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Reunited
May 19th, 2011 by Christina

Some of my favorite people from high school

I have been in total blast-from-the-past mode for the past couple of months. It started when I learned, via Facebook, that my high school was having its first official reunion, 30 years after our graduation day in May 1981. There was an “event” page and everything.

My initial reaction was that there was no way I would even contemplate attending such an event. I’m not sure why, exactly, but the very idea gave me hives. Not too long ago, in fact, in an attempt to eliminate clutter, I almost tossed my six yearbooks from The Birch Wathen School, which I attended from 7th through 12th grade–longer than any other school I’ve ever attended. The almost-tossing wasn’t because it was a particularly awful experience (certainly no worse than any other six-year chunk of my life, anyway), but because, for whatever reason, the yearbooks induced nothing in me except bemused detachment; they felt entirely dispensable. I’d spent the past few years processing my approximately 20 years with R and the stack of photo albums documenting our marriage and children and all that. High school? Completely off my radar.

But, slowly, as a result of the reunion’s FB event page, I reconnected with a few high school friends online and I began to wax nostalgic. I dragged out the yearbooks and flipped through them with newfound fascination–at the black-and-white pictures of people talking on pay phones, with dials, attached to the wall! Of me with my so-unfashionable-at-the-time curls tamed via vengeful blow dryer into something vaguely resembling the desired Farrah Fawcett hairdo! Of all the girls wearing our school’s required skirts, looking like the Orthodox Jewish women of today. Of the boys sporting resentfully-loosened ties and ill-fitting sports jackets. (All any of us wanted was to wear jeans to school. We got to during final exams and on “Grub Day,” a 50-cents-a-person fundraiser that occurred a few times a year.) Of me attached at the hip to my renegade, delightfully delinquent high school boyfriend, who is still, apparently, off the grid, with only seven FB friends and no photo, even. (Imagine!)

Then, last Saturday, my high school classmates and I finally reunited in person. I’ve stayed in touch with a handful, but most of them I had not seen since I was 17. I saw the guy with whom I went on my first date ever, as well as the friend who initially introduced me to R when they ended up as roommates after college. I saw another guy who impressed me with how much he has grown up in three decades. It was one big episode of Christina Frank: This is YOUR life. (The renegade did not make an appearance, which was mostly a relief, but sort of disappointing too.) The former girls, now women, were the best. The whole experience, was–for lack of a more old-school word–awesome (a word no one used in the 1970s, btw, certainly not for all things ordinary, as they do now. Nor would anyone have known wtf btw meant back then, fyi.)

I did not realize until I went off to college in the Midwest just how unusual my upbringing and high school experience were compared to that of most of the country. The Birch Wathen School was housed in a seven-story townhouse on the Upper East Side, across 71st Street from the Frick Museum. My graduating class consisted of 48 people. Our senior prom took place at The Plaza Hotel (yes, that one, where Eloise lived). Many of us grew up in sprawling apartments on Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue and their environs, with doormen and elevator men and handymen and–coincidentally or not–profoundly flawed, not-present parents. It was a strange combination of privilege and neglect that many (not all) of us knew, and it was comforting to again be in the presence of people who understood that very specific milieu during that very specific time. We hung out in Central Park. Our Huk-A-Poo shirts and Frye boots came from Bloomingdale’s. We bought our after-school candy (Swedish fish and Ice Cubes) at a store called Caviar-teria and thought nothing of it. In health class, we were warned about the dangers of Quaaludes and VD. It was the convergence of a certain slice of New York City at a certain time in history.

I didn’t even begin to comprehend the unusualness of how I grew up until I flew off to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, surrounded by girls named Millie and Muffy (really!) who belonged to sororities and dated frat boys. I was referred to as “the girl from New York” in my dorm, I guess because I wore black most of the time. (As one of my classmates said at the reunion: “WHY did our guidance counselor send me to Duke?? Why didn’t she know what she was doing? WHAT was she thinking? I was traumatized!”) Ultimately, I gravitated to those who passed for freaks at Northwestern and I love them still; for my junior year I transferred to SUNY Purchase, which felt like home again. Phew.

Reuniting with my Birch Wathen classmates was unexpectedly powerful. I felt like omg, those six years were the most formative years of my entire life–which is, I guess, what nostalgia will do to you. I saw most of those people almost every day for six years, after all–the years during which I morphed from unpopular, skinny, geeky, flat-chested girl to a prettier, curvier, more-confident one who had cool friends, a boyfriend, and who no longer cared what anyone thought of her.

I see now that The Birch Wathen Class of 1981 was a family of sorts, with assorted roles and personalities–the good, the bad and the ugly. It took me 30 years to understand the significance of that experience, but it was well worth it.

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Hoping to Score
Sep 19th, 2010 by Christina

Tell me you didn’t see this coming: I have a life coach–or, well, I spoke with one once for 90 minutes. I know, I know–such a midlife-makeover-ish thing to do, right? And I’m really too cynical and eye-rolley to participate in something as amorphous as life coachery—but then it’s amazing what a sudden, unexplained bout of poverty and singleness can drive one to (see: self-help books and online dating sites). Honestly, I’ve been a little restless ever since I landed a job. (For which I am grateful, btw. I’m almost starting to believe in god.) And a sweet, cute boyfriend. (No, really, god, I was kidding. Of course I believe in you.) And figured out how to get groceries delivered right to my door (possibly the ultimate accomplishment of the three, thanks to my good pal god).

Now it’s time to sort out my creative self, something I’ve been trying to do since I was 21, with intermittent success. I didn’t make my original deadline of writing something important, critically-acclaimed and noteworthy by age 30. Or 40. And now 50 is uncomfortably near (um, no thank you, god). Fifty. Fif.Tee.

So now what? In a way, I don’t care as much as I used to about achieving something significant in my lifetime. So what if I would rather watch Mad Men and read other people’s books than write one myself? Does the world really need another book? We’re all going to die anyway—agents, editors, writers, critics, even the PR and marketing people. So in the end, perhaps just having fun and blogging is an acceptable way to pass one’s free time. Right? Am I capable of not putting such pressure on myself? Can I once and for all dismiss my gnawing, constant sense of disappointment in me?

Apparently not, because I wrestle with these thoughts, oh, 500 times a day. Recently, I inflicted my inner conflict on my super-creative and much-younger new friend Laura, who instantly fixed me up with her life coach, Marcia. My expectations were high. Prior to speaking with Marcia, I felt an untrustworthy sense of well-being—as if simply contacting her was accomplishment enough and she would take it from there. I didn’t want her to help me be creative as much as I wanted her to be creative for me, maybe even to produce something on my behalf–more like a surrogate than a coach.

Our introductory chat was good, like a combination of therapy and school. She helped me think about what has worked/not worked for me in the past as far as unlocking my creative self. I shared my struggle over how much to reveal and whose feelings to protect or not in this blog or in any future, larger tell-all endeavors. But she kept bringing up this notion of  a “goal,” which I found unsettling–because if  I had a goal, would I need a coach (or simply a trophy)?

We’re scheduled to speak again in a few weeks and I’m looking forward to that. Until then, I’m supposed to read a few inspiring texts that Marcia recommended, plus I’m going to write down some of the blog thoughts that I’m reluctant to publish and see where that leads me.

I’ll keep you (goal) posted.

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Sometimes a picture speaks…
Sep 5th, 2010 by Christina

… a thousand words or so. God bless America, no?

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The Honeymoon (From Hell) is Over. Now What?
Jun 24th, 2010 by Christina

It’s been almost exactly two years since R moved out. I honestly can’t believe it has been that long–even though we middle-aged folks are constantly bemoaning the brisk passage of time. My goodness, wasn’t I just writing the post about surviving the first year? Where has the time gone?

Many of the (many) books I’ve turned to for guidance during this difficult period mention the two-year mark as a milestone. Apparently, if you’re the me in the scenario, by then you are officially back on your feet, successfully re-routed toward your glorious post-divorce future. I remember reading about it while still in my raw, skinless state and thinking I could not possibly survive two whole years. I hoped someone would hit the fast-forward button so I didn’t have to be awake for the duration. Or hit me with a bus.

And now suddenly I’m here, 24 months later. I am, in fact, re-routed and less raw, just like the books promised. Yet, oddly enough, I’m also feeling a little sentimental about that hellish phase, if only because it gave me an automatic excuse for being unable to cope with anything. Just like when you have a baby and chalk up the extra weight, the slovenly attire, the exhaustion, to the fact that, well, you just had a baby–until one day you wake up and notice that your kids are in elementary school and you can’t fall back on that anymore.

When I couldn’t handle certain household tasks (and I couldn’t), I forgave myself because, after all, I was a recently-separated, marginally-employed, suddenly-single mom. If my temper was too short with the girls (and it was) or I cried in the bathroom (and I did), well, wasn’t I off the hook, given that I was going through an awfully hard time? If I needed a reason to turn a man down for a second date (which I did), I played the confused newbie: “I’m sorry. I’m so new at this. I’m not ready. I think I started dating too soon. Maybe in a few months…”

Abigail Trafford aptly describes those years as Crazy Time in her book by the same name: “It starts when you separate and usually lasts about two years. It’s a time when your emotions take on a life of their own and you swing back and forth between wild euphoria and violent anger, ambivalence and deep depression, extreme timidity and rash actions. You can’t believe…how terrible you feel, how overwhelming daily tasks become, how frightened you are; about money, your health, your sanity.”

Now I’m so jaded that when I read other women’s divorce sagas, I think, “Oh, boo hoo, honey. Pick yourself up off the floor and get on with it. Pump the gas, kill the mice, fix the toilet, change the occasional light bulb, join the dating site. Because–guess what–you have no choice.”

But, as crappy as I felt during that stage, it also came with the thrill of the new and unknown. I had my work cut out for me, a fierce sense of purpose. Every day felt like a challenge, an occasion that required rising to, an endless loop of first-days-of-the-rest-of-my-life. It was often agonizing and exhausting, but there was so much intensity and drama, so much adrenalin. It was an adventure.

And now things have leveled off. I have a job; a guy. Much still remains unknown, unhealed and unclear–but Crazy Time has officially ended. It’s not exactly a let-down, it’s just so weirdly calm and orderly all of a sudden that I’m a little disoriented. I wonder what will be the source of my next adventure and what will provide meaning. Or maybe I should just embrace the stillness for a while.

(Note to the universe: I said adventure, not heartache. Meaning, not misery. Got that?)

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Bend It Like Bikram
Jan 13th, 2010 by Christina

Right after we separated, people were all over me with optimism and advice. This was an opportunity! A chance to turn misfortune into something positive! A new lease on life! A gift! R himself assured me that I was going to thrive once he left.

I can’t tell you how many times people suggested that I take a class, get re-acquainted with a long-forgotten hobby, find a new hobby, learn a language, or do volunteer work with people who were really suffering so as to get perspective (actually, that one was my idea). What I can tell you is how many copies of The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, were handed to me in those first few months: Three.

I have not yet read the book (and I doubt I will ever read all three copies, since I assume they say pretty much the same thing) nor have I taken a class or found a hobby or done volunteer work or even started composting. I’m not proud of my inertia in these areas. Instead of becoming all life-transforming and hobby-oriented, I was in a daze there for a while, focusing on little achievements like trying to cry every other day instead of every single day. And there were several hobbies I had to take up against my will, like mouse-icide, coping with my car’s mental illness, and online dating.

Then, a few months ago, my friend across the street tried to sell me on Bikram yoga–the one where you spend 90 minutes locked in a 105-degree room. She insisted that it would change my life, which got me vaguely interested. When she promised it would change my body too, turning me into a toned, lithe, uber-babe, I got onboard.

The first class was hell, mostly because I was terrified. People warned me that I would feel nauseous, dizzy and faint, but that it was worth it. So, even though I am not prone to any of those things, I spent the entire class fearing I was going to experience some kind of catastrophic physical event.

In fact, the only dramatic thing that happened was that I saw my shins sweat for the first time ever; it was miserably hot and humid in that room (think about it–have you ever seen your shins sweat?) Oh, and when I got home, I fell asleep for two hours.

Two days ago, I took my fourth class and I can see how it might become addictive. I’m not sure that Bikram will change my life, but I’ve started to groove on seeing those toxins spilling from my shins.

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The Post in Which I am Thankful
Nov 30th, 2009 by Christina

It’s not always easy to come up with ideas for blog posts, so when a holiday like Thanksgiving 2602363529_aa2be7a127rolls around, it’s like a freebie from the blogosphere, a no-brainer. You simply write a post about being thankful, even if everyone else is doing the same thing, and even if the holiday was four days ago.

So, while this blog has chronicled the assorted forms of emotional and financial devastation for which I am decidedly not thankful, I am also genuinely grateful for many things in my life.

Here we go:

  • I’m thankful that I get to be the mom of two whip-smart, sensitive and stunning girls, and that the three of us are somehow finding our way. So what if the man of the house is now our pet betta fish, Bobby, who can’t even open a jar?
  • I’m thankful for an ex who participates in a true 50-50 custody arrangement, something not all women in my position enjoy.
  • I’m thankful for the Red Hook Ikea, which opened just when I needed the uplifting feeling that only decorating-on-a-Swedish-shoestring can bring.
  • I’m crazy thankful for my devoted, supportive, smart, funny, loving and loyal bunch of friends–and some pretty cool family members as well.
  • I’m thankful that, apparently, I am not too jaded to try this love thing again, and that such a creature as S exists.
  • I’m thankful for the kick-ass sandwich I made with Thanksgiving leftovers that my ex-in-laws sent home with my kids.
  • I’m thankful that, no matter what my future brings, I will never again have to live through the months spanning Fall 2007 through Summer 2009, A.D.

Oh, and one more thing: I’m very thankful that I got over my blog-aversion, read WordPress for Dummies, and created this blog, which I enjoy working on more than almost anything else I do all week. Mostly, I am thankful to you for reading it.

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Divorce Lite
Oct 11th, 2009 by Christina

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R and I have been seeing a mediator. Mediation is divorce lite for conflict-averse couples who don’t want to drag each other to court or traumatize their kids with custody battles. It’s for the amicable divorcing, oxymoronic as that sounds.

R and I are the poster pair for mediation. We get along, have the same basic values, try to put the children first, and donate to WNYC when we can.

So if it’s all supposed to be so downright pleasant, why would I rather stick pins in my eyes than endure another hour in that office?

Oh, wait. Here’s why:

  • Because when the mediator asked for our wedding date and who officiated, I flashed back to early 1992, when R&I discussed our vows with the Dutch Reformed minister (don’t ask) who ultimately pronounced us husband and wife. I’m pretty sure and we promise to use a mediator when we divorce was not among them.
  • Because the financial news is definitely not “all good” when you’re a freelance writer divorcing a magazine editor just as the publishing world is imploding and the country is experiencing the worst economic crisis in recent history. It’s all bad.
  • Because, unlike after other traumatic surgical procedures, no one makes sure you have someone to escort you home after two hours of the emotional and financial evisceration that is mediation.
  • Because it seems so annoyingly PC to mediate a divorce when it would probably be more exciting, satisfying and just plain fun to kick some ass in a court of law. But for PLUs (People Like Us), that would be like hitting our kids. We just don’t do it even though we secretly want to.

On the other hand, I have been thoroughly enjoying one of the major benefits of my marital disintegration. S currently stands for Strong, Sensitive and Swoon. Oh, and let’s throw in some Shoulders and a Sweetheart.

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Back to the Future
Oct 2nd, 2009 by Christina

2534119138_dcb6257503Yesterday I attended school with my 8th grader; it was “open school day,” the one chance to see what your kids actually do all day.

Parents were asked to sit in the back of the room during the classes. At one point, I noticed an attractive, stylish couple sitting side-by-side. Later, as we were milling about prior to the start of math class, I realized I was about to sit down next to the male half of the attractive, stylish couple. I gestured to his wife, who was seating herself on the other side of me, and asked if she wanted to switch seats with me so that they could sit together.

“No. We’re divorced,” she replied.

I found it funny that a) she would offer that information at all, b) she seemed blatantly relieved not to have to sit next to her ex and, c) she assumed it’s a given that divorced couples don’t sit together.

And then she asked me: “Are you married or divorced?” Just like that.

I found her directness curious. Typically, when you’re thrown together with the parents of your child’s classmates, one of the first things you say is “Whose mother are you?” or “Hi, my name is Cassandra. I’m Sam’s mom.”

After a few beats, I answered “I’m in-between. I’m separated.”

For one terrifying moment, I thought this bold woman was going to try to fix me up with her ex, but then math class began and suddenly everything became a blur. Algebra? Calculus? Why was the teacher writing random letters and numbers on the board and then, like a lunatic, adding parentheses and brackets? I wanted to stand up and say “Excuse me, kids, but you do not need to learn this. Sure, try to get a good grade in math so you’ll get into a decent college, but, really, don’t sweat it because there are no real-life situations in which you are required to write {} a, x , y and 5 in the same line. None.”

I wanted to share this insight with my kooky, blunt new divorced friend, but since there were 32 minutes left to class, I decided to look around and think interesting thoughts instead.

Needless to say, what I saw was a room full of 13- year-olds. Oh, the horror.

I flashed back to my own 8th grade year–the all-important Frye boots, Stan Smith sneakers, Huk-A-Poo shirts and Shetland sweaters. My size 27AAA “bra” and the stupid boys who made stupider jokes about ironing their shirts on my chest.

The whole dating/sex/relationship thing was a complete mystery to me at that point. I could not imagine how on earth I would get a boy to like me or ask me on a date. And to think that one might kiss me? Forget it. That stuff happened to other girls, usually the ones with real bra sizes. (Still, I kept my Dr.Pepper-flavored Bonne Bell Lip Smacker handy just in case.)

I looked at my lovely daughter, in the throes of thirteen-ness herself, and got a little lump in my throat, followed by a feeling of certainty that no guy will ever be good enough for her because she’s exceptional in every way (ahem–now’s when you politely say “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Christina.”) But maybe I was being a bit harsh, given that the pool of men available to her at this juncture are a bunch of doofy 13-year old boys and nothing like the fine assortment of gentlemen who will pursue her when she grows up and gets to join match.com.

I awoke from my reverie to the sound of math textbooks gleefully slamming shut. I guess a lot has happened in the 33 years since I was in 8th grade (wait, did I just write thirty-three years?? Dear god.) At some point, I got a boy to kiss me. I imagine my daughter will figure that one out too, though I doubt she spends much time picturing her separated self sitting in the back of her daughter’s classroom chatting with a stylish, blunt divorced woman. I mean, she still lives in a world where it’s important to learn algebra (or was it trigonometry?)

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Baby, We Were Born to Run-On
Aug 9th, 2009 by Christina

I was so busted this weekend. october_27_054

I went to a delightful gathering of a few of my writer pals at the Jersey shore, which was great fun. We all seem to agree that the English language is increasingly abused and disrespected, that journalism is the new blacksmithing, and that anyone who thinks it’s ok to use a lower-case I to refer to one’s self probably has a personality disorder–because there is no other satisfactory explanation.

The five of us literary ladies were strolling along the beach, ranting about how hard life has become for we who still respect the rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation. (Also, we tried to pretend that we were down at the shore or down by the shore, rather than just down the shore, which is the vexing phrase people on the East Coast use when they visit New Jersey beach towns.)

I chimed in with my horror stories about the many incoherent online-dating profiles I’ve faced, and my friends agreed that poorly-written profiles are unacceptable. (Turns out we’re not the only ones who feel this way. Check it out: Do the Typos in Your Profile Spell Disaster?)

Later, during cocktail hour at Gwen’s house, my four very-married friends wanted to read my one very-unmarried online dating profile. So I brought it up on Gwen’s laptop–which was nestled on the table between the Chex mix and the guacamole– and the girls gathered ‘round.

I fear I shall never forget what happened next.

“You forgot an apostrophe,” said Jen casually.
“Ha ha–nice try, Jen. Good one. You’re funny,” I responded.
“You really did,” she repeated drily.

That’s when I turned into an over-tired four-year-old.

“No WAY! I did not! I did NOT!” I shouted.

“Um, yep–you did. See?”

And that’s when I realized that she was right. The word “let’s” was staring back at me on the screen, naked and un-apostrophized. I felt like a sham.

“I can’t believe I did that! I cannot believe I did that! How could I do that? How? I mean, I am so fanatical about not making those kinds of errors and look–I made one. I made one!”

The girls helped me over to a chair, forced a glass of wine into my fist, and pretended that we all make typos sometimes, that it’s not a big deal, and that of course they know I don’t really think you write “let’s” without the apostrophe. Silly me.

Now I can’t decide if I should fix the mistake in my profile, or leave it there and wait, fairy-tale-style, for my Prince Charming to come along and correct it.

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Oh No You Di’nt
Jul 23rd, 2009 by Christina

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If you’ve sensed that I’m feeling a little negative these days, you sensed correctly. I know that negativity doesn’t help one overcome adversity–and I’m not proud of my currently cranky attitude. But it feels good to be honest and I have faith that you can take it. Plus, it’s therapeutic for me to vent and this is all about me. Hopefully, getting it out will allow some positivity back in.

Here is why I’m fed up:

  1. Because it’s really hard to find a job during a recession and applying via those huge job boards has gotten me nowhere so far (Check out WNYC’s recent Brian Lehrer segment on job boards to learn why.)
  2. Because I want a wonderful boyfriend, but I am sick of trying to find one online (and no, I don’t know anyone who knows someone, as far as I know.)

Let me expand on number two, which offers more opportunities for me to shoot the snark.

You might recall that my online-dating site subscription expired in late June. Well, apparently I get six additional months free as a reward for not having snagged “someone special” during the paid 6 months. So my membership extends through the end of December. Because that feels like more of a punishment than a perk, I recently clicked on “visibility settings” and made my profile invisible. Given my super-bad attitude, I think it’s for the best.

I’ve become like the characters on Seinfeld, who dismissed members of the opposite sex for being low-talkers or close-talkers, for having a big nose, an annoying laugh, “man-hands,” or any other human flaw imaginable.

I haven’t even had the chance to be hyper-critical of anyone in person, because I’ve been ruling out guys after an email or two. I’ve avoided getting back to some of them to stop myself from responding with:

  • You signed your email “Barry,” which means that is probably your name and I hate that name, so forget it.
  • You seemed appealing until I clicked through your photos and found one of you wearing a Speedo. It’s rarely OK to wear a Speedo and it is never OK to post a photo of yourself in one. If you don’t know that, I’m not your girl.
  • You wrote that you never drink alcohol, which makes me worry that you’re either an alcoholic or no fun–and I’m truly sorry, but I can’t deal with either.
  • You signed off with “be well” and that expression bugs me. I fear that if we meet, you might say something like “it’s all about the journey,” and then I’d have to end it for sure.
  • Yes, yes, I wrote in my profile that I like lakes. But you’ve now sent me three emails asking me how much I do or don’t like oceans and rivers in comparison and it’s making me think that bodies of water are weirdly important to you.

See what I mean? I wouldn’t want to date me at the moment, so I’m going to give the male population a break until I can be a nicer, more accepting person.

(Did I just hear you snicker “good luck with that?”)

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