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Tap. Tap. Tap.

This past weekend my girls and I met up at Vanessa’s house for a yard sale. Vanessa’s block was participating in an entire block of driveway sales. Jumping at the chance to spend time with Vanessa and belly laugh, I loaded up the Jeep with bins of “stuff” and headed over.

The day was filled with endless rounds of people rifling through my stuff which I thought I had priced low yet reasonable. At the New York yard sale though…the attendees are looking for a bargain that really says “free”. There is a huge amount of vicious negotiation (which mind you can escalate quickly) which sometimes can result in a “free” transaction purely because the buyer has worn me down to the point that if the exchange didn’t stop, I would be wearing an orange jumpsuit and doing pull-ups on my cell block doorframe.

The day moved on and I thought about the hilarious and even meaningful encounters I had during the day. Many of you know my deep seated view about the Universe and how it can tap you on the shoulder and teach you a thing or two. It can place people in your path that you may never see again. Sometimes, it can do both. You need to pay attention to said tap and how it arrives. As we all finished up our sales we sat around crisp from a day in the sun. We exchanged yard sale war stories because on Long Island, New York, we all have at least a few to share.

Many moons before, when we were only in our house a few years, we had a yard sale. Maureen and I sat on my front lawn for hours watching endless amounts of cars pull up looking for very specific items from collectibles to vintage door handles. We giggled and snickered throughout the day. As I was dismantling the operation at the end of the day, I saw and “heard” someone approaching. A very well dressed gentleman in a fedora was walking towards us. What I heard was tapping coming from his feet. Tap. Tap. Tappity. Tap. Tap. “Good day ladies” he said smoothly with a tip of his fedora. I thought oh my…The sharp dressed gent asked if I had any sheet music for sale. This was years before my Broadway Baby Jules arrived on the scene so my answer was a hard no. I politely answered and thanked him for stopping by. As he walked away I jokingly yelled “I do however have a lovely cake plate with your name on it” . Flash forward to 2021 at Vanessa’s where we smiled and laughed at the great day we had together.

Yesterday I arrived at a nursing rehab where my Dad is currently a patient (I have not shared this story with many people yet so forgive me. I’m still processing what is happening). Dad and I were waiting for the elevator. I was taking Dad in his wheelchair down to the patio where we could enjoy some time together on a very late Summer day. The elevator door opened. Everyone jockeyed for position in the elevator.

A gentleman tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to say hello. He tipped his fedora and said to me “Good day Miss. If you are interested, I will be playing some tunes for our patients in the lounge area if you would like to bring this fine gentleman”. I smiled and thanked him. The door opened and the dapper man in the fedora exited..his shoes were tapping on the tile as he walked. Under his arm was a pile of sheet music. My goodness. It was the same man from years earlier.

An hour later, Mommy and I wheeled Dad into the lounge and watched Dad light up and clap his hands as Mr. Fedora crooned a B side Elvis tune. There was a glow around Dad’s head that we haven’t seen in s month or so. I looked at Mommy and said “I love you. Everything is going to be ok. The Universe just tapped me on the shoulder and told me so.”

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No One Likes to Wait

No one likes to wait. It is uncomfortable. Depending on how bad we want something or how much of a hurry we are in – waiting stinks. The line at the supermarket…New York traffic…waiting for Christmas morning…everyone’s list is different, but no one likes to wait. I was scheduled for bloodwork this morning for an upcoming doctor’s appointment. Given my disdain for needles and well, the wait, I left 30 minutes before the lab opened. I had zero coffee in me having observed the strict eight hours fast prior to the test. I ran from my car into the building expecting to hurdle over any senior citizen I found in my path on the way to the lab. I took the stairs two at a time rather than facing a wait at the elevator. Much to my surprise I rounded the corner and found myself FIRST. Victory was mine. The lab techs arrived and reminded me that the lab opened at 7:30 a.m. and it was first come-first served. I relaxed and messaged my friends until the next patient arrived. 

A gentleman greeted me and asked if he was next. His eyes were warm, and he seemed very friendly. As most people know everyone looks familiar to me. I am forever saying “Isn’t that so and so?” I drive people nuts with this. Sorry people. The gentleman sat down and opened his New York Times. I turned to him and said softly “Pardon me…are you Dr. Weiss?” he looked at me over his glasses and said, “Who wants to know?”. I explained that I had been a patient of his for 14 years and he delivered my children. He stood up and said “My dear Karen. How have you been?” The tears flowed, and I instinctively hugged him. 

I had met Dr. Weiss in 1987 as a new patient who was newly engaged. He was a funny man who always took my fear of doctors to heart and made me feel at ease. We talked about many world topics during each visit and he explained whatever was happening with my body as if I was his daughter. He was caring and made me feel like I was his only patient. A year after I was married I explained that we would like to start planning a family. We discussed many different scenarios and were cleared to start planning pregnancy. Months turned into a year with no success. All of our friends were also getting married and starting their same journey. 

Another year went on and it was obvious that nothing was happening in the baby arena. Blood tests were performed. Gynocological exams and procedures were introduced. All tests were negative. There was really no reason as to why we couldn’t conceive. Medications were prescribed, and things started to get tight. My moods dipped as one friend got pregnant…then another…it was starting to wear on me. Dr. Weiss was very reassuring and full of positivity. My dear Karen he would say…God will make you a mommy when the time is right. After another few months I was referred to Dr. Weiss’ best friend, Dr. Avner Herschlag who coincidentally had a very famous daughter named Natalie Portman. We went through two rounds of treatment with Dr. Herschlag. One evening I ended up in the ER with a terrible stomach bug that just would not go away. Well it wouldn’t go away because it wasn’t a virus but a baby. Our dream had finally come true. Dr. Weiss called me at 11 pm that night at home. He was crying and full of congratulations. The next few weeks were wonderful filled with blood tests and sonograms. The baby would be here in December. 

After losing the baby a few months later we returned to Dr. Weiss. My head was in my hands and I sobbed hot tears for what seemed like an eternity. He held my hand said “My dear Karen. I want you to go home. We need to take some time off here”. That we did. We took a trip to the Bahamas that next month to clear our heads. More friends were pregnant. More getting married. It was consuming me. 

A month after our trip we decided to try adoption. We had a phone installed in our guest bedroom for “the call”. We advertised in papers around the country. There was no internet then. It was all me canvassing the library and magazines looking for leads. Finally, we received a call. A mother from Arizona was due to give birth in April. We found a well-known lawyer on Long Island who was confident about the birth mother and said that the “transaction” should run smoothly. All was going well until that phone rang again and the mother coolly told me she had chosen another couple. Turns out in the end that the other couple offered a better “cash” option up front according to our attorney. 

After another year I returned to Dr. Weiss who was thrilled to see me. He knew of a colleague who specialized in IVF and could help us based on my test results. We took the plunge and visited Dr. Richard Bronson. The rest is history as most of you know. Jake was our first “fresh” cycle and Jules our “frozen” cycle. Dr. Weiss held Jake for the first time after birth and said, “Young man – no child will ever be loved more”. Such truth. Months later I heard Dr. Weiss had retired but he literally slipped away from the practice with no explanation. Years later I had heard that the malpractice fees were astronomical, and he decided to retire. 

The door opened, and the lab technician called Dr. Weiss and I in together. He said “My dear Karen I am humbled to have talked with you today. Wishing you love on the rest of your journey.” We hugged again. I may never see him again, but my life today was made complete for I was able to say thank you to a man who made me a mom. The universe placed this angel in front of me today. This was a wait I will never forget. 

 

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Coincidence? I Think Not.

Synchronicity takes center stage in my life more often than not lately. Perhaps it always has and I just didn’t pay attention. Yesterday I believe god tapped me on the shoulder and said “watch this” as yesterday’s events unfolded. The universe was about to deliver another amazing show.

Her name was Marsha and she was my sisters oldest and best friend. She was bubbly. She had a laugh that would knock you over. She was witty. Marsha loved her friends and family fiercely in this girl’s opinion. Her two little girls are cute as buttons and her husband is someone who walked into her life and just clicked from the start.

Yesterday we all met to say goodbye to our friend who received staggering news some mere weeks before. Marsha was diagnosed with a rare heart cancer that whisked her off of our stage in Act One.

I left work to attend shiva at Marshy’s home with a quick stop at my fave bakery to pick up a few items for the family. In addition to my selection I decided to buy these gorgeous painted cookie creations that this bakery is known for. I thought Marsha’s princesses should have a treat. Shiva usually doesn’t offer choices for the kids and I wanted them to maybe smile a teensy bit. The bakery gal was lovely and commended me on my cookie choice of unicorns and butterflies. After paying I told the navigation fairies where I wanted to go and off I went.

Driving to Marshy’s I thought about my sister who lost her friend and how she must be feeling. I love my friends with such passion that I cannot imagine losing one of them. My thoughts went to Marsha’s parents and how they will remember what a gorgeous soul they raised. The next thoughts were of Mitchell who just lost his only baby sister in the blink of an eye. Our families were connected with my sister and Marsha and coincidentally Mitch and I having dated in and after college. I was now a block away from the house and I was anxious to see everyone. The navigation fairies slapped me again and dumped me at the wrong house. As you know I can get lost in a paper bag.

It struck me as I entered the house that there were still no tears from me since I received the news on Saturday. The door opened and I was enveloped by Marsha. I felt it. A picture of my friend was right in front of me. She was smiling the way she did – a giant beam with her eyes. I always told her that her smiles came from her eyes. She had an awesome face that drew you in every time. I hugged some very fabulous people on the way to the yard and was watching everyone chat about our girl that was taken way too soon. Marsha’s cousin took my cookies to the girls after I explained that I hope they liked the designs.

I was sitting at the table with my sister and her friends. We were joined by Mitchell who was explaining how he created his eulogy. We were all engaged and laughing. Mitch has a larger than life sense of humor and pulls you in from the first hello. As he’s talking I notice a large butterfly who is literally flying in what seemed like a figure 8 around many of those at the table. Usually butterflies flit briefly and leave. Not this one. If lingered throughout our entire conversation. I thought..that butterfly is Marsha. The cookies. Butterflies. At that very moment I glanced right. On the lawn in the girls play area was…wait for it…a giant inflatable unicorn. I turned white and choked back the tears. Synchronicity. The rest of my visit was fabulous. Brief in nature but reconnecting with old friends and listening to stories of Marsha that warmed my soul.

It was time to resume my routine and drive home. I could see the unicorn as I left the house. I got in the car and sobbed. I finally cried. I was given the gifts of Marsha and Mitchell and all of these beautiful people connected to them. The universe stepped in and gave me unicorns and butterflies to remind me that there are no coincidences. We are all connected for a reason.

Today I’m asking that you hug the ones you love with every ounce of strength you have during Act One and pay attention to the signs that were placed on your stage. Coincidences? I think not.

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Taking Chances

Finally, she mused 
that human existence 
is as brief as the life of autumn grass, 

So what was there to fear 
from taking chances with your life?

Mo Yan, Red Sorghum

I do my best thinking while blow drying my hair each day. Some people take long drives to contemplate a situation. Some meditate. Some spend hours in a therapist’s office hoping to find clarity. I however ponder life, weigh out my life scenarios, and even make my most important decisions while using a ridiculously large round brush and an 1800-watt hair dryer. 

Often I find myself overthinking a situation (I know this may shock some loyal Kiki followers – insert your snarky laugh here) and weighing in with 8,789 reasons why I should or should not do something. These last few years though I have shed these doubts and bouts with overthinking simply because I realize that life is short. Just do it as the Nike ad suggests. There are a million sayings that can fit this notion of “It’s Now or Never” – hell even Elvis sang about it and made millions with this approach. How did I get here though? 

Years of vulnerability and wanting to feel safe kept me in a very stable bubble. If I kept status quo and average, I would never rock the boat and life would be good. There would be no anxiety. No worry. No reason to get upset because everything was just the way it was supposed to be. 

Or was it? 

Certainly, my fitness journey gave me the confidence I lacked or shoved below sea level for years. I finally surfaced and declared…yes declared that I would no longer accept average in my life. I started to take chances that I never thought possible. Always outgoing I became fearless at work, became a master problem solver with a take no prisoners type attitude, and did not stop until I figured out any problem placed before me. At home, I was now handling situations with the kids with zero worry. Looking forward and not back was much more fulfilling than wallowing in the past and letting my feet remain stuck in the mud. 

Are there days when I am stuck in the war of the “what ifs”? You bet. I was just discussing this the other night and admitted that I sometimes allow the what ifs to rule me. I was reminded that practicing “mindfulness” and dealing with the right here and now would be the key. I am now soaking up as much of this practice as I can. Kiki promise to blog about this in the hopefully near future. Now back to my point about taking chances. 

The fitness thing led to Spartan which led to well…the key to everything I had been looking for even when I did not know I was looking. Every damn thing on that course from the rocks, the mud (that goddamn thigh high mud), obstacles, elevation, the comradery, random conversations, and finally – jumping fire represents life. Each race I have run has taught me more about me than any amount of therapy ever could. There was one race though that stands out as my signature race. I think about it every damn day (and not just when I am drying my hair). Tuxedo 2018. My third time on that mountain. I ran alone. Well, I was not alone – in Spartan, you are never alone. You are with thousands of fellow racers all there with the same purpose. Nevertheless, this day, I ran happy and was so at peace. I emerged from each part of the trail truly renewed. I came up with new mental strategies to prepare myself for the next leg. I was smiling more than I ever did in a race. I was so alive. There are other races when I can feel myself approaching the finish line. You can hear the music from the festival area pumping. You can feel the energy from the crowds and the surge of adrenaline from the last obstacles. But mostly for me…you can smell the fire. I can feel it in my bones. It NEVER signifies the finish for me. It is a symbol of taking chances and a leap of faith. There are some races when I am only physically able to hop over the line of fire. Not this time. I turned the corner to find the final rig obstacle. I nailed it (yay me) and looked ahead at the line of flames and the finish line beyond them. Yes, I could have hopped over as before and race towards the medal. I could have accepted this because it is what I normally did. But no. I train every night (yes every night) to no longer accept average. As my friend, Scott tells me “You must train with the single purpose to reach that finish line”. And so I sprinted. I sprinted as if I was running to catch the last plane off the burning planet. That is when it happened. I lept. Sailed over those flames. I landed with my hands in the air and tears streaming down my cheeks. The medal was soon around my neck and I was at peace. Really…what was to fear from taking chances? 

I will no longer be rooted and stuck in fear of taking chances and stepping outside of my comfort zone. I realize that it will be tough. I will still have days peppered with anxiety but I look back and realize it is a far worse life if I never take these chances. As Mo Yan says…our human existence is as brief as the autumn grass. 

Let go. Leap. Take chances. 

Live. 

 

T2G

It never ceases to amaze me that we learn something new every day. The smallest moments can deliver lessons which range from something so trivial to major life lessons. You just never know how you will learn, and who or what the teacher will be.

This weekend I returned to the famed Woodloch Pines resort in Hawley, Pennsylvania. Woodloch is a wildly popular family resort that offers a plethora of daily activities, spanning anywhere from jewelry making to Family Olympics to Scavenger Hunts. Let’s not forget the outrageously popular game of Bingo. Yes, Bingo – a seemingly benign game of marking letters and numbers called by an announcer. Bingo, though, in my world is the evil twin of that other anxiety provoking game named “Musical Chairs”. (I am happy to report that Woodloch did not offer this game option as I can’t be certain I would come out of that game unscathed! But I digress…).

Eight members of our party of fourteen signed up for Bingo and filed into the North Lodge on Saturday night. We purchased multiple sheets and those huge magic markers. There was a buzz in the room as the game started and it continued to escalate as the first game moved along. Inevitably, the first game came to a close when a lucky soul screamed out BINGO from the west side of the room.

When the game was called, people at our table tossed their markers…cursed…swore they’d never play this effing stupid game again – all to pick up their markers, start to pray, and proclaim their love of bingo the very second the Caller announced the next game and of course the jackpot for the winner.

Maybe because I was tired from running all over during Saturday’s resort activities or maybe because my brain was overstimulated by a ginormous serving of carbs and 78 cups of black tea – I started to think about Bingo and how it reminded me of our lives. Surely there is no one calling out a number of life challenges with the letter and number combo – “Hey Karen it’s time for work B11 (or in Bingo Lingo “Chicken Legs”).

Sometimes though it does feel like I’m playing a Bingo card each day. I’m checking off experiences of my every day with an oversized marker. I’m living in the anticipation of getting it all done. I just want the bingo. I want the prize. I pay careful attention to the numbers called so as not to miss anything. I checked the Big Board of Life to make sure I didn’t mark off the wrong combo.

We keep marking off our numbers on our sheets with amped up anticipation. We say things like “Come on… I only need four”… “I can taste winning”… “I only have “2TG“ which is fancy bingo-eze for two to go (you’re welcome). The anticipation is palpable. In life – someone does call Bingo when they win something, whether it be a planned goal, a promotion, or maybe even winning a real life Lotto drawing.

Even when someone wins though, the game is never really over right? Another game or life lesson starts right away. We can’t just stop playing or living just because your numbers didn’t come up or because you didn’t win the jackpot. We need to keep going and marking off our progress, even if we may not win.

May every card you play in the every day game of Bingo deliver a lesson or winning numbers. Here’s hoping that at some point your game sheet gets 2TG, then 1TG, and then perhaps the ultimate… Bingo!!!

Level 57

Last week I had a conversation about video games. The question was posed “are you into video games Kiki?” I thought about it for a bit and then said “Oh hell yes”. That’s when the memories came flooding back from years gone by and where I am today. The video craze started when I was maybe 7 years old. Atari had introduced “Pong” in 1972. We didn’t have the Atari gaming system in Chez Eastwood. We had the Sears knock off version. That didn’t matter to me. I played our model with fever. My competitive nature reared it’s head early and I would spend lots of time in the basement of 36 Grant Avenue with this game. I tried my hand at Miss Pac-Man when my friends when I would visit the mall but as I was reminded last week, it was game over quickly because 4 games cost a dollar.

The years passed and the video gaming world was exploding. I’m not technical by any means – in fact those who know me know that figuring out the iPhone timer feature when taking a selfie was considered a HUGE feat for me. Sometime in the early 90s we purchased a Nintendo 64 system. The game Tetris became my best friend. Ernie worked nights at the time. He would leave for work at 3:30 and I’d arrive home at 4:30. Jake and Julia had not yet busted onto the scene so I had plenty of alone time to keep myself entertained. I’d fire up Tetris while still in my work garb and play for hours. There were many nights when Ernie would come home from work and I was still sitting in my work clothes… In the dark…famished from not eating…and obsessed with beating my last level of cascading colored blocks while a Russian techno song played over and over. How I never had a seizure during this period of my life is beyond me.

I’ve yet to find a game that matches my love of Tetris competition. I tried with other games like Super Mario Brothers and such but nothing ever came close to Tetris and beating each level. After this video conversation that I had last week I started to think about the different levels in the game and my life.

Each year brings new challenges. Some things get easier as you age and some things just get downright hard. I dare say impossible because i refuse to give up. Follow me for more about this topic through my blogapalooza. When you’re young you think – Holy Mother of God – when will things get easier? When will I have more money? When will the kids finally clean their rooms without me screaming like a purple faced lunatic? When will I get some time to pursue goals I’ve been putting off? When will I level up?

Every year you blow out the candles on your birthday cake and make a wish. I always wish that I can continue to enjoy what I have and to see what is really important. Each birthday though is a true gift but also a reminder that each year is a different level of complexity. This past year has been filled with caring for my Dad and his Alzheimer’s and remnants of multiple strokes. It has been a challenging year of watching the color tiles cascade and trying to fit them together to clear the next level.

My mind was back on Tetris. Each level got harder in that the tiles fall faster and the music gets louder. This distracts the player from rotating the tiles to form bricks and clear a wall or line. My heart rate spikes as I try to keep the tiles in play and not let them stack up too high. Such is the case in our lives too, right? Try to stay on top of your finances so that you can save for a more comfortable life. Pay the bills evenly and on time so that they don’t stack up and then you’re in trouble. Try to balance your work and personal life so that the two worlds don’t crash and distract you from what is really important. Try to stay on top of your health so that your next level in life isn’t full of illnesses that could have been avoided had you flipped the tiles in your favor.

Today I woke up to Level 57 in my life. I’m filled with gratitude that I’ve made it this far in the gaming system called life. I don’t know how many quarters and plays I have left but I know this – I’ll play my heart out and keep pushing so that when it is truly “game over” I can say that I used the best strategies to make it to the next level.

Times of Your Life

“Good morning yesterday, you wake up and time has slipped away.. and suddenly it’s hard to find the memories you left behind. Remember, do you remember?”

I looked in my rearview mirror and looked at my mom singing along to a Paul Anka song as we drove to his concert last night in Friday evening traffic. Last week Mom had streamed a new Paul Anka concert for Dad to watch. They both watched the concert while clapping and singing along. By Monday morning, my sister Kathy and I had an email explaining Paul Anka was playing at Westbury Music Fair. Mom would treat but could we go? There was no hesitation in our responses. Kathy secured the tickets. We were all set for a girls night with Mr. Anka.

By todays standards Mom would be considered a Paul Superfan. She had first been introduced to him via American Bandstand when she was 16 years old. I guess Paul Anka was to Mom as Donny Osmond was to me.

We arrived at the theatre early. We sat in the Jeep singing Anka songs and watching other fans pre-game in their cars. Kathy and I rolled our eyes as we saw walkers and jazzy scooter parking areas for other concert goers. We looked at Mom and she was beaming as we bopped towards the now opened theatre doors. After ordering a few cocktails we headed out to a beautiful deck and started to chat. The conversation drifted to Dad and his current condition. He has been back home now for a little over six months and while he’s stable, the realization that he will never return to his original peppy self has finally settled in. Watching mom talk about the current situation from such a relaxed perspective brought me such peace. Kathy and I both commented about how proud we are of her and how she is handling the entire situation. We wrapped up our conversation and headed inside for another cocktail and a trip to our concert seats.

The crowd was mixed but it was filled with similar groups of mothers and their daughters together. There were lots of couples and a den of cougars dressed to the nines who were ready to pounce on Mr. Anka should he enter their space in his infamous walks up and down the theater isles. If you are a fan of People Watching 101 – this was your night.

At 8:18, the lights dimmed, the band started up, and suddenly we heard “Diana” coming from an aisle across the stage. It was being sung by none other than Paul Anka who was looking quite swanky and sharp in his white tuxedo jacket and black T-shirt. He was shorter than I remember but hey, that was my mother’s crush – not mine. The night continued with hit after hit that included co-written hits from and for Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Buddy Holly. Paul was belting them all out and really hitting every note. Mom was dancing. She was giggling. At one point she thanked us for bringing her.

Midway through the concert Kathy looked at me and said “Are we on the Belt Parkway right now?“ I knew exactly what Kathy meant and where we were based on that very question. My grandparents lived in Bay Ridge Brooklyn and when we moved out to Long Island when I was three, we took turns with my grandparents spending the weekends in Brooklyn and then Long Island. The drive home on the Belt Parkway on Sunday nights were always the same. The street lights on top of the very tall poles on the side of the road were shining bright and had a certain way of flooding the car with the lights as we passed and then would make their exit through the backseat. I always found it to be very rhythmic and soothing as my dad drove. The radio was tuned to WCBS FM which invariably had doo-wop music playing. One of my parents favorite songs would come on… sometimes it actually was Paul Anka… My dad would take my mom‘s left hand and squeeze it gently while singing to her. Watching her face instantly calm as he sang is something that will stay with me. Even at age 10 I knew that I wanted that type of love in my life. The love they have for each other could be felt in those little moments. I came back to present in the concert and Paul started to sing one of the most iconic songs he had written for Frank Sinatra. “My Way“ has always been one of my dad‘s favorite songs. Instinctively, Kathy, Mom, and myself all hugged each other and sang along with the song as we swayed. We were all quite choked up. Time really stood still and for some crazy reason I think my dad was with us at that moment even though he was tucked into bed at home.

This morning we received a text from Mommy thanking us for the perfect evening. The truth was, I was looking forward to the concert but I never imagined I’d enjoy every single second like I did. Watching Mom so elated and animated is something I’ll never forget. Kathy and I dancing like nuts in our seats and giggling (me snorting) will make me smile for years. So yes, this was a chance to remember the laughter and the tears thanks to Mr. Anka. These are the times of our life.

This is Me

Ask anyone about their Middle School experience and the responses are varied. You’ll hear words like fun, weird, crazy, painful, brutal, or in my case, forgettable. In my day and district, Middle School was referred to as Junior High. It was nestled between grades K-6 and the big show of grades 9-12. For the most part, the pubescent years were for lack of a better term – a shit show. You were not really a kid anymore and you were looked down upon by district upper class men. It was the most awkward time of my life.

As a girl, I felt like an Amazonian giant looming in the halls of Junior High in grades 7 and 8. Having a huge growth spurt in grade 6, I was inches taller than my peers (even the males) but it might as well have been 25 feet taller. I felt like Godzilla walking into a classroom. I sprouted acne that resembled craters on the moon’s surface, and suddenly I had boobs that seemed to occupy their own zip code.

While I had friends and interests, I had no interest in interacting with adults. I was seemingly embarrassed to speak. As a result I had flushed those two years out of my memory. I wanted no recollection of feeling like a sideshow act rather than the good girl human that I was. I would disappear by turning to music in my bedroom learning lyrics from album liner notes and practiced my dance lessons from dancing school in my basement.

I often tell my Jake and Jules that I may not have survived those years if social media was alive. Those years were raw and painful. Seeing others posts about what I perceived as perfect may have impacted me far worse than it did. Our young kids today are subject to missiles of perfection being launched into their souls by countless videos, texts, and the infamous Tik Toks and Reels. Don’t get me started on the targeted texts hurled into their laps like cherry bombs sent to destroy their self esteem. I can’t take watching this happen now so I’m thinking I would have really taken a dive in the 1970s.

If you’ve been following my tales here, you’ll remember that Jake works in our district’s middle school as a monitor. He absolutely loves his job and what he does there every single day. He is part of an amazing community of teachers, staff, and of course the students. This is the same school that he attended in grades 6, 7, and 8 and the same school I attended. This afternoon Jake sent me a link to a video that the staff and faculty created for the year‘s final presentation. It was titled “This Is Me“. It was a choreographed and lip-sync number synced to the song of the same title from the movie “The Greatest Showman. It depicts Circus sideshow participants who were labeled “freaks” by society. It is a very emotional piece talking about staying true to your values and remembering who you really are. If you ever have a chance to listen to the lyrics of this song, I highly recommend it. This faculty production brought me to tears. It touched my heart in that it reminds kids and quite frankly everyone who watches it, to stay true to who you really are. Do not let anyone try to change you into something you are not or some thing you don’t believe in. Be brave, be fearless, and stay a warrior who fights for who you would like to be. Social media will try to change that and get you to follow a path of perfection. Please remember that perfection is fleeting. What you consider perfect and someone else considers perfect is diabolically different. Who you truly are though is something unique to you and only you. A huge thank you to the JFK Faculty for loving their student body and each other enough to create this production. I am proud to know many of you and your talents. My son, with his own differences, is lucky to work with such talented and compassionate teams.

To our younger set of kids bringing up the rear and following in our footsteps – I urge you to look within yourselves before comparing yourselves to others. Stand tall and always rise above what others think of you – or worse, what you think they think of you. Say to yourself…I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be…this is me.

DEKA. For Time. For Life – Not Looks.

As the medal was placed around my neck yesterday I asked what time I had scored. My line judge Helga said 28:03. I smiled and teared up. My goal was 30 minutes or less so anything lower was a victory in my head. It was my first Spartan DEKA event. I have trained for this type of event for years and yesterday I finally had the chance to put what I’ve learned to the test. On the way home I broke down my race deciding on how I could improve my times going forward.

During the race I was being cheered on by my friend Brian and my other Spartan pals who had just finished their heats. Somewhere in the middle I said to myself “I can’t do this and then looked around and said “THIS is what you train for Kiki. Spartan up and finish!!!” And so I did. I thought of my trainer Nicio screaming in my ear at Boot Camp each week to move faster. He was with me during my first few races and has become part of my inner drive that pushes me to finish everything and never give up. He makes me want to be a better me. A better version of me. A stronger me.

Other programs I’ve been involved in focus on looks. Drop weight so you can look hot. Eat right so you can wear a bathing suit. Eat less sugar to look amazing. Well yeah, that works until you stop doing those things. What about training for life? What about training your mind to keep going so that you can wear a bathing suit all year long. Or most importantly – have the discipline to keep going so that you become the best version of you?

This morning I walked into the gym and my trainer asked me to wear yesterday’s medal for the whole class. I felt silly but he retorted that my bff would need to do a full hour of Burpees if I didn’t. I slipped the medal on and began to work. (Btw…The sound of the Spartan medal clanking is one of my fave sounds.) At the end of class we all posed for a picture. I felt invincible but I also felt inspired. Each person in that class surrounds me each week. We push each other. We all have different goals. No one is a superstar. We just push ourselves and each other to be the best versions of ourselves.

Maybe society is too hung up on pushing for the hottest body or to look perfect. That’s not what life is about. Too much emphasis on this is probably a key factor in young girls growing up with poor self esteem. They are bombarded with visuals that force them to compare themselves to what they consider the ideal female. True beauty is built from within not through a filter on Snapchat.

Building the best version of you takes time. Discipline. A lot of hard work has to happen. Trust me when i tell you that I’m hard on myself. I’m too hard that it’s annoying at times. Sometimes I’m still that young girl who compares herself to what is considered the ideal. I am getting better at letting go of the negative thoughts though. I have serious work to do on that.

I’m the meantime I’ll keep pushing…station by station to become stronger inside and out. Building a stronger mind will lead to a stronger sense of self. Cheering others on will help me to share what I’ve learned. I’m grateful to be on this path. I just wish I had started the walk earlier than I did.

Wishing you all the strength to keep going no matter how many things or obstacles life throws at you. Always remember that you are the only person in charge of you. Improving your time left here is far more important than how we look. Be the best version of you that you can be.

Once An Eagle…Always An Eagle…

I checked my lipstick in the rearview mirror before leaving the Jeep. In a few minutes I’d meet up with 1983 Eagles grads at a local pub. It was our second meeting in two months to celebrate our 38th year since we were handed our diplomas on a hot June summer day.

As I ordered a drink I looked around at the smiling faces that had joined us this time. There were kisses and hugs but I noticed the big smiles the most. Everyone is just so beautiful and still looks the same as when we met in elementary school, middle school, or eventually in high school.

This time we ordered food and while eating chicken wings, turkey clubs, sliders, or just another beer… I started to listen to the different stories flying around the table. My reaction to some of the sad tales about people I knew then was “oh my God I didn’t realize… I didn’t know.” Then just like turning on a faucet, the memories started to flow. Suddenly I remember being in Anthony‘s basement at a “slow dance “ party with soda and the really good pretzels that my mom never bought at the supermarket. All of a sudden I could remember what I was wearing at Wendy’s Sweet 16 party or being completely ignored at Tina’s Sweet 16 party by a boy I thought really liked me. The memories were really specific and I could almost feel myself back in the designer jeans we were talking about.

Talks throughout the night went deeper than I expected them to. We talked about our first loves, experiences, anxieties, feelings about others, feelings about ourselves. The word wow left my lips a few times as I thought again… I never knew. No, I didn’t know. We were young. Things were simpler. Most of the time they were downright fun and brought belly laughs that I haven’t had since those days.

At one point I turned to one of my long lost friends and said “know what Te? We are damn lucky… We didn’t choose each other. Life worked out and we were chosen for each other.“

Later on I thought to myself… Or maybe I did say it out loud… Maybe that relationship didn’t work out for a reason. The life we have now was shaped by a series of events that were not coincidences. We were placed together. In Bethpage. In our town. In our little pockets of the community that we called home. If we had been in any other town…we wouldn’t have met. Yeah..this was all planned. I smiled because not having this group with me would have changed everything.

We went rollerskating and ice-skating on Friday nights. We hung out in the state park. We lived at the beach… Most of us on the South Shore while others lifeguarded and hung out on the North Shore. We walked a marathon each weekend from one end of town to the other just to have ice cream and walk home again. We rode our bikes to town for a slice of pizza and stayed there talking until the last sip of soda was gone. We took the bus to the mall to buy lipgloss. On Saturdays we all went to football games and parties where I happened to meet the most incredible guy who would turn out to bring two amazing humans into this world with me. After all this… After all we did in 12 years we said goodbye. We soared into the world and landed in new communities and circles.

Now, all of these years later we meet again. I’m so grateful to have these people in my world. We may not have been super close but all of you were meant to be part of my life. I consider these gifts I never asked for. You all helped to shape me and were gifts I never knew.

Looking forward to seeing where our paths take us next. Just remember how we were raised… Once an Eagle always an Eagle. Bethpage forever.

Mother’s Day

On Mother’s Day I received a gift that I could never physically open in a box or an envelope. I started that morning like I always do – hitting the button on the Keurig and finding my Airpods. I selected a motivational piece from my Aura app and sunk into myself hoping that the Universe will keep me on a good path and point me in the right direction. Shortly after I finish my second coffee in my Schitt’s Creek mug I slapped on my gym clothes and headed to the gym.

The beginning of class is always the same. Hugs and laughs with my team and the underlying dread of what was ahead of us for the next 75 minutes. It is always sheer hell, but we love it and after 6 years keep coming back for more. That morning though I was feeling particularly strong despite my knee wanting to bust out of the skin and run for the hills. After the warm up of 8,456 Military style jumping jacks we were all moving about and grabbing our weights we would need for the WOD. My trainer approached me and whispered to me “I want to acknowledge on this Mother’s Day how special you are. God chose you to deal with the most difficult of challenges with your son. I salute what you do and who you are.” He then gave me a hug with a tear in his eye. Ok so… if you know Satan (as I have secretly nicknamed him), there is rarely emotion. He is a true class act but the biggest badass of a human I have ever met.

As we moved through the morning, I felt myself getting stronger and standing taller. The weights Satan prescribed for me were much heavier than usual, but they seemed to glide through the air. Nothing bothered me. Ok, maybe the step ups but that is nothing new. Again, the knee was packing up and heading for the coast. The strength I felt was so visible. My mind immediately went to Jake and Julia. They are my “Why”. Satan was right. God did choose me to be their mom and gave me strength to meander the brush of Jake’s Autism. Climbs, descents, grappling over walls, and diving into muddy water were daily events on this course. I realized that life’s obstacles are just like those I train for.

The reason why I train so hard is to stay alive on the Spartan courses. There is a saying that the more you train, the less you bleed in battle. While I have not run any races since my last Beast in December 2019 (thanks to this pandemic), I find myself on a course at home every damn day. My training helps to keep my mind and body strong so that I don’t DNF (Do Not Finish). Do I want to train every night and weekends? Sometimes the answer is no because I hurt. The knee slaps me around and we still can’t figure out why my heart is cranky. Yet I keep going. I keep going because my kids need to see that you just do not give up when things get hard or when you are dealt a bad hand of cards.

There are things happening right now in my son’s world that need my daily attention. He seems to be in some type of internal struggle that requires strength. He has it – I just have to figure out a way to remind him of where it is and how to use it. He is even getting into walking more and more so that the three miles he checks in with each day helps him sleep better so that he can handle whatever is thrown his way. I can’t imagine not being strong on our course. As it is I have days where I just want to get in my Jeep and drive until I end up in Anywherebuthere, USA. Day after day though I administer four strong, cleansing breaths and I am back at it looking to load my first born onto my back and continue the climb.

Mother’s Day will always be a chance to remember how lucky I am to have received two miracles. Thanks to Satan it will now be a way to remind myself that without strength I could never have continued to put one foot in front of the other or hurl very heavy objects towards the sky each day.

Jelly Bean Snob

There are many things I’ll admit to out loud. Many things will remain secret inside my bones. This I will say though…I am a jelly bean snob. Let me capitalize that. Jelly Bean Snob. I love the orbs of sugar and I will even eat the licorice flavors (it is all about balance). Some beans are better than others, but it is the Russell Stover jelly bean that will forever hold the most special place in my heart and palette. I was raised by Anne Eastwood who has taught me that the RS is revered, and we know some years impossible to find. I never knew how my obsession with this treat would be passed down to J&J. That was until the other day. Jake Fikar is now a third generation Jelly Bean Snob.

While planning the Easter festivities I asked my Mom if there was anything I could pick up for her or help her with. She replied in an almost panicked voice “I can’t find the jelly beans anywhere. If you could find some that would be great”. I knew this meant that I should release the hounds and begin the search immediately. As I pushed the Amazon app on my phone, I heard her say “Just don’t go through Amazon – I’m not paying those prices”. I was stopping at Walgreens on the way home, so I thought let me look at their website and see if they have stock. Sure, enough the brand popped right up on the website and jumped into my shopping cart. Seven bags. Four for Mom and three for us. The look on Mom’s face when I dropped them off was priceless but the relief I felt oozing from her veins was even better. I brought home my three bags and tucked them at the bottom of the community Easter basket.

The day before Easter Jake came home from King Kullen supermarket with his usual treats for the week. He offered me a few Russell Stover jelly beans. I thanked him profusely. I thought maybe he had tapped into the stash in the basket. No, he told me that he bought his own bag because while he really loved jelly beans from Uncle Giuseppe’s and Stew Leonard’s that Russell Stover jelly beans were amazing and the best he’s ever had. He also said that Easter would never be the same without a bag of his favorites. As I was lying in bed last night recapping my 56th Easter in my head I thought about Jake telling me about his favorite things while his eyes danced. I realized once again how lucky I am that Autism has touched me in ways I never ever thought were possible. All the years I spent falling asleep and screaming on the inside “Why me?” seemed ridiculous now. Instead I now think…Why not me?

The diagnosis and initial recommendations from therapists were shouting at me again. The reminders that this son of ours would likely never make choices of his own or be able to express himself adequately. Brace yourself I was told for this son you had high hopes for would really be very impaired. One therapist went as far to say as to say, “Be prepared for the impaired”. As I’ve talked about many times before, I wore these phrases and advice like weighted blankets and let myself be dragged into a dark pool of depression for a few years. I ate to keep myself cemented down and dull the pain. I smiled at everyone but wanted to die every single night as I laid in bed questioning how life would ever be happy again.

Autism can be limiting. It can be exhausting. It can put you in a position to think just one way and never look up or ahead. As you know from my former blogs and stories, I finally broke free from this thinking. Jake showed me the way. He showed me that life can be rough with Autism but that you can work through it. We all worked together to get through any challenge that was place before us. Any challenge.

The years have flown by. Jake has now celebrated 22 Easters. Each one has been brighter than the last. I look at Jake and how far he has come and realized that life is so much sweeter when I am grateful for everything that has happened in my life. I hope I am passing this outlook on to Jake. I think I am. He is clearly making his own decisions in life. This year the realization came in the form of candy. I am proud to have raised my own Jelly Bean Snob.

Happy Easter and Happy World Autism Day.

Birthday Candles

Yesterday Julia and I were in the middle of one of our epic Target expeditions. Each trip is like a leg of the Amazing Race. We usually split up now so that we can efficiently comb the store for precisely what we are looking for and conquer our mission. We text each other. We call for each other’s location and come to the rescue should someone need an opinion.

While traversing the aisles yesterday I came across an employee entering the trash at one of the end caps. He stopped and excitedly told some shoppers passing by that Monday was his birthday and he would be 59 years old. My inner Kiki cheered for him. I thought way to go buddy!! He was so happy and stood there beaming almost waiting for recognition from these two women. The one woman looked uncomfortable and said “Umm…Wow that’s great.” My smile turned to a frown. Then I heard “Like I care that it’s your birthday you freak” as they walked away laughing. I wanted to vomit. I wanted to take my cart filled with items and ram it into this woman and tell her how evil I thought she was. J wasn’t proud of that reaction. Instead I navigated into an empty area in front of a wall of sunglasses. The tears started flowing and I sobbed.

Did these women know? Did they care? Did they know or care that this person they had just shamed and ridiculed is a human? A person who breathes the same air as you. He may have certain challenges but do you know this? Do you know what his life has been like? How he may have struggled? Do you know how his mom may have felt when she heard others talking about him while she took him shopping or picked him up from the bus stop? Do you know the anguish his mother must have felt raising him the best she could so that he could be a proud store employee and live to at least age 59? My best guess is that the answer is no. No to all of it. We are so quick (me included at times) to judge people and situations. We box people up to what we think they are and leave them there on a shelf with no regard.

My thoughts drifted to my first gift and how he moves about his day despite his disability. He is a proud employee keeping the halls of our local middle school clear. He is an honorary member of our local fire company who knows more about fire service and apparatus than most chiefs in New York State. He’s an amazing son, great brother, talented writer, and the best human you ever want to meet. He has struggled but he has also worked like hell to get where he is today. He is a fighter so I know his future is bright as long as he keeps on pushing and keeping the light on. There will be women and voices like the ignorant shoppers I encountered. Sadly there will be many. Hopefully though he won’t hear them. He will stand tall and be happy with who is is.

My mind drifted back to the happy employee. My wish is that others will see your light and let it burn away the judgement they let fly. I hope your next year and many years ahead are as bright as you are. May each birthday candle in your cake remind you of the light that you bring to this world.