On Following Your Motherf*cking Dreams

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This is a cardboard box. It came to my house this past Saturday around 12:30 p.m. I get all kinds of boxes delivered here. Boxes of swim equipment for my son. Boxes of pool parts for my husband. Boxes of clothes for my daughter. But I’ve never received a box like this. This 6 inch square, corrugated cardboard box held my motherf*cking dream come true.

We all grow up dreaming that we want to be one thing or do another when we’re older. Things that maybe seem impractical once the confines of reality set in – time, bills, kids. Things we decide we aren’t smart enough or skilled enough or matched properly for. And we let go of those dreams to do what sustains us. That’s life. It happens.

I realized my dream in 1993 when my brother died and my life cracked open. I was 16 and began to write to fill in that chasm of pain. I went on to college for my writing degree, concentrating in poetry, and believe it or not, I wasn’t half bad. I loved it but, you might have heard, poetry doesn’t pay the bills. After college, I began a career in the advertising arm of publishing. Got married. Had kids. Eventually, my dream of writing was left behind so that I could do what moms do – help my family follow their own motherf*cking dreams.

I became a SAHM and started a small business where I work alone. I began to feel extremely depressed – isolated and unfulfilled. All my life I’d questioned my intelligence and that insecurity had taken some major hits in the last few years. I realized I had to go back to my dream if I wanted to try to save myself to be any good for anyone else. So on October 18, 2016, I started The Mother Octopus. And let me tell you something. A lot really can happen in a year.

Last February, I began to make memes for my Instagram and Facebook accounts as part of my blog’s presence and quickly realized that I loved making them. I was good at making them. I’ve continued writing and have had some great response to my blog, including one post that went viral. I started to feel proud of myself. I started to think that maybe I could do this.

I began following a lot of other writers, mom bloggers and meme makers, I noticed many of them in Scary Mommy t-shirts. Lots of them were either staff writers or contributors at Scary Mommy. So very early on, I made becoming a Scary Mommy contributor and getting that t-shirt a goal for myself. I saw that t-shirt as a major rite of passage, validation that I could do this. And on Saturday, around 12:30 p.m., that t-shirt arrived at my house in the 6 inch square cardboard box above. I have an author page at ScaryMommy.com and I have a job making memes for them. My motherf*cking dream is now my reality.

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For many years I felt like what I had to say wasn’t important. My dreams of being a wife and mom had been realized and now my job was to keep my head above water and so that everyone else could realize their dreams. I bring my daughter to piano lessons because I believe that is what she’s meant to do. I bring my son to swim practice because I believe that is what he’s meant to do. What I’m learning is that in order to be a better mom and wife, I have to strive for what validates me. I’m no good if I’m not nurturing my own desire to succeed in what I believe I’m meant to do.

So, if you have a dream that you’ve buried in the back story of your life, under the chaos of schedules and clutter of other obligations, DIG IT OUT. You’re going to come to a point in your life when everyone else’s dream is coming true and there won’t be time left for yours. If you dream of going back to school so you can change careers, go back. If you dream of starting your own business so you have more time for your family, start it. Whatever it is, DO IT. NOW. Your 6 inch square cardboard box is out there and your motherf*cking dream is waiting inside of it.

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The Family We Make For Ourselves

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This is my daughter Olivia brushing her friend Ellie’s hair. I took this photo when my family was visiting my best friend Nichole’s family last spring. Ellie is Nichole’s daughter. The girls didn’t know it at the time, and they still don’t, but it was the weekend they became best friends.

It was Saturday morning and I’d slept in the kids’ room with all 4 kids in case mine woke up during the night. The kids got up early and headed downstairs to play. I heard some husband voices down there, so I continued to doze, a little wine soaked from the night before. A while later I woke up to the sound of the girls chatting in Nichole’s large closet, attached to the kid’s bedroom. The door was cracked enough so I could see Olivia brushing Ellie’s hair. I quickly got out of bed and crept in to snap a few pictures before they could protest.

A little background. Nichole and I come from a long line of best friends. Our grandmothers were neighbors and close friends, so our fathers had always been close. When Nichole was born 6 months after me, our best friend destiny was sealed. That was 40 years ago.

Nichole and I in 1982.

Now, the 5-hour distance between my Long Island home and Nichole’s Syracuse home makes it difficult for us to get together as much as we’d like. We had a great weekend with them and our kids cried when it was time to say goodbye. On the car ride back to Long Island, going through the photos on my phone, I came across the hair brushing pictures. All bleary-eyed and probably recovering from the night before, I’d forgotten I took those.

An Instagram fan, I quickly added a few filters to it and posted it to my FB page. It wasn’t until a few hours later that I looked at the picture again and got chills, suddenly remembering the last time Nichole had brushed my hair. The morning after my brother died. The day she became my sister.

It was July 8, 1993. She and I were 16. My brother J.P. had died suddenly the day before from cardiac arrest following a bout of heatstroke. He was 19. Nichole slept in my bed with me and woke up next to me with the confirmation that the day before hadn’t been a nightmare like I hoped. That morning I went to the funeral home with my parents, somehow thinking they could use my support. I didn’t last long and I ended up on the front steps of the funeral home in the hot summer sun waiting for my aunt to pick me up.

Getting back to the house, Nichole was still there. I played Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd on repeat because my brother used to play it. I sat on the floor dazed and she sat behind me and brushed my long brown hair while the music blared. Because the days that followed were such a blur, I hadn’t thought of that moment in 24 years. What seemed like a small gesture at the time now reveals itself to me as the moment she stepped into her rightful role as my heart’s mender and still now, my heart’s protector.

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Nichole & I in 2017.

I’m not writing this to rehash the feelings of that awful time. I’m writing this because when I looked back at the picture of Olivia brushing Ellie’s hair, it struck me that what Nichole and I share, our girls have begun to share. It was a strange and beautiful feeling. They’re 10 and 7. Their 3-year age difference was palpable until that weekend when I took this picture and they became inseparable.

I remembered Nichole’s grandmother telling me stories about my own grandmother. I wondered how many times they’d laughed together or consoled each other or stood together in front of a mirror while they prepared for a night out with our grandfathers. I wondered if they’d had any idea that something as simple as their friendship would become so much more for Nichole and I and now for our kids. I wonder how happy they’d be to see their granddaughters and their great granddaughters sharing the same bond they shared almost 80 years earlier.

This picture is the culmination of 40 years of laughter, tears, firsts, lasts, fights, failures and triumphs I shared with Nichole. I realized our daughters will have that together now. That’s the legacy we’ve passed on to them.

When I look back at the picture of Olivia brushing Ellie’s hair, I hope one day our girls will realize that they’re so much more than “fourth generation besties”. I hope they’ll understand that sometimes the best kind of family is the kind you find outside your bloodlines. It’s the family that somehow becomes your family through the opening and rending of your hearts and the experience of shared joy. It’s the family we make for ourselves.

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A Dress I Have No Business Wearing

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This is me in a dress I have no business wearing. It’s not the first time I’ve worn it and it won’t be the last time. I know it’s not flattering but I don’t want you to say, “OMG, YOU LOOK GREAT!” I don’t want you to say, “GOOD FOR YOU!” I want you to know why I’m wearing a dress I have no business wearing.

I took this picture two days ago. I was one and a half proseccos deep during a girl’s weekend with my best friend and we were on our way to a nice dinner. Someone could say that I look a little pregnant in it, because of, you know, that part sticking out in the front. I do look a little pregnant. That’s fine. Once upon a time I grew two babies in that part sticking out in the front, but I assure you, now it’s just where I keep my cheeseburgers and sauvignon blanc.

I bought this dress for a trip my husband and I took in July. When I tried it on I knew the dress wasn’t made for my 5’2″ body, 160 lb. body, but I felt great in it. I don’t know why. I just did. I’m not known to wear form-fitting clothes. At all. But I wanted it, so I bought it. And I was proud of myself for it.

The truth is, I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been, other than when I was pregnant. Another truth is that I’ve always struggled with my weight and if you’ve ever struggled with your weight, you know it’s not a physical struggle. It’s about how you see yourself and how you speak to yourself in your mind. After 40 years of telling myself I have no business wearing things I want to wear, I’ve decided to change the subject. I’ve decided to start being kind to myself.

I’m a work from home mom. I make my own schedule. I could spend 2 hours a day at the gym if I wanted to. I could run from here to Manhattan and back if I set my mind to it. The thing is, my mind is elsewhere. Right now I’m in the business of keeping my shit together. I’m in the business of raising loving children. I’m in the business of maintaining healthy friendships. I’m in the business of having a happy marriage.

For 40 years I’ve stood in the mirror and compared how I look to how I THINK I should look. And it’s exhausting. Now, in an ugly world where I have so many other, more important things to worry about, I’m hitting that red decline button when the self-doubt calls start pouring it. I don’t want to do it anymore. I want to be in the business of loving myself. It’s as simple as that.

I’m not saying I’m giving up. I’ll still try to get healthy, here and there. I’m just taking a break from beating myself up. I’m muting the negative things I say to myself, because as it turns out, I care way more about my own comments than anyone else’s.

So here’s the thing. If I can put on a dress I have no business wearing to go out with my husband or to go to a fancy dinner at a nice restaurant with my best friend because it makes me feel good, you can too. And if I’m putting this picture on my Facebook page for 15,000 people to see, well then you can certainly wear a dress you have no business wearing to a BBQ this weekend. If the hard part is talking yourself into it, tell yourself life’s too short to worry about things you have no business wearing.

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If I Could Save Time in a B Cup

My freshman year in college, I wrote an essay about boobs for an English class. My mom’s boobs and my best friend’s boobs actually, because they were at opposite ends of the boob spectrum. Twenty two years later, I’m starting to really put the ma’am in mammaries and I find myself wistfully reflecting on that paper and the boobs I had when I wrote it.

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BOOBIES COME BACK!

It was fall, 1996. I was a B cup and considered myself #BLESSED to be on the B team because my mother had been riding the bench on the A team her whole life. She’d shamelessly asked Santa for boobs for Christmas each year for as long as I can remember. Mama wanted big ones. BAD. Then, there was my best friend who’d had a breast reduction about 6 months before I wrote the essay. She was comin’ in hot with DDs prior to her surgery at age 17 and she HATED them. When we’d get ready to go out in high school, she’d look in the mirror and ask, “Am I going to offend anyone if I wear this shirt?” I never knew what she meant by that but my mother’s head would pop out of whatever room she was in and yell, “Any time you’re ready to get rid of them, you know where to find me!”

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“Boobs? I’ll take two right here.” – My mom.

At the time I didn’t fully grasp their misery. I loved them both and couldn’t understand how they could be so unhappy with their bodies, however, their spots in the breast brigade made me appreciate that I was somewhere in between. My Bs got the job done and I wasn’t in a place of longing on either side. But now, less than 3 months away from turning 40, I’ve gained a husband, 2 kids and about 40 lbs since I wrote that essay. My lovable little Bs are a thing of the past and I’ve got 2 big, breast friends in unexpectedly low places. Thanks to Father Time, attempts at breastfeeding, running, weight gain & loss and working from home (which lends itself beautifully to NOT wearing a bra), these days I look like a four-armed octopus when I unleash the beasts.

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Me in 6 months.

Now that there’s more of me to love, I’m constantly in awe of what gravity can do to your body. I mean, you know you’ve entered a new era of self discovery you walk up the stairs and your boobs bounce off your knees. My ladies are so droopy now, if my nipples were hands, I could tie my own shoes with them. God, think of how much more I’d get done each day. I could scramble eggs and butter the toast at the same time. I’d be able to shave a ton of time off making the kid’s sandwiches each morning and showering and folding laundry would be a snap. Maybe hands for nipples is the way to go!

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Luckily, I’m married to a guy who’s still going through puberty and is just happy to see some boobs when he can, regardless of wear and tear. He tells me he accepts my aging shapes, even if he’s just being polite. Talking to my friends, I know their husbands are on “TEAM HEY, A BOOB’S A BOOB” too and that gives me hope for their half of humanity. I mean, if the tables were turned, consider what could happen to them. Imagine if their ding dongs changed course around age 40 and started pointing north at all times? Wait. Actually, now that I think about it…

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Aye aye, Captain…

I’m trying to go easy on myself but we’re quick forget that our bodies are machines built for function. They’re designed to take infinitely tiny sperm molecules and churn them into a little something known as HUMAN LIFE. I think that commands a certain level of respect whether or not the machine needs a new set of headlights. I’ve read so many great posts about how women need to love the battle scars that living leaves behind. They say we should wear our stretch marks and our bumpy parts as badges of honor that celebrate our stories. We shouldn’t let a reflection in a mirror or in our minds take away from that.

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When I get down on myself and want to go back to my old body, a change of perspective is in order. I’ll try to remember that those B cups were attached to a girl who’d never felt a labor pain or had her newborn baby, 10 seconds old, placed on her stomach. When I was cellulite free, I didn’t have an awesome man who wanted to binge on indian food and Netflix with me on Friday nights. When my thighs didn’t touch, I had time to go to the gym because my kids weren’t home waiting for me. When my belly was flat, I hadn’t seen my parents sing to and rock their grandkids to sleep.

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…who happens to love cheese. Like…A LOT.

I’m like everyone. I want to look and feel good about myself when I pass a mirror. I’m just saying it’s ok to allow ourselves a kinder inner monologue instead of wishing we could turn back time. Try to remember that you’re so much more than the sum of your body parts. Instead of seeing saggy boobs and saddle bags, try to see a body stretched by love and experience and make room in your mind and in your bra for the marks that time leaves behind.

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Why I Can Never Show My Face at the Gym Pool Again.

I’m warning you. It’s a true story and it’s pretty gross.

I’d pretty much blocked out this entire incident until a friend asked for some info about my gym, including a question about the pool. And then I remembered. That pool. That goddamn pool.

It brought me right back to Spring 2010. My son was about 5 weeks old and I joined the local Gold’s Gym to train for a half marathon I’d signed up for that fall. I figured it’d be a great way to burn off the 40 lbs I put on while pregnant. It was a new gym, close to home, with daycare. Sign me up.

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Oh yay. I love exercise.

Not an avid swimmer, I had no real intention of ever using that goddamn pool. I could swim as a means to NOT DROWN but there was no actual technique or grace involved. Regardless, a couple of weeks into my membership and still on maternity leave from my publishing job in Manhattan, I decided to ditch the treadmill and shake up my routine by hitting the pool.

IMPORTANT TO KNOW:

FIRST. Still being a young, hip, previously slender 32-year-old mom, I only had bikinis. There were no one-piece racerback style Speedos in the swimwear drawer of my dresser.

SECOND. I’d just had a baby. My body was snowsuit ready, not swimsuit ready. 

THIRD. I’m Sicilian. And not the tall, thin gorgeous type of Italians and Sicilians you see in the Lavazza commercials. I’m 5’2″ with hair in unfortunate places. Usually a die-hard fan of the brazilian wax, the 3rd degree episiotomy to my you-know-what had prevented me from rushing right back to my waxer. That being said, my BIKINI AREA could’ve survived a northern New York winter WITHOUT a snowsuit. Ya got me, ladies? 

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There, there. I still love you.

On the day of The Incident I grabbed a few-sizes-too-small black bikini from my drawer and headed for the gym. After a little cardio, I hit the locker room to get changed. I felt pretty ridiculous smooshed into my two-piece. I looked like a tightly trussed turkey on Thanksgiving morning. But I thought, “I’ve got to start somewhere, it’s 11 am on a Tuesday and who the hell’s going to see me anyway?” I looked in the mirror, sucked it up and sucked it in. I had the eye of the tiger.

I walked into the pool area and signed in. There were two young girls working as lifeguards that morning. I looked at them in their tiny black and gold swimsuits with their tight butts and perky boobs, and thought, “Awesome. I’m going to look just like that after I do about 25,000 laps in this pool. So let’s get to it.” I took off my towel, tried to nonchalantly cover my furry bits and scampered into the pool.

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Nothing to see here.

The few people who were swimming had on swimsuits, swim caps and goggles that actual swimmers would wear to a lap pool. Not intimidated, I began my weird doggy paddle-whatever stroke. It was fine. My muscles were burning. I was breathing heavy. I was moving from one end of the pool to the other. And the lifeguards hadn’t jumped in to save me, so I figured it was going well. To help pass the time, I envisioned myself in appropriate swimwear, really getting into it. Maybe I’d do this every day and get ripped. Maybe I had real swimming chops, and I’d become some mom swimmer phenom and make it to the Olympics. Why not? People go under the knife for surgery and wake up with British accents. I could give birth and become a competitive swimming sensation. Crazier shit has happened.

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If you can dream it, you can do it, you guys.

After a half hour, I decided to call it a day and got out of the pool. I felt great. As I dried off, I felt comfortable enough to begin chatting with the two young lifeguards at the table whose bodies hadn’t yet been ravaged by childbirth. I was friendly and witty, making jokes. HARDY HAR HAR. I wasn’t sweating over any body shame because I knew that soon I’d be on the cover of Sports Illustrated accepting a gold medal for the 200 mm Butterfly in Seychelles or wherever, and I’d probably be the wallpaper on these girls’ iPhones. It was all good. I told the girls I’d see them the next day, grabbed my stuff and headed back to the locker room…where I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.

Forget about my unorthodox swimming technique. Forget about my tightly trussed midsection. Forget about my bikini area that looked like Bradley Cooper in American Hustle. Forget about all of those things.

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Exact likeness. Even the glasses.

Let’s talk about boogers. There are basically three types. The small, crusty boogers that your friends might refer to as a “cliffhanger” or “a bat in your cave” if you’re my friend Suelyn who grew up in Pennsylvania. Those could get blown out of your nose without you ever even knowing they were there. Then, you have your more garden variety boogers that require a tissue. You should probably leave the room to take care of them. You know, get in there a little. THEN, there are boogers that co-starred with J. Lo and Ice Cube in the movie ANACONDA. The kind that look like they made a 12-day pilgrimage from behind the temporal lobe of your brain, through your sinus cavity, and finally made their way out into the light of day with a stick and bindle and a ratty side dog named Bobo.

That’s the kind of booger that was strung across my face. The last kind. It was clinging from my right nostril almost to my right ear, hanging there like a nightmarish Happy Birthday banner. I FROZE, remembering all the HARDY HARS and YUKKITY YUKS from 60 seconds ago, when I thought I was charming the Under Armour shorts off those girls. WITH A SNOT SLUG ON MY FACE. I quickly gathered myself, grabbed 32 rolls of paper towel and got to work slaying the beast.

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TAKE THAT, booger.

At first, I was mortified. Obviously. Then, I felt bad that those poor girls had to witness my nasal exorcism. They probably marched right into their boss’s office and quit their jobs, demanding workers’ comp for PTSD. But then, my humiliation turned to rage that they didn’t give me a heads up. I know I looked like Slimer took a flyby ectoplasmic crap on my face, but come on people! If you see something, ya gotta say something! Help a girl out! At that moment I vowed I would never let any booger on the face of a friend, foe or stranger go unmentioned.

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“Oops, you’ve got a little something…”                                         *points to nose

I still go to the same Gold’s Gym, but to this day, I haven’t been back in that pool. I’ve stepped up my swimwear game and I see my waxer on the reg, and though I’m sure those girls are long gone by now — I’ll never go in there again. That pool haunts me like a watery poltergeist. A special place in Hell for people who let you walk away from a conversation with a gummy worm hanging off your face.

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