It’s a break, not a breakup

My hair and I are taking a break.

Am I sad about it? Yeah.

Do I wish it didn’t have to be this way? I really do.

What happened? I don’t know, I’ve been kinda busy lately, I guess. I just need some time to figure things out.

Tonight as I was in the shower not washing my hair, my hair was all “Um, hey. Can we talk?” And I was all, “Of course, Hair. Shoot!”

Hair: Well, I’m just wondering when you’re going to wash me again…it’s been a couple-three-maybe-four days?

Me: What? What? I can’t understand you, Hair.

Hair: Yeah. Sorry. Um, it’s sorta hard to talk when I’m all tied up in one of these black rubber bands from Target, you know?

Me: Oh, snap. I’m so sorry, Hair. Let me take that out for you.

Hair: (sucking in fresh air) Oh, wow. Thanks, Emily. That feels so good! I can breathe! Man, I don’t remember the last time I—

Me: —Hair, I know what you’re about to say, and I just want to apolo—

Hair: No, no. It’s ok. You don’t have to do that. I mean, I see what’s going on. I get it.

Me: No, Hair. I’m serious. I miss you. Really, really miss you. I love you. I mean, you’re my hair! I wish it weren’t like this right now. Sometimes I get a little nostalgic about all the great times we’ve had together…

Hair: Yeah, me, too! Like when you used to curl me for work a few mornings a week?

Me: Yeah! Or when I put in extra product and hot rollers to make really big, flouncy curls?

Hair: Oh, yeah. And what about that special stuff you spray all over me when you use the flat iron? Gah! I love the way it smells!

Me: Me, too, Hair. I even like just hanging out with you and letting you air dry. You have some really nice natural waves, you know that? I mean it. I really take those for granted sometimes.

Hair: And I love when you do that one French braid on the side of your head…

Hair: Look, Emily, I don’t want to belabor my point or anything here, but I think the only thing you’ve put on me in a while is that aerosol powder.

Me: Oh, you mean dry shampoo?

Hair: Yeah. You use, like, a LOT of it. I’m not a doctor or anything, but aren’t you worried about respiratory toxicity or something?

Me: I wasn’t until you mentioned it…

Hair: Maybe you could try actual shampoo more often?

Me: Hair, I hear you. I love you. And I really wish I could commit to that right now. I just don’t think I have the time to put into that kind of relationship. There’s the baby, the boys, and work is crazy right now and I’m not getting much sleep and I’m just not mentally prepared to to dry you and…

Hair: I know, Emily. I’d like more of a commitment but, like I say, I get it. I just miss you.

Me: Honestly, Hair, I didn’t realize you had feelings until right now, but let me tell you the truth: I’d give you all the water and shampoo, deep conditioning and heat protectant spray, curling and attention in the world if I could. Maybe I just need some time to figure things out. Could you wait for me? Would you do that?

Hair: Yeah, that’s cool. Take your time, Emily. I’ll be here. And don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with that Nancy Drew ponytail and the messy fake bun in the mean time. Whatever you do, just don’t do the mom chop or I swear I’ll…

Me: Aw no. You’re safe on that, Hair. I think we did enough pageboy during my childhood. Never again.

Hair: Never again. Ok, well, let me know when you’re ready to talk about that bikini line…

Me: Don’t even.

hair

(1) My coworker, Lindsey, coined the “Nancy Drew.” (2) Fake bun (3&4) Behold, the only time I have done my hair in at least three months.

#metoo

It’s been more than a year since I’ve posted a personal essay…and that’s about all I’m ready to tell about the kind of year it’s been. Emily En Route will resume regular posts soon, but for now, we land on #metoo.

I am so inspired by this campaign, had been watching from the sidelines and felt moved to chime in on Facebook. I posted because I’m riveted by my sisters’ stories, inspired by the solidarity of women and also thankful for the good men I know.  So many good men. Posting here as well for the friends who’ve asked for a link to share…

Comments. Touches. Looks. Chuckles as though we were both in on some private joke about my body. And much, much worse. I was in my early 20s living in Mexico when one conventionally powerful man offered to share the gift of himself as a lover very publicly over a business dinner at which I was the only female, and everyone laughed and I was terrified because a hand was on my thigh but I couldn’t find the words to respond in Spanish—I only knew how to turn bright red, twist out of reach and giggle nervously. In my later-20s, I learned how to volley a sly smile and a cutting comment in two languages that would seem just cold enough for me to feel safe but enough like flirtation to a harasser to keep the ball in play.

“I know how to get what I want,” I thought. “This is what ‘cool girls’ do. We find a workaround. I just won.”

In my 30s I realized what was really going on. The magic of woman, the power of our bodies and our spirits, it is a true, honest-to-God marvel. Since the days of serfdom, men have been battling for control of it. They seek that magical feminine energy to which all these men who have preyed upon us are invariably drawn in manners ranging from inappropriate to horrific. They don’t even know what it is, but they want to hold this superpower that’s just outside of their grasp. They don’t understand it, they can’t name it, they think it’s sexual, they think it’s about their pleasure, they act like it’s a trifle, they think appropriating it will make them strong. They think because they are powerful physically, mentally, politically or economically they can have it. But they miss the point.

The only way to hold feminine power is to receive it. Or to cultivate it from within.

Although I’m still processing the dark battle for control from which I’ve recently emerged, partially shattered in body, mind and spirit and simultaneously vitalized by the miraculous daughter who completed my family, I’m able to locate a huge amount of gratitude for the wonderful, strong, secure, powerfully good men in my life—and there are so many, even on Facebook. My dad, professors, friends, coaches, parents’ friends, friends’ dads, cousins, men I’ve dated, my ex-husband, classmates, bosses, friends’ husbands, clients, colleagues, neighbors and more.

Gentlemen, thanks for ruling. You’re the yang to our yin. You see what is amazing about woman and you honor it, revel in it and fan its power in right, good, appropriate ways.

Also, thanks for showing us what is wondrous about man. Physically strong, morally awake, bright like the sun, uplifting, protective, thoughtful, generous and powerful in your own right. You are as much a gift to us as we are to you in life, work and all manner of relationships.

So this is where I want the #metoo campaign to go from here…

My sisters, let’s all stand together. Let’s own our feminine power and unleash its transformative beauty without fear. Cast our glow across the planet as one. We can use our superpowers to nurture respect in our sons, nephews, brothers and husbands, to blast the dinosaurs of today who still behave like our president into a tarpit forever. Innately, we are alchemists, ladies. We can do this.

Men, stand up. Don’t be like the one kindly man at the dinner table that night in Mexico 15 years ago who apologized to me after dinner but said nothing to his cronies while I sat there terrified. Say something. Do something. Continue to show your sons, brothers and fathers how to be a real, good, true, honorable man. I’m grateful to you, and I’m counting on you. We all are. #metoo #goodmenstandup

Let us pray

Tomorrow, we will act. Tonight, let us pray.

Dear God,

We pray for peace to blanket us, our nation, our children and the world. In the softness of this peace, first bring about an awareness of your divine presence within all of us.

Next, please free us all from hate, from that which gives us the illusion we are separate from you and from one another.

Remove our fear, replace it with love and help us to think, feel and act from our highest and greatest selves.

We understand we are called to love and forgive as your son, Jesus, and others have done before us.

We know we have work to do, so please clear our path. Show us the thoughts and actions you would have us take today, tomorrow and always. Give us the courage and wisdom to act, to manifest.

Guide our leaders. Guide our adversaries. Guide our children. Guide our hearts. Protect us. Heal us. Connect us. Shine through us. Bless us all.

We thank you for this opportunity to love the way you would have us love.

In God’s name,

Amen

Note:

In the spiritual journey, it’s sometimes said that the closer you get to the light, the more fiercely darkness, or ego, rears its head.

In the therapeutic journey, just as you’re reaching a major breakthrough, it’s common to hit a roadblock. Also known as “trouble at the border.”

In both journeys, you press on. Eventually, you reach the light, the breakthrough, the next phase of consciousness.

Tonight fear and ego appear to have risen, embodying this metaphysical and therapeutic phenomenon in a political arena. And so it seems, my wonderful warriors of love and light, it’s time to press on. We have some love to spread. Let’s do this.

All kinds of messy

Maybe my world has been a little too messy in the past year and a half.

Too outlandish.

Fast.

Complicated.

Out of the ordinary.

Full of compartmentalizing, fear, prayer, stardust.

Nonsensical.

Raw.

Magical.

Hard to explain.

Gritty.

Alarming.

Secretly hilarious.

All has been just as it was supposed to be. Still, I haven’t felt ok telling the stories. It hasn’t felt safe.

Didn’t want to hurt anyone.

Didn’t want to bore anyone.

Didn’t want to expose anyone.

Didn’t want to expose myself.

Didn’t want to live my life online.

Didn’t feel like defending my thoughts, actions and explorations to a critical world.

Why would I drag anyone through the details of hedonistically dating around, striving to stand on my own financially for the first time, coddling my children through the unfairness and pain of so much huge transition, figuring out how to work full-time after years of stay-at-home-mom-ness, falling in love, blending families, starting a completely new life?

Messy.

It all felt like a little too much to share. A little too shamey. And yet falling in love is traditionally something you really, really want to shout from the mountaintops. It was my shame at love finding me so soon after the end of my marriage—more than a year later, but still—that kept me quiet. “She’s obviously rebounding,” I heard the voices in my head say. “What is she, crazy?” “Apparently she can’t handle being alone…”

I knew in my heart none of those statements was true. But, out of fear, I kept all the deliciousness of my unfolding relationship with C to myself, my sister and my closest friends.

feet

I wanted to share, though.

I wanted to write about things like how, behind closed doors with him, I could never decide whether I wanted to keep talking, exploring the mental/spiritual/emotional, or to shut up and explore the physical because both aspects were so tantalizing and so electrifying I couldn’t possibly choose. (Sidenote: After acquainting myself with Emily After Dark, I had discovered how rare a find this truly was…)

I wanted to marvel about how we conversed about God in similar ways. That we actually shared parenting ideals. That his executive mind magically contrasted with his dreamy inner life. That he challenged me and pushed me to grow in all manner of pleasant and less-fun ways across all manner of themes.

I wanted to tell about that time we played tag in New York and I couldn’t catch him, even when I was sprinting my fastest—both of us breathless with laughter—until I almost got him and instead tripped over his heel, did an endo, smashed my face into a patch of grass, threw my neck out, grass-stained my white jeans and he was sick to his stomach for hours fretting that he’d hurt me bad. (I was fine. We all know I’m not dainty.) But the way he cared for me in those moments after my embarrassing fall…so tender and wonderful. Now we laugh about it. I do so love his laugh.

I wanted to rave about how much fun we had sharing a giant plate of cheese fries and dancing to 80s music with my friend, Amin, at a summer street fest. That, as a former tennis pro, he’s teaching me how to play the game I’ve always wanted to learn—and loves doing it. How he declares I’m “majestic” even first thing in the morning and pauses everything to look in my eyes to make sure I really am fine when I say I am. I want to tell the world we talk and laugh into the wee hours because we don’t want to waste time sleeping.

And then there was that day he told me he wanted to learn how to meditate, so he’d signed up for the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) lessons. (Sidenote: In my 10 years of being a devotee of Paramahansa Yogananda, not one person has ever signed up for the SRF lessons as a result of knowing me—until C.) I wanted to write about how it felt when I walked in on him reading the first meditation lesson to find his giant smile thanking me for the introduction and knowing we truly shared our path to God.

And, of course, the vision of him sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the wood floor outside his bathroom in Lincoln Park when I emerged and informed him I wasn’t pregnant and, smiling his sweet half-smile, he said, “You know, it would’ve been OK if you were.” And then, four days later, how elated he was when I took another test, and then two more, that told us I was, in fact, very unexpectedly pregnant.

parents

I may or may not be disproportionately this much larger than my family of origin and my children in real life, but they all love me regardless. Also, it turned out they, and my sis and her family, were all as elated as C when they heard the unexpected news.

Very unexpectedly pregnant

As good as it was, I couldn’t shake the fear. How would it look once everyone knew I got pregnant within a month of dating a new guy, my first committed relationship since marriage? How irresponsible of me!

Almost as bad, how would the outside world respond if I actually admitted that I wrestled—so painstakingly—with whether to stay pregnant?

On discovering the news, I cried with fear and dwelled in permanent nausea every day for two months. Despite being wildly and yet groundedly in love with an all-around wonderful man who wanted our baby and a life with me and my boys more than anything in the world, I was so scared. Scared to find I was not in control of my life. Scared I’d worked so hard for freedom and now I was committing both to a baby and to a new partner all at once. Scared my sons would feel abandoned if I had another baby. Scared of the pain of childbirth. Scared of the postpartum reality. Scared the allure of our relationship would fade with my growing belly. Scared of the sleep deprivation that comes with an infant. Scared of derailing the professional life I’d fought so hard to start. Scared of reversing the liberation for which I’d given up almost everything I knew.

None of this felt like a story worth sharing. I could hurt people, hurt myself.

Eventually I did something to this point I hadn’t done much in my life.

I called my mom.

Something compelled me. I knew I needed her. I expected her to tell me to march myself to Planned Parenthood. Instead, she burst into tears.

Decisively and lovingly, she said something huge, not in these exact words, but the gist was: Don’t just think of this as a baby. Soon that baby will be a child. Then that baby will be a big kid. And then he or she will be a teenager. And eventually you’ll be talking with him or her on the phone like I’m talking to you right now. You need to have this baby. I know it seems crazy, and I don’t know why I’m feeling this way right now, but I just have the strongest feeling God wants you to have this baby.

I had that feeling, too. And, yet, through tears and nose blows, I debated her.

“But what will this do to the boys? What will people say about me? I’m going to hurt so many people. I’ve struggled so hard to be OK on my own. This is going to derail everything. Everyone is going to think I’m crazy.”

She told me that when a baby is born, everyone is flooded with love, and so it would be with my boys and everyone else who counted. She told me it didn’t matter what other people thought, that she and my dad loved me. She told me families could look a lot of different ways, and I could do whatever I wanted. She told me I’d worked hard enough for long enough in enough different ways and it was ok to enjoy and embrace C’s love and all that came with it. She told me I was not crazy.

“Sweetie, all my life I made decisions because I was terrified of what my mother would think. My mother made decisions because she was terrified of what everyone else would think. We are not going to do that anymore. That ends here.”

poolside

C snapped this of me, baby bump and all, poolside on a late-summer getaway in the lakey, piney hills of New Hampshire. Do I look like I care what people think of me? Thanks, Mom. (Sidenote: Warm welcome to the forehead vein who now likes to make an appearance when I laugh, cry and rage.)

Worrying about what people think of me? That ends here.

It turns out people have asked my friends why I’m driving a new car—a whole other crazy part of this new abundance—and pry “who’s the guy?” when they could just ask me directly. Moms at school have pumped my nanny, who has no idea who they even are, for details and she has alternately appeased them with a response, changed the subject or told them that I’m her employer and that we have a professional relationship. (BS. She knows everything.) “You know people are talking about you, Emily,” she said. “But don’t even care what they say. What they think does not matter. Those people have no idea how good it really is.”

It’s more than a little creepy to think people in my community might be talking about me, about my sons. I’m still working on letting this stuff roll off and living my life without fear of external perceptions. Without fear of being a curiosity, or an outcast.

And it’s true. My world is too messy to write about. Messy, messy, messy. But if I don’t tell the stories, how will others experiencing similar situations know they’re not alone?

We’ve all got messes. And if I’ve learned anything at all so far, like finger painting, brownie sundaes, moves into bigger spaces to accommodate bigger love and dances in the rain, if done sincerely and with love, a messy life is a rich life.

 

Emerging, ready to share again

I haven’t written publicly in some time because—once again, and much differently than I might’ve drawn it up if I could’ve—I’ve been going through some stuff. So has almost everyone else I know (mad props to ’em), so I know I’m not special, even though my mom and dad laughingly proclaim I have had the year of all years, but here’s some of my latest meanderings nonetheless…

Embarking on a hardcore regimen of weekly therapy for several months. I wanted to revisit the landmarks I blew past in my sprint to survival following the separation. I retraced my steps. I looked at everything I missed. My therapist encouraged me to “sit with my feelings” rather than immediately look for the silver lining that would make sense of stuff that made no sense. I saw and felt things I can’t believe I dismissed as I was dashing to make all the pieces of my new life fit together. It was painful as eff. But I finally came to the finish line, a freer, more grounded, wiser person.

Navigating an evolving social circle. Assimilating to the glaring void of raucous social gatherings with couples and families was a thing for me. With the change in marital status, one or two of my social circles changed drastically. It was a little lonely sometimes. Not just for me, but for my boys. Thankfully, my dearest friends never left my side and I discovered new ways to be social.

Searching hungrily for single moms who’d “get it.” Couples and families comfortable enough to hang out with just me and my boys while my life looked heaps different than theirs…that was hard to come by.

Working very un-summery hours. Not ideal, but my Kindle peops show me deeper layers of their awesomeness daily. Someday I’ll write an entire blog post on that.

Reconnecting with my first love, for whom I’d longed over the course of my lifetime, only to discover that once we candidly revisited all our long-lost feelings as well as those that lingered, our connection was much bigger, much purer, much more powerful and much more about lifelong divine friendship than about meeting at a California beach house for a steamy weekend rendezvous.

Deciding to end my frivolous yearlong dating bender. I intended to create space for something bigger. (The dating life couldn’t have been more indulgent and fun, but it was time, almost exactly one year to the day.)

Meeting C. Sure enough, I met someone bigger—so much bigger—approximately one very intense, self-reflexive, heated-conversations-with-the-Universe month after I asked for it.

Falling in love. And clearing myself for reals of some major blocks to true intimacy.

Finalizing my divorce. Even though we hugged before, during and after the proceedings, that shit sucked. Super ouchie.

Embracing the unicorn. Opening my heart, mind, life and family to a wonderful man and his wonderful son was a big, big deal. (Note: He’s even better than I hoped he’d be—and thank goodness he doesn’t own a yacht or a hedge fund. Soon after I wished for that in the Bahamas, I discovered first hand on a few persistent dinners with ostentatious bottles of wine and bombast to beat the band that those dudes are insufferable.)

Leaving the house. Moving out of the home in which I became a mother, fought hard for a marriage, surrendered the marriage, and struck out on my own as a single, working mom… Tough.

Apartment living. Moving into a two-bedroom apartment with window a/c units and coin laundry in the basement.

Never fucking having enough quarters.

Also, becoming pregnant.

Yep.

Boy, does life surprise me sometimes.

I’ll spare you the details, but the baby all up in my uterus courtesy of my beloved is one determined human. I’ll be honest, it felt downright biblical at first. I could almost hear God’s (really deep, booming) voice saying “Emily, you thought you would never do this again, but you are going to have a child. My will be done.”

The weekend before I found out, I said a special, very intentional prayer:

“Please give me the courage and the wildness to embrace the magnitude of unknown blessings on their way to me now.”

I knew something big was coming and, sight unseen, I knew I wanted the strength to receive it. That’s what I get, I suppose. Nonetheless, I spent a couple months agonizing very ungraciously in what I call Freak Out Town. I had some furious, incredulous, bargaining words with God; I pushed C away; I retreated into my own self-reliant world; my tummy was always upset; I was exhausted and withdrawn; I cried a LOT.

Then something clicked and…

  • I allowed my enthusiastic, supportive, delighted, in-countless-ways-magnificent, prayerful, tuned-in, awesome father, top-of-the-line-luxury-model babydaddy  more completely into my heart, into my life, into my sons’ lives and onto the path we are now unconventionally forging together with our conglomeration of children.
  • Second, I stopped trying to understand God’s plan and simply concede to it.

With both of these moves came joy and contentment like I can’t describe.

Like any recently divorced, pregnant, yet unwed, flying-by-the-seat-of-her-pants woman and mother, I have my moments—for example I would really like to give fewer fucks about what people think about me over here, but the creepy hard stares at my belly and the mouth-agape responses to my unexpected news sometimes do bother me.

Nonetheless, the prevailing sensation in all of this—and in my family, coworkers and close friends—is marvel.

Also love. So much love.

Just swimming in metaphors

You are suddenly a mermaid. Swathed in cloudy turquoise light, you dive down, down, down toward sand and tiny threads of seaweed growing from the bottom. Soaring through the water, for a second you are almost certain you are part-woman, part fish.

Ripples in the sand, not a creature in sight. Surrounded by unbreathable faded blue, this Atlantean water feels familiar, like you know it. You feel like you could stay there forever, making waves of your body beneath the waves of the ocean, bright yellow fins propelling you along the sand you’re grazing with your chest.

No one is watching you, no one knows where you are. You remember hearing about bull sharks in this area. You haven’t speared any fish, and you’re not particularly afraid, so you’re not high on a shark’s radar, but the fact that you can’t even see two feet in front of you does make you a little uneasy. They say the sharks in your mind are scarier than the real thing.

You turn over, do a quick 360 scan for dorsal fins and recline into your favorite place in the world—on your back, in the ocean, submerged in water, breathing air, staring at the sky, your body rolling with the waves. Your feet rise, then fall, gently, so gently. The water raises and releases your knees, your hips, chest, head and eventually your arms, the swell at last lifting your fingertips and setting them softly back down where they were. And the next swell comes. And another. And the clouds are beautiful. And you are certain there’s no more mystical place to be than in between earth and sky, buoyed by the sea, which you equate with God or Spirit, all by yourself, and somehow nowhere near lonely.

At the same time, it’s hard being alone sometimes. As a single, working mom, that is. You’re thinking about it a lot on this trip, which you’ve been anticipating for two years. One of your best friends curated her best friends for a birthday trip to her parents’ home in the Bahamas, and these women are awesome in all kinds of ways—funny, graceful, powerful, kind, running companies, raising families, blazing trail, nailing it in general. They each delight in their respective marriages and you’re very aware—because of you, not because of them, and no more clearly than when they wrest you away from the dashing Southern sportsman you all call “Marky Mark” at the bar because it’s just time to go home—that you are unaffiliated.

They jokingly wish that the guy, provided it’s a guy, who owns the ridiculous yacht in Baker’s Bay (Podium, if you’re curious), whoever he is, will find and fall in love with you. That, or a fun, kind, open, spiritually evolved, sexy, athletic hedge fund owner who likes you and your kids. In other words, a unicorn. You well up about the sense of aloneness at dinner one night, and one of the girls says very clearly and directly: “This is just one moment in time in your life.”

Right. It’s easy to forget. This transition you’re in, it won’t last forever. You’ve just got to move through it.

You can’t help spotting the metaphor in the opaque sea around you, and tying it to this broader moment in time. You’ve been swimming in “unknown waters” with limited visibility for a while now. Not ideal conditions. You wish it were clear, like some of your dives off the Ambar III in the Sea of Cortez, or like the deep blue off the coast of Kona. You want to see in front of you and behind you and beneath you. When you dive down, you want to behold something wondrous and to reach for it. But here you are in a cloudy, unknown corner of the ocean. You have no idea what could be swimming—or not—around you and you are not entirely sure where you’re heading.

It feels a little nerve wracking, this not knowing what surrounds and awaits you. And yet you don’t get out of the water. You heave a deep breath, pop your snorkel out of your mouth and go down, fin tips the last to disappear beneath the surface, dolphin kicking, clearing your mask and ears, to the sandy bottom, which you cannot see until the very moment you touch it.

That’s what this season of your life must be about. Diving, going, trusting, moving forward fast and hopeful into unknown waters to see what’s there, open to whatever you find. (But you think it might be nice to come across that unicorn…)

Eventually you do come back to shore, the setting sun shining a light so magical you can’t believe it. Stepping out of the hazy turquoise breaking on the beach, a mermaid transformed, you look down to see your skin appears golden. It actually looks gold in this light. And although you don’t have anything figured out, and you don’t feel any lighter, wiser or more secure than when you entered the water, in this moment in time, you know you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. Slathered in sun and saltwater, glowing and unknowing.

Note: This is just one tale from your visit to the Bahamas, a mere snippet of a broader four-day experience, which involved all sorts of succulence you embraced with abandon. Lobster salad, island hopping, fast boats, strolls through quaint towns, conch fritters and cold rose, meditation under infinite stars, dance parties, conversations with awesome women, yacht gawking, rum punch, daily solo SUP-ing, the world’s most generous hosts, private air travel, delightful new acquaintances, swimming, paddling, laughing, reading, writing, eating. A beautiful journey. You are ready to return immediately. Still, the ocean brings stuff up for you, and even amid all the wonderment, shit gets real, so that’s what you write about.

 

MCA + Emily En Route = BFF

MCA DNA screen shot.pngCheck out the increds holiday gift I just received…

Merry Christmas, Emily!

We re-posted your blog post from foreeeeeever ago on our very important and objectively awesome blog, MCA DNA.

And we said nice stuff about you, too.

Aaaaaand we went ahead and threw in an extra link to another one of your old posts. Just for fun.

In case you’re curious, you can read it here.

Love,

Your Favorite Contemporary Art Museum in the World
(Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago)

(Fainting…)

It’s true! Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago reposted from Emily En Route.  If you could see me right now, you’d know I was giving you all a dainty Queen Elizabeth wave from a very regal pile of dog hair.

I entered this fun little contest (#mcainspired – they asked how you support local artists and/or display art in your home, so I sent them this photo of my garage) on a lark, I won, they gave me a membership, I told them how much I love taking my kids there, I overshared a couple blog posts with them and–boom!–they go and re-post this. The wonder!

Naturally, I want to obsessively thank and hug them, but I’ll save their magnanimous social media team from my fawning and instead fill you all in on one of my favorite places in the 312…

If you’re not apprised, know that MCA Chicago is good for anyone of any age who needs the sparkle of art in their world. (In other words, that’s everyone. Duh.)

If you live in Chicago, or plan to visit, take your kids to the MCA. In my experience, everyone from the front desk to the security guards go out of their way to help kids experience the art in an age-appropriate, accessible, joyful way.

Trust me, even if your grown-up self doesn’t “get” modern art, your kids will love the outlandishness of some of what they see. If you do go, snap a pic of your kids and tag #mcachicago.

We want to spread the art love and let people know what a gem of a place it is for families, so any snaps you can share to that end would be divine.

For your to-do list:
•Get excited for the Pop Art design exhibit opening this week
•Stay tuned for my reaction–and that of my kids–to the likes of Charles Eames, George Nelson, Ettore Sottsass, Achille Castiglioni and Robert Venturi
•Post pics of your kids enjoying the MCA to #MCAChicago

Not to worry, I’ll soon return to second-person tales of uncoupling, single mom-ing, dating, divorce and more. I just had to geek out about this for a quick sec…

 

MCA DNA screen shot.png

Uncoupled: The wedding anniversary

Note: My 10th wedding anniversary was last week. It was a hard, strange day. And a beautiful milestone.

You’re 36 years old staring at the speaker in a conference room with two other people. Your client has just changed everything and the timeline holds firm. You haven’t slept a full night all week and you’re not sure why it’s hitting you so hard today, but the content of this conversation makes your cheeks hot. Your colleagues (you think that’s what you call them?) smile and nod reassuringly at you. You’re trying to stay peaceful and professional. But you want to throw a chair through the window.

You’re tired.

You’re 26 years old and think you’re fat. The estilista has just used hot glue to secure a fresh fichus leaf to the bobby pin holding dark waves behind one ear and you’re doing your makeup. You’re snapping at your sister, your mom, your friends. It’s already been a long day and the judge hasn’t even arrived. Your dress is lace. You designed it yourself. Almost everyone you love is donning sunburns, guayaberas and fancy party dresses in your favorite restaurant, where Chef Francis is serving your favorite meal. Your favorite Cuban orchestra will play your favorite music and girls in skimpy dresses will teach you all how to samba. Your friends are on vacation for this. You’ve been playing host to them—in a place you live—for three days of parties, beach outings and excursions. You’re minutes away from getting married.

You’re exhausted.

Both boys independently crawled into bed with you last night, one waking you up an hour after you shut your laptop because of his growing pains, spawning your mole-like journey through the dark hallway into the shocking light of the bathroom, fumbling around for the kids Motrin with squinting eyes at 1:30 am; and the next kid waking you at 5 am to ask you to scoot over so he wouldn’t fall off the bed. You should’ve gotten up then but, as happens to the mind in the wee hours, a now-vanished dream sequence convinced you of another hour of sleep, so you turned off your alarm and, warmed by the two small bodies snuggled panini-style against you, drifted back to sleep for nearly two more.

You oversleep. Dry shampoo. Yoga tights. A long, wool cardigan. Necklace. Ponytail holder. Riding boots and some makeup. It’s the best you can do. You yell at your kids when they refuse to wear pants. No luxurious bath drawn by your little sister on the terrace of the oceanfront Presidential Suite. No team helping you zip your dress, curl your hair, put on your shoes, hug you and bless you. No freshly plucked leaves glued into your hair. (because Mexico.) No bouquets. No orchestra. No bridesmaids. No judge. No shaman. No white bikini for the honeymoon at One&Only. No groom.

Ten years ago you cried as you left your wedding reception, groom’s hand in yours. You were glad it was over. You were tired from all the festivities, all the care you took in planning a fabulous getaway for out-of-town guests. You were ready to get on with life as a married woman. You were ready to check into a resort for three days and not do anything but rest and be with an incredible man who adored you. Some people tell you it was the most beautiful wedding they’ve ever attended. They may just be saying that. They’re probably just saying that. It mattered to you then, this calculated perfection. It doesn’t matter to you now. Objectively, though, it was one hell of a party.

Today, the day flies by—so fast, so furious, so busy—and eventually you can’t ignore the rising feelings even one more minute. You text Brian, your groom of this day 10 years ago:

“Really working the compartmentalizing over here today. About at my breaking point with work, plus the emotion of today. How’re you holding up?”

He writes back:

“I am in a good space. All is as it should be… And I just don’t see it as an end. We are still there for each other but just in different ways. The last 10 years have been exactly how it should be.”

You read this text while sitting on the office couch with Jeff, who has children your age and used to be a trauma counselor. You’re making last-minute revisions to a presentation. When you’re not working together, you have highly engaging conversations, at least you think so, about all manner of topics. You heart is warmed by Brian’s text, and you get teary.

“Today is my anniversary,” you tell him, wanting to share, thinking you can handle it. But you can’t. Tears well. “It would be 10 years.” He looks you dead in the eyes for a long second and says something to the effect of Oh, dear. Why didn’t you tell me sooner? No wonder!

He reveals that, even though he divorced from his first wife when his 40-year-old son was an infant and he deeply adores his present-day wife of 30+ years, he still prefers quiet on the day of his first wedding anniversary. It’s too much. He still feels it. He gets it.

He gives you permission to be out of sorts, permission to be a mess. He’s got this. He tells you something like, it’s a wonder you’re as sharp as you are today. This is a really big deal. And this is just your first one. Huge.

It is a really big deal. You nestle into a vulnerability in which you’re grateful to feel safe and warm—it’s miraculous, really—and you keep working side by side till the presentation is done.

It’s almost 4 pm and you’ve held it together long enough for this day. So when Lindsey checks in to see if you’re doing ok amidst the client craziness, you tell her what’s up. She immediately stands and wraps her arms tightly, warmly around you because she knows, too, that it’s a really big deal. You almost let rip with a sob, but decide to stuff it down because you are, after all, on a tight deadline, and that’s what the car is for on your drive home from the train.

The point is, you know you could cry if you wanted to. People would see you, and it would be ok. It actually would be. You make a mental note of the revelation that, eight months into your new job, you have safe spaces there. Thank God.

Later, one of your favorite guy pals messages you to vent some of his pain over a recent, devastating breakup. You also briefly share what you’re going through. He immediately sends you a Dropbox of the new Adele album. And he writes: “I wonder who else is on the verge of tears here today, let’s band together.”

You suggest reserving a conference room for a group cry. You both laugh at the idea. He thinks it sounds like a scene from a romcom. Sometimes it helps to pretend you’re in a movie…

Now it’s night. Instead of writing the presentation you absolutely must write tonight if you want to have a weekend, you sit on the couch remembering every detail you can from 10 years ago, crying till your mascara pools into your already dark under-eye circles. (You hope you’ll wrap it up soon, for the love of all that’s good, so you can get on with the presentation and get to bed, but you know you can’t rush this.)

As you sit there remembering and crying, when you really remember that day, and those 10 years of marriage gone by, you recall all the things Brian showed you, perhaps the very best of which was to trust the flow of life.

“All will unfold as it’s supposed to,” he often told you, starting the evening of your very first date 12+ years ago, when you told him how impractical this all was. You didn’t know he would end up being one of the best decisions of your lifetime, even if it didn’t work out how either of you anticipated.

“All is as it should be,” he wrote to you on the 10-year anniversary of your marriage. “And I just don’t see it as an end.”

Mama does Lolla

photo 2

Daytime crowds.

You’ve never seen crowds like this. This is all new.

You’re trying to make yourself as narrow as possible to sneak through a converging labyrinth of girls in high-waisted denim shorts and crop tops or sheer bodysuits, and shirtless guys sipping from CamelBaks. You don’t even bother to say “excuse me” because, at this point in the day, the teens are well into their molly, their cocaine, their smoke and no one cares. But they’re also not moving. Because, like you, they’re here to see The Weeknd, and they won’t budge.

You first started listening to The Weeknd three years ago, when one of your friends said he thought you should. So you did. To all his mixtapes, almost every day, but only when the kids were in bed and you were alone because he sings about sex and drugs and pain in a way so real and so raw that it feels private, like a secret you’re keeping for him.

This guy sings words and ideas you can’t believe one would admit so openly. He comes out with darkness—society’s and his own—in a way that slays you. You’re mesmerized and a little bit floored. The boldness! His music becomes your escape to a totally different life, not one you want, but one you want to understand. You’re intrigued by the “XO” (ecstasy + oxycodone) devil-may-care sensibility that The Weeknd embodies. It’s a middle finger to everything judgey and a thumbs up to recklessness. Essentially, a complete departure from your entire existence.

The intrigue is not about recklessness for you—it’s that you want to be that open. Wide open. Without a thought to who might care, and without a care of what they might think of you.

At the time, the only people you know who love him as much as you do are your friend in LA, the radiant chick rapper you met at the resale shop (Loretta Mars. Check her out.) and the rival gangbangers who showed up to your block party that one summer and scrolled through your iPod like, “Damn, mami!”

This night, though, thousands of kids are holding up XOs with their hands and talking about how much they hope he does “I can’t feel my face.”

First Aid Kit in the grove with your girls.

First Aid Kit in the grove with your girls, just before Sylvan Esso and, later, The Weeknd.

Bye-bye, buddy system.

One hour earlier, you were watching Sylvan Esso finish her set in the grove with two girlfriends. “I don’t care at ALL about The Weeknd,” one of them says and the other one just smiles. “You’re on your own for that show. See you at 11 at the Givers after show.” Your girls go to Paul McCartney to hang out with dad jeans, high fives and pyrotechnics. You plan to meet at a bar in Wicker Park to see a show at 11 p.m. You head a different direction.

You push through crowds of very young people until the density is such that you are in some way touching another human being on at least three sides of your body. You stay there.

You text this pic to your friends, who are at the Paul McCartney stage, with the words

You text this pic to your friends, who are at the Paul McCartney stage, with the words “Everyone is 20.” If you look closely, you’ll notice a shirtless male wearing a CamelBak. Take note. You’re about to meet him.

“Hey, um, why are you so dressed up?” a voice asks over your left shoulder. You look up to see a tall, shirtless guy wearing a CamelBak.

“Oh, am I dressed up?” you ask.

“Like, yeah. I mean all the other girls here are in like, bras with their asses hanging out of their shorts, and you’re in a full-on dress.”

“Oh, yeah. Looks like you’re right,” you say. “Maybe cuz I’m not 20?”

“Oh, ok,” he says, smiling. “Cool.” He’s adorable in his strapping, blond, youthful glory. And he seems nice. So you ask a question.

“So, hey, is The Weeknd, like, hugely popular with all the 20-year-olds? I mean, when did that happen?” You decide it’s best to go all in with the Old Lady bit. “I thought I might be able to get up closer 30 minutes out of his show. But this is crazy!”

You really had no idea. You just figured he got popular when he did that 50 Shades of Gray song. “I dunno. I’ve been listening to The Weeknd for about three years,” the guy says. “His music helps me focus. I love it.”

The young guy introduces himself, asks you why you’re there. How did you first hear about The Weeknd? What are your favorite songs? What do you hope he plays? Do you live in the city? What do you do for work? What do you write? How old are your kids? He’s just turned 21. He tells you that you don’t look “old.”

“Definitely not 35, not that that’s old at ALL. C’mon, you’re only 14 years older than me. That’s nothing. I mean, you’re really pretty, too. That’s why I first talked to you. I would NEVER have guessed you were as old as you are. Which isn’t old, for the record.” Two girls centimeters in front of your face turn around to survey you and smile-scowl. You think maybe they would like to be talking with him, so you smile at them and turn your body away from him to give them an in.

He moves in closer to you, says it’s so nice to have a conversation with a girl who’s not like all the other girls there. You tell him to keep an open mind to the younger girls. You’re sure there are young women his age who are devastatingly lovely, but sometimes being 20 is not about knowing or showing it. But 20 is good and fun and important.

You wonder if you should move, because you’re not there to get your swerve on with a 21 year old, but this guy and his friends are so cute and warm and good, so you stay put and chat casually until the sky goes dark.

Waiting for the show to start.

Waiting for the show to start.

The Weeknd comes out and opens with one of your favorites from “House of Balloons.” It’s almost exhilarating. You wish you were up closer, but the energy is still buzzing. Arms are up, everyone is dancing. You know all the words.

“Can you see ok?” the guy asks right in your ear.

“Yeah! I can. It’s great!” you say, still watching the stage.

“No, really. Can you see ok?” he’s yelling in your ear. “You love this guy. Don’t you want to see him better?”

“Ummmm? I think this is good,” you call back to him, eyes on the stage.

The guy leans down and his face drops in front of yours. “I’m asking if you want to get on my shoulders.”

What the hell? Those are words no one has EVER asked you. You burst out laughing.

“Oh, no way! You’re sweet to offer, but I’m a big girl and I’d probably hurt you. There’s no way. But thanks!”

He gives you a discerning look and steps back. You notice he’s ridiculously cut. (because he’s shirtless and wearing only a CamelBak. Right. How had you missed this till now?) “As long as you’re not more than 500 pounds, which is what I bench, I’ll be fine. And you’re nowhere close to that, so don’t worry about me. C’mon, Emily. It’ll be fun!”

You giggle nervously and fear streaks through you. Would it be fun? You wonder for a split second. No! The answer is no! Wait. It’s NOT appropriate for a woman your age to do such things. What would people say? No!

You emphatically decline again and you keep dancing. Nervously. You notice several girls on shoulders around you. But they’re 20. You are embarrassed and terrified that you even considered the invitation for a second, but he won’t leave you alone about it and deep down inside you really, really want to say yes.

“Emily. Everyone else is up, so you might as well get up, too. Come on. You’ll have fun.” He takes your hands in his and squats down in front of you.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

As if out of body, you watch yourself agreeing to this nonsense before you can stop it. Because you’ve wanted to go to Lollapalooza since Pearl Jam was there in 1992 and you’re fucking there and you are free to do as you please and you don’t know a soul in the crowd and as you place your thighs on either side of the back of his neck, you panic because you are just way too sweaty, way too heavy, way too sober, way too amazon, way too scandalous, way too old to actually do this and the next second you’re in the air, wobbling precariously—it’s seriously kinda scary for a couple ticks—till you find your balance on the shoulders of a 21-year-old body builder and the girls in front of you are looking up at you with absolute glee (must be the molly) and you know you look shameful perched above the crowd in your blue dress and 35-year-old-ness and you had your 7-year-old son there with you earlier in the day for goodness’ sake and it all feels obscene and deplorable and Absolutely. Fucking. Amaaaaazing.

For reference, see 7-year-old. (this is just before leaving for the show. he's pissed you did not get him a pack of gum at the store on your way to pick him up.)

For reference, see 7-year-old. (this is just before leaving for the show. he’s pissed you did not get him a pack of gum at the store on your way to pick him up.)

You cannot stop smiling. At first it’s out of embarrassment, but then you realize you are literally in the clouds, high above a sea of people all rocking to an artist you love. You note that The Weeknd would probably be extra proud of you for not caring what the people think. You laugh and relax slightly as the guy dances beneath you and you can’t help but think of the Guns & Roses concerts you watched when you were a kid and MTV still played videos, and when you confess this tale to your sister the next day she asks you if you flashed your boobs because that’s what you do on shoulders at concerts, right? (No. Der. It’s not 1985.) Up there on this adorable kid’s shoulders, it’s just you, arms outstretched, bathed by stage lights in front and a blue moon behind. A literal blue moon. You look up at the sky, at the stage and throw your head back in laughter. Then a couple euphoric minutes later, you ask the guy to kindly bring you back down. He doesn’t hear you, so you have to touch his face and repeat your request. Your cheeks MUST be as flushed as the hot pink lipstick you’re wearing. And you don’t even care.

The girls in front reach their hands out to help you land safely. “Why so soon? I could’ve held you for so much longer,” the guy says with a huge smile. “Did you have fun?!”

You had SO much fun.

“Any time you want to get back up, just let me know,” he grins.

You know you won’t ask him—or anyone—to hoist you up again. It was sort of like crowd surfing…it was awesome that one time in college, but you don’t need to do it again. The ground is fine for concert viewing, thank you. You feel strangely grateful to this guy and you wonder where he came from and why that just happened. And you’re still smiling. And you dance. And the night is young. And The Weeknd plays on.

###

Just because, here are pics that tell a different story from the day…

Emilee, her little man, Charlie and me taking in Cold War Kids.

Emilee, her little man, Charlie and me taking in Cold War Kids.

Rappin'

Just some cats rappin’

Mamas and boys

Mamas and boys

Drummin

Lil drummer boy

We actually had the best day ever together.

Silly faces.

Up front. Charlie's first rock concert. First Lolla for us both.

Up front for Cold War Kids. Charlie’s first rock show. First Lolla for us both.

Excavating

“Oh my gosh, I love Sarah McLachlan!” you hear your 19-year-old self say from somewhere deep within your 35-year-old body. “I’d love to be your date! Thanks for inviting me.”

Fast forward. The house lights are dimmed. You’re seated close enough to Sarah McLachlan that the definition in her triceps as she plays the piano is making you think about doing planks when you get home. You’re expecting this show, which she’s performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Center, to be a night of throwback nineties nostalgia. (Silence, haters. I see “cool” shows sometimes, too.)

Hold on. Hold on to yourself. This is gonna hurt like hell.

All things considered, you’re doing well and feeling pretty light and airy these days. But, to your surprise, what looked to be a fun date on the surface becomes, three songs in, a private excavation of buried grief.

You’d neglected to remember that Sarah McLachlan writes about lost love laced with gratitude, acceptance and well wishes, which are themes that parallel the path of you and your former husband. Sure, some aspect of this music once spoke to you as a teen, but it hits you dead-on at 35.

Nevertheless, there’s a hand on your knee. It belongs to a smart, handsome man you’ve been seeing.* He’s fun. He’s clever, generous and chivalrous. A bespoke investment banker with higher ed street cred that both inspires and kinda annoys you. He’s one of those people with an insane bandwidth for both doing the demanding work he does and finding spare time to write screenplays, cook like a chef and do improv. Which makes you feel kinda dumb because you know you’ve never had that kind of bandwidth. He obviously doesn’t have kids, though. Duh. Your friends know him by the moniker “Gucci Loafers.”

“Are you sure he’s not a lesbian?” your co-worker asks the day of the show.

Not likely. But he’s complex. And maybe worthy of your attention. However, a few bars into “I Will Remember You,” you’re zooming to the center of your heart and staring at the ceiling to stop the tears from coming. You know all the words and yet it is as if you’re hearing them for the very first time.

You elect not to create a detailed grid of all the lyrics and the emotional response they trigger (you’re welcome, haters) but let’s just say you spend some time eyeballing the ceiling to ward off tears, holding your sniffles till the applause, laughing inappropriately and turning your head to the side to hide your far-flung facial expressions from Gucci Loafers. You basically look like a crazy person.

This is not at all what I expected out of the evening, you think, accepting the situation and chuckling to yourself as tears pool in your eyes, I guess I needed to feel a few things?

Sidebar: What becoming a single, working mom really looks like sometimes

Moving through a transition as massive as this one is odd. You know it’s big, and yet you just keep putting one foot in front of the other—sometimes walking, but mostly running, eyes up—because it seems like that’s what you have to do. It’s harder to slow down and breathe deep than it is to keep a fast pace.

You go to work at your new job, you probably try too hard, you attempt to build co-worker relationships and navigate office dynamics, you hold it together, you hold it in, you dive into time with the kids when you have it, you try your darnedest to cook and do housework when you don’t, you scrounge for time to exercise, you try to keep up with dog walks and dog hair, you call your lifelines in heavy tears when you fail at all of it. You use your newfound kid-free weekends to make up for lost time with girlfriends and you date around, you work your ass off to stay grounded and keep it all together. Even when you pause to meditate at night, it doesn’t matter how long you sit in physical stillness because you barely ever slow your mind down enough to actually check in and ask yourself, “Sweetheart, what are you feeling?”

So when Sarah McLachlan is singing your precise story, and you can’t turn the station, it gets real.

You suddenly know what Roberta Flack was talking about

After the show, you write a long email to your former husband:

“It was like she was singing about all my own heartache and grief and love for you as we part ways as husband and wife. I literally found myself streaming secret tears during certain songs. Could not get my abiding appreciation for you, nor the deeper sense of loss, though it’s the right path, out of my heart. It hit a deep, deep nerve in a really cool, if not hilariously inappropriate, place (on a date with someone who probably didn’t pick up on the fact that I was totally engrossed in my grieving rather than the fact he was treating me to a nice concert.)

…On listening…tonight…it reminded me so much of how deep and sad and pure and beautiful this all is. And how, even in sadness and grief, we are both so supported by God, the masters, our guides, angels and each other.”

This email opens up an exchange between you and your former partner that you previously couldn’t have imagined. You show him your true vulnerability, the sense of loss you feel and the hope you have for the future. You let him know it’s not all rainbows for you right now, even though you made it look like it was. You honor the love that was always there and still is and always will be. You both exchange the equivalent of a monumentally awesome e-hug.

The next day your eyes are swollen from all the feeling of things and crying, so you work from home. Feeling this stuff is hard work in and of itself. And, for whatever reason, it was Sarah McLachlan who made you do it. It wasn’t a cool show by hip-guy standards, but it was one of the most important shows you’ll see this year. When you do go back to work the following day, the haters make fun of you. And you laugh really hard. Because it’s funny. Really. It is.

*Epilogue:

It’s been over a month since the concert. It was a legit turning point for you in your grieving process, and you still have a way to go, but you’re soaring higher than you were when you originally drafted this blog post, which was the day after the concert. (it takes you longer to actually post stuff now that you’re a working girl.)

You haven’t seen Gucci Loafers since the show and, because you love tales of irony, here’s why: You’d suspected it for a while, but following the concert of Madame Lilith Fair Founder, conversations in the black car—it was always a black car—on the way home confirm his patriarchal (and potentially misogynistic?) leanings. Hilarious, right?

Fitting daintily within the patriarchy was fun for a minute, but it’s not really your scene, so you fade out. “Well, at least until Tori Amos goes on tour and he calls you with tickets,” your co-worker chides you over lunch, making you almost choke on your food.

You don’t hear from Gucci Loafers much after that, either, so you figure he saw something equally glaring and repulsive in you during that conversation. In other words, you probably won’t be crying about him at your next girl power concert. And he’s not crying over you.

You wish him general wellbeing and expansion, and you’re thankful to him. After all, he facilitated your all-important excavation and the subsequent connection with your former partner, freeing you to move to the next level of healing. Gucci Loafers also taught you, as dating does, a few things you know you want in a man at some point, and a few things you know you don’t. And, single lady friends, that is some valuable information…