Saturday, April 28, 2007

"Simply" Maria

As the saying goes, some people come into your life for a reason, a season, or for a lifetime. Like most people, I have had experiences with all three. I used to think that “lifetime” friends were those that I’ve had...well...most of my life. But I was fortunate to meet some great women in my 30’s that I know will be part of my life for many years to come. My dear friend Maria E., or “Simply Me” as she’s known in the blogging world, is one of them (she should not be confused with the “other” Maria from “S.E., Baby!” fame—I have two “best Maria’s” in my life)!
My "Marias"--Maria E., Maria P. and me...the infamous "chin" picture--yikes!

I can remember the first day of school back in 1997, walking my son into his kindergarten class and feeling a little melancholy that my youngest was now in grade school. Having been through this experience before with my daughter, however, my emotions were in check and I felt confident that he was going to have a great day as I left the class. On my way out, I noticed a very pretty woman leaning over to peek into the room—and she had eyes filled with tears.

“Are you alright?” I asked her quietly. “Yes, I’m fine,” she replied as she wiped away tears from one eye, and then the other. “I’m just emotional today…this is my only son, and I can’t believe he’s in kindergarten already! I just hope he’ll be okay.” I told her that I knew what she was feeling, and assured her that he would be fine. We introduced ourselves and spoke briefly through her sniffles. From that moment on she became one of my closest friends. In addition, our sons became best friends as well, and are still close to this day!

We’ve seen each other through good times and bad, and our relationship has grown to the point where we can finish each other’s sentences. I’ve learned so much from her, and I value her opinions because she’s so intelligent—not only on a “textbook” level, but on a spiritual level as well. When I’m struggling with an issue, she’s always there with good advice that reasonable, supportive and fair.

On a recent, beautiful Sunday morning, we played “phone tag” as I tried to respond to a message she had left about creating a blogroll. When she finally got in touch with me, she was in her car on her way to Homegoods, which is actually more like a “Super Marshalls” with more...well, home goods. She asked if I would like to join her and I jumped at the chance, still being on the lookout for my rooster clock and all. We were both “kid-free” that weekend, which made for a clean getaway on both of our parts with no hassles. I got into my sweats, threw on a baseball cap to hide my makeup-less face, and jumped into her car. We decided that we needed some tea from 7-11, got it, and then set out on our 15 minute drive to the North Shore.

Our conversation in the car went from the kids to our husbands to how we both knew spring was in the air. We delighted in the sounds of the different bird calls that we could hear from the open windows, and laughed at the fact that we could get so deeply into a conversation about something as trivial as birds. I started to speak about living in the country and she finished my sentence for me in unison with my exact thoughts. Amused and chuckling, we told each other how thankful we were that we decided to just spend some time together at the last minute, since we are both usually so busy.

Me and Maria at her country home in PA

As we walked into Homegoods, I veered over to the right and immediately found the perfect rooster clock. As a matter of fact, they had rooster everything, so I engrossed myself in picking out the perfect additions to my soon-to-be rooster kitchen. Maria was carefully choosing the perfect bargain, and after about a half-hour of shopping separately, we both ended up in the bath and beauty aisle. Showing me a scented lotion, she started to tell a story; almost as if she were not just telling me, but the two customers around us as well (she’s very friendly and entertaining like that).

As she finished her story, a man’s voice spoke out: “Hey, Lady! Do you come here often?” We looked up to see my ex-husband standing there with a smirk on his face. Ironically, he was passing by Homegoods on his way home from church, and decided to stop in with not only my children…but Maria’s son Jonathan as well! Jon had had a sleepover with my son at my ex’s house the night before, and went to church with them (Maria was unaware of this because it was her ex’s weekend, too). Our kids were laughing out loud that we all happened to be in the same store at the same time—and we thought it was pretty coincidental as well!

Jon, Kayla and Dylan at Jon and Dylan's 8th grade graduation

We all chatted for a little bit, and then my ex left with all of the kids. Maria and I went to the checkout with our treasures, and decided that we wanted to stop into Au Bon Pain next door for a snack. On the way in, we started talking about what we usually eat for breakfast and at the exact same time, we both blurted out that we bought Trader Joe’s Blueberry Oatmeal during the week! We stopped and stared at each other with our mouths open in disbelief…then we cracked up. On our way home, we took a back road and I mentioned to Maria that we were going to pass my very favorite house in our town. She said that she knew exactly what house I was talking about, and queried if it was the beautifully restored, old Victorian with the wraparound porch. Of course, it was…and once again, we laughed at how much we think alike!

I am so thankful for my dear friend Maria. She “gets” it, and has helped me to “get it” over the years as well. She understands how the simplest, smallest things can bring one joy—like our excursion to Homegoods—and her enthusiasm for understanding the deeper meaning of life is infectious. She has the ability to build people up, and treasures everyone in her life for their quirky qualities. She never speaks badly about anyone, which is the quality of a true friend; I know when I walk out of her door, she only has kind things to say about me, and would never gossip behind my back. I love her to pieces, and I thank God that He brought such a special person into my life.
Me and Maria at my daughter Kayla's Sweet 16, December 2005 can visit Maria at her blog...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Strange Day

For people who have been through the pains of divorce, this post might seem a little impossible. As a matter of fact, those who are still married might find this story a little hard to swallow! But it is, in fact, true. I have never hidden the fact that I live a very unconventional life in an extremely conventional town, but this one might be for the books.

My days are always interesting. I work at a job that brings me in contact with all walks of life, and I love working in such a diverse environment. I am always involved in some sort of fascinating event once I get home from work, being that there are so many people with varied interests and basic needs living in my home.

But then there are the “ex”-tended family members. I speak of the “ex”-husband and the “ex”-wife.

Shortly after I came home from work one day last week, my son informed me that his father was picking him up in a few minutes to take him to the car show in NYC. Almost as if on cue, his dad pulled up in his Mercedes. I walked my son outside and gave him a kiss good-bye. His father rolled down the window with a humorous look of confusion on his face.

“Why did you laugh last week when I told Kayla that I was taking opera lessons?” he queried.

HA! I don’t know. It just struck me as funny,” I chuckled.

“Heh-heh…um…why?” he continued, his face now becoming very serious.

“Well, I just had visions of when you used to ‘fake’ singing opera, and I guess I never really thought you’d take it seriously.”

With that, he coerced me into coming over to the car so he could show me what he sounded like.

“Oh, you have a recording of it?” I asked.

“No, I’ll sing it for you right now! Kristine got me this music, and I’m gonna sing ‘Oh, Solo Mio’,” he exclaimed as he held up a CD case with nothing but penne pasta on the cover. Italian Karaoke…what will they think of next?

He placed the CD into the dashboard. Within seconds, he was belting out an impressive operatic vocal as my son sat in the passenger seat and gave me some “egad” looks every so often. My neighbor across the street stared at the car in bewilderment as he rolled his garbage down to the curb. "OHHH, SOLO MIO!!!" I stood on my lawn with a bemused look on my face, not able to determine if he was really good, or he was just acting that way.

When the song was over, I complemented him and told him that he probably should’ve taken opera lessons long ago, as his voice seemed to adapt to it quite nicely. He seemed pleased with my complement, and drove off to the car show with my son. I walked up my lawn toward my front door and started to laugh, just thinking how funny it was that my ex-husband was having a Luciano Pavoratti moment in front of my house…and that I just gave my neighbors one more thing to talk about.

About a half hour later, the other ex stopped by to see her daughter. Exhausted from working as a nanny to two small children all day, she plopped down in a chair in my stepdaughter’s room and tried to start a conversation with her. Eventually, an argument ensued about money and clothes and things that are of major importance to an almost fourteen-year-old that really aren’t all that life-altering to an adult. I admit; I hear them argue almost every day. And I do remember what it was like to have that almost-fourteen-year-old myself…I think whoever teaches the eighth grade is either a pure saint, or they’re completely out of their minds. I always mind my own business, and let them work their problems out on their own. But on this particular day, my stepdaughter hit below the belt regarding money and her father’s chosen profession. Now it became my business, and I marched myself into her room with a look of pure disappointment across my face. I stated my case to her, stuck up for her mom a little bit, told her I loved her and reminded her that she should appreciate all of the wonderful things that she has in her life instead of worrying about everything that she doesn’t have (which wouldn’t affect the quality of her life one way or the other, anyway). I left the room and went to pick up my daughter at work. By the time I came back to the house, the mother was sitting on my couch with her daughter lying in her lap as she stroked her hair. “We’re having a peaceful moment,” she tiredly confessed. I left them alone, and went to the kitchen to speak with my husband who had just come home from work.

“…I think we should ask Tina to come to dinner with us,” I weakly stated.

“Okay. That’s fine,” he replied. I was shocked that he answered so quickly…and so positively.

It was our “Thursday night” dinner night, our Pietro’s pizza-fest, our sacred night of family bonding to which strangers were not easily invited. We are very protective of our quality time together, being that it’s the one night that we are all in the same room at the same time. To let someone else share in our tradition was…well…it was the right thing to do that night. Tina was gracious and thankful that she would be able to spend some time with her children. She expressed her appreciation over and over again, and finally gave me a hug and said, “I’m so happy that we can all get along like this.” My thoughts exactly. But we’re not done yet.

We met up with my stepson at the pizza parlor. He was a little surprised to see his mom there, but sat next to her and gave her a kiss hello. My daughter’s boyfriend was in town from school, so he attended this gathering as well. We were all engrossed in various conversations, when the door opened and my son walked in…followed by none other than the other ex…his father. We invited him to sit down and have some pizza, and although he declined at first, he finally sat and ate along with the rest of us. My daughter commented to her boyfriend and I that people wouldn’t believe that we could all sit together like this and enjoy each other’s company. It was really weird, she said. I told her I thought it was great.

Although this day was interesting, to say the least, I will always remember it as a precursor to the various important family events that we will all be tied to in the future—marriages, first home purchases, grandchildren, just to name a few—and I am ever so grateful that our children’s milestones will be reached with a peaceful family to support them. It may be weird, but it works.

(From left to right: David the ex, Dylan, Kristin, Mike the boyfriend, Kayla, me, my husband Al, Al's son David and Tina the ex)