From Summer Camp to the Seine

Parents are actively posting pictures of their kids all over the interwebs (really, just on Facebook in my world), as they leave for stints at overnight camp. Admittedly, most of the pictures I’ve seen are of kids of my friends, many of whom I know from camp, either in my days as a camper or as a counselor.

In recent years, I’ve thought a lot about the experiences that have shaped me. Not my choice of college or career path, but when you strip away the holey (not holy, although…) Michigan State t-shirt and I speak in an impassioned way about fixing the healthcare system, what has really made me, me?

The answer is three adolescent experiences. First, my family. So far they’ve appeared in 100% of my posts here (I know three posts doesn’t qualify as a lot) and they’ll likely be referred to in many more. I believe our families shape us, for better or for worse, but as an adult I’m leaning a lot toward the ‘for better.’ My love of travel is because I grew up with parents who believed seeing new places was more important than having cable TV (never mind that they have a killer cable package now that there aren’t any kids around). My large community of friends was modeled by my parents who have always been surrounded by many close friends. My generous nature stems from understanding that even the smallest act of kindness can improve someone’s day and maybe even their life.

And sure, there are the other lessons I learned, sometimes the hard way, from my family that I’d like to unlearn or ‘fix’ or change or simply divorce myself of.

But there are two other experiences that had a deep impact on who I am today. My participation in a Jewish youth group in high school, The B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO) and attending and subsequently working at Camp Tamarack.

My experience in BBYO will likely make it into a future blog. But suffice it to say that some of my earliest lessons in leadership, in organized social action and in the idea that I could actually make a living at speaking (you know, if people are willing to listen) were all formed through my participation in BBYO.

But it is the third experience, that lies at the forefront of my mind because it’s where I learned to live with others (who weren’t related to me), where I experienced community in the truest sense, where I pushed my boundaries physically and where as a counselor, I could help shape kids during that delicate pubescent time.

One cannot really have boundaries or shirk vulnerability at camp when you find yourself sitting in an outhouse called “Ye Olde Three Seater” next to two of your friends doing what you have to do. Or looking forward to a weekly(!) shower while camping in the Grand Tetons or cramped in a tent in Southern Ontario in the middle of a rainstorm, playing Euchre for hours on end.

It is not just the physical closeness that opened me up, it was the depth of conversation, the work that was accomplished together, the exchange of ideas in a land where kids really do have a voice and their opinion matters.

The relevance to today and I do mean literally today, is that I am about to embark on a 10-day journey with two of my closest friends, both of whom I met at camp.

Adina and I like to laugh about how she saved my finger after a ‘widdling accident.’ I found myself with a knife (unless it’s cutting steak, please confiscate any sharp object from me), a piece of wood and a cut finger. Adina provided first aid to what I’m certain was little more than a paper cut, but I desperately sought her assistance. I was trying something new, I failed, I needed help, she was able to help me, a friendship was formed. What if I didn’t have the courage to try something new and what if she didn’t have an opportunity to try out her new skills? At the time we were both former campers trying to fit into our big kid cargo shorts of being counselors, which requires trying new things. And that resulted in a lifelong friendship that extended into college and to today.

My first memory of Mo is when she visited my outpost camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with many of my friends (from BBYO!) on their journey back from a camp-sponsored trip to Alaska. Don’t ask me for the details except that I’m pretty sure I just assumed we were friends after that and when college brought us the opportunity to climb into each other’s lives, I did so with no hesitation.

Adina and Mo are not just two of my close friends, they are the sisters I never had, my conscience, my sanity, my cheerleaders, my belly laughter. Adina is one of two friends who I see virtually every single time I return to Michigan. My parents consider Adina and her daughter Bella an extension of our family. We were together when Princess Diana died–ain’t that something. Mo is the friend who lives over 1000 miles away who I see more often than even some of my local friends. She and her husband Jason ready the guest room for my visits and cater to my every whim as if I’m an occasional visitor, not one who shows up every few months. When I am wrestling with an idea or a challenge she is the first person I call to help me further shape my thought or validate my sanity.

So today we don’t climb onto an iconic (to some) green Tamarack bus together “On the Road…to Anywhere…With Never a Heart Ache…And Never a Care…” as our camp bus song declares. Instead, we each climb aboard separate planes from different cities and descend upon Paris. Not just three friends on some almost-mid-life-journey, but three women shaped by different childhoods, yet raised in the same home every summer. A place that taught us how to laugh until we cry, a place that taught us how to co-habitate in close quarters and a place that taught us the magic of lengthening a 24 hour day into eternity.

I can’t wait to spend eternity with my sisters. See you in Paris.


The Great Recession

Dentist, n.”A Prestidigitator who, putting metal in one’s mouth, pulls coins out of one’s pockets.” –Ambrose Bierce

When I was 11, I got braces. Everyone else I knew went to an orthodontist named Dr. Lash. However, I went to Dr. Ash. This was consistent with the way my parents raised us on knock-offs and off-brands. We had Lock Blocks instead of Legos and Gobots instead of Transformers. So naturally, I had a knock off orthodontist.


Dr. Ash was a slight man whose hands smelled of soap (thankfully) and whose walls were filled with photos he personally took of his world travels. You know, the ones my braces paid for. I also recall he was kind of a dick.

Just as I was about to leave the chair after he finished putting on my braces, he said, “I have a surprise for you, look in the mirror.” So I made my way to the mirror hanging on the wood paneled wall. I opened my mouth and was shocked by the smile that greeted me. My teeth were covered with little off-white colored pearls. Dr. Ash came up next to me and announced that he had put new porcelain braces on me.

“They don’t stain, they’re made out of the same material as kitchen counters” he exclaimed. “Aren’t they great?”


Any half-caring adolescent female will tell you that if you’re going to mess with her appearance in any way, especially HER FACE, you best give her an option or at least a warning that you’re about to put a kitchen counter in her mouth (seems like you could just sponge them clean instead of taking the time to brush, right?) 11 is not the age in which a kid wants to stand out for being different. 11 is the age in which a kid wants to look like all the other kids at school.

Did I mention that he was a dick?

Sidebar: My mom packed me a bagel and cream cheese for lunch. I had to eat during a later lunch period because of my appointment, so I sat by myself with my white braces taking small bites to ensure the cream cheese got nice and stuck around each bracket.

It’s likely I lost all trust in adults that day.

Fast forward to some easy-to-ignore comment my current dentist mentions (and by ‘mentions’ I mean says very clearly and is accompanied by a referral slip) that I have “gum recession that is worse than anyone I’ve seen your age.” I think the year on the referral slip was 2011.

Last month at my most recent appointment, she asks me if I’d seen the periodontist she referred me to. While I’m typically way on top of visiting doctors and addressing almost every ache and pain with a trip to the acupuncturist, the chiropractor or my Dianetics counselor, dianeticsI’m not too keen on running out to have someone fondle my gums. Years ago, I had to have a periodontist remove gum that had grown over the tops of my two bottom wisdom teeth (which I still have in some twisted universe where it just felt too late to get them removed since I couldn’t enjoy doing it in the care of my parents). So yeah, this wasn’t a trip I was keen on making. But since it’s my Befortieth year and all and I’m getting more serious about my health, I decided to follow up.

As soon as I sat in the chair in the periodontist’s office, an assistant takes a picture of my mouth and projects it onto a 30” monitor hanging right in front of me. The image dangles there for 20 minutes because the doctor was running late. Just me looking at me. Not my best angle. photo-12

The doctor arrives and asks what brings me here. I tell him what my dentist says about my recession and my age and I find comfort in the fact that he finds it equally as ridiculous as I do and we have a good chuckle. Of course he’s on my side because he’s close to my age.

He puts on his mask, leans me back and starts poking my teeth with his little metal hook while solemnly assigning a number to each tooth as the assistant records his report. 1, 2, 4, 2, 2, 1…whatever, I was never good with numbers.

After going through each tooth he brings me up to a 90 degree angle, pulls down his mask, looks at the monitor, looks back at me and says, “Well, this picture doesn’t accurately indicate the clinical severity that actually exists in your mouth.”


Suddenly, my ally is my adversary. I’m thinking, “What’d you just say, kid?” But I’m saying, “What do you mean exactly, sir?”

He then launches into an explanation of what’s wrong in my mouth and a whole bunch of numbers, the fact that I need a gum graft and blah blah blah and all I can do is stare my 30” mouth in front of me and see it saying to me, “YOUARESOFUCKINGOLD.”

This is why people bring care partners with them to medical appointments. You don’t remember anything.

Whatever, I’m not a baby. I can handle this. I’ve got this. But amidst the “blah blah blah” I hear some key phrases.

“…so then we’ll take the donor tissue and sandwich it between your gums and your…”

“I’m sorry…WHA?!! Wait, did someone say sandwich?”

“Donor tissue.”

“Um, when you say, donor, do you mean living or decea…”


Barf in my mouth. Gag. Anger. Hot face. Pit in my stomach. Sweaty palms.

This might also be a good time to mention that I totally get that this isn’t a big deal. I’m devoting a blog to a minor dental procedure and people have real problems, real health problems, real life problems.

But this is my mouth and it’s where food enters and where words exit and we’re talking about my three front teeth. The ones everyone sees. So to me, it’s a thing. I never had a cavity until I moved to Portland, one of a small handful of US cities that doesn’t put fluoride in its water, so my teeth have long been a source of pride. But I get it’s not a real problem, so keep any inkling of respect you had for me in tact and just stick with me here.

So the deceased donor tissue in my mouth stirs up about a thousand questions, including “Will I have the donor’s smile?” and “What if my body rejects the donor tissue?” And in the forefront of my brain I recall my friend Jenny overzealously advocating for me to see the periodontist because she had a gum graft once and felt very strongly about the importance of them. She said it wasn’t too bad because technology had advanced enough to where you could use tissue from the roof of your mouth.

But that wasn’t what this guy was saying. He wants to put dead gums in my mouth.

Remembering Jenny’s experience I ask, “Well can’t you just take tissue from the roof of my mouth?” As if this guy needs my suggestion to guide his surgical plan.

“Oh no, that’s only for small grafts. We’d need the entire roof of your mouth for an area this large.”

Crickets. More barfing. Seething. Tooth gnashing (until I realize that may have been an inadvertent cause).

“What caused this?”

“Well, we don’t really know, but did you ever have braces? It’s likely that was the culprit.”

Motherf*ing Dr. Asho*e and the countertops he put in my mouth for god-knows-how-much-money to pay for his trips to Monaco and all I’m left with is the threat of losing my three front teeth or putting dead gums in my mouth.

I know this has never happened to any of Dr. Lash’s patients.


my 40th year

Technically, this is my 40th year, you know, because I’m 39. Many of us forget that our lives were counted in months prior to turning two and that first year was marked by accomplishments, more than time. First smile, first laugh, first fart.

As an adult, we count different accomplishments: First job, first mortgage payment, first divorce. And at some point, there’s this feeling that this is it. Not in a bad way, but in a way where we’re convinced we’re done experiencing the good stuff for the first time. Let’s face it, it’s unfashionable to be searching for a brand new career in your 30s and it’s unseemly to be looking for love at that age, as well.

I remember when both my parents turned 40, a year apart from each other. I don’t remember the details, I just remember the marking of time. There were black cards with death themes and I’m pretty sure some strippers courtesy of their friends. One buxom blonde visited our house in the middle of a birthday celebration that involved both sets of my grandparents. I was probably forcing my off-brand Barbies to make-out with each other in the next room. Sad to have missed it.

I’ve always had older friends. I learned how to drive at age 13 from a day camp counselor and I shared many friends with my brother who is three years older than me. Nothing has changed in adulthood–some of my closest friends are well into their 50s and we don’t find ourselves searching for commonalities. I’ve often felt I was born an old soul–like if George Burns and Phyllis Diller had a kid and named her Larry David.

Having friends who are older than me should desensitize me to the stigma of getting older and instead, give me great inspiration that the best is yet to come. Intellectually, I believe this. In my heart, I know this. In my soul, I am terrified.

At present it’s the struggles of the ‘nots:’ The turning points in life when you realize “I’m not running a marathon,” “I’m not having kids” and “I’m not getting rid of this belly fat.” Truth is, I have a friend over 50 who will likely run her first marathon this year. I am totally committed to having children, just not using my womb as the vehicle. And the belly fat, well, that’s a tougher one. But as much as I am sure of these things, I also know how quickly ‘nots’ can become ‘nevers.’

My dad had a stroke at the age of 40. He turned his head too quickly when turning off the alarm clock one morning. Shit got real. And I can’t say that’s never going to happen to me.

Two nights after turning 39, I realized that I wanted this to be a special year. I think that’s a pretty common approach to some of the ‘big ones.’ Instead of admitting I’m a control freak, I’ll just make some different health choices, take the requisite trip to Europe with girlfriends and blog goddammit. That’ll make 40 feel better. So as I sat thinking about the ‘year before forty’ and what I’d call this special time, it came to me. Beforty. The year before a big one.

Otherwise known as my 40th year.