At the end of this year….

I end this year wiser, having learned much more about myself and what the reality of my dreams looks like, feels like. It’s the feels like that’s what’s important. Who cares what it looks like? Only I know what it feels like when I know I’m following my path. Only I know the joy of watching my now-sober husband, a man so different from me, be so perfect for filling the hole in my children’s lives. Only I know the pride in watching them thrive. Keeping my eyes on the prize and they are the prize…may I keep my sight clear this year.

The Cocoon

For the past 20 years, there has been one constant in my life, through all the transitions of adulthood. There was always UCLA. I’ve been there longer than half my life, at this point. At 17 years old, I visited the campus for the first time, during February of my senior year. I had already applied, sight unseen, along with all the other schools i thought might also be good for me (for various reasons), including UC Berkeley, Tufts, Brown, Washington University in St. Louis, Northwestern, and Yale. I applied to them all, even though my high school guidance counselor thought I didn’t have a chance with many of them (what the hell, by the way?). And then in February, I went on a college tour with my dad and stepmother to visit the places to which I had applied.

We started with Tufts. I loved Boston from the moment I landed there (it was my first time), but hadn’t applied to Harvard out of loyalty to my family’s Yale connections. So we left the city and visited Tufts, and I found that as a high school senior, I knew more about the class I visited than many of the college students. They seemed slower than me, and the campus seemed very small, so I crossed that one off of the list.

Next was Yale. I spent the night there with some girls in their dorm hall, and was intimidated by everyone’s intensity. It was also 30 degrees below zero with the wind chill. But I was just excited and happy to be there, and did love the campus, and knew it would be a challenge. Plus, they had a world-class reputation for theater. So it stayed on the list. Then we visited Brown in Rhode Island. It felt like a small town, but an incredibly fun, funky, intelligent one. It stayed on the list, too, even a bit higher than Yale because it seemed more nurturing and less intimidating. Plus, the entire ethos of creating one’s own major strongly appealed to me.

Then came Northwestern, which was beautiful and had huge, welcoming dorm rooms, but was knocked off of the list the second I heard on the tour that all freshman take the same courses. I strike my own path – this was definitely not for me. We skipped visiting Washington University, since I had visited St. Louis many times – my family’s from there, and I was born there. I felt like I knew what it would be like; it was safe.

On a trip later that month, I visited UC Berkeley, and didn’t see what all the fuss was about. It seemed dingy and uninviting, and even though my boyfriend at the time dreamed of going there, I couldn’t see myself there at all. And then, on a 75 degree February day in 1993, I visited UCLA.

I fell in love completely and instantly with the campus. It was the perfect mix of old and new, of world class scholarship and exciting new opportunities. I loved Los Angeles, too. I loved that a movie world premiere was held in Westwood on the day that I visited, and I watched Clint Eastwood get out of his car for In the Line of Fire.  The campus was a dreamworld, and I wanted to be part of it. I got into every college I had applied to, and there was no doubt that I would choose UCLA.

And I always thought I would leave. I went to Washington DC for a time, and thought I would go back. But I had met the man who would become my first husband, and he didn’t want to leave LA. So we stayed, and after a couple of months (basically, just one summer) of turmoil after my graduation, both ended up with jobs at UCLA. Over the next twelve years, we both stayed there. He worked, being promoted a number of times. I worked and earned two graduate degrees. And at the end of it, we had grown apart and separated – the same month I left him, I graduated with my PhD and he was laid-off and left UCLA.

I moved back to LA to be closer to the campus and cut my commute, and for the past four years, have created my own career path in the University. It has cocooned me, sheltered me, absolutely been a major part of turning me into the scholar and poet and woman I am today.

But yesterday, the cocoon cracked open, just a bit, and sunlight started to shine in. Because I was told I’m no longer able to forge my own path here, I have to conform to the path I’m supposed to be on. It’s looking more and more like it’s time for me to find a new path, now that I have a strong partner to walk with me wherever I might want to go (for my faithful readers, you know who I mean).

After 20 years in my cocoon, it might just be time to fly.

Oh, the irony….

When I started this blog, I was about to break. So many things had to change, I didn’t even know where to begin. I was brokenhearted in many different ways – drained out by where I lived, by what I was doing at work, by my loneliness and aching need for a true partner. That was a little over five months ago.

So, here’s what I did, in order. I took a deep breath and went out on a first date. I kept my head and didn’t expect him to save me. I travelled the world. I gave my 30 day notice for my apartment. I went out on a second date, and let him into my life. I moved into a place that moved me to tears. I fell in love and so did he. I submitted a new proposal and gave up one of my jobs. I got engaged. The proposal at work was rejected and could finally let that idea go. I planned a wedding. I came up with a better idea that brought new life into my work.

And now, five months later, I’m able to go do my enjoyable work, knowing that my true love and partner is with my children. I come home to see the newly carved pumpkins glowing in the driveway of our new home, which contains both my tarot cards and his prized original stadium seats, out in the open. Through the window, I see all three of them on the couch, talking and laughing. Happy tears in my eyes, I thank God for this moment, and for the years of moments to come.

And now it really gets complicated…

So this relationship thing has been, is definitely, wonderful. Just wonderful. No stumbling blocks yet, really. Sure, there’s been a bit of ex’s drama, and sure, there’s been some angst as we’re meeting our respective families and friends, but nothing major. But. That’s because I’ve been pretending to be just like every other single girl out there for two and a half weeks. I’ve been on a mini-vacation, of sorts. Because my two daughters, the two people that define me and define my daily life, have been off visiting their grandparents in Texas. And they come back today.

So now, I go back to being a single mom. Kind of. I’m a single mom with a boyfriend now, which I’ve never been before. And it’s time for them to meet him, an experience that they’ve never really had before. And I keep hearing horror stories from people, about how their kids hated their boyfriends or girlfriends and wanted their mommies or daddies all to themselves and so tried their best to be horrible people to run them off. Think “Parent Trap” – that’s every kid’s fantasy. If I can only just run off the new person and get my mommy and daddy together in a room or on a horseback ride or something, they’ll fall in love all over again and it’ll all be happily ever after!

Well, kiddies, you know that me and your daddy aren’t getting back together. And you’ve been saying for years that you want me to have a boyfriend and be happy…so, I’ll find out soon how all of this might go. Will they be their normal selves, which is draining enough for most people to deal with? Or will they be horrible, trying to get my boyfriend to run for the hills?

Or…in my wildest dreams, I hope for this…will they be happier and better off, knowing that their mommy is happier? Better able to deal with life as it comes, after seeing what a good relationship looks like? Please, universe, can we make that happen? That might just be too much to wish for. But I’m going to give it my best, and just hope for the best.

Daily Prompt: My Name is Beautiful

Names are incredibly important in the great scheme of things. Giving something a name, or knowing their true name, is also incredibly powerful. So this Daily Prompt is, to me, a very deep one (http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/daily-prompt-name/).

My name is Shana. In Yiddish, a language created by Jews in the Diaspora merging Hebrew, English and German, it means “beautiful.” So I grew up with the name Beautiful, with older men and women calling me Shayna Maideleh (beautiful girl) or Shayna Punim (beautiful face). Note my name does not have a “y” in it, as most Shayna’s do, so I also grew up with Shawna, Shaana, one time even Shai-e-na. I’m named after my great-grandmother, Sarah, who died when I was very young. What I remember most about meeting her was being surprised at how she looked – she was the first person I had seen with a masectomy (no reconstruction).

I also grew up in a Jewish community in San Diego that was fairly large, but I was the only Shana. There were a ton of Rebecca’s (or Becky) or Lisa’s or Jennifer’s, but I was the only Shana around, even all through Jewish summer camp and temple up through confirmation. Very active in the community, but the community only had one Shana in it.

So I grew up feeling unique and special and like I had a “J” stamped on my forehead for Jewish because every time I met someone Jewish, they would hear my name and call me Shana Punim and tell me that their daughter had a pet dog named Shayna. Just me and the cute puppies, I guess.

And then I became involved in the Los Angeles Jewish community a few years back. And suddenly, I’m swimming in a sea of Shana’s (or Shayna’s, really). I’m not even remotely unusual, except for maybe that my parents forgot the “y.” There had to be more to me than just my name, now, to make me stand out. Because I’m an Aquarian and I can’t stand being one of the crowd.

But, at this point, I still have my ex-husband’s Guatemalan/Catholic last  name (I kept it after the divorce). There’s really no other Shana in the world quite like me.

Evolution

My older daughter is in a special needs class for third grade, and yesterday, I had the annual meeting with her teacher and the vice-principal to discuss what her goals are for the upcoming year. It’s a meeting that’s required by LAUSD, and it went very well in terms of how my daughter is progressing in her class. But one thing came up – some of the other students in her class are having some emotional issues that make everything hard for everyone, including them, poor kids. They have autism or ADHD or (like mine) epilepsy, and just find the world to be a difficult place to navigate sometimes – and that’s when the kicking and screaming and flailing in frustration starts.

So I suggested meditation (my daily practice has helped me immensely, and my daughters sometimes do it, too), and then remembered a Facebook post I saw recently of a scripted 5-minute meditation designed for classroom use, and offered it to the teacher. When I posted that I was sending it to my child’s special needs class on my “friend” ‘s page, he offered to even come to the school and lead the session himself. Couldn’t be a nicer, more selfless guy.

Which just hits me in a funny place, a place that makes me smile a little and shake my head at the wonders of this world. Because I used to hate this guy. Really hate him. In seventh grade, he was one of the popular kids (the sidekick one, if you know what I mean) that actually helped make my life hell. I was a quirky nerd who didn’t care much what anyone thought of me, but I did care when three of my best friends stopped talking to me and joined that other group, the popular kids group. Those kids just seemed like people from another planet, shallow and mean. I remember this guy mostly as the “hairy” one, the kid who had to start shaving in eighth grade.

And that pretty much lasted all through high school. I never talked to them, but they were always there. They were always involved in school government, in the sports teams. I stuck to the theater class and the speech team, skipped pretty much every sports event (until I started dating a volleyball/basketball player, but that’s another story), and just concentrated on keeping my straight A average. Then in eleventh grade, scandal struck – turns out that all the popular kids had the brilliant idea of cheating their way through school. It was a huge, pervasive cheating ring, and I don’t think he was one of the ringleaders (hard to remember now), but I know that he was definitely part of that crowd. Definitely not my crowd.

But a few months ago, one of the many people I’m still in touch with on Facebook posted a TED talk – this guy leading a meditation session. And now he’s centered, and selfless, and bringing the joy and peace of meditation to any and all people (including prisoners, even) who need it. It just blew me away how twenty years have changed this man. That he’s now someone who I admire, and can see all the ways in which we’re alike. And I wonder, was that always there, and was I just was too shallow and mean myself back then to see it?

Still, whether it’s his evolution or mine, I think it’s progress.