Fear, Loathing and Class Reunions

It's that time again.

Every five or ten years, it happens. Some industrious types from your high school class get to work and begin organizing a reunion. It's like Leap Year, if Leap Year fills your heart with a tarry, black ball of anxious loathing.

My class, the esteemed Class of '85, is having our 30 year reunion this weekend. I'm still on the fence about going. As I told a friend a couple of days ago, it's a matter of the desire to see a few old classmates outweighing the dread of seeing the rest of them.

I blame some of my indifference, and hesitation to commit, on social media. Although I'm not on it 24/7, Facebook has become the water-cooler of my generation. We gather there, share weepy videos about dogs, commiserate with friends who are struggling and learn, courtesy of countless Buzzfeed quizzes, which Disney Princess or member of Entourage our classmates really are (I'm Mulan and Turtle, if you're wondering).

"Seeing" these people day in and day out, liking their statuses and wishing them Happy Birthday has lulled us into a false sense of familiarity. We have some idea of what they look like, who they partnered up with, how many kids they've had (if any), who lives and breathes Fox News and who has serious wood for Jon Stewart. We virtually celebrate with them during graduations and milestones and comment "yum!" and "recipe please!" on pictures of their meals.

We know who has married well, and who has married often. Who is living the single life and who is solo parenting. We see everyone's dogs and cats, and every single one of us knows which friend to mute during elections. Everybody knows who likes to celebrate Fridays with a martini (ahem) and who bikes 50 miles before the sun comes up. Everyone knows who's selling essential oils and LeVel and OMG yes we get it, you're a blogger. We know who found God, who found Bill W. and who found Lululemon.

We all know a little bit about a whole lot of people.

This internet-friendship makes sense for classmates who have ended up in far-flung corners of the country. Facebook, and other forms of social media, are a godsend in these cases.

But what about the rest of us, some of whom live blocks away from each other? A short drive down a highway or two? For a lot of us, we still depend on this odd invention to keep connected. It has convinced some of us into truly believing that despite the busyness of our lives, we're still in touch with one another.

Are we, though? Does seeing someone's cherry-picked existence through a screen on a computer or phone equal keeping in touch?

I've kept in real contact with a handful of former classmates. Some I see once or twice a year, a few more often than that. At my birthday last year, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by women I've called friends for almost 4 decades.

Looking good, Billy Ray! Feeling good, Louis! (name that movie)

And earlier this year a whole gaggle of us had an honest to goodness slumber party, complete with Shrinky Dinks, pizza from our hometown favorite and retro candy (I still have some chunks of Now and Laters in my teeth).

I love these ladies!

But sometimes, I think of people I walked down the same high school hallways with and think, "Ugh." Sorry. I'm being real here, folks. And yes, I'm fully aware that for every person who makes me cringe, there's someone else who is saying, "Yeah well I'd go but there's bound to be people like, Jenny there. Ugh." I get it. I understand it.

Growing up isn't all it's cracked up to be, but one of the best things is we now have the freedom to not be around people we don't like. I mean, yeah, some of us have coworkers who incite the Ugh Reaction but I'm talking about the days when our educational system forced us to be in confined spaces with assholes. And bullies, and bitchy mean girls. (again, in somebody's mind I am all three of those things so I'm not claiming sainthood here)

That's what I'm wrestling with. I've had several messages from old friends, asking if I'm going. One of them bought my freaking ticket (Chuck you are going to get a check from me in your mailbox, I'd cash it real quick if I were you). A few of my closest high school friends are getting a hotel room and are planning on bailing if the reunion is awful.

And I should mention, all of this- the reunion, the hotel rooms- is happening within 2 miles of my house. That, along with the paid-for ticket, should make my decision painless and easy: GO.

Then why am I feeling such animosity towards the whole thing?

Sure, part of it is insecurity. Thirty years is a long time and while nobody is going to look exactly the same, some of us look a whole lot different. You can tell who's been playing with the Botox, which ones have hair plugs and who spends their life in the gym. Flip side of that, you can also guess who has spent a good part of the past several decades giving birth, getting divorced and eating their feelings.

"My upper arms? Yes, I finally said 'screw it' and got Easter Ham implants. Want to touch them? They feel so real!"

But that's me thinking with my withered self-esteem. I had it both ways in high school: being completely ignored, and also, being on the receiving end of particularly cruel behavior. Neither one was fun. It's hard to decide which left the bigger mark.

I talked to my best friend from those days for almost 2 hours on the phone recently. It had been five years since we'd last talked. And within minutes of hearing her say "Hi Polly!" (our old nickname for each other...it involves Joe Piscopo so please don't ask) I was transformed back into that unfortunate teenage girl, curled up under the dining room table, the phone cord twisted and knotted and pulled taut from its perch on the wall.

Talking to her was like a balm on a wound I didn't know I had. 

For both of us, high school wasn't a great time. Don't get me wrong, we had some fun. But we were always oddballs. Our humor was something so different from the norm, people kind of got it but more often than not, we were either made fun of, or dismissed altogether. Boys didn't like us, not "like" like us, you know? We were the ones they hung out with until one of the cute girls came along. And there we'd be, waiting, when that cute girl moved on, with our schtick and a pack of Virginia Slims.

We both agreed that had we done things right, we'd have ended up like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. My favorite quote from the conversation: "What we should have done, is gotten on a bus for New York the day we graduated." I love you so much, my old friend. Dammit, why didn't we?

But one thing she said made me really think about high school, friendships and what it was like to be a teenager. We were talking about the cool kids, the it girls and where we fit into the puzzle that was the Class of 85. "One of my clearest memories is of Homecoming Coronation. Do you remember that?" she asked me. Coronation? Hell yes, I remembered it. I remembered not hearing my name called when they announced the members and I remembered rolling my eyes in the way only an angsty teen can roll them. And then she said:

"I just remember you and me sitting way up high in the bleachers of the gym, watching it, watching our classmates all dressed up and smiling and thinking 'Why the fuck are we even here?'"

And I guess that pretty much sums up my fears about this weekend and all that it entails. Will I be the one sitting in the rafters, looking around at everyone all dressed up and smiling, and thinking:  

Why am I even here?

We shall see. I have at least 30 hours to mull it over some more. I'd love to hear some reunion stories, good and bad. Regale me, people!


Is Late Really Better Than Never?

I'm just going to stand over here and look at the water, okay?

My ex-husband always did things at his own pace. Getting his MBA, starting/finishing projects around the house, turning new leaves...all were done in Big Daddy's signature style: sporadically. There were bursts of activity, fires lit beneath him by something he'd seen or been told. But for the most part, he was a very low-key person.

I remember once, before everything went to hell, he took a couple of the kids away to his college roommate's cabin for a weekend. Which was wonderful, by the way. It meant I was left home with just one child, the littlest at the time, and I have no doubt that if I hadn't been breastfeeding he'd have attempted to take that kid as well.

He wasn't all bad, you guys. For a nice long time, he was a decent guy.

When he returned from that weekend getaway, he was bursting with a renewed enthusiasm about marriage and parenting and it seemed, life in general. I recall being a little freaked out, because normally he had the get-up-and-go of a sedated giraffe. Was his old friend in a cult? Did he give him some essential oils?

This was new, to see him excited about being a husband and father. Looking back, it was kind of ominous, I guess. I mean, who doesn't have at least a little zeal for life, right?

The conversation we had that is stuck in my mind happened over, of all things, a litter box. Back in those days I was a cat person, and therefore, we were a cat family. We'd started out with a freebie, an ornery prick of a feline named Reggie whose previous owner had been a manager of the Gap Kids store I worked at. I loved that cat. We added two more to the menagerie, a 20-pounder named Eddie and a snaggletoothed Maine Coon cat who came to us with the name Milo.

So we had multiple litter boxes. Cleaning them out was usually my job, since I was the stay at home parent. The cats stayed home as well, therefore their toilets were my responsibility.

But one night, shortly after the cabin getaway, I was down in our Silence of the Lambs basement, preparing to do the scoop duty. Big Daddy approached and took the tools of the trade (scooper and plastic bag) out of my hands, squatted down and proceeded to sift out the clumps.

While he sifted, he spoke. "Man, I learned so much from Steve this weekend." (Steve is not the college friend's real name, obviously) Intrigued, I asked what exactly he'd learned.

"Well, he was talking about how much he helps out at home. Like, with the kids and stuff." He shifted his weight, the plastic bag in his hand filling up rapidly.

"It made me realize how much you do. And that I don't appreciate you enough."

Now, had you asked me back then, I would have claimed it was the cat pee fumes that were making my eyes water. Truthfully, it felt good to be acknowledged. You know you're living the luxe life when someone else cleaning up kitty droppings is akin to being honored.

He went on, then, about turning a new leaf. Like, literally said, "I'm turning a new leaf." He promised to step up his parenting game, to be a more involved father. To be a more attentive husband.

We enjoyed his new leaf for a nice stretch of time. And then, as leaves are wont to do, it dried out and eventually, crumbled into bits.


My kids haven't had a true relationship with their father for several years. When he first left, even before either of us consulted an attorney, he was adamant about the kids living with me full-time. Back then, I was sure his insistence was due to the overwhelming responsibility that is taking care of four children. As things became clearer, and secrets were revealed, I realized it was more likely fear of overwhelming his new roommate, the woman he'd left our family to be with. Because it's one thing to take on a man with kids, it's something completely different to take on the kids themselves. Hindsight, y'all. It will become one of your most constant companions after divorce. 

At first he was the model divorced dad: dutifully picking the kids up for his every-other weekend shift, and the two weeknights as well. We were each allotted two solid weeks of vacation time over the summer, and that first summer, he did indeed take them up north for a week. 

We adhered religiously to the holiday schedule. Those were the days when I'd sit down on January 1st, take a Sharpie and my new calendar and methodically go through every month, marking weekends with either K or NK, indicating kids or no kids. It's still weird to me, how bizarre acts such as this so quickly begin to feel normal. 

He went to two parent-teacher conferences after the divorce. Two. He did attend concerts and games, oftentimes sitting in the back or standing near an exit. But he was there, and that mattered to the kids. 

They notice, the kids. They can tell when someone is making an effort to be involved. To be part of their lives.

And they definitely notice when that effort is not being made. Some kids will express this in words. They'll ask you, outright: "Where is dad? Why didn't he go to the game? Why didn't he pick us up tonight?". Other children don't say anything at all. But don't let their silence fool you. They internalize it but it always comes out. Kind of like putting on Spanx. You can smoosh and flatten the flab all the live long day, but eventually it's going to ooze out one end or the other.

Sometimes, in the kids, it will become a tantrum. It might be tears. Others find themselves grappling with feelings of abandonment, worthlessness, inadequacies. They might lose themselves in video games or books. Become withdrawn or become the life of the party. Alternate between crying don't look at me! and why aren't you watching me?

I have found that to be the most distasteful of all the fallout from my divorce. Not the hit my self esteem took, not the damage done to my finances. Not the loss of a wonderful bunch of in-laws.

Watching my kids deal with a father who drifted, slowly but surely, out of their lives has been excruciating. I can only imagine how it's felt for them.

I worry. Even though we are open with one another and talk about these things, the casual manner in which their father drops in and out of their lives, I worry. I am terrified that my boys will grow to be men who believe women and families are disposable like diapers or razors. I am scared that my daughter will have daddy issues and/or think it's perfectly okay for a man to so brazenly forsake his wife, their vows and their children without a second thought.

One of my oddball crushes, Andy Samberg, sings a funny little song called "Cool Guys Don't Look At Explosions". It cracks me up because I'm basically an 8th grade boy trapped in a middle aged lady body, but it also makes the divorced me giggle. It's an homage to how all the cool dudes in movies do the whole "tough guy blows shit up and then walks away, usually in slow motion" routine and the video is perfection (including Will Ferrell as Neil Diamond). But it always reminds me of how my ex, and so many others out there, have done exactly that.

They lit a fire and then walked away. They created these families, these people, and then took off right in the freaking middle. Mine left in the thick of things. At the most chaotic, the most harried time in a young family's timeline. Even when he willingly participated in his parenting time, the brunt of it was left for me to deal with. All those Monday mornings. The summers! PUBERTY, TIMES FOUR. The shaving lessons, the attempts at driving, the outbursts, finding bongs on the porch, the sex talks and the mother effing sibling rivalry. The job interviews and the last-minute rush to find black pants for every single freaking concert ever. The forgotten permission slips and science projects, the eleventh-hour run to OfficeMax for the poster board or that very specific plastic folder (7 pockets! MOM IT HAS TO BE 7 POCKETS NOT 10!!!!). Consoling the heartbroken boy after a breakup, dealing with Mean Girls and bullies and non-communicative teachers.

It's been hard, but I did it. The finish line isn't exactly close, but it's in sight.

This would be a perfect time to jump back into the parenting ring, right? After the shrieks of childhood have died down to become monotone mumbles of young adulthood, it would be kind of easy, wouldn't it? Like adopting a dog who's already been trained.


And that's kind of what I see happening. Not with all of the kids, oh no. We don't want to get crazy or anything. But with one of them, there is a relationship forming. Regrowing. 

I'm okay with it. In fact, it brings tears to my eyes thinking about it. I even said, out loud...

Better late than never.

I will keep saying that, to my kids, to people who want to listen. It's better to be part of someone's life no matter what chapter they're in. 

Is it fair? Nope. Not by a long shot. I can't tell you how many nights I'd fall into bed, completely spent after a day of fixing and counseling and cooking and loving four growing human beings without a partner. It's like the Little Freaking Red Hen, busting her ass to make a damn loaf of bread from scratch and then all of those lazy assholes in the barnyard bum-rushing the kitchen to eat it. 

But it's better.

It's better than nothing. 

It's better than never.

(pause for dramatic effect)(LOL)

I don't know about you, but I could use a laugh right now. Here's the video I referenced above. If you're not a teenage boy at heart, you might not enjoy it. Me? I'm LOVING IT.

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