Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Slave to a 13-Year-Old

My son just went to his last Bar Mitzvah of the year, at a hotel in Old Town Scottsdale where all the Hollywood stars hang out when they come here. Yes, a pack of 13-year-olds from a Jewish day school in North Phoenix, all hanging out at a hotel Beyonce stays at when she's here. The invitation was a bunch of playing cards with various parts of the invitation printed on each card. The theme? Las Vegas Night.

He's gone to a Bat Mitzvah with a mechanical bull, too many with "game trucks" to count, many with sports themes and one with a Winter Wonderland theme for a Bat Mitzvah in December. Hey, I know it must be hard to decorate around all those hotel Christmas trees, but a Bat Mitzvah with a Christmas theme?

I started this blog because I was planning my son's Bar Mitzvah and was kind of losing my mind as we came up on the event. It became a chronicle of a type. But one of the things I assumed going into the whole year - which for Jewish kids is kind of like debutante season - was that things would be pretty low-key because the school they go to is so low-key. I expected that there would be no themes, that people understood that the theme is the Bar Mitzvah.

But I guess I'm not running the world yet because I was wrong. There have been plenty of themes and no one yet has come up to me raving about my genius move of using the Bar Mitzvah itself as the theme. Oh well.

So after all these suits and dress shirts and shiny black shoes he's worn, my son, Bar Mitzvahzilla, has come away with a lot of new knowledge:

1) He now knows he can sit through services at any synagogue in town, uncomplainingly, for hours. He always knows to carry a kippah. (prayer cap)

2) He knows not to fight the hungry older people and try to get in line for food after services. He'll only get pushed out of the way.

3) He knows how to write "Mazel Tov - you did great!" on the cards I hand him and then wait for me to stick my check in.

4) He knows how to nag me to death to walk him into the services and the receptions, insisting he won't know anyone there and how will he find anyone there - working himself up into a lather about it - then, once I'm in there wearing, like, yoga pants, he spots his friends and ditches me instantly.

5) He knows to call me in a panic to come pick me up now, why aren't you here yet??? the second his first friend leaves an event, knowing it takes me half an hour to get anywhere.

6) He knows how to stalk me as I drive to get him, calling me every five minutes, breathing into the phone like a killer and then, once I'm there, popping into the car like a normal boy, cheerful and exuberant, saying, "So what'd you do while I was gone?" He knows this Jekyll and Hyde thing keeps me off balance.

The social schedule will resume in the fall. I (we) get the summer off, which is good because Bar Mitzvahzilla will soon be fourteen and he has grown. I need to go shopping. New dress pants, new clunky men's dress shoes, new dress shirts. Game truck clothes.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Self Saboteur

I don't think I ever wrote in here how I sabotaged my own book so let me tell this miserable tale now.

I wrote my book, Seven Sisters, a kind of funny and tragic memoir about growing up one of seven sisters with Holocaust Survivor parents in Skokie, Illinois, and then I sent out query letters to literary agents. Four ended up interested in reading the manuscript, which was unbelievable. One of them was a big agent and very reputable, and, little did I know, the top agent for 6-figure deals on Publisher's Weekly.

After she became my agent - she did not require a written contract - I forwarded the revision she wanted, but then she appeared to cool off and I got very worried. She had seemed very excited about the book, calling and emailing all the time, and suddenly I wasn't getting responses to my emails and no call back to the one phone call I had made. Still, to be professional, I withdrew the manuscript from consideration with the other agents. Suddenly one of those other agents, with a very big agency, solicited me in response to my withdrawal email, saying that she had just finished reading the manuscript and was very disappointed that I was represented and if my situation changed I should contact her. 1st agent appeared to be cooling off, the next agent was interested, but for how long? And I didn't have a formal, written contract. I thought it'd be my last chance. So I jumped. Big mistake.

1st agent was livid. She had been working on revisions with her staff on her end. Second agent had me sign a written contact and ended up so cold, so frigidly professional, and kept so many walls up that I never knew what was going on. Outcome: 25 turn downs from 25 publishers.

I'm not proud to admit that I showed a lot of character flaws when things went so well so quickly. I thought I was going to be instantly famous and rich, certainly super rich. I thought to myself, hmmm - do I look for a house that costs two million dollars, or more? I thought about talk shows and that husband would have to get used to someone else bringing in an income around here, that I'd finally have some monetary value - a big deal for a person who quit her job in insurance 5 years ago, is part-time administrator for our store, and taught one college English class at a Community College, which paid $2200, once I got my Master's degree. Needless to say, the fame and wealth never materialized. All that materialized for me was something that turns out to have been more valuable: a badly needed lesson in humility.

It's quite a struggle to feel that sure, I'm a pretty good mom, and yes, thank goodness I've got a great marriage, and yes, I'm thankful for everything - my best friend, my sisters, my home, our business, my mother. But, without diminishing any of that, what I really am is a writer and I was put on this earth to write that book. And the darn thing is written. It's not like I have writer's block! Here it sits in my computer, unpublished.

After I severed the contract with the second agent, I felt like I'd been in a war and a tank had driven over me. I've written every day for years, but for awhile there the well was so dry, I was so forlorn, that I could only write one haiku a day, 17 syllables. And I'm very verbose. But then I decided to go at it a different way. They can't sell a book by an unknown writer? Fine, I'll become a known writer. I'll take first a Nonfiction writing class to learn how to write feature articles, and then a Freelancing class and I'll make a name for myself.

It's okay that I wasn't meant to cut to the head of the line - I'm okay with things not being easy. I'm okay with having to work hard, even really hard. I'm even okay with the fact that for some miserable reason I was actually meant to hit rock bottom on this thing, to have crowed about this to the entire world when things went well and then be forced to stand up, face everyone, and tell the truth about the outcome. I'm okay with being brought down to the size of just one ordinary human being who learned a very hard lesson indeed. I'm just not okay with it being impossible.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Nanny 602

In the middle of my children's Spring Break week, the stomach flu hit our house. Here's what happened. First I left the house knowing my daughter had a stomach ache. I knew my husband would be home, but it turns out he came home and stayed in the garage fixing the outside refrigerator. Daughter comes out, tells him she's thinks she's going to be ill, so he sends her in to the bathroom but she doesn't make it there.

I get home and because I'm the mom and the dad is spending hours outside trying to fix a sixteen year old refrigerator I start cleaning. Well, first there's the mopping. Then I get to throw away the rugs daughter destroyed. Then there's the sponge-mopping with anticeptic cleaner, then there's the crawling around and cleaning all the collateral damage. Then there's the nursing.
The next day I have it. The day after that, son, a.k.a. Bar Mitzvahzilla, has it. Today I feel a little punchy again but I must have gained a little immunity from all the cleaning of all these years of being a parent because they definitely get it worse than me.

But for 4 days I am laying on my bed, which is apparently the only place my kids can convalesce, with a sick kid - first one and then the other, and then the well one who feels like he or she is being ignored so they have to pile on too, and then the husband because no one's in the rest of the house so it's like the sun has moved from its spot in the sky. But we're looking for something to watch on TV and we watch Nanny 911 twice - which I've never seen before - and I'm chagrined to find that I'm every woman, so to speak. I'm not exactly those women, but there are certain similarities, things I'm not proud of, things that Nanny would give me a stern talking to about and a swift Mary Poppins kick in the behind about if she descended on my house.

In the first show the mom was a perfectionist, unable to enjoy her children because she was so busy nagging them about cleaning up, about all the stuff they were leaving out, destroying, etc. Check. The second time I watched the mom wanted the kids to be independent and grow up yet kind of didn't; she wanted them to glom onto her, to need her enough that she would kind of ruin their relationship with the dad so she could make herself the most-loved parent. Checkmate.

Well. I kind of wish I had just left the station on HGTV. Decorating I can handle, but here was my life, my glaring errors up in front of me. Have I walked through the house noticing only what has been left undone? Have they cleaned and then had me wondering why there was still filth everywhere? Have I created a close relationship with my kids at my husband's expense? I never have these kinds of revelations after watching Househunters.

So without Nanny coming to visit, without Nanny 602, so to speak, coming to visit Arizona, I've seen myself in the face of every mother who's ever slipped and slided. I'm good at this in so many ways, but surely I can bring the things I'm bad at up a level, at least to "fair."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Formerly Fat Me

So the kids are off for their very late Spring Break this year which, because they go to a Jewish Day School, coincides with Passover, and I should be going nuts because I'm getting NOTHING done, right? I mean, my days normally have a structure which involves writing and chores and Jazzercise and my meetings and lunch with friends and then picking them up and taking my son to tutoring, and so this week everything is backwards. Writing? Still waiting to do that today and it's 11 PM. Jazzercise I do every morning at 9:15 like a robot. Chores? My children actually sorted their own laundry today and put it away. Whether it actually made it into their drawers I guess I'll have to go and find out. My meetings I'm attending at night and I'm going to lunch with the kids.

But I guess what's so weird is that I'm kind of happy in a goofy kind of way. I know I had that horrible health scare last week and maybe that's what did it but I just feel so happy this week. I've just been so happy that things are kind of falling into place. The house is getting back together and I have this breathtakingly lovely new office space with wood floors and a great desk and privacy, which is still, somehow, a living room too. I get to write, which is amazing and I'm finishing up my second Gotham on-line class and feel that I've learned a lot about freelancing and am ready to start submitting queries to magazines.

But most of all I feel like I finally, at age 49, look exactly the way I'm supposed to look, like the inside of me is perfectly reflected on the outside. And I know that because I'm a compulsive overeater, that because I found my 12-step program nearly 9 years ago, I dodged a high speed train. Every day that I wake up a normal-sized person, a thin person, is an amazing miracle. I was a 211 pound person; overweight for 25 years, from 15 to 40. I can't believe how lucky I am that I was touched in such a way by such an amazing program; that I didn't have to keep gaining and gaining until - who knows how heavy I would have been by now?

So happy? Yeah. Up alone and writing at 11:20? Yeah. Hopeful? Yeah. And abstinent? One day at a time, for 8 years 37 weeks and 4 days today.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Since I turned 49, I've known that I need a cardiac work up. After all, when your father dies at 48 of a massive heart attack, there's a risk factor in the family, so I knew it was time I had an evaluation. Also, I haven't been breathing that great, even considering my routine asthma.

So my doctor not only agrees, he does an EKG, which was fine. Then he refers me for a CT Scan of my chest. After a week I got tired of waiting for the results so I picked them up. What I expected to find - "Normal chest CT" - wasn't there. Instead there was a report of two nodules, one 3 mm and one 7 mm. So I look up nodules on the Internet and find that they are almost always benign growths but if you have the following factors you could have lung cancer: age over 45, difficulty breathing.

I went into our seder not really knowing if I was living or dying, not that any of us really know that, but not knowing it in a more urgent way. Since having my brain tumor 8 years ago and having to deal with such a horrible, possibly fatal thing, it was amazing how quickly I slipped back into that - into the sadness of having to say goodbye to all this, the regrets of not having gotten everything done. I was a little grateful too that I had gotten that extra eight years. I mean, if I had died 8 years before, my daughter would have been a one-year-old, now she's nine. There was immediately the feeling of not being able to make any plans, of it being too late for everything. And then I thought - of course - I've had 8 years to write and write and still no published book? But maybe the purpose of my life wasn't writing a book, maybe it was something else, like the relationships I've built, or something else.

I managed to get the CT scan over to my pulmonary doctor on Thursday and got an appointment with her for that afternoon. First though, my husband, daughter, son and I had lunch at a restaurant where you order at the counter and are given a number to take to the table. It's just a big, jumbled pile of numbers and the cashier pulled out 18. And I don't mean to be all mystical and other-worldly here, but right then I had no idea if I was going to live or die and I didn't even notice the number at first. I was just carrying it and juggling my drink cup. Then I sat down at the table, looked at the number, and got quite a jolt. The number 18 is "chai" in Hebrew, which means life.

There's this part of the Passover seder where you sing a song called "Dayenu," which means that if God had given me only half of what he gave me, it would have been enough, but look how much more he gave me. In the seder it's applied to all the miracles that happened to the Israelites in the Passover story, but I've never read it without feeling that it's personally
applicable to me.

My doctor reaffirmed life. She said that because the nodules are round and smooth, she's 99.9% sure they're not cancer, most likely they're scar tissue from Valley Fever or a case of pneumonia I never knew I had, but the CT Scan has to be repeated every six months for 2 years to make sure the nodules don't grow. Of course, I'm used to that type of thing. I've been jumping between MRIs for 8 years now, trying to get my children grown. I just have to shrink down my time frame for a while, try to get them older in six month increments for a while.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Lipstick Jungle

Here's how I broke my shopping abstinence - with a lipstick.

I needed a lipstick, a perfectly legitimate purchase. I went to the store, found out my color was discontinued (I've never actually gone to the store and not had my color discontinued - what's with that?) so I was about to pick a new color when the insane thought hit. It said, "Wait! Since we have to buy 2 lipsticks now (one for the purse and one for at home) maybe we should go to Macy's where they have an Estee Lauder free gift!" Did it sound logical? Sure, as logical as the guy in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous who puts booze in his milk when he breaks his sobriety.

Once I brought that bag home with another stupid gift that I will never use and will only give away to one of my six sisters and which contains products and colors that are all wrong for me, I was off and running. On Thursday I had another "legitimate" purchase to make: I need a new desk. Now that I'm putting the living room back together, apparently I need a new configuration, something that won't jinx my book this time when it's submitted to agents or publishers, something that will make it all good, like it was the desk's fault last time.

So I go to the store - or stores in this case. I come back home with a gigantic ottoman and four new bar stools. No desk. If this was booze I'd be laying in a gutter somewhere waking up from a hangover, but it's not. Instead I'm filled with remorse and have to go deposit the $400 I spent in our checking account tomorrow to pay for this stuff. The least I can do is pay for it.

At the weight-related 12-step meeting I was at today someone said that on every page of the Big Book there's something she can use as a prayer, each word in it can be used for a prayer, and I realized that's it: the Big Book is a prayer. And another person said that she didn't need her HP's help with the things she can do, she needs his help with the things she can't, so she's waking up each day and asking for help with those things, the things she can't do and she doesn't even specify what they are, she just lets him work on it. I was sitting there, normal sized for such a long time and sitting next to someone who was quite large. But suffering? Both of us were suffering.