Keep Moving

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Holy cow I haven’t written in a while.

I blame winter: my go-to scapegoat, my personal patsy, my fall-guy. Damn season comes around every year–despite my protestations–and doesn’t it just stay for several months?

We didn’t even get entirely dumped on with snow this winter; no crazy ice-storms and subsequent sans-electricity-for-a-week tumult; no need for a generator or trip to Bali. My family got outside, did some sledding, survived the bus-stop mornings with nary a complaint from the girls. I’m the only winter whiner, and I really do try to keep it on the down-low, but winter is a drag for me, especially as it drags on after the holidays. My college friend Jen used to say February was her least favorite month–not only the dark and the freeze, but the misery, as a young, single person, of enduring a month that also gives us Valentines Day and the Sports Illustrated swim suit issue. No disrespect to TS Eliot, but February can be cruel. I like my April.

April is Easter hope and residual March Madness (Go Cats!). April is oodles of color–the eye-smacking yellow at every turn: buttercups, daffodils, forsythia. The pink and white of cherry blossoms and magnolias, hanging roadside like soft chandeliers. The red buds on our front yard Japanese maple and peony: signs of living everywhere.

It’s not that I haven’t lived this winter. But it sometimes feels as if I haven’t moved after a winter has come and finally gone. Even if I hit the gym regularly or go out for crisp walks, I can’t help but feel sedentary, stiff, uninspired.

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Over Spring Break we went with friends to the Franklin Institute to see, among many other things, the Pixar Exhibit, which I loved. My favorites were the informational kiosks entitled “Working at Pixar” scattered throughout the two floors. You’d press a button and learn about the woman who’s job it was to add movement to Joy’s dress in Inside Out; press another button and see the guy who made and explains the physics behind the red of Lightning McQueen and the brown, muted rust of Mater.

Press another button and there’s this smart gentleman who developed and is attempting to describe the rendering equation. Let’s see if I got this right: a similar method, called the Monte Carlo, which simulated how atomic particles get scattered inside a bomb, was originally developed for the hydrogen bomb project. But our kind, smart friend at Pixar used his theory for how light is scattered to create awesome-looking, happiness-inducing movies. How’d I do? And how ’bout our kind, smart friend?

So we left the Pixar Exhibit and went to the Brain Exhibit where I couldn’t get over this visual of the brain of a three-year old–neurons connecting like crazy because of all of the new things this child is learning. Next to that was a visual of the brain of a twenty year old, and there were shockingly far fewer lines, A LOT more white area. What? I get that the twenty year old’s already learned to walk and talk, so she isn’t experiencing substantial newness, but dear God, she’s only twenty?! If she’s got that much space, imagine the oceans of white in my brain. Do I have any neurons left? And if so, can they find each other?

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Dave and I had planned a day-trip with the girls to New York City for the following day. The recent Brussels’s bombings got me worrying that maybe we shouldn’t go. To think, now, it’s a roll of dice just to hop on a commuter train from Trenton. It kept me up a lot of the night.

But we went, and standing in line for cheap Broadway tickets, we serendipitously ran into my sister-in-law and two of my nieces. They’d chosen just that day to also drive from Philly to Trenton, take the train in, and see a show. We spent the entire day with them: Ellen’s Stardust Cafe, where our waiter, Dave, sang a beautiful “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables. Rockefeller Center for a short spell before going to see Finding Neverland, which was magical and made me cry. We hit the three-story M & M store, then we all walked to and through a tiny chunk of Central Park. Caroline noticed, “Mommy, there are people kissing everywhere (icky face)” but there were also people rock climbing, children swinging, big dudes doing aerial flips over a circle drawn in dirt. All that activity made us hungry, so we of course grabbed NY slices at a pizza joint, then stopped into the Marriott Marquis for Shirley Temples before heading back to Penn Station.

Cousins nibbled on M&M’s and giggled with cousins the entire train ride back: lips chapped from the grinning, eyes puffed with exhaustion. I hadn’t seen my girls that happy for that many consecutive hours . . . I don’t think ever.

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“Nothing happens until something moves.” Einstein. I saw this quotation on a wall entering Sir Isaac’s Loft at the Franklin Institute. My friend Ashley saw it as well, separately, but brought it up to me while we were watching our kids running around in this playground of chain reactions, pulleys, and prisms: Lexi lifting her own body weight; the other kids transfixed by the gigantic kinetic sculpture, watching balls travel along tracks. So this is how energy transfers.

Nothing happens until something moves. It’s a simple statement that spoke to both of us, probably for different reasons. We didn’t get into it, really. We just acknowledged its truth.

For me, it’s time to get moving and keep the balls rolling throughout next winter, too, because God-willing, it will come again. We can’t let darkness or fear immobilize us. We have to ride the train. Go somewhere. Keep learning, keep writing and creating. Strive for kind and smart. Energy will transfer and neurons will connect. At any age. In any and every one of life’s seasons.


Gotta Getaway

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Girls’ weekend.  Ok, we’re in our 40’s, but what’s affirming about calling it “Middle-Aged Women’s Weekend”?

I just visited with some high school friends: Raquel, Kristen, and Amy.  Haven’t done so in over five years, which is understandable since we all have young-ish children, but five years since we’ve been together?  And that wasn’t even all of us.  My husband, Dave (God bless him) insisted I go. Dave isn’t great, either, about getting together with his high school or college buddies.  There’s a fraction of “home-body” in the both of us, plus he’s running his own company, plus everybody’s busy, plus we look forward to Friday movie nights with our daughters, plus, our daughters are at the age, still, where they like us: I anticipate going on more girls’ weekends when my own girls don’t want to have anything to do with me.

But I applaud the getaway gangs, both men and women, who religiously find a way to meet, once or twice a year.  It could be anywhere: antiquing in Lancaster, sidling up to a green river in Chicago, eating 8-dollar hotdogs at Fenway, skeet shooting at Man Camp on the Eastern Shore.  It could be a day and half-a-night spent in somebody’s kitchen.  Does not matter.

My friends and I picked New York, which, frankly, was not my first choice, only because I’ve had a bit of a rough winter.  The season stuck around too long and for various reasons, I have been feeling more like Jack Nicholson near the end of The Shining than Julie Andrews at the start of The Sound of Music, so the thought of 24-hours in one of the most frenetic cities in the world seemed daunting.  If there was some “recovering” to do, I thought sipping tea in New Hope might have been a better antidote.  But, the majority ruled—that, and we happened upon really good tickets to see Tony Award winning Kinky Boots.

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I’ve written about singing in a band in my post, On Seeing and Songwriting.  I was in my early 30’s at the time, and our first real “gig” was at Raquel’s baby shower.  She and I both lived in DC, but our lives were very different.  Example: one weekend, Raquel and I went to the mall together.  I bought knee-high rubber boots at EMS for my trip to watch whales off the coast of a temperate rain forest in British Columbia.  She bought a breast pump—probably not at EMS, but at the time, I didn’t know what the hell kind of a store I was in.  All I knew was that I was anxious to get out of there. (In hindsight, it was probably a Babies R Us.)

The band: I sang and played keyboards, Joey was drummer, Dave (a different Dave than eventual husband Dave) on lead guitar, Matt on bass.  We were so fresh and innovative, and unorganized, that we didn’t have a name, so a part of the fun Raquel’s guests had was providing us with suggestions.  I remember a “fan” throwing out “The Fireflies” as a name option.  Additional contributions from sarcastic friend of band bass guitarist: The Butterflies, The Puppy Dogs, The Rainbows.

We came up with “Blue Route” eventually: Joey was from Ridley and I was from Radnor, two towns in Philly connected by I-476, known to locals as the Blue Route.  I liked what the name evoked: movement, travel, going places, but also a taste of home and familiarity.  Throw in the internal rhyme effect, and you got yourself a sub-par, gender-neutral band name.

Blue Route played together for about three years.  About eight years after we’d finished, we had a band reunion and took a picture of all the Blue Route babies sitting on Joey’s front porch.  By then, the entire band had definitely gone places: Babies R Us, Home Depot, and to see various doctors for lower back issues, cholesterol checks, eye exams, etc.

Despite our best efforts, there was not and will never be a Behind the Music episode airing the nitty-gritty details. We didn’t travel quite that far.

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But, the band came up as one of many topics of discussion this past weekend in NYC.  I recalled the time when Raquel, still pregnant, was teary-eyed at the Grog and Tankard (a now defunct DC music venue), when Blue Route played our second “gig”—in an actual bar.  She was proud of me because I’d forgotten momentarily about the 2300 breakups I’d endured; I’d forgotten that any chance of happiness had forever slipped through my piano-playing fingers.  Instead, I decided to do what I liked to do, which, funnily, made me happy, and because Raquel was a good, hormonal friend, this made her cry.

My high school friends and I sat in the lobby of a shwank New York City hotel, remembering teen years and twenties.  We mentioned a few embarrassing, regrettable moments (anyone who knew any of us back then can just mentally fill in the blanks here–there’s no one right answer).  These were the moments that brought on the loudest laughter, the cleansing kind.

We talked about out children and some of the ways in which they are becoming what we never were–irish dancers, soccer players, early-instagrammers–but how we also, both comfortably and uncomfortably,  see within them glimpses of what we are.  We measured the good and the bad of some of what we recognized as parents (and of children of aging parents), and we marveled about the years we spent not seeing a thing except for what was right there in front of us, blissfully unconcerned about what came next.

We remembered high school differently, more humbly, in a way, but in other ways, too–with more confidence and compassion, caring less about what people think about us, and more about the people themselves: How is her health?  How is his marriage?  Can you imagine?  What ever happened to . . . ?

We did some sitting and talking this weekend, but, true to form, we did some drinking and eating, too: spent required time in an Irish pub, toasted our getaway with excellent margaritas at Toloache in Midtown.  We haggled in a street market, hit the trinket shops, bought tschotcke for the kids, burned insufficient calories walking and people-watching on the crammed streets.

We sat in the hotel lobby after seeing a wonderfully vibrant show about the who-cares of gender, about acceptance and color and vitality, and after a long day of living, we yawned, watched college basketball, realized the time, that there were drives ahead of us the next day, and we took the elevator up to our hotel rooms.  These were clean rooms, ones clear of beautiful, sleeping children, rooms without lacrosse sticks or size-12 t-shirts flung on the floor, snore-free rooms.  None of us slept all that well.

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The tiny trip away, for me, was big.  It was a renewed introduction to the larger world.  Yes, we are older, we have worries, we are well aware of what can potentially come next.  We’ve lost parents; we have friends who are sick and may not get better.

But for now, we are here, still facing what’s ahead even if it’s not all bunnies and rainbows.  All the more reason to do this: to get ourselves back together again and again and again.

For me, the trip away provoked unvoiced musing that we may not be who we once believed we would be as mothers, or wives, or career women; that we may not be who we once thought we would be, if, in high school, we even took the time to think about it at all.  But, for me, it was also palpably and naturally medicinal to know that five or twenty-five years later, my friends are still the same.  Actually, they are better.

Though life is inevitable (sometimes intolerable) movement, whenever and wherever we choose to come together with our friends, we ground each other solidly—right there on the spot.  And that momentary grounding just sweetens the taste of home, as we eventually move on again, making our way, enjoying our respective car-rides back, each of us comfortably alone, listening to what we want to on the radio.

I spent some time on I-476, listening to the old band’s demo.  After a few hours, I pulled into the drive.

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