Category Archives: Relationships

Outside In

There’s a time in my life for which I should be very grateful. That’s what the doctors have told me every time they’ve heard the story and every time they’ve seen my scars. One doctor even said, had the accident happened 15 years earlier, I would be missing a leg for sure.

But I am old enough to know that what should be and what is are often very different.

When I first met my husband, I hid myself. He didn’t know what was beneath the clothes or behind the girl. Because it was a new relationship, in every moment I was reborn. I got to recreate myself in his eyes and through his eyes, I saw that I was pleasing.

As we strung the days we spent together into a happy little fantasy, there came the time he brought me home after a date and we were kissing on my couch. I had rehearsed the line in my head all day. Maybe even the day before, anticipating it’s inevitable arrival. As I felt his hands start to move beneath my shirt, I knew the moment had come. Instead of excitement, I felt dread. I stopped kissing and moved my head back a few inches, preparing to say the line. “Are you ok?” he asked.

“I have some scars,” I whispered, and waited into the moment. Preparing for rejection, a tentative drop of his hands and the space growing larger between our bodies. He didn’t say anything. I felt shame course through my heart. I felt his fingers lift my face and a wonder at the laugh I heard him make. “Um, yeah,” he said. “I figured you’d have some scars.”

Five years before that night, I had been in a motorcycle accident. It left me in the hospital for almost two months. I flat-lined twice and the doctors had told my parents to say goodbye because I wouldn’t survive the night. I had lost 90% of my blood, draining the hospital of its A+ blood supply through transfusion. I had a compound fracture in my left leg, a broken wrist and three broken ribs that had punctured my lungs, my heart and my liver. As a result, I also had a tracheotomy.

The tracheotomy scars were easy to fix. A plastic surgeon just snipped out the scar tissue and glued my skin together. You can’t tell it was there.

My insides healed too. But I was left with a wide, angry white scar down the middle of my torso from being held open by a surgical retractor.

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It divided me like a playing field, each side populated by opposing asymmetrical circles, like little players ready to charge each other. The plastic surgeon was worried that if he tried to make it look prettier by cutting the scar tissue out and reattaching it, I wouldn’t have enough skin left to have healthy kids.  He was afraid it wouldn’t stretch enough and their little brains wouldn’t have enough room to grow.  So even before motherhood, I was making sacrifices for the kids.

So, instead of prancing the Earth, throwing fairy dust into the air from the gratitude I felt for not only surviving this accident but also managing to thrive afterwards, I was instead engulfed in feelings of remorse and nostalgia for the times I was able to walk around in shorts, worry free (because now I also had two vicious round scars on my calf and shin from the bones popping out + a white stripe on my thigh from the skin they had to peel off to cover that mess). And I was never going to wear a bikini, I decided. No way was I going to expose my ugly middle to a world of judgmental, media scarred people. No way. It didn’t matter if I worked out all the time to look my best, a tankini was the closest I’d ever come to barring my body.

bikini 2
working out in paradise is tough

And that’s just how it’s been all these years. But for all the negativity that surrounds getting older, there are some rarely talked about benefits. For one, I’m not as hard on myself. Not every thing I do or every way I look is a direct reflection of who I am.

I love too many things about myself to keep letting myself get dragged down by trying to be the person I think everyone wants me to be, instead of discovering and embracing the unique person I am.

So fast forward 10 years to the boyfriend who is now a husband who tells me, when it comes up, that he doesn’t even see my scars.

bikini 6

This now husband and I have three children we’re raising and friends we love so much, we want to travel with them and so we do.

bikini 5

We went to Club Med this past summer for our annual big trip.

bikini 8

And on this trip I have decided I no longer want to hide myself from the world. I am going to throw myself open and let the world do what it wants.

bikini 9
That’s right world: do it!

I have too many other things to be grateful for to worry about getting the seal of approval from strangers.

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DSC_0009 bikini 4

And you know what? No one looked twice. And what did my family think?

bikini 3
Beyond blessed. Thank you God.

Stepmothering: The Course I Took Too Late

wedding

When I became a stepmom eight years ago, there were few resources to guide me over the rough spots in my new life. I read the only thin book I could find on the subject of parenting step children, and its bottom line was: “It’s the hardest job you’ll ever have and no one will ever thank you for it.”

Before step-motherhood, I thought I was a kind and thoughtful person.

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But based on my troubled relationships with my stepson, my in-laws and – as a result – my husband, I soon began to think there must be something inherently wrong with me. I imagined that someone else with a different background, a different disposition, or even a different hairstyle would have handled things better.

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Recently I took Kathy Hammond’s course, How to be a Stepmom: 51 Ways To Save Your Marriage, Your Shirt and Your Sanity, online at Udemy.com and realized that even Mary Poppins wouldn’t have been up to the tough job of stepmothering without at some point thinking she was losing her mind.

Hammond is a business development executive and lifestyle coach living in Yorba Linda, and has mothered two stepsons for 23 years. Her course includes advice on money, legal issues, discipline, extended family and relationships. This is one woman’s experience, but I felt it addressed the most common situations a new stepmother will face.

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The first lecture alleviated the guilt that had haunted me from the beginning of my marriage. Hammond said: “You can’t fix a hurt you didn’t cause.”

I went into my relationship with my husband, who was a widower, and his son, trying to soften the pain they had experienced with the untimely death of my husband’s first wife. I was never able to do that, and I wish now that someone had told me it would have been impossible for that to happen.

I wish I had had the benefit of her insight eight years ago. It would have saved a lot of energy and heartache. This 90-minute course was definitely worth the $9 price of admission.

Check out the course yourself at www.udemy.com.

The original article for this post appeared in LA Parent.

The Sand House pt. 3

I’ve always tried to change things for the better. Or at least my interpretation of the better.  I believe I know what’s right and how things should be and can never understand why people don’t do the right thing. Some people may call me controlling. But those people aren’t very nice. 

After years of trying to change the world, I’ve finally had to admit, I can’t change or fix everything. Believe me, I’ve beat my head to a raw pulp trying to budge some of those brick walls that shape things into what they are.

This is how my world would look

Today that brick wall is my dad. I’ve had very limited influence over his decision-making processes in the past but I’ve had more than most. I’ve been trying to use that limited influence like a snake charmer trying to coax him into The Sand House.

We went back to have lunch there last Saturday. My husband, Howard, took pity on my solo plight and offered to have his dad watch the boys so he could accompany us. I wasn’t sure about this. On one hand, I really needed the support and felt relieved to have him hold my hand as I traversed the narrow path between love and fear. On the other, I was afraid he would break the bubble I had created in my head to better deal with this situation. Within this bubble sat my dad who reluctantly agreed to enter into this new senior living situation and found he was much happier, healthier and surrounded by new friends. I didn’t want Howard asking questions or giving opinions that touched, or even worse, burst my bubble. But I appreciated that he acknowledged how difficult this has been for me and wanted to help out. This was the part of marriage that felt like a partnership or a team.

So we picked up my dad and took him to The Sand House. Lunch was being served in the dining room which felt more like an oceanfront restaurant.

I think an ocean view helps with digestion
We were seated by the hostess and greeted warmly by our server, Helen, the Russian speaking immigrant who had wanted to meet my dad. Or at least welcome him as a fellow Russian. She was surprisingly fantastic, like a female Don Rickles. She was irreverant, poking fun at the residents but in such a kindhearted, loving way, she had everyone giggling. I could see the light in my dad’s eyes as he gazed at her with a wonderous smile.
 
I felt hopeful.
 
We went and looked at his potential room again while my husband sprinkled appreciative comments along our path, “Wow, this place is great.” He sounded sincere. 
“I know,” I replied, “It’s amazing. I really do want to live here someday.” 
“No really,” he said, like I was doubting him. 
“I know!” I replied, could we move on already? My dad just walked alongside us with his left foot slightly dragging. And we went into the room again to confirm just how amazing this place really was.
view from amazing room
We left feeling good. Or I was feeling good, like I was a step closer to him agreeing. How could he not? We even had an elderly gentleman stop by our lunch table and give an unsolicited testimonial about how great the place was. And my husband kept reaffirming how much better this place was than the one his grandma had lived in and how it was so much better than he had imagined. This made me wonder, does he not believe me when I tell him something? Because I had already told him it was perfect. But that’s another story, ha ha.
 
We dropped off my dad back at his apartment and told him I’d call him the next day. When I called him, I wanted to casually ask what he had thought of our visit but couldn’t find the courage to say the words. I wasn’t ready for any responses other than the one I needed to hear. So we chit chatted and I called again the following day. At the end of the conversation, I summoned my courage and asked. “So. Wha’d you think of The Sand House?” Brief silence.
 
“No,” he said with a deep sigh. “No.” A little softer.
 
 I don’t think his inner platelets ever budged, not far enough to create the type of seismic shift that would have allowed him to move into the direction for which I had hoped for him.
 
I couldn’t hold it together any more. I was too tired to keep down the bubbles that begged to explode from the bottle. This last ‘no’ had shaken the contents until there was a little explosion. I didn’t yell but I was very stern. I lectured him about what a good opportunity this was for him. He could heal, make friends and enjoy the beach anytime he wanted.  I urgently kept talking but I knew there was no hope. He had made up his mind and I couldn’t shift his glacial stubbornness. I didn’t want to make things worse by getting mad and yelling even though I was so scared for him and didn’t know what else I could do to help him.
 
So I didn’t. I had to let it go and have faith.
 
That night I got an email from my friend, Diana. She too is Russian, though so Americanized, like me, unless she told you, you’d never suspect. But being an immigrant, regardless of how young you were when you got to this country, shapes you. Maybe you have a stronger feeling for the plight of other immigrants. Maybe you are more empathetic to the struggle of being a loner in a foreign land, even if that land has been your home for decades.
 
Anyway, Diana reached out to me by giving me the phone number of a Russian home services agency passed on to her by her grandmother.
 
In the darkness of my disappointment, I felt a glimmer of hope.
 
It appeared we now had a Plan B.
 

 

The Sand House pt.2

He said no.

I heard the no, between his chuckles and warped speech, the kind I usually have to rummage through to find the words he actually means to use. I feel myself starting to sink. I tread harder but play dumb because I’m tired and don’t have the energy a commitment to this conversation will require.

“No?” I ask, hoping I’m wrong about what I’m suspecting he means. “No, what?” I always have to have an idea of where he’s going with his words, to help guide him to his meaning. Like a game of charades but with half syllables instead of pantomime. Since his brain tumor and ensuing stroke, he has had a problem with word retrieval. He knows what he wants to say, he just can’t find the words to say it. Sometimes he uses words from the other languages he knows, thinking they’re the ones he needs, but usually they’re not. Unless I can figure out the terrain of where his meaning lives, we’re both lost and when he’s lost, he gets frustrated and waves me away with an impatient groan, stops trying to say anything and instead resigns himself to be locked in the prison of his mind.

But during this conversation, he seems more lighthearted. I wonder if he’s had some drinks.

“Sand House.” I can decipher the words through his mirth. “Sand House!” he repeats, louder, like a tourist speaking to someone who doesn’t understand his language, assuming a greater volume will make everything clearer.

The Sand House is the assisted living facility we visited together. And, in this stage in his life, it is the perfect senior living situation for him.

The Sand House is in Santa Monica right across the street from the beach. My dad moved us to Santa Monica from ‘Little Russian’ in West Hollywood just before I went into the fourth grade. He hasn’t budged since. Santa Monica is the one place on Earth where he sees God. Or at least His handiwork. The beach is his altar. When he is at the beach, he is in his version of heaven.

The problem is he hasn’t been going to the beach in the last few weeks. He hasn’t taken his regular walks on the boardwalk or really done much of anything.

Since he was duped by his Internet Bride, he’s just been sleeping all day. He wakes around 4pm to sit in front of the TV, and barely eats, if at all. The gold-grubbing thief arranged for a woman who takes care of an ailing, next-door neighbor to come every day and cook and straighten up for him. But this caretaker woman used to drink wine with the Internet Scavenger so I’m not sure about her morals or her intentions. When I ask my dad what he’s eaten each day, his first meal is always cheese, yogurt and coffee and then a soup as his dinner. The skin is flapping around his spaghetti-thin arms. He is looking as skinny as a concentration camp victim. Each of these conversations breaks off another little piece of my heart.

How could this have happened to my dad?


When we visited The Sand House, its bright, airy interior and cheerful staff and residents was a stark contrast to the gloom in which he now lives. I hoped he was seeing what I was seeing.

They serve three gourmet meals a day but also have a small menu available until 6pm so my dad could eat whenever and wherever he likes. They have housekeeping services and laundry. They have exercise classes including his favorites, yoga and tai chi.

This is the room where they execise

They have physical, occupational and speech therapies, all covered by Medicare so it would be 100% free. My dad’s ego has always prevented him from getting the therapy care that he’s needed after each of his medical maladies. His dragging left arm and leg and his stunted speech are the result of his inaction. I can do it myself, he always said. Here, I tell him, he can give his body and brain the attention they need to finally heal.

“You deserve this,” I told him, when we first toured the place. “You’ve always taken care of everyone. Please, please just this once, do something for yourself.”

We even went back again to see the actual rooms that were available, to get a sense of what his life would be like living there. I felt tears meekly slide into my eyes as I looked at the view that he could have.

Actual balcony view from the room he could have
I really wanted this for my dad. I really wanted this for myself. When I’m older and retired, I want to live in a resort overlooking the ocean with meals available anytime of the day and people cleaning my room when it needed plus a variety of activities planned for me – like this one that happened this month on the 20th:

It would be like living in a college dorm except with older people. Sure, when I looked around there were a few people that had special needs but the majority seemed like they were there because they wanted to live their lives fully, not be locked away in some isolated apartment like my dad’s.

When we got back down to the lobby after seeing the two available apartments the last time we visited Sand House, my dad’s ailing leg forced him into an awaiting chair and it appeared, but I didn’t want to look too closely, that he was softly weeping under his fedora. I wanted to give him his moment and had to admit that although I can see the beauty of this potential situation, he might see it differently.

Here’s what I saw (the rooftop deck)

Here’s what he might see

I know, after doing yoga for many years, that what we see in this world may not be what actually exists. People see a blend of what is in front of them and what has happened to them in the past and/or what they are expecting to happen in the future.

I’m sure my dad has seen images of terrible nursing homes, although I would never call this a nursing home. I’d say it’s more like a resort exclusive to seniors.

He said, after his brief weeping episode, when I leaned down to see if he was okay, “I am not in my grave yet.” This was quite a sentence for someone who normally has trouble stringing together more than three words. He proclaimed this with a hot burst of frustration born from the tension taking over his body.

I know when he gets like this not to argue. Besides, there was nothing to argue. “Of course not.” I tried to smooth his rising hackles. “This is not a grave. You’re apartment is more like a grave. This is living. This is being surrounded by people who want to be your friend, who have enough of their own money that they don’t want to steal yours. This is where you can meet a nice woman who will think you are so handsome and like you for who you are. This is where you can do things you enjoy all day long or do nothing at all. Or go for a walk on the beach, which is only across the street!” I ended, sounding more like a cheerleader or a spokesperson for an infomercial than the scared, defeated daughter I was actually being.

Yet, when I called to check in on him the next day, he told me, in no uncertain terms, No. He would not be moving into The Sand House.

Okay, I told him, feeling like a deflated balloon, trying not to get stuck in the slimy swamp of inviting hopelessness, trying not to let anger take over the situation and bring it to an unshakable end. I wished him good night and hung up the phone.

The next day, I called him again and told him I wanted to take him to lunch. “Okay!” he said with excitement in his voice. I couldn’t imagine how lonely he must be now that the greedy witch had abandoned him.

“I’m coming on Saturday and we’ll go back to The Sand House and have lunch in their restaurant and you can meet the Russian server that works there and wanted to meet you.” During our last visit, the nice lady who was facilitating our tours, Kortney, told us there was a woman who spoke Russian and was excited to meet my dad but we were running late that day and she had already gone home.

“Okay,” he said, sounding a little less certain.

“Great!” I wasn’t going to get dragged down by my fears for his future. I wasn’t going to get tangled in my frustration that this situation was going to be harder than I imagined, that his Old World Ego wasn’t going to let him be cared for. If I went down, there wouldn’t be anyone left to see him as the strong, determined man he is that brought us to this country and fought for our survival until we could fight for ourselves. And now I had to fight for him.

Saturday. It was another chance.

My dad sitting in what could be his room

The Sand House pt. 1

When I was four, I wanted a colored pencil set more than anything in the world. 



The memory of this seemingly trivial desire has followed me into my 40s, a permanent etching in my mind.

At the time, we were living in Italy. We had just left Israel, where we had sought asylum as Russian-Jewish refugees. 

Our Soviet Union family passport photo

Now we were awaiting permission to enter the United States. I know now, as an adult, when we left the former Soviet Union we were not sent off with kisses and well wishes. We were stripped of our possessions and sent into the unknown with $100 to mark our family fortune.

But my dad is stubborn and a hard worker. I’m sure we were given some type of social assistance when we arrived in Israel because they really do try and take care of their people. I know my dad was a reservist in the Army. 

Dad on left
I know my dad must have worked diligently to rebuild some type of financial cushion because that’s the kind of guy he is.


But by the time we went to Italy, to await the bureaucratic green light, we still weren’t living anywhere near the financial elite. We shared a rented room in a boarding house in Rome.

This was not our room in Rome.
This was actually taken in Israel right before we left
for Rome. In Italy we didn’t take any pictures
because we didn’t own a camera.
But as a four year old, full of desire (and apparently unaware that I was artistically uninclined), I saw that pencil set and imagined all the beautiful pictures I could create with those colors. All I wanted to do was color my life. Maybe it was the influence of the talented street painters we passed by daily. But I knew if I had that set, everything would be perfect. In an anguish of tender consumerism, I threw out a passionate declaration to my young, innocent parents: If they bought me this pencil set, I would never, ever ask for anything else in my entire life.

 

When I made that statement, it was true.

I sincerely sat down, crossed leg, pondering on the checkered tiles in the aisle of the market. I put my little chin into my small hand and asked myself with unflinching honestly: could I really make this commitment? Was there anything else I would ever want? No! I answered myself. There was nothing else. This was truly it.

I got the set. My parents took pity on my passionate plight and relented, I’m sure spending a good percentage of their remaining financial resources to satisfy their four year old’s questionable needs. And needless to say, I have asked for one or two things since then. 

This memory comes to mind because now I have a new wish that falls in the same category of urgency and fervent desire with which I yearned that pencil set. Only this wish is for my father. I want him to live in a nurturing, safe environment. One in which he would have help and supervision. He’s reached the age where he shouldn’t drive, he can’t cook for himself and cleaning has never been his forte. He won’t come live with me. I know he doesn’t want to be a burden, though he never would be, or so I tell myself now. He also doesn’t want to leave his paradise: the beach in Santa Monica. So, I need him to move into an assisted living apartment.

It is a vision I never thought I’d have for my dad, the pillar of strength in our family who threw away everything he and my mom had known to walk into the unknown, in search for a safer, more secure place to raise their daughter and by the time they got here, a soon to arrive son. 

I remember looking at my dad’s bulging biceps, knowing he was the strongest man in the world.

 

Except for my visiting grandmother in the middle,
that is my entire original family in our first apartment in America. I’m on
the right, my grandmother is holding my brother (born here).
 

 

But since that day in the Italian market, my father has weathered the onslaught life can sometimes bring: rebellious kids, a divorce, an unhealthy lifestyle filled with smoking and booze, a fickle economy, two strokes, a brain tumor that robbed him of most of his speech, lung cancer and most recently: a heartless, younger Russian woman he met online. He married her, she took his money and scurried back to Russia with it. Not all of it, but a good chunk. It was the supposed good intentions of this woman, who promised to take care of him, that set my mind at ease. Living an hour away and taking care of two rambunctious boys, it’s hard to see my dad as much as I’d like. Instead, this woman created a situation that highlighted my dad’s inability to continue to care for himself.

 

keep this woman away from your daddy

It is in the aftermath of that drama that I now find myself. My dad needs help. Because of his stubborn, self-sufficient nature, he never got the therapy that he should have had after any of his ailments. Since his second stroke, he is limping and no longer able to do the yoga handstands that once stood for his ability to survive despite anyone else’s prognosis for him. He has never asked anyone for help and would thwart any attempts when it was offered. That’s partially why it’s been hard to admit to myself that the best situation for him would be in an assisted living environment. I know what a battle this is going to be, one that needs to be fought with finesse and patience rather than muscle. It’s an amount of energy that, on most days, I can’t muster.

The other reason is I still see my dad’s bulging bicep and his defiant attitude towards anyone that would dare tell him he couldn’t do something. I still see that glimmer of mischievousness as he joked with my friends and flirted with the check-out lady. I still see the sailor that learned all of the Soviet propaganda he had heard growing up, about the United States, wasn’t true. 


He found there was hope for a Jewish man, raised by a single mother with three kids in the wake of a vicious war, to find freedom. 

My cutie-pie dad on the left


Freedom to raise his daughter without the anchor of racism weighing down her ability to soar.



Everything my father has ever done has been for his family. I only hope now, with the desperate hope of a four-year-old who still sees sparks of her father as the superhero he once was, that he now allows his family to do for him.




LA Parent photoshoot – the UNCUT version!

I was honored this month to be published by LA Parent Magazine.

It’s the story towards the top of the page about Dating Your Husband. The article is based on a post I wrote for this blog called Secret Dates and if you haven’t run out and raided your local Vons, Pavilions, Gelsons or library for a print copy of the February issue…..you could read it here (and leave a comment if you want to make me look good, I mean, help others with some great ideas of your own, ha ha). But it’s so much more fun to see it in print. For me anyway.

I had thought there was a possibility that we would even be on the cover because they sent out this very talented photographer, Jodye Alcon, who took countless pictures of the families that were able to come to the park for the shoot. This is the photo they used in the magazine:

I think we look a little like a soap opera

So this isn’t going to be about romance or relationships – well maybe a little. This is going to be  the UNCUT, behind the scenes version about the lovely group of people whose experiences helped shape my first magazine feature article. 
First off, it was a lot of kids.
And they weren’t all exactly listening.
And they had some feelings.
But Mommy-extrodinaire, Jen Press had a bright idea…..
It was actually a bright blue idea…..
yes, their mouth are blue
Which got their attention…..but may have not been the best strategy right before picture time…..
However we got it done as you saw from the first picture.
And, I was obviously very excited and in the wee hours of the morning before we were to meet at the park for this photoshoot, I had some great ideas for some fun pictures.
First, I wanted all the guys to wear aprons.
Don’t they look handsome?

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at the eventual mutiny.

I also thought it’d be cute for the girls to have roses, you know, to symbolize romance. We like flowers right?
Maybe just not in our mouths, yuck.

I really wanted to impress the editors with my creativity. So we went for the Charlie’s Angels look.

I think we look very intimidating….or confused….why are we trying to look scary with roses again?

And then we started taking pictures of the families individualy, which was really fun so go with me here….

Terri Harrah used to be my roommate in Santa Monica when we went to CSUN. I majored in Journalism and she in Drama.
she really is quite dramatic

Terri is a down to earth, true blue friend. She cares about the planet, treating other people with kindness and dignity and homeschools her two boys Truman and Ethan.

Ethan, 6 and Truman 9

And she is happily married to her (working) musician husband, James Harrah. They prioritize their relationship because they know it all starts with them.

Maybe Jen Press is such a quick witted parent because nature has forced her to be so. She is a work-outside-the-home mom to three boys. She’s also a lot of fun. I don’t get to see her as often as I like. (One of her most memorable sayings is “Only floss the teeth you want to keep.” Yes, she’s a dental hygenist.)
Zach, 6 is between Trevor and Dylan, 4 – who are TWINS

God bless her. Did I mention that her husband Jeff is helping to open restaurants all over the country, called Firehouse Subs so he travels A LOT. Good thing she is patient and takes the time to plan outings that keep their fires kindled (oh and yes, they like to camp a lot too).

I don’t know how they make it look so easy

Laurel Janssen Byrne is a writer too. She is writing her own life story with strokes of compassion as she is the gal to go to if you need a little TLC fix, and some steely nerve. I keep forgetting she’s not from NYC because she and her husband Matt are so edgy. No, not cranky just so off the cuff honest with each other and the world. It’s refreshing.

Yin and Yang – such a perfect fit

And they make cute kid.

good thing she is cute cuzz this couple is ONE AND DONE

And of course, there was my family.

Kyle wasn’t here because he went surfing this day

And my guys were unusually patient and smiled on cue.

brotherly love (rare moment)
Kaleb, 5 – loves rainbow loom, dodge ball and bey blades
Knox, 3 – loves his doggie blanky, all sports and homemade biscuits

So thank you to the awesome families that were brave enough to share their stories and hopefully inspire couples to reboot their love lives….bring the sizzle back to their fizzle….make love not war. OK, I’ll stop. But here again are the lovely families who make my life so much better by being in it. Thank you again…..

Two other families couldn’t make it to the park this day (it was after all New Year’s Eve day) so I just want to acknowledge and thank them too for sharing their stories…..

Morgan and Todd Addab (not their real name, ha ha) couldn’t come because Todd had to work. Todd and Howard used to be fraternity brothers (insert the Animal House soundtrack here because I’m sure it applies) and their friendship has travelled the circuitous route that our lives sometimes take and has brought them together again at a time when our families are child compatible. And how many of our friendships end up being based mainly on this criteria? But in this regard we got lucky and I just love his wife Morgan who is one of the most gracious and kind people I’ve met.

Jon Jr., 20, Morgan and Todd, Justin, 5

Nicole and Danny Baraz are the hip element of this article. Oh the days when we were hip…..

Danny and Nicole, Mason (now 9) and Odessa (now 6, but gosh arent’ they the cutest!)

Thanks for reading and I hope you find the article useful or helpful in some way. Even if your relationship is solid and you couldn’t squeeze more romance into it, at least there are some great date ideas! Now, go and spread that love! And Happy Valentine’s day!

The Chair

This is the chair I have lived with for over 8 years.

It’s the chair that I have come to accept as a practical part of my life. It’s not my style but it’s functional and there’s no reason to go out and buy another chair since this one works. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself for 8 years.

There’s a bit more to this story than just a functional chair. This chair used to belong to my husband’s deceased wife. Her passing, 14 years ago,  is a tragedy. It is one that we all live with, in subtle ways, everyday. I’ve done many things around the house that I inherited from her, things to make living here not feel like I am living in someone else’s life. The living room has been remodeled, painted and shifted. The dishes have mostly been replaced. The bedroom furniture (and mattress) is new…..except for, of course, the chair.

I didn’t understand how much it bothered me. I realize now that, unconsciously, I used to picture her sitting in it and getting ready for her day, bantering with the husband we now share and laughing with the child she had to leave behind. In a way, the chair is her anchor to the new life I’ve tried to create with my husband and my little boys and, of course, the boy she had to leave behind. But for some reason, I didn’t have the guts to get rid of it. Maybe, my reluctance was my way of letting her hold on to her grip to the most intimate part of my house. Maybe, in some small part of me, I felt guilty.

I finally shared the meaning of the chair with my husband one night.

He was surprised. He had thought I had brought the chair with me when I moved in. He had no recollection of it previously at all. He asked why I hadn’t said anything sooner. I couldn’t really answer past the tears clouding my vision.

This past Monday I celebrated my birthday. I love birthdays. I’ve decided that as we grow older, every year should be a party to celebrate that we’re still here, that we still get to enjoy the gifts we’ve been given and resolve, in the next year, to become yet even better versions of ourselves.

My husband waited until the end of the day to give me his gift. I could tell he was up to something when I tried to go into our room and the door was locked. OK, honey, I called out. I have no idea what you’re up to, wink, wink, I said to him through the door, laughing to myself that he always waited until the last minute to do these things.

Then the door opened and I rushed in to get something I needed for one of the boys. I stopped right in my tracks. And this is what I saw:

And I started to cry. Because, he heard me.

Fathering a Memory

This is the stuff that favorite childhood memories are made of. These are the moments that cast bonds between fathers and sons that transend the body and tie the spirit.

On this father-son day, it was the water that brought God into the moment. 

We joined our friends Brian and Ryan at Will Rodgers State Beach for the daddies to pass on a great love to their sons. Other great beaches to get cozy in the water or learn how to surf are Zuma tower 14, Mondos and Old Man’s near San Diego.

On this day, I followed behind with my camera and an extra set of eyes. So glad I did.
 Howard with 5 yo Kaleb: here it comes!

 go Kaleb go!
not a big fan of water in the eyes
we did it!
With my dad, it was cowboy movies and action flicks. We watched Clint Eastwood bury the bad guys and medieval warriors storm castles. Not very active or enriching beyond the actual time we spent together. My brother, Danny couldn’t recall our dad passing on any skills to him either. “He even hired someone to teach me how to drive a stick shift,” he groused. Though he did report they watched the rise and fall of Mike Tyson on the tube together. I’m sensing a theme here. But in my father’s defense, he immigrated us to this country and worked many hours each day to get us ahead. He was mostly just tired all the time.

All that hard work paid off. My father allowed my brother and me to spend days with our kids like last Sunday when the man I married got to share something that captured his heart with his sons.
And we got to hang out on the beach, just enjoying the day.
And we watched our kids gather the pieces of moments that will forever be the building blocks to their self worth and relationship with their own kids.

 Ryan and William (he’s a little older)
 Brian and Jacob (he just looks a little older)
 watch out below!
Howard and Knox (the baby)
I’m going to be forever grateful for the sacrifices my father made for me to live the amazing life I get to live today.  It is the gratitude that will forever bind me to my father, instead of the memories of these types of moments. And it is with great compassion that I see the other hard-working fathers who have to sacrifice the time they could be spending with their families to make sure their kids can get ahead. 

These are the real undercover superheros.



Babysitters 101

OK, you’re convinced ~ after my last compelling post ~ that you need to amp up your love life. Yes….with your husband! It’ll be good for you, your hubby and most of all your kids, who will see their parents in love and will then, in turn, choose someone to marry who embodies that ideal and who they will expect to looooove their entire lives. One of the whole points of a happy life, right?

(Or. If you’re single, then you need someone to give you an occassional break so you can have an adult conversation, a girl’s night out and maybe even meet the actual Mr. Right instead of that guy that was pretending to be him.)

But. Who will watch the kids while you paint the town in crimson hearts accompanied by harps and violins? (Or shake that groove thang in your sequin capris?) If your family lives far away, or is just not available, you may have to find a babysitter. But, is it really worth the effort?

I have one friend who told me, a few years ago, when I shared with her that I had gone on a date with my husband at a time when my kids were still pretty little that she and her husband hadn’t gone out in years. She said their dates consisted of sitting on the couch and maybe watching a movie on TV. I found out recently that they’ve since divorced. He cheated with ~ then married ~ her best friend, who went out all the time, ha ha.

OK, that’s an extreme example. But it does happen.  Maybe we don’t divorce immediately but those of us who don’t put energy into our relationship can languish in a murky sea of boredom and dissatisfaction. Who wants that? And it’s scary to think that every 13 seconds a couple does divorce.

If getting a sitter is the solution to a harmonious household or a merry, mellow mommy, then what are we waiting for?

Here’s the how-to list….

Ways to find a babysitter:

  • Ask around
  • Check babysitting websites: Sittercity or Care are good bets and you can even run background checks
  • Jen’s List is also a great resource

The first thing you can obviously do, is ask around. Which of your friends has someone whom they love? That can be a little tricky though. Because, if you start using them on a regular basis it could cause a conflict with your friend’s babysitting needs. This actually happened to me. I was so excited about my sitters that I started sharing their information with everyone that might need one including all my MOMs Club friends ~ which meant she could never babysit when I needed her. So ideally it would be best to find your own sitter. And only share her info with very close friends who will sign in blood not to use her on the nights you need her. One gal I did find from a friend (who wasn’t using her much), Emily, is this amazing 16 year old who works 3 part-time jobs ~ between school ~ with great enthusiasm. When I asked her how much she would charge to watch my kids, she said it didn’t really matter because she loved hanging out with kids so much. Really? Wow.

I’ve also had great luck in two places online: Sittercity and Care. I prefer Sittercity but I’m not sure why. I’ve just had better luck there, I guess. When I first tried Sittercity I found a wonderful sitter, Tabitha. I was 6 months pregnant and already had an 18 month old boy who wanted to do anything except sit and listen. Mommy’s swollen feet just weren’t up for the chase so Tabitha was able to help me 2x a week. (Mommy was not feeling up to dating daddy too much at that point). Tabitha moved on to a more regular position as a nanny but now I have three other great gals in rotation (because when you need someone, you need someone). One of my sitters, Desiree is a volunteer fighfighter EMT who is in nursing school. Total tomboy, loves to play with my rambuncious boys. Another, Lindsey was president of her high school and is now studying PR at Boston University. She sits for us in the summers when she’s back home (like now!). And the third, Allison (the one my friends stole) works at the CA Cartwheel Center and is studying to be an Occupational Therapist. 

These girls are more qualified to watch my kids than I am!

When you place an ad online, you can get many responses. Do yourself and them a favor and listen to your gut. You don’t have to interview them all. If she seems flaky on the website, she’s probably even worse in person. And if the picture she submitted shows her partying with her friends, you might consider passing on that one too. Do an initial phone interview before you meet in person. Make sure she can accomodate your scheduling needs. If you decide to have her come meet you, have her bring a casual resume with a list of references. You have to ask for this because most won’t think to do this and time is a-wasting! it’s a good idea to have the kids there while you talk to her so you can see how she interacts with them. It’s a great sign if she offers to help you with whatever comes up while you’re talking to her i.e. she helps distract one of the kids while you answer the phone or includes your child in a quick conversation. You want her to actually like children. The caretaker websites offer a list of suggested questions for the interview. Scan the ones that are important to you, like: what would you do if my child got hurt while you were watching them and how would you handle it if one brother tried to impale the other with his lightsaber? You know. The usual.

You can also try Jen’s List, which is btw, an amazing, free, local resource for parents who like to do stuff with their family. Jen’s List has a seperate section for nannies and babysitters referred by other Jen’s List subscribers so you have a built-in reference and they’re usually willing to talk to you and answer any questions you may have about their posting. And if they’re taking the time to post, then you know they love her.

You’ll know right away if a girl is a good fit for your family. Don’t feel guilty if she’s not. Just be polite and thank her for coming. During one of my babysitter searches, I couldn’t win between the aspiring models who showed up to the interviews in stage make-up to the dominatrix who showed up in thigh-high stiletto boots. To play with kids, really(she looked normal in her picture) But this last round, every girl was a winner. 

In my babysitting job ads, I ask for someone who will play with the boys instead of watch TV with them. I ask for someone who is willing to do small chores around the house while the boys sleep. Things like, laundry, folding clothes, dishes, straightening stuff up and restoring the play area to it’s original (or better) condition. All the girls that work for me, do all of this. Yes, they’re college girls so you have to actually ASK them to do the things you want done. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by assuming it will just be done when you get home. Say things like, “I would so love it if you could fold the laundry when the boys go down.” And, “It would really, really help me if you could do all the dishes and wipe the counters when you have time.” You have to ask and if you ask with sweet enthusiasm, you’ll feel better about it and so will they.

How much should you charge? And what should you have her do? Now this part is purelly a subjective call. Babysitters are asking outrageous amounts to play with your kids and watch TV while they sleep. For some reason, they think they are entitled to it because having them at your house is worth a lot of money. To them at least. I’ve found that the babysitters who ask for more than $12 an hour are usually too entitled to even do a good job for me. 

I pay most of my sitters $10 an hour. One gets $12. And they are happy with that. Yes, I usually give a little more at the end of the night, for instance, I round up from the hour in which we came home. Or just give her a $5 or $10 bump if it’s close to the end of the hour. But the agreement is for $10 an hour and that’s how you weed out the hard workers from the entitled ones. You don’t want an entitled girl. No one is going to make a living from babysitting for you, it’s just extra money so don’t feel like you need to support them. And going out shouldn’t run you $500 by the end of the night. It’s a tough economy.

Check her references if you like her and if she shines, put her in your smartphone. That way you have a string of girls and you can know in minutes whether they are available or not the day or night you need them.

Those are the basics, at least, for me. Did I forget something?

Secret Dates

Remember the drum circle beating inside your tummy, the feet running around your room trying to find the perfect outfit, the make-up so meticulously applied all in anticipation of that evening date with your special sweetheart? Then you married him. And all these years later, what happened? You still love him but now when you see him you’re running past each other, hair barely brushed (hoping you remembered to at least clean your teeth as you graze a fleeting kiss across his cheek), sweat pants hanging, yelling “Get off your little brother!” or screeching at your teenager not to forget her lunch.
            It’s not how you thought your love life would look before you married your Prince Charming. But between dishes and homework and carpools, what can we do? How do we go back and do we really want to?
Yes. Yes, you do want to go back and you really want to. Maybe you can’t be those swinging singles able to drop everything for a spontaneous out of town rendezvous  but you can still get excited, you can still appreciate one another and you can get those drums in your tummy beating again. But how? You may ask, between mouthfuls of a hastily put together lunch in the middle of the afternoon or right before finally clocking out at the end of the day after every person in your house has had their needs met.
I’ll tell you. Between my three active boys, two part-time jobs and a half-way put together house, my husband and I have gone past the conversations crowded with irritated undertones of “why are you doing it that way instead of the good way?” and into a space where hands linger on each other’s fingers as we walk by and kisses happen in the middle of the room, just because. 
We do something we call Secret Dates.
Yes, with each other. This is how it works: Every week one of us takes turns planning an evening and doesn’t tell the other what is in store for them until we arrive at our destination.
So simple. And yet completely transformative because it turns an otherwise blah blah occasion into an adventure full of suspense and intrigue. When’s the last time you had suspense and intrigue in your mommy life?
The last secret date we had was a lot of fun. It was his turn to plan and believe me, he’s getting better at this. First we went to a Peruvian Restaurant in Pasadena. This was improvised. He knew the area well enough to know there would be several options close to the actual venue where he was taking me. So Peruvian Choza Mama caught our eye. They welcomed us like family which I love in a restaurant. There was a live celloist/guitar player softly setting the scene in the spacious earth toned room, the drinks were local to the area and the food was dressed in savory spices.

Then we walked over to the main event. He led me to the Pasadena Playhouse to see a play by an author I enjoy, Mitch Albom. He called it Duck Hunter Shoots Angel
First of all, of all the things he could have picked, he picked a play. As I looked at the marquee, my mind started to jump up and down, clapping in glee.  
At one point in our relationship, this type of activity was about as far from his thing as things could get. We have had many “discussions” over the years about him putting more effort into making our relationship a priority, into me having to do “everything” when it came to making plans for us and why couldn’t he just be more romantic in general? 
 So, here I am staring at this play poster feeling so loved and cared for. I looked up into his eyes and he smiled down at me with pride. “Honey, you picked a play?” I asked incredulously. And he tried to sound very matter of fact, it’s a no big deal kind of thing when he said, “Of course. I knew you liked him and I thought it’d be fun.” Yay! I hugged him and we went up the stairs and proceeded to laugh out loud in a theater small enough to see the faces of the actors and big enough to host a very talented cast. The play spoke to our basic desires for love and redemption in the same way that Albom’s books managed to snag a part of our souls while we read them.

Last week, when I planned the date, we went to the Stonehaus for dinner and then to see my childhood favorite, Grease playing locally (which was a great change for us from having to schlep over the hill). But the point of these Secret Dates – besides the thrill of the surprise – is also supposed to be sharing what one of us really loves with the other. No arguments, no compromise because done is done.
So when he went out of his way to make me happy instead of satisfying his own needs, that to me was an unequivocal show of love. And it made me a better person because now I really want to find something that will make him as happy as he made me and if the competition is now about who can make the other happier, how can that be anything but good?

This just shows that even things that start out as mischevious acts of selfishness could blossom into beauty if watered with the right amount of love. Because this did indeed start out as a selfish way to get my needs met after we first started dating. I planned our first Secret Date when I decided he needed a haircut but we had just started dating and it was too soon to suggest such a drastic step. So, instead, I concocted this idea of taking him on a Secret Date which included us getting haircuts and mani/pedis. It’s a wonder he continued to want to date me after that! But at least he knew what he was signing up for and I can definitely say after knowing each other for almost a decade, we have both become a better person as a result of our love for each other, warts and all.

So, now that you’ve heard our sappy tale, I’d love to know what you do to keep your relationship vital and exciting?