Conversations With A Friend

My friend Marlene Kern Fischer and I were having a little fun one day and wrote this in tandem.


We met in college and became friends but not the best of friends. Years later we reconnected over the loss of an infant. A condolence call was placed and so began a dialogue that has continued for twenty-six years, through landlines, portable phones with telescoping antennae, nascent car phones and BlackBerrys to our current smart phones. Neither one of us remembers much of the substance of that first conversation, but we do remember that we laughed.

Over the years the topics we have beaten to death could fill volumes but as we often acknowledge to each other, the highest and best use of our conversations would be to put people to sleep. If the CIA perchance tapped our phones, we offer our sincerest apologies to whomever had to do the listening. Our discussions were repetitive, grandiose, mundane and largely trite, but occasionally insightful. Most importantly we always made each other chuckle and those chats sometimes made the difference between losing our minds and hanging on by the slimmest of threads.

As our lives evolved so did our conversations:

Husbands Then

“Hubby is traveling this week. He’s going for three nights. I can’t do this by myself. I’m going to die.

“Maybe if you hang on to his leg, he won’t go.”

“It’s worth a try.”

Husbands Now

“Hubby is traveling this week. Wooo hooo. He’s gone for three nights-YES.”

“OMG-you’re sooooo lucky, no laundry, no meals, no snoring.”


Children Then

“These little ‘angels’ don’t listen to a thing I say. I can’t take it.”

Children Now

“These big ‘angels’ don’t listen to a thing I say. I can’t take it.”


Fertility Then

“When are you going to start trying for number two?”


“Soon, I’m dying to have another one and I want them close in age.”

“What do you think the perfect age gap is?”

“Holy hell, hubby has the chicken pox and a fever, no baby this month.”

“Yikes, sorry. There’s always next month.”

Fertility Now

“I had a nightmare that I had a baby.”

“Oh my God, Nooooo. That’s not just a nightmare, that’s actually the scariest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Could you imagine?”

“NO, and please don’t make me try.”


Toys Then

“So excited, going to the toy store this weekend to pick up a plastic kitchen, plastic car, plastic slide, plastic activity garden, plastic pool, plastic basketball hoop, plastic workshop, Beanie Babies, Beyblades, video games, DVDs, Webkinz and maybe some Legos to keep the kids entertained. I hear there may be a snow day next week.”

“Nice. Let me know what you think of the activity garden. We’re thinking of getting one as soon as we can get the plastic play house and ride-on toys out of the family room.”

Toys Now

“So excited, getting a dumpster this weekend to get rid of all the crap we have accumulated because it no longer brings us joy.”

“I don’t understand that joy thing but I’m jealous. I can’t wait until we get our very own dumpster.”


Moving Then

“Our apartment is getting tight.”

“Where are you moving to? Westchester? Long Island? New Jersey?”

“Not sure. We’re going to look at all those places.”

“I guess we should pick the best spot for the kids.”

Moving Now

“I can’t take the cold anymore. I am afraid of falling on black ice.”

“Where are you moving to? Boca? Arizona? California?”

“Not sure. We’re going to look at all those places.”

“I guess we should try to find a place close to the kids.”


Sleep Then

“Baby kept me up last night. Slept for maybe a total of two hours. I’m so tired.”

“Same, he got up every hour on the hour. I won’t survive this.”

Sleep Now

“Sweated all night. Slept for maybe a total of two hours. I’m soooooo tired.”

“Same. I thought the heat was on 110 degrees but I checked and it was at 62. I won’t survive this.”


School Then/First Child

“What do you need to get into the Ivy League?”

“Grades, scores and tons of extracurricular activities. You better get on it girlfriend.”

School Now/Third Child

“Have you figured out the new PSAT?”

“No, I haven’t had a chance to look. He’ll figure it out. He can always get an online degree.”


Over the years, we’ve argued, we’ve agreed, and we’ve agreed to disagree. Now, as the substance of our chatter shifts to aging parents, parenting older children and an impending empty nest we realize that the thing that has always mattered most was not the topic, but the conversation.

Advice To The Daughters I Never Had

If you haven’t read or heard about Susan Patton’s Letter To the Editor in the Daily Princetonian (link below), where have you been?

In her letter, Ms. Patton appeals to the undergraduate women of Princeton, “the daughters” she “never had,” to “Find a husband on campus before they graduate.”   She has been absolutely skewered since writing the piece.  The outsized and outraged reaction caused DP’s website to crash.

There is some truth in what Patton says, if you can wade through the overwhelming amount of self-laudatory crap. But, let’s call this piece what it truly is: a delivery system for good news about Susan Patton.  And, I think that is what most people are objecting to, not necessarily the fundamental idea, but the tone.

Patton begins by giving herself kudos for having maintained her relationship with, “her best friend from freshman year.” She alleges that at the Women and Leadership conference she attended at Princeton, the undergraduate women were avidly interested in how she and her best friend had “sustained a 40 year friendship.” Really?  Is having a long-term friendship fabulous? Definitely.  Is it a subject of rapt fascination for 20 year olds? Um, no. I’m around a fair number of college age kids and I have more than one long-standing friendship.  Not one of the twenty somethings I know, including my own children, has ever expressed a scintilla of interest in how my friends and I sustain our relationships. Sorry, I’m just not buying it.

Then we get to the heart of the matter. Ms. Patton states, “I am the mother of two sons who are both Princetonians.  My older son had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone.” Really?   He could have married anyone?  Anyone? I think Patton just wanted to inform the Princeton community that her sons go/went to Princeton and that her older son is married and, better yet, he married a girl who went to Princeton. The younger son’s dating potential is, according to mama, “limitless.” Oy. I hope the younger son has entered the witness protection program. Poor kid.

But, putting Ms. Patton’s self-aggrandizement aside, I think she makes a fair point. I knew people in college who made silly lists of qualities for potential dates, not too short, not too thin/heavy, brown hair/blonde hair and so on.  Susan Patton is correct that college is one of those critical times in life. Don’t make lists that confine you. Look at your classmates with an open mind. Making friends is every bit as important, if not more so, than the classes you take.  And, you never know, your best friend or your life partner or both may be sitting next to you in class.

So, here is what I would tell “the daughters I never had”: College is a fantastic place to meet someone but if you don’t meet “the one” in college don’t panic.  There’s time. Don’t say, “He’s too nice.” Nice boys generally grow up to be nice men and nice men are, well, nice. If a guy is crazy about you, put that in the plus column, bolded and highlighted.  Look for red flags and if you see them, don’t walk, run. Don’t pass up the very good for the perfect because perfect doesn’t exist. Choose someone who makes you laugh because at the end of the day you want to spend a lot of time with someone who makes you laugh. If you can’t stand to be with someone even if they have a 200 IQ or 200 billion dollars, say goodbye. It’s just not worth it.

And, I would tell my mythical daughter the same thing I will tell my real son.  You will meet the right person at the right time.  And, when you meet that person you will know, maybe not immediately, but you will know.

Trust your own judgment. I do.  And, remember dad and I love you.

The First Twenty-Five Years are the Hardest

get-attachment-1.aspxMy father was not only smart. He was wise.

On my wedding day, dad and I had a few moments alone before the ceremony. I waited eagerly for some words of wisdom. At last, dad turned to me, cupped my face lovingly in his warm hands and said “Don’t worry if things are rocky in the beginning. Hang in there. The first twenty-five years of marriage are the hardest. After that, it’s a piece of cake.” Then, we both chuckled.

But now, as my husband and I approach our twenty-fifth anniversary, I find there was a lot of truth in my father’s words. In the beginning we had our share of Sturm und Drang. There were harsh words, slammed doors and great big sob fests. Raising a family and building a career is a struggle and keeping a relationship alive through it all is hard work. Not speaking to my husband for a week because of his insistence on a certain middle name for our unborn child seemed perfectly reasonable. Now, I know with calm certainty that who your child becomes means far more than the name he bears. But, when you’re up all night with a screaming baby and he’s up all night closing a deal it’s hard to be your better selves, your kinder, gentler selves.

These days there is a new tenderness in our relationship. We’ve seen a lot together, the birth of our children, the death of three of our parents. The battlefield has largely been cleared. We know we have the ability to inflict great pain on each other but we also know that life does that all by itself so why lend it a hand. We’ve had the same argument so many times I can handle both sides of it equally well so why drag my husband into it at all?

There are things about him I will never change and vice versa. But, we’ve largely stopped railing about those details. I’ve seen the enemy and I choose to love him. It’s not about apathy. It’s about perspective and choice. And, I’ve got to hand it to my twenty-one year old self. Not bad. He’s a keeper.

Thanks for the wisdom dad. I think I get it now.