FLOWERS OF MY LIFE

“And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see – or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ~Alice Walker
 

DAHLIA the past, my parents cultivate their gardens, knowing full well they were cultivating us too

WILD DAISIES first love, plucking the petals “He loves me, He loves me not, He loves me!”

GERBER DAISIES all the colors of our life, planted each Spring, they represent who we are differently, and as one

FIRE`N`ICE ROSES wedding flowers, symbolizing the passion and purity upon which we built our foundation of love and family and home

HYDRANGEA the flower of our parenting, warm, happy   Cape Cod   memories each summer as we watch our children grow–all the stages of their lives, and the laughter– all the laughter

STAR GAZER LILIES mystical flowers, sturdily symbolizing my belief in the stars and the world beyond that is both within my grasp and far enough that I have to keep reaching

Flowers We Grow

 

            I.

The light is our apostle.

As sisters, we come to tend gardens:

lay the soil rich

of labor and love.

Planting roots. Watching seeds sprout.

Determined to envelop our precious

offspring. First flowers, pansies, when tended to

last all summer long. Marigolds encircle the garden,

scaring the uninvited away. Poppies grow

the tallest, sucking energy from sun to pollen.

Roses climb and wind. Easter lilies flutter in the breeze.

We try to plant in just the right light,

but even then, weeds grow, vines

tangle. We keep clipping

thorns and bandaging pricks

for each rite of passage.

 

            II.

Each summer,

I am still sowing. I walk through

my garden. The lilac scent trails, always

just behind me, as I deadhead the annuals.

To keep them flourishing, I bathe them

in Miracle Grow: 15-30 for the hardy,

30-10 for the delicate. Stepping back,

I admire the garden’s beauty,

note its imperfections.

 

You pick your flowers

and pretty them in a vase

at the center of your table.

As if you work in the garden is complete,

you admire them like a prize.

 

            III.

Your Jack preferred piano to baseball.

No wonder he wears his hair so long,

your husband said.

I admired you for loving Jack

when he handed you a bouquet of pansies

this Spring.

 

But Liza, the marigold in her daddy’s eyes, standing stalwart

and brave, made him proud—

earned her way toAnnapolis;

Only it’s unfortunate the way she puts oceans between

herself and those who come

too close.

 

Cain quit his books to pursue a career

in horticulture; raising opiates and weed.

I thought he was only playing games

as a boy, singing Step on the crack,

Break your mama’s back.

I wish he had sung Jack’s rendition

of World on a String instead.

 

            I haven’t the answer.

To me, my Clarissa is a rose,

but hard to touch, while her sister, Emma,

is smart as she is lily delicate.

 

            IV.

We sit across the table from one another,

sisters bandaging wounds.

My hand reaches across

to touch yours.

I always thought you looked

best in sunlight. As a child,

I wished I could fit right into your skin.

 

How is it, you break

the memory, Clarissa and Emma

Have turned out so perfect?

You whisper,

My children have peeled me

to the core.

 

 

 

 

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MOTHER: TOUCHSTONE

My mother and I laugh at the many, many times throughout my own role as a mother that I have thanked her, apologized to her, validated her angst, appreciated her, sent her flowers just because… because only in having my own children do I KNOW the depth of her unconditional love, unwavering patience and unending sacrifice.

We haven’t always had an easy relationship. It ebbs and flows, and, still, sometimes the storms come, bringing with them tumultuous tides. But through every stage, she has been and will continue to be my touchstone.

I hope I have cultivated that type of relationship with my own children. I’d go so far as to say that my life truly began with each of them. It is only through their eyes that I’ve appreciated my own life. I write to my children, keeping a journal for each of them, so, one day, they will realize all that they’ve meant to me, but I know they will not know until they are parents themselves, and I truly wish each of them will be.

Kids always tend to ask their parents who the favorite is, as I did to my own mother. Not until I had my own did I realize the capacity to love them the same but differently.

This is how I love my children:

RYAN has always had a certain sensitivity which lends him to be the kind-hearted person that he is. While he’s the first born, and has tendencies to expect life to present itself at his feet– he goes out of his way to do kind deeds for others, always caring how other people feel. Ryan is smart and insightful. He has great depth to himself that even he doesn’t realize, yet. He is trustworthy, efficient and dependable; if you want a job done right, you ask Ryan because cares about the outcome of everything he’s involved in. He’s fun to be with because he’s easy going and quick witted. His fascination for the world around him is endless– he sucks in all the knowledge he can, and he’s passionate about it.

He can rattle off more facts about the world (history, politics, geography, culture) than anyone I know. Moreover, he has a strong sense of conviction to act on what he believes in. His lack of fear and independent nature allow him to experience life, but not in a reckless way because he’s savvy and cautious when he needs to be.

TYLERis also sensitive, but emotionally, though it’s something that he only allows few to see. He observes everything– he has a keen sense of innately knowing. Since he was little, he’s always been protective of those he loves, cognizant of not allowing them to be hurt (physically or emotionally). Perhaps the most energetic of my three children, Tyler has a tendency “suck all the marrow of life” (Henry David Thoreau)– he has a certain zest for everything he does; I have always referred to him as my Happy, Jolly Soul. His sense of humor and his positive outlook on life will carry him far. When he loves something, he is focused on being the best he can– his competitive side contributing to this attribute. From the time he was little, he could entertain himself all by himself, at one point he acknowledged to having a movie perpetually playing in his head. He can rattle off quotes from films as if he’s written them himself. And he’s always had a creative side– writing poetry, short stories, drawing cartoons.

ALEXA is what I call My Icing on the Cake. She is sweet and kind and generous. Everyone loves her because of her giving, easy going nature. Kids flock to her because she is fun and attentive. She is perhaps my bravest child, intuitively, because she will try anything once– I’ve never heard her say I’m scared or afraid of challenging herself. She’s the most organized and hard working of my children. Her effort towards whatever she does always exceeds people’s expectations of her. I love to hear her giggle because it’s a melodic belly laugh that reminds me she is so in touch with the child inside her. She doesn’t concern herself with the drama of the kids her age. She shrugs it off and has the patience to just let it ride it’s course. Busy every minute, she never shuns from pitching in or taking on a project of her own. She is adept at following through on everything she starts and then, she stands back, with a sense of pride admiring her accomplishments (no matter how big or how small– she appreciates every one).

Sometimes, when I’m feeling down about myself, I think about my children and realize, if I accomplish nothing else in this world, I’ve had a hand in creating three of the best people I know.

❤ Happy Mother’s Day, Mom, and thank you being a good role model for me and so, so much more!! ❤

Better than SEX!

What does that mean? I say it. Other people say it.

Does it mean the act– the journey– or is it the destination– that euphoric, Zen-like moment when you lay back after it’s all over, amazingly numb and satisfied? Utopian. Perfection.

I’m not sure you can compare anything to the journey of sex– it is unmatched; the most basic of instincts aside from nutrition and survival, both of which encompassed in the act itself. Wouldn’t you say?

 I’ve decided my UTOPIA- my ultimate sequence of better-than-sex would be

 a day on the beach, perfect sunny day, light breeze, warm, white sand beneath my feet, a picturesque view of OCEAN waves lapping on the shore, boats gliding in the distance across the water, and the hot, HOT sun beaming, radiating on my body– taking it all in, getting lost in a good book, listening to my favorite songs. followed by a MASSAGE in the afternoon, out on a terrace, sounds of silence, hot OIL being rubbed, palmed, knuckled, finger-tipped up and down my back, shoulders, arms, legs, feet– relaxing, visceral, sensual, endless… until I feel like Jello, motionless, completely relaxed and content. ready to have enough energy for wild, unadulterated, carnal, passionate, ECSTASY-laden, sheets-end-up on-the-floor  SEX. the act. a journey. only to unwind with an oozy, gooey, chocolate-DRIPPING, Kahlua infused, crisply fried vanilla ice cream, with a cherry and whipped CREAM on top. 2 spoons. and finally SLEEP. seamless, dreamless sleep. AHHHHHHHH….

 

This, I Believe

In response to reading David Copperfield, yesterday, a deep conversation ensued about dreams, spirits, souls and beliefs. A student said to me, “Mrs. Carbone, can I ask you a question?” Which seemed like a rhetorical question because I encourage them always to ask me anything– to provide a forum for them to work out their thinking in hopes of formulating ideas. “Of course,” is what I responded to her. She added, “Well, I hope this won’t come off as judgmental or too personal, but I’ve gathered from different things you’ve said throughout the year, and I know you don’t like to impose your thoughts on us, but… [stammer, pause] Are you Buddhist?” I laughed. Certainly not at her, at the question, the idea, the thought. My knee-jerk response was, “I am many things. I don’t subscribe to one denomination. I couldn’t classify my beliefs like that. Instead they are a culmination of what I’ve learned and experienced along the way.” Others piped in & asked why she thought so and, to that, she responded that Buddhism is very centered with the self versus a God, that the central belief is one is in charge of their own destiny and can learn what that is by looking within.
The conversation moved in many directions, all centering on beliefs, and moving away from the text. I shared some experiences; students shared some experiences. While one of my jobs is to retain focus on a given day’s lesson, there are teachable moments which I believe a teacher would be remiss in ignoring. This was such a topic. Even if a student didn’t agree w/ or share the beliefs discussed, he/she could be enlightened by hearing about them, and they were. I know this because, after the conversation ended, as a class, when the bell was about to ring, the conversation continued as small groups formed. Every single student continued to expound upon and debate the topic.
The conversation remained with me for the rest of the day– to the point where I came home and looked up Buddhism. I found a chart that compared the major religious beliefs. I was not surprised to find that some of my belief align with Buddhist philosophies, but more so New Age beliefs.
This has been an aspect of my life that I’ve given serious consideration to since I took my first religious class in college–it’s been a process, not one that I feel I have exactly arrived at a conclusion about, but the more I experience the more I come to a knowing of what I do and do not believe.
I was born and baptized a Catholic, inheriting that from my mother. I was confirmed a Protestant, because my father refused to attend my mother’s church, so she compromised by taking us to his. I began the path of my New Age beliefs as the result of several life experiences, reading of Jane Roberts, Edgar Cayce and Brian Weiss, primarily, attending the Whole Life Expo, participating in mediations, past life regressions and readings with mediums and psychics. I have dabbled in Rune Cards and Tarot, researched astrology, chakras, and crystals.
When my children were born, I was confused and felt the necessity to provide them with a religious foundation. My husband was raised a Catholic; he’d attended Catholic school from kindergarten to 10th grade, and he wanted nothing more to do with religion. We baptized our first two children Catholic (at the church where we married because it was important to my mother-in-law), we baptized our third in a Congregational Church, which we had joined after attending a few services, then quit because we decided to allow our children to choose their own religion when they are ready. I have wavered from feeling that was the right decision, not wanting to impose our beliefs on them as we felt our parents did with us, to feeling guilty about not giving them organized religion. They have been to church on several occasions, I have told them frequently if they wanted to attend, I’d be happy to take them, I read a children’s Bible with each of them and shared my beliefs as they became old enough to comprehend them. Two of my three children believe in God and spirituality; one claims to be atheist, but I think he’s more agnostic– only time will tell.

I have 6 stories to share:

Story 1)
On & off, I kept a dream journal. I’d wake up, sometimes in the middle of the night or sometimes in the morning, and record my dreams as I recalled them. They were always seemingly obscure and disjointed– until I went back to them some time later and realized that most of them I could make sense of (but only, always, in retrospect)– I learned I was working out my reality in my dreams, preparing myself in a sense.
DREAM: my long time friend Maria (whose weddings we were both in & we knew each other’s families well) called me on the phone to tell me her sister-in-law’s baby had died and they needed to go down there (to Virginia, if I remember correctly) for Thanksgiving. She said she felt funny because she was pregnant and her sister-in-law had just lost her baby.
REALITY: (2 years later) It’s a week after Thanksgiving when Maria calls me (she is pregnant with twins and I am pregnant with my youngest daughter), she tells me Holly’s son (her nephew) died of an aneurism.

Story 2)
I had a great, great aunt & uncle in a nursing home not far from where we lived. I always thought it was so sweet that they were able to go to a nursing home together. While I was not especially close to them, I was aware they were there. It was a place we’d drive by often. One day, while driving by with my mom on our way to lunch, I ask my mother, “When did Uncle Dick die?” My mother, visually shocked and dismayed at my question, replied, “he didn’t. Why would you ask that?” I responded that I thought I’d heard someone tell me that.
The very next day, we received a phone call from my grandmother sharing the news that the day before Uncle Dick passed away. When my mother asked what time, she replied 1:00.
I learned that souls are intuitive.

Story 3)
I had been sick with a head cold and was taking Nyquil. I went to bed, fell quickly and soundly to sleep. I recognized that I was still asleep when I found myself outside my body in the corner of the room looking down upon myself. When I became consciously aware of this, I scared my soul back into my body, and felt a longing sense of wanting to experience that again.
I learned the body and soul is separate.

Story 4)
My son, Tyler, had been very close to his paternal grandmother, who had recently died of cancer. We were in Tyler’s room, laying on his bed before bedtime. Our nightly ritual was to read a book, say his prayers aloud. After he said, “God bless grandma Mo,” I asked him if he missed her. He replied (kind of in astonishment), “No, I see her every night.” I asked, “You do?”– an open ended question probing for clarification. He said, as he pointed to the ceiling, “Yes, don’t you see her up there? She’s with all the pretty white ladies dancing.”
I learned that children are intuitive.

Story 5)
When Tyler was around the same age as the last story, he said to me, “Mom, do you think you’ll be my mom in my next life?” This came as a shock to me because I had never discussed my beliefs to or in front of Tyler. I said, “I don’t know Tyler. I hope so.” He replied, “I hope so too.”
I learned that children are cognizant of their spiritual selves and have come to know that it’s a gift that becomes unlearned by environment and society.
I was reminded, when he asked me this question, about a story I’d heard about a man who overheard his 4 year old daughter whispering to her newborn brother in his crib at night. He heard her say, “Do you remember God? Because I’m starting to forget him.”

Story 6)
A friend had recently lost her mom and there was a medium, Suzanne Northrop, speaking at a local conference center. She asked me to attend with her. I’d seen John Edward twice in such forums, and while interesting, had never been “read,” while I have known people who have been “read” by him. So, I agreed to go along, not with any preconceived expectations, just as an act of friendship and something I would at the very least find interesting. We sat in the third row from the front in the center of three sections. Suzanne would move around the room, calling out details she was receiving from the spirits, and she asked for us to raise our hand if she was stating something that resonated with us. So about mid-way through the reading she said, “A child is coming to me. This child’s death was untimely.” Two women, one in front of me and one to the right of me raised their hands. She probed them. One of them was of no connection, the other was just simply that he was “opening the door,” as she put it, “for another child’s spirit to come through.” She continued, “This child is showing me the piecing together of clothes.” My senses were heightened, while unexpected, this was a detail I could connect with, “… as in sewing, ” she continued. I raised my hand. As she approached me, she said, “but this is not your child.” I nodded. It was then, I knew. “What is the piecing together of clothes?” she asked– to which I responded, “I made a quilt of her clothes.” “Yes,” she smiled, acknowledging I was the one this spirit was coming through for. “And she is the daughter of your friend?” I nodded again. “She’s telling me she’s grateful that you did this for her mother and sister and her mother is grateful too. She’s telling me she died unexpectedly and it was hard for everyone, but she wants everyone to know she’s okay.” Jamie had died in a fire at 9 years old; she’d been the daughter of my childhood friend, Renee, and a friend to my children. Before her death, Renee had given me Jamie’s hand-me-downs for Alexa, who was still too small for them. After her death, I’d found them, not being able to give them away and feeling funny about having Alexa wear them, I decided to make a quilt– which I’d never done before– for Renee’s new baby out of her older sister’s clothes, the sister she would never know. Suzanne Northrop continued, “She’s telling me you and her mother have been out of touch and you need to reconnect because you will need each other.”
When I returned home, I called Renee immediately to relay the information I’d received and share my experience with her. She appreciated the call, and told me she didn’t believe in “all of that,” but my story was causing her to rethink her stance. “I’d like to believe it’s true,” she said.
About a year later, I received a call from Renee at 11:30 p.m. She asked me if I was sitting down because she’d just a few minutes before heard on the news that our close friend, Donna, had been tragically killed in a car accident earlier that day. Renee reminded me of my reading with Suzanne Northrop, stating, “This is what she meant. Now I believe.”
I have learned that the spirits in our physical lives don’t leave us until we are ready to let them go, and, along with God, they help guide us.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I believe in the power of belief. I believe in a deity, a divine spirit– which I call God. I’m not sure it’s the same God as the Catholics believe in because I do not believe in original sin or hell. I believe in an afterlife (heaven– a utopia, one that is different for each soul). A soul travels through lives in search of IT’s (because I believe we can be reincarnated into different genders based on the reality we need to create) ultimate state of grace. Through each life, we are working on creating our divine reality as we move through achieving the seven virtues (and yes, I believe in the polar extremes of the virtues, but I would not refer to them as sin– they are necessary to experience in order to embody the virtues). I believe we travel with soul mates, those who serve different purposes in different lives. I do not believe in organized religion, though I respect that some people do. I believe in spirituality– about being in touch with your higher spirit as a guide and all other spirits who help guide you (angels and soul mates who may/may not be in heaven). I do not believe in destiny in the sense that it is fixed and created for us by God, but rather that we create our destiny and can alter our destiny with God as a guide. I believe in karma and the power of positive thinking and energy. I believe we create our own realities, and I question the realities I create every day looking for an opportunity to learn from each of them. I believe in acting virtuous and moral and just in all we try to do, and when we can’t or don’t– that is a red flag to me that alerts me to the opportunity for growth. I believe the old souls of the world are closer to attaining their state of grace than the souls who are not self aware or act immoral or unjust. I believe in the power of belief.

I believe we are all born intuitive, spiritual beings, and if you are aware of that and open to your spirituality, your consciousness will allow such experiences to emerge. Every day, life is about learning, about becoming a better you than you were the day before. It’s about loving yourself and others. I find comfort in the fact that this life may not be IT, and if and when it is, I believe I will be peacefully existing as a soul in the ever after.

The Big Religion Chart

Maternal Instincts

We’d been married for a little over a year, and I had wanted to have a baby REAL bad. Anthony wasn’t ready (which I’ve come to learn, he never is, but that’s a whole other story). So I asked if we could get a puppy. NO, was his reactionary response. I worked on him and worked on him, to no avail. I saw “8 Black Labrador Puppies;Must Placeor they will be euthanized” in our local newspaper. Without thought, I drove straight to the New Haven Animal shelter and rescued what would be our first Black Labrador Puppy. I wrapped him in a blanket and drove him home. Anthony walked in, after work, and Nico (named after a character played by Maurice Bernard), was sleeping on the floor all wrapped up on a blanket. He was only six weeks old– little and shy. After Anthony’s shock wore off and he stopped ranting and raving about how much time a dog would take up and how much he would cost (so practical), we put Nico in the car, drove him to the pet store to buy all the miscellaneous items a puppy would need, and then some. Nico became our first baby. We brought him everywhere with us. Our parents even referred to him as their first grand baby and they fought over who would “puppy sit” when we went away. Nico was a precocious puppy. He was into everything. With him, we learned the meaning of puppy proofing. Once I’d left my leather bag with all my students’ papers in it. Anthony came home to my bag and its contents in pieces all over the floor (we didn’t believe in crating, then) EXCEPT my students’ work. He’d left that in tack amidst the clutter. Nine months later, I was pregnant with our first child.

When Ryan was an infant, I’d lay him on the floor to change him or play with him, and Nico, the active dog he’d become, would be running into the house full speed, then slow down before he got to where I was sitting with Ryan. I’d had Anthony bring home a baby blanket from the hospital for Nico to get a sense of Ryan’s scent. We have a picture of him walking around with it on his back before Ryan and I came home. He was so protective of Ryan from day one which was a relief because we’d heard of people having to get rid of their dogs once a baby was born. We were so relieved that wasn’t the case.

Pretty soon,Tyler was born and Nico had become our boys’ play thing. They’d yank his tail and his ears, they’d wrestle with him, and Nico just stood there with his sad sack– go on, play with me as you must, eyes and patience. He was extremely patient with our children.

He couldn’t have been more excited when we moved from our condo to our house where he had full reign of the yard. But Nico didn’t like to stay put in the yard. He was a wanderer and some of the neighbors didn’t like that. We’d had them call the dog warden on us enough times to get several fines. Each time, we’d erect a fence– having to go higher and higher because he was like a gazelle jumping over each one, no matter how high we went with them.

For the first eight years of his life, I would describe Nico as hyper, jumping and needing a lot of attention. When he got on in years, he began having health issues. His legs would go limp and he’d resort to dragging them. By this time, Alexa had arrived, too and she was a toddler. I was afraid the kids would have difficulty when it was time to put Nico to sleep, something we were having to consider with more frequency, but each time he’d rally. We used to say he had nine lives.

It was at that time, we’d decided to get another lab, though this time, we sought one from a pound. I recall a pen of baby labs and my three children (ages 5-11) peering over the pen pointing out which was cuter than which.

We came home with Bailey (who we’d visited 3 times before he was old enough to bring home); we named him after both the drink and the narrator of The Canterbury Tales, Harry Bailey. A chocolately brown, English Labrador with a boxey face was just what the doctor ordered. Nico loved him and he looked up to Nico, following him around like the puppy dog he was. Bailey was a quiet, mild mannered puppy who the kids adored and Nico looked after. It seemed that Bailey as a puppy flashed before my eyes (why did it seem like Nico had been a puppy so much longer than Bailey?) From the beginning, really, Bailey was the perfect dog. He was loveable, smart, and easy to discipline– not hyper. Just an easy going dog who loved Nico. Where ever Nico was, Bailey was soon to follow.

When Bailey was about two, Nico decided to close his eyes for good. When we were out, he’d decided to go down to the basement (a place the dogs were never allowed to go– it was their safe place where they could play with friends who were afraid of dogs); he went to the far end of the house in the laundry room, curled up on a pile of dirty laundry and died. We’d been to Costco to shop, and when we arrived home, I’d asked Ryan to go down to the basement to put some items away. Ryan calls from the basement, “Mom, you need to come down here.” So, I found Ryan standing over Nico. “I think he’s dead, Mom.” So I knelt down to feel his chest to confirm Ryan’s suspicions. We hugged each other and cried. I called Anthony. We all took turns going downstairs to say our goodbyes. I was taken aback, actually, by how much grief I really felt. I cried for days. Ryan’s grief came in the way of anger which he took out on the hockey pucks, shooting them into the net in the driveway. Tyler was such a little man. He cried, but he tried to be strong. I’m sure Alexa didn’t really understand what was going on; instead she processed by asking a lot of questions. We had Nico cremated and keep his ashes in a box. Outside by the pond he “helped” Anthony build, by remaining by Anthony’s side through the process and laying in the ditch while he was digging it before the liner went in, we placed a commemorative stone with Nico’s name and planted a tree.

It gives me comfort to see it every day and remember our first baby.

For two weeks, Bailey sat at the top of the stairs to the basement and whined for a good part of the day. We understood Bailey was mourning too. He’d lost the leader of his pack, his best friend. We knew we’d need to get a new companion for Bailey, so soon thereafter, we added Layla (named, by Tyler, for the song), a Yellow American Labrador Retriever. They became immediate brother and sister. While Bailey and Nico had a relationship that was clearly older and younger brother, Bailey and Layla were more equal, being only two years apart. Layla looked like the little Cottonelle puppy in the commercial. She was such a joy, and our first female. She was cuddly and spunky from the start. She’d be the trouble maker and Bailey wasn’t hard to convince to go along with her. And at the end of a long day, we’d find them spooning on the same dog bed. There was not a time when they did not get along, though Layla was definitely a nudge to Bailey– he’d just stand there and take it. Bailey’s favorite thing in the world is laying on the first step of the pool; early on we’d learned what a water dog he is. Layla wanted nothing to do with the water, on the other hand, but she’d lay alongside the pool while Bailey was in it.

Last summer, Anthony came home from the vet after seeing Labsforrescue, and he immediately looked up the website. “Donna, come in here,” he called from the office. When I did, I found him looking at all the puppies/ and adult dogs posted on the site. He was fixed on one puppy, a little baby black lab, looking all adorable and perky. He said, “Look at this. These dogs need to be rescued.” I asked, “What are you saying?” He protested that he was saying nothing other than “look at this dog” and “isn’t it sad?”

Ryan had gone off to college– something that wasn’t an easy adjustment for me. It had been a long year, full of change and unrest for me. I responded, “Anthony, you can’t show me that picture and not expect me to want to save that dog!” By this time, Lexy was by my side with a huge smile that read Can we? I nodded. My maternal instincts had once again kicked in. Anthony protested. I made the phone call. The dog was unavailable. Lexy was devastated. So I promised we would try one more, just one more.

And two weeks later, we were in route to New Hampshire to fetch our new rescue Black Labrador Retriever. I panicked that I’d reacted too quickly. The whole way there, I was praying I hadn’t made a mistake. I was afraid Bailey and Layla wouldn’t like her or worse she wouldn’t be a good dog; afterall, I’d met the other three. I was taking a leap of faith. And I fell in love with her on just the ride home where she went back and forth from Lexy’s arms to mine. When she came home, we sat on the floor to introduce her to Bailey and Layla– at first, they weren’t sold. They were not so accepting of this new puppy in their pack. They weren’t mean, but they were stand-offish– unlike both of them. For months, she was a lap dog, always cuddled on a lap or in someone’s arms. Loveable and sweet, we’d named her Sadie Brooklyn (a name Ryan had chosen– the home she had been in had named her Anya, a name my family rejected, but I thought it was cute). Bailey was the first to soften, in more of a paternal way. Layla, through her jealousy– embraced the role of middle child, always nudging and needing attention because Sadie had taken some from her. Whenever one of the dogs is being petted, Layla comes running to get her share of love. But Layla tolerates her new little sister; she also lets her know her place. Sadie was virtually trained by the time we’d gotten her at twelve weeks old. She loved her new home and didn’t take long at all to become one of the family. We call her Queen because while the other dogs are only allowed on the leather couch in the family room, we never weaned Sadie off of sitting on the living room couch (which we’d done w/ Bailey and Layla  once they were big enough to jump on it on their own). Sadie is spoiled, but so darn cute. She has such a playful, sweet personality. Everyone loves her.

Chocolate, Yellow, Black Labradors; a set. Our canine family is complete. We are more complete with all of them than without them.

Last week, we noticed a lump on Bailey’s shoulder/neck, he could not lift his head, and would wince and yelp when his neck hurt. We took him to the vet who put him on steroids. After a couple of days, he began to show signs of improvement– signs that he was himself again. Until Wednesday night, when I returned home from a meeting at work, Anthony told me he’d been pacing for three hours, he’d given Bailey a pain pill (something we’d weaned him off of because he didn’t seem to need it). It wasn’t working. Bailey’s head was down again, he was panting and his legs shaking. Anthony called the Vet to be sure he could give him an additional pain killer safely. The Vet told him to wait about and hour and half after giving it to him and if he didn’t respond, to bring him to the 24- hour hospital in town. Bailey paced. He tried and tried to lay down and get comfortable, but each time, he’d yelp out in pain, then return to pacing and circling his dog bed.

We were at the first Vet hospital from10:30 p.m.–me, Anthony and Alexa– until midnight. The minute the doctor saw him, she said Bailey looked much worse than he had last week, and if  it was in fact a muscle or inflammation issue, it should have resolved itself; her advice was to take him to a neurologist at a Vet hospital an hour away immediately. We found ourselves driving in the middle of the night, to the hospital, just like when we delivered each of our babies, I’d reminded my husband– but this would prove quite a different end. Bailey stood on the floor of the car for the whole ride; he just could not get comfortable. He was a mess, and it was difficult to see him in that kind of pain. So they admitted him, putting him on a morphine drip for the pain and to do some tests. We left there at2 am, sad, but relief he was being put out of his pain. The next morning the Vet called and said they’d be weaning him off the drip, replacing it with a pain patch and a host more of meds. They’d said he could have spinal meningitis which the steroids would fix, but they feared it may be a tumor pressing on his spine. We were asked to pick him up by5 p.m., so the Vet could discuss our options with us.

At 4, just as we were about to leave, the Vet called, telling us that as the day went on, Bailey was getting increasingly worse and in as much pain, as well as demonstrating the same symptoms, as he was the night before. She was wondering what we wanted to do. A kind and sweet, caring doctor, dissected all of the possibilities with us in a conference call. She feared that if we did all the tests we could, it was likely, based on his age and symptoms, that Bailey would be no better off than he was right now. I decided to just ask, the question that had been swirling around in my head for some 12 plus hours now, “Are you saying it might be time to talk about putting him to sleep.” “Yes, ” was her reply. Though I knew it, in my gut, it was hard to hear. I broke down in tears. Anthony fought back his, but I know he was on the verge. We decided to pick him up, take him home, try to make him as comfortable as possible for the last night of his life, so we could all say goodbye. I called Ryan who is off at school to let him know in case he wanted us to wait until he could get home.

When we got to the hospital, after a long silent journey, he had shown some improvement. He seemed a little more comfortable, a little less panting. He was happy to see us. He wanted to come home.

He’s been sleeping since he came home, waking up briefly to eat his meds, drink some water, go outside to pee– the simple necessities at the beginning and the end.

Layla and Sadie circled around him, welcoming and gentle. They had been sad all day that Bailey had been gone. Now, he was home and we needed to keep them separate– to give Bailey a chance for the medicine to work and, God willing, heal him. We set up his cage inside, his safe place, with his pillows where he has been resting comfortably. Layla doesn’t move far from his cage, often looking in on him; she’s still a little mopey. Sadie slept next to his cage last night; I can tell she’s looking after him.

A person who has never loved an animal, I’m sure would not understand the way a dog imprints his paws on your heart. He/she is a perpetual baby, in need of attention and care; in return, he/she will love you and unconditionally be a best friend. Each of my dogs are my babies, I love them all the same but differently because they each have personalities of his/her own.


Nico: firstborn, spoiled, hyper, loyal, playful, loving, buddy, gentle

Bailey: kind, gentle, handsome, caring, smart, calm, leader, loyal

Layla: sweet, loveable, loyal, affectionate, entitled, protective, lazy

Sadie: cuddly, spoiled, baby, active, smart, attentive, caring, buddy

Speak Up

I BELIEVE IN THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the first rally I’ve ever attended in protest of a bill I believe will detrimentally effect education forever. It was an overcast evening at the state capitol in Hartford; it started to rain, then a rainbow emerged, and a second rainbow about it. I was inspired. The energy was amazing– very positive. It felt good to be part of something– a just cause. Before I attended the rally, and just last night, I wrote two letters to my legislators which I’d like to share if for no other reason than inspire those reading this to believe in something for the greater good, to take action and to let your voice be heard.

Letter 1: I begin to speak.

Dear Legislator ,

I am extremely opposed to Governor Malloy’s SB #24 Bill and urge you to vote against it or recommend for a significant revision of it.

Having been a teacher inConnecticutfor 22 years, I have experienced the polarities of working with at-risk youths and  high school drop outs for 11 years inHamdenandNew Havenin addition to my current position as an English teacher of 11 years in the upper, middle-class community ofCheshireatCheshireHigh School.

I am a dedicated, passionate professional not only carrying out my responsibilities as an educator in the classroom, but also as an advisor of a number of after school activities, serving as a member of a variety of committees aimed at improving the quality of education, mentoring student teachers and those in their initial years as educators, in addition to facilitating authentic learning for students such as leading educational tours bi-annually, domestic and abroad, over break. In taking pride in what I do and continuing to maintain relevance to ensure my students are fully engaged, I am continually taking courses and seeking professional development opportunities (apart from those offered by the school) to enrich my teaching in the classroom.

I have not in 22 years been so disheartened by the state of education as I have from the ramifications of No Child Left Behind, which, I believe, Governor Malloy’s bill is a direct result of. While I agree we need to do something to work towards eliminating the achievement gap, there are so many factors for which teachers can not be held accountable (for instance, poverty, abuse, neglect, hormones…). The fact that  45% of teacher evaluations are tied to the gains of their students is unreasonable and punitive. There are factors that weigh far more heavily on the lives of some students, that educational performance is inevitably hindered.  I can rattle off a host of stories about students who endured such hardships that it was absolutely prohibitive of their advancement of their education; not the best teacher could rectify issues that we are talking about.

Moreover, data-driven instruction will be the downfall of education. In order for data driven instruction to be accurate, it needs to measure measureable (right or wrong) outcomes which totally discount higher order thinking. In today’s global and technological  society, students can find rote information; instead they need to be able to become problem solvers, entrepreneurs, collaborators, critical thinkers.

In Daniel Pink’s Drive, he talks about intrinsic learning being the new learning & motivating factor to learning in the 21st Century. No more can we dangle a carrot (test scores) over our students to get them to WANT to learn– because let’s face it, students need to want to learn in order to be successful. We need to design educational opportunities for them to use their multiple intelligences (both sides of the brain) in order for them to embrace education and be successful. Giving teachers the tasks of common assessments, common formative assessments, CAPT testing (and the like) will not produce students who welcome education– it will turn them off to education, setting students and teachers up for failure. The more we emphasize teaching to a test, the less authentic learning will take place.

In addition to data-driven instruction being problematic and directly connected to the evaluations of teachers, the new certification scale is absolutely punitive and under the guise of making better teachers. Do we need better teachers? Absolutely. Are there tenured teachers who should not have been tenured? Absolutely. So let’s address these issues specifically and not put a blanket policy in place when I personally know far more dedicated, effective professionals than I know ineffective ones. This sliding scale of certification that Governor Malloy proposes is unfair and degrades the education and professional development experience teachers of today really have; moreover, it discounts all of the education we’ve already accrued under the current policy.

There are too many variables that are not delineated in this bill which puts decision making in the hands of those more concerned about cost/funding than education. I fear upper level administration will be forced to lean toward decision making that is more fiscally driven than it is in the best interest of children and their education.

I was disillusioned when I began teaching in Cheshire11 years ago. Early on, I described it as the Shangri-La of teaching– a more affluent community meaning students who are invested in their education and parents who care (attributes that are virutally non-existent teaching at risk youth and high school drop-outs). What I have found instead is a local political government who undervalues their teachers, parents who manipulate the education system because they are so desperate for their children to get scholarships to college, and an administration who tries to balance the demands of town leaders (who are only interested in not raising taxes) with threats of being sued by parents. Why do I continue teaching?: I’m guessing you are wondering. I teach because I love working with students. I love the unexpected teachable moments and those carefully planned units that are met with success. I love making a difference in a student’s day, and in the lives of students everyday. I love that when my students return after they’ve graduated, they thank me and tell me how well prepared they were for the future. I fear with out the ability to meaningfully engage my students in authentic learning as much as possible, the love of learning and education I share with my students will be compromised.

What I feel needs to be addressed are ways to engage underprivileged, poverty-stricken children to become more engaged in learning (certainly more counseling & out reach services need to be part of this), ways to deal with ineffective teachers, more meaningful professional development for teachers that speaks specifically to instruction versus fulfilling administrative agendas.

I predict the effects of this bill will be unengaged students, teachers who are put in the position of fearing the loss of their jobs and compromising their ethics as a result, a decrease in quality teachers, towns imposing unfair requests upon their teachers.

In closing, I implore you reject this bill. Urge the governor to take the time to visit schools acrossConnecticut(of varying demographics), talk to teachers, talk to students and parents. While we do need to be fiscally responsible, if we are not putting students first, this education reform will fail.

Sincerely,

A VERY concerned teacher

Letter 2: One last effort

Dear Legislator,

I urge you to vote AGAINST Governor Malloy’s SB24 bill.

I have been a teacher in the Cheshire Public School System since 2001, and before that I worked in Adult Education, in bothHamdenandNew Haven, for eleven years with high school drop outs and at-risk youths. I know both ends of the spectrum. I have also taught as an adjunct at Southern Connecticut State University– so I also know the incoming  expectations of students’ abilities at the college level.

Moreover, I a parent of two high school-aged children at Cheshire High School and one who has graduated who is attending college.

I come from a position of experience and knowledge. This bill will adversely change the face of education and have severe ramifications for years to come. It is a drastic reaction to our current financial crisis, the tenure track and binding arbitration.

Governor Malloy claims we are a state that is in need of drastic modifications to our educational system, citing a decline in the graduation rate, a performance gap, and a tenure system that is not working. Do changes need to be made? Yes, but not this drastically, not this quickly, and not without the input of teachers who this will directly affect.

Governor Malloy’s claims are flawed. If we are an education system in such dire straights, why has U.S. News named Connecticutas the #1 state for performance in high schools (http://education.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/education/high-schools/articles/2009/12/09/americas-best-high-schools-state-by-state-statistics) ? We are a state in which 80% of all high school students graduate, up 5% from 2001, and among the top graduation rates in the country (http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/high-school-graduation-rates-states-lag-behind-152514652.html); so, why does Malloy in his television ads say that graduation rates are plummeting? He characterizes ours as a state lagging behind; I strongly disagree.

We need time to bring teachers together with legislators to discuss how to improve inner-city education (the education gap), true; we need time to bring teachers together with the unions and legislators to discuss the matter of tenure for teachers who are undeserving, true; we need time to bring legislators together with union officials and administrators to discuss how to be more fiscally responsible, true. We NEED TIME.

I hope on May 9th, you will consider these points when you decide to vote against Governor Malloy’s proposed SB24 bill. I have a personal, parental, professional and financial investment in this decision which I hope you will represent.

Sincerely,

Donna Norman Carbone

Crossing my fingers, that my voice has been heard!