Gourd Season is My Favorite. No Cursing Necessary. (Although it is always welcome)

I am not the most optimistic of persons.

Maybe this is because of having every rug yanked out from under me before I hit grade school, or maybe it’s genetic – Irish and Jewish makes for a whole lot of darkness combined – but regardless of the reason, I’ve never been much of a Pollyanna kind of girl. The glass is pretty much half-empty at all times.

It should come as no surprise that autumn, season of everything withering up and dying, is my favorite. Always has been. I can remember the first time I noticed all the crunchy leaves kicking around my sneakers, how wonderful apple cider tasted when warmed up just a bit, and how safe I felt in a cable-knit sweater, swaddled in chunky wool. I was in first grade, and my Girl Scout troop had taken a field trip after school to Homestead Gardens in all our brown polyester glory, where we rode atop a trailer loaded with hay, bobbed for apples and didn’t stop to consider how gross that really is, and each brought home our very own baby pumpkin.

I was miffed my mom wouldn’t let me keep it in my room, alas, gourds should stay on the porch. I have grown to accept this about gourds. They are not pets.

It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair.

I even got married in the fall because I love it that much. Anyone who knows me can confirm that being a June bride would not have made me happy. When I consider what “June bride Jenn” wedding photos would have looked like, I nearly cry from laughter. Just picture the palest person you’ve ever seen, squinting desperately into the sun while swaths of tulle stick to her sweaty face.

Nevermind, don’t. That is seriously terrifying. Yikes.

Even though as teachers, a summer wedding would have meant the opportunity for a longer honeymoon, I stood firm. All photos were framed by the brilliant reds and oranges of the changing leaves, both at our wedding and on our Charlottesville honeymoon. There were scarves and mittens and lots of wine tasting.

At this juncture, I should probably admit that while fall signifies the reaping of the harvest, the ringing of the death knell of summer’s fertility, and of course, the unavoidable arrival of shorter days, it provides this pessimistic grumpy face with the giddiest of feelings. I endure summer for the sake of the children, dragging them to the pool, sweating terribly and not looking good doing it, having little contests with myself for how long I can go without actually suiting up, (not one time did I put on a bathing suit at our pool this summer. NOT ONCE! bam.) but when that first gust of cooler air blows through my court and I notice the oak leaf floating down over my head, I can feel the hope building up.

crunch crunch. so happy!
crunch crunch. so happy!

Of course, fall is now quite en vogue. There are memes about leaf peeping and cracks about basic girls and their lattes. It seems everyone caught on to its fabulousness about three and a half decades after me, but I shall try not to be too annoyed. I won’t fault everyone for taking so long to recognize what I’ve known for years.

Autumn is simply the best.

I may not be good at math and science, and I still can’t tell you which amendment means what rights are granted, but when it comes to fall, I am on the Gifted and Talented track, my friend.

The Dating Game

I was the worst dater of all time.

Seriously.

My problem was, I was rarely interested in anyone. But once I was, ooh boy. That was it. Case closed, I dig you, I have no game whatsoever. My only saving grace was that dating made me terminally shy. If I was a deer in headlights, that was a sign that I was head over heels. Of course, that translated into, “this girl is either brain dead or hates me.”

I tried alternative approaches. I tried going on dates with people I wasn’t really immediately attracted to, knowing I would be able to keep my wits about me and at least have a conversation and some free food and drink. Turns out the type of guys that were interested in me were also of the “case closed, I dig you, I have no game whatsoever” persuasion. But substitute the deer in headlights bits with relentless pursuit in the face of polite, or even sometimes, rude rejection.

My sister used to say I was the kitty in that Pepe Le Pew cartoon, the one who inadvertently walks under the painted flagpole and is pursued by a relentless skunk. In fact, she gave me a matching set of stuffed animal representations of the pair. I think I still have them, actually.

Come with me, to the Casbah....
Come with me, to the Casbah….

When I met my now-husband, he wasn’t on my dating radar. And I wasn’t on his. This was good for both of us, as his game is about as good as mine. And I am happy to say, we grew together like a couple of trees whose roots twisted their way around each other until you can’t distinguish the individual sources.

I love him and he loves me, and we have a happy family.

Phew. So glad that business is over with.

But as I navigate this freelance writing world, I can’t help but have dating flashbacks. I’m trying REALLY hard to play it cool. Be aloof. Suave. Witty. Charming. Sassy, even. I’m no longer the terrified little cat, after all. I can do this. Also, I’m a grown up now. And grown ups are supposed to remain sophisticated and calm, knowing that the upper hand is held by the person with confidence. Fake it until you make it and all that jazz.

Thankfully, no editor can see me hit refresh on my inbox every five minutes, or hear the tippy-tapping sound as I nervously fidget on the keys just lightly enough that no letters appear. And I’ve just confirmed that no webcam exists on my desktop, so it’s not even possible that I accidentally sent video evidence, like the time I accidentally didn’t hang up the phone with my new crush and blathered on to my roommate about how dreamy he was for approximately five minutes straight without stopping for air.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel more like the girl at the bar whose heart is beating out of her chest as she blankly stares at the wanton sex god wrapped in flannel across the table. And unlike my dating days, there aren’t even publications courting me unrequited. No earnest compliments from the decent, yet uninteresting Field & Stream, who want me very much in spite of my lack of admiration. (And in spite of my joking, no, I don’t deserve random contacts, of course. And let’s face it, I could probably be persuaded to write for Field & Stream without much convincing!)

So I’ll keep putting myself out there. I’l throw on my fiercest shoes, chat up some cute boys, and see where the night takes me.

(Metaphorically, that is. No need to panic, sweet husband.)

L’Shana Tova! Happy New Year!

As I mentioned last week or so, I am a big fan of Back to School and consider it my New Year’s Day.

What cracks me up is that it has taken all of my years to realize that might be ingrained in my DNA.

roshhashanah

Yes, today is the first Rosh Hashanah where I stopped to consider that September is the perfect New Year for a little Jewish girl such as myself.

Back when I was four years old, and the only baptized kid in Hebrew school, (story for another day) I rode in the back row of one of those giant station wagons, facing out the back. In lieu of a bus, this ancient woman drove myself and a few other tots to the little school where we took naps on mats, learned our ABCs, and celebrated the Jewish holidays. Aside from some jealousy of a certain red-haired girl who always had better snacks than I did, (why is it always a redhead? why?) I loved going to school.

And on Rosh Hashanah, we ate apples dipped in honey.

Heavenly.

As an adult, I can reconstruct the timeline and realize that this only happened once. The subsequent year, I spent Rosh Hashanah at a Baptist preschool, ignorant to the fact that I was missing out on one of many great Jewish traditions.

But today, and every year, my children will eat apples dipped in honey.

Happy New Year to you all!

The Breathtaking Fragility of the Physical

Like everyone else, I’m spending the day remembering. We all have stories. We all have memories. I won’t even begin to compare mine to those who lost their lives, their loved ones, their co-workers, their friends on that day. And while I have my own story, what always comes to the front of my mind is someone else’s story. I haven’t named him because I don’t know that he wishes to be named, but suffice it to say, he is an irreplaceable part of my life and the lives of so many others that it is without comprehension just how grateful I am that the story ends the way it does. I hope he doesn’t mind my sharing with the few of you who will read this.

On the night of September 10th, as he sat in his hotel room in downtown Manhattan, my person was tired from a day of meetings, probably going over notes for the next full day of them. As he gazed out the window, he considered the beauty of New York City. And it truly is breathtaking. All of the tall buildings stretched out to the sky, built by the hands of men, yet as impressive as the mountains themselves. In the distance, he saw the tallest two – the World Trade Center – and took in the majesty of those structures. As he paused from his work to admire the wonders of the city, the greatness of his surroundings, he was overwhelmed with the beauty before him. How impressive it was. 

At this point, realizing that the person he wished most to share this with was back at home, he made a decision. He packed his things and decided to head back to her that night. As he did so, he called up his morning meeting and they instead had the conversation over the phone. With nothing keeping him in New York, he headed to Penn Station and left the city. 

Instead of arriving to his 8:00 am breakfast meeting at Windows of the World, top of Tower One of the World Trade Center, my person arrived home to his wife. 

I don’t know why my person was spared while others perished that morning. Certainly he wouldn’t claim to be better than anyone who died. And while I am nothing but thankful for his life, I can’t help but think of just how precariously placed we all are. Skyscraper or human, that which has taken decades to create and fashion into our design can be struck down in a matter of moments or spared by a seemingly insignificant decision.

Would that we lived our lives remembering that.

twintowers

The Privilege of the Messy Drawer Meets the Promise of a Pencil

This morning, I was thinking about Pencils of Promise, a wonderful organization started by a young man named Adam Braun. He was inspired to start PoP after a simple, yet life-changing encounter with a young boy he met on the road while traveling through India.

Adam asked the young boy what possession he would want most in this whole world.

The boy replied, “a pencil.”

I still get chills typing that, and I’ve heard this story time and time again. It never ceases to stop my breath for a moment as I consider that little boy’s circumstances and also his wisdom. Can you imagine? I mean, really? I try, I really do. But I just can’t fathom that. A pencil!

This morning as I was sifting through the dreaded writing utensils pile, chock-full of busted up party favor Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and Frozen pencils, eraser-missing Ticonderoga pencils, lead-less sparkly mechanical pencils, and a barrage of free pens, muttering under my breath about how “I’m not going to Target again for pencils, you need to take better care of your things” like a million other mamas across these United States, that little guy jumped to the front of my brain.

Messy-Drawer
Look at that mess. Aren’t we so lucky?

To my credit, I resisted the urge to turn it into one of those “starving children in Africa” lectures that we all endured as children. Narrowly. It was on the tip of my tongue. But I knew that, like my younger self with the food issue, my lovely babies wouldn’t be able to empathize with that sweet boy. That’s not their fault, really, they couldn’t possibly comprehend what being so impoverished that you don’t afford a pencil is like. I both thank God for this every day as well as pray for the ability to raise them in a way that might help them understand. And to do something about it.

So imagine my surprise when I logged on to Facebook after the privileged urchins walked to school and discovered that today is International Literacy Day. And that 250 million children cannot read.

250 million.

There is simply no way of wrapping one’s brain around that number. According to PoP’s website, that is 75% of the people who live in the United States. So. Many. Children.

So what can we do? I mean, 250 million, we can’t possibly fix that in a day, right? Of course not. But that does not mean that we simply toss our hands in the air and say, “oh well, that’s more than I can handle” as we just get back to sifting through the 30 or so writing utensils we all have in “that drawer,” not even taking a moment to be grateful for that.

Maybe you have the means to donate to Pencils of Promise. Following what the call the “100% model,” 100% of every dollar donated online goes to their educational programs.

Or perhaps you could take a moment to click on one of the many available links on this page to share their message on social media. It’s free, and it takes approximately 5 seconds.

But if nothing else, let’s start by being grateful for that blasted drawer. The one full of broken pencils to our mind, the one full of promise to all those little guys and girls out there who want one more than any other possession in the world.

A Postscript, if You Will

First of all, I want to offer the most sincere of Thank Yous to everyone who read my piece in xoJane this week. And a friendly high five to the 390 (and counting) people who shared it somewhere out into the interwebs. And this non-touchy-feely writer would like to offer a warm and friendly side hug to all of the lovely folks who took the time to leave a comment on my story. (Maybe even a full-on hug for some of you sweet people)

Before my post went live, I had a momentary panic full of “WHAT HAVE I DONE?” after reading the comments sections of some other essays I’ve seen around the ‘net. It’s no secret that people can be impressively awful in those comboxes, and I was wishing I had some Xanax or whatever it is the panic-stricken take these days lying about.

But it was so great. Seriously. People were so supportive, complimentary, positive, affirming, etc. What a wonderful way to be.

But a couple of people wanted to know how I could see my dad as selfless. They weren’t mean about asking at all, but it was mentioned in a few spots, both in the comments section and on fb posts, so I wanted to issue a small postscript to my story in the hopes that people can find a way to trust my take, even if we are only connected through their readership.

So here you go:

When you have 1200 or so words to work with, there is only so much you can say. Only so much you can include. I alluded to my father’s difficult life before the tragic loss of my mother, but I couldn’t flesh it out. So there’s that. And I also couldn’t manage to fit all the times my dad was there for me. The time he called me at college because he had heard my boyfriend broke up with me and he just knew it had to be a misunderstanding because I was so wonderful. The time he schlepped us up to Sesame Place so I could run around all day long, the countless times he told me he loved me and how proud he was of me. You can’t fit all that stuff into 1200 words. There’s no word count high enough, really. I just want everyone to know that it’s alright if you don’t understand, I can appreciate that.

But I’m the one who needs to understand that my father was selfless. And I do.

FullSizeRender (1)