money-2726648_960_720I feel as if I’ve won a competition every time I have exact change. A psychologist might be able to explain this quirk, but I don’t fully understand it. “Oh look, I have exact change!” I exclaim as I pay a cashier, as if I’ve completed a Rubik’s Cube in record time. It’s silly, but it makes me happy. Control is an illusion under the best of circumstances, and people with poor health are often keenly aware of this. We know that our bodies are not entirely in our control. I’ll embrace any small pleasure, no matter how silly.



Recently at a party, someone I hadn’t seen for several months asked me if I’d changed my hairstyle. “No,” I answered, “but with curly hair, every day is an adventure. I never know exactly how it will look from day to day.” Perhaps he was remembering my hair at a particularly good or bad moment?

Living with curly hair can either be maddening or fun. No one evcurly-1648262_960_720er died from a bad hair day, but a good hair day fills me with satisfaction. I look in the mirror, and I’m happy with what I see. It’s my choice to let my hair be a little wild, and I’ve been told I look like a gypsy. I could tame my hair with products and styling but choose not to. So every good hair day is like a small gift. This is always appreciated, but especially when I’m sick. I look in the mirror and am distracted by something positive. Little things like this help me get through bad days.


I’d always assumed that I’d hate taking the red-eye. In 2015, due to poor communication by an airline, I missed a flight, as did several other passengers. The airline rescheduled us all on a red-eye. Suddenly feeling unhurried, I decided to amuse myself at the airport for six hours. I treated myself to an expensive airport pedicure, checked out the airline’s private lounge, and used the wait time to reach out to friends whom I owed a call. I scoured the airport for an over-the-counter sleep aid, and found one in the last airport shop I searched.


Once on the plane, I took my sleep aid and settled into my cross-country flight. I slept on and off throughout the six hours. I have every form of insomnia in existence, so interrupted sleep didn’t bother me. When I arrived at my destination, I took a shower, enjoyed a three-hour nap, and was out the door and starting my vacation by noon. It was the greatest.

Now I love red-eye flights. They conserve my vacation time from work, and once I arrive at my destination, I’m fine by mid-day. My new fondness for red-eyes has reminded me to be open minded about matters instead of making negative assumptions in a vacuum. I apply this lesson to issues that affect my health as well as other areas of my life.


The salad bar at the cafeteria where I work is wonderful, filled with fresh, colorful, and healthy vegetables. But the tongs used to lift the lettuce from the large bowl in the bar are unwieldy, and I often make a small mess as I assemble my lunch. One day as I awkwardly attempted to tong the lettuce into my take-out container, one of the cafeteria workers appeared beside me and began to clean up the spill. I apologized for the pieces of lettuce strewn before me. Without looking at me or interrupting her work, she replied, “No mess, no job.”


This woman put my mess in context and gave it a positive spin. Not everything has a silver lining, but in that moment, I decided to make an effort to be mindful of leaping to negative conclusions. What I assumed was an annoyance to the cafeteria worker, she viewed as something that kept her employed. That incident was an eye opener for me.


An Unexpected Benefit of Bad Parenting

This blog was first published on the HuffPost Blog on 11/09/2017

My mother had some well-intentioned but grossly misguided ideas about parenting, among them her notions about how to take care of her sick adolescents. Charles, my only sibling, is a year and a half older than me. As young children, we often came down with the same illnesses. Charles had an extra bed in his room during my early elementary school years. In the mid 1960s, our grandparents bought a color television, a newly available luxury, and gave their old large black-and-white TV to my mother. Mom had a medium-sized set in her bedroom, and the living room was too formal for a TV, so the old black-and-white TV went into Charles’ room. When we were ill, Mom allowed me to camp out with him, and we’d watch television as we recuperated, often helping ourselves to the boysenberry ice cream in the freezer. We never seemed to fight when we were suffering through a cold or flu together.

We moved to California in 1970 when I was ten, and Charles’ new bedroom didn’t have an extra bed or a TV in it. In California I recuperated from illness alone in my room. At the onset of puberty, I began to get frequent and severe respiratory illnesses. I never watched television when I was sick during my adolescence. Instead I had a stereo in my room, and I would often fall asleep during the day with my headphones on, listening to Cat Stevens and James Taylor.


When I was in my early twenties, Mom told me she believed she’d allowed Charles and me to have too much fun when we were young and sick. She didn’t want illness to be attractive to us, and as a result, when we were older she developed a completely hands-off style. I assume she called our doctor, because medications were delivered from the pharmacy, but I don’t recall her ever taking care of us in any other way. We got out of bed to feed ourselves breakfast and lunch, and went back to the kitchen at dinnertime to retrieve whatever the housekeeper had cooked for the evening, which we ate alone in bed. I had the London Flu in 1973 when it was a national epidemic. San Mateo County where we lived had the highest mortality rate in the United States from that flu. During this illness, my stepfather brought me dinner on a tray once, the sole demonstration of parental concern.

One time Mom ordered three types of cough medicine and presented them to me, failing to give me dosage instructions. I took all of them at once, not knowing any better. No wonder I fell asleep listening to Sweet Baby James and Peace Train. Several days into my cough-syrup haze, Mom realized my mistake and became enraged, as if I’d purposely overdosed myself into a stupor. I missed so much high school due to constant illness that on a report card one teacher praised my skills at catching up.


At nineteen I began to have episodes of illness caused by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and I’ve been sick much of my adult life. With the notable exception of help from one boyfriend and the care I received during a twenty-four-hour bug when visiting my father and stepmother, I’ve always taken care of myself. I never expect anyone to help me when I’m sick, and except when recovering from outpatient surgeries, I rarely accept offers of assistance.

Mom’s assessment of the time Charles and I spent recovering from illness was not accurate. The camaraderie I felt when we were ill together as small children was a gift, and it provided me with happy memories of us watching reruns of I Love Lucy and Perry Mason, when there would otherwise only be memories of coughs and clogged noses. My mother’s desire to make sickness unattractive was unnecessary and based on an erroneous belief. Although it wasn’t her intention, Mom succeeded in making me resilient and self-reliant when ill. These traits have proved invaluable. I know I’ll be fine on my own no matter how sick I become. Illness has caused many other miseries, but I’m never concerned about how I’ll take care of myself. I’ve been doing it since I was thirteen.


I’m fifty-seven as I write this, and there’s no point in being upset about bad parenting that took place four decades ago. Soon I’ll have my first inpatient hospitalization to remove my spleen. I’m worried about various aspects of this surgery, but not at all about how I’ll recover alone as I heal. And for this unexpected result of an abysmally poor parenting choice, I’m grateful.


In my teens, complete strangers began to approach me and compliment my skin. It happened fairly regularly—several times a year for decades. Women in ladies’ rooms, people in checkout lines, and others I met randomly felt compelled to compliment me. I thanked those strangers but always found the compliments odd. They used words like flawless and perfect to describe my complexion. But I couldn’t see the difference between my skin and the skin of most other people.

Now that I’m in my mid-fifties, I find my skin is aging. It’s beginning to sag, and liver beauty-treatment-163540_960_720spots are appearing. I pine for my youthful skin. But there are other parts of my body that have yet to show age. My calves look like they did when I exercised rigorously in my thirties. I neither understood nor appreciated my youthful good skin, but my legs are holding up well. I’m going to wear shorts and knee-length skirts until everything begins to sag. There’s nothing wrong with showing signs of age, but I’m going to make a point to appreciate what’s left of my youthful body for as long as it lasts.

Other Families

This blog was first published on the HuffPost Blog on October 24, 2017

I planned to skip the bar mitzvah of Aaron’s middle child. I’d traveled from San Diego to Miami Beach four years earlier to attend the bar mitzvah of his oldest child and intended to attend the one for his youngest offspring in another two years. Two out of three celebrations would be a sufficient display of loyalty to my old friend. Broke from three out-of-network eye surgeries, I didn’t have the money for a trip to Miami Beach that year.

But as the Bar Mitzvah approached, I began to feel a deep ache, as if I were missing out on an important event in my own family. I’ve learned to trust my gut feelings, so I called Aaron and told him I’d go after all. I took a sixteen-hundred-dollar leap of faith—the cost of the air fare, hotel, and incidental expenses. My faith was validated a few weeks later when I traded a family heirloom and netted an extra sixteen hundred dollars from the transaction, exactly the amount I needed. This trip was meant to be.


I met Aaron when we were both traveling solo in 1988 in Paris. Eight years later I stood up for him at his wedding, where I met his family and all of his in-laws. I’ve been treated like extended family by them ever since. At the Friday night service the night before the bar mitzvah, in which the relatives of the bar mitzvah boy are incorporated, I decided to sit in a back pew. When I ran into Aaron’s mother-in-law in the ladies’ room before the service, she urged me to sit in the front of the sanctuary with the family. I confessed to her that if I sat up front, I would cry, and I did. I used an entire packet of Kleenex while sniffling.

I love these rites of passage: weddings, bar mitzvahs, and funerals, and I’m deeply affected by them. I recently attended the funeral of someone everyone called Mama Lola. She was the mother of my close friend, Stella. Stella has invited me to many of her family’s events and celebrations—weddings, baby showers, Thanksgiving meals, and Christmas mornings. When I threw a big party to celebrate my book launch, several of her relatives attended. At the funeral, all three of Stella’s adult daughters and two of her grown grandsons hugged me in greeting. I believe I was one of the only non-family members at this large funeral. I met other members of the extended family afterward at the reception—in-laws and several of the in-laws’ parents. Mama Lola had six children, eighteen grandchildren, and twenty-two grandchildren. Everyone I encountered made me feel valued and accepted. I was inspired by the eulogies, delivered by a son and son-in-law, as they extolled the values that Mama Lola instilled in them. She had clearly passed on her welcoming nature, in abundant evidence that day, to her descendants.


I am deeply grateful to these two families for making me feel welcome. I love my immediate family unconditionally. We have nine members, including a new in-law I’m hoping to get to know. We are a living organism existing on two continents, and in perpetual evolution. Within healthy families there’s a constant flux of accommodation, being forgiven and forgiving, changing and adjusting. We must change or we fracture and die. Sometimes everything flows smoothly, and other times the process takes mindfulness and effort. But it is an effort with the deepest rewards.

When we are on the fringes of other families, we reap the rewards of inclusion without having to make the same kinds of effort that our family of origin inherently requires. It is as if these other families lifted the flaps of their big tents and invited us in for a brief while to enjoy all the benefits, but none of the demands, of family.


Being included in the families of my good friends deepens my appreciation of my own family. I am reminded of the importance of acceptance and love as I see it mirrored in other families and feel it from them briefly. At the bar mitzvahs, Aaron’s parents and in-laws marvel that I travel so far to be present. I don’t know how to explain the depth of gratitude I feel toward them for letting me into their tent to enjoy the embraces of their tribe. While I’m with them, I feel at home.