One Year In

My blog is now one year old, and — if anything — I’ve learned that I’m more consistent in getting words out every week than I’ve ever been at finishing all those needlepoint projects that went to die in my closet.

In a year, the blog has garnered 91,387 hits and now has 2,341 subscribers. I have resisted looking into whether that’s good or bad in the big scheme of stats. What I really care about are the comments I get to read from people who take the time to write back. Even after all these years of writing, that thrill has never left me.

My original intent in starting this was to present pieces of the memoir I’ve been writing and see the reaction. Now the book is finished. It’s similar to pushing out a baby and finally getting to see just what the last nine months were really all about. Now begins the process of finding an agent who reads my query letter and smiles and writes back. I like the belief that — even at my age —when we tend too much to look back, there will be a next step that will take my breath away.

I’ll continue to write here, but I’m not sure yet what form it will take. And to the thoughtful, smart, funny people who read “me,” every week (and you know who you are) thanks.

And for any agent who has secretly become a visitor to this page, I’ll be waiting for your call.


Older, Wiser, Hipper

In my family it is known as the “Jongebloed Hip.” Amazingly, it is even less glamorous than its name. The Jongebloed Hip caused my grandfather and his twin brother to lilt to the left for their last thirty years. It caused my mother to concede that a hip replacement was on her horizon (but only after her exasperated doctor convinced her he was pretty sure her bones were well on their way to becoming dust).

I’m not sure what it means for me. Only that sometimes my hip speaks to me as I’m getting up from a seated position.

I’ve always been a person who didn’t give in to every ache and pain. These good intentions sometimes get waylaid in your 60s. That’s just the way it is. I’ve also been a person who took pride in aging gracefully. That’s not to say I don’t spend a small fortune on highlights for my hair or the best make-up I can find. We live in an age when you can still be pretty at 65, even if you need extra time getting up from a seated position.

I have aging-gracefully role models in this endeavor. Lots of women who got on with the work of getting older without wringing their hands or flying to a plastic surgeon for answers. I was only 21 when I met the first of these. She was 93. I was in college, and Mrs. Clark lived in one of the town’s last magnificent mansions still owned by its original family.

She hired me for one afternoon a week so she could “go to town” and have lunch with friends. Her husband’s nurse drove her to and from the restaurant, so she needed extra help with Mr. Clark, who was 97. He was bedridden by then but had been known to try to get out of bed to sneak a cigarette.

The first time I met Mrs. Clark, I arrived nervous and a little early. I was ushered into the vestibule (the only word for it) by her uniformed maid. We made small talk, our voices echoing.

Mrs. Clark began her slow descent down the curved mahogany staircase. Radiant, she smiled at me as I waited below.

“I’ll be with you in a bit, my dear,” she called down. “As you can see, I move with all the grace of a lame camel.”

Although she moved slowly, none of the rest of it was true. Mrs. Clark was still shining, still beautiful in her 90s. I picture our meeting now, the year when I was just getting to that full bloom of womanhood, when somehow I just figured I’d never get old.

I wonder when her hip gave her the first twinge. I wonder if she was surprised — like me — that she wasn’t going to stay young forever.

For now, I’ll keep her in mind every time I feel my hip say, “Not so fast.” I’ll keep leading with my better foot, taking my time. I’ll remember to smile from the inside, to be as pretty as I can be. And believe that if I take extra care in those first few steps, everything will even out. Just like Mrs. Clark did.


The Single, Most Terrifying Moment of Motherhood

A few months ago at a supermarket, with a snowstorm on the way, I realized what is so terrifying about motherhood. It had to do with locked shelves and a sea captain in 1926.

Bear with me.

Where I live, worrying about snow begins about a week ahead of the storm. I usually do my food shopping the first time I hear television newscasters losing their minds over the weather map. But I didn’t get to the store early this time, and I knew I was in for a long wait at the checkout.

In front of me, against the wall, was something I’d never noticed before — a large series of caged shelves, secured with a padlock. It was full of baby formula. That’s all, just baby formula.

I wondered if the supermarket got tired of so much of it disappearing from the baby aisle and locked it up here, in plain sight of everyone, so desperate mothers couldn’t slip a canister or two inside their bulky winter coats. I pictured those women in my mind, women who might steal, frantic to get home to a hungry baby. And that led me to the sea captain.

Ninety years ago Captain George Fried struggled to keep his ship afloat in a fierce January storm in the Atlantic. He received a weak distress call from a sinking British freighter and set out to find her. In blizzard conditions over the next 85 hours, the captain tried several times to rescue the crew of the sinking ship. When it looked hopeless, as it did many times throughout the rescue, he sent them this famous message: “I will not abandon you. I will not abandon you.”

When my first baby emerged from me, the doctor gently placed him on my stomach. I instinctively grabbed onto his squirmy body. He looked at me. And there. Right there. The single most terrifying moment of motherhood hit me.

Before that instant, I’d walked away from lots of stuff in my life. I’d stopped corresponding with friends who no longer suited me. I’d left boyfriends to deal with their broken hearts. I thought nothing of leaving projects half completed, conversations unfinished, and relationships in ruins. There was nothing to it.

That moment you become a mother, you tell your baby lots of things. Even if you’re just holding him and not saying anything aloud, you find yourself making promises you never made before. “I would steal for you. I would brave freezing water for you.”

And as the list goes on, you realize the one thing that will not happen. The thought arrives in whatever language you speak: “I will never, ever abandon you.”



Can We All Just Take a Breath?

As scandals during my childhood in Massapequa went, this one had legs. I didn’t understand it completely, but I could tell by my parents’ tone it was bigger than the brouhaha about the Townsends refusing to pick up their dog poop, which had rocked Hamilton Avenue the summer before.

This one started the day my mother drove me to our family dentist — a man I’d known all my life — for my 6-month appointment. While we sat in his waiting room, I silently recited my usual prayer to the molar gods about no cavities. My mother immediately noticed that Dr. McGarrity had placed a copy of Barry Goldwater’s book, The Conscience of a Conservative, on each end table. And as if that weren’t enough, instead of the usual pamphlets about brushing your teeth after every meal, there were now red, white, and blue brochures explaining why people should vote for the senator from Arizona.

“And not just one table,” my mother told my father that evening, “but all five!”

“Did you say anything to him?” my father wanted to know.

“Of course not!”

We talked politics often in my house — the keyword being “in.” I knew that Goldwater was diametrically opposed to everything my parents held dear because they were liberals of the highest degree. If any of our neighbors actually believed in Goldwater (and undoubtedly there were a few on Hamilton Avenue), they kept their leanings to themselves. As did we.

And this — to put it simply — was the way the world worked before Facebook. It was a place where your dentist throwing his conservative beliefs out there on a table could horrify people who were just there to get their teeth cleaned. Long before Twitter came along and we realized how cleverly we could condense our opinions into 140 characters, my parents were aghast that Dr. McGarrity would want the world to know how he planned to vote.

Anyone reading my blog for the last year knows I’m not above hauling out parts of my youth and giving them nostalgic air time. And anyone who is lucky enough to make it past forty begins to see how “simple” life was then. Some of us pine for the past  — loudly and often — especially this year, when the world seems to be upside down.

I’m not one of those people.

Every time someone talks about the Fifties and how perfect they were, I shift to other thoughts: Separate water fountains. Polio. Gay men cheerfully described in their obituaries as “lifelong bachelors” by family members who didn’t know the truth. Or the unrealized dreams some women mourned when they signed up to become housewives and spent every day of the rest of their lives slowly disappearing.

This election cycle looks like it will get crazier before it gets better, and as much as social media is something I can’t live without, these days I feel like I’m drowning in it, especially when my fellow Baby Boomers are at the keyboard. In one corner, we miss the civility and quiet of the Fifties. In another, we’re generating memes and comments — about our candidate, our issue — at an astonishing rate. We need to feel right. About everything.

Maybe it’s time to take a breath. Which is what I’ll do. As soon as I update my Instagram account.