Total Eclipse of The Heart

Reminder-Total-Solar-Eclipse-Will-Happen-Today-March-20-476301-2

 

So I’m a little late with this post.  The solar eclipse happened two days ago and I’m first sitting down to write about it now.  Part of the reason for that is time, but I also wanted to do some research.  A quick look at any social media platform will reveal that many people were super-psyched about the eclipse.  And also that just as many were not interested and were sick of hearing about it.  The lead up to the eclipse was, I’ll admit, somewhat annoying.  It was all over the news.  There was a run on eclipse glasses, which resulted in price gouging.  Warnings about eye damage to humans and animals were posted and reposted everywhere.  I planned to go about my day as usual, possibly going out in my backyard at the appointed time (for us in NYC we got 71% coverage at around 2:45pm).  Then “Eclipse Monday” actually came around and I got sucked into the hype. I was glued to my TV.  The Staten Island Advance’s Shane DiMaio went “Facebook Live” with an Eclipse Party that was happening on the campus of the College of Staten Island, both educational and entertaining.  I watched that on my phone while I sat in my backyard waiting for the “big moment.”  What was it that drew me in?  What was the appeal?  Why was I suddenly so excited about the eclipse?  In short, I wanted to feel like I was part of something special.

Our lives are all about connections: social media connections, business connections, family connections, etc..  As an educator, a big part of my job was to help students make connections to abstract ideas and concepts.  This is the learning process.  We take in a new concept by comparing and contrasting it to things we already know; we connect it to other ideas and concepts and incorporate into our own well of knowledge.  The solar eclipse, for many, represented something that they could connect to, something that not everyone everywhere would get to experience.  It was something special.  According to Google, special is defined as, “better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual.” While we all share the same sky and stars, the eclipse was another way for us to feel special and connected to other viewers.  It may become the new, “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” Now it will be, “Where did you watch the 2017 Solar Eclipse?”

Then I asked myself, why is it so important for human beings to feel special?  I think it basically boils down to wanting to feel like we are important, like we matter.  This happens when you receive recognition for a talent or achievement.  See my post about participation awards here.  But it also happens in relationships, both romantic and platonic.  My cousin Christine and I have a special relationship.  Those of you who have watched Grey’s Anatomy will understand what I mean when I say Christine is “my person.”  We are connected not only by blood, but by similar experiences.  It is a connection that only we share together.  It is different from usual friendships.  It’s special.

Feeling special is even more important in romantic relationships.  The connection that romantic partners share is different than that which they share with anyone else.   Very attached partners often describe this special connection as one that occurs on various “levels,” and when they feel this connection on multiple levels, the more special the relationship feels.  My readers who watch Friends will surely remember Phoebe describing that type of specialness and connection with lobsters when she assures Ross that he and Rachel will eventually end up together because “she’s your lobster.”  Who wouldn’t want to feel that close and connected to their partner? That’s what makes their relationship different from anyone else’s, that’s what makes it so special.

I seem to have taken the long way around, but this is why I became so excited and mesmerized by Monday’s eclipse: it allowed me to feel connected to something special.  And to me, that was awesome.

A Letter to My 16 Year Old Self

My Dearest 16 year old Andreana,

Sixteen can be such a wonderful age, full of excitement and new-found maturity, but can

IMG_4073

Me, age 16

also be scary, as you take on risks you think you are ready for, only to discover you may not be yet.  You are at the end of your junior year in high school, looking at colleges, and contemplating what you want to do with the rest of your life.  I want to share some things with you, things that if you knew about yourself and life, might make you feel a little more at ease with the vast unknown into which you are headed:

  • You are NOT fat.  The images that you see in magazines are altered to make people look “perfect.”  And I say “perfect” in quotes because the definition of perfect when it comes to the female body changes over time.  Your body is perfect in all its imperfections.  Someday you will look back on this body that you think is so fat and undesirable now and wish it was the body you had again (especially after you have your beautiful children).  Exercise is certainly worthwhile, if only because it makes you feel good about yourself.  But please do not waste time obsessing about your weight and the size clothing you wear.  You are beautiful and so is your body.  Love it and yourself for what you are.
  • You will experience disappointment in various forms.  You won’t be cast as Sandy in your high school production of Grease (relax, you are cast as Rizzo and have an awesome vocal solo).  You will not do well on important exams.  You will find the workload in college to be daunting at times.  You will consider dropping out, giving up, taking short cuts, etc.  Don’t do it! Push through.  It will be scary.  You will have a gnawing, nauseous feeling in the pit of your stomach through many of these experiences.  That feeling, that knot in your belly, means that you are about to do something great.  Not front page of the newspaper great, but personally great.  Rejoice in your personal victories.  They are helping to grow you into your future self.
  • Along with disappointment, you will experience regret.  Regret is a hot button issue, as some people don’t think it exists or is worth spending time on.  Regret exists for you, Andreana.  You will regret not taking chances, not taking risks.  And, you will also take chances and risks, and regret doing so as a result of the outcome.  I’m not going to warn you about what these are, because even though some of the regret is painful, it is necessary.  You need to experience these regrets to learn lessons.  These lessons will become incorporated into the fabric of your being.  They help shape your future self.  And I have to say, your future self is pretty kick-ass.
  • The regret and disappointment I’ve mentioned will, at times, feel life threatening.  You will spend a significant amount of time on your knees – crying, begging, praying.  Don’t try to shortcut these feelings.  The only way out is through.  If you try to go around, they will come back and bite you in the ass later.  It will be more difficult to get through them later. So persevere.  It will be difficult, but you will be happier about it in the long run.
  • Protect your heart.  You tend to give away pieces of it too easily.  You feel things deeply – both good and bad.  When it’s good, the high is better than any drug you could ever take (which bravo, by the way, for not giving in to peer pressure on that).  But when it’s bad, it will paralyze you.  You will fall in love and it will be beautiful.  But your heart will also be broken.  Invest in tissues.  Know that with each heart break (yes, there’s more than one), you will learn new things about yourself.  You will realize that some of what felt like love wasn’t love at all.  These are important milestones in your life.  Don’t spend time beating yourself up about it (see my note on regret, above).  You always give of yourself unselfishly.  You are not stupid or foolish.  You are learning about yourself and what you need and want in a partner.  Each heartache will teach you how to recognize true love when it comes to you (and it does).
  • You cannot save or change people.  Read that sentence again.  The people you encounter who want to be saved or changed will accept the help you offer them.  The others are not your personal failures.  You will always be generous of spirit and heart.  Don’t lose those qualities.  They will serve you well later on.  I want to especially emphasize this point when it comes to the boys, and then later men, in your life.  Relationships always change us in that the “good ones” make us want to be better people and partners.  They bring out the best in us.  But you do not have the power to change someone else.  How a man loves you and respects you is what it is when you meet him.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that he will be different once he’s with you.  He won’t be.
  • In the same spirit, I urge you to believe people when they show you who they are.  You are an intellectual.  Words are important to you.  But you must pay attention to the actions behind the words.  The words alone are not enough.  Actions will speak  way louder.  Pay close attention to them.  Trust them.  They will never reveal to you something that is untrue.  This could save you some of the heartache you experience when false friends show their true colors.
  • Know that what sometimes feel like the most painful endings in your life will actually be very powerful new beginnings in disguise.  Trust that the road you are on is the right one.  You will end up where you are meant to be.  This applies to both people and experiences.  Some people will come into your life for a short time, simply to teach you a lesson.  Others will come and stay forever, becoming part of your inner circle of support.  And yet others will come and go multiple times.  They all have a purpose in your life.  Pay attention to them and what they will teach you – and what you will teach them.  If you get the job, it’s because it’s part of your journey.  If you don’t, its because something else is coming down the pike for you.  It won’t feel like it at the time, but trust me this is true.
  • Try to appreciate your family more.  It will take you years of therapy to come to a place of acceptance about your parents and your upbringing.  They are far from perfect.  But they love you in ways you won’t be able to understand until you have children of your own.  They are doing the best they know how to do for you.  Sometimes, they don’t know enough.  At times it will feel like they are trying to destroy you or make you suffer deeply for their own pleasure.  But they are only looking to protect you.  You will recognize this someday.
  • Your brother will become your hero.  I know you are probably rolling your eyes and laughing out loud at this right now.  At this moment, he is 13 and awkward and mostly a pain in the ass.  But he grows and matures as well.  He will always be your biggest supporter, your greatest cheerleader.  He will also not sugarcoat things for you.  He will say things that you don’t want to hear.  Don’t condemn him for this.  Respect him for this.  He will be of help to you in your adult life in ways that will surprise you.  He will be an amazing uncle.  Your children will also hold him in very high regard.  You will be grateful for his presence in your life and the closeness that you develop.  You will also go through a period of awkwardness and hurt feelings when he chooses to marry.  Own your mistakes there.  His wife will love him truly and deeply.  That alone will make you love her.
  • You will experience a heartache that nothing I could tell you would prepare you for.  You will contemplate ending your life, briefly, because the pain in your heart will be so overwhelming.  Just know that you are stronger than you think you are.  You are incredibly brave and have more courage than you can possibly imagine right now.  This heartache will force you to confront fears that have paralyzed you and caused you great anxiety in the past.  You will gain strength from people and places you least expect it, children especially will give you great strength and comfort.  Accept it all from where it is offered.  You will become a role model to those around you.  You will also become one seriously bad-ass woman.  When others tell you this, you will feel uncomfortable.  Get past it.  Wear it like a badge of honor.  You will become a force to be reckoned with.  This is a good thing.
  • True love will hit you like a bolt of thunder, and more than once.  Each time, you will know it immediately.  You will doubt yourself, but trust your gut.  You will know when what you are feeling is “it.”  In a lot of ways, it will feel like the last two pieces of a puzzle finally fitting together.  The real thing will not be easy.  Don’t be fooled by what you see on television and in the movies.  Relationships are hard.  They require a lot of work.  They require timing, which won’t always be ideal.  Believe and trust in true love.  It will not be problem free.  It will be a rollercoaster ride.  It will require tremendous sacrifice and trust.  It will hurt you at times.  But the hurt will teach you things, like the difference between fighting and communicating.  You will become more comfortable with talking about and asking for what you need.  When it’s the real thing, your partner will do his best to meet those needs.  Your parents will set a poor example here, unfortunately.  They do love each other, but they will model communicating needs as an act of war, thereby necessitating a winner and a loser.  Try to ignore this.  You will discover that this is completely unnecessary and causes more hurt feelings than anything else.  In true love there is no winner or loser.  In true love, what will be most important to you is the happiness of your partner.  I don’t want to say too much more here, just that when it’s true love you will know it and you should do everything in your power to grab it and hold on tight.  Do not let it pass you by.  It will be worth it. I promise.
  • Finally, always be kind.  There will be a lot of hate in your world – micro and macro.  If there is an opportunity for you to be kind, take it.  It will always be worth the effort.  It will come back to you in ways you can’t imagine.  You will be appreciated for it.  You will be respected for it.  It will make you happy, not in a temporary way.  It will make you a happier person long term.  When people say “money can’t buy happiness,” this is what they are talking about.  Kindness comes from the heart and it will fulfill you in ways that nothing else can.

You are a good person, Andreana.  You are worthy of love, even though you don’t always believe it.  You will make your mark on the world.  Your presence will be known and appreciated.  You will be happy.  You will have many good friends and a large family that will help support you and celebrate the milestones of your life with you. You will be a successful human being.  Keep your head up.

Love,

You, at age 45

Happy Birthday, Jon

img_5871

Christmas Day 1993(ish)

Today is Jon’s birthday. He would be 48 years old. This is the 14th year I’ve celebrated his birthday without him. On his birthday, I often spend time reflecting on the past year of my life and the lives of our girls and my relationship with each of them. I wonder if he would be proud of me or give me that look, the one that only he could give me, the one that I would understand clearly meant that he was disappointed and not happy.

People are constantly telling me how strong and brave I am. They tell me what an inspiration I am to them and what a bang up job I’ve done with my girls in the face of such a horrible tragedy. Well today, my friends, I will let you all behind the curtain. Just like the wizard in The Wizard Of Oz, things are not always as they seem in my life. When I first lost Jon, I was overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, but also fear. How was I going to get through my life without him? Could I be both mother and father to our girls? And while I’ve learned that I am capable of navigating life on my own, the truth is, I’m still scared. I feel weak and insecure. Every day. I worry about my daughters constantly. The thought of losing my own dad is beyond devastating to me. To see my brave girls live everyday without their father breaks my heart over and over again.

I know I have made mistakes in my life, some minor and some not so minor. But I want Jon to know that I tried. I still try. I do the best I know how to do. I have sacrificed my own happiness and desires for our girls. I put their needs, often, way ahead of my own. I do this because I’m a mom and it’s my job. But I also do it out of guilt. I did not cause the car accident. I didn’t cause the driver of the car that hit him to make an illegal turn. But I carry the guilt. My girls are growing up without a father and I feel tremendous guilt about it. Nothing brings me greater anxiety than the High School Father-Daughter Dance. Danny has been amazing, thrown into the deep end of the parenting pool without a life vest. He stepped up and did all the things that dads do with their daughters. And I’m so grateful that he did, and does. But, without any disrespect to him, he’s not their father. Events like the Father-Daughter Dance are just a bitter reminder, a slap in my face that Jon is not here. I feel guilty about this. The annual Sports Awards Dinner, their birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Father’s Day… these are all days that I dread. These are days that my joy is tempered with sadness for all that Jon is missing but also for all my girls are missing out on. They will never experience the joy that I know Jon would feel with each high school and college acceptance, with each road test passed. They will never know what it’s like to make their father proud, to see the pride in his eyes when he looks at them. I feel guilty about this.

I’m human, and therefore, imperfect by definition. That is often reflected in the goings on in my house. Along with all the laughter and happiness, there is yelling and fighting and withdrawal. When this happens, I’m often looked to for solutions. “What should I do?” “Can you please talk to her for me?” This I feel no guilt for. This makes me angry. It’s exhausting to be the one who is expected to have all the answers. And though Jon often left a lot of the difficult parenting jobs to me (like explaining where babies come from), he is the one that I would turn to for help. I have been robbed of that. Seven Orlando, Florida high schoolers on “spring break” in Miami, took that from me. I’ll always be angry about that.

Every February 1st I will look back on the previous year, and all the years that have passed. I hope that Jon sees how hard I’ve tried. I hope my girls one day recognize how hard I tried. I hope they all understand that everything I did, or didn’t do, was done with love. I know I’ve fucked up a lot, but it has never been my intention to hurt anyone. And more importantly, I’d like to think that I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’ve taken the lessons my mistakes have taught me and integrated them into the person that they have caused me to become. As the saying goes, if we don’t learn from history, we are destined to repeat it.

Happy birthday in heaven, Jon. You are loved, cherished, and missed, not only today, but every day. xoxo

3038_1135178147782_1152707_n.jpg

The four of us at my brother’s wedding, August 2002

 

I Will Never Forget

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-8-16-23-pmIt has been fifteen years since the attacks of September 11th. For some it feels like a lifetime ago. For others, like it was just yesterday. And for some of us, it’s a mixture of both. No matter which category you fall into, it was a horrible tragedy. It was an awful day. It’s a day I will never forget.

The first reports on the news were of a “small plane” crashing into one of the Towers. I called my dad, who was safely at home in Brooklyn. I remember noting it was such a beautiful day, with clear blue skies. How could anyone not see the Twin Towers, even from a small aircraft? My dad, big conspiracy theorist, said, “We are under attack.” I rolled my eyes. I have since apologized for that.

My brother worked directly across the street at One Liberty Plaza. I managed to get him on the phone, and described to him what was being reported on television. The people in his office had no idea what was happening. I could hear panic and chaos of sorts in the background. He rushed me off the phone. He was heading to the designated meeting place on his floor to hear from whoever was in charge about what they were going to do. “I’ll call you back,” he said. That was the last time I spoke with him for several hours.   He and a friend from the office got on the last ferry that left Manhattan for Staten Island. Life jackets were handed out as people boarded. There was no certainty that they would make it to the Staten Island side. I finally heard from my brother when he arrived back home, with no keys. He had to break into his own house. My story has a happy ending. Far too many others do not.

Each year on September 11th, I remember those frightening moments. I remember being afraid. I remember being afraid that my brother was dead. I remember tremendous acts of kindness amongst our fellow citizens. The gentleman that escaped on the ferry with my brother is a diabetic. He had no supplies with him. My brother took him to a local CVS where they gave him an interim supply without a charge. The pharmacist, refusing the money, said something like, “Be safe and God bless America.” I remember schools in our area “adopting” local firehouses and police precincts, sending them little notes and treats to thank them for protecting us, for being the ones to run into the buildings while “we” were the ones running out. I remember. I remember lots of insignificant things and lots of big details. But I remember.

Lily, age six, saw me crying this morning. She wanted to know why I was upset. Using very basic facts, I explained to her about the attacks of September 11th, that many people died. Her generation may acknowledge this day in history, but they will not remember feeling the pain and sadness that my generation does. This thought made me even sadder. When I asked my daughter, who attends school n Ivy League college, how September 11th was being remember where she was, she reported “nothing I know of is happening on campus today.” This made me angry.

My cousin, Lisa, teaches the second grade. She is able to incorporate the significance of this day in her second grade classroom. She gives her students a brief summary of what happened, obviously limiting graphic details. She then uses it as an opportunity to talk about heroes. Her students talk about who the heroes are in their city. They then write about who their hero is and why. This is perfect, in my eyes. There were many stories of heroic acts both before and after the Towers actually fell. These stories touched me, inspired me. This is the story of September 11th I prefer to remember. Bravo, Lisa, for helping second graders understand that.

Some day, and I fear that day is coming all too soon, September 11th will be that day on the calendar that people have a vague understanding of. It will be that day that’s kind of important because of some terrorist attack. Very few will remember that a plane also struck the Pentagon that day or that passengers on another plane taken over by terrorists lost their lives trying to take it back over Pennsylvania. I’ve barely mentioned that part of September 11th in this post. As someone who lived through it, albeit from the safety of being on Staten Island and watching on television, it is important to me that the next generation, and generations after that, understand what it felt like to be “there.” I want them to understand what it felt like to think that my brother was dead. I want them to understand what it felt like for the people of missing loved ones who worked at the Towers; what they felt not knowing if their loved one was alive or confirmed dead. I want them to understand what it felt like for someone to have a loved one whose remains have never been recovered. I want them to understand what it felt like to be the partner, parent, or child of a first responder, who knew their loved one was running towards that disaster while everyone else was running away.

I am hopeful that because of television, the internet, and social media, this day will retain at least some of its significance. I was so full of emotion about this particular aspect of September 11th today. That’s when I realized that I am one of those people who has an almost complete disregard for the commemoration of other tragic events that have already occurred: wars, mass shootings, other terror attacks. I was overcome with guilt. There are people in Aurora and Columbine, Colorado who feel the way I do about their movie theater and high school mass shootings dates. How could I have been disrespectful without even realizing it? I was not personally affected by those events. I wasn’t a parent who lost a child at Columbine High School or a loved one at the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight.” To those people, whose lives have been touched by these and other horrific tragedies, I apologize for not remembering you or acknowledging your pain on those significant dates. This feeling of guilt also made me realize that it is the responsibility of those who were affected by the tragedy to keep the significance alive. This is why I tell my story to my children every year. I hope that they will tell their children, when they ask why September 11th is important, my story about my brother. That is why I wrote this post. I will never forget.