Remember when the dog knocked over the tree?

Despite wearing my heart on my sleeve, and feeling every feeling in the room every moment, I’m pretty adept at bouncing back. And I wanted my child to have that feeling of knowing he’s going to be ok, too, no matter what Life throws at him. I’ve tried to instill this in him from the beginning. Nothing like trial by fire, though, and although I’m glad of the lessons learned, I hate that he had to go through a crash course in learning to lean on his resilience several years ago.

It was the first weekend in December. I had just shown my not-soon-enough-to-be-ex the door a couple of weeks prior. However, I was determined to stick to our Christmastime traditions as much as possible for Z’s sake. Number one on the list was putting up the tree.

IMG_3066We went to our favorite place and picked out what we both thought was the perfect tree. Although Z pointed out several 12 foot tall trees, I managed to convince him that the 8-9 foot tall trees were “even better”! Having a high ceiling is great at this time of year, but I wasn’t prepared to wrestle anything much over our heights combined: a 9-year-old isn’t typically a whole lotta help yet in getting a tree through a door and upright in a stand.

We got it home, off the car, in the house, in the stand, strung with hundreds of twinkling white lights, decorated with the seemingly endless supply of ornaments coming out of the boxes from the basement, and a few hours later sat back to admire our work of art. Then we adjourned to the kitchen to stave off the munchies and


We ran back to the living room to see the 9-foot Christmas tree dead to rights, sprawled over the floor and across the coffee table. We could also see shards of colored glass, hooks, water from the stand… and a very, very scared and cowering 50-lb young dog hiding between the two living room chairs.

Z was crying, but speechless. I was speechless, and just about wigging out. I told myself to calm down, and just get the tree upright, that’s all.


Have you ever witnessed a 5’3” person trying to lift and walk a heavily decorated 9-foot tree upright while it’s still in the stand? Keep in mind a 4’ little person was trying to “help”, and the dog was circling us both, trying to herd us away from the big nasty tree that was surely going to devour us all.

It must have looked pretty funny to anyone walking by: a comedy of errors, minus the soundtrack (me swearing and yelling at both the short people – furry and otherwise – to move so I could try to pick up the tree and get the stand fixed).

Since I hadn’t grown additional arms since the crash occurred, I had no choice but to rely on the 9-year-old. Trying to give him directions on how to fix the stand while I held the tree at bay was something I seem to have mostly wiped from my mind. But, obviously, somehow I managed to communicate clearly enough what was needed, and he was able to formulate enough of a solution (since my face was buried in the full and aromatic branches of our Fraser Fir tree, I couldn’t see a thing) to make it work.

Once we got the tree upright, I turned and surveyed the devastation in the rest of the living room.

broken ornamentsGlass was all over. I stepped back to see that the portion of the tree that had hit the floor and table was devoid of any intact ornaments except the soft ones. Every. Single. Glass. Ornament. Was. Broken. Whole tree branches were broken and twisted. The big, hot tears threatened to spill over.

Ages-old orbs, the first ornaments Z picked out himself, ornaments we had chosen from past trips to different places, handblown ornaments… shattered.

Naturally at that point, the doorbell rang.

If the living room didn’t face the front, I would have totally ignored it – but there was no way you can hide your movements in front of a huge picture window with the drapes wide open.

I flung open the door – to find myself facing my not-soon-enough-to-be-ex.

“What?” I said, rather tersely, and then got mad at myself for not composing myself enough in front of him (I discovered later I had pieces of pine tree stuck in my hair, and I was covered in tree sap – I’m sure he was thinking along the lines of “what the hell?”). He hadn’t called, he hadn’t mentioned in any way shape or form that he was coming by.

At the next moment, though, I decided I wasn’t going to give him time to answer. I looked at him with his mouth set in the now-all-too-familiar sneer, and decided he was an unwelcome interruption. Kind of like door-to-door missionaries. But worse. And I said “This really isn’t a good time. Call me later.”

And more or less slammed the door in his face.IMG_3822Without giving him another thought, I turned to the wreckage in my living room. I didn’t give myself much time to mourn those poor dashed beauties – I needed to get the glass off the floor so there wouldn’t any emergency room visits later on. One disaster a night is my limit. Dustbuster and wastebasket in hand, I picked up the larger pieces and kept myself from inspecting them too closely for fear I’d realize what broken memory I was holding in my hand and then I’d break. I had put Z in charge of keeping the dog from walking on the glass. He suddenly cried out “MAMA! Look!” and was pointing at the dog’s back. Embedded so deeply into her fur, up and down her back, were pine needles. Dozens and dozens of short, sharp pine needles.

I dropped the dustbuster and got down in front of her. She was terrified, and looked so pitifully at me. I checked her from head to tail, and with the exception of the pine needles and sap, she was fine physically. I gently pulled the needles from her fur, and as I sat on the floor next to her, Z was at her head, holding her gently and talking to her in a very calm – and grown up – fashion. After we took care of our doggy, she went off to hide in her kennel – not from us, but that nasty awful scary tree (if you don’t believe animals can suffer from PTSD, come over next December and watch us bring in the Christmas tree). Z and I finished cleaning up, reconfigured the light strands and remaining ornaments, and promptly collapsed on our backs on the floor, staring up at the tall ceiling feeling SO thankful we didn’t get a taller tree, sweating profusely, and both wanting to cry.

And then my higher power kicked in.

I turned to my dear, sweet son and said, “hey, remember when the dog knocked over the tree?”

His blond little head snapped around and he looked at me in such an alarmed manner, I’m sure he was thinking “This is it. This is Mama cracking up.” But he saw my face and realized that old black humor was paying a visit. He shook his head and said right back “Too soon, Mama. Too soon.”


IMG_3674That is a moment embedded in my head, not because of the disaster wrought by a poor unsuspecting, gangly puppy dog backing up into an unstable 9-foot tree (we tie our trees to the walls now), but because that was the definitive moment I knew my child had a key, a strength, a super-power, that would serve him through the adolescent years to come, into college and adulthood.

Now, when things are rough, and one of us is in a state of near exhaustion or “I can’t handle anything else being thrown at me,” the other turns and says:

“Hey, remember the time the dog knocked over the Christmas tree?”

Does it fix anything? No. But it makes us stop and reevaluate the current situation (one of these days I’m going to create a scale, kind of like the doctors use to describe pain, only this one will be “how disastrous is it really?” with rainbows and smiley faces at one end of the spectrum, and fallen Christmas trees at the other end). It reminds us about that especially emotionally-charged Christmas when we uprighted a tree taller than we could really manage, and we did it together. And came out the other side intact (unlike the tree) with a kind of funny story to tell.

Too soon? No, not at all.

Until Friday, Friends. Cheers!


(more than) Four weddings and (more than) a funeral

“Why don’t we stay in touch like we say we will?” my best girlfriend, E, wondered aloud over the phone. She and her husband, D, had recently returned from a family imagefuneral in Ohio. And although funerals are not the happiest of circumstances to reconnect with people, if your family is like mine, you find yourself smiling – even laughing – hugging, and chatting up a storm with cousins and family friends over casseroles and cake.

The last time my Dad’s whole side of the family got together was at my Grandma’s funeral – over 10 years ago. We made the trip back to Saginaw, Michigan, about half an hour from Midland where my sister and I had grown up. Most of the rest of the family had stayed in and around Saginaw and its townships after venturing into adulthood; a few moved further away, as my sister and I did. Some went away and came back to mid-Michigan.

We are a large group. When she died, Grandma had 4 children, and 10 grandkids who were all married or otherwise partnered, with their own children – so it seems we multiplied exponentially. But everyone came back for Grandma one last time.

We all met up the first time that week at the funeral home. Family arrived early, before visitation started. Hugs and kisses were shared all around. Exclamations over how big cousins’ kids had become. Talk about how the next two days would play out. Then guests coming to pay their respects began arriving, and it was time to greet friends as they arrived out of the past and into the present.

The day of the funeral went by in a blur. I remember sitting with my sister. I remember driving to the cemetery. But not much in between.

I do remember afterwards.

Not in detail, but in the warmth we all shared. It began as we cousins recalled getting together as kids with our parents and grandparents – usually at Uncle B & Aunt M’s house. My only 2 girl cousins, D & K, are older than me; D by several years, but K by just 1 or 2 and I followed her everywhere when we were kids! We were sitting close now, just like we used to as kids pouring over teen magazines and record jackets and silly girl jokes and whispered secrets. Chairs pulled closer, ties loosened, shoes kicked off, we cousins resurrected funny family stories, some I’d never heard before. We all got happily lost for a little while down that lane as children again.

As it got dark, people needed to hit the road. Children and coats and flowers from the service were gathered; addresses, emails, and phone numbers were exchanged, all with promises to call and keep in touch.

Why don’t we?

We don’t get to have those big crazy family gatherings anymore, we’re all too spread out. It was so much easier when we all lived within an hour of everyone else. And when you have a Matriarch reeling everyone back in on a fairly regular basis. Especially then.

The same dynamic goes for high school and college friends – people move away, create their new lives. Life happens.

imageLife happens when there’s a wedding. Family and friends are invited from all over. And because it’s a wedding, everyone does their very best to be there.  It’s a celebration of Life, and an invitation to those who haven’t been on that most recent part of the Journey to come and catch up and celebrate.

Life happens when there’s a funeral. Family and friends come from all over. I’ve always thought of those services as a celebration of not only the Life lost, but the Lives of everyone who attends the funeral. We are embracing our own lives, and embracing those people who are still with us on this Earth. It doesn’t matter if we saw them 20 years ago or 2 days ago. Funerals make us sad. But they also make us grateful if we let them.

imageWe’ve all walked into a wedding or funeral or reunion with apologies on our lips for not being better at keeping in touch since the “last time.” But I’m starting to believe it’s not necessary to apologize. We’ve all been there, done that, and sometimes that’s just the way it is. When you’re at different stages of life all at different times, it’s just plain hard to connect regularly. No excuses needed: that’s Life.

I very happily hear from my 2 “girl” cousins via Facebook every once in a while, and get to see pictures of their families. And they are MARVELOUS cheerleaders from afar! I’m so thankful for Facebook at those times and so many more. I consider it a small window into the lives of people for whom I care, who are spread out all over the world. I feel that way about texts and emails, too (except for those missives from those foreign prince friends, needing me to go to the bank and wire them money; really, guys – get a credit card!).

If Christmas cards are the height of what is manageable, I feel lucky to be on your list! And I will genuinely exclaim at how big the kids have gotten, and ooh and ahh gleefully over the new furry member of the family. And I will stop for a moment and wish we could get together for a glass of wine, or a walk on a beach, or sit around and recall fond memories in person. But I won’t guilt-trip you by saying “why don’t we get together more often?” I’m grateful to have been thought of at such a crazy time of year. And should the opportunity arise to meet up, we’ll take it from there!

I might very well be near a device with an actual keypad (I write/type like I talk: in more than 140 characters for sure), and send a message/email/text telling you I just received your card and thank you so much I miss you and how are you? and you’ll know I’m thinking of you.

If you don’t get that message, please know that if you took the time to send me a card or photo, text or email, FB message or missive by carrier pigeon, I am feeling very grateful that you are in my life but am up to my eyeballs in Life at this end. I know you’ll understand and think to yourself, “no apologies needed.”


Until Tuesday, Friends.  Cheers!

Remember this. Please.

When someone you care about is experiencing a loss – whether it’s a death, a tragic accident, someone’s loved one going into rehab, a divorce, a serious illness:
SAY something.
LISTEN.  Please.

But I hate to tell you, it’s not enough to say “sorry” and expect the Other to move on because you’re tired of the emotional distress.  Think how tired the Other must feel living with it all the time.  Glennon Doyle Melton, who pens the blog Momastery, says “run towards it, sit in it and soak up some of the pain.”  Even a tiny amount absorbed helps, it really does.  Dropping out of the Other’s life doesn’t.  Be a friend who actively cares for the long haul.  Please.

teddy bearsI’m not saying you have to FIX anything. A tragedy is a tragedy precisely because it can’t be fixed.  Empathize.  Hold a hand.  Bring crazy movies.  Bring chocolate.  Bring Diet Coke.  Bring wine.  Lend some of your strength.  Lend a shoulder.
Help them be strong.
Help them be.
Help them.


Here’s the good news:  no one expects you to do it all!  Just pitch in.  Give what you can.  Use the gifts you have.  Please.

But it’s not easy.  And it is messy.  There’s no getting around that.  Just imagine, though, if there was no one there to help you in the midst of the biggest mess in your life.

I once read somewhere that children don’t always need a “teachable moment” for every thing that goes wrong.  Sometimes what they really, simply, need is for someone to commiserate.  “You’re right: that sucks.”IMG_3223

You feel what you feel – no one can justifiably tell you HOW you “should” feel about anything.  But sometimes in the deep dark times, you need more.  “I don’t want someone to FIX anything – just validate my feeling as I do!  Let me know I’m not crazy for feeling this way!”

Don’t we all need to hear “I’m so sorry – that really sucks” at times?  And doesn’t it make you feel better to know someone is right there with you, even if there’s nothing to be done? You’re not alone feeling that way.  Who knew “that sucks” could be so powerful?

But it is.  It really, truly is.

I hope and pray no one I care about has a tragedy befall them. (That’s not terribly realistic, but I still hope.)  I’m asking you to just remember you may very well find yourself in the Other’s shoes someday.  And you’d want the people you care about to come to your side.  It’s devastating when they don’t, making the tragedy even worse.

The Other in the midst of tragedy doesn’t have a choice.  You do.  And the Other needs you to make the choice to BE there with them.  Please.

IMG_3597Don’t wait to be asked: when a Big Bad Awful does strike, the Other can’t find their way out of the fog; time is an enemy at that point; and grief is paralyzing.  When getting out of bed is an achievement, expecting the Other to be able to make plans is inexcusable.  I was always the one who made plans and organized for everyone else.  When I did reach out, and was told to basically help myself, I recoiled in shock – and fear.  Some people I thought I could rely on, to whom I automatically turned, suddenly didn’t have time for me.  Couldn’t be bothered.  Didn’t know what to say.  Didn’t want to “choose sides”.  Didn’t want to get caught up in the drama.

But I was beaten over the head with the drama, dropped in the middle of it, and left there.  Alone.  It’s scary.  And sickening.  Debilitating.

IMG_3568Thankfully, gratefully, I did have a greater safety net of loving – and greatly loved – people: T, E, and L were (and still are) my heroes. They and others, stepped up, and into, the midst of this Big Bad Awful.  They didn’t fix anything.  They didn’t solve anything.  They did something greater: they were HERE.

Although I’ve moved on from the Big Bad Awful and am delightfully happy in this life I’ve made, looking back on it, I really did need people to just say “I’m thinking of you” (“I don’t know what to say, except I care about you” is all that needs saying if you’re lost for words).  Or “we’re taking you to dinner,” and it didn’t even matter if it was 1/2 an hour at McDonalds.  I certainly needed to hear “That sucks.”  And I needed it throughout the horrifyingly long ordeal – not just for the first couple of weeks.  I needed someone else to lead.  I needed people to *keep* showing up (yep, I was needy – we all are in times of crisis).  And sometimes just hearing “that sucks” was really and truly enough for me.

What it comes down to is this:  if we don’t have time to be there for the Other people in our lives, then we’re not fully living.  And if you’re not fully living, then part of you is dead.  And THAT sucks.

Be there.  Please.

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

P.S.  What have you found to be most helpful when a Big Bad Awful strikes?  Leave your thoughts in the Comments section.  Sharing ideas can help us all move towards being better versions of ourselves and thus, better friends!




Here’s to the men I love most in this world

Happy Father’s Day!

Regardless of your feelings towards this Hallmark moment, it never hurts to remind the men, especially the fathers in your life, how much they mean to you. And sometimes, we all need an “in your face” moment to remind us to do it.

Not everyone has a positive male role model in their lives. And I don’t just mean fathers, but ANY positive male figure. It’s a very real fact that too many kids in the United States grow up without a positive male role model. Our children deserve all the goodness and positive role models they can get in their lives. We ALL need positive influences!

I know there are many advocates that insist children must grow up with both a mother and a father. And in a perfect world, that would be ideal. But there is nothing perfect in this world. It’s only ideal if both of those relationships are HEALTHY relationships. There is nothing good – and I mean NOTHING – when one of those “parents” are toxic. The court system is still way behind in accepting this fact, and in my own experience the court only managed to muddy the waters and boy alonespend more of my money on a court-appointed “advocate” for my child. She “advocated” that by constantly throwing Z at his “father” the relationship would eventually stick. It didn’t. All that was achieved was hurt and resentment on Z’s part (and countless more sessions with the child psychologist).  The legal system has a long way to go in catching up with psychology and actually doing what is healthy for children.  The key element in any relationship is that it is a healthy relationship.

In the meantime, on behalf of these kids, may I ask something of you? If you are a man and there is a child in your family, in your life, in your neighborhood, who is missing that key element, that healthy relationship, step up to the plate. You don’t have to “fix” anything; no one expects you to take the place of a father; no one expects anything other than asking yourself “if I were that child, what could someone do to help?”

lonely childIt can be as simple as taking notice of the quiet kid you know from down the block when you cross paths and making eye contact with a “hello”; inviting your niece or nephew out for ice cream once in a while; including the neighbor kid whose family life has been in upheaval to join in with your kids’ front yard frisbee game; talking with a female friend whose adolescent son needs to start shaving and offering to give her son a few shaving tips, maybe even teaching him to tie a tie. Supporting the neighborhood kids out selling cookies/wreaths/light bulbs/popcorn/detergent for school or club fundraisers – you don’t need to buy more than one of something to boost their confidence. Taking a few rides around the block with your girl alonenephew or niece as they learn to navigate behind the wheel. Telling a young woman or a young man in your life that she or he is “enough” in their own right, and that they don’t need to accept society’s definition of what is, or is not, “enough.”

Signing up to be a Big Brother or Big Sister – a fantastic program designed to match up “bigs” with “littles” in their own communities who are missing the key element of a positive role model. Keep in mind this is not “replacing” a parent – that’s why they are called Big BROTHERs and SISTERs. Everyone I know who has been a part of this program has never regretted it.

The key in all of this is making sure these kids know they are worth your time; not just one time, but all the time.

And on this Father’s Day, I want to let all the men in my child’s life know how much I love you: Z’s teachers, principals, and coaches; his Godfather and Godbrothers; my Dad (Papa); T’s Dad who has folded Z into the family (bonus Grandfather!); his Uncle J; my neighbors; the crossing guards and bus drivers; our family doctor who holding handtakes a little extra time at Z’s appointments to ask about tennis or drivers ed or what he’s reading;  A, his first “guy” babysitter whom Z thinks is still pretty cool (he is!) and showed him that men make great caregivers, too; past co-workers who have genuinely expressed interest in Z when he’d come to the office and talked with him about all kinds of things; friends near and far who “Like” and comment on my social media pages when I put up pictures or brag (bless you all for putting up with those moments – he’s my first and last, so I’ve gotta get it all in with him) – your positive comments to and about him make him smile, even when he’s rolling his eyes and saying “M-O-m!” in mock exasperation.

The greatest role model, in my mind, is the man who steps up and into an already established family, big or small, regardless of the difficulties, and takes on that responsibility of being a positive role model…and accepts it as a gift.

Keep in mind, I’m pretty biased. T came into our lives and took on that part of parenting I could never really replicate.

Sure, I could have probably taught Z how to shave, but not with any real authority on which blades or shaving cream worked best.  It’s different having a man teach you.

I love that you're my dadI could have put in all the time as passenger to Z’s driving practice, but I still have all my hair and (most) of my sanity because T took him out to practice part of the time, too.

I couldn’t have taught him how to tie a tie – I can’t do it for the life of me. It would have been clip-on city here.

Yes, Z talks to me about all kinds of things, but I know it’s different having a man to talk to about stuff. T has not backed down from any of the more “challenging” issues. Even icky ones.

And simply the fact that I am not a single parent, struggling to make all the right decisions on my own is a huge gift – to both me and Z. There’s something to be said when you can present a united front on some issues, not to mention when another adult compliments a child it goes a long way. After all, if it’s Mom saying it, well, she has to because she’s your mom.

IMG_3606Our family is fuller and richer for having T – a good person, a good man – become part of our crazy little tribe. This is a healthy relationship Z is experiencing, one that I wish every child on this planet could have.

When I realize all the support Z continues to have from all the men in his life, the richness and goodness he has pouring in to him from all quarters of his life, I think both of us know he was never missing anything. And even more, I believe we are both far more aware every day of his being blessed by so much love and caring.

Happy Father’s Day to every man who’s made a positive difference in a child’s life and to those who continue to do so. The World is a better place for you being here.  I love you all.Happy fathers day

Until Tuesday, Friends.  Cheers!




Moments of Grace with Ferris Bueller

I was pedaling fast and hard for so many years; ever since the Big Bad Awful anyway. I grabbed that wobbly old unicycle and never got off of it.

I couldn’t stop – what if I couldn’t get back up?
Couldn’t look around, I’d lose my balance and fall off.
Pedal. Fast. Hard. Don’t look down!
Don’t look up! Look straight ahead!
Just. Keep. Pedaling.

Then the Appendectomy from Hell happened.


I learned what that really meant, and I learned it the hard way. It knocked me off that unicycle with a two-by-four, and I didn’t realize what hit me until it was too late. I never had a choice in getting off that damn unicycle.  ICU will do that to you.

Some recovery time later, more of the Big Bad Awful attacked, and I was back up in the seat. Starting over again. Pedal. Hard. Fast.

And then I remembered this:

Ferris Bueller                                              ~Ferris Bueller (by the inimitable John Hughes)

There’s a reason that movie will always be around and strike such a true chord with someone; everyone.  Somewhere.  Everywhere.

I’ll cut to the chase and remind us all what the moral of the story is:
Life is always happening. It doesn’t wait for you to pick yourself up after a fall, no matter how far or how serious the injuries.  No matter how busy you are. No matter how many “shoulds” are on your list of to-do.  Even if you kill the car. Life moves pretty fast – not out of spite, not at all, that’s just what Life does. It will still be there after a fall; after your list of “shoulds” is finished – but it will have moved along without you. Life – your life – will have changed.  And you’ll have missed it. Worst of all, you’ll miss things that will never come around again in your lifetime.


Every once in a very great while…seagull

A Moment of Grace occurs.

You look around.
You look up…
You look down!
You. Stop. Pedaling.

And you look up from where you’ve landed – and Life is there waiting for you; even holding out a hand. Saying “look around, you’re missing it.”  And you leave the unicycle on the ground. Behind you.  And you walk with Life down one path, then another; sometimes you even stop and smell those crazy roses or get lost in a painting.

You discover you’ve outpaced whatever it was you were pedaling away from so fast.  And walking is just as good. The view isn’t nearly as boring or as blurry as when you are zipping away. You notice details you couldn’t before because you were moving so fast to stay ahead.

You can look around again. All around!  The only place you don’t look is back.

Life will always move pretty fast. But once you’re standing tall, on your feet, then you can stop and look around without losing your balance.



Thank you, Ferris. You’re my hero.



Until Tuesday, Friends.  Cheers!

Roots and wings

I’ve just returned from a long weekend trip with my 15-soon-to-be-16-year-old son.  It was just the two of us.

We’ve made several of these trips over the years, but none before had felt so IMG_3714*delicate* – like a beautiful soap bubble, reflecting watercolor-like images of us.  Knowing it would probably be the last – or at least the penultimate – trip before his life changes dramatically: getting his driver’s license, then getting a job, then going to college….

Our trips would drive others mad.  We don’t plan anything. We pack books, and crazy card games, comfy clothes.  We don’t set alarms, we don’t make reservations (except for a room).  We pack swimsuits, just in case.  We might load the bikes onto the car rack like we did for this trip even though the weather forecast was icky (and it turns out we never did get to ride them). We buy junk food. We watch movies. We sleep until we wake up. We talk. We’re quiet together.

We drive, and drive, and drive a long way from our home for these trips. Once we even flew. The unspoken rule is that it needs to be a place on the water.  Any body of water.  And it needs to be just the two of us.

These trips don’t happen every year, but as he gets older I want a bajillion more of them! What makes them so special to me is that he WANTS to go. Not only that, Z is always the one who brings it up.  And he made my heart sing when he asked a month ago if he and I could take one of our trips.

This year, Z did ALL the driving.  The six hours up to the Northwoods of Wisconsin, in and around the quaint towns, and back home again. I must have looked to my left at the young man driving a thousand times that trip, and all I could think was “It used to be me driving him around…”

Z and I have always been close. It’s been the two of us for most of his young life.  I am his constant. No matter what or who comes and goes from his life, he knows he is stuck with me.  I’ve made sure he knows that. Always and forever.

He still talks to me about all manner of things going on in his life, including crushes and periods of uncertainty. He still asks me questions about sex, and what girls like best about boys. He listens carefully and intently when we talk about “no means no for anyone saying it” and that mutual respect is a key to any healthy relationship.  He listens and asks more questions when I tell him integrity is the quality I value most in my friendships and other relationships.  He asks what integrity envelopes, and we talk about what it means when someone calls him a “young man of integrity”.  I tell him first of all, I think it may be the greatest compliment anyone can ever give him.  Then I tell him I hope he always strives to be a man of integrity.  Always and forever.

But those conversations are for at home. On our trips, it’s nothing heavy, nothing earth-shattering. We catch up with the little things. He asks about the book I’m reading; I ask about how everyone at the lunch table is doing. We talk about music. We talk about cars (well, he talks, I listen). Sometimes we don’t talk at all and are just *together*.   We play card games that devolve into mild smack talk and laughter so hearty our sides-ache-our-eyes-water-and-we-can’t-breathe-together. We breathe. We just are together.

Z is an adventurous kid. He loved preschool the moment I dropped him off. When I mentioned summer sleep away camp one spring, thinking he might want to talk roots and wingsabout it later, he asked how soon he could leave. He was 8 years old (fortunately, the camp we chose had an opening that summer). It’s 3-weeks long and 7 hours away. He’s gone every summer but one ever since. He’s a genuinely nice person, and makes friends easily – both boys and girls. His friends are nice people, too, and as they all get older (and get driver’s licenses) they are off doing more things away from us parents. He is working on earning money for his French Club trip to Paris next spring – he’ll make it to France before I do. He has no qualms about going away to college. He is already planning his semester studying in Europe. And he talks about living abroad to work on his graduate degrees.

All of these milestones, all of these “venturing outings” are amazing and awesome to him. He knows he’s lucky to get to do a lot of the things he does (and I will strive to make sure he can). He has no fear. I love watching him spread his wings and fly!

It also breaks my heart a little bit more each time he flies a little further.

This fall he’ll be heading into his junior year.  God help me. I’m not ready for that and I know it. As long as he’s ready though, it’ll all be good.

And if I get one more trip – one more lazy, perfect trip with Z before he flies off to find his future, I’ll be thrilled. In the meantime, I have all the memories of trips past to cherish. And if this was the last of them, then it will be enough.

Always and forever.


Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

Spring cleaning

slushI felt dullness. Drabness. Mired in the muddy, slushy snow lining the streets.

It was the first full day home after returning from my first week-long vacation in over five years. I was in my car waiting in line for the ATM when it finally struck me: it wasn’t just the warmth and softness of the tropical trade winds I was missing (although coming back to Chicagoland’s 40s and 50s was a brisk and startling change from the 80s I’d enjoyed for a week); it was the absence of bright and vibrant color. And it had suddenly depressed me.

This was a relatively quick realization, unlike some. There are times when the absence of something takes a while to settle in and then you finally notice something is missing.

You know how you’ll be driving down the street, do a double-take and suddenly think “didn’t there used to be a Blockbuster store there?” or “when did Applebee’s close?” Or going to someone’s house you frequent and thinking “didn’t there used to be a picture there?” only to ask and find out that it had been gone for months.

At times, we can get so caught up in the daily grind, we slowly forget what brings us joy. A former co-worker, C, told me about the day she realized it was time to look for a new job: she had stopped singing in the car on the way to work. Something so simple, but it made her happy. But as she became more and more discouraged with her career, it obliterated other things she valued. And she was not as happy a person anymore. But it was finally noticing the absence of something that spurred her to look – and find – something better (and she’s happily singing away on her way to work again).

IMG_3615Unfortunately, sadness, hurt, and pain are things we have to learn to live with at times. Only when you have the sudden – sometimes slow – realization they’re gone, or at least somewhere in the far background, do you wonder how long they’ve been missing. How long haven’t I been singing in the car? How long has it been since I sat and watched the sun set? How long have I let (insert your own realization here) go missing from my life?

Other times, something – like a sound, or a smell, or seeing a name or date – triggers a rush of memories that come careening back into our heads (or hearts). Some are good. Some not so much. And sometimes it can be difficult not to let those painful memories settle in for a visit. When the hurtful stuff jumps on us so suddenly, I think it can be just as painful as experiencing it the first time around.

Marie Kondo, the author of current best-seller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, advocates that you only keep items in your house that “spark joy.” I think that pertains to our hearts and brains as well.

The idea, I think, is to hold on to what makes us happy and healthy individuals. We’re not storage bins designed to hold everything, just like our homes are not meant to hold on to every item ever accumulated. But in order to make room for future “joy sparkers”, you have to purge some things. Let’s let go of the icky stuff!

I’m not saying that difficult times can’t make us better people. I firmly believe that what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger (or want a stronger cocktail. Or both.) What I am saying is that letting go of the pain-filled memories of those times is healthy. Remember the lesson, by all means. But let’s give ourselves permission to let go of the hurt or disappointment.

When WE get to decide what will be absent going forward, we are in control of with what we fill that now vacant space. Make room for the good things to come.

By the way, I didn’t stay depressed for long on that cold dreary day. The absence of something can also be the actual reminder that something else is right around the corner.

Like spring in the Midwest.

Spring really does come back (eventually). I had a Technicolor preview in Hawaii and forgot, for a time, about the black, brown, and grey we have here between the end of winter and the first few weeks of spring. It’s the only change of seasons that goes back to absolute neutral before the next season begins.  And I can appreciate that now.

IMG_3322Maybe that’s what my trip was about: besides resting, I had the colorful riot of one place to shake me out of old habits and inspire new ones. I visited some familiar places, but freshened up the memories with new experiences.

So when you tidy up and bid adieu to things you no longer have need, and there is a vacant place – that gift of an absence – I hope you find exactly what you’re hoping for to fill it.

Until Tuesday, Friends. Cheers!

Make hay while the iron is hot

Is there ever a perfect time?

For getting braces? Asking someone on a first date? Getting married? Having children? Writing a story? Getting your period? (ok, that last one was definitely gender-specific and I’ll try to refrain from those types of comments in the future. But really, has anyone ever said “Oh what a perfect time for my period” without sarcasm?). Is there a perfect time for anything?

IMG_3262I recently left my full-time job with a media company to resume my writing career full-time. Was it perfect timing? Several people with whom I worked certainly felt otherwise. And for my co-worker, J, it left a LOT on her plate. But bless her, she was genuinely happy for me and even took me out for a lovely lunch my last week in the office. Although I felt badly leaving her with a never-ending pile of work to do, I knew it was still time for me to leave.

Not perfect timing, but Time.

I looked forward to establishing a routine of my own. Sitting down at the computer or notepad, brainstorming, editing first drafts, trashing first drafts, starting over, editing…editing some more, and (finally) getting pieces out there!

Alas, my “perfect time” to write seems to take place after 10pm.

(All of the proofreading and editing, however, does take place in daylight. Really.)

The joke at our house is that it’s a good thing I quit my day job because my new job keeps me up at night. I quit my office job so I could write and blog and edit DURING the day. Apparently my brain hasn’t gotten that memo yet.

While I was working outside the house, the only truly quiet time I had to myself was after the house settled into the nightly routine. Once everyone was in bed and Life quieted down, then the real estate in my brain which hosts the monologues you read here and elsewhere could actually get down to work.

I do have a second-best time for writing: alone in the car. But it’s very tricky to write or type unnoticed by fellow drivers, or police officers, while driving. I tried to dictate to Siri once while driving, but she was only catching every third word and got testy with me when I swore at her. I’m really hoping it just looked like I was singing along with the radio to the other drivers on that stretch of I-90.

So, it’s back to being stationary while writing.

And I’m trying to negotiate with my body to cooperate to work with me during (relatively) normal business hours. I really do have good intentions at bed time: I brush my teeth, floss (most of the time), check email and Facebook one last time, moisturize, run back downstairs because I forgot to sign a form or something for Z, remind Z it’s bedtime, run back upstairs, figure out if I have clean clothes to put on my body the next morning, say “good night” to Z and make sure HE has clean clothes to put on the next day, take my bedtime routine of vitamins & etc., and finally turn out the lights and crawl under the covers. This usually occurs before 11pm. Usually.

But sometimes, regardless of those intentions, I’ll wake up in the wee small hours of the morning with an idea desperately holding on to my parietal lobe – or amygdala, or wherever the unconscious mind hangs out while we’re sleeping – and I know I have to get up and write it ALL down because I won’t remember it in the morning. In the past, convinced I have a marvelous subject but am so tired I think “I’ll just jot down a few key words and it will trigger my memory tomorrow,” I’ve grabbed one of the small pads of lined yellow paper I keep on my bedside table (actually, I keep them all over the house – I call them my external hard drives) and scribble down what I believe to be the core ideas for a great column. Do you have any idea what “dopamine, glass jar, San Juan, and orange” have in common? Neither do I. But those are the “key words” I found waiting for me on the small yellow pad one morning.

There’s a reason those old clichés have stuck around long enough to become, well, clichés. “Make hay while the sun shines,” “strike while the iron is hot.” Most of the time, though, there is no perfect time to do anything. We just go with it because it feels better than any other time to date (or, if you’re a procrastinator, you have absolutely no choice in the matter and you’ll barely get it done on time anyway. Hop to it.).

If we sit around waiting for the perfect time, we’ll all be sitting still for a very, very long time.

So, I think I’ll go on writing when inspiration hits. Even if it’s not perfect timing, I’m going with it and jumping in, even at 1am.  Just promise me that if you find me out and about with my face planted on a table, or propped up against a wall snoring, you’ll wake me up.  Maybe have a pad of paper and a pen ready.  You never know when an idea will strike….

Until Tuesday, Friends. Cheers!

Not for the faint of heart

The last thing I remember is looking into Z’s eyes and sighing in reply: “Well, if you’re ok with winging it, I’m good.”

Fifteen plus years later…

Don’t get me wrong: I am a firm believer in being prepared for all contingencies (just ask T how I pack). I read. I Google. I ask friends who have been there before me. I arm myself with as much information as I deem necessary. I am prepared for as many “what ifs” as I can be.

I just don’t count on it being anything like I envisioned. So lots of plans are made, and then just as readily get thrown out the window. But once you have kids, the concept of “plan” takes a huge hit, and you’re never really sure where you stand once you become a parent. You, too?

Take Z’s birth for instance. Although I would be 35 when he was born, my pregnancy was a very healthy one, and the only scary parts were at the beginning and the end. I started bleeding at 9 weeks, but all turned out ok. Of course, the “giving birth” part wasn’t at all like what I’d prepared for.

My doctor and I talked about my birth plan during one of my regular check ups. It went like this:

I’d like to try natural child birth, but if things get rough, I’m not adverse to drugs.

That’s it. That was the plan.

(Now I’m going to borrow something from the comedienne and philosopher extraordinaire, Amy Poehler. And I really hope she’s ok with that, because I don’t want to piss her off since I’m still hoping to bump into her one day and we’ll decide to go for coffee – even though I don’t drink coffee, there are certain people in this world you’d absolutely love to get to talk with so you’d drink the coffee anyway. Anyway, here’s what I’m borrowing from her, and I want to make it a basic tenet of this blog so listen and read carefully now, because I’m not going through this again

Good for you. Not for me. And vice versa.

I won’t judge you for the choices you’ve made for your family. Please don’t judge me for mine. We all do the best we can with what we have at the time we’re doing it.)

So, back to the birth plan:

I’d taken the Lamaze classes, took the tour of the hospital, asked a lot of parents a lot of questions, and read a LOT. I was as ready as I could be.

IMG_0850Then that funny thing called Life happened again. You know, that thing that happens when you’re busy making plans. Yeah, you know the one I’m talking about.

Two and a half weeks before my due date — and keep in mind, this was my first pregnancy. Well, ok, my last, as well, but what’s the general consensus about first babies? They’re always late, right?

I went into labor.

Two and a half friggin’ weeks early.

It was a Thursday night. Some people tried to tell me later it was false labor*. True, false, it doesn’t matter what you call it, it HURT and that baby was suddenly very insistent that after playing it safe for nearly 8.5 months that he/she wanted OUT.

I was admitted to the hospital very early in the morning on Sunday.

Yep. You read that correctly. I was in labor from Thursday through Sunday and STILL no baby or alien or anything else had made his/her/its appearance.

I know that sounds cold. Please remember I was IN LABOR FOR A PERIOD OF 72 HOURS by this point. I hadn’t slept since Wednesday night.

For 8.125 months, I had that perfect little “basketball baby tummy” and the worst that had happened was the baby had rolled onto my sciatic nerve for a week.

Then the baby “dropped” and I suddenly had a horse trailer strapped to my front. Imprints from inside me of little feet, hands, and heaven only knows what else were appearing regularly on my belly that was now located somewhere south of my knees, but because everything else was stretched beyond what seemed the acceptable range of motion, I couldn’t be sure. The baby had suddenly realized I hadn’t given him/her/it the luxury condo but the simple studio. I think he/she/it braced their little back against my tailbone and pushed with both feet with the strength of the Hulk and that’s when it all started going south. Literally, figuratively.

I didn’t care WHAT came out or HOW it came out or WHERE it came out just make it come out NOW.

Then everything came to a grinding halt.

As soon as I’d been wheeled in, they hooked me up to lots of monitors that beeped and whirred and tracked the baby’s progress. Just before 7am on that hot August Monday, when my ob/gyn walked in, labor stopped. Three and a half days, and nothing to show for it? Oh no, I don’t think so. She agreed, and Part B of the labor plan was instituted (you remember, the part with the drugs).

And it just got crazier from there.

After examining me, my doctor announced that although the baby was head down, he/she/it was “sunny side up”, meaning facing my stomach instead of my back. So every time I had a contraction, the hardest part of the little alien’s head was hitting my tailbone.

Well, that explained a lot.

My doctor immediately ordered an epidural.
I told her I sure hoped it was for me.

When I am faced with such utter exhaustion that I’m sure is going to kill me and that I’m pretty sure I’ll be taking down a few poor bystanders with me, I turn to my higher power: humor.

It can get pretty dark sometimes. But it is my last push (pun intended in this instance) to try and get through whatever it is that has led me to that point. In this case, I really didn’t have a choice – someone else was counting on me to get him out of the dark, too.

And this is the part of the story where I fell in love for the first time that day.
My knight in shining blue scrubs came in: my anesthesiologist, Dr M. And the nurse from hell (whom I’d silently dubbed “Cruella”), who had been with me since check- in, held my shoulders and bossed me one last time as she said “look directly at me and don’t move a muscle.” Which sounds great, except the Pitocin they’d given me earlier to restart labor was doing everything it could to MAKE my muscles move. I knew exactly what was happening – I told you I paid attention in Lamaze class – and I’d like to say I was a brave lass as Dr M threaded that needle down my spine. So I’ll just leave it at ‘I was a brave lass’. Instant relief from my child literally head-butting me for 3+ days spread through my body and I could feel every muscle relax. I turned to my hero and said “I love you.” He smiled back at me and said tenderly, “I get that a lot.”

I was able to doze a little. And when I came up out of the not-sleeping-for-4-days-fog, I remember thinking “Ok, I’ve got this. I’m so exhausted, but I can do this! Let’s push!” My Ob/gyn turned from the monitor and said “You’re baby is going to give me a heart attack. We need to do a c-section right now.”

Well alrighty then.

When a doctor says “c-section” in a birthing suite, it is a call to military-like precision that I have never witnessed before or since. Monitor feeds were ripped out of walls, sides to the bed are up, the doctor is magically whipped away for her costume change, wheels are literally in motion while they tuck sheets and patient in for the ride down the hall. What I thought of then was, I’m sure, a combination of fear/relief/drugs. The first part was “ok, NOW we’re getting somewhere!” And the second part I blame entirely on my friend, A, who had four children before I even had my first, and hers were delivered by c-section as well. She told me her story of being wheeled quickly down the hospital hall and what went through her mind.  It’s all her fault I suddenly started giggling uncontrollably, causing my nurses and even marvelous Dr M to look at me in alarm. I even heard the following in A’s voice: “Please buckle your seatbelt and keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times.”

Less than 15 minutes later, I was looking at my baby boy, Z, and I had fallen in love for the second time in one day. We’d gotten through our first wild ride together.

Here’s a funny side-note: once you have a child, other people – from the grocery clerk to your family, and neighbors to perfect strangers – feel entitled to a commentary on your delivery (they also feel the pressing need to comment on your parenting style, but that’s a whole other chapter). One of the things that really bothered me is that when people find out I had a c-section, they seemed disappointed for me. “Oh dear,” they’d say pityingly. “You didn’t get to experience the miracle of birth.”

Excuse me?

I had a baby inside me. Baby is out now. It was a miracle.
And I experienced it all. For four days.

No romantic images are seared in my mind. I knew I looked like I’d been up for 4 days, with just one little drug-induced nap for respite. Z looked better, but not by much. He also looked like he knew something I didn’t. I did know it was just the beginning of lots of crazy rides (I say this with some sense of the ridiculous as my son is now just weeks away from getting his driver’s license). And it turns out I was right.

IMG_0862(1)But Z knew something right then, something I think all babies know. When he first looked at me on that hot August Monday, in that slightly near-sighted manner newborn babies have, with kind of a surprised “Oh! It’s you!” look when they connect that voice they’ve heard for a while – that voice that’s always with them – when Z suddenly realized he knew me, he finally had the chance to let me know: “Hey, after what we’ve just been through, if you’re up for winging it, so am I.”

*For the record, it’s called protracted labor. And it’s real, and it hurts just like regular labor, except it’s spread out. So you can enjoy it longer.

Until Friday, Friends. Cheers!

Remind me

The most frequent question asked of me about this blog is “what’s it about?” Fair enough – but honestly, it’s a work in progress. That answer will change frequently. The second most asked question is “what’s with the name?” Again, fair enough – let me explain.

Do you believe in magic?  Whether your own, parental, or witnessing it in someone else? It does exist. The eyes in back of the head, the knowing when you’re getting into trouble on a different floor of the house; the ability to instantly know where you left your soccer shoes, where the missing library book is; the healing touch with the right words to soothe a scrape, calm panic at forgotten assignments, and understanding for a broken heart and broken dreams – that’s a particular kind of “Mom Magic” and every mom has it.

Well, there’s an extension of that magic: knowing when something has been forgotten. My son calls it “Mom’s 6th Sense,” and he might be on to something. It shows itself most prevalently as we all buckle ourselves into the car before heading out somewhere, and then – as if on cue – everyone turns to look at me expectantly. If I can say “Nope, we’re good,” we can continue the excursion with about 99.9% confidence that we are set for whatever comes our way. Whether it’s a trip across town, to the airport, or a road trip, I KNOW when we’ve got everything taken care of.

old fashioned woman facing leftHowever, if I pause and stare intently through the windshield, family knows it’s time to regroup and start walking me through packing lists. It can be anything from tickets, to sunscreen, to pajamas, to medication, to an entire piece of luggage, to a precious ring. I KNOW when we’ve forgotten something.

But here’s the magic’s catch: I can’t always “see” what we’re forgetting before we MUST pull out of the driveway.

Most of those times I will eventually remember, such as with the ring: we were over halfway to the airport (an hour away) when I looked down and realized my hand was bare and I practically screamed to T that my ring wasn’t with me (to his credit, he hid the look of “this means a call to the insurance company” very well). It took a phone call and several texts to the pet sitter who drove over to the house on an unscheduled trip to look. She did, indeed, find it in one of the two places I asked her to look, but it was far too late to turn around and go get it. Obviously, the trip wasn’t impacted (although the countless looks I gave my hand during the trip – each time feeling that heart-skip-stomach-clench of not seeing it where it should be – were jarring).

Other times, we can buy the forgotten toothpaste, or sleep in a t-shirt instead of the pajamas that are still sitting folded on the dresser at home, or borrow a hair dryer at a friend’s, and everything works out ok.

But, the times I don’t figure it out? I will beat myself up over what I imagine we’re going to suddenly discover is missing that can throw the entire trip into chaos.

I’ll go over my lists on my cellphone, visually recounting packing everything on my list. I struggle to recall just how many cans of cat food DID I leave out for the pet sitter, and did I leave the phone numbers where she can find them?

Instead of breathing deeply and thinking to myself “Ok, we’re off and now all I can do is relax and enjoy the trip,” I fret. And sometimes it is over something as small as what turns out to be toothpaste. What drives me to distraction is the not remembering. That nagging “I feel like I’ve forgotten something…”

That’s a struggle we all contend with at some point, and it’s a helpless kind of feeling. Taking a test, giving a speech, packing for a trip, hell – just going to the grocery store and having that feeling come over you as you’re debating which 12-item or fewer line you should stand in and will anyone notice you really have 13 items? (And how guilty should I feel about that 13th item anyway?)

We strive for perfection: for ourselves, for our families, for work. We can’t afford mistakes. They cost time, money, confidence.

But perfection costs even more than all that, and it’s not a realistic goal.

One of my favorite actors, Michael J. Fox says “I strive for excellence. Perfection is God’s business.”

Whether or not you believe in g/God(s) isn’t the point.

This idea of excellence vs. perfection is an idea I have instilled in my son; but why is it so hard for me to embrace? It’s not as though I’ve actually achieved “perfection” in my pursuits; many have turned out “well” and I’ve been just as happy!

The fact is, just like so much else in life, I am a work in progress. Perfection isn’t required. Only that I show up and do my best.

cropped finger and string for logoI just need to be reminded.

So I’ve decided I’m going to get smarter and ask for help, from friends and family: apparently I don’t have to be perfect because they love me anyway (go figure!). Besides, can’t we all benefit from some help remembering the most important things in life when we get so busy being ‘us’?

Remind me, and I’ll remind you, and we’ll all be good.

So, that’s what’s up with the blog name.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the store. We’re out of bread and cat food and, um, something else. I’ll figure it out – or not – in the checkout line.

Until Tuesday, Friends. Cheers!