Category Archives: friends

Make new friends and keep the old

In Yom Kippur services yesterday, a friend came over.  “Have I done anything to offend you this year?” she asked, earnestly.

“No, of course not,” I answered.  “Have I done anything to offend you?”

“No, no.”  She paused.  “It’s just that we haven’t seen each other much lately and I thought maybe I had done something…”  I quickly assured her that she has done nothing, and, frankly, I cannot imagine what this particular friend could do that would offend me.

I pointed up two feet above my head.  “Honestly, the air is up there and I am just trying to get to it. I am treading water here.”  She was gracious and understanding.

They are always gracious and understanding.

Over the past several years, I have spent so much time with one nostril above water, frantically trying to float, that I have been a negligent friend to far too many delightful and interesting people.  I make choices about what is going to get done and those things happen consistently.

The kids get regular checkups and are up-to-date on their vaccines.  We eat healthful, home-cooked meals. (I typed in “homo-cooked meals” first, which is a slightly different thing.)  The kids have been to the dentist, we reward with sticker charts, we read with Zachary, Benjamin seems to finally be learning his letters, and Lilah is getting tested for all her food allergies.  I read sometimes.  Now and then we call J’s aunt whose husband is very sick.  I exercise a few times a week.  I dropped off muffins at a house with a new baby yesterday (because everyone likes to get home-baked muffins on Yom Kippur).

I write.  Sometimes I even find time to submit articles and pitches.

But, these things are all that happens.  There is a pile of stained clothing that sits in my bedroom, waiting to be turned into rags.  It has been there for six months.  Every now and then, when our current rags are disgusting, I grab a few old onesies and quickly tear them into rags.  On top sits a box of clothes to be donated.  I am two sizes behind donating Lilah’s old clothes.

The blinds in the boys’ room have been broken since July, but they are still functional.  J wanted to know when I was going to schedule someone to fix them.  “After I find time for a dentist appointment,” I snapped.  I haven’t had a dentist appointment since I was pregnant.  The baby is now a year old.

Our counters have piles on them.  We need printer paper.

And I don’t call my old friends.  I don’t get together with new friends. I rely on them to understand, to forgive.  As they have done for years now.

I don’t understand why other people seem to have it together.  Lots of people have three or more kids.  But somehow they find time to keep in touch with people, to have dinner with friends.  I put all that energy into playdates for my children and the infrequent date with my husband.

So, I write this, and I post this.  I will send it out to all those people who I have neglected time and again.  This is my plea that you will all forgive me, wait for me, and be there when I finally resurface, no matter how long it takes.  Because I value you, even if I don’t show it enough.

A love story

            We met at Chili’s.  I was a hotshot trainer, which is short for college-student-the-management-manipulates-extra-work-out-of-without-extra-pay, and there were a couple of new trainees naively wearing white for their first shift among the salsa and guacamole.  It took only a few shifts together for us to become inseparable; there’s nothing like pico de gallo under the fingernails to cement a relationship.

            That was almost 17 years ago.  Since then there have been degrees, graduations, apartments, houses, children, moves across countries and oceans.  We have become less self-conscious and more eco-conscious.  There are piles of discarded pretensions trailing in our wake.

            I am not talking about my husband.  My husband is wonderful, but he knows nothing about tampons, and there are times that just call for a best friend.  A girlfriend.  For years, I strongly suspected she was too good for me.  Now I know it, but it has ceased to matter.  I won’t tell her if you won’t.

            I miss the days when she lived four blocks away and I came over every Wednesday for Beverly Hills, 90210.  We worked together, studied together, and made stupid dating choices together.  We left Philly a year apart, but we ended up in D.C., still seeing each other almost weekly.  I miss knowing without even thinking about it that my in-case-of-disaster person was just at the other end of Rock Creek Park.

            We have not lived in the same place since 1999, when I left D.C. to go to graduate school.  That’s almost 10 years living apart, and yet we are a part of one another’s daily lives.  There have been trains and planes and emails.  And there have been phone bills.  Oh, my lord, have there been phone bills.  She is the reason we always spring for the reduced long-distance plan, because we talk almost every day.  Sometimes several times a day.

            Well, she must be missing those long-past Wednesday nights, because today she is getting off a plane and spending the weekend here with me.  She’s the kind of friend who leaves her own kids with her husband for the weekend and then offers to babysit my three kids so my husband and I can go out together.  But, there’s no way I’d squander any of the 48 hours I get with her. 

            Maybe we’ll go walk past Tori Spellings’s house for old time’s sake.

Another blessing to count

            We stepped off the escalator a couple of blocks from City Hall.  None of us had used L.A.’s Metro before, but it was pretty clear which direction we should go.  We followed the people with the protest signs.

            I don’t have much use for large crowds, and I usually set to work breaking them down into individuals, a task best accomplished by chatting with total strangers. As much as anonymous crowds overwhelm me, the chance to get to know new people sets me at ease.  In this case, I was with a group of people I did not know well, having tagged along with Wanda and her friends. 

            Wanda and I were friends in college, and although we lost touch for over a decade, we fell right back into the rhythm when my family moved to L.A. last spring.  She comes to dinner at our house regularly, both boys made a point to invite her to their birthday parties, and she was the person I called when I went into labor.  She qualifies as a damned good friend.  Her group of friends, however, were somewhere between acquaintances and strangers.

            Normally, I do well with this size group: five or so people to learn about, stories to elicit.  J hates small gatherings because he feels obliged to talk to people.  That’s what I like best.  A group of five to ten is neatly contained.

            Unless, of course, that group is moving towards a slightly larger group.  Say 10,000 people gathered to demonstrate for same-sex marriage.

            The crowd wasn’t too bad when we arrived.  Most of the participants were on Gay Standard Time and hadn’t arrived yet.  Our group, being straight, was early, so the crush of bodies had not begun. 

            We stopped under a large tree, figuring shade would be good on a 90 degree day, especially for the eight-week old I was wearing.  I was relieved; we were in the back and in the shade without me having to make an issue of it. 

            But, then someone else arrived who wanted to be closer to the front, and we played follow the leader.  There was shade here, too, but it was hotter and getting much more crowded.  From my point of view, a much less pleasant place to stand for several hours.

            I could feel it as it happened.  The switch flicked.  The High Maintenance switch.  The I-want-to-be-with-other-people-but-I-want-them-to-do-everything-my-way switch.  The very switch that gets thrown inside my eldest child, causing him to destroy the play dates he has begged me for.  We are both People Persons who get easily annoyed by Other People.

            In this case, I could probably have forced them to go back, given the rather delicate accessory I was wearing.  But it wasn’t their choice to travel with a baby.  I was tagging along with them.  And I did not want to put Wanda in an awkward situation.

            Somewhere deep inside me, a force rumbled.  It slowly reached out a finger on tapped that switch back into place.  I told Wanda that I was headed back to where we had been before, that she should stay with the group, and that we’d meet up later at the same tree if she wanted to.  Then I fought through the rapidly growing crowd of couples in bridal gowns and protestors waving signs to the shady area in the back.  Where, incidentally, all the other families with young kids or dogs were hanging out.

            I called Wanda, told her how pleasant it was there, not so that she would join me but so that if the group was uncomfortable, they would know their options. 

            It had not been easy, finding my maturity like that.  What I wanted was for everyone to cater to my needs, but the fact was that my needs differed from theirs.  I could have stayed up front, miserable, so as not to be left out; or I could have insisted everyone come with me, much as Zachary insisted his little friend needed to play Hide-and-Seek in our backyard on Friday.  Neither one of those options would have been very grown-up of me.  So, I settled in at the back alone and began to breastfeed.  Incidentally, a gay marriage rally is very breastfeeding-friendly.

            A half an hour later, Wanda showed up, somewhat out of breath.  “How did you get through that crowd?” she panted.

            I did not ask her why she came back to the Dogs, Old Married Couples, and Children section because I had a pretty good understanding of exactly what her reason had been.  She hadn’t wanted to leave me all alone, so she had left the group she came with and come to keep me company as I changed diapers.

            At the end of the rally, as we found the rest of the group and made our way to the subway, I decided maybe Zachary would be OK.  It may take him thirty years, but I think someday he is going to learn how to control that little switch that makes him insist to his playmates, “You’re not doing it the right way!”  And I hope he has a friend who cares enough to make sure he’s never left all alone.

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Memory brushes the same years

            There seem to be a couple of hundred people who read my posts on a daily basis.  I suspect some of those blog stats come from all the preschool teachers Googling lyrics to a certain song about driving around town in a bus all day.  And some come from people looking for one of the other two Emily Rosenbaums, some twit on a reality TV show and a considerably more serious one who teaches at F*rdham University and has the misfortune of sharing her name with the two of us blockheads. 

            There do seem to be, however, a group of you who actually come back on a regular basis to read what I have to say here.  Some of you are bloggers who I have met online.  But many, many others are people I know from the actual, three-dimensional world. 

            We have moved a lot, J and I.  Each place we live, we meet more people and add them to our group of friends.  Now, as I update our contact list to prepare for the baby announcements, I realize that we know people with zip codes starting in everything but an 8, not to mention the international post codes.  I was thinking of adding John McCain to our baby announcement list, just to have an 8 code, but I couldn’t decide which house to send it to.

            And some of these friends from over the years read my blog.  People in North Carolina and Illinois.  People in London and Columbus.  People in Salem and the Upper Whatever Side and the far outskirts of Beverly Hills.  Stateless people in the District of Columbia.

            These are people who have known me when I was a teenager, through my twenties, into my thirties.  They know my kids’ real names, but they get confused sometimes because they are so used to reading my blog.  They are married and single and gay and straight and even from different political parties.

            And then there are the relatives.  Not mine (I don’t think, but who knows), but my husband’s.  There are a lot of Rosenbaum relatives out there, and one by one, they have started reading.  They may or may not comment on the blog, but now and then I get an email from them speaking to something I have written.

            So, to all of you – the friends, the relatives, the former colleagues, the people stalking me from afar – thank you.  Thank you for caring about us and our family.  Thank you for supporting me.  I love that you read my words, and I hope you will drop me a line to tell me that you are there and have been checking in.

            And, if you know anyone with an 8 zip code, send ‘em my way.  

The Lazy Mother and Holiday Cards

I’ll have that recipe up tomorrow, along with a bonus spinach recipe.  But, today is Hump Day, and Julie asks us to write about making new friends but keeping the old. 

Hump Day Hmm   25day3.jpg

Part two of an occasional series 

            I do not like opening the mail.  In fact, when J travels, the mail usually sits on the hallway shelf for days until he returns and picks it up.  He loves mail, so I leave it all for him to open.  Truly, if someone wanted to send me anthr@x, she would have to find a more effective method than the postal service.

            There are, however, certain exceptions.  I am in charge of baby announcements and wedding invitations.  (Lately we seem to only be getting the former; everyone got married while I was delivering children.)  I record the birth dates, send the baby gifts, and coo over the pictures.  I caress the wedding invitations and sigh as I imagine what the wedding will be like before replying that, no, sadly we cannot make a transatlantic flight with a newborn for a wedding on Rosh Hashanah.  I peruse the registries, deciding whether the bride is too much of a klutz to be trusted with fine china and then choosing the gift we most want to picture the happy couple using.

            And, I am in charge of holiday cards.  I adore holiday cards, even the absurdly Christmasy ones.  I read every last word of every last family holiday letter, no matter how many single-spaced pages it may be.  I pore over the pictures, deciding which parent which child has started to resemble and which little girl is too beautiful to be allowed out of the house when she reaches the tween years.  I arrange the cards for display all around the living room, balancing those picture-postcard thingies against the sturdier, two-sided ones. 

            Two of my favorites arrived in 2004.  First, from my friend C, who lives in DC but has a husband originally from Boston.  Their two little boys were featured on the cover, dressed in all their Red Sox finery, and inside the card read “We believed.”  The second card came from our neighbors just across the street.  Also originally from Boston, E is an artist, so she made a cover that had the words “Red Sox” etched into snowflakes.  Inside, it simply read “2004, the year hell froze over.”

            If someone wanted to send me anthr@x, holiday cards might be her only opportunity.  I love how the pour in from around the U.S. and beyond.  Texas, Florida, North Carolina.  I love how they bring tidings from people we have not seen in half a decade.  California, Vancouver, Iowa.  I love how they remind me of people I have cared for and still hold a tiny place for in my heart.  Massachusetts, South Carolina, Georgia.  I love how they keep that little thread of connection between old friends.  New Jersey, Virginia, Germany.  I love when new friends are added, a promise of becoming old friends in time.  New York, Wisconsin, Indiana.

            Our holiday card list runs to the hundreds.  We move so much and we keep adding people.  We never seem to subtract.  At last count, the list covered about 300 people and a quarter of the states.  It got to the point where we could no longer write out each card and we began ordering pre-printed ones with a whole letter inside and a picture of our progeny on the cover.  Even that is time-consuming, what with getting the right picture, composing the letter, and updating all the addresses.  And you do not need me to explain how expensive it can run.

            Yet, I kept doing it.  I loved the idea of connecting to old friends, colleagues, and teachers.  I loved the old-fashionedness of it all.  My lazy, cheap self was competing with my extroverted, longing-for-connections self, and my lazy, cheap self was losing.  Even when I wanted to stop, I felt guilty, as though people would be angry we had stopped.  We had entered a social system, and I sort of felt like we were not allowed to exit.  It was the Jean-Paul Sarte holiday card dilemma.

            Those of you who know me IRL will stop at this point and wonder.  “I haven’t gotten a card from them in years.  Am I the only one who has been cut off the list?”  No, honey, you’re not.  Because my lazy, cheap self found an ally: my environmental self.

            Holiday cards take paper.  They take energy to produce.  They take fuel to deliver.  They create piles of waste when the season is over.  My environmental self took on my guilty self, leaving my lazy, cheap self the clear victor.  So, we stopped sending holiday cards.  And birthday cards, because you know I was also sending out well over 100 of those a year.

            We do send out birth announcements and a card with a picture, an update, and a new address every few years when J’s company uproots us and lands us in another country.  But, the era of holiday cards is over.  Maybe a group email…

            I hope I still get a few family holiday letters, just for old time’s sake.  

The soundtrack of my life

 

Two weeks ago, when J was out of town, our neighbors invited the boys and me over for dinner.  This was very kind of them.  We were on our last night without Daddy, and the thought of looking after the boys alone for yet another evening gave me split ends.  When we go to our neighbors’ house, I don’t really have to look after the boys, because they have a little boy who is 6 months younger than Zachary.  We’ll call him James because he goes around telling people he is James Bond.  James tends to entertain my children for me, except when they are all fighting over fire trucks.

 

After supper, the parents did have other plans.  They were off to a Sex Pistols show.  Anna was worried about what she should wear so she would not look frumpy.  Her husband, Michael, laughed.  “Everyone’s going to look exactly like you.”

I had to agree.  All the Sex Pistols fans got middle-aged at the same time, you know.

The next morning, I asked Michael how it went.  He said it was the best behaved concert he’d ever been to.  People queued at the bar.  Some folks did get a little antsy about the show starting, however, because they all had to get home to babysitters. 

Going to a Sex Pistols concert ain’t what it used to be.

The music doesn’t always get older along with us.  Some of the music of my youth is frozen, crystallized in a moment and twined up with colors and smells and emotions. 

…The playground at M@rks Me@dow Elementary school.  The jungle gym off to the right, the giant expanse of grass, children running about in coats but no snow on the ground.   

Risin’ up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance, now I’m back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive
 

…My father and step-mother arguing, Dennis storming out of the house.  Coming back hours later, having been to see a movie.  Kate later driving the children to see Urban Cowboy on the premise that she should get to see the same movie he had been to.

Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places
Lookin’ for love in too many faces. 

…My freshman year crush, striking blue eyes, green sweater, glancing about the hallways, wondering if this is one of the days he’ll be cruel or kind. 

Oh, can’t you see
You belong to me
How my poor heart aches
  

…J and I watching Casablanca on our second date. 

It’s still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by
 

But, some of the music of my youth has grown up with me.  It takes on memories, but it also grows and changes.  As I age, it ages with me, even as it carries with it all the times we’ve been through before.  We got middle-aged together.   Because I am considerably less hip than my neighbors (my kids have no idea who James Bond is), the soundtrack of my youth is Simon and Garfunkel.  It was slightly less uncool when they were so last-generation.  Now they are so two-generations-ago.  Yet, their music and their lyrics are so intense, so powerful that they stretch and grow to absorb and contain ever more meaning. 

…JamieLA driving a car of friends, sometime around midnight.  We’d been to N@hant to drop off some of the kids, and now we were headed towards home.  Accelerating on the stretch of road bridging N@hant and the mainland, four teenagers singing at the top of their lungs. 

Making love in the afternoon
With Cecilia, up in my bedroom
I got up to wash my face
When I came back to bed
Someone’s taken my place. 

My junior year in college, my best friend, Sara, and I took the train to New York from Philadelphia.  We had dinner with my sister, then we went to Madison Square Garden, the smaller hall.  We were the youngest in the venue by 15 years, except for the kids who had been dragged along by their parents.  It didn’t matter. 

The last NJ Transit train left at 10:30, but at 10:10 we both looked at each other and shook our heads.  There was no way we were leaving before the last song, even if it meant we’d have to spend a whole shift’s worth of tips to buy Amtrak tickets home.  How often, after all, do Simon and Garfunkel reunite? 

Time it was
And what a time it was it was,
A time of innocence
A time of confidences. 

Later, we would end up living in separate cities.  I was in Philadelphia, Sara was in Boston.  Well, usually she was in Boston.  Except when she was monitoring elections in Azerbaijan for six weeks.  One day, avoiding dissertation work, I clicked on entertainment news. It was ten years later, and they were reuniting again.  I emailed her in Azerbaijan, but she was too busy protecting the democratic process to really notice. 

It was not to be passed up.  I emailed her husband.  We concocted a plan. 

Fast forward – a month later she returned.  Shot me a mock-frustrated email that she had heard they were doing a tour and she had been counting on me to hold down the fort while she was gone and now the tickets were all gone.  Feigning stupidity, I responded by forwarding the email I had sent her while she was abroad.  Sorry, I told her, I’m going with J’s mother. 

Then, the next day, she called.  She was annoyed with her husband.  They had made a pact not to get each other much for their birthdays because cash was tight, yet he indicated he had a gift for her and couldn’t wait to give it. It was almost too much for me to bear.  I suck at keeping secrets. 

His present to her was the tickets.  Mine was traveling up for the concert. 

Can you imagine us
Years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy.
Old friends,
Memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fears.
 

Last Thursday, making the boys’ breakfast, I turned on my soundtrack.  We had lost the CD, so we hadn’t listened to Simon and Garfunkel in quite some time.  (We’d been relying on Dan Zanes and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert soundtrack.)  So, when I turned to Zachary to sing a few lines I love, he was unfamiliar with the lyrics. 

I’m sitting in the railway station,
Got a ticket for my destination. 

“A train song!” he exclaimed.  Another generation brainwashed. A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door.  I opened it and accepted a parcel.  From Boston.  Birthday presents for both of the boys. And what was playing in the background? 

Sail on silver girl,
Sail on by.
Your time has come to shine.
All your dreams are on their way.
See how they shine.
If you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind. 
 

It may not be “Anarchy in the U.K.,” but it works for us.

——————-

This is part of Julie’s Hump Day Hmmm.  Head on over to read the others.