A mother’s wish list

fairy godmothersSleeping Beauty had three fairy godmothers who bestowed one gift each upon her in the form of a wish — but couldn’t manage to keep the girl away from a spinning wheel in 16 years.

When I was pregnant, I dreamed about what my child would be like: what he/she would look like, sound like, everything.  Of course, we all want our children to be smart and healthy, successful, and SAFE; at the beginning, we tend to think in these broader strokes.

Then, as a new parent, my life was filled with so many new things besides a baby: crib latches, bottle temperatures, learning to fold strollers one-handed while holding the baby and diaper bag in the other, navigating the grocery store half asleep, play-group politics, pediatrician recommendations, my own changing body, and a million things more… toddler years with “I do it!” and tantrums, snuggles and big beds… then came the elementary school years with fundraisers and volunteering, PTA politics, endless questions (mostly “why?”), learning to let go and let him cross the street by himself and ride his bike to his friends’ houses (a block away)… then middle school (enough said)… and suddenly high school, which became a whole different world of “I’ll do it myself,” curfews given and curfews broken, driving, girlfriends, college applications, college acceptance letters — and rejection letters… and soon graduation….

I’ve been grateful just to keep up.

And although I never really forgot all those “wishes” for my child, I just never got around to writing it all down.  Until now.

wishing star

In no particular order, these are the 12 things I most wish for my child:

Kindness.  Above all else.

Understanding.  Of yourself and others.

Integrity.  Do the right thing, even when it’s hard.

Love. Yourself, others, our World.

Health.  Physical, mental, emotional.

Wisdom.  Physical, mental and emotional.

Resilience.  Always.

Creativity.  In whatever you do, think outside that box… or rectangle, or circle, or parallelogram…

A Sense of wonder. For everything.

Friendship. Be a good friend and you’ll have good friends.

Gratefulness.  For who and what you do have.

Be owned by at least one rescue pet at all times.  It’s good for your soul.

Nobel prizeNaturally there are other things I wish for Z, like nice manners and a Nobel Peace Prize;  actually, those may very well be covered by the list above. But these are things I’ve learned are most important to me as we both grow older, and I hope they are, or become, important to him.

Until Friday, Friends. Cheers!

 

Recalculating

I know the analogy “life is like a journey” can be a tired old cliche, but as a parent, it really is the best metaphor you can use.

crazy-carBe warned, though: this journey is a road trip, and you didn’t pack enough snacks, everyone needs to go to the bathroom exactly 2.36 miles past the last rest area and/or McDonalds (even though you asked “Does anyone need a bathroom break?” long before you reached the exit), someone gets carsick, the GPS isn’t working, and you threw out the old, ripped, mis-folded and mashed-up paper map when you were scrambling through the glovebox looking for napkins.

And naturally, there’s always someone who thinks they know best when it comes to the best route, and/or your family.  Whether it’s your mother, father, pastor, neighbor, pharmacist, plumber, mechanic, or the person who bags your groceries at the market, there are people in your life who don’t know when to keep their advice to themselves.  It’s just like having Siri on 24/7 and you can’t switch her off.  It will happen from the time you announce you’re going to be a parent until well after the kid(s) are older and have started their lives apart from you.

Keep smiling, say “thanks,” and move on.

You owe those people nothing more than that when unsolicited advice is thrown at you, much like when you decide that the scenic route looks far more interesting than the main highway and Siri responds in thamapt frigid voice “Recalculating.”  Yeah, your mother may purse her lips and shake her head when you do things your own way, but she’s not driving this bus, is she?

What happens when we screw up?  (because we all do)  Well, apologize; fix what you can; move on.  Really.  I used to beat myself up about all manner of things.  Not anymore.  Kids have remarkable memories.  Believe me, they’re going to remember far worse and more embarrassing moments, and will happily blurt them out at the most inopportune moments in the future on this trip we call Life.

And guess what?  No one is going to need therapy!  Because “normal” is, after all, just a setting on the dryer.

You’re driving.  At least until the kids are 16, right?  Even if you’re winging it (like me), you’ve got a general destination in mind, and although you might not have the most dicountry-roadrect route mapped, you’re getting there.  In the meantime, let someone else drive once in a while; crank up the tunes and sing along; look out the window; be glad you’re taking the scenic route, and enjoy the ride as much as you possibly can whenever you can.

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!drawn heart

Gumption, Barbie dolls, pierced ears, and never letting go

“Reva had gumption.”

That is the phrase I’ll remember most from the life celebration of a dear family friend, because it perfectly encapsulates that woman I’ve known since I was four-years-old.  Her memorial service was held just a few weeks after she died, about a month shy of her 92nd birthday this month.  I will be 53 in May.

Forty-eight-plus years I have known this family.  Reva’s youngest of five daughters, Lisa, and I are the same age, and were in school together through high school graduation.  From 4th grade on, we lived three houses down and across the street from each other.  Our families were inextricably tied together from the time Reva’s oldest daughters babysat my younger sister and me.  Our everyday lives were intertwined. I remember the countless Memorial Day weekends and Fourth of Julys celebrated on their screened-in front porch with coffee, juice, and donuts (is it just me, or were every single one of those days sunny?  I remember nothing but sun); then we’d all walk en masse a few blocks down our street to watch the home-town parades.  I remember playing Barbie dolls for hours on end.  I remember casual all-family dinners at each other’s houses.  I remember the drama only a bunch of teenaged girls can produce.  I remember sleepovers and games and whispers about boys and walking to school and the smell of their house and playing with our dogs and talking about big things that were really very little, and little things that were really very big.

Reva pierced my ears for me on my 13th birthday.  She was a registered nurse, and the only person my parents trusted to poke holes in their daughter’s head.  The idea of a piercing “gun” made me tremble in my Keds anyway.  So, Lisa and I rode our bikes downtown, and there at Woolworth’s on Main Street, I picked out the tiny gold studs that would fill those little holes in my earlobes for the next six weeks.

We rode back to Lisa’s house, where Reva had laid out some ice cubes, the long stainless steel needle, and a potato (for those of you thinking Reva’s method sounds barbaric, keep in mind that’s how it was done up until the 70s).  She sat me down at their kitchen table, and gave me a brief — but terrifying — lecture about what would happen if I didn’t take care of my piercings by cleaning them regularly with rubbing alcohol.  Even worse: if I took out the studs too soon, the holes would heal and POOF! no more pierced ears.  I nodded solemnly, taking to heart everything she said, despite being so nervous I was shaking.  Lisa promised she’d sit next to me and hold my hand and not let go.  She stayed true to her word, even as her Mom jabbed through my earlobe, the needle embedded in the potato she held behind my ear to stop the needle’s momentum.  I didn’t register much pain at all and was feeling pretty good about the whole thing… and then I saw poor Lisa turning positively green.  But she never let go of my hand, not once during the ordeal.  Trust me: that is the gold standard for a lifelong friend.

Since we both left the old neighborhood, we’ve stayed in touch.  We saw each other back at our parents’ over college breaks.  Far too early in our young lives, I went to her Dad’s funeral.  I went to her sisters’ weddings; she came to mine; and not too long after, I went to hers.  We visited her young family when we both lived out east when Z was just a baby, and Lisa was pregnant with her second child (they were near D.C., we lived in New Jersey).  Christmas cards and letters have passed back and forth between our homes over the years.  With the advent of Facebook, we’ve been able to watch each other’s families grow, and cheer on each other, and share in the children spreading their wings.  Through her, I was able to reconnect with her other sisters, too, who are spread out across the country.

When I moved to Chicagoland 15 years ago, one of the sisters, Katie, lived about 45 minutes away and Reva had moved nearby, too.  After all these years, our families were “neighbors” (of a sort) again.  The Universe definitely conspires for our benefit sometimes.  We visited together, and we attended Katie’s 40th birthday party where we girls were all together again, with Reva still keeping an eye on us all.

When Lisa called a month ago to let me know her Mom had passed, I was immediately struck by the thought “No, that can’t be right.”  Who ever thought Reva would leave this Earth?  Really.  She was tenacious.  She was tough.  She loved fiercely.  She had gumption!  But for all her toughness, if you were lucky to be enveloped into their lives as extended family, she would do anything for you.  Reva was who you called if you needed help.  She was rock solid.  She was always there.  But now…

My heart ached for the five sisters with whom I’ve been blessed to know from such an early age.  Between them, there have been spouses and partners; there are 14 beautiful grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.  There have been marriages, and there are engagements with more weddings in the near future.  I know all of them have felt the heart-jab realization that ‘Nonny’ won’t be there in person to celebrate.  I’m sad they won’t have that joy.  But I hope they know that those of us who know their mothers and aunts — and who knew their grandmother for so long — are amazed, and almost overwhelmed, by how much of Reva we see in each of them.

Watching these children (a good many who are actually adults…but always “the kids”) filled me with a wonder I’ve never quite experienced.  All I could manage to express the day of Reva’s funeral was telling Lisa “Your children are beautiful.”  (I’m pretty sure she knew I meant more than just their outsides, but I didn’t have the words for everything else.)

Having my own child there with me, who is the same age as a couple of Reva’s own grandchildren, meant so much to me — SO much.  But why?  I mean beyond having added comfort in having him sit next to me.  As I was saying “good night” to him, and thanking him once again for going with me to Reva’s service, the “why” suddenly occurred to me — startling me enough to cause my undignified “plop” onto the edge of Z’s bed: despite the years and the miles from their front porch, there we all were, multiple generations of two families, a link originally formed through children and neighborhood… celebrating the life of a dearly loved woman who herself became the link… and our own families were a testament to her legacy.  She raised five tough and beautiful women.  She certainly had influence on at least one other young woman (thank you, Reva).  As we faced the reality of our own mortality, we were also looking at our lives’ legacies in our own children.  What a wonderful gift!

My 17-year-old, as he heard for the first time some of the crazy stories of neighbor girls who became fast friends, understands a little bit of that now.  In this world where technology allows us to keep in touch when we’re hundreds and thousands of miles apart, there is nothing to equal being together and sharing laughs and tears and stories.  Nothing.  Except maybe a friend holding your hand for support, even if she is totally grossed out by needles… And never letting go.

Cheers, my Friends.

P.S.  I still have my Reva-pierced ears.

 

The end is nigh

Last week, Z’s high school graduation announcements arrived.

Holy cow.

Yes, I remember ordering them, of course.  But now they’ve arrived.  And I’m staring at them thinking: “Already?”

Already.

So begins the winding up of Z’s senior year:  the last season he’ll play tennis for school has begun; the last field trip permission slip has been signed; the last AP class exams are coming up in a few weeks.  The “last” everything from his public school education is coming to a close in less than 10 weeks.

And a fantastic education it’s been!  I thank all of the teachers, administrators, support staff, coaches, and all of the other unsung heroes who contribute to our district’s amazing and well-rounded education offered to our children.  From kindergarten to senior high school, Z has had an awesome experience and has learned from some of the best teachers around.  I will genuinely miss having a child in public schools — the community I have been privileged to have been a part of for 13 years.  But it’s time to move on…

I published the following at the beginning of Z’s senior year.  It is every bit as relevant now, maybe more so.

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As R.E.M. so eend of the world t-shirtloquently stated: It’s the end of the world as we know it.  But I don’t know if I feel fine… You see, it’s the beginning of the end of the beginning of the world as we know it here at our house: Z started his senior year in high school last week.

As many parents have discovered before me:  holy cow.

We work so hard to give them roots and wings, and then the ungrateful little ragamuffins want to actually use those wings?  Wait, that wasn’t in the manual…

It’s a time wrapped up in mixed emotions and the “lasts”: “last” school clothes shopping day; “last”school supply shopping list; “last” first day of school; “last” school picture; “last” first day of school dinner out;  “last”…   Not that he won’t need things at college or eat, but he’ll do that wherever he lands.  By himself and with new people.

proud momI’m so proud of him — he’s achieved so much, and challenged himself; made such good friends who are good people; he’s walked the walk and done the work to apply to colleges.  He’s a good person.  Kind.  Intelligent.  Healthy.  Strong.  Talented.  Funny.

But I feel resentment.  I resent that the time went by so, so fast.  Why didn’t anyone tell me?  (oh yeah, they did — I just chose to not believe them).  Infant to toddler; to preschool then kindergarten; then onward to elementary school, and then off to middle school.  It all rolled along just as it should have.

And then we hit some kind of time warp-wormhole because high school is just about over and it can’t be because it just started!  What is it about these last 3 or 4 years that just pick up speed and charge ahead, careening towards graduation day???

I cop to some guilt about being excited to have an “empty nest”, too… usually right after I cry a little bit about how much I’ll miss my son.  If you try to understand how you can swing so easily between feelings, you’ll lose (what’s left of) your mind.  I don’t pretend to understand it; I’m just along (semi-reluctantly) for the ride.empty nest

Until next Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

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For the love of the game

With baseball teams back at spring training, and Opening Day a glimmer on the horizon, I thought it was fitting to look back at this post from August, 2015….

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Dear Chicago White Sox,

I want to tell you a tale about a renewed love story.

I grew up in mid-Michigan, with both sets of grandparents and spans of aunts, uncles, and cousins nearby.  I remember a lot of family gatherings on a lot of different holidays and now-forgotten occasions.  One set of memories that will forever stay with me, though, is going to my Dad’s parents’ on Sunday afternoons tigersand hearing the Tigers’ game on the radio.  My Grandpa was a die-hard Tigers fan, and I don’t think he ever missed a radio-cast game during his adult years.

(Yes, the Detroit Tigers.  Stay with me here…)

I don’t think Grandpa had any idea how to connect with me.  He had one daughter out of four kids himself, and I was one of only four granddaughters, and #7 out of 10 grandkids total (enough for our own baseball team).  But the summer I discovered baseball as a 9-year-old, I would sit with him at the dining room table, listening to WJR with Ernie Harwell providing the play-by-play, visualizing the whole diamond in my head, and the chasm between us got a little smaller.  It didn’t matter so much to me as to which Ernie harwellteam won, but how exciting the game was (It’s a good thing, too, since that era of the club was in a slow decline and wins were far and few between).  Ernie Harwell, though, boy he could make ANYTHING sound exciting!  Nonetheless, they were OUR Tigers and OUR team.  Even through all Grandpa’s swearing during the game (and Grandma shouting from the kitchen to ‘watch your language the kids are here’), he showed me what team loyalty was, and how to be a real fan.

But after several years, high school was on the horizon and baseball faded from my view.  My Grandpa died when I was 16, and after that, listening to baseball on the radio just wasn’t fun anymore.

Fifteen years later, I re-discovered how much I enjoyed the game when I lived out east and was invited to a Mets game.  Holy cow!  What a blast!  I could finally SEE what was actually happening on that diamond — for all the years of listening to baseball, I’d never been to a live game.  I managed to get to a few more games, and certainly had fun at each one; but I have to say, no team captured my heart like the Tigers had.

A few more years passed, and I gave birth to my son, Z.  A whirling dervish to be sure, he lived to be in perpetual motion.  He loved to watch anything full of motion.  And anything with a ball was a good game.

When we moved to Chicagoland 13 years ago when Z was 3, I decided it was time: I wanted to take him to his first major league ballgame.

I’ll be honest, I first looked up the Cubs because, at the time, they were doing really well, even making a drive for the playoffs.  But not knowing if my 3-year-old would want to leave after the bottom of the 1st or fall asleep during the 7th inning stretch, I didn’t want to pay the exorbitant prices I saw listed for Cubs tickets.  So, I checked out the White Sox website and ended up buying relatively cheap tickets for a Saturday afternoon game.

SOXWith fingers crossed that he could sit still long enough to actually watch the game, and the tote bag stocked with anything I could think of to make it a pleasant day out, we entered Comiskey Park*

And Z was TOTALLY entranced!

This is the kid who would normally be running from Point A to Point Z, zigzagging all around, pointing and asking questions — who was now wide-eyed, mouth hanging open in a perfect little “O”, and walking through the halls in awe, his little hand staying put in mine, not saying a word; just looking up and around at all there was to take in.

We stopped at a vendor and bought him a jersey:  Frank Thomas’.  Z liked the number “35”.  I helped him put it on, and then we walked hand in hand out into the gorgeous Chicago sun-filled stadium.

He thought he had died and gone to DisneyWorld.

NOW the talking began: he wanted to know what everything was, the scoreboard was of special interest and he remained skeptical when I told him there would be fireworks if the Sox hit a home run.  But oh my, nothing compared to when “the guys” came out onto the field.  You’d have thought he was an old pro to hear him cheer for the team.  And when Frank Thomas came out, Z almost exploded, frank in actionscreaming as if he’d won the lottery: “That’s MY guy!  I have 35!”  The next couple of hours tested my memory for how the game worked as I struggled to give him an age-appropriate explanation, and he listened carefully and watched intently to everything going on down on the field.

Not only did he want to stay for all 9 innings, but wanted to know when HE got to go down to the field and play with “the guys on his team”!

We’ve been proud fans ever since. Thank you, Chicago White Sox, for 13 years and counting of great baseball and great family time.  Z has grown up with the same admiration for the game — and I hope, good memories — that I have.  In this world today, it’s a beautiful thing to know that some things never change. 

Except now it is the Chicago White Sox who have my heart.

So dearest Sox, I remain,

Still in love with the game

 

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

*Yes, I know the name has been changed.  But no, I won’t call it anything but Comiskey.  That’s how I heard it growing up listening to Ernie, and that’s how I know the Home of the White Sox.

Passing through the storm

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

~ Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Discord or Harmony: Music is Life

“As you begin to realize that every different type of music, everybody’s individual music, has its own rhythm, life, language and heritage, you realize how life changes, and you learn how to be more open and adaptive to what is around us.”

~ Yo-Yo Ma

Music is the international language.  No matter where you go in the world, if you pick up a sheet of music, those notes are the same notes anywhere else.  If I play “middle C” on a piano in Kansas, it’s the same note with the same sound as on a piano in Katmandu or Kyoto.

I like to sing solos.  Just like with public speaking, it doesn’t freak me out or make me the least bit uncomfortable.  I also like to sing in the chorus and with choirs.  Working to blend voices to create a particular sound is quite a feat.  When I was rehearsing for musicals, my favorite rehearsal was ALWAYS the first with a full orchestra.  For the first couple of weeks (at least), we typically rehearsed with a piano accompanist only.  But once we reached that day on the schedule that said “FULL ORCHESTRA,” I was elated.  Something magical happens to a song when voices are lifted by instruments.  I always feel as though I’m surfing, carried on top of the wave, letting my voice soar!  It’s the same whether I’m singing as part of a group, in a duet, or alone.  It’s a natural high that still gives me goosebumps.

Only when there is a big enough misstep, a chord gone wrong or an entrance missed, does the music come crashing down.  And then we start again.  And again, if necessary.  And always again.  It is a lot of work, and it can be tiring, and frustrating.  But as with anything worth having, it is worth the work and struggle.

We are all in a choir together — every single one of us in this world.  Our voices vary, our strengths are different.  But every voice counts.

It’s easy to become tired while we struggle to get the harmonies to work.  Discord (“dis-chord”?) occurs when everyone decides to go their own way and do their own thing or when nobody is paying attention.  I’m not advocating that we all need to fall into step with each other and march to the same tune with the same voice.  But we sure make a lot more headway when we’re at least all singing in the same key.  Heaven knows harmonies are all the richer the more voices that join.

As happens in music, we are all asked at times to carry notes longer than is comfortable.  It’s impossible to maintain an even, full sound without a break once in a while.  So, in the case of a choir, everyone singing the same extended note takes turns catching a breath at different times so that the music, the sound itself, is uninterrupted.  The same needs to happen in life: it is impossible to carry on strong without stopping to catch a breath now and again.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and you need to pace yourself, otherwise you’ll never make it to the end.

We live in uncertain times right now.  We are nervous, scared, infuriated, we are incredibly sad… immediate reaction seems the only way to cope, but we can’t let it can’t be that way.  The coming months, possibly years, are a marathon.  We need to rediscover the harmonies, and we need to take our turn catching a breath so that all of our voices can continue to be heard, loud and strong.  Let’s raise our voices together, and I’ll sing for you when you can’t; you sing for me when I’m out of breath; and we’ll continue to sing together for a long time to come.

Until next Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

Unfurgettable

For Linda, and her Heidi

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“If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude,
then animals are better off than a lot of humans.”
~ James Herriot

With the exception of my years away at college, and the first month living on my own, I have always shared my home with pets.  Dogs and cats, and one gerbil.  All of my pets have been long-lived (except the poor gerbil), and I think they were, and are, all happy lives.  I know my own life has been forever changed by the animals who have been such an integral part of my time on this earth.  They are special.  They are family.

All our pets have been healthy, with just a few unscheduled vet visits here and there for various minor illnesses; occasionally something more serious.  Our two previous cats, Merlyn and Tully, lived to be 19 and 10 respectively.  Both developed kidney disease in their later lives; the 19-year-old better able to cope with the disease physically and mentally than the 10-year-old eventually did.  We treated each of them to keep them comfortable and maintain a good quality of life.  When it was time to let them go, they did indeed let me know, and our blessed, compassionate veterinarian came to our home to help them gently go, comfortably and peacefully.

“Animals have a much better attitude to life and death than we do. They know when their time has come.  We are the ones that suffer when they pass,but it’s a healing kind of grief that enables us to deal with other griefs…”

~ Emmylou Harris

It’s something of a shock to find the years have gone by swiftly, and I find we have “senior” pets living in our home again.  Everyone is healthy for their ages, and living their lives happily.  But once in a while, I’ll see a little more gray on a muzzle; a little bit slower step; a little hesitation before jumping up on the stool beside me as I write.  And I know the time will be coming again to say “goodbye”, and always sooner than I am ready to deal with.

But I’ve just returned from a semi-emergency trip to the vet with Murph, and those thoughts are making my heart ache.

We’d been visiting my Dad on the Gulf shore for a week, and our regular trusted cat sitters had been taking care of the kitty-kids (our dog goes to Puppy-Camp, aka, the kennel).  The evening we’d returned, Murphy seemed out of sorts, but I chalked it up to him being miffed we’d left for a week.  The next morning, however, I knew something was wrong: he kept shaking his head, somewhat violently at times.  And the sneezing fits!  At one point he lost his balance and had to sit down abruptly.  Then the indignity of having kitty snot on his whiskers and bib was just too much, and he ran and hid in the bedroom closet.  When he finally did settle to sleep for a bit, he wanted to be under the covers (unheard of for Murph) and wanted my hand to cradle his head.   Once he fell asleep, albeit fitfully, I used my other hand to reach for my phone and called the vet.

“Pets are humanizing.  They remind us we have an obligation andresponsibility to preserve and nurture and care for all life.”

~ James Cromwell

Because he is a “senior” kitty now, our vet wanted to do some blood work to rule out some of the nastier possibilities, and because I worked at a vet’s office once upon a time and saw some of those nasties, I concurred.  Fortunately for us, it is “just” an upper respiratory infection.  A shot of antibiotics, some IV fluid, and now home to rest.  Murphy is sleeping peacefully on the living room sofa — his “lookout” to keep tabs on the rest of the family.  I am grateful.  And I am sad.

I know it is greedy of me to want them here with me forever.  I know it’s not realistic.  I am most afraid I’ll cross the line between helping them living comfortably and forcing them to stay past time for them to have gained their rest… but I won’t.  I can’t.  And I will be there at the end, telling them it’s ok to go, and holding them long past when their mighty hearts stop beating.  And I will cry.  I will mourn.  And my heart will break into a million pieces, and yet somehow still so full of the love they gave me unconditionally.  And I will be a better person for having them share my life.  My precious pets have been with me through all the chapters of my life; good and bad, awesome and horrible, and everyday.  They keep on loving me EVERY DAY.

We have always adopted from shelters, and I don’t ever see that changing.  And one day, I won’t feel the grief to be so stifling.  And I will eventually feel that “tug” on my heart that leads me to one of the animal shelters our community supports.  And I have no doubt whatsoever that there will be a furry someone who looks at me and says “There you are!  I’ve been waiting for you.  Let’s go home!”

“It’s difficult to understand why people don’t realize that pets are gifts to mankind.”

~ Linda Blair

Until then — and ever after — I will love and cherish our furry family here with us now.  I will embrace their aging with as much grace as I can, knowing we outlive these marvelous creatures only because they come into this world already knowing how to love unconditionally, and that’s what they are here to teach us. Everyday.  If we would just watch and listen and learn.

“…I just don’t know how I would have lived without animals around me…”

~ Betty White

Until next Friday, Friends.  Cheers to you all, furry and otherwise!

A good citizen

I’ve been reading a lot more lately.  And for me, that’s saying quite a bit, because I read all the time:  books, magazines, newspapers; in print, online, it doesn’t matter.

But WHAT I’ve been reading has changed.  I’ve become more discriminating online and have banished what “clickbait” I can from my newsfeeds.  I delve deeper into articles — sometimes verifying sources, other times looking up the author.

As a good citizen, I’ve always read up on the issues set before me before voting day.  But now I keep tabs on our 115th Congress as well.  I know more names of the 535 senators and representatives today.  Not only do I know how my own senators and representatives are voting on issues, I know how some of these others are voting, too.  And not just the ones who make the most noise.

I’m sharing the new information I’ve learned.  I’m speaking up about it.  I’ve had well-informed people say “welcome to the party,” and other people say “I didn’t know that!”  I’ve had others call me names, claim I’m “ill-informed,” and in one case belittled and called “stupid” (this coming from someone who claims fake news is real news, so I’m not devastated).

Ever a concerned citizen, I’ve generally thought of myself as a knowledgeable citizen.  But in light of how much I’ve learned about politics in just the last six months, I never knew how much I didn’t know — and that scares me.  How much have I missed because I didn’t know which questions to ask?

I consider myself an intelligent woman, but in the last year I’ve delved into researching the Women’s Movement and was shocked at how much I had taken for granted as a child born in the mid-60s, growing up in the 70s, and pursuing higher education in the early 80s.  I am horribly dismayed at realizing my own parents (born in the early 40s) never spoke about the revolutionary ideas and ideals of the 60s and 70s — neither as they happened, nor afterwards.  Growing up, I was blithely unaware of the issues (political and otherwise) people were facing; or, in the case of my own family, turning away from facing.

We all know the Civil Rights Movement hasn’t received 1/10 of what it deserves in America’s history books and classes.  I can personally attest to that dismal fact:  a white girl growing up in a middle-class family in a middle-class, predominantly white Midwest town, this important point in America’s history was sorely missing in conversation around our dinner table and at school.  I had to play “catch up” later on, despite my otherwise excellent public school education.  And still, there’s so much I don’t know.

Information overload is real.  I know that.  And parents are faced with the Herculean task (and no instruction manual) of educating their children about The World.  I know.  I am the mother of a 17-year-old, and many of those 17 years were as a single-parent as well.  But I’ve never flinched from talking to my son about what’s happening in the World.  With the advent of 24/7 “news” and cellphones, one is never truly unplugged from information dissemination.  And unfortunately, much of what is reported is now recognized as “fake news.”  I’d rather tackle the tough subjects and be sure my child is getting accurate information, thank you.  As a graduate holding a degree in English and journalism, this “fake news” cuts me to the bone.  From rookie grammar mistakes and blatant typos, to twisting the truth and stating outright lies, I was one who often moaned “I weep for the future of journalism.”

Then something miraculous occurred.

A lone publication — often overlooked as “fluff” and one not usually noticed for groundbreaking subject matter — called out the current administration.  Factually and intelligently, this magazine stepped up to the challenge other publications and news outlets were afraid to tackle.  On Dec. 10, Teen Vogue published a “scorched-earth” opinion piece by Lauren Duca, a 25-year-old award-winning professional journalist.  She wrote the piece titled “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America” for the magazine’s website. The article immediately went viral, and Ms. Duca went from a relatively obscure weekend editor and freelance writer to being a national newsmaker as well.

With this move, along with other recent editorial shifts toward social issues, identity, and activism, Teen Vogue is giving its readers what they have been asking for alongside the beauty tips, celebrity interviews, and fashion news.  And the publication surprised the rest of us with what we didn’t know we needed.

In her op-ed, Duca wrote that it is now the job of all Americans to take responsibility for the information they consume.  Might I add, and also for what they DON’T consume.

Regardless of your preferred political outlook, Ms. Duca’s article is the kind of journalism we must have regularly — not only in the United States but around the world.  Frank, fact-based opinion pieces are designed precisely to get people TALKING.  Isn’t that what we need more of at this point in history?  Because of filibustering and outright refusals to discuss policy, our government and our citizens are diminished in our capacity to overcome obstacles.  These ideals are not new, but they should not be forgotten.

I admit it: I allowed my jaded sense of where journalism was headed to blind me to the fact that good writers — good journalists — are still out there.  The medium may have shifted recently from print to online, but if you know where to look, there are still thoughtful and intelligent articles and newscasts filled with the facts we need to make informed choices and take action, even if it means we need to shift our perspective — both politically as well as in our reading choices.

Until next Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

P.S.  I strongly encourage you to read the linked article by Lauren Duca!