Bowling Lessons

“What size shoes?” he asks.

“I need a Men’s size 9 because you don’t have Ladies 11. And even if you do, I’d rather just ask for the Men’s size 9. Because I’ve always been a size 11. My mother and I trekked to a store in Passaic a few times a year. My mother was an impressive size 12. A sign boasting “WE SPECIALIZE IN LARGE SIZES” proudly taped up in their window, my first memory is being fitted for my Bat-Mitzvah shoes by our salesman, Alan. But I won’t burden you with all that information, Mr. Bowling Alley Guy.”

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The first thing that struck me were the  bumpers. I’ve never taken a child bowling before. And my own memories of bowling were filled with hardcore gutter balls. No bumpers in my bowling career. One pathetic gutter ball after another on visits to the bowling alley in my youth. And you know what? It was still fun. I didn’t get frustrated, like I know my own daughter would’ve. This desire to get it right the first time was never very strong for me. I just liked that feeling of swinging my arm back and letting the ball fly down the lane. The few seconds of “possibility” was the thrilling part. Would I hit any pins at all?

Watching that ball spin and roll down the lane was a lesson in resilience. No matter how many pins you knock down the first time, you get a second chance. You shouldn’t get angry. You shouldn’t get frustrated. You will just try again. As a child, I’d concentrate on that freeing feeling of releasing the ball and the laughable moments of gutter balls or even ending up in a different lane all together.

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There was a dinosaur ramp for Miriam to use. Push the dinosaur in front of the lane and give your ball a shove down its back. It was a stegosaurus, I think. Miriam liked it better without the dinosaur ramp. She preferred the strength of pushing the ball herself down the lane. Screw gravity. Miriam is her own force of nature.

Taking turns. An important lesson in sportsmanship. But being our first trip to the bowling alley, I let her take my turns too. Because motherhood is all about sacrifice. The Men’s size 9 shoes I had on weren’t that comfortable anyway. We cheered on Daddy, while she anxiously awaited her turns.

Miriam started to lose interest a few frames from the end of the game. Hal and I decided we needed bowling alley French fries. And Miriam saw the arcade games. Hal finished out the frames while Miriam and I ordered a giant $5 basket of fries.

 

We each ate our fries with our own fry-eating methods. I’m one at a time with ketchup. Hal is two or three at a time with ketchup. And Miriam is slice them in half with a plastic knife, eating the white inside first and then the outside. But this only takes place after we are told by Miriam to “get that ketchup away from me!” She’s not a dipper.

And then, as every happy family outing usually ends…the meltdown. It went like this. We went over to the claw machines. I was relieved to see a sign that said, “Play Until You Win”. But it was still $3 for a crappy stuffed animal she would forget about by the time we got home. And, on principle alone, I didn’t want the magnetic pull of every arcade game in every inopportune place to become a battle of wills. We looked at the other claw machine. This one was a dollar for a rubber ducky. All different kinds of rubber duckies. So, we put our dollar in the machine, also with a guarantee of “A Winner Every Time”, and the initial joy of seeing the claw rising with a cute pirate rubber ducky, quickly became a meltdown of angry grunts and screaming. What the hell just went wrong?!

Well, we found out later that Miriam had her heart set on a princess ducky she spied in the ducky pile-up in this machine filled thousands of different duckies. And as I tried to explain to her that you don’t always get the ducky you wanted out of the claw machine, I couldn’t help but feel a barrage of life lessons come on.

  • Bumpers are nice. They’re like the kind co-worker at a new job, answering all the questions you’re afraid to ask. Bumpers build confidence. Be a bumper to someone today.
  • Enjoy the possibility of a strike! But try to enjoy the spares and gutter balls too. Because throwing a bowling ball down a lane is simply fun.
  • Eat your fries however you want. But don’t forget to share. Share your fries and your preferred method.
  • Its about the claw, not always the prize it grabs. Give that pirate ducky a chance.

Just Another Day…

It wasn’t a time share scam, as my coworker jokingly suggested. I’d show up and they’d make me sit through a two hour presentation on time shares. And only if I bought one, would the glamorous photo shoot take place, as promised. That was a pretty funny scenario though. But this was real. No time shares. Just lots of makeup brushes and cameras and incredibly nice people making this a day to remember.

The lobby of MILK studios was sparse and modern. But as we got off the elevator on the 8th floor, we saw lots of exposed brick and perfectly-rusted radiators. I love exposed brick. It’s the ultimate in low-effort decorating. But at the same time, it has so much going on. Brick walls have the best nooks and crannies, don’t they? Second only to Thomas’s English Muffins.

My husband and I went immediately in the wrong direction off the elevator. Walking up to a reception desk, I proudly introduced myself to two twenty-something girls.

“Hi! I’m Erica Landis. I’m scheduled for 11:15 for the Good Housekeeping shoot!”

They stare back blankly. “You’re over there,” as they point to the opposite end of the hallway. Woopsy. Do over.

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Now we’re in the right place. I recognize Melissa Walker, the feature’s writer, as she gets up from the big communal table where people are working. She’s got the sweetest face. She reminds me of Maggie Gyllenhaal. I’m early (thanks to Hal, NJTransit, and a cooperative Miriam) so Melissa and I go over to the comfy couch area to do my interview.

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We talk about the story that I’m so excited to be part of. They’ve chosen fifty women at the age of fifty and above doing great things. Woah. Seriously? So how did this happen? I learn that I was actually on an internal list at Good Housekeeping of possible future stories. I remember submitting a story to Good Housekeeping over a year ago and never heard back. But somehow I was noticed by somebody. And Melissa contacted me awhile back to see if I was game for this feature. Ummm, lemme think. HELL YEAH!!!!! I’d never say I was doing great things. But I will simply say I’m doing honest things. Honest things about what it’s like to go on after losing a child. I remember struggling to find another grieving parent who understood. Someone who was able to talk about it. Because its hard as hell to put into words. My writing not only helps me, but if it’s helping others, even in a small way, then it’s a win/win.

First stop: Wardrobe. Brandy talks to me about what I’m most comfortable wearing. “Pantsless is always my first choice,” I reply. But instead she suggests some dresses that I would’ve walked right past in a store. It’s amazing how much an objective eye can help. In fashion and sometimes in life. Brandy was like a beautiful advice column. She took a look at me, got some feedback, and we hashed it through. I was stripped down before I knew what hit me. Just the way I like it.

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I narrow down my choices and they show the art director for the final decision on what will photograph best. Strip down again into a white robe that is neither ratty nor covered in coffee stains. Onto makeup!

Mark is about to do my makeup with authority. He asks me three questions.

Q. You like a strong lip, right?

A. Duh.

Q. Ever wear pink lipstick?

A. Nope. Never.

Q. Eye colors?

A. Glitter. Always glitter.

“I got you. Let’s do this,” he says. And we begin.

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“Can I clean up your eyebrows?” he asks and the angels begin to sing. I almost cry as I answer “Oh yes, please!” Finally, the tweezers in my life are being held by a professional instead of me, confused and finally alone in the bathroom for a few minutes.

Mark hands me a straw. “This is your STRAW. DO NOT drink anything without using THIS STRAW.” His authority was formidable. I loved it. I told him he could order me to do anything in that voice and I would obey. It’s an impressive quality in a make-up artist. I should take a lesson. In authority. And makeup.

While my makeup is being done, I meet the photographer, Taea Thale. She’s a bright light herself amongst the dark exposed brick walls and rusty pipes.  I feel less nervous about the actual pictures. She asks what music I want to listen to “on set” (terminology!) and my reply is almost Pavlovian. Tom Jones. Hal chimes in “and ABBA” and the room erupts with cheers of “ABBA!!!”

Onto hair. Linda is cool. And she had me at “Let’s use a curling iron.” We talk about how Hal and I met. I tell her we met online and how long we’ve been together. She’s from Sweden. And I failed to notice a few minutes earlier that Linda did not cheer when we decided on ABBA. She hates them. With one caveat. She does like Dancing Queen. I now adored Linda. Honest, gorgeous, and she gave me the hair of my dreams.

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Back to Wardrobe.  My hair is big. It’s challenging. I get professional help. And now I’m ready. I step out in front of a big mirror and take a look. It’s not as dramatic as it is on the makeover shows. There’s no blindfold. My eyes aren’t closed. It’s just me seeing myself in a way I never could have, or would have, done on my own. This navy dress with lace sleeves. Real shoes. This hair and makeup that requires the skills of a wizard to achieve. A belt! My friends…I wore a belt. And I liked it.

Cue the ABBA. Light the light box. I’m a little lost here at this part. I have never posed for  pictures any more than the time I had to take a work photo holding a glass of wine and wearing my nametag. And in those pictures, it’s endless deleting and laughing. And I wasn’t wearing any pants. But this was the real deal.

Taea was so good at what she does. Of course she’s a great photographer. But the people part of it is so important. She was making me more comfortable with every word she shouted from behind her camera. She’d yell for technical changes and it all sounded cool when she said it. She could see the pictures on a computer next to us with the art director. And when she told me to take a look at it myself, I was shocked. Looking at yourself, knowing its you; looking so different, but still the same. When she told me I could take my shoes off and put on slippers for the rest of the photoshoot, I was relieved. Just say NO to pointy shoes for durations greater than ten minutes. I’m proud to say I had the forethought of not leaning on a temporary wall, causing the set to crumble like dominoes. I had a lovely wardrobe assistant help me instead. There were touch-ups by hair and makeup between shots and much to my delight…a wind machine. It was confirmed by hair stylist Linda that it was actually a small handheld leaf blower. She got it herself at HOME DEPOT. And whether that was true or not, I believed her. Because Linda hates ABBA and she told me so. I kept apologizing for the music choice as we sang and danced along. Linda was awesome.

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So what are my takeaway thoughts? Because you know I have a million. Keep doing what you’re doing. Whatever it is. Just keep doing it. If it’s making you happy and isn’t hurting anyone, do it. If it’s helping someone, do it even harder! And you really never know who is noticing you.

I treated myself to new underwear for this day. They have lemons on them. I love good symbolism. I may have been given some bitter lemons when we lost Noah. And it certainly wasn’t the life I ever thought Hal and I would have. I may have lost my intended purpose of simply being Noah’s Mommy way too soon, but that little boy gave me a purpose I never imagined. I know he’s sitting on my mother’s lap in heaven, hopefully very proud of how we’re carrying on down here. My mother is calling every cloud in the sky to tell her friends that I made it into Good Housekeeping! But for me, it’s back to writing stories, making chicken nuggets, and coloring with Miriam. With my hair back to its messy bun. Because that’s me too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Got Pockets!

Not only is she covered in ducks and mallards, but she’s got pockets. Striped pockets on this dress from Cousin Alice. We were having a good morning. Getting ready for school and work and chatting and actually eating breakfast for a change. It was one of those moments where it all felt under control. It all felt happy. It was a moment of optimism and normalcy. Those are the moments I chase and treasure.

“Would you like to keep something in your pockets?” I asked her, knowing the answer would be yes.

“Yes! Let’s hide something in my pockets! Just for me! I won’t show it at school. And then we’ll take it out when you pick me up!”

Side note: Miriam loves fortune cookies. To eat AND conceptually. A secret message in a cookie? Genius. Even though the cryptic messages and maxims are usually lost on a five year old, I always try to put the fortune into her terms. Hal always tells her the fortune says “MIRIAM WILL EAT BROCCOLI”

Back to the pockets…So what should we put in the pockets?

“A note! You write one for me and I’ll write one for you! I’ll write one for Daddy too! We can all have notes in our pockets!”

Mommy + Daddy

Love

Miriam

My mind goes “dark” for a minute. If I can tell her anything, this is the most important thing to tell her. Everyday. If I could never tell her anything ever again…I love her and I’m so proud of her is what I would want written on this note. I’ll add the proud part next time.

She writes two notes for us. Just her handwriting, proudly spelling our names. “Mommy” and “Daddy” is the most important thing in the world to me. She knows our “old names” as she calls them. Erica and Hal.

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I slipped my hand into my pocket about twenty times that day. Just to feel the creases of the paper.

Candy Land

 

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Lately my five year old daughter has not been very nice. She’s been demanding and bossy and outright mean. Mean to the cat she usually adores. Mean to the mommy she usually adores. Her sentences begin with shouted phrases like “I TOLD YOU etc” and “DIDN”T I JUST SAY etc…”

Yelling back at her made it worse and a time-out without her really understanding ‘why’ made no sense to me. So I sat down next to her today while she was in mid-yell and took her hands (her clenched fists, actually) and started to talk.

“What’s going on?! Why are you acting like this? What are you so angry about?”

All the answers were a version of “I don’t know” but the fists began to unclench and the eyes actually closed for a little while as she sat in my lap. I had no idea what I was doing. Whether my method was right or wrong. But it felt right for me and her at that moment.

A few hours later she brought me her new Candyland game. We hadn’t played it yet because, honestly, I’ve just been too tired. And a little afraid of being yelled at like she’s been doing lately. She stood in front of me with the still shrink-wrapped box and just looked at me.

“Do you want to play?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“I have to teach you the rules. Will you be a good listener?

“Yes, I will Mommy.”

So we clear off the kitchen table and begin. And it went extremely well. We gave our gingerbread men game pieces voices and made very dramatic faces as we drew the face down cards from the pile. We laughed until a few happy tears squeaked out of our eyes. And then she said this:

“It’s okay to cry when you’re laughing!”

And there you go. She did it again. She summed it all up in one simple sentence.

It’s okay to cry when you’re laughing. It’s okay to be angry and sad when everything is really okay. It’s okay. It’s okay for me to have no idea what I’m doing while doing it just fine. It’s okay for me to not like her for a few minutes. This child I screamed to God for. It’s okay for me to wonder if Noah would’ve have been much different. Or easier. Or harder. Or the same. It’s okay.

She won the first round of Candyland. It’s a quick game as you know. I high-fived her and said, “Let’s play again!” She was doing so well. As we approached the end of the second round, she was about to win again. She was few colored squares away. And then she moved her piece backwards.

“Miriam, you’re going backwards! You just won again. Go forward to that green square”

“No Mommy. I want you to win this time. Go ahead. You go.”

And I won the second game, not so fair and square. She high-fived me. We played some more, changing the rules a little with every round.

But today I think I’ve already won every round I’ll ever play.

My Mug Runneth Over…

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I’ve written about this mug before. It was the mug at work that I’d never drink from. I’d never choose it from mix ‘n matched mugs in the break room at work. I wouldn’t drink from this mug until I was able to get pregnant and Miriam was born. Until she was real. And here. And healthy. And safe. I had “mug goals” and nothing was stopping me.

Well, today the handle on this mug got broken. Not by me and not by my boss who was drinking his tea from it. It just got knocked over in the course of the day. It just happened. No big deal. But this broken mug was exactly how I was feeling today when I punched the timeclock, 10 minutes late as usual.

“My Mom is the Best” written in a child’s handwriting. I’m pretty sure Miriam thinks I’m the best. I definetly think she’s amazing. She makes me smile these pensive, teary smiles. She amazes me with her memory and negotiating skills. She cracks me up with her imitation of me that may involve some cursing. She smiles with her eyes as well as those cheeks and little pearly teeth.

When the mug broke today, I felt validated. I felt simpatico. I felt like I was in good company with this broken vessel. It was now my mascot. My talisman. My logo.

Miriam didn’t want to go into her classroom this morning at drop-off. She was a little clingy and uncharacteristically unsure of herself. We were really late for school. And I was later than usual for work.

I wanted to just give her “a pass” today. A day to cling to Mommy, just because she wanted to. I wanted to give myself “a pass” too. A pass on knowing exactly what was bothering her. A pass on knowing how to handle it, aside from how the childcare experts say. I just wanted to start over.

Just because the day started out like this…just because the mug got broken…just because we were all late and hesitant and clingy…I’m still the best mom that I can be right now. Broken handle and all.

And you are too.

 

Hanging Lights

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I want to make it magical for her. I want to hang twinkling lights. Because the lights will do us good, too. Playing “movie theater” in our tiny living room,  the lights will hang unevenly from the tippy top of the wall. The highest point I could reach with our step stool. We’ll eat microwave popcorn. We’ll each get our own bowl.

I’ll surprise her with this white birch twig tree I saw at Target. It’s small and wintery. I’ve always loved twigs. We’ll hang glittery snowflakes and action figures wrapped in yarn off its branches. She loves tying up action figures with yarn. That’s perfectly normal, right?

I’ll hang her school art projects from the all-purpose wreath we have on the door. It changes with every season. Eventually. We’ll dress up our Halloween witch outside with a Santa hat. Because witches are cool all year round. I hope the downstairs neighbors feel the same way.

I want to make these darker days magical for her. Shorter hours of sunlight but longer days of work. Emotions high and stress higher. I want to make it lighter for her. Different. Because magic is everywhere when you’re a kid. And I could really use some magic, too.

Because she deserves the best we can do. Plus a little more. And that will be just enough for her.

 

 

*WWMICD? *What Would My Inner Child Do?

Reposting this story for Halloween. Please think about your own inner child as you read about mine. Maybe we can all get together for a playdate sometime soon ♡

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We have a Halloween costume contest at work every year. Thousands of monochromatic, uniformed employees suddenly come to life for a few days. We also get a $25 bonus for every day we dress up. We toss around extremely clever, mostly implausible, and very inappropriate ideas all year round. The brainstorming is brilliant. I enjoy that part the most.

My first Halloween was four months after Noah died. The difficulty of Halloween after losing Noah snuck up on me. Skeletons, gravestones, and those horrible Victorian looking zombie babies. In the early days it was a sucker punch. My mind would go places I didn’t want it to go. I’d wonder what Noah looked like now.

I shoved all of those thoughts to the side and went all out for my first costume at work. I dressed as a drunken 1950’s housewife. I brought in my retro styled Cuisinart blender, my mother’s vintage Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks…

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The Rant

Posted On Facebook
2 hours ago…
“Just a quick PSA- THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK! I was having a conversation with a woman, while playing with her daughter. After her comment ‘You are amazing with her,’ she questioned if I had children, which I replied ‘No’, which then started her rant. ‘No offense, but I think it is so selfish when people choose not to have kids, especially people like you who seem to like them so much.’ I just blinked it off. People like me. People like me? People like ME? Clearly, she mustn’t mean people like me, who are suffering from infertility. In JUST the last 12 months alone, I have had 3 surgeries, 4 lost pregnancies, 5 surgical procedures. Had blood work and ultra sound appointments 3-5 times a week. Yes, a WEEK! I have a permanently bruised ass and stomach from having to get hundreds of injections, plus the crazy side effects that come with them. I have a forever broken heart, and an unbearable amount of guilt. Not to mention watching over $200k of medical bills roll in, which insurance DOES NOT completely cover. So, people like me? We do not choose not to have kids. My husband and I have physically, emotionally, and even partially financially drained ourselves just trying to have a child and start a family. I know you meant well lady- but you didn’t. You really, really didn’t. End rant.”

This Facebook status was posted by my friend, Lindsay. I read it while casually scrolling through Facebook and felt Lindsay’s pain coming through my phone. Pain, as she called it, “like being punched in the stomach. Or vagina. I’m not sure which.” I will add “uterus” and “heart” to that list of body parts. Screw it, who are we kidding…infertility hurts the core of your very being.

f0559-kintsugi2bheartI met Lindsay through my husband. They worked a few stores down from each other in a mall. He would tell me how much I’d love her and how I should come visit and pop into her store and introduce myself. And of course, he was right. I visited with my rambunctious, then two-year-old daughter, Miriam. I was exhausted and not as talkative as I usually am. But I could tell Lindsay was awesome.

Lindsay played and ran and giggled with Miriam as they dove onto the couches for sale in the furniture store she managed. She was “one of those people” like the lady in Lindsay’s rant had said. “One of those people” who just soaks up all the goodness and love that oozes out of kids and reflects it right back onto the world.

I didn’t know about her fertility struggles just yet. She knew a little about mine. I had lost my toddler son in a swimming pool accident about five years prior to meeting her. Noah had been easily conceived. It was unheard of to conceive so easily at thirty-nine! When I entered the fertility world at forty-two years old, it was heartbreak all over again. And needles. And blood. And waiting. The waiting really is the hardest part.

I’ve met my version of the lady that Lindsay encountered. Women who didn’t realize they were talking to a very fragile woman. How could they? The most fragile often appear the strongest. Women who didn’t realize how blissfully ignorant they were to not know about infertility to the extreme that Lindsay and I knew about it.

Women who didn’t realize that telling me “You should have another baby! It’s better when they’re close in age!” made me sad. And how not dropping the topic after I’d politely agree “that would be nice” made me want to run to a dark closet until they were gone.

Women who said “You can always adopt. There’s so many kids in the world!” If only adoption were that easy. It is wonderful. But it is not easy.

My husband and I were fortunate. Even after suffering the loss of our son, Noah, I realize every day how fortunate we were to get to the finish line. To have a child again. No matter how we made that happen, the sensitivity and shaming is what I’m talking about here. The use of the word “selfish” is what really jumped out at me when I read Lindsay’s Facebook rant. The judgement. The “I know better than you” mentality.

Lindsay and her husband are not giving up. They are halfway through the fostering process to get approved and have just started looking into international adoption. A perfect world for them would be to adopt overseas, foster with intent to adopt and have a biological child as well. To a woman in the infertility world, this is the stuff that dreams are made of.

I’m begging you to step off your soapboxes, well-meaning or not. Or at least try to keep them closer to the ground. You truly never do know what people are going through. So be kind. Always.

Or if you can’t be kind, just be quiet.