If I Could Do it All Again

If I could do it all again, I wouldn’t have believed I’d stay young forever and that time would never get the better of me. And I would have never sized up my parents, when they were in their 50’s, and thought, “Now that’s old.”

I’d have gone into marriage with my eyes wide open and made sure to keep the channels of communication going. I would have sought counseling long before any problems emerged.

I would have kept separate bank accounts. And I would have never given up my last name for his. While I’m at it, I’d have given my daughter my last name as her middle one.

I would have spent the $400 it cost to travel to Russia with my high school classmates.

I’d have spoken to my kids in Spanish right from the start, so that they could have grown up bilingual.

I wouldn’t have let vanity overtake me and dump my high school sweetheart just because he was a year younger, forever relegating him to, “The one that got away.”

I would never have let my mother’s broken English embarrass me. Ditto for her heavy accent.

I would have appreciated my college education more, studied hard and not skipped out on class. Ever.

I would have invested in Apple when they first came out with the iMac.

I would have gone to Europe in my youth.

I would have practiced piano daily and stuck with it. I also would’ve mastered ice skating and had a flair for figure eights.

I would have gone to Russia with my high school classmates on a two-week trip that only cost $400 per student.

I would have learned how to repair things around the house and change a tire. I would never have fallen for the old axiom that a husband would one day take care of me.

I would not have been irrationally terrified by Patty Duke, for her portrayal of Helen Keller, in “The Miracle Worker,” and I would not have convinced my seven-year-old self that she was lurking in the shadows of my childhood home.

I would have regularly eaten broccoli and acquired a taste for the nutrient-rich veggie.

I would have taken singing lessons just for fun, learn a third language like French or Italian, and started tap classes at age four. I would have joined a Girl Scouts troop, too.

I would have devoted myself to writing and be working on my sixth novel by now. Better yet, I would have come up with the idea for the Harry Potter saga first, leaving J.K. Rowling in the dust. And maybe I would have even written an eighth Harry Potter novel.

I would have called my parents daily and visited them every summer. Even holidays.

I would not have voted for the 2003 California Governor Recall simply because said governor had tripled the vehicle license fee.  I’m pretty sure the repeal of that fee increase is what led to the downfall of the state’s economy and helped put California in the dire straights it’s in today.

If I could do it all again, I would have hugged my kids more often when they were little and when they still loved hugging back. I would have held them tightly and treasured their childhood years, knowing that all too soon they’d be all grown up.

If I could to it all again, I’d memorize each joyful moment of my life, to relive over and over in my golden years.

If I could do it all again, there would be no regrets. No fuss, no muss. I would recognize the frailty of life and savor, while I can, the company of those who matter most to me. If I could do it all again, could I? Would I? Would you?

Father Knew Best, Sometimes

My world in Queens, circa 1960, revolved around my mother. To me, she was the end all. The bee’s knees. The most beautiful mother who was always there for me. My father, on the other hand, was of a different ilk. He wasn’t around much and didn’t go with us on family outings to the city. But that’s probably because he was spending his time downtown, getting an education.

My father, Enrique

It seems that when he came to the United States, my father decided that if he was going to make a decent life for himself and for his family, he first needed to get a degree.  He enrolled at New York University and he must have been there day and night, attending classes and studying late in the library, because his presence in our lives was minuscule at best.

And when he was around, he would yell and throw fits about anything and everything which absolutely terrified me.  He also enjoyed a good scare.  Like when he crept up on me when I was by myself in the basement, sent there to fetch the laundry basket for my mother.  Pouncing, he began to make strangling motions around my neck.  I cried in horror, which made him keel over with crazed laughter. I was only five.

Yet, despite this, my father had his “Father Knows Best” moments. At least when he wasn’t in his hyper Latin machismo mode. Like when I was 18 and about to go on an interview for a summer job. I had applied to be a live-in nanny for the Pellicane family’s four children (three boys and a girl).  My father insisted that he come along for the interview so that he could meet the family with whom I might be spending the summer.  He poured on his Latin charm for Mrs. Pellicane, taking her hand gently in his, admiring her well appointed Manhasset home. A regular Desi Arnaz meets Ricardo Montalban. During the interview, he asked questions and offered anecdotal information about his daughter (“She’s shy,” “A picky eater,” “Very impatient.”). I sat meekly beside him, silently mortified, and willed myself to disappear into the furnishings of the Pellicane home. I wanted to forget this interview ever happened. But the next day, when Mrs. Pellicane offered me the job, she cited as the key reason the fact that my father cared enough about me to take part in the interview.

Over the years, my first inclination would be to seek out my mother when I needed advice. Not my father. I considered him bull-headed and demanding. Yet, he was always there in the background, trying to be as invaluable to me as my mother.  I resisted. That is, until my marriage began to fall apart.

My mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Confiding in her was out of the question. I needed to talk, to get her insight, but since that wasn’t going to happen, I found myself turning to my father. He was 81 years old now and didn’t seem so macho anymore. During this time, my parents had moved to Florida and my father was receiving regular kidney dialysis. His legs were swollen, his body drained and he was just plumb tired of living. But his mind was intact.

The first time I called to tell him the news about my marriage, as a reflex, I braced myself for a scolding. I expected angry outbursts. I expected accusations that it was my fault, that I could have done more.  I anticipated unequivocal fury.  In its place, I got empathy and love. He listened as I cried and poured out my story. He quietly listened and when I could cry no more, he told me what I needed to hear. That he loved me with all his heart and that I would be ok.

Suddenly, with my mother in her own world, my father was there for me in a way I’d never seen before. It was as if my mother’s pre-Alzheimer’s spirit had taken over his body and, in a surprising twist of fate, it was now my father listening to me and sharing his wisdom.  I knew he was in pain from the dialysis, but during our conversations, he never let on.  It was the closest we’d ever been.  My mother now in la-la land and my father a beacon of hope and compassion.  The world was upside down and the impossible had come true.

Within the year, we buried my mother.  A few months after that, my father.  Hot headed and super macho, my father transcended all that he was, in order to give me what was there all along: his love. And maybe he didn’t always know best, but in the moments I needed him, he came through.

Me, Rocky Balboa

“You are worthless and you’ll never amount to anything!”

So said my ex when we were still in the throes of unraveling our marriage. And today I want to officially thank him. Little did he know when he said those hurtful, pain-searing words, that he was doing me a favor.  In his own, offhanded way, he was encouraging me to fly the coop, and be something more—without him.  Turns out, it was just the push I needed.

I would be Rocky Balboa, resolved to win the world championship.

When those words were first flung at me, my initial reaction was to fall apart. My second was to pick up the pieces and gather my resolve. Resolve, to never be that woman who doesn’t amount to anything, who believes what she’s told and wallows in self-pity and low self esteem.  Instead, I would be Rocky Balboa, resolved to win the world heavyweight championship. Meryl Streep, determined to win my first Oscar. I’d be the little engine that could, and I’d be Dumbo, about to take my first flight over the Big Top.

According to my ex, the odds were not in my favor. Yet I wasn’t going to be the one to take it on the chin. So overnight my mantra became,  “I will prove him wrong, I will prove him wrong.” I had some big hurdles to overcome, though. Besides, the marriage coming apart, I was pounding the pavement in search of a job. Any job. I was also coming to terms with my mother’s increasing dementia, Alzheimer’s, which made it impossible to confide in her, and to seek her advice and comfort when I needed it most.

“I will prove him wrong,” I kept telling myself, and in my own way, I did. Though it took time, and during that time it became more about doing it for me rather than for the sake of proving him wrong. It was a long tough road, with hurdles every step of the way, but I kept at it. The Rocky Balboa drive was in me, the need to prove I could do it. Then one day I realized I’d had.  I’d found myself, my voice.

It took two years but I finally got the job I wanted, working for a place that thrives on creativity and people who are passionate about their work. Three years after that, I was able to buy my own home and turn it into a place that is uniquely mine, filled with beauty, art and yes, even kitsch. I also raised two children to be thoughtful, caring adults and found time along the way to spend with the people who mean so much to me. Indeed, like Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I’d found that the best reward of all is the love of family and friends.  That, and finding your bliss.

So if I ever do win the heavyweight championship or an Oscar, I’ll be sure to express my gratitude to all the people along the way who were there for me. And I’ll be sure to thank my ex, too. For I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know how his words helped shape who I am today. Oh, and how I became Rocky Balboa. Yeah, that’s me. Rocky.

Time to Commercialize Divorce

Society doesn’t prepare you for divorce.  Still, you would’ve thought by now that someone would have figured out a way to turn it into a profit-generating machine, much the same way we do with weddings. Makes sense when you consider that half of first marriages and about 75% of second marriages end in divorce. In fact, it is so prevalent that with a little bit of pluck, a company could step right in and turn divorce into a cash cow.

Billions of dollars are poured into weddings each year. Yet, except for all the family lawyers who are raking in the dough, divorce is a poor relation. Let’s face it, divorce doesn’t get half the respect that is reaped upon the marriage vows. For instance, we have bridal showers but no divorce showers, which could come in handy, if you ask me. After all, you end up losing half of your kitchen supplies, linens and furniture in the split.

It wouldn't hurt for someone like Courtney Cox to have a divorce planner.

No divorce planners either. Think how easy it could be! No fuss, no muss because the divorce planner takes care of all the pesky details, like the settlement, drawing up the papers, garnering your ex’s wages if necessary (because he’d rather pay for his girlfriend’s day at the spa than child support). Voila! All you have to do is show up and sign the final decree!

There are no bachelor-again-to-be parties. You can’t place an order for a chocolate raspberry four-tier divorce cake for your Coming Out—Again! party. No divorce bazaars held at the convention center, where you can go and find a good attorney, get some therapy and a much needed massage to relieve you of all the aches, pains and thorns in your side that your spouse gave you. Worst of all, no divorce registries at Pottery Barn—or even Target. Trust me, I could think of at least two dozen items I would have liked to put on that registry.

There is no divorce month. June is for weddings but what’s a good month to sign your divorce papers? For me, it was December. The 7th of December, to be exact, better known as Pearl Harbor Day. A day that will live in infamy, according to FDR.

And where are all the divorce magazines? There are plenty of bridal magazines, but where can I get the latest info, all I need to know about the D word? Martha Stewart is all over weddings. Why can’t she toss us divorcees a bone? Actually, there is one magazine devoted to divorce, aptly called Divorce Magazine, but it’s only published twice a year. I don’t know about you but I couldn’t wait that long for my next issue. If brides can have a monthly magazine, then surely the rest of us should too. In fact, Brides and Divorce Magazine could be sold together. Two for the price of one. What a deal! Might as well, considering that half of all those brides will be wishing they had a magazine on divorce at some point. And who knows? Maybe having an issue of Divorce Magazine sitting on the coffee table would be just the thing to remind newlyweds that it takes effort to make marriage work.

Divorce. It’s a simple, easy to pronounce, two-syllable word that doesn’t begin to convey the agony, the ripping of your insides that getting a divorce can bring. That, and the realization that your world will never be the same. So come on, Corporate America, make a commercial success out of this opportunity! And maybe, just maybe, it’ll help ease some of the pain.

Let’s Hear it for the 50 Percenters!

I’m a trendsetter—on the cutting edge. A pioneer! Baby, take a bow! You may wonder why am I so proud? What am I on the forefront of? Why, divorce of course!

I was among the first to get a divorce in my office. Years ago, while everyone was hooking up and getting married, I was signing my final divorce decree. Then, when everyone was getting pregnant and dropping like flies around the office taking parental leave, I continued working while happily raising my grade school kids who no longer awoke in the night to nurse or for a diaper change. Been there and done that.

Later, when other staff took off to stay home with sick kids who had strep, not me. If my kids were sick they could stay home alone and take care of themselves! When others were preparing their children for kindergarten and fretting over which school to enroll them in, mine were finishing up the middle school and high school years. It’s fun being ahead of the curve!

Now, as others are signing their own divorce decrees and having to start over, I say, welcome to the club, the club of the 50 Percenters. Don’t get me wrong. I respect those who are able to stay married through thick and thin, sickness and health. I’m rooting for them. It’s probably one of the hardest things to do. Those that succeed certainly deserve all the accolades and admiration that the rest of us can muster.

But, about half of those that marry do end up in divorce and for those of us in this group, well, we’re the 50 Percenters and I am the self-appointed president of the club, thank you very much.

Now, what should be the next trend I set—becoming an empty nester? Been there, doing that. Oh, I just adore being on the cutting edge!