A Mom’s Truly Terrifying Halloween Tale

If only they could be Frozen in time as tiny pumpkins... is that creepy?

If only they could be Frozen in time as tiny pumpkins… is that creepy?

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. From the cheap thrills of decked out houses, corn mazes, and boy-meets-ghoul kinda parties, to the fistfuls of candy consumed, it’s a boo-tiful thing.

And while I loved the holiday as a kid, having my own sent it way up and over the Harvest moon to make it the best holiday of all. From baby pumpkins and toddler kitty cats to tween fairies and scaries, Halloween became an unending parade of happy memories. In fact, when we moved to LA, we made an offer on our house in two seconds flat once we were told it had the most kick ass Halloween ever — freaky June Cleaver would pick the block we live on, especially around October 31st when she’s wielding a meat cleaver. (Watch your neck, Beaver!)

Considering I trick-or-treated until my senior year in high school(!), it never occurred to me that my kids might actually be getting too old for All Hallow’s Eve shenanigans. But a couple of weeks ago when I asked my son what he was going to be for Halloween, he gave me a noncommittal shrug, and my daughter announced she was planning on hightailing it out of our spooky street to go with her friends to case some fancy-pants hyper-Hollywood haunts.

So when my BBF offered us tickets to join a group heading to “The Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns” (Descanso Gardens in LA, Old Westbury Gardens in Long Island if you’re on the East Coast), I jumped at the chance for some good old fashioned Halloween fun, plus 5,000 arty carved pumpkins to boot.

That’s when shit got really scary.

It started just like any good horror movie. The lot of us laughing, having a nice dinner ahead of time, with no inkling about what was coming. We arrived at “The Rise” feeling excited that it was starting to feel like fall — there was a nip in the air (a “chilly” 70-degrees in LA) and the perfect setting for a fun Saturday night with the fam.

The dark maze that loomed ahead seemed sweet and not at all threatening. (I have a long-standing fear of puppets, evil clowns, and twisted carnies, so I do a scan for such things pretty much daily, and especially around Halloween time.) We all started the trail together, with my kids and their friends slightly ahead of me. I’m well-accustomed to the “mom, get away from me,” stance, although I do enjoy watching from a distance like a stalker, voyeur, or garden variety GenX mom — all sort of the same thing.

Normally, that is.

Within five minutes on the pumpkin-studded trail, the kids disappeared into the crowd. The combo platter of low-lit jack-o’-lanterns and blinding iPhone flashes made it nearly impossible to see. I rubbed my eyes, and when my I finally regained my focus, I suddenly realized that not only did I no longer see the young’uns, I’d also lost track of my husband and the other BBFs as well.

Alone and somewhat disoriented, I tried to enjoy the art and artistry of the evening, but as soon as I rolled by the video games themed pumpkins (Pokémon, Grand Theft Auto, etc.), I knew I was doomed. My impulse was to grab my son and point out his faves, but he was nowhere to be found. Ditto on the Kardashians — I hadn’t kept up with my daughter, so there was nobody there for me to pick favorites with. (I enjoy Rob, who looked surprisingly thin and handsome etched on a pumpkin, and without discussing with her, I knew my daughter would be happy that Kourtney was smiling… we both worry about her, the most tortured of the torturous bunch.)

As I lingered in the pop culture area, I heard someone say, “Mom? Where are you?” I breathed a sigh of relief and was pushing my way forward through the crowd when the voice piped up again. Much to my horror, I realized that it was about 50 tones higher than either one of my teens… and was coming from a pint-sized little girl. Just as I leaned in to help what I thought was a lost kid, her dad scooped her up and reassured the frightened child: “Mommy’s looking at Elsa from Frozen — your favorite! Let’s go see her.”

And then, like a chorus of mocking ghosts, I started to hear all sorts of little voices cropping up, excitedly pointing out their favorite characters and going especially nuts over the stunning garden of jack-o’-lantern dinosaurs.

It’s moments like this when the startling realization that the end is nigh creeps into my heart and freezes my blood. With no little hands to press in mine, not to mention nobody to give some major props with me to whomever carved Breaking Bad’s Walter White, this perfect family event became a bit of an emotional nightmare. The longer I walked on what now seemed like an endless trail, the more I felt the heavy weight of nostalgia bearing down.

Is this the last official time my kids will agree without a fuss to spend a Saturday night as a family?

Now that my alter-ego has taken over whoever I was before and permanently mutated me in a creature called MOM, what will my daily adventures look like when they don’t include any of the day-to-day stuff that MOM — both evil villain and superhero – normally does?

Will I spend the rest of my days haunted by memories as I live out my gnarled and decrepit existence an old hag stewing over a toxic brew of lost youth and longing for days gone by?

(OK, that last one was a little over the top, but let’s just say I was totally freaking out.)

The leering jack-o’-lanterns seemed to be having a good laugh at my midlife crisis. It was hellish trying to look normal while my goal was a Scooby Doo exit as fast as humanly possible. Finally, I reached the end of the trail, and like magic, another little voice rose above the din:

“Grandma, that was AWESOME! Can we do it again?”

Without a second longer of staring into that next, great abyss, I hightailed it out of the pumpkin patch. As the dark path opened into the cheery courtyard illuminated by a glowing gift shop, I finally took a second to slow down. Floating above the noise of the blood pounding in my ears, another voice piped up, this time more familiar:

“Where were you mom? You scared us.”

So if you see me dressed up this Halloween as the Mummy, just know I’m celebrating the mystery of that which both thrills and scares us. Because after all, Halloween is a holiday of dualities — it’s at once spooky and sweet — and although ghosts of past and future lurk, there’s always the sanctuary of staying present.

Can I get a boo…. hoo!?

Win Battles Without Losing Your Sh*t

WWBD? (What would Buddha do?)

WWBD? (What would Buddha do?)

Lately there’s been an onslaught of pick your battles moments, sending me into a spiral of going off half-cocked… and coming out looking (and feeling) like a dick.

It all started about a month ago when my A/C crapped out during a heat wave. At the time, I had just five days to get it working again before I was to have a house full of people for break fast.

No problem, I thought. This is what my American Home Shield policy that we’ve been paying into for nine years is all about. They’ll be fair, wonderful, and at my service. Five days is plenty of time to get the air conditioning back, even as more heat waves are predicted. 

A month later, dozens of phone calls, two diagnostic visits, $150 in worthless service calls fees, and not one but two rejection letters from American Home Shield, and this week we finally got our cooling (and heating) system fixed.

Well, not fixed, replaced. By another company, not covered by any insurance, and it was a painful loss of cash, not to mention hours of my life, lemme tell ya.

But going through the process, I learned a valuable lesson about picking, never mind winning, battles. And it actually started by losing my sh*t quite a few times, actually.

In that first week, my calls to the insurance company and to the service guys got ugly. My anger was spilling all over the place at the injustice of them not snapping to fixing my problem before the aforementioned house full of people arrived. Most of my conversations included a line like this: “I don’t mean to yell at you, but…” and ended up with me wishing there were still phone receivers to slam down. (You can, however, get some satisfaction, jamming your middle finger on the “End” button a few dozen times after a particularly annoying conversation.)

In my fury, a little voice kept nagging at me. It was actually a deep man’s voice, from the first service tech that came to my house and said, “Yup, your compressor’s dead. But it’s a mess up there. Missing parts, no Freon, leakage. You really didn’t maintain the unit.”

While I was in a frenzy, protecting my right to have the insurance people buy us a new system, I couldn’t help but think about how often I’d had that damn unit serviced. Truthfully…. twice in nine years. And we live in a place where the A/C runs eight months of the year, and heat kicks in two to three months annually. No rest for the weary, and if I had to be honest, no tune-ups, either.

At some point, I realized that this would be a battle I would not win.

That point was probably the minute the air went out, and I made that first phone call.

Three weeks into the process, a second tech came out, and this guy brought a camera. He took pictures of the dilapidated system, and showed me what a wreck it was. And while I know nothing of heating/cooling units, I could easily see that sucker was horribly neglected. By my husband and me. We had not been good parents to the coolest member of our household.

When I told people that our insurance company had rejected our claim, twice, I got a lot of validation — “They’re always looking for a loophole.” “That maintenance clause is a joke — it’s their way of not paying.”

And while all that support felt good in a way, inside I knew that this battle was one that I couldn’t honestly fight. The real validation came when I found out the system was 30 years old, and that it was a complete horror show to the environment. The last tech who came out — the guy who installed our new cooling/heating system — showed us what’s been blowing into our house because we’ve neglected to use — not change mind you, just full-on use — air filters.

At this point, I felt like committing hari-kari, since the struggle I was having over the unit should’ve been with myself.

There are some people that fight every thing that comes their way. For them, the world is their battlefield, and they are justified in fighting everything to the death.

That kind of action feels exhausting, both morally and physically, to me.

Once upon a time I was involved in a lawsuit that was fully unjust. It was a complete trap, with no easy or good way out. In that case, I was fully prepared to take the battle on, kick it up to full-out war, and destroy anyone or anything my path.

Our lawyer, a BBF, counseled me — well, more like tamed the savage beast — by explaining that there are opportunity costs, like my sanity and quality of life over the months it would take to wage this war that must be considered when picking battles. That and the fact that even when you are 100% right, the outcome is not something you can ever control.

The day my new A/C unit was installed, I happened to be listening to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast where he was interviewing Freaks and Geeks/Silicon Valley actor Martin Starr. Not only is Starr a hilarious, super-mellow, deadpan actor, but he’s also a Buddhist.

It was like a gift from the Universe to listen to Starr calmly explaining about his Buddhist practice, and affirming that the struggle to change others is futile — you can only change yourself. Also, that the goal of everything is world peace, period.

So if you see me waving a white flag of surrender while stroking a Buddha’s belly, just know that I’m learning how to pick my battles, and the first step is not about looking for loopholes, but being honest about full-on craters that I’ve dug myself. Because losing your sh*t is not a necessary step toward winning a war, but it’s often a sure sign that the battle being picked wasn’t winnable in the first place.


7 Soft Ways to Push Hard

Eye of the tiger, y'all!

Eye of the tiger, y’all!

Are you in it to win it?

Nowadays, the rats are rattier, and the damn race is on. There quite literally is no rest for the weary — our daily lives move at light speed, and we as a society are dedicated to harder, better, faster, stronger. (Thank you Daft Punk and Kanye for your anthems of a generation!) With mile-long to-do lists, dreams and desires for our families and ourselves, not to mention the added pressure of today’s high standards and low-levels of support, it’s a wonder any of us are still standing at the end of each day.

There is only one way to get to whatever goals you have, and that’s to push through to the other side.

But there are plenty of times when your drive is driven off by any number of distractions, disappointments, and disasters.

The other day in spin class, I had one of those moments where I got to the core of how to push, and it came from a surprisingly soft place that I landed upon after taking seven distinct steps to clear the decks for the final push to a triumphant ball of sweat and clarity. Here’s how to go from good grief to sweet relief:

Shift it: This was the easiest stage to identify, as I’d mounted my stationary bike thinking about the long string of people, places, and things I had to show up for later that day, only to realize pretty much immediately that I was tired. Exhausted even. This was definitely no way to get ye olde motor running — and so, I immediately began to shift those thoughts right out of my head, choosing to focus instead on the easy thump of the warm-up beats.

Stuff it: Although it’s really easy to say you’re going to move your focus from one thing to the other, the reality is that it’s hard to keep your sights set on getting through to the other side without stumbling over obstacles that are set by others or, more often, by your own silly self. Imagine that you grab those blocks and stuff them one by one, deep into your socks (or spin shoes, depending on where you are). Give it all satisfying stomp just to keep that shit from popping back up.

Rest it: This is something that trips most of us up. In the flow of a spin class, for example, there is no point where the instructor says, “Aww, sweetie, you look like you could use a break. Let’s all grind to a halt, take a big swig of water, and relax.” If anything, it’s the opposite — s/he spends the entire time egging you on, making sure that you don’t ever let up. It’s up to you to regroup when you need to. And that doesn’t mean stopping dead in your tracks; it just means taking a few deep breaths and giving your fight or flight impulse a little respite before continuing on. (A note on cortisol and the “fight or flight mode” we so rely on to push through — get conscious of that, because that is a state of stress, and it’s really not healthy. A short rest to reset is key, as once that cortisol drains, you’ll feel much more energetic.)

Love it: The fastest way to fill up your fuel tank is to remind yourself that you love what you are doing. And if you don’t, pull the hell over and get out. Now.

Rock it: Of course spin class has the decided upper hand when it comes to rocking out — there’s always a bumpin’ tune to carry you through. But you can be your own DJ– tune into what turns you on, and everything flows from there. This was very literal in my spin class analogy — all it took was mash-up that included the catchy chorus from And She Was by the Talking Heads:

“The world was moving and she was right there with it (and she was)
The world was moving she was floating above it (and she was) and she was”

And you know what? When I rocked it, letting it all pour out and with no time to think about anything, and I just… was. Give it a whirl, and while you’re at it, crank up the volume.

Will It: Your will has a power all its own, and it lies somewhere right outside of that proverbial comfort zone. At any given time, little voices pipe up, urging you to drop the quest, still the journey, and turn away from the task at hand. Will is what drowns those voices out in a sea of confidence that springs from being clear on the bigger mission. Take, for example, what got me through the spin class in question…


That’s right, my will to spin on and burn 500 or so calories came from a purchase the day before of soft, comfy, slimming black jeggings. Those jeggings could take on a platter of deep-fried Twinkies and never look back. Paired with the fetching, flowing blouse I also bought, I could easily hide at least one spare tire. (Might even conceal a whole truckload of spare tires, actually.)

It takes a lot of will to ignore the siren song of jeggings.

Goddamn you, jeggings! You are the anti-push, and the bane of modern womanhood.

And so that soft excuse for not working hard is exactly where I kicked out the jams and got through the toughest part of the class.

Kill It: The seventh and final stage kicks in once you’ve pushed your way through all the others. With nothing left to lose as you careen to the finish line, it’s the perfect time to let every last shred of whatever you’ve got go. When you go in for the kill that in that final push, the end is swift and fueled by a jolt of adrenalin that accompanies the knowledge that the end is near… real… and finally, here.

So if you see me lacing up (well, velcro-ing up) my spin shoes and giving my jeggings a swift kick aside, just know that pushing hard doesn’t need to be a strain. There’s no pain. Just unfettered satisfaction thanks to all of the gain.  

Photo use & copious inspiration courtesy of Blazing Saddles.

Bruce Jenner’s Hair, Ebola, Breast Cancer

Ahhhh, "news"

Ahhhh, “news”

Q: What does Bruce Jenner’s hair, breast cancer, and Ebola all have in common?

A: They’re all terrifying, trending, and there’s seemingly nothing we can do about any of them.

Let’s break this down, one by one, for shits, giggles, and possibly the initiation of a full-blow existential crisis.

1) Bruce Jenner’s hair: I’ll give you that the former Olympian’s attempts at clinging to his former Adonis(ish) self is heart-breaking. Sure, he looks like a bad replica of Michael Jackson circa “This is It,” (OUCH!) but what is truly horrifying is that HIS HAIR IS HEADLINE NEWS. Not kidding — over the past weekend, Bruce Jenner was trending because he wore it long and loose at an Elton John contest. (Once you’re a Buzzfeed list, replete with faux-gif, you are THE TREND.) Just Google “Bruce Jenner’s Hair” and you’ll get 2,430,000 results.

Bruce’s mane is just the tip of the troubling iceberg; we fixate on superficial stories (i.e., Kim and North’s matching sheer-black ensembles, Kendall’s modeling career, Khloe’s bad boyfriend but good car choices) as our world literally falls apart.

Meanwhile, in other news, despite our bombing attempts to curtail their horrible advance, Isis is still bringing in $1,000,000 a day, and the barbarians have taken over Northern Iraq, Northern Syria, and now are moving into Turkey, some Nobel Prizes have been awarded, and ….

2) Ebola has arrived on our shores: The worst outbreak in history was brought to Dallas by a man infected in Liberia, earning him the distinction of being the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in America. (Sadly, he just passed away.) While Ebola is believed to be transmitted by contact with bodily fluids, it is not fully proved that “aerosol transmission” (coughing, sneezing) is off the table. We know some, but not all, of what makes this disease tick. The CDC assures us that this disease is unlikely to become a major threat in the developed world, but that doesn’t stop our hearts from breaking over the devastating statistics — in West Africa alone, nearly 50% of those infected have died so far, and of those, 75% are women, since females are generally the caretakers and in closest proximity to the diseased. (Shout out to BUST magazine for getting the facts straight on Ebola.)  Which brings me to…

3) Breast Cancer: It’s that time of the year again! Breast Cancer Awareness is all the rage — particularly for those brands that are into oxymoronic (emphasis on MORONIC) exercises. Take for example, the NFL. It’s recent blind-eye turning when it came to one predominately female issue (domestic violence) has been left behind in nasty old September (they wish) and now it’s onward to putting big, butch men in pink to help raise money to “Crucial Catch” Breast Cancer. (That’s a really bad name for a program to raise funds for early detection, as it implies somehow that one can catch breast cancer, but the NFL’s marketing has a tendency to miss the goal post by about a mile anyways. On a side note, props to P&G Crest for bailing on the NFL’s Pink Initiative before their association back-fired by pissing off moms everywhere.)

The NFL isn’t the only brand desperate to have the pink glow effect support their sales and reputation: while brands like KFC and Progresso are legendary for pink-washing their not-so-healthy (putting that mildly) products, this year, JC Penney rolled out a particularly awful breast cancer awareness ad campaign that included “inadvertent sexism and cultural tone deafness.

Look, I’m all for raising money to cure cancer, but is it just me that feels like there’s so much more sexy in racing to find a cure than in actually curing the disease itself?

I have several BBFs who have survived this horrible disease. Thanks to social media, even friends I haven’t seen in a while allow me to offer support when they share pics of themselves going through the horrors of the disease, or rocking a bald head on #TBT, or asking whomever is willing to share a prayer during the darkest hours.

We are aware… and sometimes that awareness, especially when used as a marketing ploy –as my BBF who recently completed chemo said, “My personal favorites are the plastic water bottles” — just serves to make everything a whole lot worse.

Plus the only real awareness that matters are these stats as of September 2014 from cancer.org:

• About 232,570 new cases of invasive breast cancer
• About 62,570 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) of the breast will be found (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
• About 40,000 deaths from breast cancer
• Cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, other than skin cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer.

As much as I’m intrigued by a “custom motorcycle raising breast cancer awareness,” or the Redskins hosting their annual breast cancer awareness game, or Timberland boots wanting to stomp out breast cancer, or the WWE’s new partnership with Komen (“rise above cancer,” featuring more butch men in pink tops), I surrender to the race to find the cure, and once again set my sights on someday finding it.

So if you see me hoarding rabbit’s feet, 4-leaf clovers, and evil eyes, just know that October can be one scary month, and we all could use a little luck to make it through. Because when Bruce Jenner’s hair, Ebola, and breast cancer share banner headlines, we have to wonder what our world is coming to… choose positive thoughts (i.e., at least Bruce’s flowing mane is better than a bad perm!), offer prayers, and carry on doing our best to keep the world a healthy and safe place.


Copyright © 2012 - Trudi Roth. All Rights Reserved.