A love story, and a parallel

My sister and I joke that our parents have ruined us for love. This is their story. Before I tell it, though, I have to say that my sister and I are not ruined at all; just the opposite, in fact – what we want is rare, and possible, and we know this to be true because we grew up with daily proof.

My parents met in Cape Town, South Africa in the early 1970’s, at a going away party. My mom was newly divorced, and I was very little, maybe 3 or 4 years old. At the party, they started talking, and then talked some more. She thought he was super sexy, in his tight bell bottom jeans, and interesting, and she loved his warmth. However, the going away party was his, and he was moving to Canada the next day. They exchanged addresses and agreed to write to each other, but she wasn’t hopeful; Canada is a very long way from South Africa, and was even further away in 1973, with no Internet and poor phone service. But then, the letters started arriving, and they were wonderful. Filled with stories, and drawings, and descriptions of the people he was meeting and all the new things he was seeing…all of which was completely foreign to my mom. Our life was very different from his. We left Cape Town and moved to a small university town in the Eastern Cape, near where my mom grew up. She needed to go back to school, and as a single mother, needed the support of my grandparents. I was happy as a clam, living a in a tiny pretty house with my pretty mom with a pretty garden, with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins nearby. I was oblivious to the fact that we had no money, and that my mom was lonely. But, you know, we got by. I helped my grandmother organize her sewing desk and pick avocados in her garden, and played in my grandfather’s wordworking shop while he carved all kinds of beautiful toys, and clocks, and bowls. I’d make toys out of the wood scraps, and go home with wood shavings stuck to my socks and treats in my pockets. And still, the letters came, fat. Every time a new one arrived, my mom would light up, and I would see her savor the words, re-reading, tucking away for safekeeping. She would write back, telling him about our life, her studies, and hopes, and the books she was reading, and about the politics that were shifting in our country.

I don’t know how long this went on for. As I said, I was happy in my own bubble of sunshine, and oblivious. But the day came that they decided that they needed to see each other, and so my mom packed up her warmest sweaters and flew to Canada. And these two people who had spent mere hours together, realized that they were in love. All those long months of nothing but words had brought them from sunny Cape Town to Vancouver, and then down the coast to San Francisco, where by mom bought herself a multicolored Afghan dress and he bought her a red enameled ring with tiny white daisies painted on it, and they climbed the steps of the courthouse and married each other.

That’s how their story started, and how it continues. Today, they live in Connecticut, where they recently installed a hot tub on their back patio, and where they have a small couch in the TV room because they want to sit close to each other. Of course it’s not always easy, and they’ve had their rough patches. And they also still have all those letters, tied with a ribbon, and tucked away.

The New York Times recently published the article To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This. At the core of it is this idea of taking the time to know someone. To share, and be receptive to their sharing. To pause, and listen, and appreciate. That’s what my parents did. And knowing that, it helps me see things in a new, brighter light. Distance is only a logistical problem, and no more; feeling connected to someone is so much greater than how often you’re able to touch them. And so here I am, repeating my parents’ story for you, and telling you that everything is possible. Just, love.

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends.


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What do you want?

What do you want? Really, you? Not influenced by the could’ves or the should’ves or the worry about what others may think…what do YOU want? When your pride or ego steps aside and your eyesight becomes clear, what do you see? It’s a tough question to answer, because we all feel so much pressure from every facet of our lives. We don’t want to hurt or disappoint; or to be hurt or disappointed. So we say yes when we mean no, and take on more than feels right, or good, or that we have time for. And sometimes, too often, it means that we stay in relationships that perhaps are simply not right for us. Something feels slightly off, but it’s a little hard to put your finger on exactly what, and it’s easier to avoid the conversations, to avoid the conflict, to avoid ourselves. I faced this challenge when somebody, a man I was intimate with, told me he didn’t want to date me. He wanted to be intimate, on his terms, and that was it; nothing personal – while he liked me fine and enjoyed hanging out, I just wasn’t who he was interested in having a romantic relationship with. OUCH, right?! And at first, I was really bummed. I was so tripped up by my ego that it didn’t occur to me to consider what I wanted. And when I did, I realized: I didn’t want to date him, either. I liked him fine and enjoyed hanging out, but did I see a future? Nope. Not at all.

A girlfriend of mine had a similar experience, except hers went like this: she was on a date with a man, and things became intimate, and she wasn’t comfortable with that and it wasn’t what she wanted. But she didn’t stop him or say no, because she was so focused on what he wanted, that she lost sight of herself. In the middle of having sex with this man she barely knew, she decided it was easier to just go along with it than to stop him. And then she was angry with herself, and hurt, and felt violated.

This isn’t a conversation about about women’s subjucation to men, or about sexual relationships, or romantic ones, either; it’s about using your voice to assert what you want. Don’t go along with things that feel a little off, of very off, or just plain awful. Give yourself the gift of quiet space to listen to your heart, your soul, your pulse; to hear your inner voice tell you what you want. Put that in your pocket or someplace safe, and be sure to look at it often. Honor yourself, and remember what you want.


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Do you believe in magic? I do. It makes the world more beautiful, all that potential for the unexpected; all that possibility. I also believe in science, and facts, and logic…but it seems to me that more you know about how flowers blossom, or hearts beat, or poems are written, the more you have to scoot over a bit and make room for the unexplainable.
My younger daughter was sad tonight because my older daughter doesn’t believe in Santa anymore. My big girl is 11, and is challenging many things; mostly herself. My little girl was sad, because she loves the ritual of Santa, and the beautiful story that unites so many people who make an active choice to believe in something completely fantastical. She wants to believe, and I suspect and hope she always will.
There’s magic all around us, and if you want to see it, all you have to do is open yourself up to possibility. That glorious sunset, or the way the air feels right before Spring starts, or a small child who smiles at you in a grocery store, or that shiver of a first kiss…it’s all magic. I choose that. I choose to believe in magic.
Merry Christmas, friends.


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So I’m not the youngest or smartest or prettiest chicken in the coop, but I do okay for myself in the romance department. At least, I thought I did, until a friend told me recently that I have an expiration date. Like milk, I will begin to curdle, and he estimates that this will happen in about 18 months to 2 years from now. That’s when the scales will tip, and no men my age or younger will be interested in me any more; in fact, very few men will even look twice, and those that do will resemble one of my grandpa’s bowling buddies. Well, DANG. Pretty harsh, right? And there probably is some truth to it, except that the entire premise is wrong, because it all implies a terrible shallowness that I refuse to accept.

Here’s what I know: beauty is in the heart, and I don’t mean that in that tired pithy “skin deep” way. I mean that beauty is actually an enormous word, and captures the essence of who someone is. Their intelligence, humor, wisdom, empathy – and when you love someone, it’s those parts that you see. When I was with the wrong man, who was physically incredibly handsome, I would always notice that his nose was a little small for his face, or that there was something weird going on with his hair. And I have been with other men who were less physically fortunate, and yet who were breathtakingly beautiful to me. I loved that crooked tooth, or the jagged scar, or even the little tummy pooch…because it was theirs. And that’s love, real, un-shallow love, the kind we all want.

Last night, I was talking to a man I used to be intimate with but who has transitioned into the most wonderful friend. He’s gorgeous, and makes the waitresses fluttery every time he looks their way, but that’s not the point – this is the point: we were talking about love, and what we want from it. And for both of us, it boils down to loving someone so much that we really don’t know what they look like. Because if you get there, you’ve really reached the highest state of acceptance; you’re so focused on their humanity, that all else falls aside. Love isn’t blind at all….it simply helps you see the parts of a person that matter most.


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We run together.

I took a slightly different route on my run yesterday morning, cutting down 40th Street. Moving past the unfamiliar houses, I was suddenly overwhelmed by a powerful deja vu. Looking around trying to figure out what triggered it, I realized: this is the route I took with Holly when were training for our first marathon (read about mine here). It was during the year my marriage was ending. We began training in the summer – June July August September. My husband moved out in early September, I ran the marathon in early November, and filed for divorce about two weeks later. Through the turmoil, Holly was beside me, logging the miles. Sometimes I would talk about it, but mostly I didn’t.  She knew there was something wrong, but also knew when to ask questions and when to simply be quiet. Our running, and the friendship that she and I developed, was a light for me.

So during my run yesterday, I was thinking abut that – about the friendships that form when you run with someone. I’ve written about this before, as I think it’s a great allegory,  and because the friendships I have with my running partners are the most profound I have ever known. When you run with someone, you see their everything. You see their very best, their greatest potential, and you see the dark spots that they probably don’t reveal readily. Maybe it’s because of all those endorphins we release, making us a little bit drunk and helping us drop our barriers, to lose our “mute” buttons. Once somebody becomes a running partner, they’re a friend for life, and occupy a place in your heart that is quite different from where we keep other friends, no matter how dear. I know this isn’t true only for running; it’s true for all sports, but the mine is the only sport I can speak to.

A few weeks ago, someone named Lisa Harris spoke at an event for Back on My Feet, a group that utilizes the sport of running to transform the lives of people coping with homelessness. It’s hard to describe the emotion in the room as she spoke about the program, and the participants who have chosen to dedicate themselves to changing their lives. Back on My Feet has volunteers who commit to running with the program participants multiple times per month, every month, always with the same group, and you know what happens? Amazing, powerful friendships are born. The homeless man who last year was lying, unwashed and unkempt, beside a dumpster in an alley – the man your eyes might settle on for a moment but who you would quickly look away from – blossoms. There’s a video here that illustrates how truly remarkable this is, and another here that features participants describing the program, and what it meant to them. The common theme for all of us is Never Give Up. We don’t give up on each other, and we don’t give up on ourselves. We keep our promises, and if we tell our running partner that we will meet them on the corner at 5:45am, we will be there, no excuses. Why? Because, as Lisa said when talking about BOMF and the Boston Marathon, we run together. We, all of us, are a team; we’re on this path together. Last year, the bombings at the Boston Marathon traumatized everybody involved, and this year, many of them went back to finish their race. As runners, we all ran with them, shedding tears and sharing their triumph when they crossed the finish line. And what I have grown to realize is this: that every running partner I have ever had is STILL running with me. Holly was with me yesterday, Tara is with me every time I go south on the Towpath or when my legs find their stride and I feel effortless joy, and Des is with me…well, pretty much always (she and I are currently training for the Chicago Marathon this year).

Ask me again why I run. And then come, and I will show you.


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I have been thinking about contracts: the agreements that we have with friends, family members, lovers – those “understandings” about how we engage with each other. Some contracts are formal, but most are not; they’re unwritten, and often unspoken. For example, if my mom discovers that she is sick, she will email my sister and me all the pertinent details, and then my sister and I will call her to discuss. None of us have ever spelled this out, and we don’t need to. It’s just the way we do things, and it works for us.

However, often contracts are built on assumptions, which is shaky ground. I assume that you understand my motivations, or you assume that I understand your intentions, and suddenly we find ourselves hurt, or angry. This was made very clear to me last week, when I accidentally hurt someone I care deeply for. Simply, I didn’t realize how she felt about a man, and I over-engaged with him. I was not flirting, or trying to get in between them, and I had no idea that I excluded her in any way. I was oblivious, and she thought I was being callous. We got in a fight and when we talked about it the next day, the conversation was short: “I had no idea”, and “How could you not?”. Well, simple: I didn’t because we had never talked about it. She and I hashed it out and made a plan, so we can avoid this particular conflict in the future; we have a new contract.

The most complicated contracts are the romantic ones, though, aren’t they? All those feelings and hormones get so tangled up with expectations and past hurts and future hopes and…well, it’s not pretty. Honestly, we’ve all been there. I’ve had a complicated time with one specific man, and it’s always because of that same silly reason: assumptions. I make them, he makes them, and we have never once defined our expectations. Recently, I was angry and accused him of game playing and dishonesty (actually, my words were “mammoth amounts of bullshit”, but why split hairs), and he argued. In his view, he’s been transparent with me, and more honest than he’s ever been with anyone. So how can we both be right? Because we both are.

I bell went off in my head. He is the way he is, and I cannot expect him to change; that’s unfair, and choosing to engage with him means accepting him the way he is. If I agree to engage with him, then it essentially means that I accept the terms of his contract. And there’s the rub: I don’t. I don’t reject him, I simply reject his offer. He has the right to live his life in any way he chooses, and I have the right to decide that doesn’t work for me. Seeing our relationship like this gave me a clarity that I have never had before. This time, I’m not angry, simply resigned. This time, instead of slamming the door shut in a fit of rage, I’m shutting it softly, with love, and no regret.

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Enormous apples

I signed my divorce papers on Valentine’s Day three years ago. “I just signed”, was the text I sent to a friend. “Meet me. 7p. Wine”, was her immediate response. That evening, as she and I sat in a cozy bar surrounded by happy touchy couples, I thought about my future. I was 40 years old, had two little girls, and no job: I was petrified. I was also excited, and very hopeful…after all, when there’s no turning back, all you can do is keep moving forward.

I have moved forward. Those first few months were total crap, but I got through them. I bought a house, got a job, my girls and I planted a flower garden. I tried to date, and found it excruciating. I ran another marathon, and then another after that, started to enjoy my job and eventually even became good at it. I learned to surf, and started to ski again, too.

I remembered who I am, realized who I’m not, and stopped apologizing for either.

One day I was having a conversation with a friend and she told me that it was time for me to take a bigger bite out of the apple. But here’s the thing: I don’t just want a bite of the apple: I want the whole thing. That night three years ago feels like ages ago now; I am a different person, and grateful for it. I am also grateful to the friends who stuck by me during some dark periods, and who steered me clear of danger when I made poor choices. I am grateful for my daughters, who are now nine and ten years old, and who wear me out and fill my life with joy and perspective. I’m grateful for this second chance, and for finally knowing how sweet that apple can be.

Happy Valentine’s Day, with love.

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Posted in commitment, divorce, Kisses, love, relationships, starting over, Valentine's Day

Fitting It In

At this time of year, we are pulled in so many different directions. No matter how badly we’d like to go to the party, or meet a girlfriend for shopping, or bake a treat for a dinner, we just can’t. Usually I run myself ragged trying to do it all and make everyone happy, but not this year; this year, I am saying no. As much as I’d like to go visit friends in other states, I’m not. As much as I’d like to have a party and invite my nearest and dearest, I’m not. I have no plans for the entire last week of the year, and I couldn’t be happier about it. In fact, I’m considering taking vacation days and not even leaving my house. Okay, in reality, I will likely end up taking a day trip or two to ski, and hope to spend a couple of days with someone who I don’t see enough, but the point is, I’m scheduling myself a break. I’m putting no pressure on myself, and using the week that my kids are out of town to simply do exactly what want to do, when I want to do it. By the time they get home for New Year’s Eve, I’m going to be rested. I’m going to have my clarity and intention firmly in place just in time for 2014, and be ready to made the big decisions which I know are on the horizon.

The winter holidays are tough for many people, myself included. This time three years ago, I was in the middle of a divorce, and felt hopeless, drowning in heartbreak. I doubted every choice I made, and no matter who I was with, I always felt at least a little bit lonely. I fumbled often, and made a mess of a lot; I was lost, and trying to be found. And while I still don’t think I’m “there” quite yet, I do know I’m a heck if a lot closer than I was then, and most certainly on the right track. I have hope. Once upon a time, I filled my life with busy because I was so afraid of quiet and being alone. Now, I am trying to simplify, avoid drama, and seek out quiet…and I think that’s a very good indication of how far I have come. And so, I am fitting in time for myself, and great big glorious week full of the decadence of an empty calendar.

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This Thin Skin

“I like this thin skin”.

My girls and I spent a week with my parents in Connecticut this summer, as we always do, and this year leaving was especially hard. As the driver pulled away from their house, all three of us were crying, and the tears continued as the little car passed all the familiar landmarks: the gas station, that makes the best BLT in the world; the white clapboard library; the stone walls; the orchards. We each shared our favorite memories of the week, laughing and crying and talking over one another. The driver sat quiet, listening to us, and smiling. After a bit, in that dry New England way, he cleared his throat and muttered “I like this thin skin”. He did not elaborate, and did not have to. I like this thin skin, too, and am grateful to have finally sloughed off some of my protective layers so I can feel the pain of leaving people I love. Through my sadness, I was grateful.
Last month, it happened again. My father came from South Africa to visit us in Indiana. Now, my relationship with my father has been very difficult for a very long time, and I wasn’t certain he was coming until about a week before he arrived; I expected him to cancel. When I saw him at the airport, it took me a minute to recognize him: he’s gotten old. The first few days together were a repeat of all of our old predictable patterns: false assumptions, hurt feelings, grandstanding. Then, we went out for dinner one night, and something shifted inside of me. As the waiter asked about his funny South African accent, and my dad explained that he’d come out to see me and his grand daughters, I thought, “my God…he did.” This 67 year old man flew to the other side of the planet to spend 9 days with us. That’s love. My dad loves us, and all the noise in my head and all the noise between us is just that – noise. When my father left, I was very, very sad. Sad that he was going, and sad for all the years wasted with misunderstandings. When he hugged me at the airport, I realized I was hugging him back, and didn’t want to let go.
I spent so many years trying to be someone I wasn’t, even though I didn’t know who I was trying to be. I bit my tongue, and would then berate myself for being a doormat. I was miserable, and more than that: I was disingenuous. I put so much energy into my facade that I lost my roots, and lost myself, becoming a shell of a human. Perhaps that kept the tender spots safe, but it was lonely in that shell; if you don’t let in some hurt, you can’t let in any happiness either. And so here I am now, learning how it feels to be sad, and trying to embrace that sadness. I have lost my mute button, and that’s pretty terrifying, but exhilarating as well. My emotions have gotten loud and raw and honest, and I’m not sorry. I like getting angry, and I love to forgive. I want to look into your eyes and see you, and know that you see me, too. Yes, I like this thin skin.

Posted in divorce, fathers, love, motherhood, parenting, relationships, single parents, starting over, Uncategorized | 2 Comments