My Story is a series of personal posts taken directly from my life. Made up of regularly asked questions, My Story gives me a platform to share how I got to where I am today.
How Did You End Up In California?
I’m often asked, “How did you end up here?” They are not talking about GPS directions. The moment people realize I was born and raised in New Jersey, but don’t have that familiar accent they recognize from television, I’m bombarded with questions. Specifically, how I was able to so easily uproot myself and replant my life in California all alone.
It didn’t take long to learn there is a clear East Coast / West Coast divide that is real. I’m reminded of this only when I travel back east, but I’ve finally come to realize, just like other factors that make up our DNA, you are either born an east coast person or a west coast person. I knew from my very first Malibu Barbie doll with the tan marks in 1978, I did not belong in New Jersey. And it’s a long running joke with friends that my Jersey Card was officially revoked a loooooooooooooong time ago. Let’s just say I have mad respect and love for Tupac, Biggie, Jay-Z, and Snoop all the same. Let’s be very clear, this isn’t a CA vs. NJ post. It’s just my personal experience, and how growing up in New Jersey shaped the way I look at life today.
Also, I learned over time that I loathe public transportation.
Anyone who has known me since my days in The Jerz will tell you how drastically different my life is since leaving, and how much I’ve changed organically speaking, and I don’t mean just groceries. I did not have the traditional upbringing. Once my mom died, all the adults in my life figured the another adult was teaching me how to grow up. My head was spinning. I WAS 12.
There is a difference between “teaching” a child and “telling” a child. One works, the other doesn’t.
Ironically, the adult I was placed with had absolutely no clue how to be a parent because even though he was my dad, he only saw me one day a week for 6 hours since the time I was two! You do the math. When a 12 year old shows up and moves in, he was more of a babysitter than parent. I remember once a relative scolding me saying, “Well you should know better!” And all I could think was, “How would I have ever known something like that? I’m 13-14-15-16 whatever the age was, and why is it my fault no one showed me?” Everyone was a pro at pointing fingers, but no one did anything to fix it. That wasn’t their “place.” I quickly learned I was completely abandoned and didn’t have an advocate I trusted.
Every adult in my life had an opinion, and every adult was very vocal, and seemed to know more than the next adult. But if peopled cared so much, then where were they? My mother died for chrissakes. I understand everyone was grieving, but a 12 year old’s life was forever changed, turned upside down, and she was never going to have a mother again. I was extremely alone, petrified, and had to grow up immediately because I knew no one was actually “taking care of me.”
12 Is The New 35
Imagine that, at 12 I was already making a mental list of what kind of mother I wanted to one day be. Carefully, picking and choosing what I loved most about each of my friends’ parents. Paying attention to their family dynamic while visiting, so that I would learn and know what to do when I was a mom since I had no one to teach me. I noticed how they problem solved, showed love, attention, traditions, created sensible boundaries, boosted encouragement, and built off of what worked and ignored what didn’t.
My entire pre-teen and teenage to young adult life I was never taught how to grow up, just told to BE grown up. Half the time I screwed up, I had no idea I was even doing something wrong. So like everything else I did after the age of 12, I taught myself with the resources I had which at the time were John Hughes and Cameron Crowe films and the Guns N’ Roses album, Appetite for Destruction, which were probably not the best idea. Therefore it should come as no surprise I was the child would go as far out to life’s edge and peek over just close enough making sure not to fall. I was never trying to be bad, or in search of trouble, I was never late for curfew, received good grades, and was even the permanent designated driver which I took my duties quite seriously, but I was also the scapegoat for quite a few of my friends when they were busted by their parents. They *think* I don’t know, but I totally do.
Oh, but this one time I did have this party when my parents went away for the night, and let’s just I still have PTSD I know what a stupid, stupid, idea that was. I’ve made my share of mistakes, but I’ve learned valuable lessons from each of them. This one is just a pure regret. I should have steered clear of a certain person, and I didn’t. Life would have been much different if a lot of us listened to our gut.
Now? My life couldn’t be more different. I’m in bed by 9:30 up by 5, I rarely drink, and had my first shot of tequila in 25 years and wanted to DIE, I’m on the school foundation board, love being a part of the PTSA, and run this website.
Maybe I turned out OK after all.
I find the most happiness in simply being content with what I have and not wanting more. I find happiness in lifting people up and finding ways to help them succeed. I love seeing people live their truth and their best life. I am not skeptical of people’s kindness, certainly not jealous, and I see the good in people before I see the bad, always giving them the benefit of the doubt. I am loyal to a fault, I love to travel see the world with my family and I love nice things. I can never find a reason not to help someone, I enjoy taking photos probably way more than anything else, sharing my experiences with everyone, and have this crazy deep love and adoration for my husband and our daughter than I ever even imagined was possible.
I seek out ways to make things as simple as possible, but not cookie cutter. I really love being a normal suburban mom and wife first, business owner second. I am content with nothing to prove and focused on one sole purpose of being a positive role model for my child. Our motto is, “It’s kind to be kind,” and so far she’s nailing it!
One Day I Will.
Most of the adults around me were working their butts off and had to pay bills to give their family a certain lifestyle. That’s a lot of pressure and really stressful on marriages and relationships in general.
It didn’t take long for me or other kids to form a clear definition of success. Everything was financially motivated. The better your grades, the more money you make, which meant more happiness, and less problems. Happiness, love, and contentment were a given, but would sometimes take a back seat to long hours at the office more often than none.
There was an unspoken goal: “Work your butt off at a stressful job (that you may love or you may hate,) to make enough money to buy a home, send your kids to college, one day retire, possibly get a vacation home, maybe a boat or membership to a fancy club, and hopefully live long enough to enjoy it.” This idealism felt exhausting. Especially in the winter. I have ONE life. There was no way I was wasting it with a high pressure job or wanted a husband who wasn’t around. I wanted to measure my life success by: Love, happiness, contentment, and my overall legacy. What story was I going to leave behind? What would I be known and celebrated for?
My parents both died by the time they were 50 and I’m not wasting my life for one moment. I was told over the weekend, “But those were extenuating circumstances,” but WERE they? In the last 12 months, SIX of my friends have died or lost spouses between the ages of 40 – 46. Two due to health, two accidents, and two suicides. Moral of the story: Death does not discriminate and today could be your last day. I’m not taking that for granted.
I don’t want stress and pressure, but I do not fly by the seat of my pants either. I love organization, I’m total OCD nutcase, a big fan of plans, lists, and dream boards, but in my world, we just don’t say, “Some day.” We start making plans for those dreams to happen the second we vocalize them. Because of that strategy, The JetSet Family was born.
Part 1: The Day My Adult Life Began
This past week I flew home for work obligations, and only had a 6 hour window to make it back to Fair Lawn to see my almost 94-year-old grandmother before my flight back to LAX. This woman has been my best friend since the day I was born, and is my whole heart. I truly believe life has a funny way of doing things and losing my parents at such a young age was to prepare me for the day my Babci and Dzaidzi would not be in my life anymore.
As I got off the train at the Radburn station, I briefly found myself at the exact spot on the platform where it all started 18 years ago…
None of my friends or family knew how dumb and naïvely I had answered a random stranger’s ad on Craig’s list for a roommate in Huntington Beach, California. See, I wanted out of New Jersey and NYC and I wanted out BADLY. It was the last place I wanted to be. The guy I was emailing was only a year older, and we liked the same music like Primus and Dinosaur Jr. so that right there was like a sign and the old Nicky D figured, “Why not?” So we exchanged phone numbers to see what else we’d have in common. Such a Nicky D. thing, right? Bananas.
**Full Disclosure** I will hold my child full-on hostage if she ever pulls something as stupid and asinine as this. WHAT was I thinking???
As I was waiting for my train into Manhattan (where I would spend the rest of the day having the life sucked out of me,) I answered the phone from a 714 number and the call went like this…
VR: “Hey! WHO is this and WHERE are you?”
Me: [Clearly confused] “Huh? Umm…My name is Nicole Di****** and I’m standing at the Radburn train station in NJ. Why?”
VR: “Dude. DUDE! It’s V**** from Delbarton! So are you moving in with me or what?”
V and I had known each other back in high school with a few of our social circles overlapping over the years. After college, he moved to Orange County with some other high school buddies and bought the home they were renting. Talk about luck.
The Sun May Rise in the East at Least it Settles in a Final Location
Dream of Californiacation. That was all it took. I would know one person in California. I had a place to go. One day after work, I stopped by a travel agent and I bought the cheapest one-way ticket to LAX I could find for three weeks later, and went home to break the news to my grandparents. They didn’t believe me at first, and didn’t know how to digest the information. Sure there were valid concerns, but my grandfather (who looked and sounded just like Archie Bunker,) supported me more than anyone else.
I knew he didn’t LOVE what I was doing, but never tried to stop me or change my mind. If I was doing this, he was going to make sure I did it right. He was the only one who had trust in me (with doubts and reservations of course,) and let me go live my life hoping I would soar and not sink. See, he was the one adult that would check up on me. Not because he’d know what to do, but because he never wanted me to forget how loved I was. And then he’d always end the conversation the same way, “I love you, but don’t forget now, your grandmother is your best friend.” He was the only one that felt the same amount of pain as I did when my mother died. That was something that bonded us forever.
Without me knowing, he went to the store, bought me two army foot lockers which I still have and will never get rid of, packed everything up and paid for everything for everything to be shipped out. A few days before Thanksgiving I flew to the Left Coast and started my new life. My new home.Just me, no car, no job, no credit cards, $800, a duffel bag, and a one way ticket to LAX.
Moral of the story: Make your dreams come true.
My grandfather got to walk me down the aisle. He held my daughter (who has his big blue eyes and they share the same middle name, Francis,) and they would talk to her on the phone like they were old pals. He also lived to see me as a happy adult living in California and would always tell me, “You married a good one. You two be good to each other.” I miss my grandfather so much every. single. day. The day he died was absolutely the most painful day of my entire life, but I sucked it up andI cried the entire flight back. I can’t even think about him without having to catch my breath.
“Boy the way Glen Miller played…Songs that made the Hit Parade…Guys like us we had it made…those were the days.” I love you, Dzaidz. Thank you for being the one person to believe in me.