Skip to content

section two

Finding My Place

Finding place

When I was growing up,

a lot was going on in the world.

1411100

1955-1975

The Vietnam War is sold to Americans as a fight between democracy and communism, sparks protests, divides our nation and is an embarrassing defeat for America.

Sex single girl helen gurley brown 1 13a6bf7e6c6f6778fe8be63ee969cfc9

1962

Sex And The Single Girl
The book advises women to build financial independence and enjoy sex, except Helen Gurley Brown is forced to cut the chapter on contraception before publication. What’s changed?

FMP DM 23 JFK RFK MLK Malcolm X Assassinated

1960s

JFK, RFK, MLK, Malcolm X are assassinated and dreams die.

Screen Shot 2022 09 14 at 10 55 38 AM

1963

TaB is Coca Cola’s first diet soda. Weight watching women love it until saccharin is linked to cancer and Diet Coke comes on the scene.

S l1600

1964

The Times They Are A Changing
Bob Dylan sings it and calls a generation to march. 

FMP DM 32 Birth Control Pills

1960

Birth Control Pillsthe first oral contraceptive for women. Two years after Enovid is introduced, 1.2 million women are taking it. Welcome to the sexual revolution.

Original

1960s

Hippies celebrate sex, drugs, rock n roll, peace, love, hair, bell-bottoms and the counterculture revolution.

Tokillamockingbird1962 20116

1962

To Kill A Mockingbird, based on Harper Lee’s debut and Pulitzer Prize Winning 1960 novel, the film introduces us to Scout, Atticus Finch, Calpurnia, Boo Radley and Tom Robinson and puts racism on trial.

Screen Shot 2022 09 14 at 10 59 29 AM

1961

West Side Story
When you’re a Jet, you hate Sharks; when you’re a Shark, you hate Jets. Robbins, Bernstein, Sondheim and Laurents ask why.

As The World Turns1956

1956-2010

As The World Turns, the soap opera, airs for 54 years, and The Hughes are my Mother’s favorite second family. Their problems are her problems and her lunchtime escape from the bakery.

Dick clark29

1952-1989

American Bandstand is Philadelphia’s gift to teens, Dick Clark’s ticket to media moguldom. Lip-synching bands and regulars dance to the hits and rate records, it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.” 

FMP DM 38 Mini Skirts

1961

Miniskirts take over Swinging London and the world. Designers Mary Quant and André Courrèges are credited with launching the knee revealing trend.

Loving Fashion

Where do you feel safe?

Where do you feel safe?

My Life In Five Boxes

BOX #1 WAS A SMALL BOX.

I was small, and my world was small — the building where we lived in the Bronx, our apartment, the elevator, the bakery, the few blocks between that and home and school. The people I knew were my mother, my father and my sisters. All they wanted for me was safety and that I shouldn’t be afraid. I thought that was what life was all about for a few years and that everyone lived in a small world just like my world. I was happy with what I had and knew. I felt safe and never lonely, but I was also curious.

BOX #2 WAS A TEENY BIT BIGGER.

I went to school and saw kids who were very different from me. My first day at school, my father dropped me off, and I ran after him. I knew no one, felt abandoned, vulnerable and totally unprepared for an even slightly bigger world, and I was living through my parents’ fear that if you are seen, you will die. Other kids weren’t chubby like me. Other kids could read and write a little, and they spoke English. I was ashamed and saw my family and I were missing something other kids and parents had. Then we got our first television, and the lid blew right off my cozy little life. I wanted to have those American skills everyone else had, the life I saw on television, and I took baby steps into the brave new world.

BOX #3 WAS BIG, BIG, BIG.

My family and I moved from the Bronx to Brooklyn. I went to camp and saw more kids who were even more different from me and lived very differently than we did. Most of the people I knew were Jewish, so I believed everyone in the world was Jewish, but from the minute I went to camp and stepped into a slightly bigger box, my feelings about my home and family, my small world and my origins — all the things that for good or bad made me who I was — shifted and changed.

Life boxes 02
Life boxes 04
Life boxes 05

BOX #4 WAS THE BIGGEST, BUT THE LEAST COMFORTABLE.

I gave up what I had with my family to make room for something new, never realizing I could have both. I turned away from my family, tried to hide where I came from because I didn’t feel that I would be accepted by the people in my new extra-large world. Who was I?

BOX #5 IS STARTING TO FEEL LIKE A GOOD FIT, FINALLY.

I saw that love comes from acceptance. Over time, I made room for my background and saw my family’s strength and courage. I started testing the waters. I got older and was able to accept my background with a full heart.

By the time I gained some perspective, it was too late to tell my parents I loved them. They are long gone. I never got to say a lot of things I wish I could say now. My only hope — to honor what I learned from them and what they gave me by passing on the values they gave me to my children.

What If?

Whatever my parents worried about when I was kid — pretty much everything — I worried about, too. And I worried that I wasn’t like the other kids I met at school or camp and might never be. My weight has worried me for all the years I’ve been on this planet. Worrying about what if my family and friends face danger or get sick or are hungry or come to some harm. What if I can’t protect them from the worst?

Worrying Is My Insurance Plan, 

my emotional umbrella coverage. What if I’m asked a question that I can’t answer or told something I don’t understand or am asked to do something I don’t know how to do? What if I make a mistake and people see me as unprepared or unqualified? What if I’m sure I’m considering all the possibilities in any situation, but I’m not even asking the right what-if questions? What if I tell someone I love them and they laugh at me? 

Ready for Whatever Comes Next. 

Running what-if and worst-case scenarios through my head helps me to prepare for whatever could possibly go wrong and ready myself with solutions to problems that might or might not come my way. I’ve heard it said that if you worry enough and prepare for the worst that can happen in life it probably won’t happen. 

Marvin And Me

Opening day at Yankee Stadium always gets me thinking about my brother-in-law Marvin, my sister Debby’s first husband. They met when we lived in the Bronx. Marvin and his parents lived across the street from us, and he and Debby were boyfriend and girlfriend before I was born. They married when I was five. I was their flower girl, stuffed into a long blue dress, wearing a matching blue Fra Angelico disk halo headpiece. I slowly walked down the aisle, not smiling, having just lost my two front teeth. The guests seated on the aisle kept encouraging me to throw the white petals from my little basket. I didn’t. Clueless. I did get a nod of approval from Marvin, who was waiting under the flowered chuppah for his bride.

Marvin

Marvin, the man

Baseball

Baseball, the game

FMP 2 Yankee Stadium

Yankee Stadium, the place

Marvin Was a Kind and Caring Man. 

I loved him like a big brother. My parents thought of him as their son. He was an only child and a smart guy who read a lot of history. He had a lot of swagger and held a cigarette in his mouth just like Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront.

Take Him Out to the Ballgame. 

A place in the major leagues was Marvin’s dream — his career plan. Growing up, he played sandlot baseball and was signed as a rookie for the New York Giants. Starting pitchers make the big bucks. Rookies make next to nothing. So, when Debby said she wanted to get married, Marvin’s plans changed. He went to work for my father. This was a dream come true for my father, who always wanted a son. Marvin learned his bakery business — respect for your bakers, love for your products and kindness and generosity for your customers.

After Debby and Marvin were married and before they had their first child, I was his little kid. He took me everywhere, including his father’s laundry. It was on the first floor of a building on Gerard Avenue, not far from Yankee Stadium. We would go up on the roof of the building and watch the games. When Marvin was flush, we got tickets to a game, and he took me to eat at the Jerome Cafeteria. I loved pushing my tray along the metal tracks while looking out to see what else there was to eat. I usually got meatloaf and peas and mashed potatoes, which the cafeteria lady put on the plate with an ice cream scoop. This was unbelievably amazing to me — a perfect mountain of mashed potatoes. A cube of Jell‑O was dessert, because I loved the whipped cream that was swirled on top of its jiggly base. Together, we carried our trays to a table, ate and talked about baseball.

Off To A Chubby Start

When I was born, conventional wisdom was that a chubby baby was a happy and healthy baby. I was a chubby baby. Coming from my background — the child of immigrants who nearly starved fleeing oppression — being fat was a sign you had the means to buy food, and should you, God forbid, have to flee political unrest, you had some meat on your bones and could go without eating for a while. Fat meant safe. I didn’t care. I didn’t foresee any revolution raging through Brooklyn any time soon. That didn’t matter. My parents had already lost one child, so they took all precautions not to lose a second. And then I fought with my weight my entire childhood and a good part of my life. 

Trophy Skirt

A few doors up from my father’s bakery was a children’s clothing store, The Rock-A-Bye. One day, hanging in the store’s window was a gray flannel pleated skirt. It was beautiful. I must have seen another girl or a movie star wearing a gray accordion-pleated skirt, and I loved how it moved. It seemed to have a life of its own. I was ten years old, and I wanted more than anything in my life to wear that skirt.

UDEL Lgraypleatedskirt
D5873da49118cdd84e969f316fd59d8d

Mary McFadden, fashion designer and tennis player, reignites Fortuny pleating with her Delphos dress.

Marilyn Monroe photo pose Seven Year Itch

Marilyn Monroe, glamour goddess, takes our breath away with her pleats in the air in the movie The Seven-Year Itch.

DOWNSIZED.

By the time I was thirteen, I had dieted down to a healthy weight. I got a gray pleated skirt, then another and another. I took up tennis because I loved the short, white pleated skirts and was smitten by women who looked great in them. Mary McFadden was a great tennis player, and when I worked at Vogue, I saw pictures of her playing in white pleated skirts. I saw pictures of C. Z. Guest, the ultimate patrician, doing the same. By the time I was thirty years old, I had over a dozen gray pleated skirts in every shade of gray, in every fabric — wool, cotton and every combination in between — and in every style — knife-pleats, box pleats, drop-waist pleats.

NO THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES.

I had beaten my biology and dieted my way to some acceptable cultural standard. I had the closet full of trophy skirts to prove it, but every one of those skirts, every time I looked at them, took me back to the ten-year-old me in that dressing room in The Rock-A-Bye.

Stars

Two Gold Stars

I was taught and learned critical thinking at age ten. Mrs. Chast, my fifth grade teacher, gave a gold star for the right answer and two gold stars if you asked a good question. She used to say, I’d rather have a good question than a quick answer.” Questioning, I believe is good for you. A question doesn’t just beget an answer. It inspires a pause, reflection, an answer and more curiosity. 

Stars

Two Gold Stars, I collected like stamps.

The Great American Sandwich

We had no school lunches at P.S. 99, so I went home to eat. My mother always put an open can of Chef Boyardee into a pot of boiling water while she sat and watched soap operas. The characters were her extended family, and she enjoyed visiting with them. She could tell you everything about these people. She was on a first-name basis with them.

The Ladies Who Lunch.

One day, Alice, the new kid at school, invited me to her house for lunch. I took my seat at the table across from her and sat with my hands in my lap while her mother brought us sandwiches: A single slice of pre-wrapped American cheese — the kind with the thin, slippery paper between each slice — tomato and mayonnaise on Wonder Bread.

The Great American Sandwich

Wonder Bread: truly American, white, served up with processed cheese and pre-sliced to save prep time.

MADE IN THE USA.

It was so exciting, really. Alice’s mother had made me what was perhaps the most American of sandwiches. It was sliced on the diagonal, two perfect triangles, centered on a flowered plate, next to a napkin, also folded in a perfect triangle. I grew up on handmade artisanal bread, baked fresh daily, but this cheese sandwich was the most exotic thing in the world to me.

Canoe paddles

Happy Camper

Every summer, from the time I was six years old, I went to camp. The first few years, my mother came to camp with me. My Uncle Jack was part owner of Camp Merrimont in the Catskills. My mother stayed in a little cabin and, to cover the costs of camp, she helped out doing odd jobs. The summer I was eleven years old, business in the bakery was good, and off I went on my own to a new camp — Camp Woodcrest in the Berkshires. 

I Loved Camp. 

I played softball in the grass instead of stickball in the street. I swam in the lake instead of sweating on the front steps of our apartment building. I saw Bob Dylan open for Joan Baez at the Pittsfield Boys Club. Things happened at Camp Woodcrest. I was busy from the time I woke up until I went to bed. I was learning new things, and I was safe. 

The Longest Canoe.

I wore, like the other ninety-nine kids at Camp Woodcrest, shorts and a T‑shirt with a picture of a canoe between two pine trees. For a twelve-year-old girl, I had big boobs, and across my chest the canoe stretched, and my fellow campers teased me about having the longest canoe.

46077505 2333401160034405 5478738661635784704 n

Ivan Cury, actor and director.

Ivan 5

Ivan Cury, child star.

Fighting for My Life. 

It wouldn’t be stretching the truth to say that at Camp Woodcrest I learned how save my own life. We had to take a life-saving course. Al Nathans, camp owner and swimming coach, flailed around in the lake playing the drowning person and, one by one, each of us had to jump from the diving tower into the water to get him to safety. Not easy. Al was burly, muscled and a lot bigger than most of us. Also, a drowning person will try to climb on the rescuer’s body to reach the surface, pushing the person under and ultimately killing both. I jumped in, and Al fought me all the way, kicking, flapping around, dragging me under. Gasping for air, I walloped him and got us both to shore. I passed my life-saving test and learned an important lesson. Sometimes you have to slap a drowning person.

Social Studies.

As I got older, I worked at Camp Woodcrest, first as a CIT (counselor in training) and then as a counselor. I got to know people who worked behind the scenes, the folks in the kitchen, the maintenance crew and the office. I met Alfred P. Loupien III (we used to call him Loupie, and I’m guessing at the spelling), a toothless dishwasher who often smelled of alcohol. He would sit behind the mess hall and smoke and hum and sing. I’d sit with him and listen and learn the lyrics of Nina Simone and Billie Holiday songs. Loupie wrote down the lyrics of Strange Fruit” for me on the back of a piece of shirt cardboard, and after studying them, I understood the song’s meaning. Recorded by Holiday in 1939, the song was based on a poem written in 1937 to protest American racism and the lynching of African Americans in the South. It was one of the most socially significant songs of its time — still is.

Camp Woodcrest Was Mentally Bigger Than Brooklyn. 

The freedom was electrifying. And every year, I went home changed, a little bit wiser. I found my voice. Back home, I sang along with records and danced to TV’s American Bandstand. As a singer, I’m a bellower. Loud and proud. Al Nathans, Ivan Cury, Hank Feldman and Mr. Loupien III gave me the words, the music and the moves.

In My Camp Trunk

I was signed up for summer camp every year before Christmas. In the spring, an envelope stuffed with papers would arrive from Camp Woodcrest. There was a list of rules and regulations, drop-off instructions, insurance and disclaimer info, medical check-up forms and shots required and a list of the things I needed to stuff in my camp trunk and would use over eight weeks: sleeping bag, pillows, T‑shirts, shorts, bathing suits, underwear, pajamas, sneakers, socks, water shoes, towels, laundry bag, postcards or pre-stamped envelopes for letter writing, sanitary products, soap and shampoo. There was also a list of stores in the area that sold camp supplies, including the uniform, and that for a fee would order and sew on all your name tags. Defying camp instructions outlined in the rules and regulations, moms who could not help themselves snuck into their kids’ trunks a few candy bars, extra money, comic books, chewing gum and other little surprises. My mother, believing it was healthy, packed cans of Hershey’s chocolate syrup in my trunk to make sure I drank my milk.

S l1600

From the soda fountain to my camp trunk, a sweet treat, and the only way my mother could get me to drink milk.

Penny basketball

Penny Basketball

I love basketball. The romance started when I was eleven years old. I had my own basketball and a bike. I would bicycle to the school yard and practice shots. I had learned the game at camp and because I was tall — that was short-lived — I had some youthful success and that kept me practicing. There was no Title IX back then, so no girls’ leagues. Biking around my neighborhood one day, I spotted a group of boys from school playing basketball in someone’s backyard and went to practice with them. One of the boys, my age or a year older, came over and said he knew this amazing magic trick. He could put a penny in one of my pockets and take it out of the other. I said that was impossible, and he offered to show me. All the other boys gathered around me, and he walked up and stood behind me. They were all laughing, and I knew that I should walk away, but I wasn’t sure why. He leaned against my back, had his hand in my pocket and was groping me. I didn’t know there was anything sexual about it, but I knew it was wrong. I was there to play basketball; instead I was ridiculed and totally humiliated. People often think of girls as being much more mature than boys. I was not. This story still haunts me. 

When I was growing up,

a lot was going on in the world.

FMP DM 27 Berlin Wall Goes Up

1961

The Berlin Wall goes up almost overnight, divides East and West Berlin and is the concrete monstrosity of the Cold War.

FMP DM 31 Voting Rights Act Is Passed

1965

The Voting Rights Act prohibits racial discrimination in voting— would that it were true. 

FMP DM 39 Hello Pantyhose

1959

Hello, Pantyhose!
Skirts get shorter, and pantyhose and opaque tights put garter belts and stockings out of business. 

Twiggy iconic pixie haircut

1966

Twiggy is THE FACE, body and androgynous supermodel with painted on eyelashes of swinging London.

FMP DM 74 Clinique

1968

Clinique is founded by Carol Phillips, an editor at Vogue, and Dr. Norman Orentreich — in collaboration with Evelyn Lauder. The brand introduces a dermatologist tested skincare regimen and creates a platform for editors to move into business.

FMP DM 69 Title IX

1972

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance, and girls and women play sports.

1555502570879 Watergate Hotel Washington DC 7 of 10

1972-1974

Watergate—Richard Nixon’s henchmen break into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate Office Building. Woodward & Bernstein break the story in the Washington Post. Nixon resigns — the first American president to plot to bring down our democracy.

190823093938 epa building super tease

1970

EPA Established by Richard Nixon when pollution is so rampant rivers are burning, smog is causing birth defects and killing people and the air smells like chemicals. The science of ecology gains traction and detractors.

RS184

1965

The Stones follow The Beatles and sing Let’s Spend The Night Together.” We all say yes and still do nearly 60 years later.

Film still documentary Woodstock Music Art Fair August 1969 Bethel New York

1969

Woodstockthree days of peace and music — brings over 400,000 hippies and over thirty musical acts to Max Yazgur’s Farm in Bethel, NY.

Ssmuppetgang1972

1969

Sesame Street premiers on National Educational Television— PBS — and Jim Henson’s Muppets teach preschoolers to read, count and be kind and accepting of others.

254851

1967

R‑E-S-P-E-C‑T
Aretha Franklin rearranges the tune recorded by Otis Redding in 1965 and demands what every woman wants. Her signature song becomes a feminist anthem. 

K Gr Hq Foc FB Zir S Hp B Qi0e Rq HQ 60 57

1966

In Cold Blood raises the bar on the true crime genre, blurs the line between fact and fiction and launches Truman Capote as a superstar.

Taking My Seat

Where do I sit in life? That’s the question I have been trying to answer my entire life. It has both driven me to earn a seat at the table and plagued me with the belief that I will never find my place; that I will move — an emotional nomad — between different chairs in different places, sometimes right outside of that inner circle and sometimes inside where it seems everything that matters happens.

My Biography in Three Chairs.

The first important chair in my life was my kindergarten chair from P.S. 93 in the Bronx, on Story Avenue off Bruckner Boulevard. That chair was heavy. It was oak and solid and shiny from years of five-year-old kids squirming around on its seat. You could not push it over. At home, I sat on the floor, in a kitchen chair or on the couch with my feet suspended, dangling in the air. But when my tushy hit the seat of the kindergarten chair, my feet touched the ground. I fit the chair. This was my Goldilocks moment. I think no matter how old I get or how many grander and more expensive chairs I might buy, my kindergarten chair will be the dearest chair to me. Sitting on it, I was ready to learn.

My Kindergarten Chair Sat in a Row of Chairs.

My classmates and I sat in alphabetical order — up and down the rows — ready to march to the teacher’s orders. When my children, Julia and Ben, went to school, each of their classes sat in a circle of chairs, equal and connected to everyone around them, orbiting the teacher who sat on the edge of the circle on a grown-up version of the students’ chairs. 

Another Camp First. 

I met the Adirondack chair, the second important chair in my life, at camp. It was hard to get out of it — the chair said to slow down. 

Thoroughly Modern Me. 

When I left teaching for my first design job at New York, form follows function” and less is more” were the mantras echoing through the office halls, and I embraced the beautifully constructed and perfectly functional furniture of the Bauhaus and post-modernists. The first thing I did when I moved into my first real single-woman, tiny apartment on East Twenty-second Street in Manhattan was to take my saved shekels and buy a set of two Breuer Wassily chairs, the third important chairs in my life. They identified me with modern design and great taste and were surprisingly functional and comfortable. I loved that the sling seats lightened the weight of the chairs so that I could easily move them around.

Chair

My mother believed in protective slipcovers. 

FMP 9 BCDE

We had the clear plastic kind when I was growing up.

The Generation Gap. 

One day, my mother visited my apartment. Proud of my place and my grown-up taste, I showed off my two Wassily chairs. My mother looked at the chrome and leather and said, Hmmm. Someday you’ll have a little money, and you can get them covered.” Someday came in 2016. I paid homage to my mother by making slipcovers for those two Wassily chairs. Favorites are one in gold lamé and one in faux fur. 

Id Rather Stand, Thank You. 

Years ago, I was invited to a meeting room where all the chairs were circled around the room in a single row against the walls. Within the inner circle of chairs, there was a table. The man hosting the meeting — the power — sat in the center chair on the side of the circle facing the windows. And I stood back for a long while trying to figure out where I should sit — weighing the pros and cons of each chair. Other people in the room were urging me to sit next to the host, on his right side. New to the group, I wasn’t sure I belonged in that chair. Had I earned that chair? I didn’t know what other people would think of me for sitting in that chair. And I didn’t know if I would be comfortable that close to the center of power or what it would cost me emotionally and professionally to take the seat next to the throne. Eventually I sat, but I perched, almost hovering, not leaning against the back of the chair, trusting only my spine for support.

The Rabbit and the Hair

Wild and loose, my hair fit with the politics of the late 1960s and early 70s. My curls entered the room before I did. Between the early 70s and my next big haircut, in the early 80s, I tried on a number of hair personas. Sitting with supersize hair rollers under a drying hood for hours gave way to having someone else deal with my hair. That is when I met Sherry Stinger at a small salon called The Reapers on Lexington Avenue at Sixty-second Street. It was conveniently located near Sports Training, a professional gym for the New York Knicks and the Apples, New York City’s short-lived tennis team, where I worked out. 

Splitting Hairs.

My life back then was lived on the number six train, riding from my Kips Bay apartment to work in the old Borden building on Madison Avenue, then back to Sports Training to work out and to The Reapers to negotiate with my hair. Sherry made sure I looked groomed, a better version for the public me. She worked her scissors, and I talked about going to Sports Training. Finally, Sherry joined the gym, and we both started running, together and separately. Sherry went on to run many marathons and some triathlons. We ran side-by-side in my first marathon; her patience and non-stop storytelling got me to the finish line. She sacrificed a much better running time for my sake. Forty years later, we don’t run anymore, and she has styled my unruly hair into an age-defying ponytail.

Thank You, New York

Thank You New York 1

I believed in the little plastic ribbon. Like magic, it got me across the finish line.

I ran my first marathon in 1992. But if I’m talking to someone who says they ran the marathon, I’m reluctant to say, Me too.” I was fit and well-trained and pumped up on New York City’s enthusiasm. I hadn’t planned on running the full 26.2 miles that day, but New York was revved on its own adrenaline, and all 50,000-plus runners seemed to be moving with a single muscle, so I was determined to keep moving with them. Still, jitters propelled me to see the running shrink. 

The Doctor Will See You Now. 

He was positioned in a tent near the porta-potties. I talked to him about how anxious I was and said if I didn’t feel that I could make it to the finish, I would drop out. He turned to me, looked me in the eyes and said that very few people drop out. Then he cut a piece of pink plastic, like the tape at the finish line, and pinned it to the bottom of my shirt, attached to my number, saying that if I felt like dropping out, I should touch the tape. I made my way to the starting line, holding that tape. I wasn’t going to be the one to break the city’s stride.

Clutching My Talisman.

I chugged along, mile after mile, admiring the grace and beauty of the other runners, how the elite runners, who finished before I got halfway through Brooklyn, seemed to run so effortlessly. I did not. At this point in my life, I didn’t have the body to run a marathon. I have thin legs topped by a lollipop body. My legs had a heavy load to carry. I asked a lot of them that day, along with my head and my heart and the running shrink’s tape that I held from the beginning to the end of the run. 

PROUD MOMMA.

Along the course of the marathon, on every street, in every borough, the city seemed to be giving itself to me. I wore a homemade T‑shirt with Julia’s Mom” printed on the front and Ben’s Mom” on the back. As I ran through the Bronx, where I was born, Brooklyn, where I grew up, and Manhattan, where I became a professional, a wife and a mother, thousands of New Yorkers on the sidewalks cheered on Julia and Ben’s mom.

Julias Mom

I ran with my own sandwich boards. People kept shouting my kids’ names and motivated me to keep running.

Bens Mom

The Roar of the Crowd.

My dream has always been to be a strong amateur athlete, and I was living my Chariots of Fire fantasy. I was flying, in my head at least, sharing energy with the other runners and powered by the crowds lining the streets. Hundreds of hands along the marathon route reached out with support and water and Gatorade and Tootsie Rolls. I couldn’t say no to a single Tootsie Roll. I finished the day with my medal, the shrink’s tape, my number, my T‑shirt and pictures. I still have all of it in a box, along with clippings of a story I wrote for the New York Daily News about my experience. The opening line: How many women can actually say they gained weight running the New York Marathon?” Yes, even though I burnt thousands of calories running the streets of New York, I still managed to gain weight. But I had no regrets. 

20220811121548 00001
Measuring Tape 2

Am I the fattest person in the room?

Am I the fattest person in the room?

Before, After, Before

Food meant safety and survival in my house, and when I was a child, it took on emotional superpowers for me. Mimicking my oldest sister, I tried my first diet. I was around the age of ten and old enough to make up my own mind about what I wanted to eat and look like. 

I Started Every New Diet with Good Intentions: to fulfill my hope to be attractive. Every day, if I had the courage, I’d weigh in before my shower or breakfast, and whether I’d gone up or down a pound from the day before is how I’d measure my self-worth for the rest of the day. To make sure the number on my scale was absolutely the lowest it could be that day, I’d move the scale around on the floor to find the place where my weigh-in was a few ounces lower than anywhere else in the room. Sometimes I’d even buy new underwear to start to feel good about my body. 

I’ve Gained Some Perspective on My Weight and Dieting as I’ve gotten older. To this day, I think about what’s on my fork, fuel or fat, and I suffer the shame of knowing all the energy and money I spent on controlling my weight could have been put to much better use. It costs me more to eat less.

Scale

My Diet History in Almost Chronological Order

The Grapefruit Diet:
I thought my father invented it. He fiercely believed that if you ate a grapefruit before any meal, it would melt fat away. My father was a vain man and a bread baker, meticulous in his craft and appearance. At his bakery, he was surrounded by flour, salt and sugar. It took a lot of self-control not to eat himself into obesity. My father’s grapefruit diet was later known as the Hollywood diet, perfect for our family’s leading man. 

Counting Calories (Pre-Digital):
Energy in, energy out. So sensible. I loved the little books! And loved keeping the score. The data was evidence of my commitment.

Smoking:
I tried, got dizzy and nauseous. No allure, no nothing.

Weight Watchers:
Many times. It absolutely works if you follow it. I got the points and counting, but when a food package read, One serving = 4 ounces,” I would note that, eat the whole package and multiply the calories for one serving by the total number of servings in the container to calculate the damage I’d done. 

Overeaters Anonymous:
We sat, we talked, I got depressed, I ate more.

THE (OLD) GOLDEN DOOR:
When I was an art director at Vogue, I wanted to learn and write about what happens during a day at a spa. I would take the subway to work and stand on the platform, watching working women, tote bags in hand, reading the magazine. In the 1970s, spas had appeal in Europe but hadn’t yet caught on in the United States. Spas were seen as places women went to get over a divorce, dry out or hide. The original Golden Door, south of Los Angeles, was founded by Deborah Szekely, a girl from Brooklyn who believed in wellness and supporting a person’s total ecosystem for better living. The original Golden Door was a converted old motel, transformed by Deborah’s forward-thinking design. There I had my first farm-to-table experience, first exercise classes, first massage and facial and first understanding of relaxation. During one breathing exercise, I fell asleep and snored so loudly that I disturbed everyone else. Deborah became a great support, and, when I told her that my New York City studio apartment was small, she suggested that I make sure the kitchen was as beautiful as I could make it so that I would want to prepare good things to eat and treat myself well. Back at Vogue, we put together and ran a film-like story in stills and captions of my week at the Golden Door spa. I was a devotee and visited again.

HIGH349452 384213 732113

The godmother of wellness and her best advice was hire happy people.

The Ashram:
When I caught the fitness bug about forty years ago and wanted to learn more about wellness, I checked into The Ashram in Calabasas for what would be an extraordinary but tough week for me. I am a kid from the concrete streets in New York, and although I went to summer camp, nothing had prepared me for what would today be called a boot camp.” The days were hard, beyond exhausting — miles and miles of uphill trekking and boxing-style workouts. Day one, we were shown a small pair of scissors and instructed to cut our own herbs to accompany our vegetarian meals. Who knew? The most magical part of the Ashram happened at the end of each day. We all sat inside a geodesic dome that was outfitted with crystals and meditated. I worked hard while I was there and at the end of every day was so wrung out that I was incapable of anxiety.

Rancho La Puerta:
Going to a spa is an individual experience. Going to Rancho La Puerta is a community experience. Built by the same Deborah Szekely who started the Golden Door and her husband, Edmund, the Ranch” embraced everyone: guests, staff and the neighborhood. I was there when it was still very much a health camp, with early morning group walks in sight of Mount Kuchumaa, a sacred place. Watching the sun rise reminded me of going to the family bakery early, seeing our Brooklyn street, Avenue J, waking up to food deliveries and hearing the sounds of cars, buses and trains as people went to work. New Day. Another chance. The ranch food was grown in the neighborhood and meals were eaten around one big table outside. I went to Rancho La Puerta twice, and it coaxed me, a pretty shy kid, out from under my rock.

The tools of my dieting addiction.

The Pregnancy Diet:
The only time I gave myself permission to be in my body was when I was pregnant. I had very easy pregnancies. Sure, I was nauseous and fatigued, but I loved how I felt when I was pregnant. I think it was the only time I really loved my body and gave myself permission to eat what I felt I needed to eat. I didn’t feel any guilt about having a milkshake. I did gain a lot of weight, which earned me the nickname the Volkswagen. I was huge in the front and didn’t care. I was so happy. Exhausted, but happy. 

Pritikin:
My drive for a slim, strong body morphed into a drive for better health. My father had died of complications from diabetes, my mother had angina and I had just seen a television program about Nathan Pritikin and how he was able to reverse heart disease. I wanted the arteries of a newborn. I checked myself into Pritikin’s Longevity Center in Santa Monica, close to Venice Beach. Over the course of a month, my not-so-bad health improved and, more remarkably, I watched as people who could barely walk and were in wheelchairs when they came into the center walked out at the end of their stays. I had the good fortune to hear Nathan Pritikin lecture and got to see Mario Puzo, cigar in mouth, on the center’s tennis court. My day started with running between the Venice and Santa Monica piers, eating endless artichokes, sans butter, from the steam table, and reacquainting myself with oatmeal, sans sugar. I maintained the Pritikin lifestyle for eighteen months, until my old food seductions crept back in.

When I was growing up,

a lot was going on in the world.

Http cdn cnn com cnnnext dam assets 210217180218 remember fonda dv

1982

Jane Fonda Workouts push us to feel the burn, to lose calories and gain muscle. Her chart-topping videos fund her political activism and boost VCR sales.

FMP DM 40 Roots

1976

RootsAlex Haley’s novel, spawns the 1977 PBS family saga mini-series and brings slavery and civil rights to prime time television for the first time.

All in the family rob reiners wife was nearly cast major role 585x390

1971

All In The FamilyArchie Bunker brings all the taboo isms” to the small screen, breaks social barriers and gets big laughs. 

Oprah Winfrey 207781

1986

Oprah rises up to become The Queen of All Media,” and, at that time, the world’s only black billionaire and most influential woman in the world. 

Default

1980

CNN is founded by Ted Turner and Reese Schonfeld as the first 24-hour television news channel and the first all-news channel in the U.S. The good, the bad and the ugly of the global human experience are blasted into our homes non-stop.

Annie Hall 1

1977

Annie Hall makes Diane Keaton a star and breaks the rom-com rules as it chuckles through the pitfalls of interfaith romantic relationships.

FMP DM 61 Home Computing

1977

Home Computing starts less than user-friendly and emerges as an economic growth engine, and the home computer becomes the must-have appliance.

Sony original walkman tps l2

1979

Walkman, a mini cassette player with headphones, debuts, and legions of women and men tie up their running shoes and take to the streets, proving that music can get you running faster and further.

FMP DM 73 UPC Bar Code Is Introduced

1974

UPC Bar Code is introduced on a 10-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit Gum. It’s ugly, takes up package and cover design space, but it speeds up supermarket checkout and inventory.

Dvf newsweek

1972

Diane Von Furstenberg and the Wrap Dress give women what they want: style, simplicity, freedom, confidence and swagger. Today, it is considered by fashionistas to be the most important women’s clothing item of the 1970s, an emblem of women’s liberation.

Ad3de91edb753f6b68675e08a1f9d8d8

1973

Mobile Phones are demonstrated by Motorola, 1979 sees the launch of the first mobile network in Japan, 1983 handheld mobile phones are commercially available and phones keep getting smaller and smarter.

FMP DM 49 The Mary Tyler Moore Show

1970

The Mary Tyler Moore Show stars an unmarried, independent woman and portrays female ambition, even with quirky co-workers, as a good thing.

Puella Mia 3

Do you love me or do you love love?

Do you love me or do you love love?

Love in the Time of... Ignorance?

I never heard my parents tell each other, I love you,” and I suspect they never said it. Love was something I saw in the movies and on television. Long before I started thinking about boys, dating, sex or marriage, I watched my sisters date, get married and move out of our apartment. Goodbye romance role models. I never learned how to be a girlfriend or the difference between romance, sex and love. So, I fumbled through relationships. 

My First Crush was Michael from the building we lived in when we first moved to Brooklyn. I was about eight years old. Michael, the very handsome boy next door, was a year older. When his mother died of breast cancer, my mother stepped in to make sure Michael and his older brother had food to eat. She cooked for them and I accompanied her to deliver her care packages. Michael lit up when my mother showed up at the door with something to eat, and I lit up when I saw Michael.

My Second Crush was Tommy, from P.S. 99, I think. He looked like one of the kids in an American television family. 

My Friend Toby had a lot of crushes. Her biggest crush was Paul Newman. When he was living in New York and Toby and I were about twelve years old, we would take the subway from Brooklyn to Greenwich Village and stand in front of his apartment house and wait and wait and wait to see him. 

My First Movie Star Crush was Omar Sharif in Doctor Zhivago. On snowy days, when I had to wait for the elevated train, I stood outside on the platform, the snowflakes landing on my eyelashes and cheeks, and I was Lara. 

My First Near-Death Experience.

Toby and I took a trip during our college spring breaks. Toby was studying nursing to become a neonatal specialist. I was studying to be an art teacher. We flew to Saint Thomas and checked into a beachfront hotel. To make the most of every minute of our vacation, we changed into bathing suits, grabbed books and got to the beach late in the afternoon. After lounging in the sun, we went back to our room and changed into dresses for dinner. I wore a boldly patterned, brightly colored Pucci dress made of his secret stretch fabric that celebrated my fifteen minutes of a slimmed, toned body. Danger!

The body in the Pucci dress caught the eye of one of the young waiters. Tired from the travel and sun, Toby went to bed. I stayed at the bar until it was me and the young waiter and whatever would happen next. A bleary-eyed Toby woke up as I crept into our room and my bed before the rooster crowed. She was pissed and didn’t speak to me. 

So, I decided to join the young waiter on an early morning powerboat ride — just the two of us. Ignoring my misgivings, I got in the boat with him, and we went out into the middle of the Caribbean for a swim. I jumped into the water, and he took the wheel of the boat and sped off laughing. I was a decent swimmer and an idiot. Panicked, I flailed, and then I started to float and swim as best I could until the guilty young waiter returned. No apologies.

Time Mends a Broken Heart.

That’s what Bonnie Raitt sang, but I wasn’t going to test her theory. I usually left relationships before my heart was broken and because I just wasn’t ready. And sometimes the guys left because they knew that I wasn’t ready.

My First Boyfriend Was My First Everything.

I met him at Camp Woodcrest. Like Romeo, he threw rocks at my window when he drove back from school to visit me in Brooklyn. 

When my father died, I felt very confused. I didn’t know I was grieving or what to do with myself. I had lost my job as my father’s caregiver and support. I was lost, except for my boyfriend. He was there. He liked me, loved me, maybe, but he didn’t need a caregiver or support. So, I looked for someone who needed me to play that role, and I married him. After my first marriage ended, I was more confused than ever. I spent a few years dating — some famous, some wealthy — but I never felt right. So, when I say, Forgive us our histories,” I start with myself. 

Sex Education

Not on the Ratchick family curriculum. I knew about romance from the knowing glances and kisses in the movies and on television, but I was confused about what my mind and body felt and how any of it worked.

By the Book. 

When I was eleven years old, my school handed out the Personally Yours” pamphlets published by Kotex. That was the extent of my education about menstruation. I had older sisters, I had friends in camp who all had their periods, but I was oblivious. One morning, I had a lot of cramping, thought I had a stomachache, ran to the bathroom, saw blood and called my mother. She ran in and slapped me in the face. I cried. What I also had never been taught was that in old-school Jewish culture, when a girl gets her first period, she also gets a slap in the face. Why? To introduce her to the pain, suffering and vulnerability of being a woman. My mother was following a rite of passage. Some of my friends got their periods and received bouquets of flowers. Not me.

No Reputation.

I had two dates in high school and left the boys I dated more than frustrated. 

The Beatles or the Stones. 

Growing up we loved both, but you favored one over the other. I was a Stones girl. Let’s Spend the Night Together,” “ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and Time Is on My Side” were my favorites. 

Technique by the Book.

After my sister Debby married Marvin and they had my nephew, I used to babysit and snoop around and found their sex manual. That’s how I learned about sex.

Having the Talk with My Mother. 

Every once in a while, as I got older, I would talk to my mother about one of my dates. Then one day, I asked her about her dating history, and she revealed, Your father was my best lover.” I was dumbstruck and blurted, You had others?” She said, Of course not.” After my father died, my mother continued to work in the bakery. The egg delivery man came by every day, and as a sign of his affection, he would give her double-yolkers. He was trying to romance her, and ultimately asked her out for a date. She was not interested. When I asked her why, she said, What do I need it for? So I can wash some old man’s underwear?”

Disappear the Fantasy, Keep the Memory

My first serious boyfriend was everything my mother ever wanted for me: Jewish and studying to be a doctor. We dated for a number of years when I was in college, and he gave me a little book, a single poem by e.e. cummings, Puella Mea,” which translates into My Girl.” Cummings wrote the poem for his first wife, Elaine Orr Thayer, and it is illustrated by Paul Klee, Modigliani and Picasso. It opens with: Harun Omar and Master Hafiz keep your dead beautiful ladies. Mine is a little lovelier than any of your ladies were.” I was twenty and wondered if he loved me or just loved being in love with love.

Not So Bashert

Finding My Place

Runaway Bride: Why? Fear of not being up to the job or not in love. I’ll never know.

Expectations. Traditions. It is time. Enough. Just get married. It is bashert, which in Yiddish means meant to be.

My First Wedding. 

Maybe not so bashert, but it was an opportunity for Debby to stage a gala event. She picked a first-class hotel, the Regency, for her” event. She enlisted the services of Kotimsky & Tuchman, famed caterers; brought me to the bridal salon at Bergdorf Goodman for my wedding dress; and outfitted herself in a long gray cashmere wool Geoffrey Beene dress with fur trim at the hemline. She looked stunning. I looked pretty. The flowers, the food, the hotel ballroom were a spectacle, and in the middle of the ceremony, I panicked. After sips of wine and the smashing of the glass by my then-husband, I ran from the Regency, racing around the corner of Sixty-third Street, up Fifth Avenue and into the Columbus Day parade. A small group of people from the wedding party ran with me. They thought it was fun, a Rochelle thing to do. They didn’t know I was really running away.

Sometimes Things Dont Work Out. 

My first marriage was one of them, and I sensed at the moment I said, I do” that a fancy wedding couldn’t and wouldn’t make the wrong guy the right choice. I wonder if he felt the same way. Maybe we were both too needy to be together. Maybe he needed a mother more than a wife? 

TAKING THE BLAME.

At my Jewish divorce, I was in a surreal state as I faced the three judges. One was very pale, old, shriveled. Another was quite round and young, with acne. The third judge looked like my father — sturdy, solemn, patient. I, me, the feminist, stood in front of my three judges. I was wearing trousers — unheard of and unorthodox — and had to admit that it was my inadequacies that caused my husband and me to split. Oy. I entered my plea, and lots of Hebrew names were exchanged and written by a scribe in front of us. Then dropped into my hands was a kriah, a piece of black ribbon worn as a symbol, a tangible form of loss and grief. I was and still am sobered by this act.

Famous In Death

The final cut. My Scarlet Letter. 

The Man in the Pink Shirt

My dating experiences ran the full spectrum from the good, to the not so good to the bad. I dated the nice Jewish boy in medical school, the birds with broken wings,” and I hung out, not very successfully, with some bad boys. Plagued with guilt and worry, I couldn’t escape the what-ifs associated with being reckless and utterly failed at the bad girl thing. I palled around with some talented enfant terrible journalists who were shaking up publishing and New York City.

On Assignment.

That’s how I ended up at Plato’s Retreat, a sex club, wrapped in a towel — standing, never sitting, and thinking, I can’t wait to get home and scrub down with disinfecting soap,” while following a friend investigating a tell-all story for New York magazine. Only couples were allowed in the club, and I was my journalist friend’s plus-one. There wasn’t a ton of ask-her-out-on-Wednesday-for-Saturday-night dating going on in those days, at least not in New York. People met at restaurants, clubs, bars, classes, museums, galleries, Bloomingdale’s — the first floor was notorious for cruising, which I didn’t do — or work, including when it took you on assignment to some place like Plato’s Retreat, and then spent time together.

Job Interview.

In 1976, I was at Vogue when I got a call from Milton Glaser. He said, I just met this young guy. He’s an editorial designer. I would like you to meet him.” I told him there was no real job opening, but we were always open to meeting people. So, the new designer came up to the thirteenth floor at 350 Madison Avenue, and that’s how I met Doug Turshen.

Dressed for Success.

I greeted him at the elevator and was immediately struck by his pink Brooks Brothers Oxford cloth button-down collar shirt and khaki pants, and he had his portfolio with him, which was terrific. He wore no jacket and tie. No one at Vogue looked like that. The button-down Oxford shirt said classic, traditional American values. The pink said approachable and fashionable. Milton was right. Doug’s portfolio was beautiful, no design just for design’s sake. His work was thoughtful, and he had big brown eyes. So, I offered him a job.

He Said No.

Doug went to work for Herb Lubalin, a very famous typographer, instead. Who refuses a job at Vogue?” I asked him, You know, you really have an editorial mind. You’ll be back in six months.” Sure enough, six months later, Doug called and said, You were right. I miss the editorial world.” I said, Okay, but I’m leaving Vogue, and I’m going to work at Esquire. Why don’t you come work for me there?” And he did.

A Dynamic Duo.

For three years, Doug and I worked together. We were a team, collaborators, partners on some good work and some projects we’d probably prefer to forget. Because I loved work so very much and he did, too, we learned how to be together through our work. We never dated, but at work we grew very close — no walking on eggshells, no fear of putting out any idea or being seen as a jerk. We trusted and listened to each other. It was a safe space to be ourselves in which we could say a lot of stupid things and let ideas flow. No judgments about any of it. If we did good work that got the thumbs up from whoever was at the helm at the time, we celebrated together, and if we got the thumbs down, we also celebrated. Depending on where I was on my diet cycle, we ate cheeseburgers and fries or salads and cabbage soup. We drank Coca-Cola or Diet Coke or water and always too much coffee.

Popping the Question.

After those three years, Doug asked me to marry him. I was on a business trip, and he left his proposal on my answering service. In those days, my service was a person named Gloria. I called for messages, and she said, Congratulations.” I asked, For what?” Gloria was used to Doug calling because we had worked together for so long. She said, Doug asked you to marry him.” I called him back and said, Are you crazy?” He said, No, no, no.” He had seen me through it all — working all-nighters, fat, thin, upset, sad, happy, whatever. He was there, and still he was interested. So, I invited him over for dinner, and he never left.

What Would HR Say?

Not everyone we knew was sure our getting married was such a good thing. I was older than Doug and, on paper, his boss. We didn’t listen. I wonder if human resources would look at a relationship like ours so kindly today? Would we have even dared to try this today? The world has changed, but back then, we weren’t afraid or worried we wouldn’t live up to each other’s expectations. Forty plus years later, we are still together. Acceptance, I believe, is love on a very deep level, and I was and still am a pushover for a pink shirt.

Dogs

Are you a dog person?

Are you a dog person?

Lost and Found

PEE-WEE, A GREAT DANE, was my sister Debby’s first dog. He was a wedding present, and contrary to his gentle nature, people were terrified of him. Debby’s second dog was a brown poodle named Pumpernickel, an obvious reference to the bakery. Thanks to my sister, I got plenty of walking, feeding and dog-sitting experience, and I wanted one of my own.

LUCAS, MY FIRST DOG, was a Manchester terrier. Named after Saint Luke, the first doctor, Lucas was a ratter, like the bakery cats, and was a gift from a medical school student I was dating. The boy and girl relationship didn’t last, but the dog and girl relationship did.

KELLY CAME INTO MY LIFE after Doug and I got married. She was a black wavy haired cocker spaniel named after the actress Kelly LeBrock. She belonged to the celebrated hairstylist Harry King, who was leaving New York for London, and Kelly was with us for twelve years.

OTIS, A PULI, a Hungarian dreadlocked sheepdog that required diligent trimming, came next. He was the first and only dog Doug and I ever got as a puppy. A herder, he let anybody into our house, but would not let them out.

LUCY AND SCOUT, THE BEAGLE SISTERS, came into our lives after Otis’s sudden death from a burst tumor. We went to adopt a dog and left with the beagles, who had been given up because of a divorce.

Dog 01

Lucas, the Manchester

Dog 03

Otis, the Puli

Dog 04

Lucy and Scout, the Beagle sisters

Brooklyn, a Pit Bull Mix, is our latest rescue. She did not do well living in my son and daughter-in-law’s small New York City apartment, so she’s in the burbs with us and has more room to move.

Dog People Are Extroverts, according to psychologists. Both Doug and I are introverts. Our dogs have sometimes been go-betweens for us. When one of us talks to Brooklyn, the other one overhears what is being said and responds. Doug: Brooklyn, I’m going to the kitchen to get something to eat.” Me: While you’re in the kitchen, please pick up something for me, too.”

Doug, Dog Lover and Collector, continued his grandmother Nanny’s tradition and has amassed a big collection of dog miniatures, all breeds and materials. Even though it is an edited collection, it is considerable in number. Can you have too many dogs? Not a question.

Over-Protective and Under-Informed

Take a sweater. Wear a scarf. Don’t forget an umbrella,” my tiny mother would warn every time I walked out the door. She would stand in front of our front door, arms out, barring my exit unless I was prepared for hell freezing over or worse.

In late January 1982, our son, Ben, was about nine months old, and Doug and I were living in a studio apartment in Kips Bay. Doug was working late. Our apartment was all windows, all glass, and the outside temperature had dropped. Remembering my mother’s stories about my father in Belarus walking in weather so cold that his beard froze, I put Ben to sleep in his snowsuit, hat and gloves. I wore my cotton Marimekko nightshirt. By the next morning, Ben had developed a rash. So, I took him to the pediatrician. The diagnosis: prickly heat, which the doctor had never seen in the winter.

Fast forward to when Ben was four years old. Doug was on a business trip and called to say goodnight. Ben told him, Our house is a desert.” Doug thought, How sweet; he misses me. Perhaps, but what Ben meant was that the temperature was turned up to about ninety degrees.

I was and am my mother’s daughter.

Know Your Audience

My First Television Appearance was on the Howdy Doody show (which I learned recently was on television for thirteen years). I was in the Peanut Gallery, crying my eyes out, unglued by the whole Buffalo Bob Smith and Howdy Doody experience, but now I remember it as a highlight of my childhood. 

Howdy Doody Doll 2

The first tv show with audience participation. It’s Howdy Doody Time!

MY SECOND TIME ON THE LITTLE SCREEN was when I wrote the book How to Eat an Artichoke. It sold about ten copies, but that book got me on Good Morning America. I guess the show’s host assumed my expertise with artichokes made me an expert at eating all kinds of difficult foods, because he asked me to show people how to properly eat seeded grapes. There I was on national television, putting grapes into my mouth and spitting the seeds into my hand. Ben was a little over a year old at the time and was home with the babysitter. They were watching, and when he saw me on the screen, he panicked. He thought I was stuck in the box.

Trial By Ice

I was almost eighteen years old when my father slipped on a patch of ice near our Brooklyn bakery and broke his leg. He was diabetic, and the break turned his leg gangrenous, which back then meant his leg had to be amputated. My father, our family’s old-world patriarch, was suddenly what he never wanted to be — helpless, a burden. He had always taken care of his family, the bakery and the men who worked for him, and now he was unable to take care of even himself. My father never fully recovered from the amputation and died two years later. Witnessing his torment at his injury and loss, I started having nightmares about losing a leg. I also developed an irrational and paralytic fear of ice — walking on it and certainly skating were out of the question.

Ice Skates 6

To me a lethal weapon, especially the toepick.

On the Sidelines.

As life’s ironies would have it, my son at the age of nine became interested in playing ice hockey. At the end of each hockey tournament, parents would rush from the bleachers and slide happily across the rink to snap team photos with their children. Except me. I was incapable of taking even one small step onto the ice. I stood frozen on the sidelines, separated from my son’s triumph, imagining myself falling, breaking and losing my leg and feeling not just humiliated and helpless, but frustrated. 

I Had to Learn How to Skate.

I could no longer ignore my fear, and I fantasized about the day I would casually lace up my skates, grab Ben’s hand and glide on to the ice with him. I also obsessed over what might happen if I fell. I might break my arm or leg, my head, my back, my neck, and I hoped that if my fall was life-threatening, I would go quickly. Like my father, I don’t ever want to burden my family. I can think of nothing worse.

On a Friends Advice, I Signed on with a Skating Coach. 

I wasn’t so sure about the plan, but when I met my new teacher, he was strong and would definitely be able to pick me up and get me onto a stretcher and into an ambulance should I fall and crack open my skull. That and the thought of being on the ice with my son got me to my lessons at Sky Rink. Old-fashioned dance music blasted over the loudspeakers of the Olympic-size rink while my coach taped up my weak ankles and laced up my skates. I chanted quietly: The ice is my friend. If the body is there, the mind will follow.”

Not a Natural. 

The body, my body, did indeed follow, bent over like some Neanderthal so I could drop to my hands and knees if I started slipping. When I put my first skate onto the ice, one hand clutched the railing, the other my teacher. Senior citizens waltzed around me while I walked on the ice. Two lessons later, I let go of the rail and skated. I was both exhausted and ecstatic. At Ben’s next ice hockey tournament, I would be able to join the team, the other parents and my son on the ice. 

Did I Love Skating?

No. Did I feel confident I wouldn’t kill myself, or at the very least lose a leg? Did I stop imagining the worst would happen? Did I exorcise ghosts from my past? Hmmm. 

Tattoo

On the Clock

The editorial department when I was at Vogue was mostly women, and we celebrated each other’s weddings and new babies. When one of the women I knew had a baby, my friend Ron Kajiwara and I went to Saks Fifth Avenue to find a gift. I knew exactly what I wanted to get the new mother. 

I Had No Baby Plans. 

In fact, I was recently divorced and hadn’t met Doug yet. Ron was watching me buy this present, and in the middle of Saks Fifth Avenue, he announced, You really need to have a baby.” As a kid, I babysat. I had nephews and nieces. I mothered most everyone. But I never thought of myself as a mother. I knew my family expected me to have a child. Maybe it was my body language when I was buying that baby gift, but somehow Ron knew I had it in me to be a mother before I did. 

Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock.

When Doug and I first got married, I was thirty-six and fast on the way to thirty-seven. My biological clock was ready to explode. We were married in March and soon I was pregnant.

I Refused to Wear Maternity Clothes. 

I was pregnant long before Liz Lange designed fashionable clothes for pregnant women. Before Liz, women were wearing ruffles and bows. Not for me. I bought some no-waist dresses at Agnès B., and I cut down some of them to tops. Macy’s was selling elastic patches that you could cut out and stitch into your jeans to make them expandable. I bought the patches and had them sewn into all my pants. I had a pregnancy wardrobe that lasted nine months, and I looked and felt like myself.