Tag Archives: growing up

Happy Birthday, Noni


Before you were born, and right before we moved to Indiana, mommy and daddy sat my three-year-old butt down for chat one morning. I doubt my memory is accurate, but I remember gathering near the big TV on a brown rug, mommy in a floral nightgown.  There was another baby growing inside of my mommy, and in a few months, I’d have someone new to play with.

I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard. There’s no way something like that could really happen, I told them.  But mommy’s belly grew and I finally had to acknowledge that something was going on. Since I was pretty little myself, I convinced myself that you would be my twin (because I didn’t actually understand what twins were, obviously) and that we would be inseparable.  We would have a bond that was unbreakable and we’d know each others thoughts and always be there for one another.  I remember imagining all of the fun adventures we would have together and getting so excited for you to come out and play with me!

The day you were born was freezing cold and an ice storm. Mommy and daddy dropped me off at a friends house with all the things I’d need to spend the night, but you were born so quickly I didn’t need to spend the night. You came home soon afterwards, and there you were, my “twin” baby brother, in all your glory.  Mommy and daddy said you peed on all the nurses when you came out.

Since then, we’ve had our ups and downs. We tortured each other growing up as most brothers and sisters do — me, getting you in trouble so you’d get your mouth washed out with soap; you, scratching my eyeball so I’d have to wear an eye patch; me, tattling on you when you smooched with your first “girlfriend”; you, always insisting on hanging out with me and my friends.  We’ve had years where we’ve grown closer and years where we’ve been far apart in both distance and emotionally.

But, through everything, you’ve always been my little brother and I’ve always loved you and wanted to protect you in such a fierce way. When you broke your wrist, I remember thinking when you fell that you were crying for attention. As you ran towards my friends house and our mom, you let out this blood-curdling scream and I dropped everything I was doing and ran after you. I knew something was very wrong. I remember coming home after a long afternoon at the hospital with you and seeing your homework assignment on the table: “This is what my  name looks like with my left hand.” And then your name was scrawled out in awkward, big letters across the page. I burst into tears, because you had just broken your left wrist and I was so sad that you wouldn’t be able to use it for so long, afraid you’d fall behind in learning.  I wished so hard that it hadn’t happened to you, felt like if I had watched you better it wouldn’t have happened. I promised myself I’d never let you hurt like that again. I know I haven’t managed to follow through on that promise, but I still try my damnedest.

I love being a part of your life, watching you learn and grow. I loved helping you with stupid homework assignments, and when you’d come to visit me in college. I loved discovering how to make dumplings and scallion pancakes with you, fashioning together a weird makeshift steamer in my college apartment and then feasting on our delicacies. I loved coming to visit you during culinary camp and while you went to college. I loved screaming as loud as I could with mommy at your high school graduation, and sneaking in noisemakers for your college graduation.  I loved meeting the love of your life.  And I’ll love seeing you get married, open your first restaurant, buy your first house.

Life hasn’t been easy for you, and at times you’ve struggled with that, but you’ve always triumphed over all of it. I always knew you would. I always tell people that you’re my favorite person and it’s true. I admire you and your perseverance and your strength.  I am so proud of what a smart,hardworking, passionate  and truly kind person you’ve blossomed into — so proud, sometimes, that it makes me feel as if I’ll burst at the seams with all of it when I talk about you or mention to someone how you’re doing.  You’ve grown into the most amazing person I know and I’m so lucky to be able to call you my “twin.”

Happy 23rd Birthday, Noni!  I hope this year brings you so much joy.

All my love,






I’ve never been a skinny girl.
In fact, I’ve always had a round belly and an equally round face. Hips. Legs without that yearned-after gap slender girls have.  As a child, I was cute in a chubby sort of way, with ringlet curls and a penchant for girly dresses, overalls and funky colored tights. I loved Marvin the Martian and often bummed around in Looney Toons t-shirts and leggings (hello, child of the ’80s), rocking out to Meatloaf and the Bangles with my mom. I didn’t think about my body and how it looked compared to other girls or in the context of what others might think about me. I didn’t think at all about what I put into my body. I had no interest in sports and was never pushed to be athletic (minus my 2 year stint with karate) or to join any sports teams. I read, I wrote poetry, I aced all my classes, but riding my bicycle? No thanks.  When I was little, I was blissfully unaware of what it’s like to feel shame and I undressed in front of friends while we played dress up without worry, swam nearly-naked at one of my father’s colleague’s house parties, wore clothes that didn’t fit my body without a second thought.

I don’t remember when my mindset changed — probably sometime around middle school —  but cute and chubby morphed  into impossibly awkward, my ringlets changing to an unruly mess of hair (made worse by terrible haircuts), my sense of “style” became a source of anxiety, and I was suddenly acutely aware that a round belly and short, fat legs were not what all the traditionally beautiful girls were sporting. I was uncoordinated, slow and weak in gym class, and somehow that mattered in a profoundly public way. I went from shameless and carefree to insecure and self-loathing overnight. I was unfortunately fat and ugly and there was no way out of that body. When I see pictures of myself from this time period, I still hide them from my friends and husband, as if those who love me now, as an adult,  would hate me if they saw me during this gawky, adolescent phase.

I grew out of the ugly, but the worry and self-doubt over my appearance only got worse as I got older, but I was conflicted, having been raised to be strong, independent, and not fit into a mold.  So, I still dressed differently, but I daydreamed of being model-thin, with perfect, perky breasts, flawless skin, grace, poise. I still had curly hair, so I cut it until all of the curl was gone, and dyed it black. I remember wishing that I’d get into a horrible accident, convinced that having to be bed ridden and tube-fed for months would be the weight-loss miracle I hoped for. I ate almost exclusively one type of Kashi cereal for a year. I stole weight-loss pills from the pharmacy I worked for and hid them in a box in my nightstand and took them every night before bed. Instead of judging my self-worth more on the classes I aced, the poetry contests I won, and all the community work I had taken on, I was only concerned with what others thought of my appearance. When my boyfriend at the time talked to me one day about all of the girls he thought were pretty (and I was not on that list), I tried to emulate them. I didn’t let myself off the hook — every time I looked into the mirror all I saw was a worthless, ugly, klutzy girl.

College was a little better. I had worked through things with the boyfriend and he came with me to Boston, desperately in love with me. Other boys noticed me. I did well in school. I made friends. I let things slip a little, gained weight back. I broke up with the boy and felt ugly and unwanted all over again. That nagging, insulting little voice took up residence once more in the back of my head.  I lost the weight again, this time with Weight Watchers and a gym membership and not a borderline eating disorder; I started hiding behind makeup; I started dressing like other girls. But I only ever felt pretty or sexy when men told me I was — this feeling was never self-generated. I never felt comfortable in my own skin.

I’d love to tell you that one day I snapped out of it, but to be honest, feeling beautiful is still a struggle for me, but I have definitely come a long way from the girl who wished a terrible accident upon herself. Running has given me the greatest gains. It has helped me gain confidence and given me a sense of grace I have never felt before. I feel strong and capable when I lace up my sneakers, and it doesn’t matter what I look like. It’s the only time I don’t feel like I need makeup to leave the house, the only time when men in trucks honk at me that I feel angry instead of, secretly, like my appearance and worth has somehow been validated by their horn or cat-calling.

I guess the confidence running has instilled in me has also trickled over to my non-running life, too. I enjoy dressing in clothes I find pretty and flattering, not those some male in my life finds alluring. I don’t automatically compare my body to every other female’s in the room, I don’t feel clumsy and out of place every time I’m in a group.  I enjoy eating healthy and working out because I know how much better I feel inside and out and how much better I function in my day-to-day existence. I am not obsessive or restrictive anymore. When I gain a few pounds these days, I don’t fixate (though sometimes I do need to remind myself not to), and, most importantly, I like who I see in mirror. She isn’t perfect (but who wants to be?), she doesn’t look like anybody else (and that’s a good thing), she still doesn’t have a gap between her thighs (but these legs have run marathons, climbed mountains), and she doesn’t need anyone else to approve of her to feel whole (but she does still have a compulsive need to wear makeup when leaving the house).

Growing Pains


Dear 27-year-old Rachel,

This has been a year for me to learn and a year for me to grow.

This year I’ve started to really understand what it means to be a part of a partnership, which is something I thought I really understood before but when I’m honest with myself, I really had no idea. I’m amazed everyday at the strength of my relationship and the loving community me and my husband share. I am surrounded by people who really love me, despite all of my ugliness and my pitfalls, who want to lift me up and help me succeed, people who push me to be better when I’m too tired or sad or weak to continue pushing myself forward. I’ve learned what it means to really love someone and that it is rarely that fairytale I  so wanted to believe in for so long, but it’s beautiful and magical in it’s own way, when I let it flourish.  I need to remember more often all the people who are there for me and learn to trust in them more — they’re there to catch me when I fall and to beat their wings beside me when I fly.

Speaking of falling and flying, this year I’ve started to learn the hard lessons of letting myself both succeed and fail without so much fear, guilt and self-doubt. I finally opened my mouth to talk about the master’s degree I’ve been dreaming about for several years, clicking through university websites almost every day, daydreaming about programs I thought I could never apply to, terrified of the cost both in money and in time and what it would mean to have to ask for that, to allow myself to try.   I’m learning to speak up for myself and what I want, what makes me upset or angry, challenged, happy, both in my personal and professional relationships. I’ve surprised myself with my strength, but I’ve still got so much farther to go here — I make so many goals that I leave aside, which I excuse as not having enough time, but what is more accurately attributed to a fear of tackling things head on. I’m becoming more confident everyday, though, and I’ve come along way this year. I think running has taught me a lot in this arena. It helps to remind me to always put one foot in front of the other, to keep going even when it hurts and I’m tired, even when it feels too far or too tough.  This year I’ve learned about a strength that comes from somewhere deep inside.

This year I’ve learned about uncertainty and that it is okay sometimes not to know what I want or what direction to head next. It’s okay to slow down and be happy where I stand. Sometimes its true that I’m scared to move forward, but sometimes I start thinking I need to being doing so many things RIGHT NOW, forgetting I have a whole life ahead of me in which to accomplish these dreams. I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I want to complete an Ironman. I want to travel to so many places. But it doesn’t all have to happen this year, or even next. I’ve written down my goals, I’ve realized my passions, I’m learning to assert my strength. Every day is a step towards accomplishing many things, but not every day marks the achievement of a goal. And that is okay. Slow down. Relax. Take a day to paint your nails and watch bad tv without feeling guilty about not touching the “to-do” list.  Take a morning to snuggle in bed instead of braving the dark and the cold to get in a few more miles or finish that assignment.

This year I’ve learned a lot, and it hasn’t been an easy year. It’s been a year of hurt and mistrust and depression, but growing can cause a lot of aches. I haven’t figured everything out yet and I’m still trying to inch myself out of my cocoon, to truly come out from the shadows into a blinding light. I’m still learning how to navigate being a part of a marriage and what it means to merge and share your life with someone else. I’m still learning to go after what I want, to challenge and question myself.  I’m still learning what it takes to be a really good friend and a really strong family member, the lines between when you’re being supportive and when you’re not helping someone even if it might feel like you are. I’m still learning to advocate for myself, to speak up when I have something to say. I’m still learning, as we all are, but I can feel myself growing stronger and gaining momentum and that is both a terrifying and exhilarating thing. Keep going.

I love you and happy birthday.


Brie Cheese


Cheese is my greatest weakness. Any diet I have ever started has always failed because of cheese. Until I became an avid runner (I suggest this, if you’re an avid eater, by the way), I always had somewhat high cholesterol, and, truthfully, I blame it on the cheese.

One cheese in particular has always had a uniquely special place in my gluttonous palate, and that is the achingly smooth, sinfully buttery brie cheese. I haven’t met a brie I haven’t liked, and this is why anytime I’m invited over to a dinner party or family affair, there’s always a rather generous wedge of brie and some disembodied voice cries out from the kitchen, “Rachel! That brie is for you! I know how much you love it!”  Even if I wanted to count calories, how could I not indulge in something someone thoughtfully purchased and displayed just with me in mind? And so I have just a little nibble, which, with a little wine, and very little self-control when it comes to culinary delicacies I have deemed a “favorite,” I somehow manage to choke down a substantial hunk of the glistening, cream colored treat.

A Wheel of Brie

I firmly believe I have my father to blame for my particular penchant for brie cheese, as he introduced it to me when I was just barely stumbling into toddlerhood.  This was when he, my fiery-haired mother and I used to live in Los Angeles and headed to the Hollywood Bowl every so often.  We would arrive early, and at some picnic tables on a hill behind the amphitheater, we would hurriedly feast on gleaming, succulent red grapes and tender brie cheese. I’m sure there was some cheap, but good enough, bottle of wine bought at Trader Joe’s, which my parents would share, but I, at the ripe old age of 2 ½ , was mostly fixated on the rich yet mild cheese.

All three of us would savor the moldy wedge, but my mom, would always peel away the opaque white “skin” that covered the creamy interior of the brie, and my dad, whose favorite part of brie is this “skin,” would eat her discarded bits. As a young girl, I strove to emulate my mother as closely as I could, and would demand my brie be served to me in skinless pieces too; convinced I hated both the taste and texture of this formaggio’s exoskeleton.

As I got older, we moved away from L.A., and my parent’s relationship faded, as did my own relationship with my father, and while cheese wasn’t enough to patch my parents back together, I’m fairly certain it was that same cheese we shared at the Hollywood Bowl so many years earlier that started to strengthen the bond between me and my dad again.

The summer he moved out of our family house and into his own apartment was the same summer I moved away to Boston for college. When I came home for Christmas break later that year, I begrudgingly made dinner plans with my dad and his girlfriend, Gretchen, and I remember the walk to his grungy building as though it were a death march. When I arrived, I was greeted by the usual sheepish grin and awkward, paralytic silence characteristic of my father, but there was also a peace offering already out on the table: the ubiquitous slab of brie cheese.

“It’s brie cheese,” he stammered, obviously proud of himself. “You love brie cheese. I got it just for you.”

I think I rolled my eyes, and, in a moment of teenage-angst-induced resolve, refused to eat any of his “peace cheese”, or to take it with me at the end of the night, when he carefully wrapped the untouched piece in plastic wrap and handed it to me, his eyes sad.

It would be several more years, and many more chunks of cheese, before I appreciated how much my dad actually cared and before I saw him as a human being, one with raw, deep emotions. One day, at lunch, I was served a sandwich with brie, skin still attached. I was still squeamish about the skin, but gave it try, and discovered I actually loved the earthiness and complexity this outside layer added to the whole brie experience. I suddenly had a new appreciation for the depth food could harbor. Maybe this was why it was my dad’s favorite part – unable to communicate the depth of his emotion, he relied on the cheese, deliciously smeared between two crusty slices of French bread, to speak for him.