In-Laws and Creative Living

BLOG-MOTHER IN LAWWe all know those mean mother-in-law jokes: What do you do if you miss your mother in law? Reload, and try again!

My mother in law is well balanced. She has a chip on both shoulders.

Is there a family relationship more burdened?

Tempting fate, I went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) with my daughter-in-law, Margo, last week. We went to hear Elizabeth Gilbert speak about her new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

 

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Margo is pragmatic. She is a nurse and scientifically minded. On our way to BAM, Margo rattled off a list of over 32 things she’d done that day, including errands in Brooklyn and New Jersey, tending to her children, helping with homework, meeting with a painter and just before leaving her house, giving an injection to a pregnant friend.

I, on the other hand, tinkered with a story idea for most of the day.

And to tell you the truth, I was feeling a bit down about that. It is hard to stay home, facing an empty screen and have what appears to be nothing accomplished at the end of the day. Of course, I know this is not really true but Elizabeth Gilbert’s message couldn’t have come at a better time. She assured the creative souls in her audience that we were doing exactly what we were supposed to be doing and she encouraged us to keep at it.

She talked about fairy dust and inspiration but she also talked about hard work and perseverance.

She talked about the voices in her head, how they take up space and how she lets them come alive: The Doubter, The Critic, Fear—and while that process didn’t sound so crazy to me, Margo diagnosed her with multiple personality disorder.

You’re probably wondering why my not necessarily artsy daughter-in-law wanted to hear Elizabeth Gilbert talk about creativity, especially considering she is one of the few people in the world who didn't even read Eat Pray Love. Or see the movie.

This is how it happened.

I was supposed to be going to the BAM with my husband but he forgot and bought tickets to the Giants game.

I invited my daughter but she opted out.

My son, Margo’s husband, was going to the football game with his dad and Margo didn't want to stay home. I promised her a drink after the reading and let’s just say it didn’t take a lot of arm-twisting.

My oldest daughter kept smirking, doubting the whole prospect.

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But she was wrong; because while Margo and I are not exactly alike (I drink vodka, she drinks tequila) we both loved the event, and the hole-in-the-wall bar we found afterwards with live music. Granted, it was a bit awkward when two men started talking to us but we left soon after and found a great restaurant. I know I’m in the right place when there are vegan options on the menu.

It’s not always easy for us to find time to get together much less share intimacies. But that night, we learned new things about each other.

A mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law: loving each other, respecting each other, caring about each other.

Now that’s art.

That’s Big Magic.

From The Core- One Year Anniversary!

BLOG-ONE YEAR AND COUNTINGIt’s been a year! My first From The Core post appeared July 28, 2014.

I was scared and unsure:

Would people like what I wrote and how I wrote it?

 Was I ready for the world of social media?

 What if I made a grammatical mistake?

Well, I did make errors. Some I was able to fix, others I wasn’t.

And remarkably, I survived.

Reader comments kept me going.

Some of you responded directly on the blog site, some on Facebook, some on Instagram, some by private text message and many in person: at the grocery store, at parties and on the street.

(You’d be surprised how many people are hesitant to comment through social media. I was happy to learn, I wasn’t the only inhibited one.)

Tuesdays became my favorite day of the week as I woke to other bloggers liking my post and tracking how many people had read.

I heard from people I hadn’t talked to in 20 years, from people all over the country and yes, even an old boyfriend.

My work was read in Australia, Canada, Mexico, Italy, Spain, France, Norway, Germany, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Israel, Lebanon, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and more.

A special thanks goes to my friends and family who let me write about them, their outrageous stories and vulnerable moments.

All year, friends teased that they had to watch what they said in front of me for fear they’d end up in a post.

I heard everything from, “Shhh, she’s going to write about you” to “It’s good Corie’s not here.” (Yes, people repeat these things to me.)

Looking for material or attempting to drum up good conversation, this blog has been the impetus for many a dinner table debate.

Over the course of this year, I wrote about topics that mattered to me.

Equal rights- Gay Marriage

Empathy- Still Alice

Marriage- Why Are So Many Marriage Essays Going Viral?

Parenting- Parenting Gone Well

Friendship- Friendship Matters

Sex- Masters of Sex

Education- Doodle Power

Addiction- Monkey See, Monkey Do

Writing- Writing: It Could Come Back to Bite You.

The Environment- Earth Day 2015.

I wrote about topics that peturbed me slightly- Pouting Face Emoji

And things that annoyed me greatly- A Tip for My Uber Driver.

I wrote about what I found comical- Braces: The New Chastity Belt and Are You A Control Freak Parent?

And things I feared- Fear: The Good The Bad and The Ugly.

Writing about these topics made me focus on them, and in writing Gone Girl No More, I faced my apprehension, put myself out there, and finally got headshots!

Daring greatly (I'm a Brene Brown lover) I'm posting them here.

Help me choose the new From The Core photograph so I can get rid of the blurry one on my About Page.

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Tomorrow is the anniversary of the night my husband asked me to marry him so this is kind of a double anniversary for me.

And it’s appropriate that my blog about relationships and my marriage share an anniversary because as long as I’m married to my husband, I’ll always have plenty to write about!

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P.S. Thanks for reading!! And don’t forget to pick a headshot favorite!!

Our Old Ways Don't Hold Water

BLOG-WATER COOLERThere was an emergency in my apartment building the other day and the water was shut off. Some New Yorkers mind the rodents, some— the noise. I mind when my water is shut off. (Not that I’m fond of rodents or noise. See: On Writing and Distractions.)

But having water taken away gives me anxiety. I think about all I can’t do: cook, laundry, shower.

But mostly, it forces me to think about people in other countries who can’t turn a faucet to get water and have to walk for miles.

It makes me pay attention to how much we depend on it and expect it to just flow freely, clean and clear, through the tap.

It was disconcerting when, hours later, the water was turned back on in my building and chunks of mud came out of the showerhead. When I attempted to brush my teeth, the water ran brown, then blue.

What does that even mean? 

This got me conjuring up wild scenarios in my head, a world without water, a science fiction thriller.

The next morning, I read an article in the New York Times, California’s Drought Changes Habits in the Kitchen. The article addressed how the drought is causing food shortages, higher prices and smaller crops. Lawmakers and citizens alike are making changes in order to conserve water.

A new state rule prohibits waiters from serving water without a customer asking for it first. There is a $500.00 fine for breaking this regulation.

Cooks are using the water they used to boil pasta to water their plants. They are baking and steaming vegetables instead of boiling them.

The article resonated.

It simply never occurred to me that I could, or should, reuse the water I boiled pasta in.

But now that I’ve heard this idea, why wouldn’t I?

I’ve written about our relationship to the earth before in Gratitude+Giving=Grace  and Earth Day 2015. And again, it's possible that no single small initiative by any individual is going to save the world or be overly important.

But what seems essential is consciousness and a sense of responsibility.

Think about it: We take water for granted. Like it’s always going to be there.

But what if it’s not?

This past weekend, I walked on the Asbury Park Boardwalk. As I left the boardwalk, I walked along a path around a lake where people jog and bike and walk to the main street.

On the path, there was a five-gallon water bottle and cooler. Beside the cooler, on a chair, there were stacks of plastic cups and a garbage can where people could dispose of their used cups.

Clearly this was not an environmentally sound setup but this is where we are now. The Age of the Water Bottle and it stood out like a mirage in the desert.

Perched on top of the water bottle, was a sign, and on it was a Jewish prayer known as Shehakol. It is a blessing said before drinking water.

So there I was tired, hot and thirsty and there was this offering, this water for me and everyone else who passed by. All the homeowner wanted in return was for those who drank the water to stop for a moment and express gratitude.

There was something in the generosity, the thoughtfulness, coupled with my thirst that made that moment have deep meaning and as I recited the prayer, I felt sincere appreciation.

Simultaneously, I felt a bit of anxiety as I stopped to reflect on how when I was a child, water was complimentary. I could drink from the tap without thought and play for hours, carefree, with a garden hose; and how presently we pay for water that we drink out of plastic bottles, how we pollute our drinking water and how  environmental issues like droughts are making water scarce in our own country.

The five-gallon water bottle is a symbol of where we are now.

The question is: Where are we going?

Mothering, Mindfulness and Motivation

  The Little Engine That Could

 

Nisa walked away from her village alone one night, leaned against a tree and gave birth without crying out in pain. I learned about Nisa's life and the !Kung tribe from Africa's Kalahari desert as a freshman at NYU in a class called Cultural Anthropology. Nisa’s story seemed remarkable to me. Up until then, I had few narratives of childbirth. Most were from television where women screamed at the top of their lungs on a hospital bed with doctors, nurses, bright lights and sterile instruments all around them.

And then there was the story my mother told about my own birth. She’d been put to sleep and drugged so heavily, that when she woke, she was afraid to hold me.

Nisa’s birthing experience had a great impact on me. I figured if she could do it, I could do it. And so when I found myself pregnant just one year later, I decided unequivocally, to have what was referred to then, and now, in America as a natural childbirth. (As if childbirth wasn’t inherently natural.)

My husband and I took classes with one of the authors of The Birthing Book by Catherine Keith and Debra Sperling.

I can’t remember if it was Catherine or Debra who taught the class but I do remember she was amazing. I studied her book diligently; and nightly, my husband and I practiced:

Cleansing Breath. Slow Chest Breathing. Shallow Chest Breathing. Modified Slow Chest Breathing. Combined Pattern Breathing. Shallow Accelerated- Decelerated Chest Breathing. Rhythmic Pattern Breathing. Advanced Rhythmic Pattern Breathing.

I breathed. He timed. We both took it seriously.

I was more than prepared on the night I went into labor. It was 1984 and at the time, epidurals were given routinely. The general thinking was you’d be crazy not to get one. Nurse after nurse, attended to me throughout the night and each one warned that since this was a first baby, the labor would be long and intense. They strongly recommended I take the epidural. Over and over again, I declined, reminding myself that if Nisa could do it, I could do it.

I was cautioned that I couldn’t change my mind and get an epidural once my labor passed a certain point (around 7 centimeters) because doctors worried a woman wouldn’t be able to feel enough to push when the time came.

Through each contraction, I breathed and as the contractions got stronger, I changed my breathing to match the pain. My husband was a great coach, supportive and encouraging.

At seven centimeters, panic kicked in. Incredibly in touch with what was happening, I knew I was entering the transition phase. The pain was excruciating and soon enough an epidural wouldn’t be an option.

My body quivered and I lost it, forgetting about Nisa, and all that I’d wanted. I begged for an epidural.

My husband, resolute, cupped my shoulders, his face close to mine, “Stay focused,” he said. “You can do this. Breathe!”

I can’t say I wasn’t a bit resentful at the moment thinking: that’s easy for you to say but I did get it together, and succeeded in having a natural childbirth.

(My children love to tease me about this. They are amazed that I delivered naturally; mostly because they think it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing to do; but also because I carry on so much when I stub a toe or get a bruise. For some reason, I handle major surgery and natural childbirth better than I do a paper cut.)

And so my son, Jack, was born. That was thirty years ago today. (Happy Birthday, Jack!) It is shocking to me since I still feel like I’m thirty years old; and I can’t help but wonder (okay I’m a cliché) where the time has gone.

Jack was the kind of child who when someone hit him, wouldn’t hit back. He was gentle and good-natured.

When he was around ten, he went to Oakhurst Day Camp, known for their amazing swim program. Jack excelled at swimming and was offered the opportunity to become an Oakhurst Swimmer. This was a really big deal, an accolade, he wanted.

On the morning of the swim test, we got up early so Jack could take the test in the camp pool before the other campers arrived. He wanted eggs for breakfast. Then he wanted more. I told him I didn’t think it was a good idea to eat such a big breakfast before a rigorous swim, and that I was worried he’d get cramps.

Being the kind of mother who can’t deny a child food, I acquiesced. I did warn him, however, that if he got cramps it wouldn’t be my fault. (Although since I was the adult in the relationship, it technically was my fault.)

Thirty minutes later, the swim counselor in her navy one-piece bathing suit, a whistle dangling from her neck, clicked a stopwatch and told Jack to begin. He treaded water and did laps. A few minutes into the test, he swam to the side of the pool where I stood, his eyelashes wet, his big brown eyes, dejected. “I have a cramp,” he said.

I told you seemed like the wrong thing to say. So I didn’t.

“Okay,” I said instead, “you’ll try again next week.”

“I don’t want to,” he said.

“What do you mean you don’t want to? You really wanted that award. What happened?”

“I just don’t want to,” he said.

So I was left trying to figure out how to proceed. Did he really not care about the award? Was he scared he’d fail? Did he really have cramps? And, maybe most importantly, what was my motivation in this? Did he want to be an Oakhurst swimmer or did I want him to be one?

And those questions seemed relevant because disinterest in the award was different than doubting if he could get it. But either way, my intuition told me that he’d started something and he needed to finish it. Quitting seemed wrong. I’m a pretty easy-going parent in general, and don’t make my kids do much of anything, but this felt important because he’d wanted it; and I didn’t want him to give up on himself.

It took some convincing, but Jack went back the following week and completed the swim test successfully becoming an Oakhurst Swimmer. This felt like a win on so many levels.

I started this post with the story of Jack’s birth and what stands out to me in these two narratives (me delivering naturally and Jack completing his swim test) is that sometimes we get afraid, and we doubt ourselves, and what we are capable of.

There’s a difference between being pushed into something you don’t want to do and being nudged gently into something you do want to do. It’s important that we learn to motivate ourselves; but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have someone at your side, cheering you on, reminding you that you can do it.