as seen in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”
It’s no surprise that when Mom died, I was left in a state of limbo. She and I had been as close as a mother and daughter could be. I called her my best friend, and I meant it in every sense of the term. She and I loved one another unconditionally and learned a great deal from each other. She was my “partner-in-crime.” When she wanted to go to Tommy’s for some chili cheeseburgers at 3:00 in the morning, I eagerly joined her. When she sold her self-published Algebra II exercise book at a local math convention, I jumped at the chance to spend the weekend in Palm Springs with her peddling her creation. Our relationship wasn’t perfect, but it was ours, and it was sowed in love.
After she died, I not only lost my best friend, but I was also left with an overwhelming sense of abandonment. One moment, Mom was here, and the next she was gone. Prior to losing her, all I had ever known was my small, tight-knit family and home in Los Angeles. But now, everywhere I turned, it was glaringly obvious that a large portion of that equation was missing and would be forever. The small blessing was that I had stayed home while attending university and got those extra years to connect with Mom. We had done a little traveling around our home state of California for her various business endeavors. I experienced more adult things with her during those years than ever before. We took a girls’ cruise to Mexico, attended my sorority events, worked at the same school together, and gallivanted around Palm Springs several times.
As an Israeli immigrant who arrived in America in the late 1950s, Mom spent the next few years traveling across the country with her family in search of permanent residence. It was this perpetual movement that she had experienced as a child that made Mom avoid traveling very far, and specifically flying. This is why we never made it farther than our cruise down the coast to Ensenada or Gilroy, California, the proud Garlic Capital of the World (coincidentally, also Mom’s favorite food). We took these small trips, bonded over our shared experiences, and made the most of our little adventures. And then, just like that, I was left with her house, her affairs to get in order, bills, a funeral to plan and a cloying feeling of loneliness.
Even so, a few months after her death, things began to settle slightly. With the funeral over and her finances put in order, my immediate responsibilities were dwindling. I noticed that having a to-do list helped divert my attention, even amidst my grief. But what was I supposed to do once I had checked everything off and was left only with my brand-new diploma and a heart so heavy it felt made of lead? I tried to fill my newly empty schedule with familiarity in order to find some semblance of normalcy. I cooked some of Mom’s favorite dishes, but none of them ever tasted the way she made them. I watched our favorite movies, but my solo laughter bounced off the walls of our now much emptier house, and my chuckles often turned into tears. I was stuck in a rut, to say the least.
It was at this low, and on a particularly dreary suburban morning, that I remember realizing I had to make a change. I had been watching some talk show to pass the night hours because sleep had not been coming easily. In this particular moment, I was becoming far too emotionally invested in a woman’s quest to find the paternity of her son when a commercial came on. It was advertising travel within the state of California. I smiled as the camera panned over a familiar backdrop of either Arrowhead or Mammoth, where Mom and I had spent time playing in the snow together. A warm, silly smile spread across my face. But, as quickly as the ad had started, it began to close, and the warmth of my memories rapidly cooled. Then the whiteness of the snow on the screen faded altogether, and a black veil closed around a simple phrase that appeared and read: Go find yourself.
It was in that very moment, in that simple phrase, in those three little words, that I felt a spark. It ignited in me a little glimmer of hope. I found myself repeating the sentence in my head. Go find yourself. In that painful, debilitating time, these words sounded like a message of permission or release. I found myself reflecting, Mom wouldn’t want me to be moping. She wouldn’t want me to keep trying to find her by reliving her life. She would want me to find myself and my own path. So, what does any self-respecting, newly graduated college student do when she feels lost and needs to do some soul searching? She goes to Europe, of course.
Only a few hours later, I had booked a trip to Ireland so I could spend St. Patrick’s Day in the rowdy streets of Dublin. I had stumbled upon an affordable tour for college students offered by a company both Mom and I had formerly worked for. I would be spending two and a half days in Galway and four days in Dublin. This would only be the second flight of my life, and I tried not to be nervous. There was nothing I could or wanted to do about my excitement, though.
A few weeks later, I found myself in the most beautiful place on earth. The rolling, vividly green hills welcomed me warmly from the window of the airplane. The moment I stepped off the massive vehicle, a brisk air hit me. It was cooling and calming and had just the right amount of wind to be exhilarating. I could tell almost instantly that this trip, and any travel I would take here on out, would be defining. I knew I had made the right decision to come.
Over the next several days, we would traipse our way through the countryside, seeing flashes of quaint towns through the windows of our tour bus. We stopped at many, tossing a pint back at quintessential Irish pubs, and shopping for authentic Irish products at the small markets. It was liberating to be wandering around in a new place, and also very eye-opening. I learned a great deal about myself in this foreign environment.
In Ireland, I learned that I had enough gall to do karaoke in a bar full of strangers, even with minimal alcohol in my system. I saw that when I was not being flustered by L.A. traffic, my latent sense of direction could navigate unfamiliar streets quite easily. I witnessed the heights of my own bravery when I got a tattoo the day after St. Patty’s Day in a second-story Dublin tattoo shop. By stepping more than 5,000 miles out of my comfort zone, I discovered an intense passion for travel that I had never acknowledged before. However, it was while I stood on the edge of one of the Cliffs of Moher that I truly saw the big picture. Mother Nature has a way of doing that: putting things in perspective.
Water lapped hungrily at the massive rock formations, and we stood as close to the cliff edge as the high winds would allow. There were tourists all around drinking in the landscape as I was, but I hardly noticed them. I could focus only on the rhythmic waves, powerful winds, gorgeous greenery of the cliffs behind me, and the deep blue of the ocean in front of me. The meditative sounds and stunning scenery captivated me, and then reminded me that there was a much larger system at work than I could ever conceive of.
All we can do is remain open to the adventures that life offers and take leaps of faith in our ability to navigate through them, for it is in those unfamiliar situations that we often learn the most about ourselves.
When I arrived home, it became clear that my adventures had revealed to me a very clear proverbial fork in the road. I had been given two options: 1) stagnate and dwell on the unfairness of life, or 2) use my trials and tribulations as a learning experience. But by propelling myself down the cobblestone streets of Ireland rather than the familiar streets of my neighborhood, I now knew in my heart that my direction, self-image, and life had changed forever.
Every one has a modus operandi, a way they conduct themselves.
The more adulting I’m forced to do, the more I realize I tend to employ what I (or Elle from Legally Blonde 2 may call) ‘The Bend and Snap.’ And the more I think about it, I recognize many of my friends who do the same thing.
Imagine a bow and arrow. The more resistance you apply to the string, the more tension it will absorb. And, finally, when it can no longer harness anymore potential energy, it lets one of its arrows rip. Which can be dangerous, especially if you’ve been aided and abetted by your hormones, wine, or a girlfriend.
I do this a lot. I’ll allow the issues to pile on to my shoulders, or I’ll take on more than I can handle, until I break under the pressure. If we’re being completely honest, this is modern adulthood, plain and simple. Going and going, until you just can’t go anymore.
I have no magic solution for this overexertion, except knowing your limit. And if you feel your bow being pulled too tautly, give yourself some slack.
One thing that helps me control the cycle of give and “break” are trips to the gym. The workout helps me clear my mind and focus on replenishing my energy. But everyone is different; the important thing is knowing what refills *your* soul. Whether your “me time” consists of reading a book, going to the spa, or just vegging on the couch with a beer and a movie, make some time for yourself. We all need a little reminder to be kind, especially to ourselves.
She hunches over, furiously scribbling on the paper taped to the floor. It is there to catch excess paint from the ceiling, but the men have packed up for the day, and I see no harm in decorating the barely marred surface.
“Why not draw on the floor?” I had proposed when her tiny body got antsy after dinner and before bath.
I’m not sure any idea has ever sounded better. “I’m going to draw Daddy!” She proclaimed proudly. “He’s one hundred handsome,” Her voice tapers as she doodles and day dreams about the first man to steal her heart.
Moments pass, and I peer over her shoulder to see her work. Daddy’s rectangular body isn’t accurate, but it sure is adorable.
“Wow, great job,” I encourage her.
She smiles, “Thanks. Oh! I almost forgot.” The cap of the pink marker raps against her lips as she ponders aloud, “Does Daddy have freckles?”
“A couple, sure, but not too many,” I reply.
Chock full of gumption, she retorts, “Well, this is my drawing and I like making freckles. So, he’s gonna have a lot.”
Her arm works quickly as her marker dots the paper, and I cannot help but promote her artistic spirit, “There’s no arguing with that logic.”
“Don’t worry,” she adds, “I won’t give him as many freckles as you. You’ve got one million freckles.”
“True,” I once again agree.
“But, Savta Dasi (the Hebrew word for grandmother combined with my mom’s nickname) had INFINITY freckles. More freckles than anyone on the planet!” I watch her tiny face brighten as her reflections revive my mother’s memory. A silly grin spreads across my face.
In the midst of my grief, I have found my greatest sadness over memories Mom and I never got to make. I suppose that’s the biggest pain in all grief: time lost.
But, then life has this beautiful way of reminding you (even in conversations about freckles) that your ultimate merit is not found in how long you live, but how long your your sweet memory persists. For Mom will be gone eleven years this September, and my daughter only turned five in June.
It is moments like these that surely define our lives. That remind us it is less about how long we live, and more about the weight of our impact on the world. 💓
So often we begin each new year with a laundry list of resolutions: lose weight, gain funds, eat less, exercise more, etc. And it’s a widespread joke that by February these steadfast decisions become nothing but empty promises and proof of failure.
Ironically enough though, resolution actually means “a firm decision to do or not do something.” It can also mean “the action of solving a problem.” In other words, we start each new trip around the sun ruminating on the previous year’s failures and binding ourselves to start fixing them as of the very first day of the year. No wonder why we all screw up. It’s too much pressure. If it was all that easy to fix our shortcomings don’t you think we’d change without resolving to do so?
So, here’s my proposal: forget resolutions. Instead, let us reflect. What can we learn from the past year? Think back on the time, revel in its joys and garner strength from their positivity. Then consider the downfalls, because there are even more lessons to be drawn from those. Finally, try to plan how you can employ those lessons in the next year.
See, the truly greatest gift of humanity is the ability to learn and see new perspectives. So, let us reflect and learn from our past, and then move on in to the new year with positivity. For it is our responsibility to live in the moment as much as possible, and it is a privilege to be happy doing so. Remember, the present is the surest thing we have, and it is painfully fleeting.
I have one rule, and one rule only: know your financial, scheduling, emotional and mental limits, and try your very best not to push past them. That’s it.
May you have the happiest (and most rejuvenating) of holidays, Blog Family! 🤷🏻♀️🥂💓
I’ve always dreamt of being a writer. As a child, I devoured book after book, traveling to far off lands and through life-threatening mysteries (from the safety of my bed), while the rest of the late eighties kids played outside from sun up to sun down. I think I was subconsciously studying for my dream career: creating tales that would allow people a taste of escapism, in the form of two hundred-something pages.
However, I always maintained a diary. Sure, most of the entries I scrawled in puffy, pubescent handwriting were laments about one crush or another, but I became used to expressing myself. I found words for my feelings and wrote them down, because I’ve always been a little extra, and so have my thoughts.
Now, fast forward to adulthood, and more specifically my experience with Motherhood. It has been rich with love and fear and light and dark. My head swims daily with thoughts: Am I good enough? Am I alone? Is everyone else as crazy with anxiety about their children as me? Am I fucking up my kids? And conversely, are they fucking me up?
And in these moments, I am so thankful for blogging. I originally kept at it with two intentions: expression and catharsis. But as time went on, I realized that as I exposed my experiences, I found others with similar sentiments. This community of authenticity is liberating. It allows readers to draw strength in a positive, supportive way. And at a time when our country feels so broken, I am even more thankful.
But, it’s hard. And it’s scary. And when people ask me, “What does it take to be a blogger? How can I become one?” I say, “you just have to do it. You have to write.” But more specifically, you have to be OK with pouring your heart and soul into a piece. You have to embrace being yourself. You have to know the value of being authentic and raw. You have to know that by doing it, you’re allowing others that same liberty.
Blogging isn’t about selling a product or an idea. It’s about expressing yourself and finding common ground. In this day and age, that is becoming increasingly important. Bloggers and truth tellers alike are at the forefront of important social movements. If you feel that impulse, that need to express yourself, or an itching to express feelings you have trouble verbalizing, nothing should hold you back. Don’t fear failure. Fear absorbing your feelings and not expressing them. Write, and post, even if it’s kept private.
Five years in and I’m still getting used to the idea that I’m creating a writing career in a drastically different arena than I first imagined. And each day I write, I’m allowing pieces of myself out into the world, not some fictional tale I made up. But, it’s become clear that I didn’t choose the blog life. The blog life chose me.
Everyone’s heard the adage, “It takes a village,” in respect to parenting. And thousands of years ago, people did actually have the help of a village in raising their children. Consider our original mode of survival: hunting and gathering. Tribes of people co-existed in relatively small areas and relied on each other in various ways. Everyone shared chores, and goals were reached as a collective effort, including raising all the children. This ensured a maximum survival rate because let’s face it, sometimes just surviving is incredibly hard, and no one can do it all on their own.
Yet, today’s modern parent is expected to virtually do just that. We now live yards (if not acres) away from each other in huge houses with only our immediate nuclear families. We don’t have our closest girlfriends, elders, and a medicine man all living within a ten foot radius of us to help with our burden. Some of us are with our children, with no other real adult interaction, for hours (or even days) on end. We can seek relationships on the internet, but when relative anonymity is an option, it’s pretty much scientifically proven that there is a huge increase in general nastiness. Thus, there tends to be nothing communal about some of those larger Mommy and Daddy groups out there.
So, when I read yet another entry by an aching, isolated woman who feels like she’s losing her battle with Postpartum Depression or something similar, my heart weeps with my sisterhood in Motherhood. I know how isolated and lonely she must feel, especially within those first few years. Sleep deprived, her hormones going haywire and attempting to find equilibrium. She is desperate to find a semblance of who she was pre-baby, while being immersed (OK, more like drowned) in her new world of infinite commitment and consuming love. The fears, the anxieties, the worries. They are overwhelming. No, they are suffocating.
And we all have them. Within the trenches of our swelling hearts, resides the worries. Will I be a good mother? Do I have what it takes? Can I keep them safe? The pressure is immense, but the fact remains: we all feel it. None of us are alone in this journey, even if we assume that we are. We only feel inadequate because we weren’t meant to brave this incredible, life-altering journey in such an isolated manner. We were meant to have a village behind us.
So, for all of you who feel like you’ve lost yourself, who can’t find footing in this sudden onrush of emotions and sleep deprivation and love and pain, just know this: the feeling of trying to stay above the water, but repeatedly being swallowed by the waves… It’s not forever. It will slowly subside over time. We all feel it at some point, to some degree. You are not alone.
And since you are not alone, others have survived. When it feels like you’re alone in this, there’s always someone to turn to. If one of us doesn’t know how to discuss it, she may have someone in her remote “village” that does. And if that doesn’t work, there are professionals who are trained to guide us. Because none of us are alone in our worry and pain. We are a sisterhood in modern Motherhood, and we just have to work a hell of a lot harder to find our village.
It’s been ten years since Mom died.
And as this first decade passes, it hits me that I have lived another half of that short portion of time. A brutal realization that, when ruminated upon, has the potential to really do a number on my spirit. But, Mom was never one to ruminate. She liked to think of each experience as a chance to learn. So, in the spirit of her courage, thirst for knowledge, and decade-old eulogy, I share with you the lessons I’ve learned in her absence, albeit not without her influence.
Life rarely ends up resembling the vision we’ve created for ourselves, but what do we really know in the grand scheme of things?
You should never fear being yourself. A bigger fear should always be inauthenticity.
Above all, to achieve your dreams you must be tenacious. Statistically speaking, things are bound to work out if you keep at them.
Although dreams should be pursued, it’s often the things you don’t think you need that end up being the most conducive to growth.
Success in life should not be measured by financial freedom, or other societal parameters. It should be measured by your ability to find value in your life, especially when it seems inherently lost.
The grass often looks greener on the other side, but much of the time that’s just a trick of the light. In reality it’s greenest where it’s tended to best, so take care.
Sometimes the hardest conversations you can have, or the toughest actions you can take, are the only ones that’ll make anything better.
Live in the moment as much as you possibly can. Our time is simply a long series of moments woven together. If you wait until its finished to admire its intricacies, you’ll miss out on the process and much of the details.
No matter how alone you may feel, the fact is you’re not (you know, statistics and all). Someone out there understands and will appreciate knowing that they’re not alone either.
Life will never be without loss or pain, but that should not keep you from living. In fact, heartache is what allows us to see just how sweet the good times are.
I love you more today than I ever have before, Mom. Hope you’re taking good care of Mike, and the other newer arrivals. <3