My New Year’s Resolution is to Dance More

The story goes that I learned to dance before I could walk. While that’s clearly my parents exaggerating, dancing was definitely my first love.

There are lots of home movies of my older sister and I in the early 1970s boogieing down with our aunts in our Queens living room. We had a stereo system that looked like a piece of furniture, housing a record player and speakers. My aunts were fantastic dancers and made sure that my sister and I were going to carry on the family tradition.

Dancing has always been one of the few things in my life that truly takes me away to a singular place of exhilaration and joy. My earliest dancing memory was when I was five years old at my aunt’s wedding. I remember being on the dance floor in my long fancy blue dress (my sister had a coordinating purple one) and having the time of my life.

I took some dance classes when I was a young teenager for fun and in college for easy credits, but that’s as far as any real training went. Dancing wasn’t a serious pursuit but I didn’t care. I am not in the least bit athletic, although I used to play tennis, but I have never played a team sport and can still remember how much I hated soccer, softball and even relay races in day camp. But I’ve always had good rhythm and so it was one of the few physical activities at which I felt like I excelled. When I am dancing, I am in the zone. And I’m usually the first on and the last off the dance floor at a party.

Two years ago, my dear friend’s daughter was getting Bat Mitzvah’d. My friend wanted to surprise her with a flash mob dance and asked me if I would participate. Hell, yes!

At the time, things were very difficult in my marriage, but I was so excited to be a  part of the flash mob. I practiced the moves every day and at the event when the DJ gave us the signal, our group sprung into action. It was a blast. I was completely in my element. Afterwards, my friend paid me an incredible compliment. She said that even though I had been going through a tough time, I still showed up with a smile on my face to dance.

I started dancing with my daughter when she was a newborn, and it’s become a part of who she is. She loves to dance. She’s got a beautiful sense of rhythm and musicality. And I love watching her. Like me, she is transported to another place that clearly brings her so much joy.

IMG_6058

My daughter and I often have impromptu dance parties in our kitchen. These are some of my favorite times. I crank the music and forget about table manners and homework and packing lunch. I am totally in the moment, feeling the beat, letting it move me. In that moment, I am genuinely myself, and I can tell that my daughter senses that in her own way. She always wants to keep dancing.

Each year, I make one simple New Year’s resolution. One year it was about hosting more social events at my house. Another year it was about eating more greens. This year, my New Year’s resolution is to dance more. It’s a piece of my true self, and I need to experience that more than ever.

I can’t wait to dance into 2016.

Advertisements

How My Divorce Helps Me Celebrate My Friendships

Today is my one-year separa-versary. One year ago, I moved out of the home I shared with husband. He is now my ex-husband. I still stumble over that phrase. Sometimes I can’t believe all the changes I’ve been through in 2015.

It has been quite a year.

It’s been a year of trauma and starting to find joy again. It’s been a year of connecting and reconnecting with new and older friends. It’s been a year that I’ve lived with less and been happier.

It’s also been a year of learning many little yet critical things, so here’s my list of accomplishments that I managed solo in 2015:

  1. Got a new car and insurance. (Hard to believe I never had to do this before the age of 46, right?)
  2. Took care of R. when she had the flu, she couldn’t keep anything down and gave her a suppository. Twice.
  3. Kept R. and myself fed, including some green things, and in clean underwear.
  4. Did the optional science fair project with R. (Don’t ask me why I opted in.) Make that two projects since the first one didn’t actually work.
  5. Hosted a mostly homemade child’s birthday party with a craft that I prepped, with a glue gun and spray paint. (I am the antithesis of crafty so this was epic.)
  6. Accepted that there’s a massive number of items on my To-Do list that really, truly do not need to get done. Especially if there is clean underwear.
  7. Took a vacation with R.
  8. Started this blog.

One year ago, a number of wonderful friends helped me pack and move. I’ve never liked asking for moving help, but these moms who have known R. since she was a baby offered before I even asked. And for the first time in my life, I accepted.

I had been doing well up until the end, when I started agonizing over every belonging. Should I take it or leave it or donate it? What was I supposed to do with my wedding album? How many stuffed animals and coloring books and which Barbie dolls did R. need at each house? Each decision had me in tears. This was really happening. And I really needed help to get to the finish line.

Afriendunderstandsyourpast

My get-it-done team of friends took over in the best way possible. They told me they would handle the rest of the packing while I ran to Home Depot and Bed Bath to get last-minute items to prep and clean my new place. When I got back to my old place, everything was neatly wrapped and boxed.

I wandered from room to room in a physical and emotional daze. I slowly checked drawers and cabinets and closets for anything that might have been left. There was a slight echo and it felt empty in the way that the absence of stuff feels.

I took a moment to think about all that I had done to get here. On the cusp of this major transitional moment, I could feel positivity—which had long been buried—start to bubble up. I was ready to move on.

I woke up early the next morning energized and ready to get to work. Even my friend who was coming with me to get the moving van commented on my five-minute-early arrival, which is completely out of character for me. The rest of the crew arrived and the mood was upbeat and fun. Everyone was pitching in for this cause of helping me to move on to a better place. I really felt loved.

In just a few short hours, it was done. My new place truly had my friends’ presence. Because I also had a donated-furniture smorgasbord.

One friend had a TV cabinet for me. Another had a microwave. Another dear friend, whom I have known for 26 years, drove from Westchester with a kitchen table and chairs and special doll furniture for R. She encouraged me to start unpacking right away, and I could feel my mind start to register in a small, but very concrete way, my new normal. We put away my dishes and pots and pans. In my awesome cabinets. In my new kitchen. In my new home.

And yet another friend brought over a home-cooked dinner and a bottle of wine and we ate and drank at my hand-me-down table. She offered to organize my pantry and we chatted while she made wonderful order out of my boxes of cereal and pasta, spices and baking supplies. Every time I go to grab chocolate chips or olive oil, I smile and think of how much she helped me.

So many friends, local and long distance, continually offered me their time. To vent. To cry. To be heard. The outpouring of support was incredible. I have never felt so rich in friendship as I did that day, and on so many days since then.

It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to get divorced.

Sometimes I wonder if I have been able to love and give back to my friends as much as they have given to me. Many times I just try to pay it forward. The gift of giving has really and truly felt like its own gift.

Today is a celebration of how far I’ve come and an acknowledgement of all the friends who have been there for me, making this difficult first year a lot less difficult. For that, I am forever grateful.

Happy New Year, my friends.

With love and gratitude,
Michele

 

 

Why “Heartstrings&Shoelaces”?

The idea for this blog started close to two years ago. When I would broach the subject to a few close friends who knew what was going on with my divorce, the response was always, “You should!” But I kept allowing many things to get in my way – my anger, my sadness, my fear. I think I had a lot more fear than I even care to admit to myself.

For years, I lived in a constant state of fight or flight and for anyone who hasn’t experienced this, you can take my word for it that it’s completely and utterly exhausting. I had just enough energy to get through my work day, take care of my daughter and do the bare minimum to keep the household going. I was trying to survive my pressure-cooker living situation with my now ex while starting divorce proceedings. Intense doesn’t begin to explain it.

I wasn’t ready to write my story. Or share it. But over time, concepts and sentences would start to form in my head. Paragraphs would take shape. I would never write anything down and in fact, I would actually push the words away, telling myself that I didn’t have the time or the energy or even the privacy to transcribe my swirling thoughts.

Something clicked this past October and I was ready. It was a combination of factors: getting through nearly a year on my own as a single parent, knowing that the real end of my divorce was imminent and wanting to get some control back. Maybe it was also the wise words of another divorced friend who said, “I can’t remember the bad memories as much so I can make room for the good memories.” I needed to start purging my bad memories first, and I knew that the act of writing would help accomplish that.

Once I was ready to start my blog, the name for it came very quickly. I love the way words look and sound and “heartstrings” popped into my head immediately. They refer to my heartstrings, my daughter’s heartstrings, how they have been pulled and stretched to the breaking point.

“Shoelaces” materialized almost as rapidly and the more I thought about myself and shoelaces, the more sense the pairing made. I loved the image of “strings” and “laces” and I loved them sitting side by side. I also always seem to notice when children’s shoelaces are untied. It’s a very vulnerable moment, I worry that they are going to fall and get hurt. And there is something particularly tender when a parent bends down to tie a child’s shoelaces. In less than a minute, everything shifts. All is snug and secure.

Rachel's laces

The idea that I could put order back into my highly chaotic and emotional life was very reassuring. And that is exactly what this blog has helped me to do.

If you know someone who has gone through a separation or a divorce or is just having a hard time in a relationship and think they could benefit from my story, please share. We are not alone.

I am grateful to all the readers of Heartstrings&Shoelaces – thank you so much for your support. I will have more stories to tell, and I hope to replace the bad memories with significantly more good ones.

I am looking forward to tying our heartstrings back together.

 

The Christmas-Hanukkah Dilemma

My daughter is obsessed with Christmas. I can’t really blame her. What with all the toy commercials, holiday TV specials, Santa Claus (asking a man who looks like a friendly grandpa for presents?! Wow! Sign me up!), and decorations everywhere—which all start earlier and earlier each year— what child wouldn’t be enthralled and want to be a part of it all?

When I was a child, my favorite part of December was the holiday lights. They were magical. When we would visit our grandparents and drive from Queens to the Bronx, my sister and I would play a game. We each looked out our respective car windows and counted the lights we saw outside of homes and apartment windows. Each siting was one point, and whoever had the most points by the time we got to our destination won. I remember the thrill of searching all over the landscape for glowing, colored lights.

I grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood and most of my friends were Jewish. I attended Hebrew school three times a week and attended temple nearly every Shabbat. We often walked home with a large group of friends including the young rabbi and his family. My parents were involved in the temple socially, with my dad playing racquetball there every week and my mom serving as co-president of the PTA. In fact, my religious education made such an impact on me that after learning about the rules of being kosher, I went home, spoke to my parents about it, and we became kosher.

So it’s been a little alarming to me to watch my daughter, who has a Biblical first name, talk non-stop about asking to decorate our home for Christmas and ask Santa for the kitty cat that she so badly wants. Like a gentle broken record I will say, “We’re Jewish, we don’t celebrate Christmas.” Or, “If you believe in Santa, he will bring you presents. But we don’t believe in Santa.” None of this seems to make a difference to her. And no matter how much I try to talk up Hanukkah and the myriad of other Jewish holidays and traditions, it all pales in comparison to December 25th. She’s like a dog with a bone with this Christmas business.

During my first job out of college, I became very good friends with my office mate who was Catholic. For Christmas Day, she invited me over to partake in her family’s traditional meal. I loved being around the delicious-smelling Christmas tree and her mom’s Italian cooking. I loved looking at all the ornaments and learning the meaning behind them. It became a tradition each year. As I moved along in life, I would find myself connecting with Christmas-celebrating friends and joining them for a little piece of the holiday.

My favorite part of the season is still the lights. I love driving around after the sun has set and see the neighborhoods glowing. We have family members and many friends who celebrate both holidays, and we often get to participate in tree decorating and sharing meals. But in no way does this threaten my love or commitment to Judaism. I’m always very happy when I see a menorah in my town or in office buildings. I’m thrilled when Adam Sandler releases his newest Hanukkah song. I’m working hard to instill a strong sense of Judaism in our home, and we clearly still have a ways to go.

But last week, one of the books that R. took out from her school library was about Hanukkah crafts. I did a little internal jump for joy. The next morning, this happened:

IMG_5952-2

 

To all who celebrate, enjoy the Festival of Lights. Happy Hanukkah.

Follow my blog at heartstringsandshoelaces.com