Paradise Lost

In the latest gun massacre to hit our country (these massacres happen so frequently that I can’t keep track of them all), a disturbed young man who felt rejected by the sorority girls at his college decided to do something awful about it.

This happened at my college. Where I was a sorority girl.

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15 years ago, my university was a uniquely beautiful and safe place. Nestled on the cliffs of the Central California coast, literally on the beach, wrapped in balmy weather rarely below 70 degrees, “mellow” was both the word used to describe the school and the motto we students took to heart. We were laid back because how could you get worked up about anything in such a place? Isla Vista, the beach town most of the students lived in, often felt like a cocoon – a haven protecting us from the real world we knew was waiting for us. The joke was rarely did students graduate in 4 years, because they never wanted to leave.

My sorority is next door to the sorority where the gunman took down several co-eds innocently walking to some fun destination. A destination they never arrived at. I lived there for two years, making lifelong friends I still see as often as I can. In those halls and those rooms, I became a confident person, because I made friends who had my back. Those friends were my friends not because of what I looked like, or what kind of car I drove. They were my friends because they were like me: nice, fun, curious, complicated people looking forward to the rest of their lives.

It breaks my heart to think of sorority sisters, walking along, having conversations that probably touched on both the superficial (what to wear to a TG) to the real (what kind of career to choose). Those conversations were suddenly silenced.

That is what my sorority sisters were to me first and foremost: friends I had important conversations with. Also, friends who made me laugh. I never laughed more than in that quad room, telling stories about the series of awful jobs I took senior year when funds were low. (Let’s just say that salsa in a certain Mexican restaurant was “recycled.”)

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A month ago, I took Darcy and the twins to Isla Vista. We visited my sorority, we ate burritos at Freebirds. We took pictures in front of my sorority symbol, a block from the massacre. I took my son back again, and we ate ice cream sandwiches and walked along the beach. I felt safe and sound.

The truth is, we are never safe and sound.

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Cracking “Frozen”

“I’m always bothered when people don’t celebrate what’s different about others. It should be a reason for curiosity, not racism, when someone doesn’t share what you believe in or look the way you or your friends look. This scares me the most.”
– Steven Spielberg

Like millions of people worldwide, my family has fallen under the spell of “Frozen.” The first time I watched the film, it definitely had the feel of an instant classic. But there was also some sort of philosophy and, well, magic, at work in the movie, either deliberately or by some happy accident. There were some excellent elements: Idina Menzel has powerful pipes that can make a song pop, Kristen Bell is a winning and sympathetic voice talent, Olaf the Snowman, voiced by Josh Gad, is gently hilarious. I’ve long been a fan of Robert Lopez, since seeing Avenue Q on Broadway.

Yet, this movie felt special. I have long been on guard against the Disney Princesses after reading Peggy Orenstein, and this movie certainly puts a lot of the tropes of typical Disney heroines through the wringer, but there’s more than feminism at work here.

Ever since I saw the movie the first time, I have tried to understand what the power is – why did the character of Elsa in particular seem so compelling? I asked some very smart writers their opinions, and queried almost all parents I knew who had seen the film. (Lots.) I got many answers, some fascinating, but none really resonated personally.

Tonight, we borrowed the DVD from my in-laws. And I realized that the key to the movie for me was not Elsa after all, but Ana, her sister.

“Don’t let them in.
Don’t let them see.
Be the good girl you always have to be.
Conceal, don’t feel.
Put on a show.
Make one wrong move and everyone will know.”

Elsa, “Frozen”

Elsa’s big secret is she was born with the power to turn things to ice and snow. Not a super relatable difference on its face. But that’s the beauty of Elsa’s “curse” which she was born with – it could be anything. She’s different in a way that scares people, and fear makes her powers strong and scary.

I’ve always been a person who seeks out those who are different, with curiosity in my heart. I can’t claim that this is a choice I’ve made – it seems to be a trait I was born with, shared with my maternal grandmother. My best friends were always outsiders in some way, even though I was born as much of an insider as you could possibly be in this country – my relatives actually sailed here on the Mayflower. Yet I dated and married a man who is an outsider.

I wonder now if that curiosity and attraction to the other was because deep down, I was in fact an outsider. My insides are broken.

Infertility gave me the first-hand experience of being an outsider. The majority of Americans don’t have to undergo what I did to get pregnant. I still feel different. I’ll always feel I am an outsider with other parents who didn’t share my struggles. I was expected to put on a show around everyone while struggling with infertility and I never wanted to let anyone know what was going on.

Obviously, my broken insides made me different, and the things I pursued, the powers I sought to get pregnant are FEARED by many and considered an abomination by some even.

I relate to Elsa, who is feared and shunned. Feared because she’s associated with a power that seems scary, and because she’s different.

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“It’s time to see what I can do.
To test the limits and break through.
No right no wrong no rules for me.
I’m free.”
Elsa, “Frozen”

Elsa goes into exile, where she gives into her power and casts off the shame related to it, glorying in what she can do. Who can’t relate to “Let it Go?” It’s thrilling to see a woman realize shame is such a limiting and miserable emotion, and become who she is.

During the worst of infertility, Darcy and I moved back to the city. It was an exile of sorts. It was an admission that we would never fit into the suburbs, where every stroller we saw cast shards of ice into our hearts.

It wasn’t until I found Others, through blogging, that I felt a bit like Elsa building my own beautiful world where I was understood. It was also an exile of sorts.

Yet, we live in the real world, most of the time. Unless you move to the mountains, there is no exile.

So what’s the answer? The answer is Ana. Ana, who is described as “ordinary, in the best way,” never gives up trying to help and understand her sister. There are Anas out there. They may say the wrong things sometimes, but they continue to try.

An excellent thing about the movie was the real villain – a prince who exploits the fear others feel for Elsa to his give himself power. Well, this is (sadly) historically accurate.

The world needs more Anas. There will always be others out there trying to exploit differences, whether based on religion, race, infertility, etc. To the particular end of garnering more Anas for people going through infertility, I’d point to this Disney Baby article by Keiko Zoll that deserves to be shared widely.

And I will continue to try to be an Ana for other causes and differences as well. I hope you will too.

What did you think of Frozen? What lessons, if any, did you take from the movie?

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“It Was at Times a Long and Difficut Road…”

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…Ted Mosby, hero of “How I Met Your Mother”

HIMYM Finale spoilers

I have dreaded the end of my favorite show, “How I Met Your Mother.” For some reason, the end of the show signaled to me the end of an era – the end of a pleasant nostalgia for my own days of freedom and choice when my only worry was determining what time I should meet Darcy and my wonderful friends after work. (We had our own “MacLaren’s” in London.) It’s hard to close the door on those fun times, and I sympathesize with Ted’s tendency to live in his stories. I figured the point of the finale would be that embracing maturity is rewarding, since that was a constant point the show made over the years. But I was wrong.

I have always admired the show, by all accounts a mainstream sitcom on the most banal of networks, because it never trod upon the easy, well-worn paths of normal half hour comedies. It dared to show us the ugly, uncomfortable truths most adults face. Broken romances with no villans, the shifts and alienations in friendships, difficult and bitter choices husbands and wives make for the sake of relationships and children. And of course, it offered one of the most realistic depictions of the heartbreak of infertility. By the way, Robin’s infertility storyline was called “one of the unwelcome times the show got too f****** real” by someone on a forum I read. HIMYM definitely did make forays sometimes into the dark side of life.

Yes, the show was unafraid to take us there: to the dark side. I think the way the creators and writers got away with it with it was because they were, well, f****** funny. And then there was the nine year mystery of the titular Mother. How would Ted Mosby meet his dream woman? That kept viewers (mostly) coming back for more.

I’ll confess I didn’t like the last season much. I was tempted to skip past it and just watch the finale, but in the end Darcy and I crammed much of the entire season into just two nights of viewing so we could watch the finale in real time. We knew the spoilers the next day would be too many to resist.

And so we finally reached the final episode, which unlike the last 23 episodes (all of which tediously focused on 48 hours), fast-forwarded 16 years in one short hour. The twists and turns were punches to the esophogus, and by the time we reached the absolutely gorgeous meeting of Ted and the Mother under that yellow umbrella, I was pretty spent. But of course there was that last final twist, which, well. If you watched the show, you know what I’m talking about. Turns out, the Mother was long dead, and Ted Mosby’s story was all about Robin anyway, not the Mother. Robin, his first love whose own life led down a difficult road filled with infertility, divorce and loneliness. The point was not that Robin was his true love all along. It wasn’t that simple. But she was the point of his story. He would resume his quixotic quest of her, 20 years later.

Here’s where I confess I loved the ending. I know, you probably hated it. Most of Twitter did. (Someone I didn’t know yelled at me on Twitter and implied I sucked for liking the finale.)

So, here’s why I loved the ending. I thought it was true to life. Life has triumphant moments for sure – the meetings under the umbrella, the legendary times you steal a shopping cart from a stuffy British grocery clerk on a dare and wheel your best friend away in sheer exhilaration (allegedly), the rush to the hospital when you’re nine months pregnant, the beautiful wedding ceremony surrounded by friends. The road to those moments CAN be long and difficult, and the road can contain disappointments, defeats, brutal compromises and boredom along the way. And life can, no, WILL be marked by terrible moments too. The devastating diagnosis of infertility, the loss of your loved ones, a broken heart. And we don’t control when the road stops, we just know it will.

The ending acknowledged all of this. And yet, in the end, Ted chooses to fight, to continue to fight to be happy.

In other words, we can’t control fate. Terrible things will happen to us and eventually the curtain will go down on our own story. But we can choose to fight to be happy.

I hope like Ted Mosby, that I always choose to fight.

Thank you, Craig Thomas and Carter Bay. It’s been real, and I thank you for that.

Did you love or hate the finale? And if you were not a viewer, were there other shows you have strongly identified with?

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Opportunity Costs

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There is an evergreen concept I return to time and time again, and ironically I lifted it from a college course that was mostly incomprehensible to me. When I took the midterm for Econ, the course in question, I remember actually filling out the scantron in a random pattern of mostly “Cs,” because I had heard from an RA that “C” was right more often than any other answer on multiple choice tests. Amusingly, a guy behind me kept peering over my shoulder, trying to cheat off me. Sorry, dude.

The concept is “opportunity cost” and it’s pretty simple in theory. It means the value of an opportunity you pass by because of circumstance or limited resources. In more poetic terms, it’s the worth of the road not taken.

And I think we can all relate to that.

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I can’t speak about my job, but I can say I love it. Mostly, I love working with people. For years, the only face-to-face interactions I had were with other moms at pick up and drop off, or at a few scattered playdates here and there. As a result, I imparted those brief encounters with tremendous weight. And that had a negative effect on me. I thought of myself as an introvert, but the truth is I have both introverted and extroverted sides to myself.

I could talk all day about how domestic work doesn’t have enough value in today’s society. Obviously there are situational variances in today’s world. The value depends on circumstance – where you live, what your family thinks about SAHMs and how your significant other regards the work that is done in the home. All I know is the work of cleaning, cooking, reading, teaching: it never ends. There was never a goal completed. And that was unnerving to me. My freelance work was of a similar nature. I hungered for a few words about my job performance. But none were forthcoming. It was an endless hamster wheel.

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That being said, because I am human, I worry. Am I a good enough mom? Although my immediate “village” supports my work, and actually elevates me for doing this work (Status! Love! Support! It’s intoxicating!) I know there are others who frown upon it. And like so many who read me, I worked darn freaking hard to have my kids. They are my world. I love them beyond measure and reason. And my work helps pay for a school that values kindness and education above all. This school is like a coccoon for the twins: it loves, shelters, feeds, nurtures them. And there is no question that they are enveloped in a protective silky casing helped them to grow and thrive since starting kindergarten. They are showing signs of being smart, inquisitive, justice-obsessed, empathetic people. I know in my heart that my decision is best for everyone – all of us in this little family. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally pick at that scab of doubt and condemnation that unfortunately seems to live, eternally growing new scar tissue, within each woman’s heart.

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So I think of the opportunity cost – the value of what was not pursued because of limited resources. Unlike a lot of people, I think, I am not haunted by goals I never achieved. I’m not an achievement obsessed individual, at least not on a personal level. I mostly don’t worry about the non-fiction book I never wrote or the novel I halfheartedly started but then walked away from. I don’t stay up nights feeling depressed that I missed the boat on working for some great start-up with an excellent exit. For me life has always been an obstacle course to mostly just be negotiated – a great (mostly) meritocratic race to a finish no one wants to reach. Death. What a bummer.

No. What I think about, my opportunity costs, they are experiences.

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How do you value an opportunity cost? A road not taken? I don’t know.

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Do you?

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Trying to Rock It, Maturity-Style

Well this is just a simple song
To say what you’ve done
I told you about all those fears
And away they did run
You sure must be strong
And you feel like an ocean being warmed by the sun

I’ve had this recurring nightmare.

You may not know that I love the show “How I Met Your Mother,” and not only because of the considerate and accurate way the series handled Robin’s diagnosis of infertility. I haven’t really been able to pinpoint why the show has resonated so strongly with me. But it has.

In my recurring nightmare, Ted Mosby is finally about to meet the mother. I do everything I can to twart this inevitable event (we know how, why and even when they will meet at this point in the series). I find this dream very, very odd.

I’ve been reading articles on the AV Club about the series, and they have identified (accurately, I believe) the overarching theme of the show: accepting maturity and the struggles this involves. Essentially, maturity means accepting that you no longer have endless choices. Maturity means you narrow your focus, you do what’s best as opposed to what’s fun or intriguing or may appeal to you in the moment. Maturity is not about the moment.

When I was just nine years old
I swear that I dreamt
Your face on a football field
And a kiss that I kept
Under my vest
Apart from everything, but the heart in my chest

“How I Met Your Mother” handles the discussion of what maturity means and what you lose when you embrace it. There are obvious benefits to maturity: security, stability, roots, a purpose. The American Dream is all about maturity. But very few cultural touchstones we watch or read handle what happenes when the obvious paths to maturity are lost, for reasons deliberate or not. That’s why this post is so interesting.

For so long, because my own path to maturity was blocked, I didn’t really consider what maturity represented and the losses that result once you are, well, mature. But since I started to work full-time again, I’ve started to consider those losses more fully.

I know that things can really get rough when you go it alone
Don’t go thinking you gotta be tough, and play like a stone
Could be there’s nothing else in our lives, so critical
As this little home

My life in an upturned boat
Marooned on a cliff
You brought me a great big flood
And you gave me a lift
Girl, what a gift
When you tell me with your tongue
And your breath goes in my lungs
And we float over the rift

Living a live purely for the virtue of others is appealing in many ways. In order to provide the life we want for our children, both my husband and I have to sacrifice dreams of our own. I know this may sound incredibly selfish, but the truth is sometimes I just want to go get a pedicure, or work out not worrying about the health benefits but fully exerting myself, risking injury. Sometimes I want to have seconds of a delicious dish. But I know I must not.

Instead of weekends seeing friends, I rest and spend time exclusively with my children and husband. The work of the week has taken its toll and I’m tired.

I know that things can really get rough when you go it alone
Don’t go thinking you gotta be tough, and play like a stone
Could be there’s nothing else in our lives, so critical
As this little home

Well this would be a simple song
To say what you done
I told you about all those fears
And away they did run
You sure must be strong
When you feel like an ocean being warmed by the sun

We went to Bend, Oregon over Christmas, and in the car, on the way home from the slopes, “Simple Song” by The Shins came on. All four of us listened along, stunned by the song’s beauty.

At that moment I realized what my nightmares about trying to prevent Ted Mosby from meeting his wife meant.

I’m afraid of the overall embrace of maturity. I’m afraid of living life purely for others. I’m afraid of losing a part of a silly, fun yet essential part of myself.

The end of The Shins song is an actual end to “How I Met Your Mother”: the footfalls of the mother’s (admittedly cute) but heavy boots arrive to the sound of this tune at the end of last season. Those boots symbolize the end of many choices for Ted Mosby: we know he immediately marries the mother, and has two children (a boy and a girl) in short order.

I’m kind of dreading the end of the show. I like that a major popular series actually tackles a peroid of life so many don’t.

Remember walking a mile to your house
Aglow in the dark
I made a fumbling play for your heart
And the act struck the spark
You wore a charm on the chain that I stole
Especial for you
Love’s such a delicate thing that we do
With nothing to prove
Which I never knew

The Shins, “Simple Song”

Of course, as The Shins song states, there is great comfort in “not going it alone” and much, much happiness is to be found in the idea that our “little Homes” are the most critical part of our lives.

And sometimes, we just have to cling to that.

Do you sometimes find maturity to be stifling? Or are the rewards so great that you don’t mind being stifled?

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