“I’m a WYSIWYG Girl” Club

SNL “Say what you wanna say” from Zaynab Ch on Vimeo.

Skepticism is my natural inclination, my snap-judgement dial glued to the default: doubt. You may think I’ve developed this slightly pragmatic, partially dubious character over time, but I’m quite sure I was born this way. I began speaking at nine months, and by a year, I “spoke in full sentences,” according to my mother. I must have received a shitload of applause for my precocious communication skills because early on I developed a propensity to say exactly what I thought and expected those around me to awe at my spoken word and high five me. In retrospect, I didn’t spend much time pondering the appropriateness of what I would say, nor whether what I said would make someone uncomfortable.

Somewhere around 35, towards the end of my stint in the corporate world, my husband kindly pointed out occasionally I may say something and it may not come out the way I had intended. I was shocked! As much as I mouth off, and may not pay attention to the frequency to which the F-bomb appears in my sentences, my intentions were pure. I wanted to either entertain, self-deprecate (read: insecurity), or offer up unwarranted, but often funny and useful advice. In fact, one of my core values was to only pontificate on things I am truly passionate and knowledgeable about (early bedtimes for kids; sleeping naked; good nutrition; weed is better than booze).

I gave my speaking behavior some consideration Maybe I could consider slowing down before speaking, giving it a split second or two to THINK BEFORE I SPEAK. I made a concerted effort to slow down the words as they spit-fired out of my mouth. I considered a filter to make my words more eloquent. I could refine my ways. But instead, I just got quieter because everything I thought of saying now seemed like it could offend someone. I didn’t enjoy walking on eggshells. Plenty of people who know me must be thinking, “when was, this time, she bit her tongue?” But I tried, seriously!

By 40 (just last year), I felt liberated. Pussyfooting around for a few years, making myself more

“appropriate” felt phony. I felt like a neutered prude, discussing the weather because all other topics seemed too risky. Pretty soon I realized ballsy people persist with the not giving a fuck attitude, spewing insulting jokes a la Kathy Griffin and getting guffaws in response. Those people live true to themselves. Upon turning 40 I bestowed upon myself the power to precursor every phrase with, “I’m 40 years old, I’m entitled to say…” or “I’m 40 years old, I don’t care what they think…”I made a vow to carry on not giving a crap and living it out loud being me.

I followed John Lennon’s motto, “You have to be a bastard to make it, and that’s a fact. And the Beatles are the biggest bastards on earth.” Only I’m not a bastard, I’m honest. If I tell you your hair looks great, I especially mean it. If you ask me about your new shirt and I said, “Not my taste,” I mean I hate it. You never have to wonder if I like you or not because I don’t hide it. I either love you or you’re dead to me and I make it clear.

I have a difficult time dealing with pleasant, polite people. The ones who smile at me and say, “good to see you” and write lovely public messages on their Facebook page to get the checkmark for doing so. Sometimes family could be painfully fake. A false sense of obligation and a lifetime of tangled resentment spreading generations and now you’re exchanging pleasantries to each other’s face, but going home and spreading nasty talk about them to everyone else you know. Cliche warning: life is too short for that.

Life is too short to spend with people who aren’t truthful with you – or with themselves. I count on my gut instincts when I meet someone. Not to brag, but I have rarely been wrong about reading a person. You can smell a bullshitter and it takes one to know one, I guess.

I’ve been accused of being a bullshitter; I flat out have admitted to lying regularly. I prospered in a career in account management, which literally says “bullshit artist” if you were to google it on the truth Internet.

I have often thought of myself as one of those flavors you have to develop an acquired taste for, but the truth of the matter is, I am a WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) girl. You’ll either love me or hate me pretty soon after meeting me.

“Did I Marry Someone Like My Father” Club

G&SimoninaTree.jpgThey say women marry men who remind them of their fathers, but I didn’t want to. I envisioned a different partnership with my husband than the one my mother had with my father. I picked someone who behaved in the polar opposite of my dad in every way. Physically and personality-wise, these two men had nothing in common. At least not with husband number one.

Enter husband number two, whom I describe with a string of phrases: 2nd’s time’s a charm; artist who brought color to my black-and-white world; did not believe in fairytales or romantic comedy kind of love before I was living it; even cynical Russian girls ultimately want a knight in shining armor; inexplicably lucky I found him. Husband number two loves me like a country song and my heart breaks at the thought of how grateful we both feel to have found each other.

I have That husband. The one who serenaded me with three songs at our wedding because one would never be enough. He’s the husband who looks at me in such a way I’m forced to abandon his gaze to seek out my reflection to understand what has his eyes so captured. (I’m always surprised to find it’s just me.) He’s the husband who needs to touch me whenever I come near him because he can’t tolerate the few inches between us. He’s the husband who makes lunch for our daughter and includes a custom drawing and poem with it each day. He’s the man who watches me take a shower as if he has a front row seat to the greatest meteor show on earth even after being together 11 years.

I just knocked on wood, spit three times and am definitely wearing a safety pin

A few years into the relationship, said husband showed me his first actor’s headshot. In the black and white photo, he was fresh out of college, handsome with his deep pensive eyes looking right at me. Something seemed so familiar. Had he shown this to me before? No. I kept coming back to the image; what about it plagued me? I recognized those eyes and jaw from somewhere.

I should interject by saying I look very much like my dad, more and more as the years tick by, and my wrinkles catch up with his. I should also interject my husband thinks he and I look resemble one another. (I disagree.)

Where had I seen this exact expression looking at me – maybe a hundred times?

My father.

Wait. What was happening? The picture of my dad emerged from the Russian photo archives of my mind. In the vintage-colored photo, my 20-year-old father had a serious look with a closed-mouth smile, hiding his trademark gap between his front teeth. His lips looked almost pouty (thanks for those genes, dad) and his chin had a cleft. I hadn’t realized my dad had a cleft chin for the first 30 years of my life, but my boyfriend’s adoration of his cleft chin had me notice them on everyone, including my dad.

OK, so they both had the lips, a once-upon-a-time Beatles haircut, and a cleft chin. (Also a short neck.) But nothing else. Personality-wise, they are totally different! I kept telling myself.

“You’re nothing like my dad, right?” I confirm with my husband.

“Well, we have some similarities.”

“None!” I instantly blurt out. Then I pause for a second to consider this notion. “What similarities?”

“He’s a bit of a clown too,” my husband suggests. “He’s also extremely charming.”

“No! You’re definitely not like him as a husband. He cheated on my mom and married someone 30 years younger than him.”

“You put it that way and wonder why he doesn’t read your blog?”

“He encourages me to write anything I want, assuring me he wouldn’t take offense.”

“Sounds just like me,” he says.

“I Watch the Super Bowl for the Commercials” Club

super bowlI’m convinced my complete disregard for football may be connected to my early immigration. I’ve never had an interest in football nor have I ever attended a real live football game. This was a considerable waste as my high school had an undefeated football team, but I barely noticed. Despite my Soviet birth, I do not prefer soccer to football and don’t have an inherent passion to debate this subject, as some Europeans love to do.

I don’t enjoy watching these big men in their seemingly tight, uncomfortable outfits, often in putrid colors of diarrhea green, mustard yellow or unflattering reds. I’m not interested in the physics behind the throw or the semantics of the game. I don’t know the difference between a down or a scrimmage and I don’t care. I don’t even comprehend how it’s a ball at all; isn’t the nature of a ball supposed to be round? According to the Internet, maybe a football is an ovoid and I want to discuss this as much as football.

My husband is not a sports fan, either; he is an artist. This is not to say artists and sports fans are mutually exclusive, but it’s fairly common for them to be incompatible. When we first started dating, it was refreshing to bond on common cultural interests such as museums, concerts, hikes, traveling, reading, theater, and sex. While I enjoyed rollerblading in Central Park, and he walked at least 5 miles a day, sports were never a part of our lives and spectator sports, were even less so. We both agreed cheerleaders are the best part of a football game.

Take one part sports, one part commercials, one part concert, and one big hunk of national pride, and you’ve got the Super Bowl. The buying and selling of logocentric paraphernalia and the idolization of the players not only connects the fans with their team, it grants them a stake in the final outcome. The whole country stops to watch a bunch of grown men crash into each other and throw around a brown awkward object, while rowdy spectators drink gallons of beer and eat the wings of feathered creatures, dipped in a mixture of tomatoes and sugar.

The economy has everything to gain from this country-wide party so Yay Capitalism! Everyone wants a piece of the money pie. The exploitation of players on the commercial scale almost trumps the game itself. In Super Bowl 50, every player on the winning team will walk away $102,000; players on the losing team get $51,000. The quarterback has a $2 million bonus tied to the game.

The Super Bowl has also become a fashion show for commercials. Having spent 13 years in various roles within the advertising world, I await this football-interrupted commercial festival.

Companies use these precious seconds in between heated action of a game to strut down the advertising runway. In these especially expensive moments, they capitalize on 100 million ogling, passionate viewers and inject brainwashing messages convincing us to buy their products. This year’s going rate for a commercial was $5 million per 30 seconds.

So, I will be DVRing the Super Bowl (Yay technology) so I can skip the action of the game and watch the cinematic gems in the middle. Until I googled it, I had no idea Broncos were playing the Panthers. My husband has stilled it down to “Oldest Quarterback” versus guy from Blind Side. He’s going with “Oldest Quarterback.” From my vantage point, I see horses and cats. I’m rooting for the Panthers obviously, since I’m a cat person and their colors are much more pleasing to the eye.

“I Pick Up Hitchhikers” Club

X-FortLeeGWBviewI don’t live on the edge much. I observe expirations dates and tax deadlines. I stop at all red lights and will not text and drive. But even I have a sell-out price to tempt danger.

We live in a building right off the George Washington Bridge. We love this location for its proximity to Manhattan (ten minutes to midtown) but we have begun to feel squeezed by the steady toll increase over the last few years. It costs $15 to cross; $12.50 if you have EZ Pass. My son’s school over the bridge ensures we take at least two roundtrips over the GWB each day. Without any coupons, school commuting alone costs us $500/month. With days when we  have additional school events, go out to dinner at night, or when my husband goes to work, the monthly EZ Pass bill regularly reaches 4-figures.

In an effort to balance the astronomical costs of crossing a bridge, the Port Authority of NJ offers a carpool rate. When traveling with 3 or more passengers, you go through a designated lane, declare “carpool” (like you would yell out, “Yahtzee!”), a clerk will verify the 3 people and push a magic button and you’re only charged $6.50, 50% off. Throughout the course of the year, a savings of over $2,000! On school mornings, it’s just myself (a small woman) and my 13-year-old son who commute over the bridge; we need a third body for the discount. Initially I considered buying a hyper-realistic doll to put in my daughter’s car seat, but as I’ve mentioned, I’m not much of a rule-breaker.

Enter the Fort Lee hitchhikers. For the first three years we lived here, I refused to consider such a seemingly dangerous situation, but as I studied this fascinating microcosm every morning, I grew enticed. Commuters can wait for slow shuttle buses for $2 to cross the bridge, or if they would prefer to hop in a car and get an expedited, free ride across the bridge. A perfect symbiotic relationship.

This casual carpool practice, unique to this area exhibits a fascinating contrast. With my journalism degree in tow, I can assure you, “If it bleeds, it leads,” still holds true. The press convinces us we’re less safe than ever, but every morning I experience the opposite. I participate in a socially-organized and maintained smart program, saving money and reducing our carbon footprint. In the 25 years this unofficial hitchhiker carpool alliance has existed, there has never been a crime connected to it.

The abundant police presence helps ensure safety. On top of a police precinct, uniformed officers regularly patrol the toll lanes and booths. Additionally, the high volume of traffic means most of us are traveling at a snail’s pace. Either the driver or the hitchhiker can instantly end a scary or dangerous situation by opening the door.

When this school year began, my son, who hovers 6” taller and 40 pounds heavier than me, declared this was the year of the hitchhiker. He promised his immortal protection and we hopped aboard the hitchhiking bandwagon.

On our first brave day, with my sweaty palms, at 7:30am, I pulled up to the designated area, where 6 straphangers stood shyly looking into each car with a shrug to say “do you have room?” I nod back to a petite Asian woman and feel confident I can take her down from the front seat if I need to, because she is tiny and quiet – and I am presumptuous.

When she gets into the car, my son, an honorary member of the Hitchhiker Welcoming Committee, cheerfully says, “Good morning. Welcome. Where are you headed to this morning?”

She just sat there dumbfound. “Good morning,” she whispered back. “Over the bridge.”

“Obviously,” I join in sarcastically. “Everyone goes to the same place,” I explain to my teenager. There are no stop options. It’s across the bridge and drop off in front of the bus terminal. The route has no exceptions.

We crossed the bridge at the standard 5-10 MPH. It took about 15 minutes before we safely pulled up in front of the bus station. I unlocked the door, let the passenger out, and she thanked us with a slight head bow. My son sent her off with loud wishes to have a great day! He instantly looked over and gave me a high-five, a tradition we’ve continued daily.

It’s been four months of this exercise. Somedays we take one person – man, woman, big, small, any color and some days two shove in next to the car seat into the backseat. We all greet each other “good morning” and occasional pleasantries. I always continue conversations with my son. Usually we listen to Elvis Duran’s Morning Show on Z100 and they guarantee to break the ice with some of their comedic, often inappropriate conversations. Sometimes I secretly observe silent giggles through the rear view mirror. Other times we get into great conversations and want to keep in touch, but they’re off they go as soon as we cross the expanse.

One morning, we had a professor and a pharmacist. My science nerd son was in his element, en route, to the fancy private school. He made me beam with pride as he confidently asserted a convoluted scientific pronouncement about some kinds of velocities or chemistries. I can never admit I have no idea what he’s talking about, but his authoritative deliverance of the material reveals a flicker of myself. He’s always preferred grown-up company to those his own age, exactly as I had my whole young life. I watch him, as the co-captain of our adventure, and sometimes I get to be the invisible driver, peaking into his behavior as if I wasn’t there.

The hitchhiker pickup has become something we look forward to together every morning. It makes the otherwise bumper-to-bumper traffic more interesting. I never have any fear anymore, no matter who comes into the car. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve become too relaxed; maybe I’m too cocky. Perhaps I should take my Swiss Army Knife out of the glove compartment and put it closer, into the cup holder for easier access. I’ve always thought I was born in the wrong decade; now I have the opportunity to channel my inner hippie, bonding with my son and strangers as a positive side effect.

“Bring Back the Citizens Arrest” Club

bridge.jpgI live right near the George Washington Bridge, so when walking my daughter to school, we encounter three seasoned crossing guards. Today I noticed a driver performing a dangerous and illegal move, jeopardizing other cars and pedestrians. This abominable situation outraged me. I would never think to make that illegal left! I shared my indignation with crossing card # 2 on my path. She smiled, and said, “I know, can you believe it? It happens all day long! I take deep breaths and hold them in until they complete the forbidden turn. I watch almost accidents all day long.”

Instantly I had a proposal for a solution. One I should consider sharing with our governor, Chris Christie, but I would have to include dozens of donuts if I wanted to garner his attention.

The idea: allow crossing guards to capture videos of these illegal traffic maneuvers, showing the driver’s full transgression, complete with license plate number, and send it in to the police. Automated cameras already do this; why can’t we get humans back in the game? These fluorescent-vest wearing guards keep pedestrians safe and should be entrusted to report these infractions. They are already on the job; let us empower them to keep us even safer! It’s time to make the Citizen’s Arrest Version 2.0.

Continuing with this thought process, I had an additional amendment to the newly re-formed Citizen’s Arrest Program: The Driver-to-Driver Ticket-the-Texters Program. We have to unite to get these hazardous, self-entitled, above-the-law testers off the road. How can we incorporate a citizen’s arrest on those perilous drivers? I suggest a program (or an app, as the kids call it these days), where we would install government-issued dash cameras, with coordinated activation buttons on the steering wheel (keeping all hands on the wheel!). When we see offenders texting and driving, we push the button on our steering wheel to record the crime in action. With another push of a button, we send those video clips directly to the police. Again, similar to the way the automatic cameras have been recording red-light violators for years.

The traffic honor system is broken. Our society has evolved into a group of misbehaved children whose parents failed to follow up threats with discipline. Our ego-focused psyches have become dependent on an instant-gratification reward system, falsely arming us with the courage and bravado to function as a nation of traffic violators. In a country laden with passionate protesters, it’s time to strengthen our citizens with the power to supplement police jurisdiction.

“I’m a Liar” Club

If I admit I’m a liar from the onset, how much will you continue to read? What if I promise you this piece of writing is absolutely, 100% the truth? I do lie sometimes, but I won’t right now.

Humans usually start lying around age two, and as we get older, the more complicated of a fabrication we can concoct. I won’t go into the psychology of it all, but it’s fascinating and WE ALL DO IT at one point or another in our lives, so we’re all in the Lyin’ Club together, some of us are just gold members.

What makes a good liar?

  • Confidence, obviously – creativity helps.
  • Positively believe what you’re saying – imperative to the success of deceit.
  • A detailed memory – imperative to keep your facts straight if they ever come under scrutiny.
  • Only one lie per situation – keep the same one going.
  • Never confess to a lie – otherwise future lies will be doubted.

One side effect to consistent lying, is potentially believing the lie yourself. No matter how many people you convince, you must maintain the real truth in your head. Otherwise you risk the living parallel lives – the lie and the truth. Psychologically-damaging lies impact us the most, if we hold onto them, they may slowly eat us up inside – infidelity, secret children, chronic addictions, crimes we committed.

I’ve often stopped to consider the ease with which lying comes to me. I have a relatively strong moral compass so occasionally I think lying engages my flair for the dramatic. In my single days, I loved going to a bar and giving a fake name, spending an entire evening spinning a life story. Men usually don’t want anything beyond the evening, and I indulged in my share of imaginary thrills as well.

My lies have mostly been for banal reasons; to save myself or to get more information. I typically don’t lie to hurt people, but rather to protect myself. My version of biology’s survival of the fittest.

Sometimes I lie about something I’m not entirely positive about, but become insistent upon it. This happens when I’m seeking validation. Yesterday was an example where I lied and felt justified. (Read: positive reinforcement to perpetuate lying.) I engaged in a discussion with a medical professional about pharmaceutical treatment options for a relatively uncommon symptom caused by a common virus. The symptoms, the Internet assured me, would most likely go away themselves within two weeks.

I said to the physician: “I read these symptoms will last about two weeks without any treatment. How long will the symptoms persist if the combination of pills are ingested for a week?”

He answered: “Probably about the same two weeks but everyone has a different reaction, and truly no one knows for sure. They have been shown to lessen the symptoms in some patients.”

I pushed back: “I read online (lie) that this medication is completely bunk and there is no proof it works at all.”

He defended again, this time, his eye tick getting more extreme, sweat forming on his brow, “It’s hard to say; this is the only treatment we have.” He gave us the prescriptions and walked off.

Later my husband and I discussed the medication plan and I admitted fabricating the premature findings. I hadn’t yet conducted my usual thorough research, but suspected the ineffectiveness of the prescribed pills. Scientifically I understood the nature of viruses and conducted preliminary information gathering and created this medical hypothesis declaration (Read: lie). The success of this particular falsification came partially because it turned out to be true.

I’ve witnessed these techniques used effectively in Law & Order episodes. The one cop will accuse a criminal, weaving an entire story and tempting him to correct him, and later the criminal yields into his pressures and admits to the wrong-doing. Later, Cop # 1 says to Partner, “I didn’t know any of it, I made it all up.”

I’ve always felt so guilty being a liar. Today I felt proud to harness my talent to obtain truth. Today I show my gold-member status without shame.

“I Lost My Memories” Club

My family immigrated to America when I was almost five years old and I have few memories of my life in Kiev. I’ve recollected few stories of my childhood and those have been enough to sustain me. Big chunks of time are missing in my memories. My American husband thinks my young refugee status left me somewhat traumatized, but I disagree. He has suggested a hypnotist might be able to unlock the cache of my secret memory bank. My most vivid memories began when I met my him 11 years ago. Ever since, I’ve remembered almost every single, colorful day and reams of hilarious romantic comedy dialog.

I have these scattered snapshots of my life before 30, but so many memories are missing – or trapped? I had premature dementia of my earlier life and it seemed to set on as soon as it was happening. It was as if every day I awoke with a clean etch-a sketch, and when I went to sleep, it would clear it all away. I made new memories to override the old ones.

I am certain no medical condition caused this, aside from the suggested repressed early immigration ordeal, but I don’t buy it. I let those memories go because I didn’t value them enough. As a child, I didn’t understand that I must revel in my days; I didn’t realize how precious, innocent and fleeting they were. Through my mother’s complaining I learned that every day is new start, a do over, but not how every day should be devoured, cherished and polished up to be stored away.

We all restart something at some point in our lives – careers, relationships, new cities or homes. Adapting is a matter of taking a piece of the old me into the new me. Once upon a time I spent my days waiting to go to sleep so I can start over again. I was in the midst of launching my version of Life 2.0. when I met my husband. I knew as we walked across the entire city of New York, I would immortalize every waking minute because I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to hit pause walking down the street holding hands, sitting on park benches doing funny accents, staring into each others eyes after a kiss. I climb into bed at night and know these are the moments I’ll never forget.

“Scars are my Souvenirs of Life” Club

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The successful and stunning Ariel Winter from Modern Family received some feedback for wearing a dress to the SAG Awards, which revealed a scar from her breast-reduction surgery. She felt compelled to justify her fashion choice: “There’s a reason I didn’t cover up my scars! They are a part of me and I’m not ashamed of them at all.”

Scars are life’s tattoos; autographs left on the skin as permanent mementos of defining stories. Not just remnants of physical trials, scars are trophies honoring the miracle of the body’s ability to heal, to grow new skin, to connect it back together where it had been cut, ripped open, or burned off.

These relics I’ve collected one by one, and all come with memorable stories — and gratitude.

My first two scars were from the smallpox vaccines they gave me in Russia. In America they stopped giving the immunization in 1971, but Kiev in 1974 was still doling them out. None of my American peers had these textured, dime-sized marks on their upper right arms. These scars remind me where I’m from and where I’ve come, and protect me if Small Pox ever makes a recurrence.

My next big scar came in 4th grade. I had just gotten the brown ugly two-wheeled Huffy and was giving my friend Tina a ride over the bumpy terrain of the Projects. We were advised against the dangers of off-roading, but our persistence led to the grand fall. We both fell and ripped off pieces of our knees and thighs, filling our wounds with gravel. The scar left on my knee brings back one of my most unforgettable afternoons of childhood.

Perhaps my most prominent scar lives on my face, vertically extending from right under my nose to halfway down my lip. This little slice reminds me I should have avoided berating my mastiff on the bridge of her nose with my face too close to hers. This everlasting token reminding me of my first dog, my first stitches, and how I forgot to bleach my mustache before a handsome plastic surgeon sutchered me with a magnifying lens over my face.

I have this round little burn scar on the inside of my bicep from the time I was baking tons of biscotti for a potluck cocktail party at my son’s private school. I pulled out the cookie sheet from a 450-degree oven and the stainless steel made a tssssss sound as it touched my arm, forming a bubble immediately. I didn’t realize how much it hurt until the bubble popped accidentally the next day. I wore long sleeves to the cocktail party and quickly discovered Upper East Side, private school version of potluck meant Zabars or Eli’s, not homemade biscotti. There were white-gloved servers waiting as the elevator opened into the opulent apartment. They carefully took my crispy Italian cookies and transferred them onto a lace doily-lined silver tray and elegantly passed them around next to the cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery. I felt the burn bubble seeping all night under my long sleeved shirt. Today, whenever I see the little circular discoloring, I think back to my evening of garnering culinary praise and exchanging recipes with fellow parents as we stared in awe at the Renoir and Monet hanging in their gathering room.

My thyroid scar is most entertaining because I get to say “I got slashed in the neck,” and wait a second for an awkward reaction. I had a thyroid tumor for 11 years before I got it removed. It was scary having to get it tested every year to make sure it was still benign. After his decade residency, my tumor began producing thyroid hormones. So this little growth caused me to behave erratically, causing decision-making to be very difficult. Outfits in the morning and nail colors at the salon typically led me to tears. After the surgery, I had a little grenade connected to my neck to collect leftover blood drippings, but that was short-lived as they sent me on my way the next day. They discharged me with Advil and a band-aid across my neck to hide my Pez-dispenser look. I was lucky there were no after effects and my leftover thyroid was able to recover without supplemental medicine.

My favorite keepsake is my smile-shaped cesarian section scar. It brought me the most magnificent conclusion – a human daughter! My C-Section was done as an emergency and in an effort to rush me to the ER as fast as possible, they accidentally pulled out my epidural. “Oh Shit,” was the reassuring sentiment I heard as they strapped my arms, Jesus-Christ style, onto the OR table. The nurse assured me I had a half-hour’s worth of anesthesia and this skilled doctor should be able to get the baby out and me stapled up in time. I watched the second hand of the clock, counting slowly, not breathing, until I heard her cry. I forgave my doctor for cutting through the heart tattoo which lives on my bikini line.

Scars are marvels of the human anatomy. Fundamentally, they serve to forever remind me: once it was broken, but now it is fixed.

“My Daughter Reminds Me Life is Awesome” Club

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My daughter’s hair smells like honey, because that’s how little girls are born. Sugar and spice and all things nice is not an exaggeration or a poem, it’s based on scientific fact. But I didn’t always like girls; I had been a mom of a boy for 8 years before the XX made me puke for 9 months. Without a sonogram I knew she was a girl; I kept saying “no boy would treat his mother this way.”

I had become very comfortable building legos and dressing my son in the standard boy uniform of sweats, khakis or jeans with one set of sneakers which match everything. My son was practical and logical and not very emotional.

What would I do with a girl? I didn’t do pink; I did black. My accessories were one ring and a watch and two silver necklaces I layered together to avoid. I didn’t do dress up or Barbies or Princesses! I didn’t sing and twirl as if I was the model for the ballerina who lives inside a jewelry box. It’s not that I wasn’t feminine, I just wasn’t girly.

My daughter was born a quintessential little girl and instantly put me into a club I can never understand until I became the mom of a daughter.  A daughter is your more perfect reflection in the pond of your life; she is a piece of yourself you can’t hate.

I studied my newborn’s wrinkly body. Her chicken legs, which hoped would evolve into her father’s lean gams were attached to a long torso and I was excited she seemed to garner the best of her parents body parts. Beyond her limbs, those eyes. Her deep, round, brown eyes stared right through me and tore me into a dichotomy. Part of me felt I had known her all my life; she looked like so many family members in one. Especially those eyes. It’s like I’ve been looking at them my whole life. But another part of me, studied this familiar baby and wondered, “who is she?”

I walked into her crib one morning when she was four months old, and smiling broadly, I said my usual “Hi.” She looked back at me, and said, “hi” right back. At first I thought it was a fluke. I did it again. “Hi,” I cooed in a pitch reserved for babies and kittens. “Hi,” she said back. Within a month she also saying, “hello.” We were very popular on walks. “Hi, hello. Hi, hello.”

She was pure magic and while all mothers may allude to this, my daughter is genuinely half clown-magician, so declaring her magic seems obvious. What my daughter gave me, other than an appreciation for pink and glitter, was the unexpected gift of loving myself. Having a daughter helped me re-evaluate my views on my body. When we developed her first baby pictures, we printed some in black and white, and they had a striking resemblance to my own newborn pictures. I was taken aback in such a powerful way; the reason those eyes seemed so familiar were because they were mine. But I was such an ugly baby, how could this be? She is so pretty, how can the pictures look so alike?

She’s five years old now and I still stare at her often; in the rear view mirror at a red light or as we sing her Beatles’ good night song. Her eyes, the porcelain skin, those red lips which form a perfect bow smile. How did such a gorgeous creature come from me? My daughter has taught me the most fashionable accessory is your smile, and the most enviable one, your kindness.

Sometimes my daughter will look at me, tilt her head with a small smile, hug me, and tell me she loves me. She says it not out of habit or obligation, but because it’s bubbling up inside of her.  She often starts laughing and says, “I can’t stop smiling,” and then tries to stop herself. I don’t tell her what my mother told me, “if you laugh too hard, you will cry” because I don’t want to limit her laughter. My daughter does things like whisper secrets and giggle and then tell the secret out loud because she doesn’t really want to keep secrets.

My daughter thinks everything is beautiful. The necklace around the cashier’s neck, which I recognize as a $2 street find, my daughter will compliment as if it is a Cartier. The stained cat shirt you save for laundry day, my daughter will tell you is the most fabulous shirt she’s ever seen. And if you have a new haircut, she would notice long before I would, and tell you how glamorous you look.

My daughter is the one I would’ve hated in grade school. She is the chipper one who walks around waving, “Hi Julian, Hi Emma, Hi Madison…” to every single kid in class in the morning, and “Bye Julian, Bye Emma, Bye Madison…” as we leave for the day. She walks with a skip in her step; she doesn’t know any other way to walk. I’m convinced there are little springs of buoyancy underneath her feet, as if she is stepping on little cloud trampolines.

My daughter is nothing like me. She is a girl version of my husband, with my eyes. She was born a performer, a dreamer, and happiness is her default setting. Things like “best day ever” spew out of her mouth regularly and not because it’s a hip thing to say, but because she genuinely understands any day we’re alive and skipping along the streets, surrounded by the love of our parents is the best day ever. It is as good as it gets —and it’s awesome!

“I Ignore Homeless People” Club

X-NYCDiveCitycrop© copyThis morning as I sat in my car, my seat warmer keeping my ass nice and toasty, Elvis Duran is entertaining me because they’re talking about what movie represents your love life … and I think to myself is there a movie with clowns in it that aren’t scary? And it doesn’t dawn on me until they’re been off air for two hours, that it’s Patch Adams!

And while these incredibly important thoughts are dancing in my head, I stop at a red light, under the subway tracks in the Bronx. I see a man walking with two large garbage bags. He has a hood covering most of his face (it’s about 25 degrees outside), he’s bundled up in a puffy, black ski jacket and he’s carrying these bulging sacks, one over each shoulder. He walks in front of my car –  and keeps going. Somewhere.

I’ve lived in the NYC area most of my life, so homeless people are no strangers to me. They’re everywhere in my periphery and I’ve become desensitized to seeing them. I can walk briskly down Madison Avenue and use my tunnel vision to ignore the sadness hiding blatantly on the streets. It lurks everywhere and homelessness in the cold is so ugly – and I don’t do anything about it. I cry for all of them and say silent prayers to the powers that be. I want to leak money from my pockets and leave a trail in my wake, but I am not rich enough for that. Not even close.

But on this frigid morning, I took note of this one man, as he walked with the entire weight of his world in his garbage bags. The very act of crossing the street, carrying this heaviness, was so visually gripping. Like a car accident we drive by, the light turned green and I moved on. I had to drive my daughter to school.

Then, like I do for the hundreds of people I see and meet, I imagine the life story that brought him here. I envision struggles or addictions. Mostly it occurs to me that I am judging him – and by doing so, am I implying that I am better than him?

I also have no job, but it’s a choice. I could go back to a corporate job and quickly set up some responsible 401K or 529 business; I could do it all by the books. Only I’ve tried that already. I planned my way through life until it laughed John Lennon’s poetic lesson right back at me. “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” When I stopped planning, I started living in the moment, allowing me to be true to myself. I followed love and life took me on a ride. Uptown with heroin addicts, downtown with rats, to my dad’s basement in Staten Island, and finally, to our own apartment. So we were lucky, but how long will fortune surround us an invisible shroud of protection? How long can you go on being carefree in a very expensive world? How much is that dream worth to you? I lived without a safety net and survived. But as the saying goes, luck runs out.

We could be “those” people with one bad month – we were almost those people. When Hurricane Sandy wiped our safety net, we had to turn to credit cards. What if our sole-breadwinner, who happily supports my year of no income for me to pursue my writing career, suddenly loses his job?

Life is just a series of moments strung together, and any one moment can change the trajectory of our whole life. Losing a job, a spouse, getting a bad medical diagnosis – or even that Bitch, Mother Nature.

We’re all in this life ride alone; only we know what it’s like to walk in our own shoes. Only we know what it’s like to see through our eyes.

This morning I realized I was in the “I Ignore Homeless People” club and I wasn’t sure what that said about me or even how that made me feel. More importantly, what it would take to change it.