.88, but that $1.88 was seriously the most rewarding $1.88 that I had ever earned. I jumped up and down and felt such pride that all of this writing I have been doing was actually noticed somehow somewhere by someone. How fun.

Now for those of you writers out there who think I may be settling for meager scraps, I am not. I write because it feels good. When I don’t write, I don’t feel good. Writing is like exercising for me, I must do it or my health suffers and my mind gets all staticky. Exercise is not about muscle and tight abs, that is the gravy. Exercise is mind clarity. Writing is the same. The money is the gravy and the $1.88 may as well have been $1000 because I just felt so happy when I saw it, but not enough to have that be the reason. Just like tight abs, they don’t motivate me to go to the gym, but a clearer less crazy brain sure does.

This week was the first week in a long while I didn’t write. Not one sentence. Not because I needed a writing break because sometimes I do, but because I was at a business training that consumed every waking minute. I am not kidding. Up at five, review until 6, out by 6:45, prep from 7-8. Training from 8-5, then business dinner until 8, then homework until I couldn’t keep my eyes open for another minute, then repeat. For five days straight. This training was a business coaching certification so I can get certified to coach other businesses in a strategic way based on this company’s philosophy and best business practices. I have been working as the recipient of their knowledge since I opened in 2002 so their culture and belief system is what shaped mine. The easy part of this training was that I am a believer in their business culture like it is my own because it kind of is. That was the only easy part. I already drink their Koolaid, but being a student in a business setting was mind blowing. Here’s the thing though, I AM NOT FRIED. I should be, but I woke up at 3:30 am on my own ready to rock. My brain reverberating with ideas and tasks filled with the possibilities of excitement and a new path towards helping other businesses have success and happiness like I do.

So not this week of writing, but of learning and remembering what it feels like to be an employee, on the other side of the coin for a change. This was the part I enjoyed the most, having to impress an employer, thinking about how I show up, how I look, what I do when I get there knowing that they are watching everything I do because as much as I think I am a good fit, they too have to believe this. Since I will be representing their company and their values, they have to be sure they want to date me too. Of all the incredible learning I did, this was one of my favorite points. To feel what it feels like to be an employee. That everything matters in a new job. The first date is the easy part. I have watched employees shine and get shinier and they are the ones who succeed. I have also watched the shiny ones get duller by the day and their ability to succeed falters quickly. I was happily reminded of how easy it is to be an employee when you give it your all. Effort. Showing up. Being present and all in. Every day. Every time. This is success. So not writing this week was fine by me because what I just accomplished was worth every waking minute. I can’t wait for this next chapter in my life. I am never bored. Life is too short to be bored; it is a thrilling ride and I keep getting on that roller coaster rather than sitting on the sidelines where it is a safe bet.








<!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:”MS Mincho”; panose-1:2 2 6 9 4 2 5 8 3 4; mso-font-alt:”MS 明朝”; mso-font-charset:128; mso-generic-font-family:modern; mso-font-pitch:fixed; mso-font-signature:-536870145 1791491579 134217746 0 131231 0;} @font-face {font-family:”Cambria Math”; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:roman; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} @font-face {font-family:Cambria; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:roman; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-536870145 1073743103 0 0 415 0;} @font-face {font-family:”\@MS Mincho”; panose-1:2 2 6 9 4 2 5 8 3 4; mso-font-charset:128; mso-generic-font-family:modern; mso-font-pitch:fixed; mso-font-signature:-536870145 1791491579 134217746 0 131231 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:””; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Cambria”,serif; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:”MS Mincho”; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} .MsoChpDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; mso-default-props:yes; font-family:”Cambria”,serif; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:”MS Mincho”; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} @page WordSection1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.0in 1.0in 1.0in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.WordSection1 {page:WordSection1;} –>


“Success is waking up in the morning and bounding out of bed because there’s something out there that you love to do, that you believe in, that you’re good at – something that’s bigger than you are, and you can hardly wait to get at it again.”
-Whit Hobbs

books, grief

NOT JUST COMIC BOOKS

There are times when a book lands in your lap and as you being reading it, a sentence or a theme reminds you of a memory. The Lost Letter by Jillian Canton brought me to only page five when her recollection of her father’s love for collecting stamps promptly reminded me of a long rectangular box about three feet long and about eighteen inches tall residing in my third floor closet. A box I had never opened since it was delivered to me in December of 1995. Not even two months since my brother had died from a year long battle with adeno carcinoma of the lung at the too young age of 25.

I remember being in my mother’s basement after he died and we were going through some of my brother’s things that had found their way as storage there.

“Do you want Michael’s comic book collection? She asked.

There seems to be two distinct ways a parent may handle the intense pain of losing a child. Hanging on for dear life to everything and anything is one way, or purge all physical items that are distinct reminders of pain. My mother had chosen the latter and I was the lucky recipient of whatever I desired of my deceased brother’s. There was a part of me that wanted to hang on to every item possible so that he would not be physically forgotten so I accepted the box and placed it in my basement of the house I shared with my former husband. Four months later I found myself pregnant and the box became a temporary forgotten shadow of my brother as we made our way as new and busy parents.

Fifteen years later, the unopened and mega taped box followed me in the wake of my divorce to condo number 1, condo number 2, then a storage unit and finally making its way to its permanent home where I presently live. Placed in the closet of my son’s space on the third floor it sat with the idea that he would be the proud owner of the contents when he was ready to take a look. Likely long after I am gone.

Lately there have been some discussions with friends about comic books, can’t recall how the subject has come up, but I remembered the box thinking, “I should take a look in there to see if there are any Wonder Woman comics.” A planted seed perhaps waiting for some water so the shoot could peek from the soil.

When I finished reading Lilac Girls, I was so hungry for more that I read every comment on the back of the book and jotted down the author names and the books they had written. The Lost Letter was one of these books. I have never done this before- read a book and then head towards the back cover for more books but for some reason, I went with the notion that Like attracts Like and made the assumption that the authors who kindly gave their reviews for quotes would be similar in taste.

This is how The Lost Letter came to be my next book on my reading list and this is the book that made me walk upstairs this morning and bring the box down to finally take a look inside. It never occurred to me that there would be anything inside this box besides comic books. I am not sure if I had ever opened the box but I always thought that it was filled with comic books from a collection my brother had started in the late eighties. Every comic book in its own plastic sleeve protector along with the paperwork of the place he had ordered them from. Back before the internet when you ordered things by mail through mail on an actual order form and waited for the delivery to arrive in “4-6 weeks.” The order forms were along with the comics to remind me of this time in our lives when waiting was part of the daily act of living.

I perused the collection and not knowing anything about comic books, lost interest rather quickly when I realized there would be no Wonder Woman of yesteryear waiting for me as a nice surprise. Instead of Wonder Woman, I  came across a cardboard box filled with stuff, cards, letters, old advertisements and photos along with their negatives. (remember those?)

I walked it over to my couch and my waiting coffee cup and proceeded to go through the box where I found a chronological time travel of my brother’s world from before cancer to during. I found Happy Birthday, Hope it’s a great one! cards, Christmas? instead of Hanukkah cards, reminding me of the yoyo world we both lived in with my parent’s religious choices at any given time. Then there were the hope you get well soon cards, sorry I haven’t called but I don’t know what to say cards and finally the cards that tried all too hard not to mention the elephant in the room that an almost 25 year old strapping healthy young man would not be getting well soon after all. all handwritten, all encouraging and kind, filled with love. Names I never knew of friends at work, to family members who have since died, in their easily recognized handwriting. No emails, no text messages, only beautiful writing because that was the only option for regular communication back then.

I was in awe of the love pouring out, the well wishes and most poignantly, the hope. I got to read letters from my grandmother who always spoke and wrote detailed messages and my other grandmother who simply said, hope you get well soon. Letters from my Aunt Peggy who died a few years back and great aunts and uncles long since gone. There were cards from friends traveling and moving inviting my brother for a visit and letters from our cousins giving him their life updates in handwritten prose on personalized stationary.

Needless to say, not a dry eye from the moment I realized what I had come across and was struck by the power of grief creeping up on me again just because of a random book I began reading. There are times when something doesn’t feel quite right in my spirit, I feel a little off balance emotionally. When I do the infamous checklist- what did I eat, drink, have I been exercising, meditating? Is it a full moon, is mercury retrograde? When none of those fit the bill and I am still a bit off, usually it is some emotion that needs to be released.  I unknowingly needed a good cry and this was the entry ticket I needed to give some bottled up tears a little extra nudge to get them flowing up and out.

There will never be a time almost twenty four years later when I don’t miss my brother, the further away he gets from me, the more I am realizing this very simple and stark fact. He is no longer- and the trip down memory lane this morning jet set me right into the island of loss that has been a part of my adult life with me in the passenger seat. The further the years take me from my grieving this loss, the more it seems like it plays hide and seek with me, hiding in the darkest furthest away corners that I didn’t know to look.

Waiting to be found, Grief seems to sit lying in wait for discovery until it just can’t hide out any longer. Grief may soften or go back to its hide out, but at the strangest times, it needs its own recognition or else it leaks in a slow drip hard to decipher until the faucet gets turned on full throttle. A good cry on a random Sunday morning is the ironic gift that keeps giving. Despite its sadness, there is a release. Opening a box of comic books looking for Wonder Woman because of a book called The Lost Letter seems like no random coincidence. Once again my brother’s loss has brought me to my knees and he never stops teaching me to pay attention all these years later.