His Mother’s Bush!

No, that’s not me cursing like a thirteen-year old boy whose friends stole his underwear. I’m referring to men and their relationships with their mothers, and how that relationship is usually a good indicator of how the guy will treat you in a relationship.

But more so, it’s a good indicator of how he will treat you when you’re out of the relationship; climbing out of a messy divorce. Is he the type to screw you over, to lie and scream and be dramatic, the way his mother typically behaves when things don’t go her way? Or, will he be calm and calculated, the way his own mother is in her business dealings?

The bigger question is, once you are no longer the woman in his life, do a son’s loyalties revert back to his mother? In other words, does a son inevitably migrate back to where he came from, his mother’s bush?

A former co-worker of mine whom I stay in touch with over iChat is divorced. Compared to some horror stories, her divorce proceedings went relatively smoothly. Both she and her ex moved on, but they never finalized how to split their possessions in writing, until recently. His mother is a well-known sculptor whose work consists of crafted bronze chandeliers and centerpieces resembling nature, and some of those pieces remain in their house, where my friend still resides. Perhaps because they are each in serious relationships now, they are prepared to finally reconcile. My friend’s ex emailed her the details. Rather than remitting the balance of what she allegedly owes him on their house, he asked she return the art that belongs to his mother, especially a piece that is dearest to him: “The Bush.”

His email specified that his mother’s studio will make arrangements for the bush, and that they will come to the house to pack and ship the bush back to him, where it belongs.

Of all the valuable items he could have asked for, like money, the guy wants his mother’s bush back. My friend, worked up over other bits of miscommunication, failed to see the comedic goldmine that this opportunity presented, begging to be acknowledged.

That’s what I’m here for! Since I’m on my friend’s side, I felt justified suggesting she write back any one of the following comments:

“I didn’t know your mom needed a team to manage her bush.”

“I don’t want your mom’s bush anyway, I have my own.”

“Your mom’s bush is certainly a work of art.”

“How do you know whether her bush is still worth anything? Why don’t you see how much you can sell it for on e-bay?”

“How is your new wife going to feel, when you bring your mother’s bush home? Are you going to ask her to love it the way you do?”

“Don’t worry, your mother’s bush is fine. No one’s touched it in years.”

“Was all of this your mom’s idea? Was she mad you gave her bush away to begin with, and now she wants to see if her son can be a man by getting her bush back?”

I think there is some truth to the last one. It’s very possible that his mother, who is apparently quite composed and calculating (and naturally on her son’s side), said, “You did what? You gave her what? That’s my bush!”

I don’t have brothers, so I have not been privy to the mother/son relationship up close, but I suspect that it’s not that different from father/daughter in terms of the need to convey that we are smart, in control, and practical. The desire to “make good” on our actions, and show our parents that we’ve learned to be wise by modeling after them, can trump everything else. The guy wants to prove to his mother that he’s on top of things, including her precious bush.

Not to mention that my friend feels accused of holding her ex-mother’s bush captive. I tried to comfort her by saying that perhaps this trade is a significant marker, signaling the final stage of the marriage, once and for all. For us gals, mother in-laws get tangled up in our relationships, even when we think that we’ve successfully kept them at bay; they hover in the psycho-sphere that the marriage inhabits. My ex-mother in law was a talented artist too, and she gave my ex-husband and I some pieces; contemporary paintings and sculptures. Thankfully, she did not gift us her bush. But she was domineering enough that her presence was felt regardless. I didn’t need to look at her bush to know she was there, pulling the strings on my husband’s behavior.

The bottom line is, a mother will never give up her bush to any woman that comes into her son’s life. It was foolish for my friend’s ex husband to think he could pilfer the bush without his mother knowing. It was foolish for him to stray that far from the bush at all.

I’m sure if his mother has anything to do with it, he’s now learned his lesson: Respect the bush from whence you’ve come.

If famous characters had Jewish mothers, what would they say? (sent by my Jewish mother)

‘After all the money your father and I spent on braces, this you call a smile?’

‘I don’t care what you’ve discovered, you didn’t call, you didn’t write…’

‘A ceiling you paint? Not good enough for you the walls, like the other children? Do you know how hard it is to get that schmutz off the ceiling?’

‘You’re not hiding your report card? Show me! Take your hand out of your jacket and show me!’

‘Again with that hat! Why can’t you wear a baseball cap like the other kids?’

‘Next time I catch you throwing money across the Potomac , you can kiss your allowance good-bye!’

‘Okay, so I’m proud that you invented the electric light bulb. Now turn it off already and go to sleep!’

‘I don’t care where you think you have to go, young man, midnight is long past your bedtime!’

‘Your senior photograph and you couldn’t have done something with your hair?’

‘Desert, schmesert!! Where have you really been for the last forty years?’

‘It would have killed you to become a doctor?’

‘Well, at least she was a nice Jewish girl.’

Vacation part two: Israel, where I go to grow.

I’m technically American because I was born here, but I’ve always considered myself Israeli too. My parents are Israeli and took my sisters and I to visit since we were little kids, where we spent long hot summers sleeping at my grandparents and playing hide and seek with our cousins. Heblish was my first language, and I blame my English language deficiency and grammatical slip ups on the fact that I didn’t hear advanced English around me in my formative years (it’s weird that I’m a writer). My point is, when your mother says “zambie” instead of “zombie,” and “let’s go to the Dust-Buster to rent a movie,” there’s some unlearning to be done.

I just returned from another trip to Israel. As an adult I still go every year or two. I can’t help it. My sisters feel the same – we need our “fix,” even if it’s for six days like this trip was for me. One of my cousins got married; I have so many that there’s always an annual excuse to go (not that I need one). But this trip was extra special because it was the first time my parents, sisters, and their children were all there at the same time. Add that to the thirty relatives who live there, and it’s one big party. It’s always emotional to see my cousins – who I feel connected to like siblings – the ones I grew up playing in the back fields of my grandparents house with, now all married with families of their own. One cousin who I am particularly close with and not just because he has a wicked sense of humor and calls me “bitch” (pronounced “beach”), picks me up at the airport, even when I land at five in the morning, and then we start house hopping, reuniting. My sisters who might be described as regimented or finicky back home, immediately adapt to the easy going Israeli culture. They pack light, sleep in different houses every night, the kids on mattresses on the floor, running barefoot outside, and no one cares about dirt or mess or the fact that it’s over a hundred degrees out.

And then there’s me, the “single” one, untethered by children or anyone else’s schedule. I can sleep until one in the afternoon (which I do) and stay wherever I want. Read: where there’s a working air conditioner. The AC in “my room” in my aunt’s attic broke, so the night after the wedding, which went on until close to 3am, I drove back from Jerusalem with my parents (and a caravan of relatives behind us). They set me up on a mattress on their bedroom floor, and before my mom and I put our earplugs in (my dad snores), I said: “Now you two behave yourselves or I’m going to have to blog about it.”

I noticed that I was in a unique position on this trip: an adult, older than many of my cousins who have kids, and yet still a kid myself, being looked after by my parents. And yes, mom still not only looks after me, she chases after me. Especially at meals. Wherever I go, there she is, making sure I’m eating more (and drinking less). On my last day there, my entire family (all 43 of us) had sabbath lunch at my cousin’s restaurant. When I arrived I sat next to my cousin and his new wife, and when I looked up, there was mom, sitting across from me. Without thinking, without stopping to realize that my mother just loves me and wants to be near me, I snapped, and told her I didn’t want to sit next to her because I wasn’t up for the Israeli style surveillance. She got upset, and rightly so, but I felt justified. I was on vacation; a grown-up who doesn’t need to be told how to behave by her mother. And yet I acted like a child.

Mothers have thick skin, right? It surfaces when their first child is born and coarsens over time, doesn’t it? I see my sisters lose their shit and lash out at mom, and their girls do it to them. It’s part of being a member of the family system. We constantly wrestle with our need to be individuals, and our need to be loved and accepted.

Not an excuse, Cougel. “Respect thy mother and father…No matter how irritating they can be,” I chastised myself.

That night I went out with the cousins and my sister to a bar and we stayed out til 2. I told my parents that rather than waking them (drunk and smelling like smoke), I’d sleep in the living room since I had to get up four hours later to catch my flight home to New York anyway. I also knew that if I slept in their room, they wouldn’t get any sleep until I got home. My second night in Israel was my dad’s first, and he surprised me by waiting up for me. “Abba, it’s 1:30 in the morning, aren’t you exhausted?” I asked. He didn’t answer the question: “I was waiting for you.” “Dad, I’m 38.” “I’ll do it when you’re 60,” he said.

I set my Blackberry alarm for seven and had no problem getting up. A moment later, I heard my parents’ bedroom door rattle open upstairs and mom’s feet shuffling across the floor and down the stairs. She was coming to wake me. When she saw me, her face brightened in amazement. “How did you get up? I didn’t sleep all night, I was worried you’d oversleep.” My reply: “You know that Blackberry you use to text me in all caps with? It also has an alarm clock.”

I let her help me pack. She wrapped my sandals in plastic bags (so they won’t touch my clothes) and pulled the stray hairs from my hairbrush. But my most notable act of reconciliation? I let her make me oatmeal with honey. God forbid I should fly hungry. I wasn’t hungry, but I smiled and ate the whole thing anyway, under her watchful – and loving – eye.

They drove me to the airport, and got out of the car to hug me. I was going home, and would see them in a week, but it felt similar to a college send off. In a way, I think they might be on to something. Recognizing the stage of life I’m at – on the brink of letting go of my childlike freedom and preparing for the next stage where I might have children of my own – this trip did feel like some kind of last hurrah. And there is no better place for a quick fix – for a quick retrieval of my unfettered and boundless youth – than a trip to Israel, the place where I got to grow up. And still do.

Vacations: an escape back to the self.

I am currently on a much needed vacation.  I just arrived in London to visit with a close friend for the weekend, on my way to Israel for my cousin’s wedding. Vacations like these are still a novelty for me – where I don’t have a spouse who I’m obligated to plan or travel with (although if you actually get along with your spouse, I’m guessing that’s quite nice). This is my third year doing the ‘stop in Europe on my way to Israel’ style vacation – as the unmarried me. The first time was my version of Eat Pray Love, although it was for three weeks of soulo searching, not three months. I went to Madrid and then Paris, where I didn’t know anyone or speak the language but for me it was an important step to travel alone, something I had never done before since I had been with my husband since the age of 21. The sheer novelty of being able to sit down at a cafe without having to ask anyone what they feel like doing or worry whether their feet hurt felt like freedom. The year after that  I spent a month in Israel to be with an Israeli man who had swept me off my feet, only to realize once I got to Israel that having my feet off the ground made me nauseous and disoriented. The guy and I broke up just two days into my trip, and I spent the remaining time there depressed and disillusioned, and ended up going home to NY early.

This vacation already feels different – because I’m different. Now my priorities are spending time with people I love, and being in the present rather than in the past. My friend whom I’m visiting here, like me, went through a major life change, divorce and upheavals, followed by the death of her beloved father. She picked herself up and started over. She moved to London, secured an impressive job, an adorable flat, a genuine group of friends… and the most surprising part that seems unattainable after the hopelessness of divorce: romance.  When I arrived at her apartment and saw the nest she had built for herself, I blubbered like the infant that I was unfortunate enough to sit behind on the flight over.

Two of my closest girlfriends are divorced, in their thirties, and it’s not a coincidence that we have a special bond because of it. We are peers. We can speak freely about our flaws and our baggage, and about our exes, including the things we miss, without feeling judged or insane. We experienced the same wild phases, the spontaneous crying fits and self destructive escapades we choose to forget, or not tell anyone about, except each other.

Last night, after a girls night that started at the pub and then ended at a private club, where we ate and drank wine and got to catch up in person, feeling like adults, we went home before midnight.  Rather than one of us sleeping on the couch – like sisters, we shared a bed (remove head from gutter, boys). I was jet lagged, and couldn’t fall asleep, so I lay there in the dark, my thoughts wandering to the day’s events, to random work issues that I hadn’t quite left behind yet, and then I thought about how I felt in my chest. I noticed that it felt light and unknotted. I thought back to the last two vacations I had had, where I’d lie in bed, when everything was still, and the heartache or residual anxieties would rush back and take over. I’d toss and turn, and sigh trying to release the achiness. I’m sure most of you have experienced this feeling post break up. It was a triumphant moment last night for me to realize, wait, that feeling? It’s totally gone.  

Maybe that’s why I like to return to the same place every year, so I can compare my current state of being to where I was before – and mark the emotional milestones. It feels downright awesome.

Cougel attends her first blog conference (I know I couldn't believe it either)

Since I’m a blogger now I thought it would benefit me to go to the annual four-day blog conference for women called “BlogHer,” held at the New York Hilton this past weekend. I had no idea what I was getting into. My goal was to learn about effective blogging and get the “Cougel” name out there. I even had cute little business cards printed at Staples to hand to people just in case.

A friend whom I credit for inspiring me to start blogging was a keynote speaker and graciously gave me a pass to the awards gala and reception. He was the only dude (outnumbered, the name of his blog) amongst sixteen women to speak, and judging by his opening remark, even he must have been overwhelmed by all the estrogen. “My penis is so confused,” he said into the mic. I couldn’t blame him, or his penis for that matter.  This blogging thing, I realized in that moment, is no laughing matter, and people who do it do it passionately. For a while I felt like I was at a Star Trek convention but instead of Clingons there were moms with bags of swag, laughing in groups or grazing at the buffet of free popcorn and Diet Coke. They all wore thick badges with their names and blogs, while I had a sad little wristband that said “Admit One Free.” I felt like the new kid transferred to a new high school sophomore year; invisible, with a lot of catching up to do.

Those of you who joined my blog when I started it in March know that I found my “writer voice” after an abrupt life change (ok, divorce), and recognize that my going to 1) a convention, 2) the Hilton in midtown, and 3) any place where I’m required to sit still and listen for over an hour, qualifies as a big step.  A new path, if you will. 

When the speeches started, I sat down at a table alone, and hid behind my only friend, Twitter, only to discover that most of the tweets were from women at the conference – possibly sitting just seats away.  This did not bode well for me, because I’m a total “tweetard,” getting only marginally better with practice.  Which at BlogHer, and as a blogger in general, is a major liability. There were people in attendance that I “follow” but have never met, so we tried to meet up, via Twitter. For example: “@cougel ur tweet says ur @#blogher10, I’m in back jeans blu jacket.” God forbid we should just call or text each other. In the world of social media apparently even texting is obsolete.

Most of them already seemed to know each other anyway, and were keen to meet the “famous” bloggers (read: the popular girls, the eligible prom queens) who have at least 3,000 followers on Twitter and are sponsored by recognizable brand names. I discovered that many are “Mommy Bloggers.”  And BlogHer is an opportunity for said mommys to leave the kids they write about at home In Iowa and come to the Big Apple to cut loose. Since I’m not a mommy, I felt like an even bigger loser.  Although I did find it inspiring to see how blogging has provided women who may feel disconnected from the world – geographically and emotionally – with a means to reach out and touch one another.  No, not in that way. Although I happened to notice that many gay women and single men were in attendance. I heard there was a sponsor with a sex toys booth that was quite popular. Too bad I missed it, but I think you need to be a mommy to get the gadgets for free anyway.

After the “Voices of the Year Gala,” where the winning bloggers read selections from their own blogs, there was a reception. Read: a chance to down some liquid courage and finally start promoting my own blog. First hurdle: drink tickets were required. Second hurdle: you could only buy them if you had purchased a full pass – a badge – not a gifted paper wristband.  That was all the motivation I needed to make new badge-wearing friends.  “Hi, you don’t know me but can you please buy me a drink ticket so I can meet more people? Great, thanks! Oh, here’s my business card. Follow me on Twitter!”

I managed to meet some interesting people, and possibly a few whose friendships could stretch beyond tweets into the sacred email address circle. I chatted with some fine ladies in a line for what appeared to be some kind of fortuneteller with a typewriter. I didn’t know typewriters were manufactured anymore, let alone permitted anywhere near an iPhone Blackberry tweeting extravaganza. A pretty woman with jet-black hair sat behind it, and asked each woman whose turn it was: “Tell me something about yourself.” Then she would think hard, look down at the typewriter and start clacking away onto a small slip of paper. She was writing haikus (“momkus,” the name of her blog) that strove to inspire or capture the essence of each person. She was like a mommy fortune cookie, making us eager to see what soothing words lay inside.

When it was my turn, I said (and I have no idea where this came from…probably five drink tickets), “Write something about the intersection of past and future…which is where I am now…I guess.” And then I realized, as I looked around the room filled with bold, talented women, that I was indeed at an intersection of sorts, professionally as well as emotionally.

When she handed me the slip of paper, I gasped. It said: 

The sign said one way,
So that’s where I went.
Now what?
Illegal u-turn to my destiny.

I think she was on to something. Is it possible that I’m finally learning how to recognize – and turn onto – the road less traveled, the road that is for me?

OK that’s probably too heavy of a question to answer definitively here, but one thing is clear. The little turn I took into the Hilton, into a world I was unfamiliar with, seemed to pay off.  I handed out at least twenty Cougel business cards that night.

Wait, is that another Twitter follower alert I hear?

Gotta go now.

PS. Insert shameless, yet expected plug here: Follow me on Twitter. Or, Facebook works too. Maybe if I hit the 3,000 followers mark I can speak at BlogHer20!
PPS. Check out Momku’s blog. This mommy blogger’s got skills: www.momku.com

Cougel takes Manhattan! With a 14 year old boy.

My first cousin who lives in Israel – who I love like an older sister – sent her fourteen-year-old son to the states for the summer. He is staying with my sister and her family in New Jersey, and to give my sister a break, and as a favor to my cousin, I offered to take him around Manhattan for the day. I feel embarrassed to admit that I was nervous. I hardly know this kid. When I visit the family in Israel I don’t think he even looks up when I say hello. It’s one thing to take my nieces around who I can take shopping and talk about girlie things like Hannah Montana and feelings. But it’s another thing altogether to entertain a boy who is only interested in subjects I know nothing about: history and math.

I took the subway down to Wall Street to pick him up from my sister’s husband’s office, which was an immediate induction into feeling like a tourist in my own city. Have you ever tried to find your way around the streets and alleyways south of Chambers street? My new iPad’s navigation system – which proved to be nine years behind – led me right into the WTC construction site.

Once I found my way to my brother in-law’s office and picked up the kid, it was only ten in the morning. I had eight hours of sight-seeing to kill before I could deposit him at Penn station for a train back to New Jersey with another cousin (don’t bother trying to keep track). I felt my stomach twist slightly with anxiety, clashing with my attempt to be positive. Admittedly, this was something new for me: breaking out of my own self-absorbed cocoon and daily “me” routine, in order to plan and entertain a kid. I understood that this was good for me, and for the kid, not to mention that it was a favor I wanted to do for my beloved cousin. Moms do this kind of thing every day, I told myself. You want a kid someday, right? So you better enjoy this. And if you don’t, pretend.

The tide turned on the corner of Greenwich St. and Chambers, when I spotted a beacon of golden light, otherwise known as the golden arches. My sister’s family is kosher, so this kid, who normally eats sausage for breakfast and shrimp for lunch, has been in kosher prison for four weeks. Suddenly, his non-kosher chaperone (me), found her ticket.“How about a McDonald’s Happy Meal for breakfast?” His expression brightened, as did my mood, especially after I inhaled half of his french fries (he let me).

Next stop, FAO Schwartz. The life-size stuffed animals, the big piano, the Harry Potter exhibit (amazing, by the way), didn’t interest him. The cars and trains did (yeah… duh!). I decided then and there that throwing money at my nerves would fix everything. I bought toy cars for him, a stuffed monkey for his brother, and then later loaded up on board games at my office that were left over from a recent shoot. The kid and I looked at each other and grinned. “This is cool,” he said in Hebrew. “But we didn’t plan this well. How are we going to carry it all the rest of the day? It’s only noon.”

I hadn’t thought that far. “Oh, it’s no problem. We’ll just stuff it all in this big plastic garment bag,“ I said, dumping out random hangers (it had once contained wardrobe from said shoot). “It won’t be that heavy.”

Cut to two hours later. Me, the kid, and lumpy bag the size of the kid, slumped in the long line for “Top of the Rock” (top of Rockefeller Center) where you can view all of Manhattan from seventy stories up. I have no patience for lines, especially when filled with tourists. Only a very specific kind of bribe could get me to a tourist attraction. That, or some Jewish guilt.

The view was breathtaking. The kid was entranced. Then he started asking questions that made me wish I had paid more attention in school (and in life) like, “Is that the Chrysler Building?” and, “How tall is the Empire State Building?” and finally, “Do you know how high we are right now, in millimeters?” If I had only coughed up two more dollars for the “Top of the Rock” map, I could have answered him (yes, after spending lots of money on heavy toys, I saved two dollars on a map made of paper). Since I didn’t have a knowledgeable husband there to answer these questions, I turned to the iPad and Wikipedia. It was awesome.

At that point, it was after three, and I was feeling my age. I was desperate for a nap. “Where now?” the kid asked. I called my sister, who suggested The Intrepid Museum. What boy wouldn’t like a WWII aircraft carrier? So we got in a cab. It moved two blocks in ten minutes, which gave me time to realize that I was headed towards another tourist trap. I looked out the cab window, and said, “Hey! Have you heard of Times Square?”

Of course he had. He knew about the ball dropping on New Year’s Eve, he knew what Broadway was, but more importantly, he loves chocolate. We ran into the Hershey store, followed by the even bigger and better M&M store. The kid was so happy he was squealing in delight. I let him scamper around the store while I sat down and watched our bags. I figured if he hadn’t tried to run away until that point, it was probably OK for me to take a rest. The M&M store was educational for me. I learned that you can mix and match a pound of chocolates from an M&M’s buffet for eleven dollars.

With one hour left in the day, we decided to eat. We were in Times Square, surrounded by restaurants I would never dare set foot in on a regular day like The Olive Garden, and Bubba Ghump’s Shrimp Factory. Then I saw the Hard Rock Café, and so did he. “You wanna eat here?” I asked. “OMG can we?” he cried. I made it seem like I was doing him the favor, but the truth is, being a bit of a wanna-be rocker, I was psyched. We sat at the bar and stuffed our faces with chicken fingers and BBQ ribs, swaying to nineties tunes. The music was too loud for us to have to talk to each other, but neither one of us minded.

As we pushed through the throngs of people rushing to Penn Station, I noticed that the morning’s anxiety had been replaced by a light and airy thrill. It turned out that shifting my inner self outward and engaging in the new and unexpected, was not only good for me, it was liberating. And judging by the kid’s face, his mouth covered in barbecue sauce and chocolate, it was totally worth it.