Friday, May 30, 2014

Happy Birthday Mom

Dear Mom,

This past Tuesday I was on the phone with the Squirrel Hill Flower Shop ordering flowers for your birthday. After I picked what we wanted and gave the saleswoman your address for delivery she asked me to tell her what I wanted to write on the card. Since the flowers were from all of us, I warned her that there would be a lot of names and I started listing them. Sam & David, Katie, Ari, Avi & Koby, Lou & Rick. Eight of us in all where there used to be three, and we just keep growing.

Everyone tells me all the time how lucky I am that my family is so close. That I have sisters who are my best friends, that the boys we married get along so well, and that we all like and enjoy each other. That we make an effort to get together as often as we can. That there are near daily phone calls, emails, presents sent, Facetimes and Gchats. That we not only know what is going on in each other's lives, but care deeply. That even though we don't all live in the same city, we do whatever we can to bridge the geographical distance, and do it well.

And when they tell me that, I always agree that yes, I am - we are - lucky, but I know it's not really luck, or not only.

It's you.

Since we were little, you have shown us what it means to live, and live well. To be caring and giving and loving. To be a good sister and a good friend and a good person. We learned from you that sometimes things won't be rosy, but to smile anyway, put our heads down, forge straight ahead, and trust that better things lay ahead. And you taught us that when in doubt, call a sister, because when something happens to one of us, it's happening to all of us and we get through it by sticking together. That's just the way it is with family, and with sisters. Over the past few months I have put that advice to use over and over again and the hardest things seem easier, and I feel lighter, because of it.

You taught us that home is not synonymous with perfection. It's a place where there might be dirty dishes in the sink and maybe last week's newspapers on the living room floor, but also a place where there are stacks of books, delicious snacks in the kitchen, and where family and friends feel comfortable to gather and to stay as long as they want. And anyway, perfection is overrated. Because from you we learned that it's far better to leave the dishes for awhile and eat some popcorn in front of the TV, even if you accidentally drop a kernel or two on the floor. And we are better off because of it.

You showed us how to build lives and families of our own, and how to love in a way that makes those lives and families interesting, happy, and strong. You taught us what to look for in a partner, and fortunately for all of us, we followed that advice and found the ones we were meant to build those lives with. You gave us the freedom to be ourselves and to become the people who we were always supposed to be, and because of you, all three of us are leading lives and becoming people that we can be proud of.

We are, in short, nothing without you. All of us.

Maya Angelou passed away earlier this week, and in the deluge of her quotes that have surfaced all over the internet, one of them struck me:
"My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style."
Thank you for passing along to us your passion, compassion, humor and style, and thank you for teaching us - and allowing us - to thrive.

Happy, happy birthday.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Summer I Left From One Home, And Came Back To Another

When I got off the plane in Jacksonville, I felt like I was in a movie where the kids go away to camp and their parents move away without telling them. Except for me, it wasn't that they didn't tell me about it, but rather that I conveniently forgot about it all summer long.

I knew somewhere in a tiny part of my brain kept mostly shuttered that when I left my house in Pittsburgh to go to camp in June I was leaving my childhood home for the last time. And somewhere in my grey matter was floating the idea that plane tickets to Florida had  been booked for me for August, but I was thinking of it more like a vacation rather than a place where I would have all the things one has in the place they live.

So I spent eight weeks at the camp I loved, pretending that everything was as it should be. I lived in a cabin with  friends that had been mine for years, making late night mac and cheese in contraband hot pots and reading Judy Blume's Summer Sisters out loud to each other. I had my first kiss, learned how to slalom on water skis, and made a deliciously ugly pillow in the art shack.

And if the occasional thought of my parents setting up our new house in Jacksonville crossed my mind, I shoved it down and smothered it with bug juice and barbecues.

Except camp doesn't last forever, and I had a plane ticket to Florida that I suddenly couldn't ignore anymore.

The land below the descending plane was flat, brown, and foreign. The blacktop of the runway seemed to simmer in the stifling heat that is late summer in the south. The jolt of landing yanked me roughly out of one reality and deposited me into another, creating the fault line between my lives that said to me, "you live here now and not there."

I sat in the back corner of the car on the way home and stared out the window at the unfamiliar scenery and the palm trees rushing by. Along the highway billboards screamed bible verses touting the virtues of Christianity and decrying abortion and I felt like I had entered another world, which I guess I had. So I closed my eyes and didn't open them again until I felt the car pull into the driveway.

When I walked in the door of the house my mind was running on a constant loop, chanting I don't know this place. I felt my breath backing up in my chest and knew I had to do something - anything - or I would run screaming from the house that was now supposed to be home.

There were bags to unpack and my new room to set up, but there was time enough for that. Instead, I dug out a bathing suit that still smelled like camp and pulled it on, searched out a towel, and headed straight outside.

As I dove into the clear, cool waters of the swimming pool that was only steps away from my back door, I had the fleeting thought that maybe Florida wouldn't be so bad after all.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Clearing Skies

It was raining when we got in to the car to leave Manhattan. Not a heavy and driving rain, but rather the kind of drizzle that lasts for hours so that you never quite get all the way warm and dry.

In retrospect, it was probably a mistake to leave from the city, but we didn't really think it through when we made our plans and I had to work for most of the day, so from the city it was. We realized our mistake when it took us twenty-five minutes to travel one single block, and another forty-five before we were even in sight of the Lincoln Tunnel - the escape hatch from the holiday weekend and rain induced gridlock that had taken over Manhattan.

An hour and twenty minutes after we left my office we finally found ourselves on the other side of the tunnel. We were crabby and frustrated by the delay that we should have should have anticipated - I mean, we did live in the city for almost a decade and know its traffic whims better than anyone - and not at all looking forward to the three and a half hours of driving that separated us from our Memorial Day family weekend.

Newark looked just as dreadful as always as we made our way down the New Jersey Turnpike, and the pockets of slow traffic we hit every time we managed to actually go the speed limit threatened to drive me slowly insane.

But then.

It happened as we drove past the "Welcome to Delaware Sign." At first it was a separation of the clouds to reveal a patch of blue. And then rays of sun came arrowing down over a highway that was miraculously clear.

I slipped my sunglasses on and we stopped at a rest stop to put the top down.

And we drove away, clear, cool, gorgeous air rushing through the car, blowing around our hair. We smiled at each other, cranked up the music, and enjoyed the ride.

And what a ride it was.

Clouds clearing over the Delaware Memorial Bridge

We're this cool.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Graduation Day

Nine years ago.

It was a raw, grey and chilly day when our alarms signaled the start of our very last morning on that campus. The campus that had loved us and nurtured us for four years. The campus where we grew up into different versions of ourselves than we were on that sticky-hot August day when it all began. We knew we were better versions of ourselves because we knew each other now and we didn't then. And better in other ways too, we hoped.

We got dressed, not daring to look each other straight in the eye for fear that the tears hovering just below the surface all weekend would once again spill over, ruining painstakingly applied makeup. These were the kinds of tears that overpowered even the most waterproof mascara. The kind that once started, would never stop.

That we were mostly all moving to Manhattan at various points over the summer didn't matter. Once there, everything would be different. Some of us would have jobs, and some of us would be in graduate school. Some of us would live together, but some of us wouldn't. The days of classes and cafeteria meals all together were mostly over. Manhattan may be a tiny island, but on that particular day, it was feeling pretty big to all of us.

When the time came we said goodbye and headed to our separate department graduations. We walked across small stages and smiled for the cameras our parents couldn't seem to put down and accepted the diplomas that were a testament to four years of hard work and classes and studying, but also to friendship, fun, and unbreakable bonds.

And then we all gathered back together to line up to march into the gym full the real ceremony. We lined up and held hands and started to walk as the first strains of Pomp and Circumstance filled the air. And we sat down in the rows and rows of chairs and half-listened to a speaker that I'm sure none of us could name today.


And when the speaker was finished and the university president pronounced us the class of 2005 the balloons began to fall.

And through the sea sea of blue and white we smiled shaky smiles at each other, wishing for just a few more years, two or three at the most, on the campus that had become our home. That had given us each other. 

Today, nine years sometimes feels like nine minutes, and sometimes feels like nineteen years. We are different people now than we were on that happy-sad day. We have careers and houses and husbands and kids and we leading lives we never could have anticipated or hoped for. 

But lucky for us, we are still doing it all together.

And now.

Nine years later. Still together.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

One Evening In Spring

On a stunning spring evening, the sun is still shining out of an impossibly blue sky, the leaves are rustling in a light breeze that doesn't quite yet carry the warmth of the season, and everything that was once bare and broken from winter's wrath is coming back to life.

Drawn to the outside, needing to be a part of it all, she slips on her new sunglasses and walks out onto the the deck that was built by her man. The deck where they spend their spring and summer moments, talking about their life and their love, and where they whisper their hopes and their dreams, their wishes and their fears.

She settles into a lounge chair, romance novel and drink within arms reach, but she neither reads her book nor drinks her drink. Instead she lays back and thinks her thoughts for her thoughts are many and messy, the way that thoughts sometimes are.

As the breeze flutters her hair and she enjoys the view of the home that she and her man are making together she smiles. And in that moment, she is grateful.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Another First Kiss

I didn't remember that we were Facebook friends until a picture of him cuddling a little boy who had his blond hair and slightly crooked smile appeared in my News Feed.

Past and present collapsed together and I could hear the rain drumming on the roof of the old lodge as it had the night we met.

The campers wouldn't arrive for three days, but my first staff week was in full swing when we gathered for the first of many lectures on keeping campers safe from all the dangers that could befall them in the eight weeks that they would be under our charge.

The floor was wet and the room quickly took on the soft, sweet smell of rain. It was the smell of camp. Of wildness and freedom. Of cabins and fields and the tiny town in Northern Ontario.

My friends and I stood together in the back, mostly ignoring the guy droning on about bear safety.

"I hope someone's taking notes because I'm too drunk to remember any of this."

I snorted out a laugh and turned towards the tall, blond stranger leaning against the wall.

The whistle hanging out of his pocket said sports staff and the yeasty scent of beer on his breath when he introduced himself told me that he had gone with the specialty staff to lunch in town while the rest of us did counselor things.

I found that hint of beer strangely appealing as we whispered through the rest of the lecture and felt myself drawn towards him, even as we parted ways.

He was on my mind as I got ready for bed, and when he sent me a crooked smile from across the dining hall the next morning I felt a jolt from my stomach straight down to my toes.

He found me as we listened to yet another lecture later that night and it seemed natural that we would drift together when the program ended and that he would take my hand as we meandered around the track and up Girl's Hill, talking about everything and nothing.

We fell silent as we reached the stairs in front of my cabin, and the air hummed with electricity when we turned towards each other. There was a single beat of hesitation and then he kissed me in the shadow of the spot where I had my first kiss years before.

This time wasn't that one, but it was a first all the same.

My eighteen year old heart pounded as his hands slicked up my sides and tangled in my hair, our bodies pressed together. When we broke apart I could only stare at him, slightly stunned. He kissed me again, hot and fast, and then smiled his smile before turning and walking away. Not sure my legs would hold me up, I sat right down on the steps and watched him go, hand pressed to my speeding heart.

My office phone rang, tugging me back to the present.

I took one last look at the picture, smiled at him and his little boy, and answered the call, thinking how the light smell of beer still gets me, every single time.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Forever Friends

I spent the day yesterday in a room filled with women. Some I knew, some I had never met before, and a very special few I have known for years. 31 years, to be exact.

It was my best friend's bridal shower for her wedding this coming fall. 

And after brunch was finished, presents opened, and amazing cupcakes devoured I went home. And when I got there I posted something on Facebook. I uploaded a picture from the day and I wrote:
"I'm realizing, over and over again, what a special thing it is to have people who have known you, and loved you, your entire life."
I am lucky to have incredible friends. Friends I met in college and in law school and on the various rest stops in my journey over the past years. Dear friends who have melded seamlessly into my life and who have become my family. And I know, without a doubt, that they are my forever friends.

And as I looked around the room yesterday I realized for what feels like the millionth time lately how lucky I am to have lifelong friends as well. Friends who have known me for all of my days. Who grew up with me and with my family. Who know my history and who share it with me. Who are part of my present and who will be there for my future.

And yesterday. Yesterday we got together to celebrate one of those friends. The sun was out, the air was warm, and the sky was a cloudless blue. And inside, in a room decorated with the colors of spring, we celebrated another milestone in our life's journey. Made another memory. And added to the history that we share together. And will share forever.

Now we look like this

But once upon a time we looked like this.

And this.

And this.

And unfortunately, this.

Pittsburgh Girls

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day 2014

What do girls do who haven't any mothers to help them through their troubles?
-Louisa May Alcott

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Family

I have family on the brain these days.

The one I have made through my friends and my life in New York, yes, but really, today, I am thinking about the one that I was lucky enough to be born with, and the people who have come into it since then.

Once upon a time we were five. Now we are ten. And then numbers just keep growing.

These are the people I love. The ones I hold close when I feel alone. The ones I reach for. The ones who prop me up. The ones who make me feel like I can do anything. 

Who let me be me.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Everything Is Coming Back Green

I can't stop taking pictures of my neighborhood as spring spreads over the streets.

Maybe because the past few weeks have been so ridiculously awful, or maybe because winter in these parts felt like it would never ever be over. But regardless of the reason, spring is here, it is beautiful, and everything is coming back green.

And after some tricky, testing times, I think I may be coming back too.