Justified Dreams

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I recently received an email from an old friend of mine who is enjoying a new chapter in her life:  Pregnancy.  My friend described what the future may hold for their new family as she and her husband try to make decisions around issues like where to live once their baby is born.  They currently live in a small cottage on the water in Rhode Island but they are thinking of moving and living on a boat.  Yes, you read that right:  They want to live on a boat.  Both of them live for the water, and sailing is their passion (in fact, it’s how they met, and my friend’s husband has even built his own boat!).  My friend went on in her email to say that when she mentioned what she and her hubby were thinking of doing people had all kinds of opinions about it, mostly that she was “crazy” for thinking that she could take care of a little baby while living aboard what I gather would be a pretty small boat (compared to a house).  What she seemed to be saying was that making any decision like this is scary, but I got the feeling that it’s not just because it would be a big change, but also because people have told her that it’s “impossible” to have a child aboard a boat when they’re that young.  She’s going against the grain and feels like even to the most well-intentioned friend she has to justify her hopes and dreams.

This got me thinking that we’ve all felt as though we’ve had to justify a hope or dream at some point in our life, haven’t we?  And why?  Since when was it anybody else’s place to tell us what we can and cannot do, let alone that what we wish for is wrong, or impossible?  How did people get to be so judgemental?  (And I’m not taking myself out of that equation since I’ve had my share of judgemental moments as well with everybody from my best friend to a complete stranger).  And how much does this affect the decisions that we make in our own personal lives?  How difficult it is, I now realize, to stay true to yourself when you can’t block out the noise of others, especially when that noise reflects the uncertainty that perhaps we feel in our own heads and hearts.

Have you ever wondered why somebody tells another that what they want to do, whether it be start their own business, try their hand at acting, adopt a child, write a book, or sell their house and travel the world with two small children, is impossible?  Crazy?  Silly?  Unrealistic?  Is it because they’re jealous?  Because THEY’RE not doing something so brave themselves?  Is it because they believe that their path is the right way, the best way?  That because it’s working for them, or hell because they can’t even fathom doing it any other way, it must be the “right” path for everybody else as well?

This same friend who is now trying to justify her dream of living on a boat is also the friend who desperately wanted to get a dog about 3 years ago when she and her now husband were dating.  She tells me that everybody then also had their opinions and when she would discuss her hope for owning a pooch was told “It’s so much work.”  As if she didn’t know.  As if she asked for their opinion!  As if she hadn’t had dogs growing up, wasn’t 32 years old and totally competent, and needed to hear others tell her that it was a bad idea, instead of just saying “That’s awesome.  A dog is so much fun and such a great companion to have.”  I hope I said it, but even I can’t be sure.  The point? Whether you’re having a baby, living on a boat, adopting a dog, changing a career, ending a relationship, anything… Everybody has an opinion about it and everybody, somehow, feels the need to pass it on… Even if you didn’t ask.

But my friend has another reason for wanting to live out her dream on a boat now, in the present, and not wait until later in life.  It’s because, about a month after she got married, she was diagnosed with MS (she started having symptoms shortly before her wedding last September).  Thankfully there is a chance that she may not have any other symptoms for years to come, and also another possibility that she may never have another symptom, but we just don’t know what will happen in the future.  All the more reason to live for the moment.  My friend realizes how difficult it would be to live on a boat if g-d forbid her symptoms ever became full-blown.  Not something that most people our age have to think about, but she does.

And I too have been in that moment.  Not with MS, but with cancer, and I have to say that until you’ve had a defining moment where you think that your life is going to be forever changed and you face your own mortality, you can’t really fathom what flashes right before your eyes.  For me first it was:  Will I go blind?  Will I lose an eye?  Will I die?  And then it was facing the fear of never getting married, having kids, writing a book, or going on safari in Africa.  Things like that put your life into perspective and help to drown out of the noise of others.  (Sad that it takes something so life-altering to be able to block out that noise).  I can’t do something?  Or I shouldn’t do something?  I just survived (fill in the blank)… No way are others going to dictate how the rest of my life unfolds.

I for one so admire my friend and her husband.  Yes, living on a boat with a baby seems like it would be difficult, no doubt.  But so are a lot of things in life.  So is having a baby.  So is picking up and moving from one city to another.  So is going back to school.  So is getting married.  But we do them, because we want to experience life, not always sit on the sidelines.  Because we want to be challenged.  Because without risk there isn’t always a reward.  And then it occurs to me:  I do these things, sometimes.  Things that scare me.  Things that are hard.  And so does my friend who goes against the grain and lives her truth.  The realization?  That doesn’t mean that everybody does, and maybe the naysayers are the ones who aren’t even in touch with their greatest dreams.  Or the ones who would never dare to try for fear of being laughed at or judged.   (And this realiziation will maybe make it a bit easier to swallow the next time you meet a naysayer).  Who can’t relate to that fear?

So my friends have dreams of their own, and who am I to persuade them that because I wouldn’t (or couldn’t) do it, they shouldn’t do it?  People are quick to point out the negative, to wonder if you will fail, to almost hope for it sometimes it seems.  I say, scared as I am and you may be too– Blaze your own trail.  I say go for it.  I say, be happy.  Yes, HAPPY.  Be true to yourself.  Live the life you’ve imagined and not the one you think you’re “supposed” to have.  Dust off that doubt and dive in.  You may swim.  You may sink.  But at least your dream will be your own and nobody else’s.  At least you can one day look at your children and say, “It’s OK to think big.  Make it happen.  Try things.  Let go of the noise of others and listen to what you have to say.  Make mistakes.  Knock it out of the park.”  I know it’s not easy or I wouldn’t even be writing this post, but at least if you try you’ll have a better shot of living by your own blueprint.  And what more could you hope to give your children, hell what more could you hope to give yourself, than the ability to live your truth and to pursue even your greatest dreams?

Looking back…

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With a weekend spent contemplating where I’ve been in my life and where I would like to go, I thought I would share with you the plan that I had for writing a memoir before I turned 30.  This was a post on my previous blog Almost30, written on October 24th, 2006.  What happened to these memoir ideas you may be wondering?  Well throughout the years they have lingered and then dissipated, and then resurfaced and then disappeared.  The ebb and flow of writing, life, writer’s block, and feeling as though “What’s it all for?”  Perhaps now, though, the ideas are here to stay, though my story is different and my perspective, I hope, has matured.  Here is a snippet of what I thought I could shape into a memoir, someday. 

 Would you read it?

I’m currently in the middle of trying to pick a title for what I hope will be my memoir!  Exciting stuff, so I wanted to share what I have so far.  I recently took a writing class where I had to really think about my “angle” and capturing a reader’s attention.  I’ve found that the (emotional) pain of losing my eyelashes to cancer and of letting go of an unhealthy relationship is what seems to be at the forefront of my mind when it comes to my story.  So here goes…

Don’t Cry Over Spilled Eyelashes: An Almost 30’s Guide to Life, Love, and Cancer

Don’t Cry Over Spilled Eyelashes: Battling Cancer and Dating While Keeping A Sense of Humor

Almost 30: How I battled being second best to ESPN and Other Tales

Letting Go to Find Myself: How I Battled Being An Almost 30 Year Old Single Woman With Cancer

Don’t Cry For Me ESPN:  Finding Myself Before The Age of 30

Cancer Took My Eyelashes But ESPN Stole My Man

Any thoughts?

Here is how I would summarize my writing:

This is the story of a 20-something year old fearing her 30’s, skillfully avoiding intimacy while craving soulful companionship.  It’s about being loved less than the game of tennis, and trying to survive cancer even when the prognosis for your health is good– and the prognosis for your life is going downhill.  It’s about fighting your innermost demons while trying to keep a sense of humor, and about dodging Jewish guilt from Mom and Dad while trying to find your own sense of self.  It’s about staying true to yourself even when others push you to your limits, and facing your own mortality before the ripe old age of 30. 

It’s a memoir full of struggles and accomplishments throughout what feels like a lifetime, though I am not even 30 yet.  It’s about going to college far from home to find a sense of independence and adventure, and moving to New York City as an unemployed and utterly lost 22-year-old.  It’s about living and working in New York City and documenting the ups and downs of life, finding a humorous way of looking at things because really, there is no other choice.  It’s about living through awful jobs with bosses who make you cry, finding a fulfilling career, ending a 5 year relationship, being single in the city, learning to travel solo, and being diagnosed with eye cancer at the age of 28. 

These bits and pieces of my life are filled with honest and funny tales that all can relate to, men and women alike.  It’s about friendships, struggles with self-identity, and living and dating while battling cancer.  In this book I come to find myself, to understand that my appreciation for humor and my ability to laugh at myself has seen me through some pretty tough times.  It is in being totally candid that I weave a story that is universal, engaging readers of all kinds while finding a unique perspective on life. 

Would you read it?

October 24, 2006

Turning the page when we just started the chapter

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It may sound cliché, but whatever happened to being in the moment?  This was a topic of conversation the other night as I sat around with my girlfriends eating chips and salsa and wondering why the moment you say “I do,” people begin to ask when you are going to have children.

The fact of the matter is, we live in a country (or is it the world?) where everybody is always on to the next big thing.  As soon as you graduate from high school everybody wants to know where you’ll be going to college and what you’ll be studying.  You graduate from college, and before that last piece of graduation cake is eaten or the final picture of you and your friends in cap and gowns is taken, it’s on to the “real world.”  Not a lot of time to celebrate or to hope for your future.  The message is clear:  It’s time to move on, and everybody wants to know exactly how you plan on doing just that.

The same goes for relationships.  If you’re dating and not getting engaged, people want to know why.  They feel, it seems, that a woman could not possibly be happy enjoying the companionship of the relationship without a ring on her finger.  Of course for some women this is true:  They can’t enjoy the relationship without that ring (no judgement, just sayin’), but for many others, they want to be in the moment and to enjoy falling in love, no?

Case in point:  The second that SHL and I got engaged everybody wanted to know if we had set the date.  We had only been dating for about a year and a half when we got engaged, not that long, so it was hard to understand the sense of urgency that others felt for us to get hitched.  Sure we were thrilled to be planning our wedding and we couldn’t wait to marry each other, but it’s not as though it was the 1950’s, I was knocked up, and needed to run down that aisle!  (And if it’s because we’re in our 30’s that will have to be a whole other post.  Anyone interested in reading about the pros and cons of getting married in your 30’s instead of your 20’s?).  The second we said our vows everybody wanted to know when we were going to have children.  Can I have a piece of wedding cake first, please?!  And go on my honeymoon and maybe enjoy going to the movies on Saturday nights and having a margarita because I can before I move on to babies?  So in talking with my friends over that dinner we began to wonder why everybody is in such a rush to move on to the next great thing?  Sure, having children and a house and all those other things that we’re told we’re supposed to want (and hey, a lot of us do, me included) are wonderful if we want them, but why are we so eager to turn the page when we just started the chapter?

I for one can’t wait for all of the wonderful things that I hope will happen for SHL and myself.  There’s still so much to enjoy out of life, so many more surprises, so many more changes, so many more twists and turns and special occasions and day to day living and growing to do. But sometimes I have to remind myself not to forget about today; not to drown out the tender and quiet moments that we share now all in anticipation of what will be.  I want to savor the anticipation.  I want to enjoy the “now.”  I want those surprises to be surprises and I want the truth of what my life is supposed to be to unravel at the pace it is supposed to unravel, and not a moment sooner.

Where Everything Changed

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As the weather begins to warm, spring approaches, and the end of our lease draws near, SHL and I have agreed that we need to face the facts about moving.  In reality, it is probably more myself that needs to face the facts, as it is more my uneasiness and fear of change than his that makes the reality of leaving our home feel difficult.  It is in thinking about this next big change that I have come to realize that I am a creature of habit, though perhaps many of us are when we think about the things that make us feel comfortable, like setting up a home and living there for years to come.  While I have only moved a few times in my life (over the last 12 years since I graduated from college I have lived in only 4 different apartments, not bad), my husband is somewhat of a vagabond.  Before he met me he lived in Toronto and probably lived in over 8 different places in 8 years.  So when it comes to moving, its old hat for him, and anxiety attack for me.

Not only is change hard, but making a change from something that you love is tough too. Let’s face it, we have a beautiful home together.  Other than it being somewhat cramped now for 2 people (he moved in with me), and the too small kitchen (and OK, not enough closet space), we love our apartment.  It has a cozy nook where our desk, computer, and built-in bookcase overflow, it gets a ton of sunlight, the view at night overlooking the Prudential and the Christian Science Center is amazing, we can walk to Whole Foods and Newbury Street, and we have things just where we like them.

But it’s not just the arrangement of the furniture or the spectacular view that makes my heart ache when I think about leaving here.  It’s also because, when I think about my life taking a turn for the better, it was here in this apartment that it happened.  When I left New York 4 years ago I had no idea if I could make Boston my home.  In fact, during one of my “goodbye dinners” while sipping margaritas at my favorite Mexican restaurant in Manhattan, I remember telling my friends that I had to try Boston on for size, but perhaps I would return to New York if Boston didn’t “fit.”  I was moving to Boston not to run away from my problems (I told myself), but to make a fresh start.  And while my parents would be close by I was moving without a job, leaving friends behind, and facing many health issues.  In fact, soon after I moved here I had to deal with painful kidney stones (there really are no other kind), brutal side effects to my eye after the cancer treatment, and then a month in bed because of my bad back.  It was soon thereafter all of these things happened, as the last box was unpacked and the last piece of furniture purchased, that I wondered if I had made a terrible mistake coming to Boston.  I was single and still thought about my ex-boyfriend frequently, even though right before my move I had decided that I needed a clean break from his (unhealthy) presence in my life.  He still emailed me despite my wishes, and I still read but deleted his emails without a response.

Then one evening everything changed.  I conducted a little “goodbye ceremony” and I got rid of my ex for good.  It was about a month later that I met my husband, and from then on things weren’t always easy, but they most definitely changed for the better.  I became employed at not one but two jobs, I reconnected with wonderful old friends in the area, and my health seemed to be getting better. And all of that happened here, in Boston, in our apartment.  I fell in love with my husband while living in this home, and we’ve spent countless hours together here, making dinner, watching movies, adopting our two cats and bringing them home, planning our wedding, and literally doing a little dance when SHL’s green card finally arrived in the mail.

So now it is time to move on.  Time to find a bigger place to cram those things into, time to save money so that we can someday buy a house, time to live somewhere a bit more quiet where we don’t fall asleep to the sound of sirens and college students wandering down the streets drunk on Wednesday nights.

So yes, Boston “fits.”  It has fit, right here, in our cozy home in Back Bay.  But what if it doesn’t fit anymore when we move?

I know we are supposed to be excited about change, about moving on, about opening that next chapter and seeing what great things may possibly lie ahead.  But maybe, just for today, I’m going to take the time to run my hands over those marks on the wall that are probably the result of one of those aforementioned crazy cats (ahem, Riley), to really take in the view at night the way I sometimes forget to do, to stand in the spot where SHL and I practiced on repeat what our first dance as a married couple would look like for weeks before the wedding, and to remember that it was here, in this apartment in Boston, that everything changed.

Eat, drink, (have sex) and be merry before baby arrives?

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After months of religiously checking TheKnot.com (it became like an addiction to see how many days were left until the wedding and how much time I had left to plan), I somehow inadvertently signed up for updates from TheNest.com (the website that takes you from planning a wedding to then planning dinner parties that you seem obligated to have now that you are a married couple). Not quite sure how this happened, but I have been too lazy to go into their website and “unsubscribe.”  However, the last email that I got from them with the title “15 things to do BEFORE you have kids” caught my eye, and instead of unsubscribing I went in to the site to check it out. Huh, I thought.  This could actually be interesting.  After all, now that I am married and SHL and I want kids at some point, someday this list could actually pertain to me.

All I can say is that I find it hysterical that next to each post about what couples should try to accomplish before they have kids was an ad asking if the reader (me) had tried the “Baby Morpher” yet.  I had no idea what this was, but apparently you can put in your photo and your future baby daddy’s photo and see what your little bambino will look like.  Not only do I find this kind of creepy (shouldn’t some things be left for the delivery room?), but I also found it ironic that as I was reading about the author’s suggestions to drink booze with friends, have sex anywhere and everywhere, get a white couch (I guess this is a big no-no once you have kids) and take a career risk, I was also being asked (and encouraged) to think about what my baby will look like.  Apparently it will look like the devil if after kids I can never drink, have sex, see friends, or wear/have anything white in the house ever again.

So I’m asking you to weigh in:  Of course having a baby changes everything, and though I poke fun a bit at the article mentioned above, I actually can’t wait to hopefully have my life turned upside down someday by little ones (that’s right honey, plural!).  So given that these suggestions that the article offered probably aren’t half bad ones (I begrudgingly admit), and it becomes very difficult to have date nights and time alone in the bathroom (another point in the article), how do you Mom’s out there handle this new chapter?   How did having kids, honestly, change you?