Thirty-seven years ago today my mom gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Three years ago yesterday, I gave birth to my own son.
Every cell in my body wants to have a sit down with her, to trade birth and/or parenting stories. But, as my brother stole her life eleven years ago, I haven’t been able to. I never will.
Yesterday I baked a cake. It wasn’t beautiful. No one in the family could identify what it looked like: a guitar? A banjo? A magnifying glass? I didn’t mind though; all I kept thinking about was the cake my mom made 30 years before, the one she served my brother’s friends at his 7th birthday, that looked almost the same way. I wanted to talk to her about it, laugh at their coincidentally-matching, misshapen figures. Maybe argue over whose was worse. But I couldn’t, so I wrote about it instead. This was was my way of feeling closer to her: writing and baking
Yesterday, my son’s birthday, I spent the day wondering if I’d hear from my brother. Far too much of the day was wasted wondering if he’ll, in a final show of selfishness, steal his own life. Sometimes I hope he does, sometimes I pray he doesn’t. Either way, I am healing from a life of trauma and abuse. And my abuser, despite being behind bars, still has a strange, distant power over me.
It seems a weird time to talk death, what with so many blessings to be counted and wonderful things impending. But, if you’re someone who is grieving, you understand that loss has the way to effect life at the most unexpected times.
This death, however, is different. It’s true, when my father passed a month and a half ago, the world lost a brilliant soul. He was handsome, charismatic, musically gifted, funny, and warm. At one time he was even a successful ethical law professor. Yet, he was also tortured. He lost three wives and a son tragically, sired two children he did not father, and lived with layer upon layer of consequent guilt and grief.
Dad avoided his biggest issues by drowning his emotions in alcohol. Thus, his addiction made him unreliable and disloyal. He lost jobs and relationships, and burned bridges.
And then one day, his addiction killed him. He finally lost his psychological and physical battle against alcohol when he was 66. But the way, I see it, he began losing his battle at the age of 18 when he started drinking.
In my last conversation with my father, I told him I was writing a memoir. He replied that he understood, that he had seen his fair share of torture, too. That he had learned being an open book with me helped alleviate some of the pain. I was lighter after talking to him about it. Then, he died a week and a half later, and I believe he is now lighter than he has ever been before.
So, as I broach the subject of death this time, it is with a different lens than I often do. This is nothing like the grief I have felt in the past. This time death has offered the loved one lost an ultimate peace he never experienced in life. This allows me more liberty to put my loss behind me instead of miring in sadness. He is at peace & I am at peace knowing this. And while I am being candid, Time has also allowed me space to celebrate Dad’s successes, instead of being reminded of his shortcomings. This death means something much different. ❤️
Only days 29 days ‘til Mom Summit, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve been packing/unpacking/planning outfits mentally for months. But, as a lifelong LA resident I have a lot less to prep than to obsess over. In fact, I was even a bridesmaid at the Langham Pasadena a few years ago, & I can’t stop dreaming of all the beautiful on-site photo ops.
So, I thought I’d gather some of my knowledge of the area/resort/conferences, and answer some general questions for my more distant sisters in motherhood.
Should you stay at the hotel?
Um, yes! The grounds are stunning and diverse, and just about any shot you can think of, The Langham Pasadena can provide. The conference will likely have tons happening on-site, and as the Langham sits slightly removed from the hustle and bustle of Pasadena, it will be easiest to remain on the gorgeous campus. Plus, there’s a killer pool area, a gorgeous bar, high tea, Japanese gardens, and so much more.
However, if you cannot stay at The Langham, there are plenty of other nearby options. Yelp is always my safest bet to finding a great hotel.
What can you do on-site if you want some time away from the conference, or maybe even a little after-hour fun?
If you’re looking for a some quick time away and a little recharge, the Club Room is a hotel guest’s dream come true. It offers refreshments throughout the day, internet access, magazines and newspapers, and more. If you don’t feel like risking a nap in your room, this is your best bet.
Now, I know how much fun and empowerment a conference can offer, but if you’re needing a respite (or will even be arriving early or leaving a day or two late), Afternoon Tea is an absolute must. The menu is divine and as Langham hotels honor tea traditions at all of their locations, it’s kind of a must-not-miss sorta thing.
For all of you convention lovers (like me), you know some of the magic happens after-hours, and the Langham Tap Room is the perfect setting for those connections and conversations you were hoping for. Its architecture is inspired by the hotel’s Prohibition-era roots, and it’s open late. Like, super late for us Moms (as late as 1 and 2 AM). And believe me, we will close it down. At least once. Because they have some delicious handcrafted cocktails and elevated pub food. *insert tummy grumble here*
What other local places are great for photo ops?
The Huntington Library and Rose Gardens are a great option, as they host lots of greenery and natural beauty. Stroll through stunning grounds, partake in amazing art collections, and simply enjoy some of Pasadena’s finest. You won’t regret it.
Old Town Pasadena is another favorite of mine – here you’ll get everything and anything you want: food, fashion, and fresh air. Whether it’s day or night, there’s always something to do or see. Walk Colorado Blvd and truly get a feel for Pasadena life.
If you’re looking for some extracurricular fun that speaks to your soul, I would suggest checking out The Norton Simon Museum. It is an art museum with an unrivaled collection (including work from Renoir, Picasso, and more) and a beautiful sculpture garden, too.
If the kids are with you, and you’re searching for more hands-on fun, a great idea is Kid Space Museum. It’s $14 per person for an interactive experience. Especially during LA’s heat waves, the water-focused activities are always fun. For more info and reviews on Kid Space, check out Yelp.
Now for the important stuff – where should you eat?
Squeeee! A foodie friend! Now you’re talking my language. And the best thing about Pasadena is that it’s a foodie haven, catering to a million and one cravings. Here are a few different lists of places to go, depending on what you want to eat:
This is my very first Mom 2.0 Summit, but I literally grew up on the convention circuit, so here are a list of My Convention Must-Haves:
Business cards – you are going to be networking with a lot of exceptional people during Mom Summit, and there’s no way you’ll remember them all. So, being able to swap business cards is essential. Here’s mine (if I had a dollar for every person who said “What a great color!” or “I love that you included a photo!” Id have a lot of dollars).
A portable charger for your phone. Between calendar keeping, photo taking, posting, and more, you’re going to run through your battery pretty fast. Bring ALL the chargers and replacement batteries you may have.
Comfy shoes – you will be on your feet a lot (even in the convention after-hours), so pack thinking comfort (whatever that looks like to you).
Clothing that expresses who you are – it’s SO easy to fall into the “omg, what am I gonna wear?” trap, but my suggestion at any networking gathering is to stay true to yourself. It’s important you show attendees what *you’re* about, so your connections are authentic. With that said, if you really need some guidance, Mom 2.0 Summit made this amazing Pinterest board for clothing inspo (as well as this one). If you just can’t do it on your own, Stitch Fix has partnered with Mom 2.0 Summit (squeeee!), and you can enlist your own stylist. Isn’t the Internet Age amazing?
A small bag that is neither cumbersome, nor too tiny to hold anything. A mini backpack is even smart (considering the 90’s are back and all), like this one by Calvin Klein.
Warm clothing/a sweater or two – I know this sounds crazy, but trust me on this one. Yes, LA is going to be HOT (by May it’s generally in the 100’s), but between the airports and hotels you’ll be occupying, you’re gonna be in the cold a lot more than you may expect. Come prepared (for everything, apparently).
Enthusiasm!!! – we are all Mamas in this crazy Internet Age together, and we are so lucky to have found a village in Mom 2.0 Summit. Just remember, your vibe attracts your tribe. The more open you are to making lasting connections, the stronger your links will be. Don’t be afraid to show us who you are. Chances are you will fall in mutual MomRom with someone who totally appreciates your brand of Momming. Just gotta show us!
If you have any questions, feel free to comment away. And please, don’t hesitate to say “Hi!” in a few weeks! 💓
A huge thank you to Amy Newmark of Chicken Soup for the Soul for asking me to be her guest on today’s Friend Friday podcast show! She interviewed me about my various CSS stories, and we had the chance to chat about writers’ groups, as well as our random run-in on my birthday. It’s always a pleasure to be a part of this extraordinary organization. 💓
Michael Keaton is undoubtedly one of Hollywood’s most unsung gems. His performances are always thoughtful and provocative, whether he’s donning a mask or some oven mitts. In honor of the thirtieth anniversary of one of our very favorite Keaton roles, I’ve compiled a list of my Top 9 Favorite Michael Keaton movies.
9. Keaton’s title character in Johnny Dangerously is the quintessential good guy-turned-bad. After his dear mom falls ill, Johnny is forced into a life of crime to support his little family. The film and Keaton’s charming antics are perfectly paired with the glamour of the 1930’s. If you’ve never seen this on-point parody, be sure to add it to your queue now!
Rent Johnny Dangerously
9. The fascinating true story of the man who brought McDonald’s to franchise fame, Ray Kroc (played by Keaton), is the basis of 2016’s The Founder. From struggling salesman to fast food mogul, Kroc uses his shrewd ambition to transform the McDonald’s brothers’ idea of quick, friendly service. The Founder is a truly fascinating movie from start to finish. Just try to watch it without craving some fries.
7. In terms of romcoms, Speechless is one of the best. It’s the hilarious love story of witty, insomniac writers who are working on rival political campaigns. One Democrat, one Republican, and lots of laughs (and did we mention, Geena Davis?). You’ll be sure to fall in love with this film faster than you can say its title.
6. Minions’ star-studded cast offers the perfect origin story for Gru’s delightful cronies. Keaton plays Walter Nelson, the dastardly dad of the bank-robbing family that allows Kevin and friends to hitch a ride to the Villain Convention. Thanks, Pops! If it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t have met the totally killer Scarlet Overkill.
5. Not many movies can beat Multiplicity in terms of Keaton roles, if not because there’s an infinite number of him! Keaton plays Doug Kinney, overwhelmed family man and construction worker. After he takes part in an experiment in cloning, he’s given the gift of a second pair of hands. But, it isn’t long before things go haywire (and that’s when the real fun starts).
4. Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown is a crime thriller that will have you riveted from beginning to end. Jackie, played by the incomparable Pam Grier, is an airline agent who’s resorted to smuggling drugs to help make ends meet. Ray Nicolette (Keaton) is the ATF agent who plans to take her down. Be sure to add it to your queue this evening if you’re craving some star-studded action.
3. If any movie remains to be an anthem to eighties parenting, it’s Mr. Mom. Keaton plays a down on his luck dad that’s just lost his job, and becomes a stay-at-home parent. Keaton might not handle his new position with grace, but he sure does with humor. Thanks, Michael, for this lovely reminder why Parenthood is absolutely no joke.
2. There’s a reason why Tim Burton’s Batman spawned a trend in super hero movie-making. It’s dark, wicked, and Keaton’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego is without a doubt, my favorite ever. Plus, his counterpart (Jack Nicholson’s Joker) has to be the best adversary, too. There’s no going wrong with this rendition of a classic.
1. Even though it’s celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year, Beetlejuice remains to be our favorite Keaton film of all time (which, as you can tell by its counterparts, is a big deal). One can hardly tell the rude dead dude with the ‘tude is Michael. He makes for the perfect meddling spirit, supplying freshly dead newlyweds (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) with a haunting that is sure to scare away their new, very much alive, roommates. Apparently, Burton and Keaton make for a magical pair.
“To Galway, with Love”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.