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Posts from the ‘Open thoughts’ Category

Letting go of a Dream

There’s a letter on my dining room table. A single page form letter that has arrived in January for the past six years. It’s sitting there, innocuously tucked amoung the bills, waiting for a response. Every year I reply in the same way, with a check and a groan and a dream. This year will be different.

The letter, so innocently sitting there, is a letter from a storage facility. A Reproductive Storage Facility that holds what we one day hoped, would allow us to have another child. We knew it wouldn’t be easy. That it would require multiple medical procedures, lots of luck and plenty of money – not to mention a surrogate – but paying that bill every year allowed us to hold onto our dream. The dream of being the family we envisioned. The dream of being parents to more than one. The dream of a time when my health and our finances would be strong enough that we could create another biological child and, every year when that letter arrives we weigh our options against those dreams.

The family talent show scene from Dan in Real Life. Man, I would have loved that.

The family talent show scene from Dan in Real Life. And, if you haven’t seen that film, do yourself a favor and see it.

I always wanted a big family. Being an only child I dreamed of belonging to something more inclusive than my tiny group of three. I imagined Thanksgiving family football games, boisterous Christmas dinners and annoying, yet charming, family singsongs. I wished for confidants that were more than friends, peers with features that mirrored my own. I wanted to be part of a team. To share a legacy with others. I stared wistfully at the extended family of Steve Carell’s character in Dan in Real Life and idealized a family like the one in Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You. I knew it was impossible for my own childhood but I held on to the idea for the family I would create. I may not be able to have siblings or first cousins, but my children would. I would just have to recast the fantasy with myself as the matriarch.

I was told I couldn’t have more children at the same time I was told I was told I was dying. I didn’t have the opportunity to morn the lost possible future amidst the chaos of the immediate present. Because a pregnancy would almost definitely kill me, Sean – in the most final way possible – took care of our birth control issue, but not before storing what he’d lose in case what lay ahead wasn’t as dire as we were being led to believe. We prayed a future for me was possible and held on to the hope another child might be as well. We paid that storage fee every year feeding that possibility.

A letter amongst the bills.

A letter amongst the bills.

When the letter came this year it felt different to me. It no longer held the siren song of a family of four. It just looked like an incredibly expensive bill with no realistic purpose. My health is good but it fluctuates. I don’t have the strength or energy I’d like. I worry I’m not able to give enough to the child I do have, let alone to care for another. And if I’m being honest, no matter how much I’d like to, it would be impossible for me to keep up with two kids without full time help. I don’t want to take from the child I do have to give to one I think I should have. We hold our own with one. We manage. We’re happy. I’m stable. Why can’t I be satisfied with that?

There are times in life when you have to let go. Where holding too tightly to one thing makes it impossible to move on to another. Sometimes you have to close a door, no matter how much you wish it could stay open.

imagesI fixated on the idea of another child so clearly I manifested a person I felt was missing. I have a name, a face, a sense of who she’d be. I realize I could have easily had a pack of boys but, for some reason, I feel it’s a daugther that would have arrived. When I think about her my heart breaks. As if I’ve left her on a shelf somewhere. This person that belongs to me that I’ve neglected to claim. I know she’s not real but the idea of her found it’s way so deeply into my heart it got into my head. I realize now it’s unhealthy to keep holding on and the time has come to let go. Even if we could afford IVF, egg extraction, a full time night nurse/live in nanny AND keep up our current lifestyle with two children, would I even want to go back at this point? Do I want a newborn again? Could I handle six more years of diapers and potty training and mindless, random day filling? I’m just at the point where I can get excited about my career again. I want to reconnect with my ambition. I dream of a house of my own. I miss travelling. I want to show Loch the world. And, frankly, I need to be alive for all that to happen. Maybe I’ve spent too long dreaming of the “perfect” family I’ve been unable to see my family is already perfect.

IMG_2056I’ve been there, present and involved, for every aspect of of my son’s life. We’re incredibly close. What I’ve been able to do for him, the time I’m able to give him, has been a blessing to us both. I don’t want to keep thinking about what could have been, staring at my friend’s other children wistfully. I want to accept that as much as I would have loved another child, it’s not in the cards for me. My life – my current life – is amazing. It’s a wonderful, glorious gift and it’s time to embrace that and let go of the rest.

So, this year we will not be sending a check. This year we will sign the “cryopreserved disposition consent” form. I will say good bye to the chance of any more biological children, the hope of a sibling for Loch and my desire for a house filled with voices. I will accept I am an only child with an only child and relinquish my dreams of the past to better enjoy the reality of the present.

With two signatures, a notary and a stamp our tiny family will move forward.

The first thing we’ll do is start shopping for dogs.

With love,

Leigh

Mini-Goldendoodle-Photos-1300x975

The Princess Problem

I had the opportunity to catch a couple Grammy performances this year. I’m not really an awards show person but I was sitting with Sean when Kacey Musgraves performed “Follow Your Arrow” and I found myself throughly charmed. She went on to win “Best Country Album” and “Best Country Song” so apparently, I wasn’t alone in that sentiment. Now, I happen to like country music and dig the super model meets early Dolly vibe she’s got going on, but in this case I was most impressed with her simple, upbeat message. Follow Your Arrow is a song about the names we call each other and the judgements we make when people don’t behave the way we want them to. The message being: You’ll never please everyone so you may as well just be yourself.

It reminded me of a visit I recently had with an old family friend. At one point in the conversation the topic drifted to personality types and he referred to me as a princess. Technically, he was referring to his girlfriend and he said, “She’s kind of a princess…like you.” We all had a good laugh, like “Oh, I like my creature comforts…hee hee…I like $5 coffees…ha ha…I don’t want to sleep in the back of a van…ho ho ho”. It was all said in good fun but, since a fair amount of truth is spoken in jest, the conversation started me thinking. Marketing encourages little girls to look up to, and aspire to be princesses, yet the word “princess” is typically used with distain and even malice. What does it say about a culture that encourages little girls to be something then chastises them later for being so? We’ll get you the t-shirts, the costumes, the movies but if you become one, you should feel s*^#ty about yourself because it’s a terrible way to be. Why would we push a concept so hard on our children if we’re just going to use it later to insult them as adults?

We want our girls to be like this picture billigerluxus.de

We encourage girls to look up to the women in this picture.
(billigerluxus.de)

The dictionary defines a princess as “the daughter of a monarch” and obviously that applies to very few of us. Even our most famous princess, Catherine Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge only arrived there via marriage. The urban dictionary has a long drawn out list of qualities a princess should possess like poise, humility and benevolence but I’m pretty sure my friend wasn’t thinking of those adjectives when he referred to me as one. Beyond the pet term from your Daddy or boyfriend, “princess” usually refers to someone high maintenance or demanding. Someone who requires only the best and is uncomfortable with any sort of mess or hard work.

Then we vilify them into this "type of girl" from smh.com.au. "The Princess of Long Island"

Then turn the term into something hideous like the girls in this picture.
(smh.com.au. “The Princess of Long Island”)

Basically, unless your five, or being given a diamond necklace at the time, being called a princess is an insult and it speaks to the double standard our society allots to men and women. Pantene recently did a commercial highlighting this fact, and no matter how you feel about gender inequality or double standards, I think we can all agree there is no urban vernacular term equivalent to Princess for men. In general, the most derogatory terms skew female. Bitch. Whore. Slut. Even words that are used to humiliate men are typically female biased – Pussy, Wuss, Sensitive. “Can I get you a tampon with that drink?” Even put downs like High Maintenance and Bossy are reserved primarily for women. “Princess” is just one more way to tell women there’s something wrong with them and, despite the fact it was said to me with love, being called one p*^# me off.

Look, there are truly unbearable people out there. People who are clueless to the plight of others. People who send back their water because it’s not Voss or the lemon isn’t myer. People who talk down to waiters and request only green M&M’s. I’m not talking about those people. There should be a special word reserved for those people. D*^ks might fit since it implies selfish, single minded behavior, but in the wake of my princess argument being gender biased, perhaps a*#hole is better since it skews gender neutral but with less than favorable implications.

Some people legitimately deserve the criticism. divasdiningblog.com

I recognize that some people legitimately deserve the criticism. divasdiningblog.com

The question remains, is it really “high maintenance” to send something back if it’s wrong? Is it truly “demanding” to request a seat by the window rather than one by the kitchen door? Is it really such a terrible thing to know what you want and ask for it? Why should I feel ashamed if I value myself enough to not just meekly take what’s offered? Should I feel the need to apologize for preferring to sleep in a bed or use an indoor toilet? I’m Canadian. I’ve camped a lot in my life. It was fun. I’ll probably do it again. But, given the choice, I’d rather sit in a cabana at a chic hotel. That doesn’t make me a princess. It makes me different than a camper. Throwing a fit if you don’t get what you want is a problem. Taking steps to make what you want a reality, that’s just proactive. Why can’t we see that type of behavior for the positive it is? Why must we judge with such rigorous standards and, how can we possibly get it right if everyone’s standards are different? You want to backpack around the world with one pair of pants? Knock yourself out. I’d literally lose my mind doing that but, I don’t judge you for it, so don’t judge me for aspiring to a nice house or a pair of Leboutains.

We tell women this…

(pics8.this-pic.com)

(pics8.this-pic.com)

Then we treat them like this…

(quotespictures.com)

(quotespictures.com)

Something is wrong with that.

When Sean and I first started dating we talked about going to Vegas. We didn’t have a lot of money so he suggested we put down the back seats of my SUV and sleep in the car. I immediately burst into tears. I thought, “Oh my God, this guy doesn’t know me at all. How could he suggest such a thing? I would rather not go on a trip than go to a place with a million hotels and sleep in my car!” I worried that even though we were very serious about each other he didn’t truly accept me for who I was and I was devastated. For him it was merely a suggestion that could be abandoned. For me, it was a sign something was glaringly wrong. Not wrong with me (who doesn’t like hotels?) or with him (there are a lot of people who aren’t hung up on creature comforts), but with us as a couple.

I-Am-ResponsibleI was reminded of that feeling when my friend made his comment which, incidentally, I don’t think his girlfriend was too crazy about either. After he left our house, I asked Sean if he thought I was, in fact, a princess? He said no, that what “princess” implies doesn’t fit who I am and, whether he was paying me lip service or not, when it really comes down to it I think we should be able to be who we are without having to apologize for the label placed on us for being that way. I don’t advocate acting like a jerk in the name of “being true to yourself”. I just think we need to stop using labels to degrade and berate each other for behavior that’s different from our own.

If you live life with respect – for yourself and others – then any other personality quirk is just that, a quirk. One more thing that makes you, you. Your preferences and traits are not BAD or GOOD, they are mearly another layer to a fuller, more realized person. If I want to be fancy, I’ll be fancy. If you want to be spartan, you be spartan. Let’s try being ourselves without apology or judgement.

And please, let’s stop calling each other names.

Except the a#@holes. They kind of deserve it.

xo Leigh

happyisthenewwealthy.com

happyisthenewwealthy.com

The Spirit of the Season

After my last post I was determined to say something funny and light. I’ve become aware that when I write about not feeling well it makes people (especially those closest to me) slightly melancholy and I was hoping to give my nearest and dearest a bit of a break as the year begins anew. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is, my health leading up to the holidays was a real struggle so, despite my best intentions for humor, I think the sincerest post I can commit to is what I learned over the past month while I was so sick. For those of you who find these types of posts upsetting, stick with me, I am infinitely better now and in many ways I would say my recent weakness has only changed me for the better.

———

Dear Loch,

When you were five, I planned a trip to the mountains for Thanksgiving that went completely awry. Unable to breathe on my own we spent 12 hours in our rented condo before abandoning our trip to come back down the mountain. Unfortunately, my declining health didn’t stop at sea level and for the next three weeks I struggled to breathe without the help of oxygen and complete even the most minimal of tasks on my own. Not since I was first diagnosed was my life uprooted in such a tangible way, and it’s been a long time since I’ve felt so afraid and angry. Your Dad did everything he could, staying home from work, shuffling me from doctor to doctor, taking care of all the things I usually handle. But, he is only one man and he can’t be everywhere at once or miss work indefinitely. We needed help.

fotoninja.nlWhen people discover I’m sick, they often say things like, “Well, if there’s every anything I can do…”. It’s a lovely sentiment and I sincerely appreciate it but my standard response is always something like, “Thank you. That’s really kind. Hopefully I’ll never need to take you up on that offer.”  If I’m being honest though, the truth of the matter is, I don’t want anyone’s help. Up until recently I found the whole idea of taking someone’s help rather distasteful. I’m a busy and efficient A-type person and I pride myself on my ability to get s*#@ done. It’s part of my self worth. To accept help would mean I needed help, which, on some level, diminishes me. It makes me feel needy and broken. Though offers came from genuine, altruistic places, the thought of taking people up on them made me feel like a failure as well as shining a big, glaring light on the one thing I was trying hardest to ignore: the fact that I was sick.

pinterest.comI don’t want to be sick so, I pretend I’m not. I realize it’s a little ostrich-y but I try incredibly hard to keep life as close to what it was before my diagnosis as possible. I fight reality tooth and nail in a wayward attempt to hold on to my pre-illness identity. It’s incredibly important to me. So, while I may smile and agree to the idea of taking help if need be, internally I feel like…Nope, I got this. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.

Up until recently only the very closest people in my life have seen the toll my illness takes on me. Not even my mother knows the extent of the strain. Your Dad is the only witness to my weakest of moments, my outbursts and rages, most of which seem to come in the middle of the night. It has always been important to me that I appear normal to the outside world. Better than normal. Great. Pulled together. Highly functioning. I don’t want to be judged or liked, written off or underestimated, based on my illness. I want people to see me, not the potential ticking clock.

We’ve had people reach out to us in the past. The kindness and generosity of some of our friends has truly humbled me. But what happened in the weeks leading up to Christmas struck me on a completely different level. I was so sick, so weak, so disturbingly incapable of taking care of myself I had to let go. I had to stop holding so tight to the wishes of my ego and take the help being offered to us with grace. I had to accept that I needed assistance on the most basic of levels – help driving my child to school and taking care of him after, help making meals, help going to the flippin’ grocery store. I couldn’t do anything on my own and for as many times as I’ve said “No Thank you” over the past years, I said “Thank you” over the past weeks, and it was a completely humbling experience.

bottomTo benevolently offer to help someone without thought for yourself and frankly, at an inconvenience to you, is practically unheard of these days. Our closest friends in Los Angeles rallied around us. They joined something called “Meal Train” which allowed them to sign up for duties on a shared calendar and communicate via email. They kindly left me out of the loop because it quickly became obvious that even the simplest of questions like, “How do you feel about chicken for Thursday night?” had me gut reacting with statements like, “Don’t worry about it. Please don’t anything. I’m ok.” So, they just stopped asking me. The whole experience was unbelievable. My friend’s cleaning lady showed up at my house. Groceries were on my back door. Meals were in my fridge. My child was happy and busy with playdates and dinners. These wonderful people took over the reigns of my life so I could rest and get better. I was beyond touched and grateful but I honestly struggled with how to properly respond. I had no point of reference for this type of support, this level of kindness.

Truthfully, I panicked. What if this was my new life? What if these amazing people, who were being so kind now, ultimately saw me as a burden? I couldn’t possibly or sufficiently thank them enough. I felt as if I would “owe” everyone for life and never be able to deliver. I worried my needs upset the balance of our relationship. I felt “less than” myself, as if I was no longer a peer or an equal but someone beneath them. A charity case rather than a friend and as I started to feel better, I wanted to jump right back into my life. I wanted to stop the help machine. I wanted to go back to normal but I was convinced not to. With all the understanding they could muster, your Dad and Granny told me slipping right back into my life full speed was going to be a mistake. That my friends were helping in good faith and I should accept it with the same respect in which it was intended. They believed the best thing I could do for everyone who was going so far out of their way to help was to get well – really,truly well. Taking care of my family on my own would come. My friends weren’t doing so much just so I could get sick again. They weren’t planning to lord their compassion over me. They weren’t looking for endless, groveling thanks. They were supporting me because they liked me and wanted to see me well. As Sean said, “If it was one of them, wouldn’t you do the same?”

thegreeeneyedladyblog.com

thegreeeneyedladyblog.com

The answer was a resounding yes. Yes, of course I would. I wouldn’t help someone to make them feel weak or small or to get kudos or presents. I would lend a hand because I could and I would do it without question. I had to learn to take help the same way.

Once I stopped fighting it was astonishing how the experience opened up my heart. It was extraordinary to be the recipient of such an outpouring of love. To accept that was ok to need people. To embrace the fact I wasn’t able to do it all and allow so many people come together to assist us. The experience humbled me in a way I could never have expected. Instead of making me feel weaker I felt stronger. I came out of the situation feeling I could (and should) do more to help others. People being kind and gracious to me inspired me to be kind and gracious to others. I suppose that’s why the concept of “paying it forward” works. If someone is good to you, it incites you to be good to others. The truth of the matter is, NONE of us can do it all on our own, and when we truly accept and embrace that, the world has the potential to become a much better place.

helenkellerquoteLook around in your life baby. Offer to help those who might need it and graciously accept relief when it’s offered to you. Help is not just for people who are sick, it’s for anyone that could use a little lift or love. It’s not lost on me that this entire experience happened at the time of year when we’re supposed to be looking out for our fellow man. The period of time when goodness and compassion come back in style. “So this is Christmas, and what have you done….”

My friends didn’t help me because they wanted to feel they’d done charity before the holidays.  They helped me because they thought I needed them, and I let them because they were right. The same circumstances could have occurred in April or July and I believe they would have done exactly the same thing. It’s just that with the overlapping of this time of year I feel just a bit more encouraged for the state of the world. That for all the selfish, me first behavior we see every day, there are still people are innately good, who look out for one another, who treat others as they would be treated, and that, my love, gives me hope.

Look out for others Loch, and let others look out for you. In a world that’s become so increasingly insular, it’s important we realize how very much we are all still connected.

From my heart to yours,

xo your mommy

earlymama.com

earlymama.com

Eye Opener

I know I’m sick. Obviously, I know.

I know I’m sick because it changed my life. Having PH stole my ability to have more children, drains my family’s finances and emotions and forces us to live under the constant stress of my potential death. That being said however, I’ve always felt lucky. I live as close to normal a life as I can possibly hope for. I’m not on daily oxygen, I don’t have a port in my heart, I eat what I like (though I should probably be more aware), and I’m able to play an active part in almost every aspect of my life.

I may get more tired than most, have a hard time with humidity and changing barometric pressure and, because I already live under a high level of stress, have a tendency to freak out more than necessary when things go awry, but I feel blessed. I could be dead by now. I was told I would be, and yet here I sit blathering on about my life in the hopes that my words will someday connect with my son and, for now, to others who may be interested.

Even knowing all this, I’ve found I can still be surprised and flattened by the reality of my situation. My illness continues to teach me something all the time.

My kid waiting to go to the mountains. Let's go people! The wait is killing me!

My kid waiting to go to the mountains. Let’s go people! The wait is killing me!

For the holidays I planned a trip to Mammoth for my family (visiting parents included). I can’t ski anymore but Sean and Loch love it so it seemed like a special way to spend Thanksgiving. I pictured my boys happily shushing down the slopes while my parents and I reconnected roaming around the village, reading by the fire, and relaxing in the sun and snow. I planned the trip six months ago. I found a lovely three bedroom cabin, booked lessons and rentals for Loch and planned out the meals with my mom. The day before Thanksgiving my whole family piled into our car, complete with new roof rack storage bag and Christmas presents, and started our drive to the mountains. As an afterthought we included an R2D2 looking oxygen concentrator just in case I had any trouble with the altitude. I wasn’t particularly concerned. We’ve been to Big Bear quite a few times and I’ve never had a problem, but since Mammoth is 2000 feet higher I thought it would be better to be safe than sorry. Little did I know….

photo 2 copyThe drive was amazing with straight, open roads and America the beautiful stretched out before us. Mountains, plains and red rocks as far as the eye could see, almost all of it uninhabited. If I didn’t know better I would have guessed we were in Montana or some other Big Sky territory. With about 45 minutes left in our trip we stopped at a fabulous bakery for sandwiches and talked about our plans for the mountains. Then, about a half way into the last leg of or trip, I started to feel off.  It felt as if I was breathing through a snorkel, labored and unnatural. When we arrived at our rental I took my blood oxygen level right away. You want your oxygen saturation levels to be in the 90’s. Preferably the very upper 90’s, around 97-100%. Exercise and exertion will drop your levels temporarily but they always bounce back. I typically fluctuate between 94-98% at rest and drop to 87-89% during “exercise” like walking  (82-85% if I’m feeling crazy and try to walk and talk at the same time) but I always snap right back to the 90’s after I stop moving. Here, in the parking lot of our rental unit I was at 83% at rest and it felt extremely uncomfortable. I sat uselessly in the cold of the outside structure waiting for my family to unload the car. When the car was empty Sean walked me upstairs and, with that minimal exertion, my levels dropped to the 70’s. My snorkel had become a straw and it was truly frightening. Sean worked fast and had me on the oxygen concentrator as soon as he could. It was all I could do to just sit down and regulate.

photoSo there I was, a blob on the couch, tethered to the wall, unable to help or contribute in any way. Conversation was beyond my capacity. Even with oxygen, my levels were still in the 80’s and I felt miserable. In the span of a half hour I became a completely different person, and that person was really sick. As I said before, I knew I was sick, I just didn’t know I was this sick and the altitude cleared that right up for me. At one point I got up to put on warmer clothes. As I walked to the bedroom my head whipped back twice as my oxygen tube got stuck  first on the fooseball table and then again on the doorknob to my room. It was infuriating and depressing. In frustration I ripped  the cannula out of my nose and changed without it, but when I started to feel lightheaded I found my oxygen levels had dropped to a dangerous 69%. I was dizzy and nauseous but mostly I was really scared.

Mind over matter right? I’d planned this trip. We’d driven seven hours to get here. I’d booked three full days of non-refundable lessons. We’d prepaid our unit. Everyone was counting on it. No matter how terrible I felt I had to man up. I just had to adjust.

photo 3But I couldn’t adjust. As the night continued I felt worse and worse. The oxygen concentrator kept my immobile body at 90-91% but it was terrible. The slightest movement dropped my levels exponentially and I felt trapped, like I was confined to a box unable to move. I tried to join everyone for dinner and catching a glimpse of myself in the dining room mirror, I saw a person I didn’t recognize. An ashen faced girl with a tube attached to her face. There was no way I could eat. At the very least, chewing limited my ability to breathe. Eventually I gave up and moved back to the sofa. I texted my doctor and his advice was clear. Leave. Go home. You shouldn’t be there. He said he would try and find someone to get me a portable oxygen concentrator but it would be difficult seeing it was a holiday. I told him even if I got one it wouldn’t be useful. The slightest movement made me light headed. Talking was a struggle. I certainly wasn’t walking around the village or going out for dinner any time soon.

I struggled with what I should do. I felt responsible for everyone’s good time. I’d planned this trip after all and we’d waste so much money if we bailed. I didn’t want to disappoint Loch or my parents and I wasn’t even sure what we’d do for five days with no plan back in LA. But when Sean asked me what I wanted to do, I couldn’t help myself, self preservation usurped socialization and I burst into tears. I told him I had to leave, I wanted to go home. That I couldn’t take it. It felt like I was dying and it was torture. I knew my choice would ruin it for everyone but as far as I could see there was no choice. I was physically forced to put my needs above everyone else’s and I couldn’t second guess it.

Cannula nosed Mommy looking at new lego castle with her very excited (and slightly nervous) little man.

Cannula nosed Mommy looking at new lego castle with her very excited (and slightly nervous) little man.

To everyone’s credit, no one made me feel bad about my decision. In full support and without a hint of complaint, everything that had been unpacked was repacked and loaded into the car. I spent the night dozing on the sofa, too afraid to lie down flat to sleep and Sean lay on the floor by my head. He could have slept on the other sofa but he said it felt too far away. He wanted to be close if I needed him. Loch was disappointed but rallied as best as a 5-year old can. Opening all his Christmas presents from my parents helped.

After breathing, Lochlan’s reaction to the situation was my biggest concern. I knew he’d get over the disappointment of not skiing, but this was the first time he’d really witnessed how sick I was and I could tell it was scaring him. At one point he came over and quietly said, “I look at you and I think you can die from this. Can you die from this?” I said, “I hope not baby.” Then he said, “If you die I’ll just cry and cry.” I said, “I’ll cry too baby.” He looked confused and responded, “How can you cry? You’ll be dead.” I said, “I’ll be crying in heaven because I’ll miss you so much.” The whole conversation took less than a minute and it almost killed me. He was so sweet and understanding but I could see the hints of confusion and fear on the periphery. I told Sean I was afraid Loch would either start to see me as a burden, someone who’s illness ruins his good time, or shut me out as a form of self protection, in hopes of making my leaving him in the future less painful. Either way it broke my heart.

Loch only got to play in the snow the first night. He made, very apprapo, an angel.

Loch only got to play in the snow the first night. He made, very appropriately, an angel.

At one point Loch woke up crying and it roused me from sleep. I went to his room but Sean, already there, silently encouraged me out of the room. Later he told me he was trying to help me, to let me know he had it under control and I shouldn’t worry, but what I felt in that moment was that Loch didn’t want me. That he was crying because I’d disappointed him and Sean was attempting to protect me from the hurtful things he was saying. Lying on the sofa listening to my child cry was devastating. His sobs made me feel helpless and crushed. I imagined this must be what it feels like to die and leave your children behind. To be an angel in the room watching someone else comforting them but unable to help because you’re gone and also the cause. I fell asleep crying for what might be.

As we drove down the mountain the next day I apologized for ruining the trip, but I wasn’t sorry we were leaving. About 2000 feet down, it was as if my power had been turned back on. The straw was gone and I could finally breath normally. The lower we travelled the better I felt and by the last 3 hours you could almost forget I’d been sick at all.

On our way back down we stopped again for sandwiches. I look a little worse for wear but it was just a relief to be able to breathe on my own.

On our way back down we stopped again for sandwiches. I look a little worse for wear but it was just a relief to be able to breathe on my own.

I thought I knew how lucky I was. I thought it was enough to conceptualize how much worse I could be. But until I felt it so clearly in my own body I didn’t truly understand. I might be looking at a future without mountains or cities at altitude, but at least I’m still able to hope for a future. The whole hideous process was a reminder of how wonderful my life is. How much I have to lose and how, despite all my awareness, I can still be reminded of how much I take for granted. It also showed me that there are times in life when we have to put ourselves first, not out of selfishness, but out of self preservation and there’s no shame in it. It’s hard to admit weakness and ask for help, but you have to respect yourself enough to protect yourself, and you don’t have to be sick to do it.

I am thankful for a lot of things: my wonderful husband who’s there to protect me even though he can’t fix me, my darling son who’s heart I will do everything in my power not to break, my parents who’s company I still crave despite the fact we’re all adults and have our own way of doing things, but most of all, I’m thankful for the fact that I’m still here, as me – not some sad, sick version of myself. My life is blessed. I’m angry and scared as hell but I’m lucky. If this weekend was a wake up call, I heard it and I’ll do my  best to appreciate it for all it’s worth.

Love and blessings to you and yours for health and happiness.

God bless,

xo leigh

zen-mama.com

zen-mama.com

Blink of an Eye

For my birthday Sean bought tickets to the Hollywood Bowl. 10 years in LA and I’ve never been. Every year I say, “You know what I really want to do this year? Go to the Hollywood Bowl” and every year we never quite get around to it. Life’s like that. Best intentions and all that. This year though Sean took that extra step and actually bought the tickets to John Williams conducting the LA Philharmonic and I was so excited. Maestro Williams conducting a collection of his greatest movie scores – Star Wars, Jaws, ET, Superman, etc. – a tribute to Henry Mancini and Blake Edwards and the evening hosted by Mary Poppin’s herself  (Mr. Edward’s widow), Dame Julie Andrews. It was a marvelous. We had our picnic basket, our wine & cheese, our squares of after dinner chocolate. The night was gorgeous and warm and Sean and I were able to relax and reconnect in a way you can’t do at a traditional movie or dinner. It was magical and, as the music swelled and images swirled on the screens, my hand interlocked with my husband’s, I looked up to the heavens (and I say that without dramatics because there is a lot of sky at the Bowl just begging to be spoken to) and said a silent prayer to God for how happy and lucky I was.

The Bowl really does look like this shot from alumniconnections.com

The Bowl really does look like this shot from alumniconnections.com

Near the end of the concert, while the light saber wielding crowd delighted to the multiple scores from Star Wars, I excused myself to go to the bathroom. Sean told me to hurry or I’d miss it, so I scooted out of our seats and hustled to the closest washroom which, because we were technically in a theatre built into a cliff, turned out to be up an extremely steep hill. As I arrived at my location I was instantly aware I’d made a terrible error in judgement. I found myself hopelessly out of breath. Like, really out of breath. Once in the stall I put my head between my legs hoping to counterbalance my lightheadedness but it didn’t work. I couldn’t get a full breath and I couldn’t think my way out of it. No matter how hard I tried to calm down and breath normally I couldn’t will myself better, and it quickly became clear I was going to pass out. I knew I had to get out of the stall or people would simply ignore me thinking I was just some drunk girl who’d passed out while the timpani banged out Darth Vader’s theme. I crawled out of the stall on my hands and knees and just before I lost consciousness I saw one pair of shoes in a stall down the way. She’d find and help me right? With that I let go and fell from my hands and knees to my shoulder and face.  When I came to I was lying on the bathroom floor (the bathroom floor!!! Gross! My poor skin!), my head was killing me and those shoes hadn’t moved at all. I lay there looking at those sensible, beige pumps while my breath normalized and by the time she came out I was sitting up leaning against the wall.

I left this cuteness to go pass out in the bathroom. What a fool I am!

I left this cuteness to pass out in the bathroom. What a fool I am!

Not surprisingly she ignored me. I’m not sure what she thought I was doing. If I was 10 years older I’m sure she would have asked if I was ok, but being younger I think she couldn’t help but silently judge me. I look too healthy to have anything really wrong with me right? She left and I said nothing. When I finally had the energy to stand up I washed my hands, splashed water on my face and slowly made my way back down to Sean. He looked at me when I got back as if to say “Where have you been?” and I burst into tears. I felt completely traumatized. Just thinking about it replayed in detail how awful it had been to be unable to breathe, to know I couldn’t help myself and to be reminded that no matter how happy I was, I was also really sick. That, combined with the fact my head was absolutely throbbing where I’d hit it, caused me to silently sob through the second encore while Sean packed up our stuff.

My bump. It hurt for a week. I even needed a brain scan to rule out a bleed. Post concussive syndrome!

My bump. It hurt for a week. I even needed a brain scan to rule out a bleed. Post concussive syndrome!

The next day my head was a sight to behold. It looked as if I’d had a derma implant with a golf ball. My shoulder was aching and I was so overwhelmingly tired that my parenting consisted of allowing Loch watch TV all day. As a side note, he told me it was “THE BEST DAY EVER!!!” Around 4:30 I texted Sean, who had left our house at 6am for work in the desert, to come home. My text read: When do you think you might be home? I don’t mean to alarm you but I think I have a slight concussion. As I lay in my bed waiting for his answer, the sounds of Phinnus & Ferb drifting into the room, I started to think about how quickly things can change. Here I was moments before saying my silent prayer to God about how wonderful my life was and then, without warning my disease, physically and metaphorically, knocked me me on my a*#. Or in this case, my head.

Things have a way of changing instantaneously. For the good and the bad. I knew on our first date I’d marry Sean. The world just shifted. I walked out of the restaurant with a different life than when I’d walked in. I grew a baby in my body for almost 10 months but was the same girl until the night I went from being just Leigh to Loch’s Mom. I went to the doctor 6 months later thinking I’d developed asthma and 4 hours later was told I had 2-3 years to live. It can all change in the blink of an eye. Everything can shift in a heartbeat and that knowledge should act as a reminder not just to appreciate every great moment, but also not to get too mired down in the dismal ones. What do they say? The only constant in life is change?

I'm writing a memoir myself. The strength and bravery it must have taken for Matthew to have written this one is inspiring.

I’m writing a memoir myself. The strength and bravery it must have taken for Matthew to have written this one is inspiring.

I was recently at Target cooling my heels while Loch entertained himself in the toy aisles and I picked up a book called Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Love and Loss by Matthew Logelin. It was the story of a husband who lost his wife to a random brain embolism the day their daughter was born. Written from his perspective I was pulled into the immediacy of the chapter of when it all went down. He vividly expresses the confusion he felt when his wife collapsed walking the halls of the hospital. How helpless and angry he was as the doctors buzzed around while the code alarm blared through the halls. How surreal it felt making calls to people expecting the happy “we just had the baby” song to the “you better get down here they don’t think she’s going to make it” terror. When his wife dies he describes the floor opening up, the fury he felt towards the placating grief councilor, the horror of the realization that he was now completely alone with their newborn, his devastation knowing his new daughter would never know her spectacular mom and the utter confusion that drowned him trying to rectify how his perfectly healthy wife could just be gone. I found myself moved to tears right there in the superhero aisle.

I know what it’s like to have your life open under you. To feel as if you’re drowning in your own reality. Reading Matthew’s words however, I was also reminded of how lucky I am. How different my story could have gone – could still go – and how very much I must try to appreciate every day. People are always saying, “I could get hit by a bus tomorrow”  and though you probably won’t, metaphorically the possibility is there. Things change and things can change quickly. Whenever I’m feeling upset I often think back to the days I was told I wasn’t going to live and my perspective immediately shifts. I do this when I’m mad at people too. How would I feel if they were gone? If I could no longer speak to them? It’s hard to stay mad when you consider the alternative and count your blessings. photo copy 2 That being said however, I think it’s too much to ask of ourselves to appreciate every day, to always be in the moment, to live only in the present and to appreciate everyone all the time. I believe it’s a noble thing to attempt and something we can all hopefully accomplish at various moments in our life, but I don’t think we should put pressure on ourselves to be zen in every instance. When we do that it just becomes yet another thing to get down on ourselves for, to feel we’re failing at.  I think the big picture is simple awareness and the acknowledgement that nothing ever remains static. If your life is good, be grateful. If your life is tough, be hopeful. Try not to dwell. Keep moving and growing. Appreciate and celebrate the moments and people that bring you joy. Tell people you love them. Be kind to others. Create memories and relationships that will live on after you’re gone. Make the most of your life because you’re not getting another one and it can all change on a dime.

Passing out on the floor of a bathroom reminded me to take stock of all I have to be grateful for. That no matter where I’d like my future to go, I must appreciate my current reality and truly saver my moments because I don’t know how this is going to play out. Passing out forced me to stop and acknowledge my reality and, for better or worse, embrace it. I may dream of a bright future but I have to care for myself in my present so I’m around to enjoy it.

For now that means more unique dates with my husband and not walking up hills at speed.

Duh.

xo leigh

photo copy 3

Lost Causes

I had a favorite aunt growing up. You know the one. The cool aunt. Growing up she was my absolute favorite family member. I adored her. She was 11 years younger than my mom and gorgeous and totally with it. She’d been a model and actress and for me the sun basically rose and set on her. Over the years she and her husband joined us on our family trips. We’d visit her at my Grandmother’s cottage. I’d spend hours pacing outside her bedroom waiting for her to wake up. We’d celebrate holiday’s and special occasions.  She was wonderful. I was never more excited than when she was joining us.  As time passed however her relationship with my mother became strained. They couldn’t see eye to eye over the care of my grandmother and the control of her finances and things became increasingly tense. They stopped joining us for events and holidays. There were no more trips, communication broke down and things were said that were difficult to forget. Essentially, as it is with many family dramas, it came down to money. As I understand it my aunt felt cheated out of a part of her inheritance because my grandmother decided to include me in her will. She felt my mother had somehow deliberately (and maliciously) orchestrated it and, despite the fact that many of my friends had received inheritances from their grandparents, my aunt felt grandchildren were not typically included in wills and she was the one losing out. My mother tried to keep me out of it. It was her hope I could remain a neutral party retaining a relationship with my beloved aunt despite the fact that hers had broken down. As I saw it, my mother went above and beyond to make sure my aunt felt compensated and taken care of and I kept believing the whole thing would blow over. It didn’t. In the end my aunt made it clear that I had to choose between her version of the story and my mother’s. There was no middle ground and this summer when I wrote her to see if Loch and I could visit when we were home, she turned me down. She didn’t want to see me. Family dramas are terrible, hurtful things. Family is supposed to look out for one another but all too often – especially around care of the elderly and questions regarding money – things have a way of going off the rails.

my2ndheartbeat.wordpress.com

my2ndheartbeat.wordpress.com

The thing is, even with all signs pointing to let it go, it’s over, it’s never going to happen, I still believe the relationship is salvagable. I just don’t believe in lost causes. Look, I was told I had a maximum of 3 years to live and I’m still here. Who knows how long I have left but I don’t believe it’s a done deal. I realize there are times in life when you have to just walk away. When you say hey, it’s time. I can’t change this. Things are not going to be different and I can’t beat myself against the wall any longer. There may be times like that but I don’t believe this is one of those times. I think if you aren’t ready to give up, you have to continue to fight, to hope, to believe.

raneedillon.blogspot.com

raneedillon.blogspot.com

I have a old friend in Toronto who’s battling metastatic breast cancer. They’ve found it in her breast, lungs, and kidneys. It’s aggressive and hideous and my heart is broken for her. Two girls from my High School died this summer of a similar thing. I recognize the threat is real. I know terrible things happen to good people every day. I know being a mother, or a wife or a dear friend doesn’t make you safe. I realize my friend is dealing with a terrible diagnosis but I also know that miracles happen every day and I choose to believe she can be one of those miracles. It’s not over until it’s over.

Recently I spoke to a friend who’s struggling with her place in the world. What she should do. Who she is. What direction her life should go. She told me she believes people are only able to be positive when things are on an upswing. That without the upswing, it’s difficult not to get mired down in the negatives. I thought a lot about that. In many ways I suppose it’s partly true. I struggle on days when I’m feeling really sick or things aren’t looking good. My hopefulness has a way of becoming clouded by fear and doubt and I’ve been known to wallow.

istopforsuffering.wordpress.com

istopforsuffering.wordpress.com

That being said however, I’ve never stayed in that place for very long. Even before I was sick, when my career or love life was in shambles, I never felt hopeless or believed things wouldn’t eventually work out. I believed I just had to keep working till my life met my dreams and, in those cases, I think the positivity came before the upswing. I believe my attitude changed my circumstances and not the other way around. I’m convinced that’s how I met Sean, how I found writing and, for the most part, how I’ve learned to live with my disease. Talking to my friend it was as if she no longer believed anything good could happen. Every hopeful thing I said was met with caustic, laughable disbelief. It was like throwing a life ring to a drowning person who keeps kicking it away. She seemed adrift in a sea of hopelessness and it was exhausting to watch. It’s hard to help someone who refuses to be helped.

Thinking back I hope I just caught her on a bad day. That, despite her attitude, she doesn’t see her future happiness as impossible. I hope she’s not buying the “everything is crap and always will be” line she seemed to be selling. I hope there’s still a part of her that sees her amazing potential. A small voice that trusts all her education and passion will eventually be rewarded. A hidden part of her psyche that believes she’s worthy of love and that the tragic events of her past don’t define her. That’s what I see when I look at her. Despite all her confusion and negativity she’s an amazing person, and if she could just believe in herself, I know she’d find her way.

thecoverjunkie.com

thecoverjunkie.com

I have hope. I hope my aunt realizes one day a mistake’s been made. That she forgives my mother for her supposed slight and my mother is able to forgive her for everything that came after. I dream my son will get to know the woman I loved so much and we will have the opportunity to reconnect. I believe a friend of mine who seems to have moved past our 20-plus year friendship will eventually come back to me because we have too much history to let  things go so easily. I pray a miracle makes my friend cancer free and she’s able to recover and raise her adorable twin girls. Finally, I have faith my genius friend will eventually find her place in the world, set down roots and believe in love again.

I don’t believe in lost causes. I believe in hope.

Look at me, I’m still planning to have grandchildren.

xo leigh

favim.com

favim.com

The Opposite of Young

I’ve just spent the past 5 weeks in Toronto with my parents. Every summer Loch and I come to Canada to cottage, camp and all things Canadian and Sean joins us when he can. It’s a lovely time. My parents live so far away that what would be horrifying to most grown children – weeks and weeks of condensed one on one time, living and functioning within your parent’s house, car and life – feels like a real treat to me. I love my parents but, almost more importantly, I truly like them. I really appreciate our time together. They are terrific hosts and incredibly gracious with their hospitality.

Lately though I’ve become aware that, despite their young looks and perky demeanors, the fact of the matter is they’re getting older and that thought concerns me. What does our future look like? What’s my plan? What’s their plan? How much time do we really have left together? I understand getting older is a normal and unavoidable fact of life but it also – drastically or gradually – changes how we live and that’s something we’ll have to plan. At this point both my parents (and my in-laws for that matter) are still sharp and enthusiastic but I can’t pretend this stage of life is infinite. I have to consider a strategy to best prepare for their later years and remind myself to truly enjoy the time we still have left together.

old-woman-at-paris-cafe

I’d so much rather be this lady….

Our culture – unlike the Asian cultures who seem to be great with their elderly – doesn’t have a strong history of positively supporting our senior citizens. As I touched on in my last post, we are a culture of youth. We celebrate and chase it. We pay billions of dollars to look it. As a group we have a habit of putting away our old people, quietly moving them off to homes and hospitals so as to avoid firsthand interaction with the perceived ugliness of aging. My mom used to say, “As soon as I get old and senile ship me off. I don’t want to be a burden!” Her only stipulation was I not put her in the country. “Nothing to look at and nothing to do.” My mom has always requested a retirement home in the heart of the city so she can sit on a bench and watch the world go by. She wants to be able to take her little old self to restaurants and the theatre and not just be stuck in the green pastures of the country like some prize bull living out her days amongst the trees. My Grandmother was against homes altogether, she’d say, “Why would I want to live in a home? It’s full of old people.”

Than this one.

Than this one.

In my perfect future I don’t ship anyone off. I’m able to have my parents near me as they age and pay their bills and visit and care for them as much as I can. They have always taken care of me and I would very much like to return the favor. My mom is my dearest friend. I want to sit and talk with her until the end. The house of my dreams has a large guest house for my (or Sean’s) parents to visit any time but I’m also aware of my limitations. Realistically I’m not equipped to be anyone’s full time caregiver. I watched my mom spend a minimum of 4-5 days a week taking care of my Grandmother (as well as a Great Aunt) for at least 15 years before she died and I’m not sure I’m selfless enough to do the same. It’s a different world now. At the very least, I can’t imagine having that kind of time. Currently, we don’t even live in the same city. How do I work that out? It concerns me. At the end of the day I’m an only child who loves her parents and no matter how the cards shake out for us (provided I don’t go before them – which is another issue) their needs will fall to me alone and I can only hope I’m able to rise to the occasion. As it turns out best intentions do not pay private nursing bills.

Luxury-and-Beautiful-Lobby-Hotel-Interior-Design-of-The-Portofino-Hotel-and-Yacht-Club-Redondo-Beach-California

Why couldn’t an old folks home look like this place on californiamarkt.com? I believe that is a legitimate question.

The thing is, I love old people. I always have. When I was younger I used to give the “Cutie Pie Grandpa Award” to elderly men I thought were adorable. It wasn’t a real award. I would just say it out loud to my parents. There was an extended period of time when I considered creating top notch old folks homes. Buildings with style and elegance and amazing food. I’d run it like a cruise or a high end hotel. Numerous restaurants. 3 different seatings. Activities all day. A beautiful pool. I’d look to hire kind, well paid staff. Medical facilities would be on site. There would be exciting day trips and evening events with proper wheel chair accessible transportation. Do you know my wonderful 96 year old Great Aunt can’t go on any of her home’s outings because they only charter school buses? School buses! How does someone who uses a walker or a wheel chair get on a school bus?! It’s ridiculous. We’re often so thoughtless when it comes to old people. My residences would have beautiful lobbies, floor to ceiling windows in every room and would be situated in centers of busy, metropolitan cities. It would cost a fortune but would be something people could plan for like a big trip or a new house. Most assisted living is so depressing, I really thought we could do better. I wanted a place I’d be ok sending my parents or, more personally, a place I would be happy going myself.

rl05Recently an art exhibit caught my attention on Facebook. Tom Hussey created a series of works of elderly people looking in a mirror and seeing a reflection of their younger selves. It was beautifully done. A powerful and noble way to remind us that the old people we so easily overlook were once young, viable individuals with their own power and worth. I’m sure when I look in mirror later in life I’ll think “Who’s that old lady?” My mom says she already does that. The thing is no matter how old we become or how much our bodies let us down, inside we are still that teenager, 20-something, young mother or strapping young man. Even Sean, who’s barely in his mid-30’s, recently said, “I feel weak. I used to be so much stronger than this.” It’s strange when things we’ve always taken for granted start to become an effort. My illness makes my limits similar to that of an older person as far as physicality, strength and exercise and I’ve become accustomed to it. I don’t like it but I’ve accepted it. A couple of weeks ago however I had to stop my Dad from doing something I knew he was no longer strong enough to accomplish without getting hurt and he was annoyed. I understood but I think it’s important to know our limitations and acknowledge that they will inevitably change. I’m of the opinion that choosing acceptance over embarrassment and frustration makes things infinitely less irritating and disappointing. Look, I was a competitive swimmer and lifeguard and nowadays I barely go in the water without a noodle or a life jacket. I used to teach people to swim and now I’m so weak I could easily drown. It’s a blow to the ego to be sure but I’d rather float around in the shallow end than lose my life to pride.

rl04I loved Hussey’s photographs because they seemed to respect both versions of the person. Who we are and who we were being essentially the same. We may look different but that young person is still there if we want them to be. I think I also responded to the work because the pictures illustrate what I so often do in my head. Often when I see older people, particularly men, it’s a younger person I recognize. Intellectually I know the person is old, but for some reason, they don’t look old to me. It’s an unconscious thing. I’m not trying to be deep or understanding. It’s just what happens. What’s interesting to me is that it doesn’t always work. Sometimes I’m completely unable to see the young person and I’ve come to the conclusion it’s because the young person no longer exists. It’s as if the individual has allowed their essence, their fire, to be snuffed out. In resigning themselves to being an “old person” that’s exactly what they’ve become. It reminds me of that quote: We don’t stop playing because we get old. We get old because we stop playing. I feel as if you see that in action all the time.

uncanxietyclinic.com

uncanxietyclinic.com

Aging frightens me. I worry for myself but, because I’m sick and still in my 30’s, more realistically and immediately I worry for my parents. Nobody wants to be a burden. No one wants to lose their mind or forget who people are. We’d all like to be spared the indecencies and humiliation of needing help with our most basic human functions. I always said when I got really old I wanted to buy a house with my friends. A big, old mansion with lots of rooms. We’d hire a nurse and a chef. When someone’s children or grandchildren came to visit we would all be able to enjoy their company because everyone would be special to us. My friend’s children are part of my life. I’d be thrilled to see them just as my friends would be thrilled to see Loch. When someone eventually passed on we would have each other to lean on and help through the heartache and transition. I recognize I might not make it to a ripe old age, but if I did, I think being safely taken care of in a home of my choosing, surrounded by friends and family would be a lovely way to finish my golden years.

There’s a Bette Midler Song called “Hello in There” in which she laments the passing of time and the end of so many things we once deemed important. She speaks of the longing of the elderly not to be left alone or forgotten. She sings:

annetteiren.com

annetteiren.com

You know old trees just grow stronger.

And old rivers grow wilder every day.

But old people, they just grow lonesome.

Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there. Hello.”

We all want to pretend we’ll be young forever but the truth is no matter how much we work out or how many vials of botox go in our faces, eventually age will catch up with us. I believe the key is to acknowledge the physical change while still holding on to our metaphysical essence, and to respect age while we’re young so we can respect ourselves when we’re old. I believe if we honor our elderly now we give others the tools and inspiration to honor us when the roles are reversed.

At least, that’s what I keep telling myself…

xo leigh

pg_41e_-__man_-_showing_progressive_aging

Daddy’s Girl

They say a daughter’s relationship with her father influences all future relationships she will have with men. If that’s truly the case then I’m a lucky girl. My Dad and I were close from the beginning. I’ve never questioned his love for me and have always been confident of his support. My father however, does not suffer fools gladly and though there may be pictures of post work dancing with his “little pink”, my tiny newborn body supported from hand to elbow, he was far from a pushover. His love for me might have been unconditional, but you didn’t earn his respect without merit.

Dancing with my Dad at the end of the day was a ritual. Apparently I wasn't feeling it this particular day.

Dancing with my Dad at the end of the day was a ritual. Apparently I wasn’t feeling it this particular day.

When I was young my Dad called me the midget because I was small and over time it morphed into the name he calls me to this day, Midgey. I love my Dad. I look up to him. I respect him and admire his journey. He’s a survivor, my Dad. He thrives in a challenge. From the death of his hero and father at 25, his beloved mother’s stroke 7 months later, finding himself without parents and saddled with their vast unpaid debts at 26, he not only rose above his circumstances – putting himself through law school and his sister through University – he thrived. Married at 27, my Dad became a man who was not only successful, but respected and well liked, and he offered my mother and I a wonderful life to be proud of. In my memories he always had time for me. I never felt marginalized or had to question whether he wished he’d had more children or that I was a boy. My Dad and I enjoyed each other’s company. We had our jokes and our songs – John Fogerty’s Centerfield, Willie Nelson’s Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain  – and he treated me like a person who’s opinions mattered. In my family my voice was always heard. I had value in my father’s eyes. Yes, he pushed me but, even frustrated, I was grateful. My father’s inability to accept anything less than 100% pushed me to be better and so much of who I am I credit to the lessons I learned while biting my tongue.

L&G SittinMy Dad was one of those guys – captain of the football team, track star, scholarship recipient, president of his fraternity and law school. He was a Winner and he expected nothing less from his only child. My Dad was also a good time guy, a loyal friend and in his youth, a wild partier who never failed to entertain me with stories of his past. It didn’t occur to me till later that those stories that delighted me so much over the years were most likely the source of my father’s biggest issues and the reason he had to quit drinking when I was five. In heindsight, it also explains why my mother never found the stories quite as entertaining as I did. 1960’s ridiculousness is probably more thrilling in theory than practice. But it was those stories, those things no one could possibly get away with today – what with the internet and background checks – that made him so awesome. My Dad was a risk taker. A balls out take no prisoners type of guy. He had fun. He was cool. He lived. Some of my favorite tales revolved around the Hospitality Inn, a resort my Dad was hired to run for two summers in his early 20’s. Qualified or not, he staffed the entire place with his friends. He was the boss and made the resort his own personal Dirty Dancing. There were tales of tightrope walking over the tennis courts, women throwing themselves into moving convertibles and an overweight teenager falling through the ceiling of a room while she eavesdropped Porky’s style on her crush getting frisky with a waitress. My Dad wasn’t just some dull, old lawyer. He had a life. He was the twist champion of Vermont. He’d owned every cool vintage car you could think of. He’d painted flames on his mother’s Cadillac and picked up his prom date on a scooter after he overheard her telling her friends she was only going with him because he had a caddy. He may be a responsible Dad now but back in the day he was The Man.

L&G SkateWhen I was little Saturdays were for me and my Dad. He said it was because my mom had me all week. Now that I’m a mom I see what a raw deal she got. I overlooked all her work and thought my Dad giving me that one day was God’s gift. But, I suppose in those days, it kind of was. At any rate, Saturday’s were for us. We’d play sports – baseball, football, track (soccer wasn’t big then like it is now) – and then go to lunch at a restaurant. My Dad was a foodie before that was a thing. Years later he was devastated when I moved from NYC to LA. Not so much because of the increased distance between us (“It’s still just a plane ride Leigh.”) but because he was going to miss the restaurants. It’s ironic that before my mother my Dad never traveled because he always seemed so international to me. I never had typical kid food when we went out. Nowadays making sure your child is exposed to different cultures seems commonplace – I know a lot of kids who’s favorite food is sushi – but at the time, having dim sum with your 7-year-old was kind of a big deal.

L&G PumpkinI remember my Dad being at all my plays and swim meets. I remember him coaching me in track before I hit high school and realized my skill level was so incredibly average I should stick to racing in the water. He always drove me to camp and took 3 weeks off in the summer to be with us at the cottage. My Dad took us on trips every year and made sure I knew how to ski and play tennis. Again, the fact that my mother spearheaded most of that was lost on me and when I was 13-15 and everything she said bugged me, the only person I could talk to without rolling my eyes was him. The sun rose and set on my Daddy. I can still picture him on Sunday afternoons, after church and donuts – apple fritter for him, hawaiian rainbow sprinkles for me – listening to Leonard Cohen and sitting in the wing chair reading the paper. It’s from that chair he would take a red pen to my essays or quiz me for exams. My Dad was a fixture in my life that I could always rely on no matter how busy he was.

L&G coffeeIt’s an interesting thing to get to know your parents as an adult. When I was a teenager I remember becoming aware of little things my Dad did like never clearing the table or doing the dishes at the cottage and calling him out on it. My mother was publicly horrified but secretly thrilled and my Dad always turned out to be very amenable to making a change. To this day he grumbles or sheepishly looks at me when I point things out, but he’s certainly not afraid of improvement. Old dog new tricks is not my father and I’ve always admired him for that.

For all his struggles, his upbringing, his disappointments, his personal demons, my Dad is a man of top quality. He’s a loving, kind, good person and I’ve never doubted his devotion to me or my family. My Dad has given his life attempting to provide the best for us and though we’ve taken some blows, he’s never stopped trying to make things happen.

L&G Cottage To this day my Dad is still the person I look to in a crisis. Even in the midst of chaos he’s able to think clearly. He’s a thoughtful and nearly unflappable man of character who’s able to steer me in the right direction without being overly dramatic (my mother), overly optimistic (my husband) or overly supportive (some of my friends). He’s able to dissect a problem piece by piece and see an issue without the cloud of emotion which bogs me down. My Dad can share a life experience in order to make a point but has mastered the art stepping back and allowing me to arrive at my own conclusions. He can tell me how it is without telling me what to do and it’s a gift. My mom’s my best friend, but in a crisis, I’m going to my Dad. His life has garnered wisdom and insight that I’ve found instrumental. This is not to say he’s perfect, he’s the first person to tell you he’s not, but he’s a real man, a noble man, a good man with a generous heart and I need him just as much today as I did when I was his little pink.

L&G Cracker HatsMy Dad has also never second guessed my decisions. Questioned them maybe, in order for me to better think things through, but always supported me whole heartedly after the decision was made. Going to grad school, dropping out of grad school, moving to New York, living as a struggling actress, moving to LA, picking my husband, becoming a writer, my life has always been mine. He’s been my safety net both emotionally and, at numerous times, financially but he’s set down very few requirements or expectations for the bigger picture. He believes in me. He believes I’ll choose correctly. His faith in me has always reinforced my faith in myself. He’s had my back at every cross road. He’s served as my foundation, supporting me as I weather the storms. At the end of the day my Dad is still my hero. For all our ups and downs, I look at him and see a man I admire, respect and will forever continue to root for.

If my father never makes it as far as he dreamed, I will carry the banner on his behalf. Even without the blinders of childhood, with full adult awareness of his faults and mistakes, I still work every day to impress my Dad. I  still crave his respect and approval because whenever I get it, I know I’ve done something truly worthwhile.

photoI love you Dad. You are a remarkable man and a testament to never giving up. Just as you say with your beloved Maple Leafs, “it ain’t over till it’s over”. You still have so much more life to live and I stand with you as you work each day to make things better.  Thank you for being such a devoted father, supportive father-in-law and extraordinary grandfather. You are important and special and I admire you so much for never ceasing to grow. I’m proud of you Dad. I’m proud to be your child and I look forward to the day I make good on the potential you’ve always seen in me.

You are my champion and I will, now and forever, always be your girl.

Happy Father’s Day.

xo Midgey

IMG_1182

Perspective

I recently went to see the most recent movie from Nicolas “The Notebook” Sparks. I was going with my parents so we settled on Safe Haven with Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough as a film we could all agree on. I wasn’t expecting much. I like romances but Sparks’ stories are pretty predictable and I find I generally waver between pleasantly entertained and slightly eye rollie. The only exception to this rule so far would be Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in the aforementioned Notebook. The scene when they’re on the floor of the old plantation house elevates the film well beyond any typical feel good romance. Anyway, Safe Haven was exactly what I was expecting and was enjoying it well enough until I found I was becoming increasingly emotional. By the end of the film I was so overwhelmed I went to the bathroom and bawled my eyes out. The whole experience got me thinking about how our reactions vary so drastically depending on our perspective. The film had a different affect on me than everyone else in the theatre, except maybe my mother who was seeing it through my eyes.

Safe Haven (SPOILER ALERT) is about a young woman who escapes her abusive husband to find herself in a vacation town on the coast of South Carolina where she meets a handsome widower and his two adorable children. It’s relatively straightforward. She’s got trust issues, he’s still dealing with the struggle to move past his beloved wife, they fall for each other, love conquers all and, after her crazy ex-husband gets shot in the chest with his own gun, they live happily ever after.

safe havenThe thing is, I was supposed to be rooting for the couple. I was meant to see her fill the void left by the children’s mother. I was to hope she’d trust this marvelous man – only alone by a cruel trick of fate – and cheer when she finally let her guard down enough to see that not all men are bad and that she was worthy of love. As I followed the plot however, I became increasingly aware that the character I was most associating with was not the main girl, or the husband or even the children. The character I was projecting onto was the dead mother. For obvious reasons the mother was the character I found myself most connected to. There’s a scene where Josh explains his son “remembers his mother” while the younger daughter just “remembers the idea of her”. It was supposed to make me see that if Julianne could win over the son, the daughter was already hers and everything would just fall into place. I found the entire thing devastating. Loch is younger than the daughter in the film and I know should something happen to me now, he’ll never truly remember me and another woman will easily be able to take my place in his heart. The son in the movie is older, say 11, and he’s angry and confused by his mother being gone but also by his Dad’s interest in a new woman and I found that concept equally unbearable. But, because this film is about two people falling in love and not the story of how people deal with grief, after a few short scenes of minor tween attitude, the boy is equally won over by the successor and ready to move on. Nice for the child. Nice for the Dad. Nice for the new girlfriend. But I’m still sad for the dead mom.

Did I mention the dead mother shows up to befriend and get to know the replacement. Yep, so there's that too.

Did I mention the dead mother shows up to befriend and get to know her replacement. Yep, so there’s that too.

At one point Josh Duhamel looks through a stack of letters in his wife’s old office which has been left like a shrine. It appears the mother wrote a collection of letters to be read by her surviving family members at key moments in their lives, “To My Son on his Graduation” or “To My Daughter on her Wedding Day”. Those letters, all sealed and waiting, are there to make us feel for the husband, for the burden he’s carrying and the job he’s now doing alone, but I was weeping away in my seat for the woman who wrote them and what she had to leave behind. Later in the film when that same building burns to the ground (thanks to the unbalanced ex) and I wasn’t worried for the child who had to jump from the roof or the female lead wrestling her ex with a gun, I was worried for the letters. Those painstakingly written last hopes and dreams. The final thoughts of a mother who had to leave her family but wanted them to know she was still with them. I kept thinking “Save the letters! Save the letters!” and when they didn’t, I was a wreck.

safe haven with kidsAs it is with these kind of books and films however, there was a loophole. The letters, which were stored in a metal desk, were discovered intact when the husband roots through the debris after the fire. At the end of the film Julianne’s character, sitting on a beautiful, old tree swing, is given one of those letters. The letter is simply addressed “To Her”, meaning the woman who comes after, the woman my husband has chosen to love. As Josh and the darling moppets fish in the warm Carolina sun Julianne reads the letter. The dead mom’s voice over wishes her love and joy. She says she’s happy her son will have a mother and her daughter a confident. She says that she knows her husband must really love her because she’s reading this and she’s now able to move on because she knows her family’s taken care of. Julianne looks up, her eyes lock with Josh and they stare lovingly at each other. Their happy ending is all but guaranteed and all I could think of was the poor dying woman who’d been reduced to a disembodied voice.

Life is perspective. We hear in songs what we’re experiencing at the time. We react to words people say with the spin we feel in our soul. Someone having a baby is great news unless you just had a miscarriage or have been trying unsuccessfully for years to get pregnant. Getting an expensive present from your husband is lovely unless you know your family’s struggling with money. Birthdays make some people depressed and other people, like me, super happy. Our take on things is amplified by how we already feel. I was happy for the couple in the film but I didn’t care about them like I did for the woman who had to say goodbye before she was ready.  I’m not feeling as noble as she was about being replaced, though for the sake of Sean and Loch I know eventually I might have to adjust.

safe-haven-julianne-hough-josh-duhamel2There was one moment in the film I really appreciated. A second where they took a moment from courting to honor the memory of the person who was gone. The couple are at a particularly romantic location and Julianne asks Josh if he used to bring his wife there. He says yes and admits that for a while he tried to avoid places that reminded him of her because he thought it would be easier. He says he tried to put her from his mind, to not think of her… but he realized that wasn’t fair to her memory. That if he wasn’t remembering her, who would? He says, “She was wonderful and doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.”

Should I go, I would want Sean to find love again. I would want him to be happy. I would want Loch to have someone to love and mother him, to hug and kiss him and tell him everything was going to be ok. I wouldn’t want them to be alone but the thought of someone taking my place kills me. No matter how healthy it would be for them, I’m not ready to be forgotten. Right now I still believe I’ll beat my disease but, should I go down hill, I can see softening to the idea of being replaced. I can imagine a time where I’ll be at peace with the thought of simply being a memory and, with all the letters I write to Loch, perhaps I should take the time to write one to “Her” as well.

Sometimes the right thing to do is also the hardest. It’s all a matter of perspective.

xo leigh

Aging Gracefully?

I was at a holiday party this season speaking to a gentleman who was around sixty years old. We were having a great conversation when he asked me, in a flirtatious manner, if I’d come with a husband. I said, yes and pointed across the room to where Sean was standing his back to us. The man said, “The buff one in the gray? Must be nice.” Then, in a conspiratorial manner he added, “So…you married younger huh?” My wine glass nearly shattered under the pressure of the involuntary death grip. Married younger?! Excuse me?! What was he implying? Ok, truthfully Sean is two years younger than me, but this man was implying an age GAP, like I was some crazed cougar shopping for mates in the nursery. I get it, he’s young and handsome, but suddenly, in contrast, I felt I must look…what…old and tired? Yes, this man was still hitting on me, but it was like he was making a play for a contemporary and not the much younger woman I actually was. The whole experience left me feeling dismal.

Before and after from the botox website. Looks pretty good right?

Before and after from the botox website. Looks pretty good right?

I’ve flirted with the idea of botox for years. When I moved from New York to LA my incredibly expressive face, the one that could be read from the top balcony, was suddenly a serious detriment. On camera my expressiveness morphed from enthusiastic to garish. Everything was amplified and not in a good way. One on-camera coach informed me I should get botox immediately “to shut that s*#@ down”. I thought I would have done anything to get my career off the ground but I couldn’t get my head around injecting my twenty-seven year old face with a toxin so it was unable to move. Ten years later, seeing the result of that movement etched into my forehead, it’s starting to look like a pretty good idea. Years of  conversations and  “feelings” have stolen my fresh face and replaced it with one that looks, well, weathered.

Not ready to bite the bullet, I dance the perimeter of the anti-aging world with things like the new skin care line from Rodin + Fields. Rodin + Fields are the dermatologists who created ProActive Solution, a product I could never use (despite the need) because I was allergic to one of the key ingredients. However, when they introduced their new anti-aging line for both fine lines and brightening, I thought maybe some non-invasive reversing could help. I recognize it’s just a bandaid, but at this time I can’t afford (and am too afraid) of the other options.

Jessica Chastain on the cover of said Marie Claire only further encourages my desire for botox. My forehead hasn't looked like that in ten years.

Jessica Chastain on the cover of said Marie Claire only further encourages my desire for botox. My forehead hasn’t looked like that since I was a teenager.

Aleksandra Crapanzano wrote an essay in December 2012’s Marie Claire called Frozen in Time where she poses the question whether botox and anti-aging treatments are becoming not just the norm, but the unspoken expectation for women in our society. She writes about going to a dinner party and looking around the table at the other women. Despite the fact she was probably the youngest by ten years, she realized that without having undergone any injections or surgeries she probably looked the oldest. She asks, “Have the expectations of a certain stratum of society changed? Was it now uncouth of me to show up at dinner with my fine lines? Was it akin to showing up with mud on my boots and a moth hole in my sweater?” Now I may not be hobnobbing with Manhattan’s social elite but, looking around at the other women in Los Angeles, I can honestly say I understand how she feels.

I was recently doing some random flipping on the TV and came across an episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Having never seen it before I stopped to see what all the hype’s about. What struck me most – aside from the fact that certain women never grow out of junior high behavior – was their faces.

celebitchy.com

Is this look attractive? Seriously, I’m getting confused. celebitchy.com

What was happening there? It was horrifying. Everything was too tight, too shiny, too exaggerated and frankly, too frozen. I was inspired to tweet something (something I’m making an effort to get on board with) but I couldn’t properly formulate my distaste. What exactly was I thinking? Why did they all look like that? How could they look in the mirror and think they looked good? Were we coming to a place where that was beginning to look normal? In ten years will everyone look like that? God knows I understand the desire to retain a youthful appearance. I’d love to hold onto my jawline and crease free eyes but I couldn’t help thinking I’d rather look like a pile of wrinkles than, to coin a phase, a melted Barbie doll.

It's brave to age naturally like this...simpsonswiki.net

It’s brave to age naturally like this…
simpsonswiki.net

My concern is that we’re getting confused. The more we’re absorbed into the business of youth, the more disoriented we get. Is a lineless, frozen face the future’s new normal? Are we looking at a time when we don’t realize how ridiculous we’ve become? It’s obviously what Suzanne Collins was thinking of when she created the people of the Capital in her wildly successful Hunger Games trilogy. In the books the wealthy and elite are surgically altered, dyed and powdered within an inch of their lives with no sense of how absurd and, in many ways, grotesque they actually appear.

Crapanzano’s article references Timothy Greenfield-Sanders HBO film About Face, which interviews former supermodels about aging. In it Isabella Rossellini expresses her inner conflict with this whole new anti-aging industry. “I’m debating in my head. One day I get up and say, “Hey there’s this new technology, why not use it?” But most of the time I wake up and say, “Is this the new feet binding? Is this the new way to tell women, you are ugly deep down, you should be this and this. Is the main problem misogyny?”

...when people expect you to look like this. nndb.com

…when people expect you to look like this.
nndb.com

Carmen Dell’Orefice, the still stunning supermodel of the 1950’s, offers a different perspective with a candid and casual “Well, if you had the ceiling falling down in your living room, would you not go and have a repair?” 

I think there’s something to be said for both points of view. Don’t we all want to retain our face’s “natural” state, the face of our youth? My mom used to say she’s often surprised when she looks in the mirror because she doesn’t feel that old. Crapanzano acknowledges that feeling when she expresses the natural process of aging feels anything but natural because so few of us feel our age. She says, “Out of sight of a mirror, I still think I’m 30, tops. For most women over 40, looking in a mirror is an unpleasant collision with reality, a fissure in our denialWe just don’t feel how we look.” Dr. David Colbert, a Manhattan dermatologist known for keeping his patients looking “naturally” young poses a more probing question, “Does it make your life longer when you look 40 when you’re 60? Maybe. Maybe it’s the interpretation of your life that make it feel longer.” And according to Manhattan psychiatrist Dr. Marianne Gillow, her patients are consistently in better moods after botox, as if looking better makes them feel better, or perhaps the inability to frown simply makes people feel less “frowny”.*

You gotta hand it to her. Carmen Dell'Orefice is 82 and obviously doing something right in the anti-aging battle.herworldplus.com

You gotta hand it to her. Carmen Dell’Orefice is 82 and obviously doing something right in the battle against aging. herworldplus.com

I have to say seeing my face in photographs or a mirror these days has a clear effect on my mood and interpretation of self. I fear turning into one of those women who refuses to be photographed or, like my mother has a habit of ripping (or deleting) herself out of photos. I don’t want to break up with my image, I just want to like it. I don’t think these feeling are uniquely mine or even exclusive to women. There are some amazing before and after pictures of men in Kate Sommerville’s book on skin that would benefit everyone from Sean to my father. Yes, men generally age more attractively. It’s acceptable to see the results of aging on their skin and, in a cruel double standard, their wrinkles often end up improving their looks making them sexy and distinguished, but ultimately, men want to look young and fresh too. Look at poor Kenny Rogers…and he was a cowboy. They’re allowed to be wizened.

lindsay-lohan-before-after-2

Adorable Lindsay vs. post unnecessary plastic surgery Lindsay. So sad.

It’s hard to open a magazine or turn on the TV these days without seeing an onslaught of perfectly smooth faces. Everyone from politicians on the national stage to movie stars on our grocery store news stands are there to show us how we could (should?) look and it’s difficult not to fall pray. I think if you’re going to do it, the key – after finding the right doctor – is to not go overboard (and never touch your lips). Everyone witnessed the destruction of Meg Ryan’s beautiful, quirky, adorable face, because for every Demi Moore there’s a Jocelyn Wildenstein around to freak you out. Crapanzano quotes Harvard-trained plastic surgeon Dr. Haideh Hirmand who says, “People get carried away and think, If a little looks good, a lot will look better and that’s not the case. I’m almost certain you look older if you do too much.” Case in point, previously adorable Lindsay Lohan who looks older than me now.

usmagazine.com

usmagazine.com

Ultimately, it’s a slippery slope. What is pretty if we can buy it? I remember when Ashley Simpson had her nose done. At first I was annoyed. Just accept what you look like already. But time passes, you forget about the nose job and all you see is the pretty girl the nose job uncovered. I hate myself for thinking it, but she looks better now, and once you’ve allowed yourself to forget she bought that face, you start thinking it was a pretty good idea. At the end of the day I don’t want to look different, I want to look the same. Life’s aged me and I’d like to recognize myself in the mirror again. I want to be the best version of myself, but not so young it becomes creepy.  The aforementioned Demi Moore looks fantastic but she reminds me a bit of that old Meryl Streep/Goldie Hawn/Bruce Willis movie Death Becomes Her in which two vain competitive women make a pact with the devil (ironically, played by Isabella Rossolini) for eternal life and youth. As things go drastically and comically awry, they realize life isn’t about how you appear but who you are, and as they shatter to pieces at the end of the film, the audience sees the cautionary tale that is the worship of youth and beauty. Death_Becomes_Her_6114448_269

When it comes right down to it -as I said in my post on Birthdays – obviously the key for me is being around to age. I WANT to grow old. But, even with that perspective, I’d prefer the aging part to be a little less obvious. Life is special and sacred but feeling good about yourself is a part of that. Self confidence is akin to self worth and if people start looking at me like I’m expired meat I might start to feel like that. I don’t want to be tightened and pulled within an inch of my life. I always want to look like me, older or no, but if I’m never mistaken for my husband’s sugar mama again, it will be too soon.

I mean really?! Come on!!!

xo leigh

* Aleksandra Crapanzano, Marie Claire December 2012, Frozen in Time