The 99% Real Housewives of Orange County

Before I moved to Orange County from the San Francisco bay area four years ago I wondered whether the OC stereotype was true.

Would there really be rows and rows of tree lined streets and manicured yards?

Would attractive men of ambiguous age with carefully arranged “careless” hairstyles spill out of every Starbucks one hand on their BlackBerry, the other on their extra foam soy chai latte?

Would shiny $50,000 SUV’s driven by impeccably dressed and impossibly thin moms jockey for the last compact space at Costco while their faux-hawked toddler sipped contentedly from his organic Pom juice, the Bugaboo neatly folded in the back?

Would the skies really be not cloudy all day?

The answer, actually, is yes.

I'm starting to wonder, is that really such a bad thing?


I’ve never really considered myself as “fitting in” well.

Most of the time in new situations I end up with friends, but I’ve always felt it was more of a fluke – that I had manipulated them through the powers of my constant talking. Or maybe the hypnotic nasal quality of my voice?

When we lived in Orange County the first time, we lived in a nice neighborhood. We had brand new cars. I had a personal trainer and housekeeper and weekly facials and massages. My second home was Nordstrom. What wasn’t to love?

We lived there for exactly one year. It was the worst year of my life.

I hated myself.

I felt isolated. I felt judged. I felt lonely. (This was also – surprise! – when I started this blog.) I honestly can’t tell you how much of my problem was my projecting or how much was that women truly did not want to be my friend. But, I can tell you that I put myself out there. I arranged dinners. I arranged play dates. I tried to finagle myself into the right cliques.

And yet, each experience was a disaster.

I didn’t want to believe the OC housewife stereotype, but my interactions were not far from it. Lunch conversations were dominated by talk of money or appearance: who owned what where and how much equity they had, who was gated, who wasn’t, who had had Botox, who needed it. Contractors, nannies, and hairstylists’ information were routinely passed around - the trading cards of suburbia.

Everyone looked flawless, but no one dared acknowledge it. As if we were all encouraging each other’s denial that we weren’t just effortlessly thin and blonde and tan with white teeth and invisible pores.

I tried to play the part (“Of course you should always overpay your nanny!”), but inside I felt hopeless that I would never connect with these women. That I would never again have a real friend. That I would never fit in.

How can we become friends, I thought, when I know more about your granite’s origin than your own?

When we moved three years ago, I was grateful to move somewhere that was so un-Orange County. To move somewhere without the pressure to be perfect. Ah, I thought, NOW I’ll be happy.

Yes, well. Careful what you wish for.

What originally appeared to be “individuality” in the city soon looked like indifference. And what we considered “casual” eventually seemed sloppy and "unpretentious" turned into downright depressing.

What a surprise. Miserable again!

But, then an amazing thing happened. I started to have real problems.

My dad and aunt died within a year of each other. I developed crippling anxiety. Chris and I hit some marital bumps. Then, we nearly lost everything when we couldn't sell our house.

Nothing snaps a girl into reality like those experiences.

Now that Orange County is again where we call home, I'm seeing it with new eyes.

The eyes of someone who isn’t desperate to fit in.

The eyes of someone confident of their worth.

The eyes of someone who isn’t trying to compete.

It's a whole lot more fun this way.

We’re renting in a neighborhood of homeowners. My budget is wound so tight that I’m eying Savannah’s High School Musical 2 piggy bank every morning while I make my own damn coffee. I haven’t had a facial or a massage since yesteryear. My toes are still wearing Yvonne’s nail polish from Blogher. I shop at Old Navy when I have a coupon. I’m as pale as the driven snow since tanning has been low on the priority list lately. And my roots are getting to the point where I look like I’m wearing a yamaka.

And yet. I could not love it here more.

In the three weeks since school started? I’ve had two lovely lunches, a play date, five party invites, and a girls’ dinner (finally! drinks!). But, who’s counting? I’ve been welcomed with open arms by every single woman I’ve met since moving here.

(Almost every.) (What is wrong with that one uptight chick who won’t smile back? I see your eyes through your sunglasses, lady. I know you see me.)

I look around here now and I see so much to love about this place – so much I missed the first time around. I see ambitious dads and fun-loving moms. I see parks on every block and a million excuses to put on your shoes and go outside. I see concerts and art shows and martini bars. I see good conversation and even better food.

Were all these opportunities to make friends and live life here before?

Were all these funny talented women here before?

It makes me wonder now, who was doing the judging after all? How much of my first experience was about who I was then?

I’m so glad that we gave this place another chance. Because when you peel back the first layer, there’s a lot of gooey goodness underneath.

Orange County: It’s like a scab!

I think I should submit that to City Hall.

**Also, can we just breathe a sigh of relief that Yvonne is okay? I love her more than all my shoes combined and I’m hugging her with my keyboard. Tightly.

***What's that you say? You say I claimed to have stories? That for some reason I am not sharing? It is true. I do. And I pinky swear one of them is going up over the weekend.



I know I said I was going to write about other things today, but I have something much more interesting to talk about.

I found my ex-boyfriend's blog last night.*

I haven't talked to him in almost ten years. And yet I'd be lying if I said I haven't thought of him pretty regularly since. Not because I loved him. But, because he didn't love me.

This is a boy who turned me inside out.

A boy who held me captive with his abuse. Even more so, by his promises to love me.

To have his attention was like having the sun warm your face. Guys wanted to be his friend. Girls wanted to be his lover. Everyone wanted his acceptance. Being on his arm made you proud.

He had money. He had beauty. He had women. He had friends. He had it all. He was going somewhere and you wanted to come.

This boy told me I was beautiful. I felt beautiful.

This boy told me I was smart. I felt smart.

This boy told me I was loveable. I knew it must be true.

But, when the boy would leave he would take the warmth with him. You were left cold inside, empty, wondering. He would give you just enough to keep you hanging on for more. But, he always took more than he gave. Always.

He dangled his love in front of you like an unattainable reward.

It wasn't what this boy was that addicted me. It was what he was not. He was broken. I wanted to fix him. I needed to fix him. Leaving wasn't an option. I would try. My God, I would try. I would gasp for breath from his suffocation. And yet he kept pulling me back under. Like a drowning man.

I was too healthy for him. I was too kind. Too feeling. Too giving. Too pure. It took me years to figure out that he wanted to break me; that his deeply flawed character prevented him from reacting to me in any other way.

I eventually freed myself from him, but the pain of his rejection remained. For nearly a decade I wondered why this boy's memory - his words - still had the power to hurt me, the wounds as fresh as yesterday.

I wondered what it was about this boy that compelled me so many years ago - a beautiful young girl with every option - to willingly sacrifice herself at the alter of his acceptance.

Last night I figured out why.

Last night I saw his picture.

Last night I read his words.

My stomach dropped. Him. It was him.

I read about his life now. I looked through pictures of his family. And yet I felt ...nothing.

Absolutely. Nothing.

How can that be? I thought. I was stunned.

I have thought of this boy countless times over the last decade, the memory of him a dull ache in my heart. How can I feel nothing for him? No desire to reconnect? No desire to say hello? No desire to flaunt my happy marriage and beautiful child?

I have carried the scars his words created for nearly a decade. And yet, I looked at his face and saw just a boy. A boy who probably doesn't even remember me. A boy whose life is pathetically unchanged from the way it was when I left him a decade ago.

I saw a stranger.

It was then that I realized it had never been about this boy.

Last night I realized what it has taken me nearly a decade to figure out: this boy represented my father.

*No, I'm not going to link him. Because I really do not want him to find me.


Blogging From Bed ...Kinky!

Except that I have a raging migraine. As a matter of fact, I'm typing this right now with one eye closed. Arrgh, matey! (...see, even my jokes are bad. If that's not proof, I don't know what is.)

I will be back soon to share with you all the fantastic happenings in the Land of Lena. Among these delectable topics will be:

  • Our Total Money Makeover update (it's so bad, it's good)
  • The Renter's stigma we're enduring in our rich neighborhood
  • The Drop Off Mom who's stalking me
  • The Creepy Contractor who had Chris and I running through the house in the middle of the night wearing nothing but underwear and swinging a baseball bat (my God, just wait)
  • And how a 6 year old made me cry at the beach
It shall be awesome. Start breath holding

I can hardly contain my excitement.


Too Cool For School

Oh, crap. I'm the mother of that girl.

Seeing as my geeky blood runs through Savannah's veins, I assumed she would struggle socially in school like I did. I figured it was a give-in that girls would tease her and boys would virtually ignore her, save for that one time Johnathan Green would express a desire to take a bath with her (the social highlight of my entire elementary experience and possibly even middle school).

But, alas, I forgot. She is half Chris. Which means she is half Football Captain. Half Homecoming King. Half "Most Likely To Get Highlights". Half effortless social butterfly.

While Chris tackled linebackers and then cheerleaders in high school, I spent my high school years being home schooled by my mother while wearing tasteful knee-length skirts.

While Chris competed in bodybuilding competitions as a teenager, I gorged myself on Doritos while watching Dream a Little Dream and reading Ramona Quimby.

While Chris got invited to all the keggers, I once wrote in my diary at 14 years old "I went to my first boy girl party tonight!!! Although, I'm not sure if it counts because there was only one boy there. And he only stayed a few minutes. Plus, my mom came."*

While Chris has always had a natural relaxed coolness about him, I am the girl perpetually throwing myself over kayaks.

We're only two weeks into Kindergarten and it is obvious whose genes are more dominant in our daughter. On the second day of school, two moms approached me and said their little girls "just have to have a playdate with Savannah. They talk about her all the time".

On the third day, another mom laughingly told me that her daughter saves a hook for Savannah's backpack next to her own, guarding it with her life until Savannah arrives.

And yet another mom said her daughter cried when we were one minute late because she thought Savannah might not be coming.

By last Friday, two moms told me that their sons have crushes on Savannah, one of them telling his mom "I can't stop thinking about her. She's just so pretty". (!!???!!)

And today, as we walked up to the class, a mom announced "Here comes Miss Popular!".

Yeah. This is my daughter.

I can't tell you how happy this makes me to see Savannah thrive socially in her first little public venture. But, the thing I can't stop loving is her attitude about it. Shoulder shrugs. Nods. Seeming indifference. Like "yeah, isn't it like this for everyone?"

Can I tell you how absolutely foreign this is to me?

I will admit that my social life picked up quite a bit around 17, once I learned that you can use a curling iron for straightening your hair. But, being a popular girl has never come naturally to me. And during the times in my life where I have felt liked by many and dated a lot and went to lots of parties, I was filled with anxiety. Anxiety that I didn't deserve this popularity on my own; just for being me.

I felt like I needed to keep dancing for everyone or they would leave.

My one true wish as a mother has been for my daughter to always feel worthy. To always dance for herself. To always be her own best friend. Terrifying me the most was the possibility that it may too take her until her 30th birthday to finally love herself enough to stop dancing for other people.

I know we've only just begun this part of her life without me, but already I see her dancing for herself.

I could not be more proud.

Now, maybe she can get me invited to the cool parties.

*I am not even kidding about this entry. Once I finish unpacking and find that diary, I'm showing you. With the hearts above all the i's. And the "I HEART River Phoenix" on every single page.


A Confession

It's a funny thing, blogging.

I look at you all as my friends. We may not talk much or know each other outside of our blogs and I'm terribly horribly awful at answering emails, so you may not even feel my love. But, I promise, it's there.

Throughout our entire house ordeal, I am embarrassed to admit that I thought of you often. I included you in staging the house when we listed it 105 years ago. I ran to you with our first offer. And the second offer. And when that fell through, the third and fourth offers. Then when we finally went into escrow, I had to sit on my hands to keep from rushing to the internet and telling all of you before we knew it was official. Maybe it's my overblown sense of self-importance, but I really felt like you would care; that you would rejoice with me.

And you did.

Then, when things looked bleak, I ran to you for strength. Strength from every single one of your comments and emails. I would hit publish and I knew within hours I would be buoyed by your positive thoughts, your jokes, just your being there.

The tough part is that I started to feel an obligation to you. An obligation to deliver good news. An obligation to give you a happy ending.

Two weeks ago when we found out that the buyers' loa*n fell through, six hours before we were due to close escrow, one of my very first thoughts was "I can't bear to tell the internet this. They'll be so disappointed."

As I watched Chris struggle to try to keep it together that afternoon, I decided that I couldn't share this story any longer. It was never just my story. It was his too. And he had been humiliated enough. We had been humiliated enough.

So, please understand that I just could not talk about it anymore.

I struggled for days with how best to handle the situation. I knew that no matter how the story ended, one day I would share it with you. But, how could I move on from the subject for the time being without being dishonest?

So, I cryptically posted "Closed". And those of you who smelled something fishy filled my email inbox letting me know you wouldn't be put off so easily. "Chapter closed good? Or chapter closed bad?" one of you asked.

I know that this is my blog; my story. I have been writing publicly for two years and lord knows, I have held back very little (much to my mother's dismay). I also know that I could shut it down tomorrow and you'd forget about me five clicks later, but that's not the point.

The point is that you're not a writer if you're not honest.

I was honest then when I said the chapter was closed because it was closed to me. I couldn't allow myself to cry about it, to talk about it, to think about it, to write about it. Any. More.

And I am honest now when I share with you that we did in fact finally close escrow. We closed yesterday. And now we can all truly put this behind us.

When my realt*r called yesterday with emotion in her voice and said wearily "It's all over. Escrow closed" I felt such profound exhausted relief that I can move on. Both in my writing and in my heart.

Thank you for being you, internet. I couldn't have done it without you.


This Post Dedicated to the Poor Lady at Starbucks Who Had the Misfortune of Asking Me How My Day Was

June 8, 2001 (Excerpted from my Pregnancy Journal)

GIRL! GIRL! GIRL! GIRL! We're having a girl! Yaaaaay!!! I met you today, little girl. We had our first ultrasound and I saw you move! I saw you kick! You're the size of an avocado and you look like a little gymnast in there! I am blessed. All I wanted was a daughter. All I wanted was you. A baby girl!


I crept into your dark room early this morning and watched you sleeping. Your long lean leg thrown over the covers, your tousled blonde hair spread out on the pillow. Your collection of stuffed animals are strewn around you, a comfort you require to fall asleep.

You have your "meme" (aka - my gym shirt, which I hastily took off and thrust at you in a desperate attempt to get you to stop crying five years ago and which hasn't left your side since) snuggled up to your face. Your left hand hangs off to the side, the thumb having been abandoned in your deep sleep.

I've been pretty good about you starting Kindergarten today. I've been resolved that this is going to be the beginning of a great new adventure for both of us.

But, looking at you lying here, in all your big girl-ness... I can hardly race out of your room in time before the sobs come.

June 11, 2001

I felt you move today! There's actually a baby inside me! I woke up at 3:00 this morning and felt a flutter, like little butterflies flapping their wings. I held my stomach and waited. Ah! There it was again! You! I feel you! I lay there in the dark in amazement, willing you to move again.
This is real. A real baby. All mine.

You will not take no for an answer. You are definitely wearing your white tank top underneath your monkey shirt for your first day of school. And no, you will not wear socks. They make your feet hurt and you can't run fast, you cry.

You direct me in the mirror while I put your hair into ponytails. You tell me exactly how you want each hair and, oh my God, are those yellow rubber bands (?) because you specifically said "orange".

You skip to the front door and throw your Hannah Montana backpack (which mommy found on Ebay and then won in a bidding frenzy with 16 other desperate mothers) over your shoulder.

"Come on, mom! I want to be early" you chirp and skip out to the car.

I suddenly cannot believe you're so big. When did you get so tall? Wasn't it yesterday that you were five pounds? Wasn't it yesterday that when I would hold your tiny premature baby self on my shoulder you would curl into a "C" as you were inside me?

September 8, 2001

We're going to name you Savannah. I hope you like it. I've loved that name since I was a little girl. It's hard to name you before I even meet you. I can't wait to lay eyes on you! My little princess! The thought that I'll be holding you in my arms in two short months is so overwhelming. What a miracle.

Please be safe in there. You are so precious to me.


You're racing across the grass toward the school and I'm letting you.

"Come on, mom!" you call back to me.

But, wait. I want to look at you. I want to remember this moment forever. This image of you - your enthusiasm, your joy, your perfection.

We walk up to the classroom together, your hand in mine.

I have to let go of your hand today.

The hand that I created inside me.

The hand that played with my hair and stroked my face while I nursed you.

The hand that wrapped itself around my finger so tightly while you took your first tentative steps.

The hand that I taught to wave bye-bye.

The hand that is now waving bye to me.

Please be safe in there, I think. You are so precious to me.

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