To Everything, A Season

I’m on a plane again. Last week, I flew to Chicago and then Indianapolis in 48 hours, where it was 1 and 8 degrees respectively. Today, I’m en route to LA, where it’s 60 degrees and rainy.

600FebSnow I’m a weather snob. The cold makes me mad; impatient, unmotivated, but worse, it makes me desperate for time to pass. This is not a healthy state of mind for a person who strives to live in the present and who resists the passage of time (aka aging). It creates an acute feeling of dissonance similar to time travel, as if I’m experiencing one kind of phase, going through the motions, but imagining myself in another.

So during winters in NYC, I’m not myself. I haven’t been myself lately, but I think most people haven’t. February seems to be the designated time for purging, as if the universe has lagged in its stock taking duties after the New Year and is only now getting around to it. People I know are either celebrating rebirths or mourning losses.

Last weekend, my husband and I planned a short trip to Chicago, where his brother was being bestowed the great honor of becoming ordained to be a deacon. I had never been to an ordination before, and I was looking forward to witnessing this kind of Rite of Passage (and also relishing the opportunity to blog about it and how it might contrast with my other brother in law becoming a Rabbi). We decided to spend Saturday night in downtown Chicago for Valentines Day and Sunday at the service with family. But I ended up attending a different type of service altogether.

The day before we were due to depart, I learned that my roommate from college and one of my closest friends had lost her mother to cancer. I had known her mother well, having spent Jewish holidays with them in their home in Indianapolis, a four-hour drive from St. Louis where we went to school. Only a few months ago in December, when my friend visited with me in NYC, she had mentioned how happy her mother was that the two of us were still close, despite the distance and different life stages. I remembered how eight years ago, when I separated from my ex-husband and moved back to NYC to start my life over, she flew out to stay with me in the temporary sublet I was renting, breast-pumps in tow after having left her newborn at home with her husband for the weekend.

Without a moment’s hesitation, I told her: “I’m coming to the funeral. I’ll see you on Sunday.”

I thought about my own amazing mother, whose 70th birthday we had just celebrated, and my two loving sisters who flank me on either side in age and fortitude. My friend didn’t have any sisters, and now she didn’t have a mother. I booked a flight from Chicago to Indianapolis for the day and was going to miss the ordination, but my husband and his family understood and supported my decision.

It was freezing in Chicago when my flight took off early Sunday morning. It was freezing in Indiana when my cab pulled up to my friend’s parents’ house at the end of the cul-de-sac, which twenty-two years later, I instantly recognized. I wasn’t certain whether my presence there would be a comfort or an oddity, and I didn’t want to get there too early. I actually had lunch at the airport – at the terminal I had arrived at – to kill some time so that I could give her family space. But when I walked through the door and saw her father, and then her, and we embraced, I knew I had done the right thing. Her children were in various stages of preparation – their first funeral – and her youngest now eight years old clung to her tearfully and pelted her with existential questions about life and death. I watched as my friend – now a mother – comforted her own daughter, as I remembered the countless times her own mother had done so for her. The family photographs on the wall brought me back to our youth, to our college days. To a time when I had just started dating my ex-husband. To a time when I was young and carefree and where loss was a word with no essence, no agency – a thing that happened to older people. To a time where our future and the gains and losses it would bestow were unknown and abstract.

And there I was, twenty-two years later, in the midst of contemplating motherhood, at the beginnings of a new phase in my life – a rebirth – and the word “loss” struck me with force, and then the word “love” did too (Valentines Day not withstanding).  Now, I was older and wiser, with the associated wear and tear, and grateful for my beloved husband who was standing beside his brother in church while I was at a funeral service in synagogue. It occurred to me that loss and rebirth were happening simultaneously, and that you can’t fully fathom one without having experienced the other.

And here I am now, flying to sunny Los Angeles, where I once lived, the clashing of times, seasons and stages making me wish that it was no longer February, while also being grateful for being right here, in this moment, and all the possibility that comes with it.

 

Enough Fun!

When I was a pre-teen, like most kids, I wanted to have fun. This meant movies, sleepovers, or parties at friend’s houses. But I had to get permission from my mother first, who was always pretty cool about it unless it was too many consecutive nights in a row. As follows (in Heblish):

“Mom, can Ilana sleep over tonight?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“She slept over last night.”

“But I want her to. Why not?” Waah!

“Because. Enough fun.”

The word for “Enough” in Hebrew is “Maspeek,” so “Maspeek Fun!” became the ingrained maxim, along with, “Tell me, how much fun can a person have?”

Lots, it turns out.

So with my fun having been moderated, mostly during high school, where a strict religious education enforced the rules of “being good” I made sure to make up for it when I grew up. And by grew-up, I don’t mean matured. It’s more like I grew-down. When I separated from my ex-husband at 34 years old and moved back to New York, I had fun with a vengeance.

I was single and free in New York City, unmoored by a relationship for the first time in my adult life (I had been with my ex since college). I woke up and went to sleep when I felt like it, blow dried my hair at full volume without worrying about waking anyone up, traveled, shopped, dated, ate and drank as I pleased without having to check in with anyone. I was living the twenties I had lost, at maximum volume; tasting and trying on the experiences I had missed out on, a kind of Twenties bootcamp. Some people might call this having fun, a blast. I liked to call it “cultivating independence.”

But like my mother wisely warned, fun has its shelf life. I work in sales, and when I started that job almost five years ago, sales was tantamount to going out, wining and dining – with the emphasis on wine. The earnings I brought in for my company, and into my own pocket, were directly linked to how many people I got to know (drank with) in the advertising industry. And it worked. I not only made a lot of connections and helped boost my company’s earnings, I also made some life long friends in the process. But as most urbanites know, especially you New Yorkers, this “process” revolves around drinking, not mountain climbing. “Meet for a drink?” is a question more common than, “How you doin?” in this city, but especially in my industry. And the parties flowing with free alcohol are a constant, and considered “part of the job.” Drinking became synonymous with fun, without my noticing its effect.

wine-toast

Until recently.

As a recently married woman in her early 40’s with the desire to have a family, it’s time, maybe even overdue, to break some habits – and that includes the drinking one. I’m not going to sit here, a fragrant mug of tea in hand, and say that it’s been easy. It’s hard, it’s inconvenient, but mostly, it’s not what you’d call fun. It’s not fun to meet a friend at a wine bar for a club soda with lime (the added flair of lime is pointless, by the way). It’s not fun to meet for a tea after work. It’s not fun to hold court with clients at a hip Soho bistro and drink a virgin-mojito where instead of a buzz you leave with mint leaves stuck in your teeth.

But what I’ve discovered in all this is the importance of “the big picture” over the small immediate one. Drinking is fun when you’re doing it, but the after effects are not. The after effects of having not had wine the night before are: 1) A good night’s sleep.  2) An increase in morning productivity.  3) More cozy evening time with my husband.  4) Cooking for myself and my husband (reheating leftovers my sister or mother gave me counts).  5) Excellent TV binge watching (omg, “The Fall” is brilliant).  6) Maintaining all of my virtual and telephone relationships.  7) Less anxiety over small problems, and more confidence when facing the big ones. 8) No psychosomatic fears that every ache and kvetch signals the onset of a terminal illness, and 9) An uptick in sales. I was worried that reducing my external facing time with clients, a proven pre-cursor to financial success, would hamper my productivity and output, but to my pleasant surprise, it’s the opposite. Maybe all the fun-seeds I planted in my first few years are continuing to sprout, maybe the universe is assuring me that it’s ok, or maybe it was never about the extreme socializing at all.

But it’s not really about drinking, or having fun, but rather what those behaviors can sometimes be a manifestation of. Escape. Escape from feeling; escape from paying attention to the twists of discomfort in your gut where something feels off. Escaping from the fear of having to confront life’s obstacles and challenges naked, without the mask for protection, like we did when we were kids. When we were kids on the first day of school, our teachers or parents shooed us into the playground: “Go play! Go make friends!” We were shy, perhaps we were scared, but we did it. And then later when we discovered alcohol, pot, or what have you, we realized, “Oh, this is so much easier!” Mostly, those masks enable us to escape the scariest realization of all, the looming inevitability of growing up.

So in a way, I’ve had some growing pains. I’m graduating, finally, to the necessary next step. Of preparing myself to be a mother. Of nesting and making a home that is warm, stable, and safe for my husband and me. Preparing not just our home in a physical sense by looking for a larger apartment, but preparing ourselves – emotionally and mentally.

And you know what? I’m having a blast.

awkward-age