Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Tao of Charlie Brown

One of my favorite Charlie Brown quotes is, "Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love." Although Charlie Brown was considered a blockhead by his peers, he was oh so wise. He had a heart as big as Texas. His quest for love from the Little Red Haired Girl always made me cheer him on. Come on Chuck! Go for it! Don't sit on the side lines any longer. So easy to say when you are not Charlie Brown. So easy to say when you are sure of where you stand in a relationship. Not so easy to say or do when you know you are standing on sand, not solid ground. I love peanut butter, especially chunky, but lately Charlie Brown is right, the flavor just ain't there.

The one thing good ol’ Chuck and I do not agree on is that I don't quite believe in unrequited love. You cannot be "in love" with someone if that love is not reciprocated. I hold tight to that thought even due to recent events. I do believe you can deeply love and care for someone; knowing that if the relationship continues down a specific path you see yourself easily falling in love.

The phrase "falling in love" is so appropriate. The realization that you are free falling, willing to let yourself be at your most vulnerable to someone, is freakin’ frightening as there are no nets in the high wire circus act of love. Whether reciprocated or not, your life, with one little realization, is about to be inextricably altered forever and always. Bye-bye comfort zone. Hello, doubt, uncertainty and insecurity. If a relationship has grown to this intensity, there most likely is a deep level of caring (and possibly love) reciprocated. But is it at the level you want or need? Is it at the level where your partner is willing to swing by on their trapeze and catch you as you fall?

For me, relationships always start better with friendship. The majority of my closest dating relationships began as friends. I cannot imagine caring for someone, or falling in love with someone without being friends first. Shared likes and dislikes, common interests and a deep respect for them as a human being are all foundations for friendship and sometimes, eventually, love. Build a relationship on anything less is akin to erecting a high-rise on sand. It will shift and tumble before the ground work is complete. I should know to trust the "friendship first rule". I first broke the "friendship first rule" when dating my ex-husband. And since “ex” is part of his current notoriety my explanation should be self explanatory.

Sometimes, though, relationships start backwards. You can’t help it. There is an immediate attraction that takes on a whole life of its own. The foundation is not built with bricks. The foundation is not really built at all. It’s as if the contractors decided to construct the middle 10 stories of a high-rise because that was the fun part and they liked working on those floor plans and interior design of those rooms. They want to do the fun stuff first. Then in a "d'oh!” slap on the head, what the hell have we done moment, the contractors realize nothing exists on which to stand their creation. They have to scramble and build the foundation. What once was feasible becomes extremely tricky and difficult to manage.

If both parties are willing, a plan can develop to backtrack and build that foundation. What once would have been simple and a beautiful natural progression turns into a difficult and awkward undertaking. The building can still be built, but due to strikes (wrestling with their own inner demons), labor negotiations (needing more or less than what each is capable of giving), revised architectural plans (logistics) and walk-outs (no longer available) both contractors need to be invested in the project at hand to restore balance to the building’s development. If one is unwilling, for whatever reason, no amount of bricks will stabilize the sand that has filtered into the groundwork and your relationship is going to fall like a high-rise built without pylons.

Where constructing a building is fairly black and white, love is not. In fact one needs a spectroscope to measure the variances and nuances of love. The music industry would be non existent if there were not a plethora of interpretations on love and its many different forms.

In my most recent relationship, neither of us believed in working on two projects simultaneously.  Although we were both one building at a time contractors, an exclusivity clause was never discussed in detail or written in our partnership.  It was more inherent in our personalities and beliefs.  We could peruse other buildings or land.  Be aware of what was out there.  But neither one of us believed in renovating floor plans on more than one building at a time.  So, when I learned my contracting partner had moved on to another project I was immensely bothered.  In reality though, our union negotiations had been at a stand still for months and although our foundation had the support beams of respect, admiration, appreciation and a form of love in place, things were still a bit shaky. Too shaky to engineer the placement of those 10 floors we renovated months ago.  It was going to take some pretty strong armed union tactics and a knowledgeable architect to bring this building to code and neither parties were in agreement. Rationally his moving on to another project made sense. Yet, I could not grasp why I was so angry and hurt.

Anyone who knows me knows my mind is moving 24/7. I contemplate everything ad nauseum. If you think it is frustrating knowing I think too much, just think about what it is like in my brain. It. Is. ExhaustING! Yet no one was more surprised than me when I realized my building was crumbling, union negotiations had failed and holy crap, the reason I was so upset is that I was free falling with no one on the trapeze to catch me. OK…there was one person more surprised than I, and I will get back to him shortly.

This epiphany happened while walking down Jackson Blvd. during rush hour, mid step on the way to the office causing a minor pedestrian pile up in front of Sears Tower. (I refuse to call it Willis. Refuse. I tell you.) Not a wise place to stop mid step. People were not pleased. Well if they knew what I was thinking, they would have known that I was not pleased either. Was I really falling? Had I fallen? Did I really care that much? Did he feel the same? My answers were in order: Yes. Quite possibly. Most definitely. Not a snowballs chance in hell. If he felt the same the new project would not exist.

My life, with that one little thought, was inextricably altered forever and always.

Bye-bye comfort zone.

Hello, doubt, uncertainty and insecurity.


I was suddenly Charlie Brown in love with the Little Red Haired Girl and knew why he was on the side lines, why peanut butter lost its flavor, why he felt so vulnerable and why he was paralyzed with fear. 

Still holding true to my belief that you cannot be in love without that feeling reciprocated, I realized you can still deeply love and care for someone. You can love and trust their friendship. Know and love their quirks and uniqueness. You can love how they look at life, love their strength of character, their honesty and how they treat others. You can respect them immeasurably. You can even respect how they convey the fact that they do not share the same deep feelings for you.

Some may consider that last statement pathetic. To me, not at all. As long as a breakup is not due to betrayal or abuse of any type and if the person can tell you their thoughts and feelings while taking into consideration how you will react, then you cannot do anything but wish them well. I won't lie to you.  The message is still going to hurt. Believe me, when the band aide is finally ripped off, there is a sting, a kicked in the gut, son of bitch that hurts reaction. But truth be told, because your foundation maintains the cornerstones of respect, appreciation, admiration and love, they are going to convey their feelings gently being mindful of the bruise in your heart.

And that is what happened. With love and respect we were honest with each other. We both regret how we handled aspects of our relationship. He does not seem uncomfortable with my revelation and I wish him well. How could I not?  The sting, kicked in the gut, son of a bitch that hurts reaction is still there. It will ease up eventually.  I also learned there is a net when it comes to free falling and thinking you are not going to be caught. It arrives in the form of friends and family who love you.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Anorexia, Bulimia and the Road to Recovery

How does one explain the mindset behind purposely starving oneself?  I ponder that question as I sit here and munch on pretzel sticks, drink juice and type.  Thirty years ago, I could have also been found munching on the same little sticks, but they would have been counted out to a specific number equaling 120 calories (100 calories were too few and 150 were completely unacceptable.)  Thankfully, I no longer remember how many pretzel sticks equal 120 calories, although the number 24 comes to mind.  What I do remember is that I could eat more of them than pretzel rods or the twisty kind; fooling my brain into thinking I ate more than I actually had.  At the time, the drink of choice was not juice (too much sugar and too many calories), but TAB. 

Never mind that TAB and pretzels contain tons of sodium, refined flour, pretend sugars and chemicals.  If I was attempting to be healthy, I would have drunk tons of water, ate a healthful balanced diet and not attempt to deprive my body of essential nutrients.  At the time I was convinced my behavior was healthy when it was anything but.  I was anorexic and eventually bulimic as well.  I was addicted to starving myself.

Believe it or not, anorexia is an addiction.  Just like alcoholism, gambling, or drugs.  A person is addicted to depriving their body of necessary nutrients.  There is a high that goes along with starvation. There really is.  When mountain climbers experience oxygen deprivation they hallucinate, or think rather wacky thoughts.  With that thought in mind, my sarcastic (healed) self believes the high comes from the effects of nutrient/caloric withdrawal on the brain.   Seriously, why or how else could someone do this to themselves? 

It is hard for me to remember that high and I am honestly glad I cannot re-create the feeling.  My 15 extra pounds that refuse to leave my body after giving birth to Adam 15 years ago are a testament to being cured.  Yet I remember how much I LOVED to bake cookies and never let the batter or spoon touch my lips.  Being able to control my mind and body like that was euphoric.  Personally, there is now a feeling of satisfaction when playing the role of "Quality Assurance" making sure everything tastes great.  Back in 1980, the control I had over psyche, spirit and body was mind boggling. 

So, again, I ask the question, how does one explain the mindset behind purposely starving oneself?  The only answer I have is control.  My life had suddenly turned out of control and I needed to create a sense of order, regardless of how misdirected.  I left for college in the fall of 1979 a bit fluffy.  I was 17, not quite 5'2" and weighed about 133 lbs. I was on my own for the first time after growing up in an over protected Italian household.  Personally, I could not wait to move away, spread my wings and fly.  No one knew, nor would I divulge, how scared I was on the inside. 

That same fall I fell in love for the first time and subsequently learned the pain of a broken heart.  Knowing my parents expected I do well in college and needing to micro focus on anything but heartache, I threw myself into classes.  It wasn't good enough to me, or my parents, that I was the first Concialdi to obtain a degree.  Grades were extremely important.  Grades showed perseverance and hard work.  If I received a B, my dad always asked why it was not an A.  I doubt he realized the pressure his comment inflicted.  In his own way he was being supportive and knew that I could achieve anything for which I strove.  He did not realize that I strove to be the perfect child and make him proud.  Being an over achiever was easy and I excelled in almost every class.  Yet, the pressure I put upon myself was more than my frightened and hurt psyche could tolerate. 

My dorms were the farthest away from campus requiring me to walk a minimum of two miles a day.  After a while I upped my trek to campus; taking 3 or 4 trips into town and logging 6-8 miles a day.  Then I added dance classes to the mix.  I needed to lose a little weight, but as the weight started to melt off, I took over achievement to a whole new art form. 

By the time I came home for spring break I was 25 pounds lighter.  My brother, Mark, barely recognized me.  I could step in and out of my jeans without unbuttoning or unzipping.  At summer break I weighed 93 pounds.  In nine months I lost a total of 40 pounds.  The doctors were concerned, but I assured them I was not anorexic.  The term was not common nomenclature in 1980 and they were surprised I knew the term.  They then informed me I would be hospitalized if I lost one more pound.  Wondering if they would stand behind their word, I took their statement as a dare and tried my hardest to lose that last pound.  Don't ask why.  The thought process of an anorexic is really not rational.  Fortunately, I craved salty foods (pretzels contain zero fat) and massive amounts of TAB.  To this day, I truly believe sodium, water retention and excessive carbonation prohibited my hospital admittance that summer. 

I eventually gained a few pounds; hovering around 98-99.  Every morning when I awoke, I ran into the bathroom and weighed myself (after I peed of course).  Then I scrutinized myself in the mirror to make sure my thighs did not touch and that my stomach was flat.  If something touched or protruded, additional sit-ups, squats or walking was added to my routine.  I continued this behavior throughout the majority of my college life with a slight foray into binging and purging for interest.

Positive that my body still contained ugly fat, I walked into a fitness center and wanted them to assess my BMI (Body Mass Index).  It was barely on the charts.  Surprise!  Surprise!  The women at the center who obviously had me pegged as anorexic tried to chat with me about lean muscle and consuming protein.  I would have none of it. 

No one in my family could understand my behavior.  We were Sicilian for God's sake.  Everyone ate.  There were no excuses.  Sunday meals at our house could feed the 299th battalion, yet I barely swallowed anything. I remember Mark loading my arms up with food; telling me to sit and eat.  What was easy for all was impossible for me.  I remember seeing the pain in my father's eyes.  My chubby dad could not comprehend why I was torturing myself (and him).  I remember once, with tears in his eyes, he asked me why I was so unhappy.  He wanted to make it all better, but helping me was completely out of his realm.  My mother thought teasing me would snap me out of it.  She always had her own thoughts about weight and hated when I was fluffy.  She called me her "little anorexic".  No amount of tears or cajoling worked.  I was the Queen of Control.   

My parents sent me to a behavior modifier.  Her task was to convince me to change my behavior.  Little did she realize that I would go to great lengths to keep my skeletal frame as skeletal as possible.  She and I planned menus and discussed what I loved to eat.  Did she seriously think I was going to dine on any of the suggested peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, pasta or vanilla shakes?  If she did, she was as delusional as I.

The death of my grandmother added to my need to gain control of my life.  The last time I saw Granny Concialdi was at Christmas Break of 1980.  Gran was 83 and ill, but she was a tough ol' Sicilian.  My dad was Gran's youngest child and the light of her life.  I was my dad's youngest child and the youngest of all the grandchildren.  I too held a very special place in her heart.  I stopped by her house the day I was returning to college.  If I had realized it was the last time I was going to see her I would not have argued with her. 

But Gran had a way about her.  She had been telling me since I was 5 that she was never going to see me again.  It's not like we lived far away.  I lived on the next block.  After my kindergarten graduation she told me she was never going to see go to first grade.  Randomly throughout grade school she told me she was dying.  After my 8th grade graduation I received the same speech and subsequently throughout high school.  When I left for college...same speech.  SO, here it was Christmas of my sophomore year of college.  I had heard this argument my whole life.  When I ran over to her house to say goodbye, Gran cried and told me she was never going to see me again. 

Throughout any of these previous declarations I never argued with her.  I always hugged her and said I would see her soon.  This time, I argued; explaining that she had been telling me the same story for 13 years.  I said that I would see her either at Spring Break or when I came home for the summer.  And I promised that she would see me graduate college.  I was naive.  She cried, hugged me and kissed me goodbye.  For Spring Break I went to Daytona with some friends and Gran died a couple of weeks later. 

I lost an uncle when I was 10, but this was the first death I ever experienced as an adult.  Well, as much of an adult you can be at 18.  I was devastated.  It also broke my heart because Gran was so sad when I left her house in January.  I took for granted that she would always be around.  And I chose the last time that I saw her to argue. If I needed any additional excuses to punish myself via starvation, this was definitely a perfect time to do so. 

From that moment on I was completely hyper focused; concentrating on my classes and my diet.  I took over achievement to a whole new art form.  By my junior year in college my family was spiraling out of control even more. My mother was diagnosed with colon cancer in October of '81.  They knew going into her surgery that the tumor was malignant, yet my parents chose not to tell me until I asked for an honest answer.  My father was now worried about the two women in his life.  Both of us were facing life threatening illnesses and he did not know what to do.  One could be cured by surgery.  But the other required treatment unknown to him.  My disease was so foreign and incomprehensible.  He was petrified that the news of Mom's illness would cause further starvation.  What he did not realize is that any excuse fueled the fire.

Once given the news of her illness and surgery, I hopped in my car in Champagne and the muffler promptly fell off before I could hit the expressway.  4:45 on a Friday afternoon.  Who was going to fix my car so I could get home?  I HAD to get home.  Nothing was going to stop me.  My friend Chris and I pulled into a Midas shop where I was informed they did not have the part for my '73 Pontiac Catalina (a.k.a. the SS Concialdi).  I calmly explained that my mother was in the hospital and I had to get to Chicago.  They calmly explained that they did not have the part.  A little louder, I explained they were a muffler shop and they should have the parts.  They, again, explained they could not.  A little louder and a little more frantic, I explained that my mother was in the hospital.  She had cancer and I needed to get home.  They explained a little more emphatically that they could not fix it 10 minutes before closing.  That is when I completely lost it.  Think Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment "Give my daughter the shot" lost it. My car was fixed and Chris and I were on the road by 6PM.  I drove 80mph; arriving at the hospital before 8, a good 1/2 hour prior than I should. My poor friend, Chris, white knuckled the ride with me.  All I can remember her saying is, "Would you like me to drive?  Seriously, Mar, I'd be happy to drive."  Pulling over required minutes and I would have none of that.  Still friends, the poor woman has yet to ride in a car with me 30 years later. 

As I arrived at my mom's hospital room the phone was ringing.  Without barely looking at my mom, but sensing she was asleep, I grabbed the phone so not to wake her.  It was my dad calling to say I would be arriving within the hour.  When my dad heard my voice he knew exactly what I had done.  "Baby, how did you get there so quickly?" he asked.  My only response was, "Traffic was good, Daddy.  You would be amazed."  Once I hung up the phone, knowing a lecture about safety, speeding and reckless driving was in my very near future, I turned to look at my mom.  She was so frail hooked to a variety of loud, scary machines helping her live.  I slowly backed myself up to the hospital room wall, slid down and fainted.  I awoke to a couple of nurses, juice and cookies.  The nurses could see what I was oblivious to.  They would not let me leave until I ate the cookies...which took forever. 

Soon thereafter, I decided that starving myself was getting a little too difficult, but I did not want to gain weight.  That is when I hopped on the bulimia roller coaster.  Some people are able to easily vomit.  Not this girl.  It is difficult for me to throw up when I have the flu.  Throwing up when "healthy" took industrial strength effort.  Throwing up an apple, celery, some pretzels and a couple of hard boiled eggs (Yes.  That was my daily diet.) required more work than I cared to muster.  Although bulimic, I was obviously lazy about the tasks at hand.  After numerous attempts at throwing up, I broke all the blood vessels around my eyes.  Anorexia and bulimia are all about vanity.  Wanting to look your best (in your mind's eye).  The idea of looking as if I had been KO'd in the ring was completely unacceptable.  Throwing up was not the only option with bulimia, so I ate and found various means to not keep the food in my system. 

By my senior year my mother had two surgeries and radiation.  She had one more surgery in her future, but she was going to be fine.  No one was quite sure if I was going to do the same.  That September a family friend was getting married.  Mark was in the wedding party and we were all going as a family.  It was a celebration.  Mom had kicked cancer's butt, Mark had just gotten engaged.  All was right with the world.  I went home that weekend to celebrate with everyone. 

That night Daddy kept announcing to my mom, "You don't feel well.  Let's go home."  She kept saying, "I feel great!  Let's stay."  After a while, my mom, quite exasperated with my father, said, "According to your father I don't feel well.  We are going home."  She was none too happy about this either.  It was my father who did not feel well.

When I got home from the wedding Daddy was up watching TV.  He was sweating.  I remember kissing him good night and telling him I loved him.  I awoke the next morning to the phone ringing.  Mom was calling from the hospital.  She had called an ambulance in the night.  Unbeknown to us, Daddy had a mild stroke during the day; he went to the wedding not feeling well.  Looking back there were signs of odd behavior, but none of us knew the signs of a stroke.  We were all focused on the wedding and he never indicated he felt ill.  The stroke weakened his heart.  By the time he woke Mom to tell her he did not feel well it was too late.  He died of a heart attack on the way to the hospital.

The next few months are a blur.  The pain of losing a parent is incomprehensible.  I was sad and frightened.  Mom was facing one last surgery and I was petrified I would lose them both.  But somewhere in that blur I realized that what I was doing to myself was insane.  Life is a precious gift and my actions were equivalent to Russian Roulette. The thought process was a slow awakening.  A flicker of a thought which eventually took root.

It took years to return to "normal" although I credit Baskin Robbins to part of my healing.  I initially did not change much of my diet, but allowed myself ice cream on occasion.  How could something so creamy and yummy be bad for you?  To this day my brother Mike recalls me eating an ice cream sundae with a Diet Pepsi by my side.  (I needed to balance out the calories.)  Still not healthy, but the action was baby steps towards recovery.  It was the first realization that eating rationally was not so frightening.  Fear of caloric intake was prominent in my mind, but I s...l...o...w...l...y started to live a healthier lifestyle. 

Today, I can no longer tell you the caloric value of most food items and am very proud of that inability.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I am blessed. When it comes to friendships I am truly blessed. I have friends from every part of my life: amazing relatives who I would choose as friends even if we did not share DNA, grade school friends (with whom I have been reacquainted thanks to Facebook), high school friends (thanks to Janie), college, and then throughout to my adult life.

I am not talking about fleeting friendships. Those friends that wander into your life for a brief period due to school, office or neighborhood affiliations.  The friends I speak of love me, because of me spite of me. They love me regardless of all my faults and failings. That unconditional love is reciprocated to each and every one of them.  Again, I am thankful and blessed.

The best example of loving me in spite of me is Maggie. We have been there for each other for the past 19 years.  Together we have lived through raising 4 children, 2 divorces, money woes, jobs or lack thereof, depression, crushes, fear, illness, death, relationships, broken hearts, endless phone calls and most of all a friendship that will endure a lifetime. If I had a penny for every minute we spoke on the phone in the past 19 years, I would be a millionaire.  Although not wealthy, I am honestly richer in spirit because of her friendship. 

We always have each other's back. After her divorce, she could not afford to pay a speeding ticket.  She was experiencing a series of bad luck and I was afraid her license would be revoked if it was not paid soon.  So, although she did not ask for assistance, I paid her ticket.  However much money the ticket was has been repaid to me 1,000,000 times over. 

Maggie is my Wing Girl. Going on a first date?  One of us is on the other end of the phone suggesting clothing options and moral support.  Final words before hanging up are always, "Call me - no matter what time!  I want to know how it all went.  Love you!"  Especially for those blind dates, the "call me no matter what time" phrase is to make sure the other did not date the next Ted Bundy. Upon driving home from said date, Wing Girl is there to find out how the date went and if there will be date #2. 

Maggie is, in fact, one of my favorite dates. Whenever possible, we go out for dinner and a movie date. We laugh a lot(!), shop, eat, drink and go to the movies. We often joke that if one of us was the opposite sex we would be married by now.  Once we went to see "Confessions of a Shopaholic".  Maggie bought drinks before the movie and I planned to buy movie tickets and popcorn.  Unbeknownst to me there was a problem with my ATM card.  Earlier that day I tried to update my GPS maps through TomTom's website which is based in the United Kingdom.  There was a problem with their website.  After three attempts to update my GPS maps I gave up and decided to update them another day.  Yet, my bank decided someone had access to my VISA check card and was trying to use it in the UK.  They shut down all access until they could reach me.  They, unfortunately, neglected one small detail.  They forgot to call me and tell me that they were freezing my account.  Now I NEVER carry cash on me.  Carrying cash is completely against my religion.  So, we get to the theatre to see (again) "Confessions of a Shopaholic" (isn't the irony priceless?) and my check card does not all.  Completely and totally declined.  Payday was the day before.  I knew there was money in there.  Money comes and goes quickly with me, but it sticks around for at least a weekend.

What could we do?  We laughed.   Maggie paid.

After 10 years of debate and countless field trips to tattoo parlors looking for the perfect Meg/Alexis angel, Maggie joined me on my tattoo field trip.  We laughed at all the different tattoos.  Seriously, naked angels with vampire fangs?  Obscene butterflies?  Not sure about you, but I believe butterfly bodies should not be phallic symbols.  Tattoo parlors are a strange and crazy world.  But with the two of us we had a blast.  After my angel was permanently affixed to my shoulder, Maggie was already asking what my next one would be.  Tattoos are rather addicting.  Most likely the Chinese symbols of "To Live, To Love, To Laugh."  The problem I initially had with that question is the same problem I have now.  Where to place those symbols?  Therefore, there have not been any more tattoo field trips, nor do I have Chinese symbols permanently adhered to my body. 

Maggie May knows everything about me...and I mean everything.  (Side note to the men I have dated:  OK...she does not know everything, but she does know as much about you as your best friend knows about me.)  I cannot lie, or bluff.  She was there for every episode of my life since 1991.  The one thing I can always and only be with her is real.  No fronts, nor falseness.   Occasionally there is bravado, but when I return to earth there is always laughter, or tears, over my false bravado. 

While taking pole dancing classes a couple of years ago, I called Maggie weekly on my way home to tell her about spinning, flipping, or about how strong and powerful I felt after my 2 hour workout.  I convinced her to come to an S Factor Open House so she could see first hand what this was all about.  After entering her name in a raffle, Maggie went home with her own stripper pole to install in her 1 bedroom Rogers Park condo.

We slid the 10' pole into my SUV. It went from my windshield, over the backseat and through the hatch.  We secured the pole with bungee cords and tied a red winter scarf on to the 1'-2' of extra pole sticking out of the car.  Once we got it into her back alley, attempting to get that dang long skinny box up two floors of a winding back porch staircase to her condo was a Lucy and Ethel moment like no other.  We dodged live (yes, live) electrical wires, almost dropped it when I was scared by a squirrel (I swear it was rabid), laughed till tears were streaming down our faces.  Of course I was in heels (aren't I always?)  Can you imagine if that pole actually hit a live wire, there would have been two crispy critter women (and possibly fried rabid squirrel) and many questions why we were trying to bring a pole dancing pole up to a 1 bedroom condo.  Questions would have been raised by many.  Those that know us would have shaken their heads and said, "We are not surprised."

When Mags decided she really could not store her winnings in her living room (on the floor, along the long wall, behind the T.V., stereo and chair) any longer, I offered to store it for her in my basement.  Which required us to return down two stories of the winding back porch staircase, again almost hitting live (yes, live!) electrical wires, (no squirrel this time) again laughing like idiots as we almost fried ourselves, again into my car where we slide it from windshield to hatch, tied a red winter scarf onto the last two feet of the box, secured it with bungee cords and I drove it down Lake Shore Drive to my house.  Once there, my accomplice, Katrina, helped me bring it through the garage, into the family room, pass my mother who was sleeping on the couch, down into the sub-basement and into our storage room.  Where it stayed until Maggie donated it (just last week) to a Harley charity raising money for ovarian cancer research.  The story is legend with my friends.  To this day, when the story is told I get tears in my eyes from laughing. 

Our friendship has seen the worst of me and the best of Maggie. Maggie is never mean, so I have never seen the worst of her. I have seen her at her saddest. And I have seen her angry.  But never at her worst because I truly don't believe she has "mean" built into her genetic code.  There are very few people in the world that possess pure kind souls.  I have been fortunate to meet a handful.  Maggie May is one of them.  When faced with a situation, I quite often ask, "What would my Maggie May do?".   Or "What would Maggie May think?" 

How many friends can laugh about the fact that I threw a clipboard at her?  Yes, I did.  Really.  Sad but true.  It is still the most embarrassing moment of my life, yet Maggie laughs about it.  When the subject comes up, I generally want to hide my head in the sand.  At the time I was frustrated in my job. My ex-husband was making my life miserable. I was angry, annoyed and irritated with everyone.  Actually, I was angry, annoyed and irritated with myself, but it was easier to be angry at the world.  I hated my life.  I had always wanted a career yet I knew my career was derailed due to single-parenthood with a toddler and pre-schooler.  Any career was going to be on the back burner for a number of years.  I love my children and would go through it all again to have them in my life, but at the time I could not see the forest for the trees.  I felt stuck with little options. 

If I remember right (because honestly, I've attempted to obliterate this moment of my life out of my memory), we were making audition phone calls for the theatre.  We had a clipboard for each day of auditions and I had the one she needed.  For whatever reason, instead of handing it to her, or flipping it onto her desk (our desks were definitely within handing and flipping distance), I threw the clipboard at her.  In my brain I meant to toss it, but there was definitely more throw than toss in my actions.  I don't know why I did it.  I never wanted to hurt her.  But in a burst of anger it went flying.  Maggie, fortunately, remained unscathed, yet I still remember the look of surprise on her face.  She teases me about it.  I remain mortified.

Yet, I am blessed.

There are endless stories involving many different friends.  Each one holds a special place in my heart. 

But if a friend can forgive me and still love me unconditionally for what could have been bodily injury, I am beyond fortunate.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


One of my earliest memories is about laughing. My Uncle Jim is a doctor (still practicing at 81 - God bless him!). When I was little he would visit us; chasing me around the house pretending to be a monster. He threatened to take me to live at the hospital where the nurses would take care of me. Most kids would be scared. And actually I was afraid of so many things as a child that I cannot believe I was unafraid of my uncle, or unknown nurses at an unknown hospital. Yet I remember my peals of laughter and giggles as I ran away; running just slow enough so Uncle Jim could catch me and throw me over his shoulder. I doubt I was more than 3 or 4, but that memory is etched in my brain.

I love that my kids make me laugh. We are talking full out, bust a gut, slide down the wall, can't catch my breath, afraid I am going to pee my pants, tears streaming down my face laughter. Although that kind of laughter does not occur every day, I love when it does. We laugh daily. If any of us attempted to explain why, no one would understand, but I am sure gonna try.

The laugh can be inspired by a look, a simple word, or action. The "I'm afraid I'm gonna pee my pants" laughter mentioned above was simply due to opening my daughter's bedroom door last winter to find her multitasking as usual. The room was dark except for the glow of her TV and a book light clipped to her headband so she could read and watch TV while being completely encased in blankets. (In the winter her room resembles a meat locker due to horrid windows.) I haven't a clue how she turned the pages of her book. With her nose? She must have known how silly she looked because her faced reflected the thought of being caught in the act of something extremely silly. It was the combo platter of a cold breeze hitting me in my face and the look on her face that sent me into giggles.

And, by the way, nothing is sacred and quite often irreverent. Putting dinner on the table, or dining together is generally where the laughter begins. We don't care if we have company. Join the jokes, puns and silliness. The more the merrier. Most times when we have company, we end up sitting around the dinner table (or venturing only as far as the living room) talking and laughing for hours. I love that about my family and friends.

Anyone who dines at our table holds a special place in my heart as they are about to witness my family at their most real and surreal. Few have entered this domain. No casualties reported yet because I am very careful of the guest list. There was a time when I worried as to who would share my life. Would they understand our dinner table antics are sacred to us? Would they criticize? I no longer worry because anyone I would invite over would know how to laugh, joke, join the ensuing silliness and keep up with witty repartee.

Once as I walked in the door from work, Kat was teaching Gramma how to drop it and pop it. Music was blaring and there was my daughter and mother dancing in the kitchen. Trina was encouraging Gramma to "work it". Wish I had a video camera at that moment in time, but honestly, I was laughing too hard and having too much fun watching my mom dropping and popping. The dancing was pretty good. She knows how to move. And I am fairly jealous.

Another time Trina made Adam laugh so hard (can't remember why) water spewed from his mouth. As it arched through the air and hit the floor the evening sun caught the jet stream creating a beautiful rainbow. Sunny D quite possibly came out of Trina's nose as she witnessed the rainbow. But then of course, she was all, "Do it again! That was SO cool." Yes, the source of our laughter is quite everything and nothing.

Last winter, it was just Trina, Gramma and I at the dinner table as Adam was in bed with the flu. Trina always makes me laugh, but this particular evening she was on a roll. It started out with Trina trying to convince Gramma to join a dating website for seniors. First off, my mother can't even figure out how to turn on the netbook we purchased for her, let alone attempt geriatric on-line dating. But that did not stop Katrina. She wanted Gramma to go bike riding with some senior "dude" she saw on a commercial. I suggested a pub crawl. Gramma thinks we are both nuts.

Kat then told me the senior "dude" on the bike looked like he was in his fifties. Uh...gee...thanks hon...senior dude? are hitting a little too close to home for this 48 year old I grounded her. She laughed at me.

We then started gossiping about seniors that were currently dating. Katrina is sure there is a senior somewhere in Gramma's circle of friends that would be a great match. Gramma is sure her only current mission in life is to live vicariously through her grandchildren. Katrina suggested Gramma raise her expectations as their lives are not interesting. We then all agreed my dating life was completely snooze inducing. Can you feel the love?

Katrina, Adam and I banter constantly. One liners fly back and forth. Sadly, if the batteries in Gramma's hearing aides are not fully juiced she misses much of the rapid fire comments flying around the table. I spend a lot of time explaining what just happened which is often lost in translation, forcing me to miss out on the latest bit of insanity.

Although Adam is not quiet, and quite funny on his own, his sister over powers him in most scenarios. He is generally the straight man playing off of her lunacy. Desi to her Lucy. One of Katrina's favorite phrases is Mother Flower when she is angry. Adam stole the phrase when crabby about something. The next thing I heard was Katrina yelling, "Mom...Adam said Flower". I don't care what Adam was angry about, her stupid comment made him forget his troubles...for a moment.

Katrina's friends are surprised how the kids and I speak to each other. Yes, I know that I am the parent and they are my children. People remind me all the time that I am not their friend, but their parent. Thanks for the news flash folks. We do know. But honestly, I LOVE my kids. We have fun. My parenting style may be different, but I think I get the job done. And no one has been arrested...yet.

I have never condoned name calling. To me that is just rude. But being siblings, the phrase Dork or Idiot flies through the air on occasion. They never name call their Gramma or I. But they often tell me I am a Geek. I happily agree and am rather proud of the moniker. So, when Trina called me a Geek one day, a friend of hers was appalled. I explained to the boy whose English paper I was proofing that I am admittedly one and I happily embrace my inner geekiness. I get giddy over algebra homework. What can I say? They repeatedly tell me that I am whacked. This poor kid said his mother would have killed him for that remark. His mother obviously had a sense of humor-ectomy.

We have a sign in the dining room that is perpetually crooked. No matter how often I try to straighten it, it tilts to the left. I've given up. The sign reads, "Blessed are we who can laugh at ourselves as we will never cease to be amused." The slightly skewed sign is how I prefer to look at life. The fact that it won't hang straight on the wall is a metaphor for life. Nothing is as it seems and one can always tip a situation; finding humor behind it. Honestly we are often amused.

About 2 years ago my best friend Maggie won a pole dancing pole in a raffle at S Factor. Since her condo is not big enough to store it, I offered to keep it in our basement until she decided to either install it or sell it. It stayed in our basement unopened until she donated it to an auction raising money for ovarian cancer. But while it was still hanging out in our basement, one day while we were all dining on Chinese take out (yes, the best stories happen at our house over a meal) my mom asked what that long skinny box was in our storage room. Honestly, how could I explain a stripper pole to my 79 year old mother and why we were storing it? My response was, “It’s a pole…of sorts”. Considering Katrina was my accomplice when bringing the pole into the house, sneaking it through the garage, into the basement, passing my mother sleeping on living room couch and down the steps into the sub-basement and storage room, Katrina's shrimp fried rice flew across the room. I have never seen her laugh THAT hard. Gramma accepted the "pole of sorts" response; never questioning whether it was a light pole, coat rack, stripper pole.

Later that evening, Trina's friends, Eric and Antoine, show up to devour our Chinese take out leftovers. Katrina starts telling them about my "pole of sorts" comment to Gramma. The teens attempt to convince me to install the pole in the basement. One of the boys asked, "Ma, do you realize you would be the coolest mom at LT?" Um...yeah...and...not in this life time. I really don't care that my daughter's social standing would increase exponentially. Not the notoriety we want...or need. They did create hours of laughter discussing our house as the party palace with one of the boys attempting to mimic pole dancing with a dining room chair. The woman across the street who loves to peek out her window must have LOVED that scenario. I kept the curtains open. Heck if Gladys Kravitz is going to watch our house, she might as well have something to talk about later.

After dinner Gramma generally retreats to the family room to watch Wheel of Fortune, so our laughter gravitates upstairs. The kids generally do homework, text their friends and watch TV in their rooms. I generally sit in the middle of my bed which is my "desk", work on real estate, pay bills, or write. My door is open and they wander in and out throughout the evening. Our little area in the house is where the laughter continues. Great memories have been created wandering between our three rooms.

Sometimes I don't see what is going on in their rooms, but I hear it. The other day, Adam, while going through an Emo phase, wanted to see what he would look like with eye-liner and convinced Trina to teach him how to apply it. What I could hear from the other room was a simultaneously stream of commands and complaints, "Hold still. Open your eyes...Open them...I said hold still...Aargh!'re swaying...stop it." Adam's version was, "Ow...I'm not swaying...Ow!...They are open" Next, I heard, "Have Mom show you!" With that Adam appeared in my room looking like a lost puppy and only half eye-lined.

Later the same night, Trina stood in my doorway bopping to music. Mind you, no Ipod or ear buds were attached. The music she was listening to was completely in her brain. As I am quite use to this behavior, I asked, "What station are we listening to today?" Techno. I could not help but laugh. Here is a girl listening to her own cranial MP3 while her pony tail swayed to the beat. A little while later, I noticed a different beat of her head as she wandered into the hallway. All I have to do is raise an eye brow, or tilt my head and she'll tell me the latest genre playing their top 40 list. It ranges from Punk, Techno, Oldies, Classic Rock, Country, etc. Once she told a friend it was Mozart. One thing for sure, my baby girl wouldn't know Mozart from Beethoven, but her comment had the intended effect of wonder.

There are endless stories of laughter and silliness. No one ever said life was going to be easy. But I honestly believe if you take what is thrown at you, find the humor in the situation and parlay it back to the universe wrapped in laughter you will live a happier existence.

Enjoy the moment.

Seize the humor.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

God Humor

Dear God, You are a funny, funny Deity. You bring Almighty Humor to a whole new level. You probably hear that all the time, though! Right? Unless of course I am the only pawn You like messin' with. Please tell me that You do mess with others.

Please...tell me.

It would be way too presumptuous of me to think that I, out of millions and millions, could possibly be singled out in this laugh track You call Life. But since You keep messin' with me there must be something that holds Your interest. Is it my comedic timing? Or the fact that I just keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over and over...? Am I the real life equivalent to Lucy? If so, who is my Ethel? And can't I be Marilyn for a change? Do You sit back with a bowl of popcorn and a coke while chaos erupts around me?

While I am asking a million questions, Lord, may I ask why, Dear God? Why? Am I dense? Really? Are there lessons I keep refusing to learn?

Oh...hmmm...yes, I do remember that incident...which I then repeated that mistake a year or two later...ugh...and then there was...OK...hmmm...are You going to hold that one against me too? Oh...OK...never mind. No need to answer that question. I got the picture. But I don't mean to be obtuse when it comes to life lessons. You're not buying that one, right? Maybe I'm just a slow life learner?

While my plate is full to overflowing, You enjoy wreaking havoc in all areas of my life: financial, employment, social, health, familial. Am I missing any? Oh, yeah, the one area in which You seem to take great delight in creating cataclysmic proportional chaos is my dating life. My dates are so few and far between. Yet once one potential gentleman (victim?) arrives You throw me a curve ball which I never see coming. As You know my life resembles a tornado, hurricane or earthquake (pick a natural disaster...any natural disaster), so I am rather discriminating in my dating choices. Only the McGyver types who are resourceful enough to survive a tsunami with a palm leaf and string are allowed into my inner sanctum. If they are not resourceful, take pity on their poor clueless souls as they enter my life.

In all seriousness, I refuse to waste my time if there is not even a glimmer of potential, or possibility. It's not like I have a 100 point questionnaire they must complete. My requirements are not lengthy at all: intelligent, kind, funny, honest, creative and passionate in their convictions. If they make me laugh as well as think, well, I am done for. Totally done for. Bonus points for cute. Yet it seems that even when they arrive, something happens and the relationship crashes and burns faster than a car at Indy.


Although I did my fair share of ruining relationships, I will not take the fall on all of them. Seriously, excluding this year, think about the last two men You sent my way. It was over 18 months ago. Do You remember the guy from Match who thought date number one would end up in a booty call and was pissed when it did not? Seriously, one dinner at Big Bowl does not a booty call make. If it was Spiaggia, Tru, or Alinea there may have been a moment of pause, or consideration, without any follow through mind You (it was date #1 after all). But it was Big Bowl. So, no pause. No consideration. And no thank you. Did he expect that with every woman he met? Only You know for sure. With that thought in mind, eeewww! all I can say.

Then Lord, remember the nutjob who wanted me to take a personality test so he knew how to react to me? The saddest part of that one is I complied with said stupid test. Around date three, he informed me I was reacting a certain way to something he said because I am a #2 and he is a #7. No, I was reacting that way because his behavior to someone else was rude and obnoxious. If he could treat someone he knew for years that way, how would he treat me down the road? I could never keep the number stuff straight anyway. I'm good at algebra, not psychological accounting. God...You were there...You know I am not making this stuff up.

While I have Your attention, may we chat about another item...or two? Can You please stop sending married men my way? If they have issues (and don't we all have issues?) either give them the strength and clarity of thought to fix their marriage, or have them call me after the ink dries on their divorce decree. This is not an unreasonable request.

The final topic comes to mind after recently commiserating with a broken hearted friend. When presented with a Porsche, why do people choose a pick-up? If they have the option of driving a BMW, why hook up with a trailer? It truly boggles the mind. All of my questions and rants can be attributed to both sexes. Do people feel they are unworthy of a Porsche or BMW? Are they afraid of the commitment and responsibility to care for said vehicle? If You tell me that it is for the thrill of driving a different car, I am going to have to find alternate metaphors as a pick-up or trailer do not equate a thrill ride. And You my Dear Lord, are the only Benevolent Being able to answer these questions.

I am looking for the man who wants to care for and be proud of his Porsche. Doesn't it make sense that I am a bit gun shy?

I keep hoping You will send someone my way that will allow me to enjoy life for a bit and forget about all the other scenarios with which You keep thumping me on the head. Between financial woes, a mom who takes wacky behavior to a whole new level, single parenthood, career frustrations, semi-annual health tests, and an insane ex-husband, my plate is as over filled as a Thanksgiving feast. I am not looking for someone to take those things away from me. They are my issues with which to rectify.

What I could use is a little TLC. Someone with whom to enjoy an evening out so I can forget about the above for a short while. A phone call, or text, to see how my day is going is always an added bonus. I recently enjoyed those. They are quite wonderful. The last gentleman You sent my way made life lovely. He was total mind candy...intelligent conversations that stimulated my brain. A great sense of humor. Late night phone calls. And massive bonus points in the cute category. Getting ready to go out was exciting again. I forgot what it was like to feel my heart race when I received a text, or saw his name pop up on my caller ID. It was like a mini shot of espresso from my heart to my toes. A pretty terrific feeling. It was fun to smile out of the blue when thinking of him. And it was so nice to be thought of as desirable again. It had been so long since I was seen that way. I was beginning to wonder if it was still possible. Lord, things were looking up for the first time in a long time. Now, my phone is a bit too quiet. Why did it get complicated?

This is not a complete bitch session. You bring very interesting men to my life. I learn alot from each one. The good ones are always creative in some capacity. Do You realize three have been musicians? Of course You did. Otherwise, You would not be You. I even inspired a song which is currently on a CD. My one little claim to fame. But You knew that as well. I am very thankful for each experience as they shaped me into the person I am today. My only concern is that although You bring very interesting, creative men into my life, You hold them just out of reach like a carrot, or bunny, to a race horse.

Lord, I am so flippin' tired of everything in my life being out of reach. I often feel like said race horse running in circles; never quite reaching my goals. Scholastically, I have always been an over achiever, yet in my adult life I seem to be achievement challenged. WHAT am I doing wrong?

I was recently told that I was beautiful and light up a room. And that I should never feel bad or lacking about anything. Yet some how, some way, I always feel as if I am...lacking that is. The feeling tends to come from insecurities created by Life Lessons slapping me upside the head at the most inopportune times.

It would be great if a McGyver-type was as ready for a relationship with me as much as I am ready for a relationship with him. I want to be #1 in someone's life. Someone who equally twitterpates my heart; as I his. Is that too much to ask? Seriously? Lord, it is what I need. Not want. Need. There is just too much chaos around me. Something simple and beautiful would be wonderful. While in wishful thinking mode, if he arrived at the door with a bouquet of wild flowers, lavender and daisies I'd be exceptionally thrilled. But I won't get greedy. Twitterpated hearts rank above lavender and daisies, but lavender and daisies are simple, thoughtful and quite lovely.

Lately, I am very much trying to go with the flow, enjoy the journey and see where it all leads. But honestly, can You help with a little positive Divine intervention? Please? I am so lost; a little celestial GPSing would be wonderful.

It would be great to walk into a relationships with a wide open heart. Completely unjaded and fearless. If we reduced love to mathematical equations they would resemble the following:

Guarded heart + Jaded = Bad Relationship

Open heart + Honesty + Truth = Good Relationship

My intentions always start out with the second equation. Maggie, my biggest cheerleader, always tells me, "This is your year. I know it. I can feel it." She has been saying it since 1998. (Thank You by the way for at least keeping Maggie in my life. She keeps me sane.) Something tells me she will be confirming that "This is my year" on my deathbed.

I am all about the good relationship equation. The person becomes my friend. We enjoy each other's company. We start to care about each other. But even as I am working the whole open heart thing, something happens. Either with him. Or with me. It can be a variety of somethings, but You tend to enjoy the ex-girlfriend scenario. It is Your favorite storyline, isn't it? You always put a different spin on it, though. Just to keep things interesting? Us pawns are happy to oblige, but it is getting a little old. Can we try something different? Will You let me catch the carrot for once and let me enjoy a real relationship for a change? That is MY requested scenario.

But when the "something" happens, those old insecurities pop into my brain. The heart hardens a bit. It starts locking up rather than opening. The wall that was torn down starts to be re-built with a little barbed wire added for effect. What seems so simple gets all complicated when hearts (his and mine) have been previously eviscerated, skewered and run through a meat grinder. Ok...meat grinder may be a bit dramatic, but it paints an adequate picture. Let's try a novel approach to my relationships. How about one that is happy, fulfilling and long lasting? By the by, long lasting is a relative term. Give me a relationship that will last a season...three months...with an option to renegotiate the contract at the end of 90 days. Can You give me that and find someone else to irritate for a bit? Please? (You do realize my request is asked with the utmost respect?)

Lord, I do understand though, that if I was the right woman, the ex-girlfriend, or other scenarios, would no longer matter. One of the hardest lessons I ever learned is that no amount of "girl tricks" (as a friend once called them) will entice a man for any length if I am not the right one. See, my brain is not complete cement. I do listen...grudgingly...on occasion.

My guess is that You keep thumping me on the head because I am missing some other very basic and obvious signs. Which means that I am almost hopelessly beyond dense. Are You honestly sending me signs that I just ignore? If so, can You create neon ones with pointy arrows that flash? How about big billboard signs in the middle of the sidewalk? Lasers are fun and generally get my attention. Could You add some lasers? Lasers with sound effects are even better. Fireworks? Sky writing? Smoke signals?

I might notice one of those...or not...

Final revisions 4/5/10

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Making a Difference - The Ripple Effect

Over the past couple of months I have been fortunate enough to reconnect with various friends and relatives over dinner. Whether these women are sorority sisters, friends from college, cousins, or past colleagues they may appear ordinary to anyone unaware of their accomplishments. But to see their resumes, or hear their stories, they are the rock stars of extraordinary. One has her doctorate, two have run a theatre, a couple could be classified as marketing gurus, one started her own jewelry business which now boasts a star studded clientele. Others excel at their chosen field while some chose family over career; raising children and now contemplating about their next step once their children are grown. Their resumes may be varied, but they all share an intelligence and sense of humor that is mind boggling. They stimulate my mind and make me laugh all within one conversation.

I am in awe of these women and am so thankful to have them in my life. Their accomplishments are jaw dropping. Yes, I have my own accomplishments. But it seems as if somewhere along the way, I was supposed to go straight but ended up making a left turn instead. Ironically, having always been directionally challenged, my broken internal GPS is a metaphor of my life.

As a child I could not wait to grow up. I wanted to be free and independent. It was important to me that I not rely on anyone else. Some how, some way, at a very early age, I learned that the only person one could really depend on was oneself. Everyone else in my life tended to disappoint.

My plan was to move out as soon as possible. I wanted independence even before I knew how to spell the word. I knew the type of house I would buy. It was a white tiny Victorian with a red door, a beautiful floral garden and white picket fence. With a JC Penney catalogue in hand, I would curl up in a family room chair for hours and mark everything necessary for my future home. Furniture pages were dog eared, kitchen gadgets circled, bedspreads and curtains marked. My home was going to be perfectly JC Penney-esque. Now, I prefer a Bloomingdales or Pottery Barn existence, but at 10 my world was all about JC Penney.

Sadly, life got in the way. Pretty soon I found myself following other people's expectations for my life; ignoring my own inner voice and giving in to the other person. It was so much easier in life than to argue for what I wanted. Slowly that Victorian house with it's red door and white picket fence was a distant dream.

I lived my life as the "perfect child"; consistently achieving excellent grades and honor roll acknowledgements. Please understand, I was NOT the perfect child. I was spoiled, selfish and greedy. My brothers will be the first to attest to that statement. I also did anything my parents asked of me. I never rebelled. Actually, I did not know that option existed. In college my over achiever status continued because I knew it made my parents happy. As my GPA rose my weight diminished. My focus and determination subsequently caused my battle with anorexia and bulimia.

Following the expectations of others has plagued me through my life: in my marriage, while raising children, while living with my mother, in every company I have ever been employed. While blindly following the expectations of others I consistently ignored my inner voice. The rare times I did listen to that voice, the masses were so surprised that I spent too much time justifying my actions. Eventually, it was easier to fall back on obeying everyone else's thoughts about how my life should be run. I chose the easy road - not the one less traveled.

Maybe because it is the end of the decade that I am thinking about regrets vs. accomplishments. Maybe it is due to my health scare last year. Maybe my life could have been different. Every choice made in life walks us down an unknown path oblivious to where the other roads may have led. Would our life have been better for making one choice over another? Maybe, but what is the point in wondering what if? Would my life be that much different had I chosen Pi Phi's over Tri Sigs? Many of the women mentioned above would then be missing from my life and I cannot imagine that fact at all. My mother, a very pragmatic women, once mentioned that if I chose one road vs. another the above questions would be a mute point as I would not know what I was missing. There would be other rock-star intelligent women bringing other gifts into my life. Still, I know and love these rock-star intelligent women and do not want to imagine my life without them.

I have never been a fan of "shoulda, woulda coulda" thinking. Maybe the life I led, brought me to where I need to be with the knowledge necessary to go forth. There was a time in my life when I selfishly forced paths. Looking back, each time I "forced" something, the Universe slapped me upside the head because whatever I was forcing was not in my best interest. The list is quite lengthy and each Universal slap was well deserved.

In a conversation with my cousin Deirdre, she mentioned how she wanted her career to make a difference. That thought impressed me and has stayed with me. The question then becomes what is making a difference? That is a highly personal answer and different for everyone. Grant writing makes a difference in various lives. Educators make a difference thousands of times over. Musicians, members of the military, doctors and attorneys all make a difference. Each difference is in the eye of the beholder.

After repeatedly making left turns in my life, I want to make a difference. I am unsure what that difference is going to be but know I have the capacity and intelligence to follow through once my mind is made up. Does making a difference start with only breaking down in tears one evening in a week because there was too much week and too little money? Does that breakdown cause me to discover alternative plans and actions to have more money than week?

Or does making a difference mean that I may be ordinary, but raised intelligent thought provoking children who may make a difference in the world. Maybe my part in making a difference is rearing the ones who actually will make a difference. Does that count? Or is that cheating? Is the verbal vomiting in my blog making a difference somewhere in cyberspace? I can only hope that something I have done, written, or someone I have assisted, has gone on to make a difference in this world. Yet, I too, want - no need - to make my own difference. But what will that be?

What I do know is that we all have a responsibility to the world in which we live. A responsibility to help others grow to be strong caring, loving individuals who know the world is just a little better due to our participation. To have existed for naught makes no sense to me. Everyone has a purpose. Each person starts their own ripple; effecting so many people.

What is my ripple?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Alien Being in my Boob - Part II

This month is the one year anniversary of my benign alien being's eviction. Fortunately he stayed Dr. Jekyll; never reaching Mr. Hyde status. Yet, even upon eviction this alien being had the ability of wreaking havoc on my life and making me more than a little crabby. Surprisingly, he gets to continue this course of action into the unforeseen future. It appears that Dr. Jekyll had Hyde aspirations; leaving a calling card of precancerous cells lurking in the area. Not your typical non-worrisome precancerous cells...well as non-worrisome as typical precancerous cells can be...but the over-achievers of precancerous cells.

Part of me pictures these evil little wannabe cells wearing doo-rags and black leather jackets, leaning against light poles on a street corner and smoking cigarettes; tricking my body into making trades with healthy cells for Wannabes. The other part, pictures them as nerdy evil over achievers with big black round plastic rimmed glasses, huge reference books under their noses and perfect ACT scores figuring out ways to morph into malignancy.

For those that want to get all scientific, the Wannabes were labeled atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH). Precancerous cells on steroids. The Arnold Schwartzenegger of Wannabes. Why has over achievement continually plagued my life? The articles on ADH can make one more than a bit apprehensive. Google, with its plethora of sites, became my friend and enemy this past year. Some sites state the chances of getting breast cancer from Wannabes is 400%. Others offer no percentages, but state ADH places one at a much higher risk. Regardless, I spent the past year thinking I'm cancer free, but...

That's the difficult part. Why can't I be just cancer free? No buts. I KNOW we all have cancer cells in our body. If we nourish our body properly, our body is supposed to fight them off. I KNOW my tumor which had staked it's claim, installed plumbing, had personality and played hide and seek was evicted and benign. I KNOW all these things. But, seriously, if a surgeon evicts benign aliens from your breast, there should not be any buts.

That is where my dilemma arose. I was not trying to make mountains out of mole hills (and that is not a breast joke.) This whole year I have been torn between being extremely thankful and wondering if I am more like the spoiled kid at Christmas who did not get everything she wanted. Is it OK to be thankful yet crabby over my diagnosis? Everyone will have a different opinion. I am not ashamed to admit I want it all. Is that human nature? I want a perfect diagnosis and zero alien beings or Wannabes residing in my breasts, or any other part of my body. If you were given the choice, you would probably agree.

These questions formed my tenuous but interesting relationship with my surgeon. My guess is that we mutually consider the other to be a huge pain in the arse, or pita. Initially, he was quite considerate, now he seems more annoyed. On the Thursday after my surgery, the day my pathology report was to arrive, I waited around anxiously. No phone calls. Feeling like the wall flower waiting for her phone to ring, I finally took a deep breath and called the surgeon's office just before their office closed for the day. His nurse apologized. Dr. Pita was still in surgery and she really did not know when he would be out. She confirmed that my pathology report arrived but he needed to speak with me about it. (GULP!) She suggested that I would not hear anything until the next day. I could appreciate the explanation. How can one be crabby when he has someone else opened up on an operating table. It's not like he was out playing golf. Although I wanted to know the results, he was a bit pre-occupied at the moment and another few hours were not going to change the outcome.

Although not expecting to hear from him at all, he called me a couple of hours later because he did not want me to worry another night. No cancer was found. My alien being was duly evicted and benign. Hallelujah!! Yippee Skippee!! Praise the Lord and all that jazz!



He then explained about the Wannabes. He stated we would discuss treatment options at my surgical follow-up appointment next week. benign, yet rude, alien being was evicted, yet I still required treatment? He explained a little more about the Wannabes, mentioned Tamoxifen (the wonder drug of breast cancer patients) and then said good night. Well, now that left a million questions swimming in my brain.

Although confused, I was thrilled about zero cancer. I did not even give the Wannabes too much consideration. I was literally on a manic high. No cancer! Wow! I NEVER went to sleep that night. Not one minute. I was up the whole day Friday as well. I could not even nap. It was if there was a surge of adrenaline coursing through my veins. After being awake 41 hours and hallucinating the face of a cherub, I finally crashed at 1AM on Saturday morning.

I joked that I was fine with weekly mammograms if it meant no cancer. I kept repeating to myself, "No Cancer! I'm healthy!" Whew!

But then I about the Wannabes...and then about Tamoxifen, its side affects and other treatment options...

Armed with 3 pages of questions in my notebook, my surgeon met with me for 20 minutes at most. In layman's terms, there were some precancerous cells checking out the territory, planning a coupe, but they were evicted with the tumor. Because of those snarky Wannabes, although cancer free, the "girls" and I are now, forever and always, considered risky. Although I prefer my breasts to be thought of as risque, anyone would take risky over the "other" alternative. I am very fortunate. My incision was healing nicely. All the stitches were internal and the outside was Superglued together. Interesting. I felt a little like a cut and paste project. I have to admit, the swelling was an added benefit. Both breasts swelled and I then knew what it is like to actually be voluptuous...even if was short lived. Katrina even joked, "Welcome to my world, Mom!"

Dr. Pita and I discuss my treatment options. We will meet every 4 months for the next year. A week prior to seeing him, I will have a diagnostic mammogram (breast squashed to crepe status). Once the report is sent to him, we will meet and he will conduct an ultra sound at my visit. Oh joy! Can't wait to start scheduling the appointments! I am already mentally tabulating how much time I will take off work since neither his schedule, nor the hospital's diagnostic mammogram schedule is conducive to one working single mom. The hospital only conducts one diagnostic mammogram per day at 9:45AM Monday - Friday. He only sees patients on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays in the morning. Well, this will become a logistical nightmare. Regardless, I'm healthy!

He then explains Tamoxifen. It truly is the wonder drug of breast cancer. Women who have breast cancer take this pill daily for 5 years and "poof" no more breast cancer. The medical field has since been treating women at high risk with Tamoxifen. The results have been quite promising. There is that high risk label again. Tamoxifen is a very cool and enticing option. It does throw you into early menopause. At 46 did I really want to throw myself into early menopause? Dr. Pita then explains the rest of the potential side affects: uterine cancer (slight risk), cataracts, deep vein thrombosis and strokes.

Can you imagine the PR spin Tamoxifen's marketing people put on this drug to convince the medical field it is the wonder drug for those at high risk? Dr. Pita informed me I am cancer free, yet he wants me to think about taking a drug that could potentially give me cancer, throw me into early menopause, give me cataracts, blood clots and a stroke. Not only would I be meeting with him on a quarterly basis, I'd be meeting my gynecologist regularly to insure Wannabes were not staging a coupe in my womb. Can you say jumping from the frying pan into the fire? At least my gynecologist has evening appointments. I decline his Tamoxifen offer. He suggests I learn more about it and we can discuss it again at my quarterly visit in January.

Can't wait!

By now, I am a nervous wreck. Dr. Pita has mentioned more than once I am high risk. He wants me on a wonder drug which scares the hell out of me. I want more answers. The other part of this nightmare that made me furious is that I wanted them to run tests on my right breast. Dr. Pita, nor the radiologist, were interested. Their reasoning was although I have been known to have pain under my right arm in the lymph node region, there wasn't a lump on that side and nothing showed up on the mammogram. Hello! McFly!! My alien being played hide and seek on my left side until you found it and it's blood supply in an ultrasound. You installed a GPS in it during the biopsy because he played hide and seek. He could have a twin alien taking up residence in my right breast. My arguments fell on deaf ears.

I followed up with my general practitioner as directed; explaining everything. I was angry and scared. I adore Dr. R. After explaining it all to him, not calmly mind you, he agreed that I should go for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound on my right side. Although not likely, if there was pain there could be something. He could have been appeasing me. I am sure my alternating between angry, calm and tears had nothing to do with it. Dr. R. admitted breast cancer was not his specialty. Because I had many legitimate questions about my newly appointed high risk label and Tamoxifen, he suggested I speak with an oncologist. I asked if that is what he would tell his sister rather than a high-strung patient. He reassured me that it would be the same information he would give his sister, wife, mother, etc.

It was not my intention, but my doctor dance card had never been so full. Someone mentioned that I seem to be seeing a ridiculous amount of doctors for having a benign tumor removed from my breast. She knew people with cancer that did not see as many doctors. My guess is a cancer diagnosis is cut and dry: diagnose cancer, remove cancer, treat with chemo/radiation, continue treatment until cancer is gone. Yet, that process requires many, many doctors.

My Wannabes threw me into a different category. Due to my HMO, follow-ups were required with Dr. R. Dr. Pita was required for search and seize of aliens and Wannabes. And because I had many questions about Wannabes and Tamoxifen it made sense to see an oncologist. If I jumped on the Tamoxifen band wagon then I would add my gynecologist to the already full dance card. This was not the type of popularity I wanted. Seriously, wall flower status was looking pretty good.

The choices on meeting my new oncology "dance partner" were December 24th, or January 12th. After quipping, "Nothing says Christmas like a little cancer discussion", I chose January; scheduling my diagnostic mammogram appointment a week earlier and as well as Dr. Pita's appointment immediately following. The oncologist was wonderful. He sat with me for a full hour; explaining my risks, my care, my family history which contains no breast cancer, but heavy on colon cancer and polyps. I took copious notes. Due to my family history, my oncologist states although considered high risk for breast cancer, I am even more at risk for colon cancer. Well, aren't you just the bearer of good news. As we closed the discussion he stated that I am an intelligent, well informed woman and I will make the best choice for me.

Seriously, I don't want to make any choices. Things would be much better if no choices needed to be made. My Cleopatra alter-ego, Queen of Denial, was emerging. I next meet with Dr. Pita. His first question upon walking in the room was why I had a diagnostic mammogram/ultrasound on my right AND left side. I explained. He stated that in the future he needs to conduct all ultrasounds on me. If he ever has to operate again, he needs to be the one behind the ultrasound. It took EVERYTHING I had to keep my composure. He condescendingly denied my right breast ultrasound request 3 months ago, yet he slapped my hand because I did not have him conduct the ultrasound Dr. R. ordered after my near nervous breakdown! That is when Dr. Pita confirmed his Pita status.

We again discuss Tamoxifen. I take copious notes, but explain that the drug gives me the heeby jeebies. If the Wannabes had reached Hyde status, I would definitely consider it. But by taking it now, the Wannabes could migrate to my uterus, reach Hyde status and hire additional recruits to wreak havoc on my blood, eyes and brain. Call me Crazy, but no thank you! By the time I left, we both consider the other one the biggest Pitas we have ever met.

I have friends that are pro Tamoxifen as well as con. Some swear by it others agree that it scares them as well. A family member in the medical field thinks I am crazy for not taking it. My ex-husband thinks I signed my own death sentence. If my choice turns out to be wrong, I will probably be more crabby for proving him right - but we won't think along those lines.

In April, I meet with Dr. Pita again. His next tactic is to inform me that because I refuse to take Tamoxifen I am no longer considered a preventative patient. We are now on a course for early detection. Is he trying to frighten me? It is slightly working, but I do not appreciate strong arm tactics. Again, if the Wannabes reached Hyde status, yes, I'd take the scary drug and meet with the rest of the doctors on my dance card at regular intervals. But to not have cancer and put something in my body that could cause cancer just seems ridiculous!

Now that I am considered early detection, my treatment consists of alternating between an MRI and diagnostic mammogram/ultrasound every 6 months. Just how much radiation am I putting in my body? Are we detecting cancer or are we creating it? As I leave, Dr. Pita's nurse mentions that scheduling a breast MRI can be a bit difficult, so I should start attempting to schedule it about 2 months before my next appointment. Uh...OK.

Silly, silly me. I thought it was difficult to schedule because the imaging department was so busy. I found out the real answer when I called to make my appointment. Not only do they schedule breast MRI's once a day at 10AM. A breast MRI can only be done between your 7th-14th day of your menstrual cycle. For one who is not regular (yours truly), this can be another logistical nightmare. Also, because the MRI is done with contrast, blood work needs to be done no more than 14 days prior but not less than 2 days of the procedure. You are kidding me, right?

This was now beyond a logistical nightmare...we were reaching clusterf**k status. Step one, guesstimate when my period was due. Step two, determine days 7 through 14 from guesstimate (highlight in yellow). Step three, remove all weekend dates and determine which left over days are potential days to take off from work. Step four, highlight potential days in pink. Step five, call to see if any of these dates are available. Step six, once scheduled (circled in red), count back two through fourteen days to determine blood work window. Highlight in blue. My calendar was very colorful. Step seven, pray guesstimate is correct. Prepare to call Central Scheduling if cycle does not coincide with guesstimate. The first attempt did not work well. My second attempt was juggled between vacation schedules at the office. Upon contacting Central Scheduling, they had the 12th and 14th day of my cycle open. I took the 12th. Whew!

The insanity continues. When I went for my blood work, the phlebotomist was confused by the order. While I called Dr. R.'s office to straighten everything out, she started working on another file. Once she had my correct blood work order, she started to enter it into the file on which she was working - not mine! I only caught the mistake when I realized the wrong doctor's name was on the computer screen. I questioned her. She looked quite surprised, but reassured me that my name was on the screen and pointed to the patient's name, Eileen. I reminded her my name was Mary. She was a very embarrassed phlebotomist. I called Dr. R's office a day or two later to make sure that my blood work had been completed correctly.

After my breast MRI, I met with Dr. Pita who no longer mentions Tamoxifen. We chat for all of 10 minutes. I leave with my order for a diagnostic mammogram in 6 months. Until told otherwise, this is my schedule. Whether it is a preventative program, or early detection, my plan is to remain healthy.

I am beyond fortunate that Wannabes were the only cells found. I know that. Although she is a survivor, I saw what colon cancer did to my mom. There are friends in my life currently living with cancer. Other friends are survivors. I have lost beloved friends and relatives to cancer. This is a club that I would prefer not to join. Not fond of their dues and initiation rituals. Yet the chaos that ensued this past year is the equivalent of a fun house at a carnival. Nothing is as it appears. Parts are scary. Parts are ridiculous. Conversations with doctors are akin to fun house mirrors reflecting distorted or unclear information.

I have learned more this year than I ever wanted to learn about breast cancer, Wannabes and treatments. I would have preferred living my life blissfully oblivious to their existence. I try to eat healthier. Yet reducing stress and increasing sleep continually eludes me.

The only remaining constant is I am in charge of my health care. No one else. I will make informed decisions about my treatment.

My body.

My health.

My rules.