Susan, Lee and Dana having a floating birthday party on Lake Norman earlier this month
We were born during the summer of ’69. Woodstock, man on the moon, the whole bit. That year, Golda Meir became Prime Minister of Israel, the world first strolled down Sesame Street, and new homes on Main Street averaged $15,550.
When our parents turned 40, we were old enough to buy them wiseass cards about being over the hill. Funny, because we don’t feel old. Corneas don’t wrinkle and from the inside out, everything looks pretty much the same.
Except when it doesn’t.
Now that we have navigated four decades of living and dreaming, of Judy Blume, John Cougar Mellencamp, and broken hearts, of life threatening illnesses, DateMe.com, therapy, dirty diapers and rude awakenings - both literally and figuratively, are we wise enough to dispense advice?
I invite my old friends (and anyone else) to add your lessons learned to my list. In the meantime, here are a few things I wish I’d figured out sooner.
Buy second-hand clothes. Because, poor kid, you will pay retail for prairie skirts, paisley shirts, argyle socks and Bermuda shorts, monogrammed sweaters, duck shoes, penny loafers, Izods, Polos, ill-fitting Jordache jeans... and god, that’s just the 80’s. Go to Crossroads Trading Co. or go to thrift stores run by little old Jewish ladies. You’ll save money and look cooler.
Take an IMPACT class. Take it when you’re 16. Take it again when you’re older. Tell every woman you know to take it. When that guy grabs your ass in Istanbul, slips his hand in your pocket on the London subway, pretends he’s asleep in the shared cab heading east from Haifa (and you’re his pillow). When you’re walking across campus alone at night, home from the library, home from the El and someone is creeping you out. When Mr. Napoleon Complex screams at you, when Mr. Frat Boy lunges at you, when Irving is an asshole. You won’t say nothing. You will say Stop. You will say stop, with conviction and with strength. And if that doesn’t work, you’ll know where to kick him.
You can love being Jewish without having the God part figured out. Shabbat at overnight camp, sex education in Sunday school, watching graying, grinning kibbutzniks dancing their hearts out on Shavuot, crispy latkes with applesauce, tikkun olam, the rabbi you love, the Young Judaea madrich you love, the song leader you love, running into Jews on remote islands, in Vegas, on gondolas, in Rome, surviving (more than surviving) your Bat Mitzvah, listening to your toddler squeal Dayeinu, over and over again. What’s not to love?
Everybody’s shit stinks. The rabbi’s shit stinks. Every last girl on the cheerleading squad, the professor, the Department of Motor Vehicles dude who is about to fail you, the guy who is interviewing you, the people who are pointing at you. Their shit stinks, too, don’t forget.
Don’t believe everything your mother tells you (there is plenty of real stuff to worry about). I never saw anyone’s eyes get stuck crossed. I never saw anyone’s eardrums burst from a probing q-tip. I don’t know anyone who died from running with a lollipop in their mouth, or going outside with a wet head, or eating hummus that has been sitting out in the sun for too long. And I certainly never saw a magnifying glass or a germy sponge spontaneously combust.
Listen to your mother – she’s often right. Wear sunscreen. Embrace differences. Don’t smoke. Try your best. Say thank you. Be honest. Share. Remember nobody is perfect. Learn to say, I’m sorry. And for god’s sake, don’t run with a lollipop in your mouth.
Money is overrated. Seven figure bank accounts haven’t kept my friends out of psychotherapy or out of chemotherapy.
Boobs are overrated. A) They generally produce milk, regardless of size, and they eventually sag. B) Just laser the goddamn unwanted hair and be done with it. Otherwise you’ll spend hours, day in day out, plucking, waxing, bleaching, zapping, obsessing. It’s ridiculous. C) One day those popular kids will be fat and bald.
Grades are overrated. You might get a D in calculus and straight A’s in grad school and in the long run it won’t make one iota of difference. Like mom said, just try your best. Read the books that interest you; try a few that don’t. Listen to the teachers who believe in you. Ignore the ones who don’t. Find your passions. Fuck the rest.
Marry the mensch. No doubt you’ll have a crush on the cool, conceited drummer, the soccer player who doesn’t know you exist, the cute one, the challenging one, the evasive one, the one who can’t commit. You won’t be able to change them, so don’t waste your time trying. Marry your best friend, the one who brings out your best, who tells you the truth, who loves you as you are. (And I have plenty of happy, single friends, too.)
Remember Sandy. Sandy Andy Agnes Brown who came to me in a dream the summer I turned 20 and today, on the eve of my 40th birthday, remains the children’s book I never wrote. Sandy Andy Agnes Brown may be my dream unrealized, but as my husband always says, tomorrow is a new day.
Learn to say, I love you.
And don’t get depressed about turning 40. That’s what Susan told me and Lee while floating on noodles in Lake Norman, North Carolina, three days before her 40th birthday, eight years after surviving breast cancer. And she’s right.
Happy birthday, my friends.