Margit Note’s: We are so thrilled to have Sloane Davidson guest-curate TueNight’s Welcome issue. As the founder of Hello Neighbor, Sloane works tirelessly for the needs of refugee families, helping them acclimate to their everyday lives here in the U.S., by connecting them with neighbors and mentors in their new neighborhoods. So she is particularly apt to edit this edition all about the many paths and journeys to becoming an American citizen. Here’s Sloane:
I have the immense privilege to spend a lot of time with refugee families. As the founder of a nonprofit that supports recently resettled refugees through mentorship, I can often find myself sitting on the floor playing with children, profusely thanking moms for their tea and hospitality, or shaking hands and showing my respect to elders.
But my life wasn’t always like this.
When I became pregnant with my first child, I felt a draw for my unborn child to be around extended family. And so after 16 years of living away, I moved back to Pittsburgh, my beloved hometown, and was of course readily wrapped in my family’s embrace. In my highly hormonal state, I started obsessing over the dichotomy between my experience and those of refugees who are forced to flee their homes, often leaving behind their own extended family support system.
I’ve been a lifelong volunteer and donor to causes I championed; I’ve worked for non profits and sat on boards. I had thought nothing of donating to support women and girls across the world for years—but what about those global citizens who are living right around the corner? How had I not yet had my eyes open to them?
That’s how I became in many ways “patient zero” for the program I run today, inviting a refugee family home for dinner. The meal, aside from changing my life, became the framework for what we do at Hello Neighbor, the organization I founded in 2017. I In two years we’ve matched 95 refugee families from 13 different countries with caring neighbors who guide and support them in their new lives. I often hear that Hello Neighbor is a beacon of hope for those seeking something good in the world.
I’m here to share with you stories of five women who are beacons as well. Women whose families could have been your neighbors. Some who came to this country as small children, or decided to seek American citizenship later in life, or struggled once they were here to simply fit in.
Welcoming can mean a lot of things. And you certainly don’t need permission from anyone to get started. Hold space for those who pray, look, and dress differently than yourself. Push your local schools, hospitals, employers and landlords to value diversity and inclusion, instead of brushing aside people with an accent. Be the kind of neighbor you’d want to have if you were forced to leave everything behind and start anew.
Shh… Sometimes our stories are for select ears only. But for this Spring edition of TueNight Live we were ready to reveal our most clandestine tales. Our theme was “Secret” and we had six readers tell all.
As part of the Invisible Dog Art Center’s Open Studios week, we were proud to pack the house with more than 100 “grown-ass women” and feature artwork by many of the ID’s women artists.
Here are some fabulous photos from the evening’s festivities.
MIngling before the show.
With wine and snacks in hand and friends met, we were ready to start.
Margit kicks us off.
Hitha Hertzog disclosed the first secret of the night: as a closet conservative, she was reconsidering her loyalties.
I can’t tell you exactly why I photographed each of my parents dead in their beds. It seemed important not to let such a moment go undocumented. What if you wanted it back. What if you wanted to see your mother slurp soup one last time, like she did that last day, when she was barely alive?
As soon as I saw her, I knew she was dying. Her hands were swollen to twice their usual size — their long elegance replaced by swollen fruits. Her mouth was open, her eyes closed, and she made a sort of low moaning sound that reminded me of a sound I’d make if I were trying to manage great pain, or a great process, like labor. A doctor came and took her pulse. It was so low that protocol required that she be transported from the nursing home to the hospital. I begged mercy. My mother needed to be done. Done with hospitals, with nursing homes, done with the long process of dying. It had already been years. The doctor said she would let her be, if my siblings all agreed.
I lay my chest to my mother’s chest and kissed her cheek and whispered ‘I love you’ in her ear.
A health aide bustled into the room and wanted to give my mother some soup. I was annoyed by the interruption and wanted to wail: Soup? You think she is going to eat soup? Have you looked at her fruit hands?Heard her ancient dying sounds?
“I don’t think she is in any condition to eat,” I sniffed.
“She will eat,” smiled the lady, sphinx-like. “She loves to eat. You’ll see.”
Did these ladies own my mother now? Had I given up claim to her by not being here enough? Had they stepped in to rub her feet and feed her soup? I took my shame down the long linoleum hall, past the occasional wafts of human excrement and disinfectant, to the family room to call my siblings. On the way back another health aide greeted me. “You must be Barbara’s daughter,” she said. “You look just like her!”
This was unnerving. Everything here was unnerving: the fluorescent lights; the elementary school decorations adorning the hallways; the fact that patient names were written on white boards on the bedroom doors, so easily erased. Before I arrived, someone had parted my mother’s silver hair straight down the middle, and made two tiny French braids starting at the crown and traveling back towards her ears in a deep V. I admit she looked cool, like an ancient Nordic princess, with her high cheekbones and long nose. But I didn’t like it. It was nothing like what my mother would ever have worn. It looked like she was being dressed for a ritual.
When I retuned to her room, Mom was propped up against her pillows, a towel draped across her chest and lap, slurping soup off a spoon held patiently to her lips. She was not passive about it. Her lips actively searched for the spoon she could no longer see, like a baby searching for a nipple, eager for the flavor, eager for the nourishment, the pleasure of the weak broth on the warm spoon. She sucked the soup into her mouth, feeding herself, feeding her body.
I was stunned to see this. My mother was too frail to speak more than a word or two, too frail to keep her eyes open, barely alive, yet she here she was, eating soup. Was this the body’s reflexive drive to live, or was this my mother’s determination to stay? Her desire for comfort? For one last pleasure?
When it was time for me to go that evening, I lay my chest to my mother’s chest and kissed her cheek and whispered “I love you” in her ear. She could no longer form crisp words, but sort of sang it back to me, in three syllables, so I understood.
My mother didn’t see another dawn; by dawn she would be dead, her silver hair brushed out on the pillow. I’d taken out the braids before I Ieft, and dampened her hair, and smoothed out the kinks. Now I wished I hadn’t. Now, in the photo I secretly took when my siblings and family finally left the room, and that I secretly keep on my phone, she just looks like a little old lady, dead in her bed. Now I wish I had sent her off with her silver warrior braids intact. I wish I’d dressed her in deerskins and beads, given her a bow and arrow made of birch and silver and a white fur blanket, and a thermos full of soup.
Beyond the bio: A few years ago, after being deeply disappointed by Fifty Shades of Grey, I decided to challenge myself by writing an erotica book under a pen name. Lo and behold, I got a book deal out of it. Learning to knit would have been an easier hobby, but this one certainly made for more interesting small talk at parties.
What makes you a grown-ass lady? I’ve done decades of therapy and personal work, which has taught me to own my own baggage and birth my own becoming. I’m not participating in other people’s games anymore and I’m not waiting for anyone to save me.
Here’s her TueNight 10:
1. On the nightstand: My fully stocked Kindle, as well as a glass of water, lip balm, and lotion (‘cause it’s winter in Minnesota).
2. Can’t stop/won’t stop: Feeling empathy for others.
3. Jam of the minute: The soundtrack of my pandemic has been chill electronica and classical music. I’m not currently jamming; I’m cocooning.
4. Thing I miss: Civil discord.
5. ’80s crush: All of the dudes in all of the John Hughes movies…plus Prince (I’m from Minnesota).
6. Current crush: Glennon Doyle (I just finished Untamed).
7. Latest fave find: The Libby app and the site Netgalley. Both keep me in free books to fuel my ridiculous reading habit.
8. Last thing you lost: Any interest in continuing to dye my grey hair.
9. Best thing that happened recently: I did a lot of get-out-the-vote work this past election, particularly in key battleground states. To join thousands of other tireless volunteers in that effort and to see it pay off was deeply satisfying.
10. Looking forward to: Vaccinations, my extroverted daughter returning to school someday, and my next evolution.
Basic bio: Eva is a Gen-X storyteller who co-founded and leadsTMI Project, a non-profit that helps people divulge the “TMI” parts of their stories that they usually leave out. She also co-hosts the TMI Project Podcast, which features true stories by people from historically underrepresented populations often overlooked by mainstream media.
Beyond the bio: One of the most rewarding parts of doing the work I do is seeing what storytellers look like when they step off the stage. It often looks like they’re floating out of the theater. They look taller; lighter. It’s as if something has truly been lifted. To be able to witness that repeatedly fills my spirit. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.
What makes you a grown-ass lady? I finally make life choices based on what serves me best and what I’m actually capable of, rather than based on what I expect I should be able to do, or what I think others expect from me.
Here’s her TueNight 10:
1. On the nightstand: Phone, lots of jewelry I haven’t worn in nearly a year, empty vials of Omega 3 infused with melatonin, my glasses (progressives, of course), water, and possibly a puppy harness.
2. Can’t stop/won’t stop: I won’t stop working with people to share the stories they need to tell in order to free themselves of the burdens of shame and stigma.
3. Jam of the minute: I’m obsessed with a dance class I take a few times a week; it’s my middle-aged way of going clubbing. My current favorite song to dance to is “Cunanga” by Os Paulatinamente.
4. Thing I miss: Hugging my nephew and holding my niece.
5. ’80s crush: Prince.
6. Current crush: Prince (and Lizzo, but it will always be Prince forever!).
7. Latest fave find: This Zyllion Shiatsu heated back and neck massager! It’s helped these months when bodywork has been hard to come by.
8. Last thing you lost: When I’m stressed the first thing I lose is word retrieval.
I looked at the calendar and couldn’t believe it had been five months. Five months since the last time I had gone on what had been a daily, one-hour walk. I could feel the changes, too, and it scared me. My body missed the exercise: I was more agitated lately and having trouble falling asleep. During the day, my legs were cramping and I felt tired. Things just didn’t feel right, and I knew much of this fatigue and discomfort was caused by lack of exercise. I knew the importance of daily movement for health and emotional well being.
But every day, something got in the way of my walk. Even if the first thing I promised myself when I woke up was that I would walk. But here it was, almost half a year since I had exercised.
I have been active my entire life, which made it even harder to believe that I had become someone who didn’t move. For the first time in my life, the excuses were winning and it all boiled down to one thing: my belief that I had no time.
It was easy to fall out of step, I can see that now. When my children were younger, my walks were taken care of with them in a stroller. Later, with them alongside me on bikes. As they grew into junior high and high school, I thought my schedule would evolve into more time for me. I was surprised when the opposite happened; their school, sports and after-school activities increased and, thinking I would have more time in my day, I had increased my hours at work. Life became about getting from one place to another with pit stops in between — and none of them by foot. And somewhere in that frenetic pace, I had lost my hour for walking.
I feel focused and clear-minded; I can focus my attention or let my thoughts drift. My time is mine when I walk, and in it, everything comes together.
That day I had my reckoning while looking at the calendar was over two years ago, and on that day, I said no more. I stood at the mirror and looked at myself. Out loud, I made a promise to not shove good health aside or think it was something guaranteed. I promised to stop thinking of myself as a machine that needs no maintenance. I would stop grabbing whatever was handy to eat as I ran from home to work and to school for the kids. I would stop racking up hours spent sitting working without any break to get up and move around. I would keep these promises and change how I was living. To hold me to my word, I bought a discounted floor-model treadmill so the weather couldn’t become another excuse.
And I promised I would never again let months pass without movement.
I went for my walk this morning, as I’ve done for the past two years. Everyone was still in bed, but my youngest heard me up and came downstairs.
“Why are you up so early, mom?” he asked. “It’s still dark.”
“That’s Daylight Savings Time, and I can’t use the dark as an excuse. You know I take my walks. Remember I asked you to never let me miss a day of walking?” I asked.
He nodded, “I remember. I’ll wait for you here until you get back. But I might fall asleep on the sofa.”
“I’ll be back in one hour,” I called out as I headed for the door. “Then we’ll talk about what we want to do today.”
I closed the door behind me and took my first steps out into the fresh cold morning air. It was dark, but soon it would be sunrise and I would be back home before the rest of my family was awake. I would have gotten my walk in, and the feeling of having cared for myself would buoy me the rest of the day. One hour of my thoughts coming together while my heart and lungs pumped. One hour of keeping a pace fast enough where my breath came in pants. One hour of feeling stronger in spirit, mind, and body. I feel focused and clear-minded; I can focus my attention or let my thoughts drift. My time is mine when I walk, and in it, everything comes together.
Two years ago, exercise became a struggle and was easily put aside for any excuse, but I have taught myself that walking is not an option. It’s a must-do. And now that I associate it with so many rewards — the peace, the time away, the visualization of a healthy mind and body — I have come to look forward to the time spent walking.
Walking makes me feel alive and vibrant. With every step that pushes me forward, my legs move one in front of the other, my muscles tightening. My arms swing and my feet move, taking me away from all that waits for me at home and work.
But this is not escape; it is a path to a quiet place where I feel my heartbeat along with the early morning sounds around me. I am replenished and led back to the space where I connect to my deepest self.
Tomorrow, I will wake and walk again. And I can’t wait.
Cross stitch made by “SP,” the woman who came to Erin’s rescue on day one. (Photo courtesy Erin Street)
Krystal and Cristal — it was the tradition my husband and I shared for 15 years. For those unfamiliar, Krystal is a hamburger chain headquartered in Dunwoody, Georgia. And Cristal, well, you know that’s champagne. It’s a purposeful mix of “high-low,” born on our first New Year’s together when, without a reservation, my husband and I grabbed a sackful of Krystal burgers and champagne, December 31, 2001.
The tradition evolved in subsequent years. We ate the burgers off Lenox china gifted to us for our wedding, then on a silver tray once at a dinner party, and then the tiny burgers were cut into quarters for our small son. This year, La Croix will be substituted for Cristal. Because this year, I quit drinking for good.
It used to be that I would feel sorry for the person who wasn’t drinking. How could I have a New Year’s Eve? How could I have any kind of Friday — or Tuesday for that matter?
This year’s toast is not about the things that I have lost. Drinking worked until it didn’t. It was how I coped with life’s stresses, accomplishments and joys. It kept me running on fumes when I was working too much. It soothed me while my mother was hospitalized. It fueled many a dinner party, business meeting, deadline. I thought it represented freedom.
How free could I be?
Answer: not at all — not when I was drinking.
When I was drinking, including those champagne-filled New Year’s (my husband stopped after a glass, and I finished the bottle), the results were always the same. At best, I felt like shit the next day. At worst, I couldn’t remember the night before. In hindsight, I see it for what it was: a predictable, self-destructive script. One that some never do escape.
But back to the future. This year, I toast to the people who have shown me that sobriety gives us everything alcohol promised. I toast to the woman who answered my cry on a secret Facebook group the morning after I relapsed, lonely and broken in a hotel room thousands of miles from home. My friend “SP” said, “Put on your tennis shoes; we’re going for a walk.” And she led me out of that hotel, one foot in front of the next.
Now I toast to a life in which I don’t have to run from anything. Instead, I run toward.
We walked across a bridge over the Colorado River toward a smoothie shop. And when I said, “I don’t know if there’s a way out,” she assured me that yes there was. She didn’t tell me what to do next — just listened and offered up feedback when I asked questions. People in recovery are good listeners, especially those with some time under their belts.
Back at home, another friend, “SW” listened to me on her porch and in coffee shops and while I sat in rush hour traffic on the way home from work. She said nothing I would tell her would be shocking. She led me deeper through the steps of recovery and assured me that at my loneliest, my most uncomfortable, my most in pain (sobriety has also brought a realization of the chronic physical pain I’ve grappled with for years) — that there was only one way to get through it, and that involved facing every single broken and every single beautiful part of myself.
Now I toast to a life in which I don’t have to run from anything. Instead, I run toward.
This year, I told the world that I am a person in long-term recovery, doing that without shame because there is no shame (or shouldn’t be) in owning that you have a disease. I refuse to live in shame, a force that held me under for so long.
I run with this tribe of badass sober warriors now. And lest you think we sit around and talk about the sauce all day, let me share: We don’t. We talk about the things we’re making — the books we’re writing, the kids we’re raising, the trips we are taking (and actually remembering.) We do talk about navigating life in a culture that normalizes drinking at every given chance and learning how to live in not just sobriety but recovery, which I believe is a radical act.
I toast to the women who ask, “Now that we’ve wrestled and reckoned with our past selves, what shall our future selves do?”
For me, next year that life means jumping into my first full year of my 40s. It means raising a 10-year-old, preparing to see my brother get married in Tuscany, helping my parents downsize from the home in which they’ve lived for 20 years. It means showing up for the people who need me the most. It means continuing to tell my story out loud in the hopes that it will help another woman who is struggling.
So maybe this really isn’t a toast. Maybe it’s a raised fist in solidarity with a generation of women who have or will put down the bottle to become their true selves. The women who listen to the voice within themselves that says, “You were made for more than this” and then fight for that.
Maybe it’s not a toast; maybe it’s hands raised in prayer. One of thanks for second and third and fourth chances.
Maybe it’s hands reaching for a door, welcoming in the women who need to hear the message that there is hope. In my home, it looks like a family on New Year’s, eating tiny Krystal burgers and drinking sparkling water.
There’s always room for one more here. Consider this your invitation.
We can’t travel. No one outside of our pods should come over. We’re grieving all of the people lost to COVID. Money is tight. The general feeling is: “This year f**king sucks.” But we’ve gotten this far; we can definitely make it from here to New Year’s. Not sure what to do? Here’s our game plan:
1. Watch Movies
(Photo: Ida Elise Broch stars in Home for Christmas on Netflix)
Yes, we’ve been bingeing every TV show we can get our hands on since March, but there are some old (and new) favorites we love to watch this time of year:
You may not be going home for the holidays but you can still celebrate with your favorite treats and traditions. Here’s a few from TueNighters’ families:
🇸🇪 Swedish Christmas Eve Rice Pudding
“I’m named for my grandmother Margit whose parents came from Sweden. My Mom has kept a few of the Swedish holiday traditions in our family from meatballs for dinner and pancakes with lingonberries for breakfast. Here is Christmas Eve dessert, rice pudding. We have it every year and my Mom always hides an almond in the rice pudding. Diners each compose and recite a short poem before they are served rice pudding. And the person who gets the almond has good luck in the coming year.” — Margit, Founder
Bring 1 1/2 cups water and 1/8 teaspoon salt to boil in a 4-quart pot. Stir in 3/4 cup short-grained rice. Cover and simmer until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Stir in milk, half & half, and sugar. Stir continuously until steamy, then reduce to low heat, cover, until mixture looks like thick soup, about 1 hour. Whisk eggs and egg whites with vanilla and salt in a separate bowl, then add to the rice mixture. Do not let boil; stir about 1-2 minutes on low heat so temperature reaches 160-170 degrees. Add one blanched almond. Remove from heat. Place pudding into a heat-proof container and cover surface (contact) with plastic wrap to prevent thickened surface. Cool for about 1 hour. Sprinkle with cinnamon if desired. Makes enough for 8 adults and 4 kids. Let kids help stir and add the almond.
🍤 Ceviche Mixto
“My dad is from Peru and ceviche is a holiday staple for my family. My cousin and I have been competing for years to see who makes it best — since I can’t seem to beat her traditional recipe, I like to experiment a bit with different flavors and textures.” — Jen, Project Manager
1 lb. each octopus, squid, and shrimp (or firm white fish like tilapia cut into small cubes)
1 small red onion, diced
1 habanero or jalapeno pepper, seeded
2-3 cloves garlic (optional)
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
Salt to taste
In a large bowl or pan, mix sliced octopus and squid with your raw fish and/or shrimp. Squeeze fresh limes over the seafood; add diced red onion, whole chile pepper, plus salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Add chopped or whole garlic (if using) and orange bell pepper. Mix well and make sure the seafood is covered by the lime juice. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight (even better!), mixing occasionally to make sure everything “cooks” properly in the citrus. The shrimp will turn nice and pink just like when you cook them on the stove, but will not shrink as much.
☕ Nannie’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake
“Every Christmas, my beloved Nannie would make a sour cream coffee cake for each of her children’s families. Mine was always special because she left out those icky walnuts. Since she passed 13 years ago, I’ve taken up the mantle and I make those cakes and deliver them on Christmas Eve.” — Heather, Story Editor
For topping, mix together
1 cup sugar
1/2 chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla, and sour cream, mix well. Add remaining ingredients to batter and mix well. Pour 1/2 of batter into a buttered Bundt pan. Sprinkle on half the topping mixture. Add remaining batter and sprinkle with remaining topping mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on rack for about 15 minutes and then transfer to a plate.
🍞 Creme Brulee French Toast
A favorite of our Social Media Editor Brooke Hubbard and her family. Perfect for early morning couch lounging. Recipe from Delish.com
🍲 Mashed Potatoes and Green Peas
As told by Margaret Crandall, Newsletter Editor: Step 1: Make mashed potatoes. Step 2: Put green peas on top.
Some of us are delighted that staying home means saving money on presents. But some of us will miss gift-giving the most. In that case, create a Secret Santa list on Elfster.com. We’ve tried it; it’s legit.
5. Get on a Group Zoom Call
OK, fine. We’re all a little sick of being on video calls, but if you’re missing friends and family (or they’re missing you), have a virtual meet up. You don’t even have to pretend you’re wearing pants!
No one thinks this year hasn’t sucked, harder for some than others. But, if you can take a moment to find the positives in your life to focus on, the negative things can take a little holiday.
7. Do Something for Someone Else
Bring a box of non-perishables to your local food pantry — they’re in need more than ever right now.
Get your craft on: Knit or crochet a variety of wares to help children and adults with cancer, veterans, and the homeless. Treehugger.com and Better Homes & Gardens pulled together a list of organizations that need your help.
Donate to your favorite charity — not doubt they are struggling to meet their 2020 fundraising goals.
Enjoy the season TueNighters! We’ll be under blankets drinking glug.
Basic bio: Tracey Baker-Simmons is a film and television executive, and a pioneer of reality television. (She created the Bravo reality series Being Bobby Brown, starring controversial music legends Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston, which just celebrated its 15-year anniversary.) She will be releasing her “Making Reality TV” Master Course early next year.
Beyond the bio: Turning 50 made me realize that legacy is important and I do need to focus on the body of work that I leave behind that bears my name. So in this new season of my life I find it quite refreshing to say “no, that doesn’t interest me” and only accept work that challenges and fulfills me as a creative.
What makes you a grown-ass lady? I drink as I please, I curse when needed, speak my mind and apologize later if warranted and I honestly believe there is a God that is looking out for me. Most importantly I have grown to learn to be comfortable in my own skin and that is my superpower.
1. On the nightstand: My small iPad with my books. I’m currently reading Barack Obama’s A Promised Land.
2. Can’t stop/won’t stop: Eating chocolate-covered almonds and drinking red wine.
My husband grew up Jewish, and when we started dating, it fell to me to introduce him to Christmas as full-fledged participant, rather than exasperated outside witness. He couldn’t have chosen a better person to adopt Christmas with. With my cookie-making, casserole-baking, community-volunteering tendencies, I’ve been in bootcamp for Christmas mentorship my whole life.
But even I was unprepared for how much more fun—how defiantly extra—Christmas could be with someone who’d never had it. On a frosty morning in December, my brand-new Christmas Jew and I were the first customers at the neighborhood tree stand. We struggled back to our studio apartment with a tree no less than five feet in diameter, coated it in lights and tinsel, and spent the day sitting on the couch, staring at it.
We were just getting started. Reader, we roasted a Christmas goose. Have you ever tried roasting a goose? Don’t. We ate roasted chestnuts, also disgusting. We went to the Messiah, and my Jewish boyfriend stood up and bellowed “Haaaale-lujah!” with the best of them. We adopted Operation Santa kids, ice skated in Rockefeller Center under the tree, got properly stupefied by the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular. We listened to the funky, utterly bizarre “Al Green Christmas” album on repeat. We sat in a hot tub wearing Santa hats and drinking eggnog, which turned out to be a tactical error.
On Christmas Eve, we watched It’s a Wonderful Life, an experience we both feel is holier than church. Is there anything more volcanically hot than the way Jimmy Stewart nuzzles Donna Reed’s temple while they share a telephone receiver and try not to jump each other? (Answer: No. There is not.)
Christmas, we decided, is for everybody. There is no one group of people with a priority claim on joy, on generosity, on secretly wanting a threeway with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. The best parts of Christmas, the inclusive and delicious and dorky and twinkly and jingly parts, belong to humans—thanks to those much earlier humans who were clever enough to realize that what we really need, in a time of year when it’s otherwise cold and dark, is a giant tree covered in lights.
Take as much joy as you can scoop up, because like snow, joy is a fragile thing. It melts.
Every year, Christmas comes at a time when we really need it. It’s all about giving and getting and eating and singing, and it makes everybody act like a decent human being for once. Regardless of your background, the good parts of it belong to you, if you want them. The message of Christmas is this: Take as much joy as you can scoop up, because like snow, joy is a fragile thing. It melts.
In the years that followed my husband’s induction into the holiday season, Christmas-with-a-side-of-Hanukkah continued to be our favorite time of year. We were unapologetic over-holidayers. Christmas was an intensely satisfying two-week blitz, after which we smoked a cigarette and got up to shower.
And then we had a kid.
Our daughter is the joy of our life, a small person who—even though she is sometimes a jerk—reminds us not to be jerks. In that way, she is like Christmas, except she never buys us presents because she is eight years old and broke. But she makes presents for us, out of whatever little bits she has lying around, and they are always sweet and a little bit garbagey—again, a lot like Christmas itself.
As it happens, our daughter’s favorite holiday activity is the same as ours: Sitting on the couch with the music on low, staring at the Christmas tree as it blinks back at us.
But now, as parents, there are so many Christmas traditions to observe we need extra time to fit them all in: Getting our retinas seared by the Dyker Heights Christmas lights. Ice skating and drinking cocoa, even though you’re all sweaty from exertion and the last thing you want is a hot drink. Stressing episodes of the “Holiday Baking Championship” together. Setting up an Advent calendar and then promptly forgetting about it. As interfaith parents, we do Hanukkah, too: Frying up latkes, lighting the menorah, unwrapping eight days of presents, gambling for chocolate. (As our daughter observed, “The biggest difference between Hanukkah and Christmas is that Hanukkah makes you work for candy.”)
With our daughter as our enthusiastic teammate, we got our family over-holidaying down to a science, emerging triumphant after New Year’s Day surrounded by torn wrapping paper and pine needles and melted candle wax, with powdered sugar around our mouths and no money for gas.
And then my mother got sick.
My mother loved Christmas, but with the restraint and good sense she brought to most things. She enjoyed getting her grandkids more presents than they could open without going full tweaker, but she left most of the planning and the jingly activities to us. She knew it meant more to us than it did to her.
The holidays had a specific meaning for her, though: what we native Midwesterners call “making things nice.” The first year of my mother’s fight with cancer, my husband and daughter and I arrived at her house the day before Christmas Eve to find her sitting on the couch surrounded by unopened boxes of shipped gifts, the fridge empty, the cupboards bare, the tree and all the Christmas trappings still out in the garage. It looked like the Grinch had fleeced her. She just hadn’t had the energy to deal with any of it, however much she wanted to. She was exhausted, miserable: “I’m sorry I couldn’t make anything nice for you before you got here.”
It was, of course, our privilege and our pleasure to elf the problem away in record time, cleaning and wrapping and shopping and caring for her. Mom couldn’t have chosen a better Christmas SWAT team, with our years of training in precision-choreographed over-holidaying. We had a happy, quiet Christmas, most of which she spent on the couch, bundled up in a blanket, drifting in and out of sleep.
In the years that my mom was dying, for the first time, I knew what people meant when they said Christmas was stressful, painful, too much.But we needed it. God, we needed loveliness and joy and the smell of cinnamon candles. We needed “making nice,” so badly. It was the darkest season and we needed light.
I feel like I need to explain where it comes from, this insistence on seeking light in dark places. It comes from my mother. In her lifetime, my mother survived some crushing tragedies and setbacks—this wasn’t even her first bout with cancer—but the relentless catalog of dark times, so far from crushing her, made her stronger. She worked her way to the top of her industry in a fulfilling, forty-year career, got two daughters through college on her own, traveled, partied, and made meaningful friendships. She loved living in California, where she’d moved for work, and where she once commented, “I’m lucky to have cancer here. Can you imagine dragging yourself in for chemo in a place where it’s not always 65 degrees and sunny?” That kind of comment was pure mom.
This year, we face our first Christmas without my mother. I am struggling. It’s clear what she would want us to do, if only for her grandkid’s sake: Dive in headfirst and not stop singing Christmas carols until we reach the bottom. I don’t know if I can do it. Most days what I really want to do is nap. I am heartbroken. I look around, and everywhere I see complete, healthy, whole families, and I am filled with such bitterness, such unaccustomed hatred. I am in the dark.
My mother would say, put on White Christmas. She would say, feel grateful. You are blessed. You don’t have to have cancer in a place with shitty weather. Yes, bad things have happened to you. But you are not defined by them. You are defined by the light that you find in the dark. What you need, among other things, is a big tree with lights on it.
If there is one group of people with a priority claim on light and joy and generosity and tinsel, on Christmas, it may be the people who really need it. But the truth is, we are all those people. We are living in dark times, and we need to reach for good wherever it can be found, even in twinkly, jingly, dorky over-holidaying.
Basic bio:Teresa is a shibori artist who uses indigo as her medium. She is a maker, creator, collector, and Japan traveler who draws on her fashion and photography background to combine traditional Japanese techniques with her vision as a non-Japanese to create functional textiles. She’s always on the quest for the tastiest soba.
Beyond the bio: Once I left my comfy job of 22 years and took off to Japan, I never looked back. Trusting my heart and taking a leap of faith with the support of my mother and dear friends, I am filled with gratitude. I’ve learned that the more I let go and live by trusting and following my heart, the more connected I feel to the universe and everyone in it. I’m able to differentiate when I try to control things and focus (ie. in my work and slow down) and when to move through the world freely. Our lives are awesome and I’m happy living it (cue my grown ass lady tears now…pass the Kleenex).
What makes you a grown-ass lady? Being comfortable in my own skin and doing things that make my heart sing to live my truth. Not doing things to please others or fill their exceptions to define or make me likable.
4. Thing I miss: Since I can’t travel to Japan because of Covid: Japanese food, clothing, antique markets, behaviors, and sensibility.
5. ’80s crush: I can’t even remember what i did on which day last week or even what today is but because I saw an Instagram post this morning… this was a definite YES: Jim Morrison. OK so he’s not ‘80s BUT I listened to him in the ‘80s and wished he’d existed in my time. I mean… that jawline alone then the hair and the styling. #inspiration #hot. Yowza.
6. Current crush: Believe it or not, a Bumble match (who currently lives in Maine).
7. Latest fave find: I find stuff all the time. But if i think i can make it, i’ll try to rather than buy it. One recent find is a lanyard type phone case from XOUXOU. Of course a project on my list is to make a new lanyard to attach to the case, Teresa style.
8. Last thing you lost: Jeez, I misplace stuff all the time, too. But i think my dog’s collar fell off. I can’t find it! Ruht rohhh.
9. Best thing that happened recently: Meeting a like-minded, free-spirited person on Bumble and the Burton release of a project I worked on with them over a year before the drop.
10. Looking forward to: More 5-hour phone calls with the Bumble guy. Kidding not kidding but he often lives in Maine. But seriously looking forward to going to Japan again to see all my friends, immerse my hands in sukumo (true indigo vat), rummage thru antique markets and EAT!
Not to brag, but I was something of a step-aerobics queen in the 1990s. (Don’t remember step classes? Think Zumba but with a plastic riser, here it comes, to step on.) Perhaps that’s why my mother-in-law — who otherwise had unerring style — gave me an all-in-one, boldly floral Spandex leotard-and-capri-leggings get-up designed specifically for “steppers.” I know this because “Steppers!” was written across the butt. It even came with a matching headband. There is a photo of me wearing it, dutifully, while standing in front of a Christmas tree, wrapping paper strewn about my ankles.
That was my moment of clarity: holiday gift-giving is not great because of the gift-giving. The December holidays, birthdays and Valentine’s Day are all preceded by a mad scramble to find “something special,” or in my family, increasingly irate texts: “What do you want?” “You haven’t told me what you want!”
What I want is to not exchange gifts.
And this year, engaging in activities guaranteed to deepen our debt and increase our stress seems almost masochistic. That’s COVID’s job! But be forewarned, if you do decide to forgo gift-giving, you will miss out on the following rituals:
That was my moment of clarity: holiday gift-giving is not great because of the gift-giving.
You know the lyric: “I have no gift to bring, pah-rum-pah-pum-pum?” Exactly. You give me something and I give you nothing.
3. The link exchange
You send me a link to exactly what you want; I send you a link to exactly what I want. Two clicks later, both gifts are paid for, wrapped ($3 extra) and on a truck. This super-speedy scenario promises zero margin for error. But aren’t we really just swapping credit card charges?
4. The “you can take it back if you don’t like it” gift
Thank you! So what you’ve given me is a… task!
5. The cash-only Christmas
I’m Italian. We love giving cash. But the cost differentials (see #1) are that much more obvious (obviously). And being remote means, well, Venmo. For a nephew’s birthday this year, I sent him $50 via Venmo. To be, you know, thoughtful, I added a little birthday emoji. And felt like a monster.
6. The gag gift
Help me out here: How should one react to receiving a stuffed frog in Santa drag that sings “Jingle Bells Rock?” Anyone?
7. The workplace Secret Santa
This ritual is fun because you get to drink at the office while giving gag gifts (see #6) to your colleagues. To be hyper-clear, the drinking is the fun part. Collectively, the gifts are a pile of crap. And this year it’s virtual? Have so, so much fun without me.
The bottom line is this: Unless the gift recipient is 10 years old or younger, you really can’t win.
At best, you’re following orders. At worst, you’re handing over something that says, “the thing in this box is a proxy for what and how much you mean to me while reflecting what I believe to be your taste and style.” Put that way, it’s no wonder I found those step-aerobics togs deflating. And why you promptly pitched that Marshall’s candle I gave you into your office’s Secret Santa pile.
So if I’m on your list for a holiday gift (any holiday!), let’s skip all of the above and go out to dinner at a local restaurant. Or order in… Either way, let’s tip extravagantly as our way of ensuring happy holidays to all, and to all a good night. Deal?
Oh, 1996: The time in which my eighth year of life on this Earth came to an end and my ninth began. I had begun to take school seriously (#honorrollgoals), spent most of my time in dance class and didn’t care about too much more than my coke bottle glasses and whatever new sneakers were coming out for the week that I could sport on casual Fridays (the perks of being a private school girl.)
The year was also a pretty fantastic time for television. I still frequently hear that television kills brain cells and that it’s an idiot box, but I have always begged to differ. Like any kind of media you consume, it can be either imbecilic or informative and, though a balance is best, there’s absolutely no reason why you cannot take any major keys from the telly. I’m still gleaning some epic lessons from television and fondly remember the messages I received from the good old year of 1996. Here are a few from some of the legendary (well, in my mind at least) series that debuted that year:
Lesson #1: Feelings are strange, but they’re some of the best parts of being a human.
How many shows have there been about aliens? I don’t have enough digits to count them all. Humans have been fascinated with extraterrestrials since we figured out that we were just one of many planets in the universe. We very clearly have no idea what these space-residing beings think of us, where they currently live, nor their ways of life, but 3rd Rock From the Sun attempted to showcase the humor of just how preposterous humankind looks from their perspective. There is undoubtedly nothing as strange and (at times) confusing as feelings: the kind that start coursing through every fiber of your being at nine years old and only continue to escalate for the next decade and beyond. The series taught me that emotion is peculiar and often doesn’t make a bit of sense (3rd Rock’s pentad struggle with the overwhelming onslaught of emotion they experience on Earth compared with their stoic existence on their own planet), but it’s one of the best parts of humankind. Though bad sensations can seem to suffocate you in their grasp — like the nasty divorce my parents had gone through not long before — emotions like excitement, enjoyment and affection have the power to imbue a kind of happiness into your life that erases all of that, even just temporarily.
Lesson #2: Superpowers seem really cool, but there aren’t really any shortcuts to making good things happen for you in your life.
I mean, how many girls are you going to find who are smart, spunky, good at sports, have great hair, an amazing wardrobe and leave boys quivering in their wake?
Confession: I’m still very obsessed with witches. There’s just something about the connection to nature, sisterhood and that everlasting struggle between good and evil that moves me. Though I had seen countless films about the conjurers, Sabrina the Teenage Witch made it all very real and mundane for me — she was just a girl trying to get through high school, shake off the haters, like a cute boy (and have him like her back) and navigate her wacky but loving family. Sounds very much like my life then…and now. Sabrina got in the habit of trying to right her wrongs and speed up the living process by using magic, but with almost every spell she found that there are disastrous results when you try to shortcut your way through existence — sometimes immediately and sometimes when it came back to bite her months later. Though getting to the good stuff is a long journey and dwelling on your mistakes seems to last a lifetime, there are no bypasses or timesavers when it comes to what’s meant for you. You just have to keep your head down and do the work.
Lesson #3: Having siblings doesn’t make you a better or more considerate person.
I went through bouts of wanting a younger sister or brother throughout my childhood mostly because people touted it as this amazing opportunity to always have someone to play with. I was at the age where the pressure to conform is pulsing through your brain constantly, so I was feeling a serious case of FOMO about not having a sibling around. Well, that was until I saw 7th Heaven. For one, that house was busy as hell! It did seem fun to always have something going on and someone on whom you could cast the blame, but you also had no semblance of privacy, an added layer of complication and opinion and someone always in your business. Being met with the “only child” trope whenever I discussed my family gave me a bit of a complex, but it didn’t take me long to realize that that syndrome was only a cop-out for those who would grow up to be selfish and inconsiderate, no matter how many siblings they had or didn’t have. All of your interpersonal relationships shape who you are, related or not.
Lesson #4: Family will drive you nuts, but they do indeed have your back through the world’s incessant crap.
I’ll never grow tired of shows that showcase life at its realest points, from those who work in service positions to series that simply depict the inner workings of families. No, the picture isn’t always pretty, but there’s always something to take away from it all because, let’s be honest, anything comprised of people will always change and remain somewhat elusive. I’ll also never be exhausted by black families onscreen, especially those that most closely resemble my upbringing and can help me unpack what that meant then and continues to mean now. The Jamie Foxx Show injected humor into the everyday. Jamie was insufferable and sometimes delusional in his pursuits, but his aunt and uncle were always there for him and he was just as supportive in return. There’s more comfort in that than any other feeling.
Lesson #5: Cherish your BFFs with all you have, but do try to prevent them from doing stupid sh*t.
I’ve gone through a few best friends in my life — I think everyone has right? It’s not something I pride myself on or that I wish to do anymore, but people change and your relationships do as well. Almost all the shows on Nickelodeon centered on friendship, which was pretty pivotal for a girl who valued her close companions as much as I did. Few were closer than Kenan & Kel, to the point that you could hardly say one’s name without immediately uttering the other’s. They got themselves into some pretty zany situations, as you do when you’re living on burgers and orange soda. Some were simply hilarious and others gave me pause and made me wonder why Kenan (the markedly more reasonable one) would let Kel do such wild and crazy things. We cannot control our friends — they’re people who need to live and learn as we do — but we can do our duty and warn them about harm. (Though I limit my warnings to two.) It’s something I still do today in my personal life, and hopefully my favorite girls and guys love me for it.
Lesson #6: Move far enough away from your parents that you can dictate how often you see them.
I’m not sure what the average age most people move out on their own is, but I moved out when I was 25. When I was a kid, I thought I’d be married by 23…so clearly reality didn’t live up to my initial expectations. Even from a young age, I knew there was something special about striking out on your own. I figured I’d stay in NYC (it’s truly one of the best, and I’ve been everywhere), but wasn’t certain I’d move into the actual city — the boroughs still hold my heart. I am blessed to not have an overbearing parent who breathes down my neck at every turn or is unsupportive or cynical in the face of my ambitions like Raymond Barone. I thank every single God and the entirety of the universe for that daily. Nevertheless, Everybody Loves Raymond taught me that distance does indeed make the heart grow fonder, so I learned to put a sizable amount of space between my mother and I despite all her goodness. Now, I’m just a 40-minute Lyft ride away.
Lesson #7: No matter what, always be a Patty Mayonnaise.
As a journalist, the number of fictive heroines I’ve drawn inspiration from in my life is vast and constantly growing. One who I always come back around to is that of the inimitable Patty Mayonaise from Doug. I mean, how many girls are you going to find who are smart, spunky, good at sports, have great hair, an amazing wardrobe and leave boys quivering in their wake? I still resolve to channel my inner Patty and keep her outward-facing as much as I can. I’m also still in search of a Doug Funnie, but that’s another discussion for another day.
Lesson #8: It’s ok to be superficial…for, like, 30 minutes a day.
Clueless is iconic. I watched the film as often as I could and thanked both the sartorial and television gods when it was turned into a show. It was an escape from reality for me: Homework was clearly not a focus, nor were sports, dancing or extracurriculars. Well, unless you count shopping and rolling with the homies as real activities. I became quite focused on my path in school early on, thus Cher and Dionne’s quests let me detach and just have fun for a second. Yes, books are fun, but clothes and boys are equally as enjoyable. It’s okay to indulge and keep things on the surface just a little bit each day. Pretty things make me smile and, though they’re not the only things in the world, they’re definitely worth noticing.
Lesson #9: Women have the best senses of humor.
I’m still quite in awe of Tracey Ullman. She’s a sketch comedian, super cool, has aged in a way that’s unfair, has impossibly great skin and hair (you’re seeing a pattern here), is super smart and can literally make you fall out of your seat with laughter. We won’t even get into her music career, her co-writing of a knitting book, her being the second richest British actress or her other myriad accomplishments. And though my HBO watching was limited as a child — it got kind of crazy depending on the time of night — my mom did let me watch Tracey Takes On. And, naturally, I sat enraptured on a weekly basis. “You run like a girl” and “girls aren’t funny” are things we begin hearing as soon as we hit the playground. I still see that crap spewed now. But Tracey showed that we’re actually funny as hell. We’re dynamic, witty, absurd, entertaining and anything else we simply wished to be.
A few months back, I turned 60 and my son, Nick, turned 30. We had been planning a joint party with lots of family and friends, but that idea went by the wayside due to COVID-19. Instead, we hosted two, 16-person gatherings at home — one for me and one for Nick, two weeks apart. Like so many other families, we’ve had a rough year. Just before the pandemic, we tragically lost a young friend; Nick lost his job in a round of COVID-related lay-offs; my elderly in-laws have struggled with isolation; and we’ve been terrified by the White House. A couple of festive nights felt like a good idea. It also felt totally wrong.
Allowing myself to experience joy is especially challenging right now. Fun can feel inappropriate. How can we celebrate anything when so many people are sick, grieving, on the brink of financial or emotional collapse? I thought long and hard about doing nothing to commemorate my milestone birthday, as did Nick. But letting those days pass just like any other seemed wrong, too. It wasn’t just Nick and I who needed a boost — our friends and families also craved a reason to cut loose after so many months of gloom. So the parties proceeded outdoors under rented tents. On my night, I wore the hot pink ruffly dress I’d bought months ago for a subsequently COVID-canceled wedding. For Nick’s, the ladies glammed it up and the men wore tuxedos. Overkill? Perhaps. But it was all part of a conscious effort to make our evenings feel normal — and special.
The truth is that despite the enormous tragedy that is coronavirus, people still have birthdays, they get new jobs (a better one for Nick!), they get married or accepted to college; they have babies. These are happy moments and most of the expert advice I’ve read lately asserts that searching for joy during dark times isn’t just okay, it’s essential. New Jersey-based psychologist Dan Gottlieb says taking care of our bodies and minds is one way to acknowledge and push back against the emotional toll of the pandemic. “Look what we’re going through; it’s a sense of loss. Most of us are in some form of mourning, longing for yesterday and fearing tomorrow,” says Gottlieb. One antidote to those feelings is finding joy.
A couple of festive nights felt like a good idea. It also felt totally wrong.
Dr. Pamela Ebstyne King, a professor at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology, agrees. Seeking and sharing joy is crucial, even when it sometimes feels callous to do so. “Joy is natural, but it does not always come naturally — especially in the middle of a global pandemic and national unrest,” she says. “But joy can be a great resource if you allow deep, positive emotions to fuel and direct you.”
Sharing joy often means sharing it on social media, but that can be tricky. Having fun during dark times is one thing, but posting about it can compound the guilt you may be feeling about enjoying life when others are suffering. That’s why I hesitated over posting photos of my birthday dinner but ultimately, did it anyway. Yes, the impulse to show off my pretty dress and beautiful tablescape was compelling, but the urge to memorialize the evening’s sense of love and gaiety was just as powerful. I don’t know if anyone was troubled by my posts. If they were, they kept it to themselves.
Party pics aside, I’ve been censoring myself on social media these days. Last month, I played a round of golf with Nick, who snapped a selfie of us smiling on the fairway. The weather was spectacular and I felt especially grateful to be out on the course after suffering a broken wrist last spring. Later, when I went to post it, I stopped. I simply felt too lucky and privileged in that moment and decided to keep the image to myself.
It seems lots of people are struggling with the same issue. My friend Steven consciously posts fewer pictures of his bucolic North Carolina home. “Now, I ask myself if an image I’m considering posting might trigger envy or even despair in someone who’s feeling fragile. That’s the last thing I want to do,” he says.
It’s not just pictures of golf outings, sunsets and newly acquired puppies that feel taboo right now. Even produce can elicit emotional turmoil, at least for me. A Facebook acquaintance recently posted a photo of a perfect summer tomato with a caption that read “Lunch!” Sandwiched between posts about George Floyd and the coronavirus death toll, there seemed something silly and shameful about a tomato in comparison to the seriousness of what surrounded it. In fact, someone posted a snarky comment saying just that. But that tomato reminded me that the world can still be delicious, that things grow and that there is normalcy in the face of chaos. To me, that tomato symbolized hope.
As I scrolled through my Instagram feed last night, I laughed at videos of drunk people doing stupid stuff. I clicked on an eggplant recipe that sounded tasty and watched clips of Ellen DeGeneres scaring her guests. Those things might seem even more irreverent (or irrelevant) in our pandemic times, but they make me feel a little lighter. I need that feeling so I’ll keep seeking joy and sometimes even share it. I encourage everyone to do the same.
Basic bio: Sherri is the CEO of the San Francisco nonprofit Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, which has rescued and found new homes for more than 8,300 dogs since she founded the organization in 2007. She’s also a CNN Hero.
Beyond the bio: The freedom I have felt as I have gotten older makes me feel more free in the world wherever I go. There is so much power in going forward with a dream. The fear went away as I aged!
What makes you a grown-ass lady? I love speaking up for those with no voice, all animals. I believe that kindness wins and makes good things happen and that you do not show your power by being cruel or a bully.
1. On the nightstand: Ear plugs, my Kindle, and CBD gummies.
2. Can’t stop/won’t stop: Saving old dogs forever.
3. Jam of the minute:Songs from The Queen’s Gambit.
4. Thing I miss: Being at Muttville headquarters with our team and all the dogs. (Because of the pandemic, all the dogs are in foster homes right now, but we are still saving up to 24 dogs a week!)
5. ’80s crush: Chrissie Hynde and River Phoenix.
6. Current crush: Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones and Joaquin Phoenix, yum.
7. Latest fave find: YouTube yoga classes by Erin at Five Parks Yoga. So good!
8. Last thing you lost: 15 pounds and my eyeglasses.
9. Best thing that happened recently: I adopted Bubby, a 12 year old Jack Russell, best cuddle bunny ever!!
10. Looking forward to: Being back at Muttville and worldwide exploration.
I’ve been anxious for most of my life. I can trace my anxiety back to age six, the year my parents officially separated.
Back then, we called my dad an alcoholic. Now, we’d call him what he really was: bipolar, self-medicating with alcohol.
I remember sitting on a blue velvet couch in our living room, as a police officer, a friend’s father , came to haul my dad away. Our dog insisted on getting into the squad car with him, so the officer took her too. Just moments before, dad had arrived at our house to find himself locked out due to his volatile behavior. Enraged, he smashed a window trying to get in and cut the phone line ensuring we couldn’t call for help. A retired cop himself, he knew all the tricks. Thanks to our neighbor whose phone line was not cut, that’s as far as he got before the cops arrived.
My father’s violent and erratic behavior continued, several days later, when he arrived at my elementary school, trying to convince my teacher that she should release me to him. Thanks to this episode, I would soon have a restraining order against him. I was terrified: nowhere seemed safe.
I cried every single day of school through second grade, so much so that my second grade teacher pulled me into a closet alone, crying herself, to ask, “Why do you hate me?” I didn’t know what to tell her, since I certainly hated her for making my tears about her when what I really needed was for her to understand what I was going through, to acknowledge that what was happening at home was far from normal.
I felt misunderstood and confused, but I also discovered that there was one thing that made me feel better: food. I decided to let the adults have their own feelings – let them cry in closets – while I buried mine under chips, cookies, cake, whatever was at hand. The more I ate, the more I started to shrink in personality. I became shy and withdrawn, yet larger in body, an attempt to make myself harder to dominate and control.
“I decided to let the adults have their own feelings… while I buried mine under chips, cookies, cake, whatever was at hand.”
Ironically, until that point, I didn’t care much for food. Before the incidents with my father, my mom made me these shakes she called “Specials”. I gag thinking about those little numbers — a mixture of milk, raw egg, and vanilla. But back then, I loved them and felt special drinking them. They were something my mom made just for me. I vividly remember when the Specials stopped; the rare occasion when my mom withheld her love. I asked for one and she looked at me and, with a vague gesture of her hands towards my body said, “You don’t need those anymore.” While trying not to feel feelings I could not name, I had eaten my way out of being special and into a lifelong battle with my body and my weight.
As I got older and “deepened” my medical training through episodes of General Hospital, I learned that I was using food to numb my feelings. Evenings were always the toughest times as, after dinner, I found myself alone with my thoughts. And my thoughts liked company, so they would invite more thoughts over until my brain was outnumbered and overwhelmed.
After dinner snacks were probably the most important thing to me. I had to make sure there were enough in my apartment to meet all of my emotional needs in the hand-wringing window between 8 and 11 pm. Heaven forbid I be caught anxious without enough chocolate to get me through to bedtime!
Living in New York after college, I’d carefully plot my stops on the way home from work to satisfy my cravings. I bought candy bars and cookies and chips at bodegas and bakeries. I always told myself I wasn’t overdoing it THAT much. It wasn’t like I was eating an entire cheesecake, right? Just a slice, plus a small bag of chips, and a cookie. That’s all. Practically nothing. I found myself lying about mythical friends and boyfriends and children, saying to cashiers who couldn’t care less, “My kids love these chips!”
During the most stressful episodes of my life, food worked to calm my anxiety. But there was one thing it couldn’t tackle: my mother’s illness and passing.
My mom was sick for many years and I was very close to her. When it became clear that I would have to envision a life without her, I was completely devastated, yet oddly numb. My mother had always been my closest friend and biggest cheerleader. I found myself looking to a future without her and not being able to see it. I kept up my routine, visiting her on Long Island as much as I could. Even when I took a leave from work, I constantly felt a deep grief I just couldn’t shake.
For the first time I felt true depression. It felt scary, dark, and awful. But I also felt…nothing, and that was a problem. I didn’t care about anything at all, even food, and I’d stopped eating. Without my mom, the person who had been with me through everything, what was the point of anything?
In the depths of depression, I became very matter of fact about my life being meaningless, and I told my mom about it. I hadn’t meant to tell her but one night on the phone, I sensed she wasn’t paying attention and I got angry about it. She was yes-ing me and fluffing me off. It was like I’d already lost her and I wasn’t ready for that.
“My thoughts liked company, so they would invite more thoughts over until my brain was outnumbered and overwhelmed.”
I wanted her to hear me. So I blurted out, “You don’t get it, mom. The doctor, my friends, people, they are worried about me. I’m feeling suicidal.” I wasn’t really cognizant of wanting to end my life, but I wasn’t thinking logically. I just knew that I felt terrible and didn’t care about much of anything anymore, including my own life.
If I was looking for a reaction, I certainly got it. She cried and yelled, her weak voice filled with emotion, “Lynn, I can’t handle this. Please don’t tell me this. I spent years dealing with this with your father. I cannot handle this right now. Please.” Even though her words hurt me deeply and I was sorry I had shared my feelings, I took comfort in the fact that she was still my mother, and she still worried and cared about me. Her words reminded me she was still there, and maybe that’s what I needed.
It was her reaction that drove me to get professional help, not because I wanted it for myself, but I wanted to make my mother’s life easier. She had already lost children: my brother to cancer at age 5; another brother a few days after birth; and others – I don’t even know how many – before full term. I knew in that moment that I could not add my own loss of self to her burden, that I would get better so she wouldn’t have to deal with that grief again.
Over the years, I’d tried food, exercise and therapy to regulate my moods, but I’d never tried medication. I was certain I wouldn’t live through my mom’s demise without more help, so I agreed to take a low dose of Prozac. Then, I assured my mother that my bad mood was chemical, and that as soon as I took the right meds, I would be cured. At least she didn’t have to worry about me anymore.
While compulsive eating had made me feel nothing in the moment, it came with shame and the sense that my physical weight represented the depth of my emotional problems. But taking antidepressants didn’t cause me body shame, and it did just as I had been promised for my mind: It took the edge off. It also turned the lights back on in my brain and in my life. I slowly started to enjoy things I liked again. I was still living through an incredibly painful situation, but I could see myself on the other side of it.
Four years ago, my mother succumbed to her illness, and I made it through. I still have anxiety now and then, but my depression is managed. I check in with myself a lot especially when I feel the urge to overeat, and I am more thoughtful about the connection between food and feelings. I still find myself looking for a cookie or a bag of chips when I’m anxious, but if I name the feeling, sometimes I can stop the behavior. At other times, I acknowledge what I’m doing and eat the pizza anyway. Like all of us, I’m doing the best I can, and pizza is still delicious.
(At an American Association of Pediatrics conference, encouraging adults to vote in the best interests of children. Because kids can’t vote.)
Basic bio: Brenda is a primary care pediatrician in Boston, where she provides direct care to kids and their families, teaches pediatrics to medical students, and advocates for better child health policy at the local and national level. She wants you to get a flu shot.
Beyond the bio: Medicine is my second career (the first was in the Clinton White House — Ed.). I started med school when I was 34 and finished my residency when I was 42. During that time I also had two kids. I love my hectic life — and the fact that I no longer have to explain to other people why I might not be available to help them with something.
What makes you a grown-ass lady? I have no qualms about paying for services that make my day-to-day life simpler, including having someone prepare meals for my family.
1. On the nightstand: Lip balm, glass of water, headphones, cellphone, tissues, bottle of melatonin, unread medical journals.
2. Can’t stop/won’t stop: Speaking up at work when I think something needs to change or isn’t done well.
4. Thing I miss: Simpler Saturdays with things like brunch with friends.
5. ’80s crush: Rob Lowe.
6. Current crush: Probably Jimmy Fallon.
7. Latest fave find: My first pair of Dansko work clogs lasted for 10 years. Now that it’s time to get new ones, I’m so glad they still make that style, but I’m also eyeing all the new colors and patterns.
8. Last thing you lost: My heart rate monitor.
9. Best thing that happened recently: Since I can’t go to spin classes during a pandemic, my mother (!) bought me a Peloton. I’m embarrassed at how much I love it.
10. Looking forward to: More unscheduled time at home with my family. Finding new things to cook and bake. Settling into this place we moved into three years ago. And an administration that appreciates science and the role government has in improving the well-being of all its citizens.
November 4th has come and gone, and guess what? We finally have a President Elect! But we’re a far cry and a million angry White House tweets away from the moment ole Orange Crush exits the building.
Until then, you’re still here. You’ve still got bills to pay, a family to feed and a life to live.
Pace yourself and start preparing for the changes ahead in 2021.
As an Astrologer, I can tell you this election mess hasn’t reached its conclusion just yet. In fact, the current astrological aspects point to a “flip flopping” of information from the media for all of November. With Mars in Aries going direct on November 13th, we’ll see tensions and violence rise amongst the people and possibly even the threat of war. And then the lunar eclipse on November 30th will bring a big expose about our mass media, pointing to corruption we didn’t even see coming.
The only thing that will remain the same in these coming months is your need to pace yourself and start preparing for the very real changes that are ahead in 2021.
Here’s a Post-Election Self Care Checklist to help you stay afloat.
Stay Hydrated: Everybody says this, but for real, winter is coming and so is dehydration. Water makes everything in your body function better, helping you eliminate toxins from your organs and release excess weight. Plus, hydration makes your skin look EPIC, and who cares what 45 is tweeting today when you’re lookin’ so fly?
Practice Vagus Nerve Release: My partner — a techie and yoga teacher — taught me this one, and it has been a game changer this year. Whenever you feel stressed, simply spend 60 seconds with your palms gently touching each of these areas of your body: ear, eyes, throat, heart and lower abdomen. It creates a pause and literally resets your brain from spiraling into anxiety.
Listen to K Pop… Seriously: I am hip-hop ’til I die, but I found it especially hard to listen to some of my more expletive-ridden bops this year, especially when my news was already providing so much content in that area. I needed a break. Along came K-Pop, which not only gave me the bass-heavy beats I craved, along with that 90s R&B sway I grew up with, it also came with visually stunning idols singing flawlessly in very aesthetically pleasing settings. I love me some WAP, but K-Pop just makes me feel so… happy!
Create a Vision Board of the World You Want to See: Our minds are about to become the main battleground in the coming months, as we are inundated with both celebratory and conflicting information about this 2020 election. As I’ve said before in my Empowerment Astrology videos, a lot of skeletons are about to come out of the closet concerning the media, so we are going to be flip-flopped around all the way up until Inauguration Day. It’s important that you create a clear vision for yourself of the world that you want to see in the future. It’s time for an online vision board party! Gather your gals — and photos, slogans, magazine clippings, etc. — and use your creativity to make a collage of your vision for the world you want to live in. Using your creativity in this way will help you not get caught up in the sensational fear strategies that are about to surface.
Set Weekly Meetups to Envision This New Phase: After you’ve vision boarded the hell out of the future, get some like-minded friends in on your vision. Set up weekly Zoom chats over wine to talk about the abundant future. Our beliefs are much more important than our efforts for the next three months, so join forces with others in speaking your hopes and intentions for the future into being. What you can see, can be.
Create Energetic Boundaries: We’ve been exposed to a lot of trash talk this year. If the opinions of others have been clouding your judgment, that means you don’t have a clear understanding of who you are. And if you don’t know who you are, then you can’t make decisions that align you with the things you really want in life. I suggest you read Energetic Boundaries by Cyndi Dale to help you check the OPP (Other People’s Projections) at the door.
(Exploring spirit houses in Thailand over the holidays last year – a happy time before we knew what was on the horizon in 2020!)
Age: 35 (while I’m on the younger spectrum, beyond grateful to be a part of the TueNight community – I have learned from and gained so very much from the amazing women here!
Basic bio:Alessandra is the Co-founder & CEO of Elektra Health, a female-founded women’s health startup on a mission to smash the menopause taboo. To commemorate World Menopause Month (October!), Elektra launched our free 10 day Smash the Taboo educational health & wellness series for women 40+ – join the movement & get smart on your hormonal health today!
Beyond the bio: Three things you won’t find on my LinkedIn: 1) My favorite meal in the entire world is a burrito & not-too-sweet margarita (or three), 2) I was almost named Elektra. When searching for a name for my company, I selected Elektra because, to me, it represents women stepping into our most powerful, fearless selves, 3) two pieces of professional advice I always give younger women (and men): 1) always follow your curiosity and 2) surround yourself with the best people you know. Personally following these two maxims has resulted in the most wonderful life that I am deeply grateful for so far!
What makes you a grown-ass lady? I became a grown-ass lady when I realized that I have the agency to let go of other people’s expectations in pursuit of crafting a life according to my own rules & desires. It’s not always easy, but stepping into one’s power & voice is the most grown-ass move I can imagine.
1. On the nightstand:My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem (I miss traveling!), AirPods (for my end-of-day Law & Order: SVU habit) and a gigantic glass of water for consumption pre-bed, mid-night, and upon waking up. My husband claims he’s never seen someone drink as much water / as thirsty as me.
2. Can’t stop/won’t stop: Speaking up and out about taboo topics until we’ve normalized common women’s health topics: Vaginal dryness (gasp!), anxiety/depression during perimenopause, hot flashes, night sweats, and so much more!
The 2020 election has seemed endless, but we’re almost to the finish line (we hope). TueNighters across the country were among the nearly 100 million voters who’ve already gone to the polls or dropped their ballots in the mailbox. Some brought their kids who were voting for the very first time, others honored the long, bloody fight against voter intimidation and suppression, and some felt a responsibility to fulfill their civic duty. Check out some of the photos and messages TueNighters shared of casting their votes.
(“Climbing is a metaphor for, like, everything — especially this year.”)
Age: Just turned 50! Will be celebrating NEXT year because this one was an apocalyptic wash, but am still owning it 🙂
Basic bio:Catherine is an entrepreneur, writer and recovering academic. She’s the CEO of the League of Badass Women, a private global network for female-identifying leaders, innovators, and change-makers. Her last book, The Feminine Revolution, was released in 2018; her next book, Citizen Princess, will only be released in 2021 if she can somehow manage to finish it while surviving the apocalypse.
Beyond the bio:Even though I’m at the mid-point of my life, I’m more interested in what’s ahead of me than what’s behind me. I’m a grown-ass lady who still asks herself — seriously — what she wants to be when she grows up.
What makes you a grown-ass lady? My understanding that I still — and will always — have some growing up to do.
For those of us around in the mid-80s, we may have a fondness or nostalgia (or deep cringe) for teased perms, forearms of black rubber bangles, fluorescent-colored tops and off-the-shoulder ripped sweatshirts. Such stuff as MTV dreams were made of — and probably not a look we wore every day.
Enter Violet Sky, or GlitterWave80s as she’s better known to her 90K followers on TikTok. The 19-year-old New Yorker has dedicated most of her life to living as if it were still the 80s. As seen in her Day-Glo videos, using a static-filled “VCR-style” filter, Violet sports enormous permed hair, shellac-ed bangs, light blue eyeshadow and REALLY high-waisted acid wash jeans. Glimpsing behind her, you’ll see a room plastered with posters of Duran Duran, Rick Springfield (my actual first concert), VHS tapes, a cassette-tape boombox, a record player, Keith Haring socks and white Reebok sneakers in the corner. Girl has done her research.
This is no Halloween gag; this is something she’s been doing for four years.
I had many, many questions. Mainly, I wanted to know, WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS?
So, last week we hopped on the phone (yes, she actually does use a mobile phone) and I asked.
Margit: As someone who lived through the 80s, you’ve pretty much captured, well, the best parts.
Margit: What inspired you to live your life 80s-style?
Violet: I always grew up liking retro things and vintage things. My mom grew up in the 60s and 70s, so she raised me with that kind of stuff. I broke away from that and I was like, “Let me, like, find my own thing.” I really liked Britney Spears for a while and that kind of died out. Then I watched this movie called Girls Just Wanna Have Fun from 1985 and I was like, “Oh this is so cool.” I just started watching more 80s movies and listening to the music and the soundtracks. That’s really what started it. Then I started collecting things [from the 80s] and thinking like, why don’t I just start dressing the part too? It kind of just snowballed into this gigantic obsession and you know, here I am now, so…
Margit: So are you, so wait, right now are you wearing…
Violet: Like, I don’t have my hair done. Like, my bangs aren’t like, teased up ‘cause you know, I’m lazy today. It’s raining (laughing). But I have on, you know, a sweatshirt and jeans.
Margit: Right. Right. How do you find stuff? How do you find good acid washed jeans and mom jeans or… I don’t even remember. What were we wearing in the 80s?
Violet: I thrift basically everything. I go to this place in the city called L-Train Vintage and they have tons of acid washed denim, like all the time, and then, you know, you start researching the brands like Traffic, Contempo Casuals, Jordache…
Margit: Oh god. Contempo Casuals.
Violet: And then eBay and Depop are like two online websites I get things from.
Margit: Is there an ‘80s item that you covet but is hard to find?
Violet: Currently, it’s an 80s car, like an 80s Camaro or something. Which is, like, not a smart decision ’cause it’s, you know, probably going to break down (laughs).
Margit: I’m assuming Violet Sky isn’t your real name? Or is it your real name?
Violet: It’s my first and middle name. I just go by that.
Margit: Who are some of your 80s heroes and icons?
Violet: Most of my inspirations are like singing inspirations. So Pat Benatar, Rindy Ross from Quarterflash, Martha Davis and the Motels — Laura Branigan definitely.
Margit: There’s so much access now via YouTube, too, — you can really do a lot of research. Is there anything 80s you don’t quite have access to?
Violet: For the most part, like all the physical items are like, still there, you know? You can like buy tapes and VHS movies and stuff like that. But that in-person connection of just calling someone up on the landline — like you can do that now, but we have the internet and we have all of the social media. The way that we communicate is so much different than back then. And I kind of wish that I really understood the simplicity.
Margit: Is that part of what’s appealing to you?
Violet: At first, it wasn’t really about that, it was just like, about the music and everything, but as I get older, and as the world gets more complicated with technology, I kind of like long for that simplicity.
Margit: What do your friends think about your 80s life.
Violet: Most of my friends aren’t into it ‘cause I’ve just known them my whole life and stuff, except for my friend Ronnie who I met through Instagram and it just turned out that she lives close by. Most of my friends in the community are all on the internet. So we don’t live close but we have like a big group chat and we all talk to each other about it.
Margit: Wait, there are more of you?
Violet: Oh yeah (laughing). We’re going to put together like an introduction video, where we’re all like giving our names and Instagram accounts and being like, “Welcome to the 80s Club” like we call ourselves that.
Margit: Maybe it should be like, “We are the World.” What are some of your favorite songs from the 80s?
Violet: Oh gosh. There’s this band, they’re not like that known, Shy Talk — they came out with one album and their song, “Excuse Me” is like amazing. Like I love that song so much. I’ve been listening to the About Last Night soundtrack…
Margit: Do you listen to like modern music at all?
Violet: Not really, just no. All the trap rap on the radio is so bad.
Margit: Your room reminds me a bit of my room when I was 15 or 16. How hard is it to keep things 80s authentic?
Violet: Earlier this year, like I had remnants of Britney posters on the wall, and I was like okay, this does not represent me anymore and if we’re going to be in quarantine for how many months, like I might as well like really like transform my room. So I started just kind of putting away things that weren’t 80s and hiding them, like put them in the drawer. Like my laptop is always in the drawer; like that would just ruin the vibe.
Margit: What’s your prize possession?
Violet: I really love my green Sharp boombox. My neon phone. Oh and my lamp. And then I have this bottle of like old hairspray from the 80s, which I’ve never used or anything, but I bought it so I put it on my desk so it looks like period accurate.
Margit: It’s a little hard for me to think of the 80s as a “period piece.” [Sighs] Let’s get back to the joy of why you do this. You mentioned simplicity, what else is it about the 80s that you specifically love and why? You know, why you do it?
Violet: The music was just really creative and original back then. You had to come up with stuff just off the top of your head. You couldn’t really sample stuff. There were so many different types of music that were popular in the 80s and in the mainstream, and now we only have like two or three genres that people listen to. The clothing is so bold and expressive and creative — nothing was too big. There was all this big hair but like nobody would get judged for it. Bright colors — you know it was like a lot more expressive. Everything now is so minimalistic in neutral tones, especially like interior design. Like, you went to the mall in the 80s and there was all this neon and it was really cool and now it’s all like white and grey. It’s so boring.
Margit: So much truth right there Violet. What do your parents think about all of this?
Violet: My mom tolerates it — she says she never dressed like that so she wasn’t into that whole style. She hated the big hair and the acid wash. I mean she supports it. She doesn’t really mind. She doesn’t really get why I like it.
Violet: She was like in her 20s, in her late 20s, by that time.
Margit: So what do you think — is this a lifetime commitment?
Violet: I honestly don’t know. My whole life I’ve been a person who goes through phases. I get interested in different things. They usually last like a year to two years and then I kind of get bored of it. But like this has gone on four years. It’s just a lot of fun.
Basic bio: Originally from Detroit, Renee is a novelist, lawyer, and professor interested in Black women’s fiction, the intersections of law and literature. Her writing has appeared in Literary Hub, The Rumpus, Salon and elsewhere. She is a 2018 National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellow, and her debut story collection Meet Behind Mars, was published in 2018.
Beyond the bio:I have zero fucks left to give! Yay!! That’s what I Iove most about being over 40.
What makes you a grown-ass lady? Many things about my life make me a grown-ass lady, but what I cherish most includes a wicked sense of humor, great friends who live in interesting places, and having smart, kind, and grown children who can care for themselves.
9. Best thing that happened recently: Receiving a playlist based on my story collection as a “thank you” from Willamette students.10. Looking forward to: The last piece of my Trader Joe’s Chantilly Cream Vanilla Bean cake.
Brick houses, courtyard apartments with trees and dirt in the yards, alleys, little grocery stores and bickering neighbors: This was my world, and it was Harriet the Spy’s world, too. Harriet, age eleven, was the first fictional girl I’d met who lived in a big city and didn’t exist just to act like a little lady. Instead, she followed her burning curiosity by spying on neighbors, and wrote her thoughts and plans in a private notebook.
Harriet called it “working.”
“I will be a spy and know everything!” she declared. She learned more from peeking into the lives of shopkeepers, lonely old people and domestic workers than she did at school. Harriet the Spy seemed to have been written just for me — a solitary, rough-and-tumble eight-year-old who saw herself as smart and adventurous, too. The book showed me a path.
“Mom,” I said, “I need a notebook.” I told her all about Harriet. My mom always liked my bright ideas, so she bought me a composition book on her next trip to the drugstore.
I also studied author Louise Fitzhugh’s illustration of Harriet in her spy outfit: jeans with holes, a hoodie, glasses without lenses, and a rattling tool belt. I had glasses and long, straight hair like Harriet’s. Like her, I felt more like myself when I wore old jeans and sneakers. Ambition bloomed: maybe when I was nine, I could have a spy route, too. Maybe when I was eleven I would have a soda by myself at a diner — Harriet did it as she sat at the counter and eavesdropped.
In the meantime, I put on my ripped jeans and sneakers, sat on the front steps, and wrote.
“Who are you always writing to?” asked my dad.
“Myself,” I said, stating a truth I couldn’t explain.
I wish we had a maid who was very nice, I wrote at age ten. I think Granny wants to go home. I want her to be happy. I want to make myself better at lots of things, but I can’t seem to change myself in the least. I had fun playing pinners. I think I’m sort of good at it. I hope I get plenty of things to write. If I don’t it’s boring. I hope I can make myself nicer at home. I wonder if I’m spoiled. I don’t think so because I have a lot of friends.
My mother’s health had deteriorated by then; and she was terminally ill with cancer. The worry in my dad’s face scared me. I believed, though no one said so, that I had to keep my life running smoothly to make things easier on him. My grandmother lived with us that year to help out.
Harriet’s governess, Ole Golly, who knew her better than her socialite parents, eventually left to get married. Awaiting her taxi, she gave Harriet a quick hug and ordered her not to cry. “None of that,” she said. “Tears won’t bring me back. Tears never bring anything back. Life is a struggle and a good spy gets in there and fights. Remember that. No nonsense.” The next day, Harriet wanted to cry, but reminded herself that crying was pointless.
Emotional repression is a dark lesson, but it helped me survive the months surrounding my almost identity destroying loss. I was 11. No one in the family told me I shouldn’t cry, but no one worked to make room for my feelings — starting with worry — to emerge. Men like my father swept aside their emotions and carried on. Women cooked and served and shepherded families through wakes and funerals. Kids like me had no role. To show myself that I wasn’t spoiled and didn’t need coddling, I shoved my feelings behind me. In the pew at my mom’s funeral, with my dad weeping beside me, I thought, I’m glad I’m not falling apart.
Solitude and writing helped me manage the dread of growing up without my mom. Harriet the Spy illustrated the value of these tools, and I trusted them (and myself). I resolved I would not let my mom’s death define who I was. Writing, like a secret weapon, made me feel unique and interesting. My notebook expanded my mind and gave me a bigger inner life to explore.
Harriet’s writing eventually got her in trouble. The family’s cook is appalled by her sneaking around and listening at doors; her parents squirm with discomfort when she writes in front of them. Then her friends read her notebook and, hurt by what she’s written about them, go on the attack.
This plot twist didn’t interest me at age eight. But around the time of my mother’s death, I was stunned when some of the girls at school started picking on me. They told me not to sit with them, called me immature (for loudly declaring I hated boys), and sent me a dirty Valentine card (supposedly from a boy). I don’t think the girls knew of my loss. I felt helpless to confront them. I knew my mom wouldn’t want me to change for those girls even if I knew how.
“I have never had to go through something like this,” Harriet wrote, after her friends turned against her. “I will have to be very brave.”
I had three years of Harriet-style journal writing behind me by then, and I reread my notebooks often that year. I saw that, like Harriet’s, my own opinions grew out of clear observations: The boys acted mean, and the girls liked them. I couldn’t even try to fit in. Seeing what Harriet went through helped me distance myself from them. So did one school friend who saw what was happening and stuck with me.
I am glad I am alive, I wrote. I am ME and nobody else can take away ME! I AM SATISFIED WITH MYSELF.
Being unpopular at school and unsupervised at home gave me a strange, grim sense of freedom. I was free to refuse the traditional path of makeup and fashion and boy-chasing. Like Harriet, I could put on my favorite clothes, explore the alleys and yards, and write. My mother’s love had created my trust in myself. The discipline I learned from Harriet the Spy reinforced it.
Ole Golly once told Harriet that she should look around as much as she could, and then choose how to live, rather than living just like her own family. Harriet used that open-minded imperative to rationalize her spying. As a teen, I knew I would let my curiosity drive me. Despite the ragged hole ripped through my childhood, by 19 I felt free enough and strong enough to start finding my place in the world.
I never stopped writing to myself. Harriet the Spy helped me again when I went to college at a local art school. In the freshman writing course, the first assignment was to start keeping a journal. My secret weapon was activated! Writing was my art form. I had found my major and my first vocation.
Quotations not attributed to me are from: Fitzhugh, Louise. Harriet the Spy. Harper & Row, 1964.
(“Me in one of my favorite Marimekko dresses goofing off in front of one of my favorite murals in San Francisco’s Mission District,” says Faith Adiele. Photo credit: Ronald Palmer; Mural credit: 1998 Mosaic mural of Aztec goddess Tonantzin by Colette Crutcher.)
Beyond the bio: Last year for my sabbatical, I brought a one-way ticket to Europe and told my husband I’d be back in no less than 100 days. It was the kind of spontaneous travel I did in my 20s, so it felt terrific to do it as a grown-ass lady, with greater personal power and a rich bank of historical and cultural references to pull from.
What makes you a grown-ass lady? One evening in Italy, a young woman staying at my AirBnB asked to make dinner together. This very accomplished traveler, who could have been out partying, was asking me about life and career, and texting her friends to look me up. And I realized that she saw me as knowledgeable and my ordinary little tales as wisdom. I remember thinking, Oh wow, she thinks I’m grown!
1. On the nightstand: Water carafe, Lavender cardamom lip balm, artificial tears, estrogen cream (the downside of grown-assery), highlighter and pens, tiny notebook with husband’s handwritten wedding vows, fish-shaped nail clipper.
2. Can’t stop/won’t stop: Traveling the world and dragging home handmade textiles and earrings.
3. Jam of the minute: Lady Donli’s Corner is catchy, as well as a primer on Nigerian music and cinema. The video by Shaun Kalu is a Nollywood-style mini-film celebrating women and Nigeria’s young #MeToo movement. Janelle Monáe’s Turntables is a political anthem with amazing video footage meant to inspire and rally us for this very moment.
4. Thing I miss: Themed dinner parties on long tables that last long into the night. Living in a real neighborhood and stoopin’ with my neighbors.
5. ’80s crush:Roland Gift, frontman for the Fine Young Cannibals.
6. Current crush: Everybody associated with Afropunk.
8. Last thing I lost: What haven’t we lost under the current regime? Good thing my name is Faith.
9. Best thing that happened recently: After 7 straight months of co-hosting BIPOC Writing Party, a free weekly virtual writing community that Serena W. Lin and I co-founded in response to the pandemic and BLM, we decided to hand over to the members and walk away. The community cheered our decision to focus on our own writing and rallied to put on an amazing celebration, at which Serena totally surprised me. She had written a beautiful testimonial about working together AND met up with my husband to give him a bottle of champagne from a black woman owned winery. While I and 60 folks on Zoom were sobbing at her speech, he snuck up behind me and popped the cork. It was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever experienced.
10. Looking forward to: A fat book contract, hugging people, international travel.
Yes, I am married. Yes, my husband knows that I do not want children. Yes, we both realize we’re extremely fortunate to be able to elect to live childfree. He doesn’t want kids either. It’s part of the reason I married him. (That, and he has excellent hair.) He married me knowing that and also because I always clean the litter box.
I probably brought up the topic of kids on the second date — it would have been a deal breaker. My husband would make the world’s greatest father. But that alone isn’t reason enough for me to become the mother I’ve never wanted to be, to take on a crushing financial burden or to add more to my already too-full plate.
I love my friends’ children. Because I don’t have to take care of them. Their cuteness is there to fulfill my need to see cute things. I don’t expect them to behave for me, and they don’t expect 18 years of dinner from me. I see this as a good setup.
Not only do I not want children, but I think what really blows people’s minds is that I’ve realized I don’t need them. Apparently some people agree with me, and apparently that’s national news if the August 12, 2013 issue of Time magazine is any indicator: The entire cover story was dedicated to the marvelous epiphany that “having it all” — whatever that even means — for some Americans means not having children. We’ve come far as a country, haven’t we, when a well-established journalistic bulwark recognizes that — gasp — married couples might actually chose to subvert the cultural paradigm and elect to never need a minivan! What’ll they come up with next?
I love my friends’ children. Because I don’t have to take care of them. Their cuteness is there to fulfill my need to see cute things. I don’t expect them to behave for me, and they don’t expect 18 years of dinner from me.
Gay people having babies? What sorcery is this?
Listen. I’m being real here: I need my sleep much more than I need children. Does that sound selfish? That’s probably because it is! Which is probably one of the top reasons I shouldn’t enter into parenthood in the first place. Which is just so funny because people who have no business being in my business say the darndest things when I tell them I’m not having children. A sampling:
“You should totally do it! It’s a blast!”
I bet having a dog is also a blast, but I don’t even want the responsibility of caring for a dog. You’d probably talk me out of having a dog I didn’t want to care for, so why would you try to talk me into having a human being I don’t want to care for?
“You’ll change your mind.”
This is one of my absolute favorite things that people like to say when I tell them I’m not having children. It’s so funny because it implies they know me better than I know myself. To which I like to respond, “HOORAY! A REAL LIVE FREE PSYCHIC! What else can you tell me about myself that I don’t know? Will I win the lottery? Will I ever finally lose ‘those last stubborn five pounds’ or should I just give up. Also, how will the final season of Mad Men end?? Will we ever find out what really happened on the final scene of ‘The Sopranos’? What other secrets of the universe are you hiding in that magical brain of yours?”
“But what will you do when you’re old?”
Um, let’s see… hopefully spend the savings account that I didn’t drain on summer camp and braces and college on traveling the world, all while dressed like Bea Arthur in the Golden Girls. Playing shuffleboard. Hopefully.
“You’ll just figure out a way to afford it.”
LOL. Oh GOD you are just the funniest thing! Truly, a hoot! You’re a stand-up comic, right? What’s funny about that bullshit is that someone probably shared the same Pollyanna-ish platitude with the millions of people in this country who couldn’t afford kids when they started out and still — even with college educations and decent jobs — never managed to “just figure out a way to afford it.” The other thing that’s funny is that this is another of the benefits of not having kids: you never have to figure out a way to afford it.
“But what if you regret never having your own kids?”
I’d rather regret never having children than have children and regret it.
“But you’ll never know happiness like the happiness of being a parent.”
I’ll also never know what it’s like to have a penis. Or be Cuban! Or be able to dunk a basketball on the 1992 Olympic Dream Team. I’ll also never know what it’s like to change a fetid diaper or what it’s like to have a teenager who devotes months if not years to hating me, followed by decades of passively resenting me. Thank you for your genuine concern regarding the status of my happiness, Deepak Chopra, but as a genuinely content person, I’m living proof that happiness isn’t just reserved for parents and that it’s possible to know happiness without venturing into parenthood. I love it here on the sandy childfree beach upon which I’m currently sunning.
“Why wouldn’t you want to have children if your body is capable of it?”
Yes, someone actually said this to me. My body’s also capable of having a gang bang, but I’m definitely not boarding that bus. So I’m not even honoring that with a response. The side eye was invented for this occasion.
“Good for you!”
Thank you. Can’t say I disagree.
This piece was originally published on October 8, 2013.
Beyond the bio: I never had ideas about what life would be like when I reached certain ages, so I entered my 40s with zero expectations. Maybe that’s why it has been my best decade by far. Richer friendships, a deeper belief in myself and it’s not like I’m any less afraid to do some things, but I’m much more willing to dive into the fear and try anyway.
What makes you a grown-ass lady? In the middle of the craziest set of circumstances outside of my control (global pandemic with a 9-day-old), I took stock of our lives, made some tough choices and now my son is happy, healthy and thriving (as am I).
1. On the nightstand: A pacifier, homeopathic remedy for teething babies and crystals (rose quartz, lapis and carnelian).
2. Can’t stop/won’t stop: Snacking (I went from no sweet tooth to wanting all the cookies during Covid).
3. Jam of the minute: “California” by Joni Mitchell (I wouldn’t call it a jam, but it’s about home and homecoming and displacement and has been in rotation since lockdown).
4. Thing I miss: Outside.
5. ’80s crush: Prince. “Crush” is too light a word for the emotion I felt the first time I saw Purple Rain.
6. Current crush: Michael B. Jordan.
7. Latest fave find:I May Destroy You. I didn’t know a show could be so perfectly written and performed.
8. Last thing I lost: Hair (postpartum hormones are a beast).
9. Best thing that happened recently: My son was born!!
10. Looking forward to: Outside opening fully and safely.
When I was recently in Pittsburgh, giving my sister a much-needed break from taking care of our mother, I heard a sharp cracking sound, followed by something hitting the floor. I was sitting in the kitchen at the time and raced down the stairs to find my mother on the floor, beside the desk, in the den. The keyboard shelf was lying next to her, with the keyboard dangling slightly above, still attached to the computer by a cord.
“Are you okay?” I asked, helping her up and into the chair. She didn’t seem to be injured.
“I’m okay,” she said.
“I fell,” she said.
“What happened to the desk?” I asked, though I already knew the answer. She must have used the keyboard shelf to help herself up from the desk chair, and it couldn’t support her weight.
“I don’t know,” she said, with a sense of surprise.
“How’d that happen?” she asked.
“Did Ollie do that?” I asked, referring to my 14-pound Westie, who had spent the morning downstairs with her.
“Maybe,” she said.
There was no point in arguing, as I was unsure whether she was lying or really didn’t know what happened. It was often like having a child in the house… or maybe a criminal. I’ve never had or wanted either, but I’ve been around enough to know they’ll deny any wrongdoing when confronted. A key difference was that this was an adult who hadn’t done anything wrong. She just didn’t want to admit her disability.
It’s been 20 years since my mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, or MS. For the first 10 years, she was still going about life fairly normally — walking, cooking, and even working. But over the past decade, things declined quickly, to the point of her sometimes needing a walker or more often a wheelchair. Her hand coordination has been pretty limited, given severe tremors. She can sometimes operate the computer since we installed language-recognition software. Other times, it’s just a source of frustration. But she insists she can still do things she can no longer do.
If I ask my mother what she wants to do on the weekend, she might answer anything from painting a border in the bathroom to planting flowers. The former might work if by “border” you’d like a Rorschach-like mural on the wall; the latter would be fine if I didn’t expect to find her laid out in the dirt.
Four years ago, my father passed, leaving my sister Megan and I with the question, “What do we do with Mom?” While we were debating the options, my mother kept calling real estate agents to make appointments to see new homes for herself, ignoring the fact that she couldn’t drive to get to them.
Megan, who had been living with my parents at the time of my dad’s death, agreed to stay while I tried to find a place in Jersey City with a second bedroom for my mother. Somehow, being the oldest made it feel like a forgone conclusion that I’d be the one she’d live with, even though there was the minor detail that she didn’t want to move to Jersey City.
I spent months trying to find a place I could afford but kept getting beat by all-cash offers that ranged from $50,000 to $100,000 over asking price. It was like I was in the wrong game, sitting at a poker table with a hand full of colored fish cards. I eventually shifted strategies to try to find an elder care facility when Megan suggested she could take care of Mom. It made sense financially, as Megan was paying down her student loans, and being able to buy a house with the proceeds from the sale of my parents’ would help. It also made sense because Megan, a nurse, was better qualified.
“Caretaking time represents lost wages. At the hourly wage of a professional caregiver, you’re talking at least $14,000 a year in unpaid service.”
Still, taking care of Mom is a lot of work. Every morning, Megan gets her out of bed, gets her dressed, and fed. She watches her on a nanny cam during the day. She makes frequent trips to and from the bathroom with her. She feeds her dinner. She puts her to bed. I come back twice a year to take over, and within a week, I’m exhausted, not just by the necessary effort but by the additional work my mother creates when she insists on trying to do things herself. Such as right now, I have to figure out how to fix the desk. It would be better if she would do (or not do) things we ask her, but then I just try to remind myself that it could be worse. I have a friend who does everything for her mother, who has Alzheimer’s, and is regularly yelled at for doing it wrong.
I don’t know how my sister or the millions of other caregivers in the U.S. do it. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, upwards of 40 million people provide some level of elder care – without compensation. Most are women, though men are increasingly joining the ranks and currently represent around 40% of those caring for elders. For those who have a senior adult living with them, that care takes an average of three hours a day. And that, of course, goes up for seniors with disabilities.
And those are the hours directly attributed to care. But there are more uncounted hours, like time spent picking up prescriptions. Or the occasional desk-repair project.
Caretaking time represents lost wages. At the hourly wage of a professional caregiver, you’re talking at least $14,000 a year in unpaid service. Plus, there are career sacrifices made from lost productivity and, for many, time away from the job market. I need more than one hand to count the number of friends who have quit or gone part-time in order to take care of family members. A study from MetLife and the National Alliance for Caregiving reported that on average, women lose over $324,000 in compensation to caregiving. The cost to businesses to replace those women caregivers is an estimated $3.3 billion.
But for many, taking on care for older loved ones is the only option. When I looked into the costs of a nursing home, I was shocked to learn that the cost for a shared room at a care facility like the one my grandmother has starts at $4,800 a month. That’s a small, hospital-like room with two beds and a sheet hanging between them. And that doesn’t include more specialized care, like help getting dressed or showering, or additional services, like laundry. When I last visited my grandmother, I arrived close to noon to find her lying awake in bed, still in her nightgown, asking if breakfast was coming soon.
My mother stayed at one of these facilities once after she injured her wrist. While there, they regularly forgot to give her her meds and kept her either strapped into bed or strapped to her wheelchair. Yes, she risks falling when using her walker, hence the reason she was there. But at least at home we regularly work to get her up on her feet to use her legs while she still can. The care facility was too understaffed to give her more than a couple of hours a week of physical therapy. And still, these facilities can cost upwards of $50,000 a year, a bill that, for many, is footed by Medicaid.
Perhaps that could be an option for my mother, but we know she is better off at home — physically and mentally. Recent horror stories from COVID-19 infections at elder care facilities have only reminded my sister and me that keeping her home was the right decision.
And, considering keeping my mother home could save the government money, shouldn’t my sister — and other caregivers like her — get some compensation? What’s between $14,000K and $50,000K? It’s a lot more than just dollars: It’s my mother’s ability to be at home in her own room with hours of individual care and attention. For me and my sister, there’s less guilt, knowing we’re doing what we can.
Basic bio: Laurie White is a writer and editor with a long history on the internet (most recently at mom2.com) where she likes to build community and tells people to mute themselves as nicely as she can.
Beyond the bio: I got sober seven years ago, and while it’s not my whole story, it informs pretty much everything I am and do. I’ll be 50 this year and I’m concerned mostly with using my voice for good. COVID (I had a mild case in June/July that was still pretty rough), the terrifying political situation, and a desperate need for white people to act for racial justice requires me to think about how I can be useful. I start a new role soon running social for the libraries in my county, and I am more excited about this than I’ve been about anything in a long time. I was a college counselor and professor before I went into digital full-time, and it feels like perfect timing to get to support public service, education, and literacy again. My mantra is “keep walking,” and that’s what I’ve done so far.
What makes you a grown-ass lady? I do my best not to stay in the wrong place or situation for very long, to own my choices, trust my intuition, tell the truth, do what I say I’m going to do, pause before I react, and tip like a person who’s worked a lot of retail and food service. I keep people around me who keep me honest, make me think, and make me laugh. This is probably my number one survival skill.
4. Thing I miss: My friends. Sitting in the comforting noise of a coffee shop for two hours, working on whatever. (I actually have the Coffitivity app that mimics the ambient noise. It’s that serious.)
5. ’80s crush: John Taylor, then and forever.
6. Current crush: Dan Levy. Hannah Gadsby. My ebook app. Always my dog.
7. Latest fave find: I discovered Schitt’s Creek this summer years after the rest of the world, and at the best possible time in my pandemic life. CBT. Thayer’s Witch Hazel (my grandma was right—mosquito bites, skin toner, it fixes everything.)
8. Last thing I lost: My favorite mask, which is a thing I have now.
9. Best thing that happened recently: I spent two weeks isolating at my favorite beach. Zoom meetings are a lot better with an ocean view. A new work opportunity. A socially distanced evening with an entirely COVID-negative family. Biggest gift of all.
10. Looking forward to: A vaccine. Moving freely about the planet. Concerts. Sanity returning on November 3. (I hope I hope. Please vote.)
Sara with older brother. (Photo courtesy of Sara Gilliam)
I wrote this essay several years ago, but I’m struck by how much it still resonates. In fact, I believe our divides—even within families—are deeper and more painful now than ever. More than a handful of people I know have severed communication with their parents or siblings over political beliefs. One friend pointed out to his family, “I’m gay and I’m married to a Black man. If you voted for Trump, you are supporting a racist who is determined to strip away our civil rights.” It’s hard to argue with that logic.
Of less significance: I composed but did not send perhaps a dozen texts to my politically conservative niece, inviting her to watch Michelle Obama’s DNC speech, which I found inspiring. I hoped it might help her understand me a little better. But I never sent those texts; I didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable or start an argument.
Since I wrote this article, I have relocated to Canada with my husband and sons. We are two flights or a 15-hour-drive from “home,” and I have been reminded in countless ways of the importance of family. We no longer have doting grandparents nearby who are eager to babysit. My boys miss Wrestlemania with their uncle and card games with their cousins. I long to sit by the fireplace with my beloved sister-in-law, drinking wine and talking about books. Separated by a closed border, I think of them every day. Recently, I randomly texted my brother to tell him how much I love him.
Is he a good person?
Am I a good person?
I try to be.
Do I love him?
Do I like him?
What, like all the time? It’s complicated.
This is us, 38 years ago. Look at those smiles. They aren’t forced. There’s love there, connection. We were born six years apart, too far to be peers or really even friends. This photo may have been snapped during our happiest time as siblings. Once I started talking, I became annoying. I’d belt out the Annie Soundtrack at the top of my lungs and he’d grit his teeth, knowing complaints wouldn’t get him anywhere. I would rat him out for the tiniest indiscretions. He’d kick me in the back seat of our VW Vanagon camper then smile innocently and shrug when my dad met his eyes in the rearview mirror.
We were essentially two only children living in the same household. One handsome, athletic and wildly popular. The other chubby, musical and an abysmal social failure. I do not remember us as close. Only decades later has it occurred to me that, given our differences, it was unrealistic to expect closeness.
It still is.
There are stark differences between my older brother and myself: he’s an evangelical preacher at a rural megachurch who relaxes by bowhunting deer. I’m a tofu-consuming socialist who believes that we really have no way of knowing what’s “out there.”
However, there is plenty that unites us. We both love nature and Van Morrison. He is one of a handful of people on earth who can make me laugh so hard I pee my pants. We share the bond of time that all siblings do. He’s a great dad and a great uncle to my boys. Tired after a long workday, he’ll crawl around playing monster purely to elicit squeals from my kindergartner. His heart is as big as his pick-up truck. He married a woman who may actually be more conservative than him, and I adore her and am constantly reminded that I hit the sister-in-law jackpot. A few years ago I witnessed his frankly spectacular pastoral counseling skills when he lovingly coached me through a life crisis. About four times a year, he sends me a random text so perfectly timed and witty, it blows my mind.
But in some ways, as a duo of siblings, we are broken. A rift runs between us and it cannot be broached with good will alone. It is our continental divide: impassible, resolute, unchanging.
He and I may not be screaming at each other on 24-hour news channels, but neither are we compromising, changing our minds…
Fifteen years ago, I wrote about my relationship with my brother for Hope magazine, focusing on the positive aspects of our relationship. This essay is harder to write. It’s more challenging to confront difficult truths than to spout relentless cheer. Yet I feel compelled to be honest with myself, and I feel that some sort of writerly karma compels me to come clean with readers of that essay, to let them know that my brother and I have never stopped struggling.
Without a doubt, social media has exacerbated family and cultural strife. We no longer live in a world of abstract ideas. What we believe, who we associate with, and how we act on our values is the stuff of Tweets and Vines. In a ridiculous and unchoreographed online dance, my brother adeptly matches every Common Dreams article I share with photos of dead wildlife. My Jon Stewart video clips hover in my Facebook feed right below his passionate defenses of unborn babies. When it comes to social media, we two are a living, breathing zero sum game.
My latest bout of discomfort may have begun when I stumbled upon an album of photos of my brother’s children picketing outside a Planned Parenthood. Or perhaps it was a few months earlier, when Sarah Palin promoted his blog on her Facebook page. (Fair’s fair. I know a link my husband shared to a scathing article on the Museum of Creationism — something about humans riding dinosaurs—did serious damage to our credibility as open-minded people.)
Open-minded. What does that even mean, in a practical sense? In my heart, I’m not open-minded. I’m not going to change my stance on most key political issues. I’m solidly committed to my belief in the science of global climate change. I think our justice system is racist and we need massive restrictions on gun ownership and gays should have all the fabulous legal weddings they want. If someone disagrees with me on, say, education policy, and wants to convince me that privatization of schools is a good idea, will I listen? Am I likely to change my mind? No and no. Therefore, I cannot reasonably expect different behavior from my brother. The best we can do is grin and bear it. I tune out the noise that makes me uncomfortable, fidgety or downright furious. Without a doubt, he must do the same.
On a profound level, my brother and I are a microcosm of this country and its potentially irreparable flaws. The idea of middle ground is ephemeral; in reality we can’t find much. He and I may not be screaming at each other on 24-hour news channels, but neither are we compromising, changing our minds or, if I’m being honest, listening to each other. We are the word polarized expressed in two middle-aged bodies.
As another election season looms, candidates shout over each other espousing that we must fix our broken political system. I’m no pundit and my degree is in creative writing, not political science, but I suspect such a fix is unrealistic and unlikely. I base my assertion on my relationship with my brother. Here we are, two people who have every reason to make it work and who share an extended circle of caring. We grew up in the same state, in the same socio-economic bracket, educated by the same public schools and raised by the same parents. And we have a list of about 30 items that we simply can’t discuss with each other.
To a certain extent, families like ours have lost a sense of “us” as a collective identity. So has our country. Yard signs and profile pictures and bumper stickers no longer represent one aspect of our selves; they are the tools by which we isolate ourselves from those who disagree with us. Extrapolate this to a national level and suddenly we’re staring down future presidential debates in which the only common ground acknowledged by the candidates is support for our troops and disdain of illegals and welfare moms.
The mythical re-visioning of our country will require more than compromise; it will necessitate the changing of hearts and minds. The ability to say, “You know what? I’ve listened to you, I’ve thought it over, and I’m going to reconsider.” Or to a lesser extent, “Let’s agree to disagree, but I’m going to let you win this one. It’s important to you. I respect you. I’ll step back and let you have this.”
The card-carrying optimist in my heart wants to believe this is possible, on a political level as well as in my personal life. I want to believe that we can find commonalities that run deeper than cheap shots and talking points. I want to believe in politicians who give a shit, and as soon as I meet one, I will. Meantime, plans are in the works for our extended family Thanksgiving. The food will be superb. The children will be goofy. The conversation will be safe. When the evening ends, I’ll leave feeling at once content and sad, loved and lonely. And so will he.
Every month (almost) Nina Lorez Collins of The Woolfer and Margit Detweiler (of this here thing, TueNight) get together for a chat about anything and everything pop culture. On the regular they talk about what they’re reading, watching, listening to and loving. Here are this month’s recommendations:
(In my backyard, late May in Rochester, NY, a week or two before my book launched)
Bio:Sejal Shah‘s debut essay collection, This Is One Way to Dance, was published by University of Georgia Press in June 2020. Publishers Weekly says, “Shah forcefully tackles the complicated intersection of ‘identity, language, movement, family, place, and race’…[she] has created a striking self-portrait.”
Beyond the Bio: I love caring much less about what other people think. Books matter more to me than clothes. Since the pandemic, I’m not coloring my hair and it’s sometimes shocking to see the grey, but also freeing. This is me.
What makes you a grown-ass lady? Knowing I’d rather stay in than go out and being good with that. Joy of missing out (JOMO!). Understanding that when other people behave badly, it’s about them. To not take it personally. Also: boundaries. Knowing them, enforcing them.
Here’s her TueNight 10:
1. On the nightstand: CBD Balm with arnica and ginger, pens, books, lilac-scented lotion.
2. Can’t stop/won’t stop: Alone time is a necessity.