This anniversary makes my heart hurt.
It is such a dark day that comes along at one of the most beautiful times of year.
Below is a piece (slightly updated) that I wrote a few years ago.
And here we are again.
I remember that day and all its horrors so vividly. I remember the endless aching that followed as I and everyone else futilely tried to make sense of something so violent and cruel and of course, completely senseless.
I remember pouring over the “New York Times’ Portraits of Grief” where the paper honored each and every victim with poignant, beautiful details of their lives.
And for some reason, Michele Coyle-Eulau always stuck with me. I didn’t know her. Only what I read. She had three sons, 2, 5 and 7 years-old.
Matthew, Mark and Eric. The children who were waiting for her to come home that day.
I wasn’t even a mom yet. But those ages. Those boys. I couldn’t stop thinking about them.
Michele was a working mom, who juggled a full and hectic schedule, including a three day a week job as a systems analyst. She worked one day from home and two days on the 96th floor of Tower One. The World Trade Center.
She was 38 years-old.
At night her husband would yell out to her, “Michelle, it’s 11 o’clock! Could you just come to bed?”
And the piece ended like this…
What took her so long to get to bed? Packing lunches, making grocery lists, arranging play dates. “I never understood,” her husband said. “Now I do.”
Since 9-11, I’ve been thinking of Michele and her family.
I’m absolutely sure that I always will.
And not a day goes by that I don’t hear the roar of an engine, look up and notice a plane flying high above.
I always look up. And I always think of that day and the nearly 3,000 victims who were robbed of their lives.
And the ones who died from inhaling toxic fumes at ground zero.
And the ones who gave their lives fighting overseas.
Every single day.
There is no forgetting.
For the past few weeks, Facebook has been a steady stream of back to school pics. Children marching into the future without even a glance back. And every year, we parents wonder, “HOW CAN OUR KIDS BE THIS OLD?”
You’d think we’d eventually get used to it but we somehow we don’t.
Kids are forever changing and maybe it’s time for the parents to change too.
For awhile, I’ve been a bit stuck. I was living in a town that didn’t fit me, I desperately missed my friends and the energy of New York, I had grown weary of the daily responsibilities of parenthood (laundry, dishes, clean up, repeat) and I felt isolated by my career (freelance writing).
My world needed to change or I was going to dye my hair, get a neck tattoo and hitchhike to Europe. Can you hitchhike to Europe? Well, I would find out.
I think midlife can come with a lot of stuck. As our children forge onto new frontiers, we watch from the sidelines. Which is wonderful. But people (even parents) need more than sidelines to thrive.
It’s not a clear path how you get unstuck in life. But I have found you take a bunch of steps (that usually involve fear) until you feel a little better. And that’s when you know you’re moving in the right direction.
In the midst of my stuck, a friend said to me, why don’t you go back to TV reporting? I was a TV reporter before I had kids. I had a million reasons why it wouldn’t work. But I decided to ignore them all. Because I truly did miss the energy and pace of a newsroom.
And I know how to be a TV reporter. I have no clue how to hitchhike to Europe.
I emailed my former boss to see if I could come back as a freelance reporter when I was up North for a month this summer. He said yes.
At this point, I had no idea how I would possibly work out childcare. I have five children. They would all be up North with me. But my plan was – say yes. And then figure out how to make it happen.
Through a combination of camp, before care, after care, babysitters and the help of amazing grandparents, I was able to do a bit of freelance TV reporting this summer. And yes, when I got home from the station, I had to make 5 lunches, fold laundry and get kids to bed. But it didn’t matter. I felt so normal again.
Donald Trump Rally, Fairfield, CT
The pursuit of happiness requires a certain boldness. If you stay on the same path, you will get the same results. Or you say, yes. It’s kind of like that “lean in” thing. Except you are leaning into your true self.
I got a call the other day from BBC radio. They wanted to interview me about baby name regret. I get interviewed on this topic from time to time because I’ve written about it for The Washington Post, Alpha Mom and some other outlets. What time was the BBC interview? Smack in the middle of my kids’ bingo night.
I said yes anyway.
I’d figure out the details later.
I sent my older kids into bingo night and brought my 3 year old to the car. That kid pulled out every single item of my wallet and purse while I blabbered in my American accent about baby name regret.
It all worked out. And the next day I did an interview for BBC Ulster in Northern Ireland. Same topic. And I still had that American accent. But thankfully, my 3 year old was at preschool.
Just forge ahead.
We all get overwhelmed by the enormity of a goal. But it’s the small steps that actually get you there. So you make a promise to yourself. Make one small step today or this week towards what you think might bring you more happiness, more fulfillment. Closer to your true self.
Our children are marching into the future. Let’s march with them.
It’s really important to find the right place for yourself in the world. Whether it’s the city. The country. The suburbs. Europe. The midwest. New York City. On a boat in the middle of the Atlantic. Wherever. The place where you feel the most like yourself.
Because you really know it when you aren’t there. And it doesn’t matter how many people love Europe. Or the midwest. Or New York City. Or that boat in the middle of the Atlantic. If it isn’t your place. It’s not your place.
It’s like dating.
Remember that guy or girl you once dated who was ridiculously perfect on paper. Attractive. Smart. Educated. Awesome family. Great hair. I mean, you couldn’t do better. Except you didn’t feel that thing. They just didn’t do it for you. And you couldn’t exactly figure out why. They just weren’t it. And you moved on.
Well, living somewhere is a lot like that. It either fits or it doesn’t.
For the past three years I’ve been living in a town that people love. And I mean LOVE. Beautiful neighborhoods, great schools, no traffic… a South Florida Pleasantville.
It’s perfect for a lot of people. Except I didn’t feel at home there.
As someone who lived many years in New York City, I need more noise, more grit, more life. I need more stores. And restaurant choices. And to be closer to the water. It was just too quiet. With my flock of children, I can handle suburban living. But this was too isolated for me.
I lived there three years. That’s like dating the wrong guy for three years.
This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this kind of thing in my life. My first TV reporting job was in Great Falls, Montana. Everyone kept talking about going hiking and I was like – where is there a sushi place? Turned out, sushi was three hours away in Missoula. And I made that drive. Often. (Does driving burn as many calories as hiking?)
In that situation, I couldn’t move. I came for the TV job and I stayed for the length of my contract. And that’s often the case for people.
Maybe you want to move but you can’t sell your house. Or moving doesn’t make sense financially. Or your partner’s job requires you to be in a certain location. Maybe you don’t want the kids to change schools. Or a million other reasons.
But eventually you need to try to get where you feel more like yourself. Even if today you’re just taking a few baby steps in that direction.
Because the flip side can be a bit soul crushing.
Like I once lived in this depressing basement apartment. The place really bummed me out. I was starting to wonder if melancholy was my new personality when I realized, I just had to not live in a basement apartment. So I moved. And soon, I felt like myself again.
Not along ago, we left that perfect-on-paper town and moved to a small city by the ocean. We were lucky that our kids attend a charter school so we could move without them switching schools. And that we’re close enough to our former town that we can still keep our friends.
Suddenly, in this new place, I feel more like myself again.
Is this our forever place? I have no idea. But I know it’s a place that I fit in. A place that feels a lot more like home.
This post is sponsored by Vamousse.
It’s mimosa time! I mean, back to school time!
Now you were probably smart and ordered the prepackaged school supplies. The ones where you just write a check and then a box shows up on your kid’s desk the first day of school.
Well, somehow my oldest daughters convinced me that they needed to get school supplies themselves so they could choose personalized folders and notebooks that represented their unique personalities.
Personalized folders and notebooks = 3 hours at some big box store practically wrestling other parents to get the last composition notebook.
But no matter how you acquired your supplies, I’ve noticed there are a few things missing on those school supplies lists. (Spoiler alert: One of them will eradicate evil lice!) So you’ll want to make sure you have these on hand…
1. A bullhorn to get the kids out of bed. I still can’t figure out why smart phones don’t have a “bullhorn” alarm option. The child who was bouncing out of bed at 6:30 a.m. all summer can now just not summon the strength to get up. (Don’t worry – they’ll get their energy back on weekends.)
2. Extra coffee so parents are alert enough to remember what time every kid needs to be at which school. Caffeine will at least give them a shot at getting it right.
3. Ear plugs so parents don’t have to listen to children complain that the summer is over or their uniforms are too uncomfortable or their teacher makes them learn things or they have to sit next to the kid who hums songs from the show Hamilton all day (and how did he get tickets anyway?!).
4. A camera/phone to photograph the first day of school. Okay, you’ll will likely forget and take it on the 3rd or maybe 57th day of school. Whatever. Kids are over photographed these days anyway.
5. Stock up on Vamousse. Because you just know some kid is coming back to school with lice and omg, you can’t handle those nervous breakdown inducing critters.
Vamousse lice treatment kills lice and eggs in one 15 minute treatment, is non toxic and pesticide free (which is why I love it!) and is effective on pesticide resistant super lice. And the mousse is very easy to apply.
You remember what it was like applying mousse in the 80’s! Oh wait, you’re too young to remember. Okay, well take it from this 80’s girl – it’s a cinch. I can sing you a few Madonna songs while you do it.
Vamousse also has a daily non toxic shampoo that defends against lice when used for 10-14 days following a potential exposure. Because the only thing better than getting rid of lice quickly is not getting it in the first place.
I also like to constantly rant and rave to my children about not sharing their friends hairbrushes, hairbands and headbands but I think they pretty much hear.. “blah blah blah” because once I finish they look up and say, “Did unicorns live at the same time as dinosaurs?”
Because if your kid doesn’t get lice, than you already know it’s going to be a great year. I mean, except for that two week period when you agree to take home the school guinea pig and she immediately escapes her cage and you spend days trying to catch a runaway rodent. But other than that – a great year.
This post was sponsored by Vamousse. All ideas are my own.
We just moved to Fort Lauderdale and for the past week, we have been unpacking. Unpacking is the absolutely worst part of moving. Because anyone can throw crap in a box and then pay (or beg) someone to move it.
But it takes a genius to figure out where the heck to put all the stuff in the new home.
3 year old Cash is not really the greatest helper either (no offense Cash if you suddenly figured out how to read which would really piss me off because he should definitely learn how to help me unpack before learning how to read).
He starts preschool soon. But not quite yet. Why don’t preschools ever start at the same time as regular schools?
But Cash had a big day at Trader Joe’s recently. I was there with him and my 6 year old twins. Cash was attempting to grab fruit and toss it playfully when a Trader Joe’s employee intervened and asked him his name.
Now Cash has a very hard time saying “sh.”
So his name comes out “Ca.”
And everyone always responds quizzically, “Your name is Ca?” Because that would undoubtedly be an unusual name.
But I’ve been working very hard with him to learn “sh.” And today, when he said his name, the Trader Joe’s employee responded, “Your name is Cash? That’s a great name.”
I was so proud that he finally learned it and I actually helped him that I thought, “My gosh, why aren’t I homeschooling all my children?!”
Then 6 year old Chase ran his mini kid size Trader Joe’s cart into my ankle 6 times and I decided that the government funded education system is just fine by me.
Because I’ve been trying to unpack, I’ve needed some childcare help with Cash. One morning, I had a babysitter borrow my minivan and bring him to a science museum. When it was time for them to come home she texted me, “I can’t get the car to start.”
Say what?! But the maintenance light has only been on for 3 weeks!
She said the key wouldn’t turn in the ignition. I thought maybe the steering wheel was locked or the battery was dead or maybe I had mocked my minivan just one too many times and it had finally revolted in protest to my surly attitude.
I was about to take an Uber to meet her (like I’m some kind of auto mechanic who just needs to tweak a few things under the hood to get it going) when I got another text.
She was in the wrong car.
Yup. There was another gold minivan in front of where she parked ours. The doors were unlocked. And there was a carseat in the exact location. So she clipped my son in and attempted to start the car.
Obviously it didn’t start.
The sitter and Cash finally had to get out of the car because it’s Florida and it’s soooooooo hot. And that’s when she noticed the second gold minivan. And the fact that this look-a-like car was missing our flashy red Phillies plate.
So they got in the right car and came home.
I don’t know why Cash never mentioned he was in the wrong car.
But I’m sure my husband will be talking about how the Phillies saved the day for a very long time.