Bad Karma All Around Me

Maybe it was the hair color and cut I got with the Groupon a few weeks ago.  The 21 year old stylist who had just moved from Utah who took  3 ½ hours on my hair, were both screaming red flags and I should have run for my life.  Who goes to a random stylist on a Groupon anyway and when the stylist clearly sounds as dumb as night, who doesn’t flee?  And, if one is stupid enough to stay, how could one expect success?  You know though, somehow we all think we can beat the odds and finding a great hair dresser is a life long mission.  So, she put in 40 foils instead of the five the offer covered (loss for the shop?) and she talked non-stop. “Oh, nice toffee color” she said.  I thought, “Toffee??” “What are you favorite movies?” she chattered.  “What kind of food do you like?”  And then, she cut completely randomly here and there and it was as clear as day that she had no idea what she was doing.  You could see the complete panic on her face as things went from bad to worse.  “Oh, you’ll look just like Meryl Streep in Prada,” she cooed.  Meryl Streep???!!!  When she got really panicky and we were heading into the fourth hour, she started using hairspray to get some height and to get some definition in what was now a distinct cross between a helmet and a bowl.  I was the one REALLY panicking and finally said, “Stop, you must stop.  I have to leave,” I actually gave her a $10 tip out of pity or horror.  When I left, there was a complete downpour and I stood in it hoping the torrents of rain would shed mercy. They didn’t, and when I got in my car and looked in the mirror, I was completely repulsed and cried all the way home.  I was especially upset knowing I was leaving for my lactation conference in Florida the next day.  There I would see my colleagues and friends and they would stare at me in disbelief, for sure.
Maybe it was that when I got to the conference on that Tuesday, I realized the meetings didn’t start until Thursday but that, in the cesspool of my kids’ major problems, I had not even been able to think clearly enough to choose the right day.  Even at dinner that night with about 10 colleagues, I felt quiet and out of sorts. The restaurant was also obscenely over priced and that always makes me feel bad.  The friend next to me kept insisting I order the molten lava cake for dessert.  Sweetie, I said – no dessert I could put in my mouth is worth $35!!   I hate being ripped off and I cannot ever afford it anyway.
Maybe it was my run in with a rude vendor who raked me over the coals in front of my friends and colleagues in the exhibit hall for a comment I had made about his company online.  His products were constantly failing my clients and the customer service of his company was horrendous.  My email had been mysteriously forwarded to him. He was completely outraged and on a mission to retaliate.  He was the new president of this ailing company and embarrassed me beyond a shade of pale.  Through the strong encouragement of my friends, I attended his focus group that night but went with my tail between my legs feeling humiliated and small.  I was uncharacteristically silent. 
Maybe it was that I felt very much on the outside throughout the conference.  I never really did find my groove or my stride and was very annoyed by the huge egos that were blooming in my field.  After all I thought, we are not neurosurgeons saving brains and lives.  We simply help mothers and babies breastfeed.  Let’s maintain our humble place in the world. There is however, a group of more successful authors and lecturers in the group and then there are all their groupies who flock around them.  So, it makes me twitchy to watch the egos that are growing out of control in my sacred field.
Maybe it was the colleague whose son had died a few weeks prior and who I hugged so tightly when I saw her.  Feeling her pain, I listened carefully and bore witness when there is in fact, nothing else to do.  Her pain was palpable and when she asked if she could share her phone photos of him dying, I said yes.  It was wrenching and made me cry and I was shot for the rest of that day.  At meetings she had that numb/angry/nebulous look that I knew and remembered in the pit of my gut, so well.
Maybe it was that I came home very, very tired and depleted but felt there wasn’t anyone waiting to hold me and reassure me and restore some of my sense of self worth.  I wanted the maid in “The Help” to say, “You is good.  You is smart. You is pretty.” I know it is not anyone’s job, but my own, but hoped for that nonetheless. 
Maybe it was that I had my tooth pulled the week before I left.  It was an old “temporary” filling that had lasted 28 years that suddenly upon meeting a cherry pit, decided to shatter. The dentist said there was no saving what was left and sent me to an oral surgeon who offered three options for numbing before extraction.  I was so depressed by that time, that I just said, “Just give me Lidocaine and get it out.  I can get through 20 minutes of anything.”  It was in fact, the loss of a body part and it made me feel even more ugly, older, and deteriorating.  I will need to remain toothless for the next few months while the socket heals and then decide whether I can clean out my life savings to get an implant. 
Maybe it was that I needed so badly to have this weekend off but I acquiesced to a very unraveled mom and spent two hours with her in my office instead of having a whole weekend off, followed by another two hours with another mom and baby.  I am not sure why I did that, but once they both left, in fact, I could not stop crying.  Exhaustion.
Maybe it is because before I left, my old friend’s sister descended into sheer hell.  Her two daughters and ex-husband were in a landslide in Canada and all perished at once, buried under many feet of mud.  I became very involved in following the search and then, the period of rescue changed to recovery and then, that ended as well.  I could not imagine her deep grief or out of control panic or arms reaching, reaching, reaching, looking for her children.  When I got to my conference, they had both finally been found, dead.
Maybe it was because my 91 year old aunt who I love deeply has been isolated by her psychotic son from her entire family, including my sister and me.  There has been nothing short of insane cruelty going on for reasons that remain completely unclear.  But, on the one occasion that I did get through to her on the phone and tried to explain to her what was going on, my conversation was heard by the crazies, possibly recorded and it made for a much more difficult situation by her adult children, my cousins.  They were working hard through legal means to re-establish connections and I made that more difficult.  I felt very ashamed for having caused further frustration in a situation that appeared it could get no more maddening!    
Maybe it is because I had a confrontation at work on Friday with of all people, a formula rep.  I was reprimanded by one of the doctors because a patient complained about my “rudeness” and then, I was yelled at by the office manager.  It was a completely ridiculous, misguided experience and of course, it happening during World Breastfeeding week, made it all the more poignant. 
Maybe it is because school starts tomorrow and I feel like we haven’t really been on a whole family vacation together—just the four of us.  Or, maybe because I haven’t heard from my son who is ill and not taking action to get some help.  I have come to let go of that, completely, but it is no less wrenching.   We are about to celebrate his 28thbirthday and that is so sad for me to witness, as he continues his decline and delusions of curing his own addictions without help.
Maybe it is because I am hearing the vicious mantras of my mother that she left emblazoned on my heart, more than ever. When in a weakened and tired state, they all begin to dance and rise again to feed me messages of failure, “mean person”, cruel, fake, controlling, etc. I have absorbed them all these past two weeks.  These mean spirited serpents love any opportunity to make a cameo appearance. 
So, for whatever reason—I cannot sleep, I want to sleep, I cannot smile, I want to cry, I cannot think my way out of it, I cannot make plans, I cannot reinvent myself and I cannot shoo away Ms Daring Depleting Depression, Ms. Antsy Arguing Anxiety or Ms. Supreme  Sick Self Doubt.  Waiting for the change to come because fortunately, I do know it usually does… but now, am in the deep, dark hole looking for the Exit sign. 
A few days later, sitting here in downtown Raleigh at the Wilmoore Café which in my humble opinion has the very best coffee anywhere on earth and for $1.75, the best egg and veggie burrito, I am found again.  I am peering out of the hole.  I pick my sweet nieces up at the bus stop from New York in a few minutes and I am feeling hopeful, cheerful and well. 
Though I would love to stay in this place, I am not feeling enough terre ferma to know it can last for long. 
For now, it is a lovely day in downtown Raleigh and all is well.  Later, there may be more demons waiting. 

KVETCHING





I’m pissed this morning.
Irritated. Sad. Angry. Feeling used. Disappointed. Edgy. Anxious.
Chomping really hard on my all-natural mint gum from Vitamin Shoppe.
Drinking more coffee which I don’t usually do.
Too early for wine, which I don’t want anyway.
Sam and Will didn’t get out of bed on time.
Sam and Will didn’t go to bed on time last night.
Rushed around yelling at them because we had to pick up the sweet, carpool girl.
Though late, we drove to pick her up but she never came out of the house.
Her mom had texted me that she was driving her instead, but I never read the text.
I wondered, if she was driving, why she didn’t pick up my kids instead of the other way around.
Whatever.
As a result of going to get her, I had to drive on the road I hate.
I quit the carpool.
My kids can take the city bus from now on. $4 a day roundrip is better than $55 gas weekly and 10 hours driving a week.
I sent an email to the carpool moms and quit. That’s that.

Fell madly in love with a house this past Sunday.
An historical landmark.
A schoolhouse from 1912 with 12 foot ceilings,
Perfectly and creatively renovated.
Crazy.
You can see the pics.
It was a true work of art, done by an incredible artist.
It is almost indescribable, as I have never seen anything like it.
The colors. The layout. The floors. The storage. The history. The openness. Amazing, completely amazing, breathtaking for both of us AND the kids too.
Though it was a stretch for our budget, it was very underpriced for the area.
Went to see it twice and we HAD TO HAVE IT.
Plenty of space for us, for my clients, my office – ALL!
Were willing to do just about anything.
In 3 damned days on the market, 4 damned offers came in.
We came in third place!
What was the winning bid?
Should we have stretched further above the asking price?
I suppose we should have.
But just how much, and how?
This was truly a one of a kind place, never to be found again.
I am deeply disappointed. Heartbroken almost.
And yes, I know, I know, I know, this is only a house.
It is not illness or devastation, in any way.
I know that. I know the difference well.
But, still I feel like crap and too disappointed to even cry.
Feel gypped.
For a while I felt like I was not entitled to live in such a nice house.
Now I feel like I am, and should have been able to.
Not sure there is any point in even looking at other downtown houses.
I’ll just keep driving back and forth commuting downtown 6-7 days a week.
Eeeew, I hear a martyr.

We left last night to go to our fancy downtown church
For a very moving and helpful Lenten series, called Faith Matters.
Loved the movie. Loved the message. Loved the messenger, aka priest.
I no longer fret about how different I am from the others there.
It doesn’t matter really. What matters is feeding my soul.
I bravely wore my jeans, actually.
Came home to a trashed house, homework not done, tv on, texting galore, dog not walked,
All the “Yes ma’ams, will do” texted to me, were untrue.
Pissed. Yelling. Bad way to end the day and boys in bed way too late.

Cannot lose the 20 pounds I need to lose.
Cannot convince myself to walk each day.
Not sure why.
Makes me mad, ashamed and disappointed in myself.
Used to be easier. Yeah.

Business is down.
Not a good thing.
Where are the babies?
No consults this week.
Rental pumps pouring in
Instead of out.
Yikes.

Gotta get our house ready to sell.
Scared. Overwhelmed. Where to begin?
Not looking forward to this project.
Start this weekend?
Still want to move downtown?
Less sure.

Peter’s still so terribly ill.
I hate it.
I don’t know what to suggest anymore.
I really don’t.
It makes me feel awful,
But oh how aware I am,
Of how much worse it makes him feel!
If I forget, he reminds me.

Nick’s good. Oliver’s good, I think, but don’t know.
Twins are good. Shep is good. I am good.
So, why the kvetching?

Not sure, just am.

CHURCHES

CHURCHES

When we moved to Raleigh, North Carolina in 1993 with our four young sons we began our church search. Having been raised a Brooklyn Catholic in the 50’s and 60’s, I knew wanted something different. When my husband introduced me to the Episcopal Church in Hampton Bays, Long Island in the 80’s, I knew I had found my place. So, it was a no brainer to look for another Episcopal church here in Raleigh.

Coming from the predominantly “non-religious” Hamptons to the “very religious” South was a shocking contrast with churches on just about every intersection. It seemed that church was the hub of one’s social life as well as one’s spiritual direction. Folks went to church on all sorts of days and nights, not just on Sunday mornings. In fact, Wednesday nights seemed especially popular for church events thus, not a good night to schedule any meetings. Of course, in 1993 we did not find the plethora of Episcopal Church choices we might have found if we were Baptists.

We began with the church closes to our apartment at the time. It was stogy and rigid. I not connect at all with the priest and my kids threatened me with throwing up the next time I brought them there. We next ventured to a huge mega church on a highway. It was a former hotel turned into a church with as many classrooms as there had been hotel rooms and a theater like worship space with a full symphony orchestra, film screens, etc. This was actually a Baptist church but we decided that perhaps we were wrong in not trying some more Southern-like religions. We were not wrong, as this was definitely not the place for us.

When we happened upon a little, hidden off the road, cheaply built, rather unattractive, small Episcopal church we were not overly impressed. The senior warden (akin to CEO in an Episcopal parish) ran after us as we left a service and said, “Wait, please come back. We have a great rector. She is a Type A personality, full of energy and I am sure you would really like her. Please give us another try when she comes back from vacation in a few weeks.” We did and he could not have been more correct. This woman’s sermons blew us right out of the water. She spoke from the heart. She spoke from a place of pain, of experience, of wisdom, of incredible intuition and empathy, and with all the honesty and reality you could ever desire. She also had a searing sense of humor and witty sarcasm.

We stayed in this casual, comfortable church for the next 15 years and grew with it as it expanded, became part of a community, served on the vestry (the board of directors), taught Sunday school, prepared meals, ran retreats, started women’s groups and attended almost all events. We could attend services in anything from jeans and a tee shirt to fancier attire, but this was no fashion show. We actually became close friends with the rector who was the same age as me and had a son the same age as one of mine. They also became buddies. When the pivotal tragedy in our family struck in 1995 with the death of our two year old, this community of faith and this priest/friend were our only sustenance. Having lost a younger brother herself, she became a mentor and caretaker of our devastated, surviving sons. Sixteen years later, I can still remember the feeling of her tiny hand in mine, leading me to the grave and holding onto me as I lowered his ashes into the ground. She held my hand both physically and spiritually for the next two years. When I became pregnant with twins, she was with me throughout every stage of nine months and held her breath until their safe and healthy delivery.

We also became close with this priest’s parents, seeing them through their move to assisted living and happily visiting with them until their death. They acted as surrogate grandparents to our kids and were well loved by us all. On Election Day, 2008, our rector suffered a major stroke. Although she was the same age as me, she had a long history of poor health and repeated respiratory infections, pleurisy, surgeries, falls, allergic reactions, etc, that often left her homebound and not at church for weeks on end. So, although we were pretty used to her maladies, it seemed like this might be much more serious. Indeed it was, and she was forced to retire after a year of efforts at rehabilitation. Her farewell church service was most wrenching and we have missed her deeply. However, we no longer see her as she does not seem to enjoy or encourage our visits. With her departure, came my realization of just how attached we were to her as the center of our church.

What followed over the next two years were a series of “babysitter” priests of various sorts. Then came along a brilliant scholarly type Navy chaplain with perfect posture who stayed for almost a year. He was the sort of deep thinking, endlessly questioning, challenging everything you ever took for granted, type that for me was just what I needed. He also found our church in great disarray both financially and management wise. We were actually on the brink of financial collapse so he and the Senior Warden took hold, reeled in all expenses much to the chagrin of the parish and resolved all. It was an interesting time and I thoroughly enjoyed the probing Sunday school for adults that mostly revolved around the forward thinking Faith and Science themes along with studies of radicals like Borg and Spong.

After this scholarly priest left, we had another great woman come who was retired, Scottish, brilliant and a terrific storyteller. She was great fun and a great leader for the time she was permitted. In the meantime, we had many visits from our fabulously gifted bishop who is the quintessential preacher. I am so deeply moved by him that I have yet to sit through one of his rousing sermons without tears rolling down my cheeks, not so much from the content of what he is saying, but moreover from the sheer passion with which he says it.

During this time, parishioners were leaving the church in significant numbers. It was taking too long to find a permanent rector, programs were stalling and folks were losing patience.

Then, in a terrible error in judgment, the bishop chose an interim of the sort that was terribly ill fitting. This church was full of liberal champions of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, environmental stewards, believers in faith and science, and a welcoming beacon to all including LBGT’s at large. So, when this tight faced, sensibly shoed, rigid woman came it proved disastrous. Now, folks began leaving in droves rather than listen to this woman’s diatribes each Sunday. As she complained of her extended stay, she was, I believe as miserable to be in our midst as we were to have her. And for me, I could take no more. The teen programs had crumbled, I winced through sermons and began attending Sunday services less and less. It became clear to me that church shopping was calling me once more, before my now preteens got a message I didn’t want them to get.

And so, here I am six months into attending the fanciest, most upscale Episcopal Church in Raleigh, maybe even in all of North Carolina. It is a gorgeous structure built in the 1800’s with a new rector and a good friend of mine as his assistant. This priest is from New England and he is completely terrific in every way. He speaks from the heart and you can tell that it is a heart that has been hurt and revived. This is important to me. If you have not been to hell and back, then I don’t believe you can really preach the idea of heaven with a whole lot of credence. He is very, very smart and chooses the most pertinent and timely topics to teach about. He makes you think and squirm and feel a bit uncomfortable in order to grow. I love that. As for my friend who just recently decided to return to priestly duties, well, she was a great therapist before that which qualifies for quite a bit of deep understanding. She exhibits a real sense about people and has great empathy for their individual paths. I know all about her journey to the bottom of the well that also makes her a great, intuitive preacher. She is hysterically funny too, which doesn’t hurt.

Then, there is the Youth Group that is to die for. My kids actually love going to Sunday school and cannot wait to go to youth group on Sunday nights where they hang out with and eat with 60 kids their age as opposed to the six in our old church. They are also planning their fabulous ski trip for January with this stellar group! As the priest I spoke with said, “If your kids feel that way, how could you question for one moment whether you belong here?” So true!

So, why am I miserable?! The people! My, my, my – this is wealth on a level that I have not quite witnessed all in one place and it is southern wealth with all its trappings to boot. I am ashamed to say that I spend Sunday service distracted by the fashion show of cutting edge designer clothing, the absolute highest and most expensive stiletto heels, the exquisitely smocked little girls dresses that match the bows in their hair, the navy blue suits in size toddler three with ties that my kids would never have been caught dead in, even at age three! How much do those Christian Louboutin heels or the Bottega Veneta handbags set these ladies back? If I sit on the left side of the church, then I get to bear witness to the largest diamonds I have ever seen, adorning left hands on their way up to communion. Last Sunday, I sat next to the governor of North Carolina and she too had some very fancy shoes on! I do not feel good about my judgmental attitude. Believe me, I don’t. I am ashamed enough that I actually went to speak to this rector about it asking just what I am supposed to learn here and why I am so completely intolerant of this display of wealth. He let me have it too, saying that it was no better for me to have prejudices against the rich than against the poor. This is true and quite honestly, this is a very generous group of people who give freely of their treasure towards social programs and feeding the hungry.

So, just what is my problem? I had hoped for a new community of friends and that is not possible it seems. When I attended a women’s bible study I pictured six women sitting around a table. Instead, there were 40 women at one of the most fabulous homes I have ever seen that just happened to have 40 matching wrought iron chairs on the deck. Everything irritated me. The triteness of the pimento cheese and deviled eggs (do any Jews ever serve deviled eggs?), the fact that there were 39 frosted blond heads in the crowd and that I was the only brunette, the still perfect outfits and shoes even on a weeknight, etc. all ate away at me. And where, where, where are the African American women, the Asian women, all the “other” women?? The wine was great, the bible was still the bible, but I could not be present as I stewed. The most condescending “nicety” of all, “I don’t believe we’ve met??” in the most sweet southern accent was the most I got from some of the women. (“Nope, we have not met” was all I could think of but kept silent).

And then too, I signed up for Foyer group in the hopes of meeting some other couples. The idea of this type of group is that four couples are paired up and rotate having dinners once a month from one home to another. We went to the first one last week and I really thought I would suffocate from not breathing, before it ended. The couple whose home it was in, were very ditzy and silly although they seemed to be in their late 70’s. The next couple consisted of a man who never made eye contact with anyone in the room and actually made reference to “The Coloreds.” I nearly choked when he said that and I mentioned how shocking it was to us from the north when we saw “The Help” and realized what had really gone on in my actual lifetime, in the south. No one answered me. His wife sounded exactly like Minnie Mouse which made my hair stand on end each time she opened her mouth. She deferred to her racist husband for every nod. They spoke about their involvement in Habitat for Humanity though and see, this is where I become derailed and confused. This is where I need to learn that all is not strictly black or white. The third couple was hard of hearing, extremely wealthy and spoke about the phone company changing over the years and how many television stations there are now, for most of the evening. The dinner was plated with two pork medallions, squishy corn bread and some salad. I wondered, what if I had been a vegetarian or worse yet, a Jew?? Not possible I suppose. I swayed between complete rolling on the floor hysteria (especially whenever I glanced at my totally shocked husband) and utter outrage throughout the evening and when it was time to eat my predictable lemon square with Cool Whip I could barely contain myself much longer, so we left. I cannot imagine that I will be able to make it through three more of these dinners.

So, here’s the deal. Where to go? Tried another “inside the beltline” church yesterday just for kicks. There one finds a youngish priest who is also part of an Indie rock band and an author on the side. This is a big bustling church so God only knows and I am sure only He does know, how this guy does it all. His cockiness and attempts at humor during the sermon were annoying and not all that funny. No dice. I am not going back. Then, there is the “other” old Episcopal downtown church just a block away from the one we have been going to. It was the church built for the “colored folks” I believe because in that day I don’t suppose they were welcomed at the “white church.” Good grief.

But, this church has an ailing youth group, and two old white male priests, who many are waiting for to retire. I can’t wait like that. I just know that won’t cut it for me. So my search continues and it is a search inside of me as well because, somewhere I must learn greater tolerance and greater acceptance of all. This is no way to be a Christian after all.