Building a FAMILY TREE: Legacy

A HOW TO GUIDE & My Personal Journey

Madsen Norman family

inspiration

I’m unsure whether my curiosity for nostalgia originated from my mother’s side or my father’s. To be sure, I listened to the tales of lives of those I both knew and only knew of from my maternal grandparents and my paternal grandmother and great-grandparents. I had the great fortune of knowing most of my great grandparents, a distinct honor not bestowed upon many, I know. This, in part, is due to my parents becoming parents at such a young age. I was an oops baby, the one that set my family’s journey in motion. Perhaps that’s where the curiosity originated. I could listen for hours to any of my grandparents telling me stories of old. “Back in the day,” as they almost always began.
Angela, my maternal grandmother, always told me stories of relationships. Of who got along with whom and the converse. She wove a tale of two Italian immigrant families (of the generation before her own) with the kinds of stories represented in movies like Moonstruck and The Godfather (though, I never heard of any authentic mafia connections). But the relationships were loud, volatile, and full of a peculiar kind of love– tough love, old school love. Families were extended, even in their homes; Italians don’t move far away from one another and there was always room at the kitchen table for more and food to feed them all.
Carmen, my grandfather, told me different kinds of stories. His were mostly war stories. He seemed fixed on his time in the army during World War II where his troop had been deployed to Guadalcanal. He talked of brotherhood and isolation. Of fear and pride. All of the seemingly opposite things that were one in his eyes. He showed me medals and photographs. I learned words like bivouac and rations. I read his letters to my grandmother, the one thing, he said, that kept him alive. I have the tiny, government issued bible, that he kept in his pocket throughout the war.
Evelyn, my maternal grandmother, whose birth name had been Mary, went by her middle name (I don’t think I ever learned why. It always fascinated me that my great grandparents would give her one name, but then call her another). She told of tangled webs. We were a mutt of a family: descendants coming from France, Sweden, Denmark and Germany… Those from these countries in Europe apparently didn’t stay close like my Italian side. We had people, it seemed, from all around the world whether by birth or by travel. In fact, after my grandfather’s death, my grandmother set out to visit as many countries as she could, and she brought me back a little doll from each place. My love for travel is surely born of hers. History is something else I learned from Evelyn’s tales. She showed me documents she kept, like my great-grandfather’s visa to the U.S. with a different last name. Instead of my maiden name being Norman, I discovered it had been Johansen, but he couldn’t fit his entire name on the card, so he dropped his last and kept one of his middle names as his last. She also told me this grandfather had two wives, two families (though, through my own research, I have not found proof of that). In her soft voice, she drew me in and told me a secret that we are related to Paul Revere. I wore that fact proud when we celebrated the bicentennial at school in the 6th grade.
So many stories stuck with me over the years, and inside me I yearned to know more. To understand.

Inception

In the eighth grade, we did a unit on lineage. We explored our family crests and were given a directive to create our own family tree. I interviewed my grandparents who shared names and more photos, so I could put a face to their names. The photos led them to more remembering, more sharing, and I took it all in.

BAFT old treeSome years later, my paternal uncle, Richard, began asking me if I’d worked any more on our family tree. He lived in another state, so I’d see him only occasionally, but every time I did, he’d ask. It seemed we shared a love of nostalgia and lineage. In the back of my mind, I always knew I would explore further, dig deeper, but finding the time was e issue. Not to mention finding the means.

The Task

The means presenting itself to me when a pop-up came across my computer screen for Ancestry.com. I decided to give the light (read: free) version a try. It allowed me to recreate my paper version of a tree in a neat, logically organized web, but to go deeper, I would need to join.
I decided to join when my Uncle Dick, Aunt Kathy, and cousins Johnny & Jan decided to host a family reunion. They set a date for the summer of 2014. That was enough motivation to begin my search.

The Journey
Hundreds of hours later, I’ve come up with a pretty comprehensive version for my dad’s side of the family (both on his maternal and paternal sides). The thing about Ancestry,com is it opens up a world of search engines that the layperson wouldn’t even know existed. I found access to census reports, birth& death certificates, burial information, military records, travel logs, etc. that I never would have even thought to look for on my own. That is the positive. The negative is the eventual, unavoidable dead-ends that one encounters. It’s important to check one piece of data against another to find the most accurate information, checking and cross checking became both my friend and my enemy. Patience was definitely a virtue.

Bruch Poster 8X 10 copy

The surprises I encountered along my journey were many. First and foremost was the opportunity to talk to people in my family that I hadn’t spoken to in a very long time. I learned that shared knowledge is the best knowledge, coming at one project from many different angles allows you to see the full picture.

BAFT notes

Gathering photographs and identifying the people in them was key. It was important to show the photographs to many because while some relatives knew certain people in the photographs, other recognized different people. I actually made a key of some because I will never remember them all, and, sad as it is, others who know them will not always be here.

Robert Muenzner immediate family Muenzner Auerhamer key

Ultimately, I uncovered eight generations of our family, 83 descendants of my great grandparents on my dad’s maternal side and a span of 155 years from the oldest to the youngest. I also came up with other statistics like the most common birth month & day, the most common names, etc.

I learned that I am, in fact, related to Paul Revere. I learned that IF my great grandfather did have another family, I couldn’t find them (but I’ll continue to search). I also found out that my great grandmother is a half sister to her siblings (something that only few knew). I discovered this because her mother’s name on her birth certificate is different than the wife of my great-great grandfather, so this means he had an affair and conceived a child that would be raised by he and his wife OR he was married to two women at the same time. I also uncovered, or actually he found me via Ancestry.com, a relative who lives with his family just a few towns away from me; previously, we didn’t know of each other. His father’s name is Fred Blizzard because he was born in a blizzard (another one of many fun facts I learned).

Implementation

Taking the tree from computer format to paper was difficult enough, transferring it to something share-able and displayable took collaboration with my sister, the artist of the family. We were offered 3 sheets of lattice as a base with stands on the backs of them to erect them on a flat surface. My sister came up with the idea to make a six foot tree to attach to the lattice and paint for our canvas. Then we copied photos of each family member along with birth (death) dates and names on leaves we proceeded to cut out. We began at the top with my great grandparents and proceeded downward, hanging the leaves to the tree with curtain hooks, in delineating each of the offspring of Augusta and Christian.

tree 1 tree 2

Cover 2014 copy

reunion collage 2014

I also put together a basic tree in a booklet format. On one page, I included statistics and fun facts. Displayed at the center of the tree, it gave everyone at the reunion a good overview of the work that had been done. The tree itself was a good talking point for relatives to reconnect (or in some cases connect for the first time). In addition, a video was taken of the entire event with various interviews. Document. Document. Document.

REUNION PHOTO 9 2014 Bruch Film Grain

BAFT How to

FAMILY TREE LINKS

Family Tree Templates

Ancestry

Genealogy 101

Reflection, NOT Resolution

New Year's resolution

I’m setting a new trend for myself for New Year’s day. Instead of establishing lofty goals that, often, I set too high for myself, I’ve decided to instead look upon New Year’s as a day of reflection rather than resolutions.

A cup of warm lemon water each morning (before eating or drinking anything else) is a wonderful thing. Not only does it balance out the liver and give your metabolism a boost, the daily dose of vitamin C has made me feel better.

Being forty-something isn’t as bad as I had originally anticipated, for it has helped me evolve into a woman who can, in fact, let “it” roll when it comes to stressors in my life that I can’t control. Take “#randomkid” (earlier post), for instance, as a teacher a decade ago, he would have sent me reeling; instead, I looked beyond his adolescent behavior and stood the course, which has led me to deal with “#latekid” (future post, to be sure!) in a much more calm, resolute fashion. This one doesn’t even ruffle my feathers!

Which leads me to another very valuable lesson that only age and experience has afforded me: not to take everything so personally. Instead of internalizing and jumping the gun, assuming all fingers point at me, I can do the opposite, now! This is a wonderful feat for myself; in fact, it’s one I’m very proud to have accomplished. (Kinda’ makes me wonder, now, where I’d be had I mastered that one twenty years ago– another future post, perhaps).

I spent most of the last five years feeling disillusioned about my profession– so many facets of it changing in directions I see as not being productive or positive. I have stood up on several occasions to make my opinions known. I’m not shy about standing up and speaking my mind. But I’m not sure what difference it’s made, if any. What I don’t like about my job, I’ve learned, is how entangled public education is with politics, money more specifically. Never before, have I felt it as oppressively as of late– a sign of the times, I suppose. I grappled with this negatively affecting my perspective on coming to work every day. I felt hopeless and helpless. I’m not sure how I turned the corner or which corner I turned, but I’ve learned to focus, not on what’s wrong with education, but instead on what my true priorities and capabilities are as a teacher. First and foremost, my responsibility (and my joy) is in the day to day contact I have with the kids. It’s in developing them as people (more so than any skill that I can impart); I seek to create critical/creative thinkers and confident self advocates. Reforms will come an go. I will agree with some and adamantly oppose others. But, through it all, I can always remain true to myself and my students; no one can change that.

After encountering my first health obstacle this year (and so it begins…), I realized I’m the kind of person who goes on the counterattack, something I didn’t really know about myself before. I’ve decided to look at this as an opportunity to put my health first, something I should have done a long time ago, and so I have. It’s a daily call to consciousness, something I’m grateful for.

We have three dogs, all labs, who are very much part of our family. The eldest, Bailey, 13 years old, is nearing the end of his life. We’re kind of lucky because he’s sort of had 9 lives. We’ve said goodbye to him twice, already, in fact, sure he wouldn’t make it through the night. The reflection is this: people deal with death differently. If it were solely my decision, I would have put him to sleep months ago. He struggles getting up, cries out in pain at times, has a hard time climbing up one step. I’m of the mindset that if one isn’t living a quality life, the right thing to do is to allow him/her to die with dignity. Unfortunately, this luxury is afforded to animals more so than people (but that’s for another post, too). My husband and two of my children are of a different mindset– I see it as them having a hard time letting go. My husband is looking for a decision to confront him– a choice that puts the choice out of his hands. But then he said something that I can respect and live with. He said, “I’m trying to keep him alive until Ryan (my eldest child who lives in Chicago) comes home, so he has the chance to say goodbye.” Everyone needs closure.

The little things really are big things. Having an impromptu breakfast with all of my children. Hearing the excitement in my first born’s voice when he gets a promotion at work. Watching my second born play hockey again. Seeing my third born’s eyes widen when she realizes the college that will make her happiest. Knowing my kids are all under one roof, asleep at night. Observing the rhythms of my children as they enjoy just being with one another. A cup of coffee in the morning. Quiet time to write. My graffiti wall and the memories it calls up. The scent of pumpkin in the fall. A family reunion. My dogs rushing to greet me. Laughing uncontrollably. The quiet in my head (and house) when the only sound I can hear is of my narrator speaking words through fingers pressing down letters on the keyboard of my writing universe. Listening to my favorite new song on repeat. Realizing the all the little things that keep propelling me from one day to the next, from one moment onward…

As with any marriage, my husband & I have had our share of highs and lows. Undoubtedly, the most difficult time has been in raising our teenage-young adult children because we often don’t see eye to eye. The differences in our own upbringing have shone through this time unlike any other in our parenting. It’s almost broken us, but I’ve come to realize, instead, it’s made us stronger which I believe speaks a lot to the core of our relationship. We could have given in, called it quits, but we have both stuck it out in the name of love for each other and our family. You know, 25 years ago, when I married my husband, I fantasized that we’d be together forever; it’s taken me 25 years to know. And, that, is a good feeling.

Selfishness and putting oneself first is not the same thing. When I was a kid, my parents used to call me selfish. It stung; it had a lasting impact on me such that I think I’ve gone to the other extreme to try to prove them wrong. And, now, I’ve come back to somewhere in the middle, to a place that I realize this is, after all, MY life. In large part, my friends are responsible for this epiphany. Their observations of me helped me to see myself clearly. And I have finally developed the courage to live my life for me and what makes me happy because, at the end of the day, if I’m not happy, I cannot be happy with anyone else in my life.

Being the best and being my best are two totally different things. I’ve always been uber-involved in many things; I don’t like to be idol. I like to take on a task and see it through to perfection (“Ah, there’s the rub”). At forty-nine, I finally understand that perfection does not exist. I can be okay with what is in my control. I can be okay with putting MY best efforts forth and I realize that, in life, as over-committed as some of us are, that something’s got to give. I no longer feel a failure at saying no or not living up to another person’s expectations of me. My own expectations matter most. At the end of the day, if I can say that I gave what I could give, I’m happy.

Thankfulness is the best gift one can give to oneself. I learned this last year during one of the lowest periods of my life. I performed a “Thirty days of Thankful” experiment with myself which has colored the way I see each and everyday. I am thankful for “just being here,” the words and platitude a very close and wise friend gave me. I am thankful for my family, for who they are and all that they mean to me. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with kids everyday and, hopefully, positively influence them and the course of their lives in some way. I am thankful for my friends, each fulfilling a different facet of my life. I am thankful for the ability to notice the little things as they happen, the experiences that become memories to cherish. I am thankful that each New Year is almost like a reset button to stop for a moment to reflect, in order to learn and move forward, a little wiser and more thankful than the year before.

WALL QUOTES

I graffitied a wall of all the quotes that I love.

It’s my wall. My space. My essence in words.

grafitti definition

Grafitti Wall BLUE copy

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one- “Imagine” John Lennon

Procrastination is the thief of time- Charles Dickens

Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, connecting spheres to connect

the bridge you will need, be formed until the ductile anchor hold

‘til the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul- “Noiseless Patient Spider” Walt Whitman

All you need is faith and a little bit of Pixie dust– Think Tink

Dream Big

Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all– Lord Alfred Tennyson

Nothing gold can stay- Robert Frost

When given the choice between being right or being kind, Always choose kind — Wonder, R.J. Palacio

The cure for anything is saltwater: sweat, tears or the sea– Isaac Dinesen

Here lies one whose name is writ in water- John Keats

but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep- Robert Frost

Hang loose, let the ocean worry about being blue — Alabama Shakes (Tyler’s tattoo)

God Bless Us, everyone– A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Chances are hope’s torn out pages– 5 for Fighting

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction– A Room of her Own, Virginia Woolf

I need your grace to remind me to find my own — “Chasing Cars” Snow Patrol

You can’t find peace by avoiding life– The Hours, Michael Cunningham

Don’t Worry, Be Happy– Bob Marley

I’m nobody, who are you? Are you nobody too?– Emily Dickinson

Riches I hold in light esteem and love I laugh to scorn, and lust of fame was but a dream that vanished with the morn. And if I pray the only prayer that moves my lips for me is, “Leave the heart that now I bear, and give me liberty!” Yes, as my swift days near their goal; ‘tis all that I implore: in life and death a chainless soul, with courage to endure. –“Old Stoic” Emily Bronte

By allowing the man to believe that he is in charge, that is the art of a woman– The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory

Live, Love, Laugh

In 3 words, I can sum up what I’ve learned about life: it goes on– Robert Frost

For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul.– Judy Garland

Just Breathe

When writing the story of your life, don’t allow anyone else to hold the pen!

This is my life. This is what I’ve made of it. — Virginia Woolf

Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody. — The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel. — Maya Angelou

What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action, how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a God! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals! and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me. — Hamlet, W. Shakespeare

All of life is like a series of tableaux & in the living we missed so much, hid so much, left so much unsaid and undone. — Anna Quindlen

Somewhere over the rainbow, blue birds fly– Judy Garland

Whisper words of wisdom, Let it be– John Lennon (Ryan’s tattoo)

Believe — (my tattoo)

What’s meant to be will be

Sometimes you put up walls to see who would care enough to take them down. At times, you put up walls to get away and not be found. Until, you find yourself– Anon

Be with me always, take any form– drive me mad! Only do not leave me in the abyss where I cannot find you. I cannot live without my life. I cannot live without my soul.– Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us– Ralph Waldo Emerson

To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower is to hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.– “Auguries of Innocence” William Blake

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world– Louis Armstrong

That you are here– that life exists and identity. That the powerful play goes on and you will contribute a verse.– “Oh Me’ Oh life!” Whitman

when life sank down for a moment, the range of experience seemed limitless– V.Woolf

There are all kinds of love in this world, but never the same love twice– F.Scott Fitzgerald

Listen to muse when it’s talking to you– or it just goes on and you miss its statement– that moment when you could have done something. — A Year by the Sea, Joan Anderson

The trouble is you thing you have time– Buddha

Be faithful in the small things because it is in them that your strength lies– Mother Teresa

It seemed like the beginning of happiness. There is still that singular perfection, & it’s perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly, to promise more. — The Hours, Michael Cunningham

Every teardrop is a waterfall. — Coldplay

You know that place between sleep & awake, that place where you can still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you. That’s where I’ll be waiting… “Tinkerbell,” J.M. Barrie

Fear is a friend who’s misunderstood– “The Heart of Life” John Mayer

Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without words and never stops– at all. — Emily Dickinson.

Just be here.– Diann Milone

I need a sign to let me know you’re here. — “Calling All Angels” Train (for my grandmother, my angel)

Have a heart that never hardens, a temper that never tries, and a touch that never hurts. C. Dickens

Fear no more says the heart in the body– V. Woolf

Sometimes people write things they can’t say — One Tree Hill

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.– The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

I know the heart of life is good– John Mayer

Through chaos as it swirls, it’s us against the world– Coldplay

Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.

O no, it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wand’ring bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

—  W. Shakespeare (Sonnet 116)

When you find yourself lost in the darkness and despair, remember it’s only in the black of night you can see the stars — One Tree Hill

If you can dream it, you can do it. –Walt Disney

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise — Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

A satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality– a promise that the rock of the world was securely formed on a fairy’s wing. — F.Scott Fitzgerald

We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are. — Anais Nin

In one of the stars, I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars are laughing when you look in the night sky. –Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

It’s only with the heart one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. –Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember: You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart, I’ll always be with you. — A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

I’ve got the key to my castle in the air– Louisa May Alcott

Alice: How long is forever?

White Rabbit: Sometimes, just one second.

— Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

Grafitti Wall Black copy

 

LEGACY: The People Who Leave

heaven2

The following writing was inspired by my very first creative writing professor at college. Besides instilling a love for the craft, May Harding shared not only herself but her poetry which was meant to inspire each of us, and so it has.

Two Deaths

In middle life death cut him down,

severed blood from mind.

His presence, in an instant lost,

we mourned, we could not find.

You we lost in little ways,

stealthy was the going.

Your body robbed you of yourself,

secretly outflowing.

When you died, thought spent the blow,

anguish was bitter true.

You had left us long ago

we know now… and we knew.

                                                ~ May Harding

When she read this poem, I’d only experienced the death of one person who had been close to me– my paternal grandfather. May’s poem awakened a sense of introspection within me connected with death, one I hadn’t before considered. I began to question it, and, more so, I began to wonder what effects it had on me– still young and vibrant and very much alive, I was naive to life experiences, then.

Since, I have experienced too much death in my life and of those around me. Each time, I am brought back to this singular poem in thinking what effect each posthumously has instilled within.

Some years back, after picking up the pieces from the fourth death of a young child (all four occurred within a five year span), and, while they weren’t of my own children, they were of mothers who were close to me. As a mom, I just couldn’t wrap my head around how one survives such an experience, and, yet, four mothers I knew well were tasked with such a battle of warrior proportions. I wrote a short story entitled, “The People Who Leave,” addressing what the many people who have left my life have left behind and engrained in me. Some time later, I called up the document on my desktop to revisit it, only it was encrypted in some hieroglyphs I did not recognize, nor could I decipher. I cut and pasted various passages of the text into Google looking for a translation I would never find. I took it as a message that for some reason my story shouldn’t be written, at that time.

Now, many years later, I set about to try again. I’m not sure the purpose more than simply wrapping my mind around how I’ve been affected by each I’ve lost. I believe each person is put in my life for a purpose, sometimes unbeknownst until some years later, after much experience and reflection. Moreover, I think, in life, we hope to leave something behind. These are their gifts to me:

 

~ Gustave William ~

My first experience of death. It was cold. You were cold, to me, and distant. You graduated from college and you were an alcoholic. How did I know, then, that you were a paradox to me? I was young. I recall seemingly insignificant details that are sketchy at best. But I remember this: you taught me to cultivate a relationship with my father who idolized you. I think you were the best of friends.

~ Augusta/ Nana ~

My great grandmother. Of all of my great grandparents, I remember you best. You were such a regal presence, so full of life. I looked up to you. Next to the word matriarch in the dictionary should be a photograph of you. Stubbornly German, you made your presence known– your needs and wants too; to me, you embodied strength. You were a collector (of elephants– I became a collector, too) and a giver (your coconut cake recipe has been passed down generations). You were a fighter. I hope I learned that from you.

~ Nonni ~

My beautiful Italian, great grandmother who couldn’t speak much English. She would teach me Italian sayings like, “Come sei bella.” She is always sitting in my memories of her and she would take my hands in hers, so soft and warm, and look right into my eyes. She taught me to be proud of my heritage and to compliment others, often.

~ Aunt Florence ~

I’m not sure why I began visiting you… because you weren’t too far to bike to or because you seemed lonely. I have such fond memories of the smile on your face when I’d arrive, sometimes alone, sometimes with one of my friends. You’d make us tea, and, together, we’d pick grapes from your vine. You taught me how to knit; those knobby fingers made such beautiful things. You talked about your children, as if they’d abandoned you, but, really you just missed them.

~ Carmen/ Carmenucci ~

You, your death had a profound effect on my life, but you know that. You are one of the few people who I really feel hasn’t left me. I believe you watch over me. You were such a scooch when you were alive, always teasing me and preaching words of your wisdom (and how often I’ve come back to those speeches and would give anything to hear them again). It turns out you knew a lot more than I gave you credit for (because, then, I believed I knew more than you– turns out that wasn’t so). You taught me so much about life and war and that sometimes life is war, but, even when we’re afraid, we can find the strength to make it through. You taught me about death– how, even in death, to be valiant. As a result, I live in the present and often remind myself that I must live without fear.

~ Paul, Samuel & Albert Celone ~

An interesting set of brothers, not particularly close, and you came in and out of my life at different times. Yet, what I take away from the sum experiences I had with you is a sense of family, and that, no matter the circumstances, family is always there for one another. I find it peculiar that none of you married, and yet you all were so attentive as uncles; it makes me sad that you made me feel so special, but you never had children of your own.

~ Nancy ~

You were my friend, my “little” sorority sister, the girlfriend of my best friend. So smart and funny and pretty, you had everything going for you or so it seemed. I didn’t understand, until you, the depth of one’s demons and to what extent they could be masked. It must have been so hard to keep up the facade. To smile when you were crumbling inside. I’m sorry I didn’t know. I’m sorry I couldn’t help. It makes me sad that your parents used you as an example for your friends when I wonder if they played a part in the facade. Your loss hit me hard. It seemed selfish and unfair. But, the adult me understands the angst you must have gone through. You have made me a little more sensitive to the secrets people keep.

~ Kimberly ~

Born with a genetic disorder, we knew you didn’t have long for this world. And you almost made it to two years old. I wanted to help– your mom and you. It was important to give you the best quality of life we could. I grew close to you and felt that I made a difference, even though it was hard. Sometimes, I’d cry the whole way home thinking about your strength in the face of your life sentence. Years don’t necessarily equate to the impact one can leave behind. You are proof of that. I believe you made me stronger, more benevolent, less egocentric.

~ Jamie Lynn ~

Well, you were a force of energy– that’s how I’ll always remember you. When you entered a room, you filled it with sunshine. When I think of you, the image is always of you smiling or laughing or dancing. In your nine years, you proved that you knew how to live. Your loss was devastating. It created a chasm in many lives because it was so abrupt, so senseless– hitting us, in the wake of your death, with the fact that you never know if there will be a tomorrow. You were friends with my children, and to recognize their loss at such a young age was difficult to process. There is a photo of you, Kimberly and Ryan (all born within months of each other) that I look at and still cannot fathom that two of you are gone. With your death, I came to empathize with any mother losing her child, I learned how to support a grieving child (actually, three of them), and I learned how life’s twists and turns can change the compass of a friendship. In a way, I feel like I experienced two losses in yours because your mom and my friendship hasn’t been the same. I’m not sure if I just didn’t know how to be a friend to her during that rough time, I tried, or if she distanced herself from me because that’s what she needed. You taught me hard lessons, little girl, for which I am grateful, but I wish we didn’t have to lose you in the learning of them. Please know you are still very much alive in the hearts of my family.

~ Stephanie ~

Your passing, on the heels of two others so close to me, made me question God and my faith. I didn’t know you well. You were so young. One moment full of life and the next gone, all from a common infection, that mothers, like me, nurse our kids through and back to health– every day. Who knew that a strain of strep could halt a life. I felt so sick from your passing that I couldn’t even bring myself to attend the wake, something I’d never been squeamish about before. It angered me that God had taken you. As a result, I began a long journey reevaluating what I believed in. I’m not sure that I’ve found answers, but I have found peace that for every life and every death there is purpose. I’ve also found a tremendous respect for mothers like yours who have no other choice but to go on living the best they know how, even though a piece of them has been torn away. It’s inspired me, really, to look at my own obstacles through different lenses.

~ Mrs. Carbone/ Grandma Moe ~

I questioned your presence in my life time and time again. If I had to equate it to a symbol, it would be of a wall. I recognized the wall you built around yourself, letting few in, certainly not me, except on very few occasions. I also recognize, now, that you developed in me, perhaps inadvertently, a sense of self confidence I didn’t posses before you because you fought me at every twist and turn. It saddens me that it took your impending death for me to see that soft side that was hidden so far behind the wall. It made me realize how many obstacles you must have faced in your life and overcome. For that, I thank you. I thank you because you have made me a more introspective person, a stronger, wiser person, a more sensitive and loving mother, a more dedicated and considerate wife, and, I hope, one day, a more understanding and accepting mother-in-law.

~ Evan ~

On the cusp of becoming a high school student, you had so much to offer the world until you cut your life short in what some seem to question as the fate of a genetic legacy. You, too, were Ryan’s friend. It seemed unfair that at fourteen years old, he’d already lost three of his friends. We all wish we saw it coming, so we could have caught you– fixed you somehow. Your death made me a better friend to another grieving mother. It made me question why so many young deaths in my life– too many to handle, really. It affected me deeply. I look at your brother and sister, today, and think what a loss for them– how the ghost of you must permeate their lives. Your passing made me realize that no matter how much we want to save someone, a person really can only save him/herself– a lesson deferred from the loss of Nancy, I suppose.

~ Gramma Molly ~

I have met three true matriarchs in my life, and you are one of them. You were one of the sweetest, most compassionate and giving people I’ve known. You raised five boys almost single-handedly who are successful, thoughtful, respectful, compassionate, responsible and kind– a reflection of their mother. I don’t know a family who holds their mother in higher esteem than yours– a true testament to how they were raised, and I so envy you for that. I believe you made everyone you met want to be a better person just for having been in your presence. And I’m glad I was.

~ Angelique/ Angie/ Gigi ~

I think I still have not let go, nor do I think I ever will. I cannot encapsulate in words the effect your life has had on my own. You always were my rock, my infinite source of unconditional love, understanding and acceptance. Aside from my husband and my mother, I have never confided in anyone more than you (and sometimes I think I’ve confided the most in you). You’ve taught me so much about being a good person and mother and wife and friend and teacher– the effects of what I’ve learned from you ripple through so many aspects of my life. I hear your words and feel your soft touch when I need them. Even in my dreams, you are still telling me, you love me no matter what. I know you are my angel, and I know that you’ll never leave me, too.

~ Grandma/ Great Gram ~

I have fond, warm memories of you when I was young– holidays at your house (you weren’t the best cook, but you loved family around and your family always threw the best parties), coming to work with you, and the pretend bar we set up in your recreation room or the office we pretended to work in with the old typewriters, ledgers, and telephones. Then, upstairs, in your attic, there was a secret room, we’d (me, my siblings and cousins) would always find our way into; we’d play with the old stuff, which really were antiques only I didn’t realize it then. I developed a love for antiquity from you. Then Pop-pop died. You seemed to transform so quickly from a woman, dependent and lost, to a woman on a mission to live life fully and on your own terms. I missed you then. It hurt that you became so distant, so otherwise attentive to all things not us, it seemed. No more sleep- overs. No more birthday parties. We gave up depending on you. But hindsight affords us to heal and see outside of our feelings. I forgive you because I think you did what you needed to do for you, not out of malcontent for us, your grandchildren. I admire the woman you became, a career woman, independent, so well traveled, so respected in so many circles. I think one day, I’d like to become her only with a better sense of balance. I remember the end of your life fondly, too, because I saw a lot of you, again, then. It was sad to see your mind slip because I’d remembered you as such a keen woman. You were gentle and graceful, always. I think, in a very quiet way, you were a matriarch for our family– something you never aspired to be but just blossomed into.

~ Donna/ Big “D” ~

Not only my second friend to pass, but also a life force lost. We shared a name. We shared a past rich of common experiences, interests, tastes– even in men, but we never let that come between us. At a young age, you were diagnosed with childhood diabetes, something you would struggle to keep in check throughout your life. I feared that would be the way you would someday go, but someone robbed us of you much sooner than you allowed your disease to, when you died in a tragic car accident. The memory of Renee calling me to ask me if I’d heard and, simultaneously, the image of your car accident on the television are etched in my mind forever. Your loss was devastating to me. We’d been friends since fourth grade. You taught me so much about living with courage and determination, passion and zest. We thought we’d grow old together– two old biddies talking about back-in-the-day. You reaffirmed that I must live in the present because there are so many things between us left unsaid: what a good mother and teacher you were, that there are so many events in my life that I’m glad we shared because I wouldn’t have wanted to share them with anyone other than you, and what a good friend you always were– that I always knew you were there for me (even when life got in the way). The saying Live without Regret is part of my mantra, now, because I thought we had so much time ahead of us. I miss you.

~ Aunt Julia and Uncle Frank ~

The story goes that Uncle Frank was in the armed services and stationed out in California where he met Julia. They fell love and married, which took him away from his family in Connecticut. Then they had a beautiful daughter, Mary Francis, who was about my mother’s age, and, although, they didn’t see each other often, she and my mother grew very close– like twins on separate coasts– until Mary Francis died at the age of twelve because she choked on her own blood in the night while recovering from a tonsillectomy.  I heard stories about them– how close they were, how strong Uncle Frank and Aunt Julia’s love for one another was to survive such a tragic loss. I saw black and white photos of their wedding day, of Mary Francis as a little girl, and photos of she and my mother together on their visits with each other, and, lastly, of Mary Francis in her communion dress. These photographs painted a story. Uncle Frank and Aunt Julia went onto have another daughter, Ann Marie, not much older than I, who would become my pen pal for many of my formative years. We met for the first time when I was in junior high and would only meet again three other times in our lives. The last was several years ago when I visited them in California. I was conscious of the fact that it would probably be the last time I’d see Uncle Frank and Aunt Julia alive, and it was.

The two of you instilled in me an understanding of the quiet strength of a union, a love so deep and strong that it didn’t need to be stated because it was always felt. I always aspired to have that kind of love. You were my example of the way two people should love one another through the best of times and the worst of times. Everyone should have an example of a love story like yours.

 

I suppose I would have come upon this introspection on my own in my own time, but I thank May Harding for helping me to see something differently– a lesson I’ve applied to many aspects of my life.

I know what it’s like to go through a difficult time, but what I take away from that kind of experience is that each process is unique unto itself and the person walking through it. Each one teaches us something different, that when we’re in the vortex of it, we often can’t see, but we have to have faith and trust to know that one day we will see it and gain a better understanding of it and ourselves.

And, in the end, we all leave a legacy– hopefully, it’s a good one.

[Image: http://globeattractions.com/between-heaven-and-earth-sea-sunset-nature/ ]

 

 

 

THE Talk: Educating your children, then letting them go

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Giving your kids THE Talk is usually not easy, and I’ve come to realize I’ve given them several TALKs from the time they could understand until, now, as young adults. These are moments of imparting necessary pearls of wisdom upon them with the hope that they are listening, even if they only just latch onto the important parts. And the experienced parent knows, too often these talks are like those lectures you got in school that after a while sounded like the warbled teacher-talk in Charlie Brown.

None-the-less talking to children from experience is essential. Communication is everything.

One of the earliest talks was when I had to tell my toddler that biting is unacceptable. Not long after came the It’s time to stop sucking your thumb talk. Only to be followed by the Look both ways before you cross the street, then look again talk.  As young children, these talks were a matter of imparting lessons, not of the uncomfortable nature.

It didn’t get uncomfortable until puberty when it came time to talk about body changes. I remember buying the book My Body Myself for my firstborn, Ryan. It’s an educational/journal/workbook of sorts with, perhaps, too many pictures. I told Ryan he might like to flip through this book to give him some information about the ways in which he should expect his body to change. A reassurance for him that he isn’t morphing into some kind of monster. After a day or so, I knew he flipped through the book because he said to me, “Mom, did you read that book before you gave it to me? Because I’m not sure it’s really appropriate for me.”

The next conversation became even more uncomfortable, as my husband called NO DIBS regarding the sex talk with Ryan. At his school, a pediatrician came in, girls separated from boys, to explain the changes in body and discuss the birds and the bees. I saw this as a teachable moment. So, when he came home, I asked him about the talk, and it became clear that he wasn’t giving up any details. I said, “Now, Ryan, I’d like to tell you about sex which you may or may not know about already, but I’d like it to come from my mouth so I can be sure you have the right information.” His face blushed and he shrugged it off, saying, “You really don’t have to mom. Do you?” He was not getting out of listening even if he chose not to respond.

As he approached middle school, the talks became more important and touched on things like being a leader, listening to your inside voice, not succumbing to peer pressure regarding alcohol, nicotine and drugs.

In high school, the first AHA! moment snuck up on me when Ryan, as a freshman hockey player, got into the car of a senior for a ride home. I thought, OH RITE, time for this conversation. I was taken off guard that he would do so without permission. And this began a long line of decision making without permission. Welcome to those horrible teen years every parent already in-the-know warns you about. I thought I was ready… armed with my talks and positive reinforcement, feeling like I knew my child and his friends well enough to assume the kinds of risky behaviors they’d take part in. Afterall, I had been there. I thought I was a parent in-the-know. Turns out, I wasn’t until after I’d lived through it at least once. Then I thought I KNEW. But, I didn’t. The second is never exactly like the first. In fact, I’m still learning, but I haven’t stopped talking. I’ve even lowered myself to sneaking and prying and spying. Now, I know, there is nothing I will stop short of for the safety of my child.

The next TALK came the summer of my son’s junior year in high school. For this talk, I left a box of condoms, stealth-like, on his bed with a note that read, “This is not permission, it’s precaution, but I hope you will wait until you’re in love.” He was completely mortified, but his friends thought it was a cool way to deliver the message. I suspect my son did too, deep down, though he would never admit it.

As the TALKs continued, they became scarier and scarier because the next talk came upon him leaving my comfy, cozy and SAFE nest– when he went off to college. We talked about safety, independence, responsibility, time management, money management, considering consequences before acting/reacting… we talked about how what he did for the next four years would certainly be a foundation for his LIFE. His life. It was becoming abundantly clear that his life– apart from me and all our talks– was drawing near.

As a college graduate on the cusp of moving to the other side of the country for a very good job offer he’s accepted, we once again had THE Talk. This time is was about money and budgeting, legal documents, and credit ratings, banking and paying bills. This was one serious talk, but the difference this time is that he had become a man. I know this because he was fully engaged, taking it all in like a sponge.

I suspect this will not be the last of the TALKs I have with my firstborn, though they will most likely become farther apart from the last.

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Inspiration: “Everything is a self-portrait. A diary.”

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I’m exhausted. Mentally exhausted. From reading this book: Diary, Chuck Palahniuk. It’s about a woman who you think is crazy, writing a diary about her crazy life, and her crazy mother-in-law, and crazy husband, laying like a vegetable in a coma from an attempted suicide. I had to reread the last two chapters to get to where I THINK I understand the ending. Think. I’m still not sure. I’m DYING to speak to someone who has read this book. I need to talk about it. It’s one of those books that you read and are awed by, but then you put it down and say “WHAT?!”

CP photo

So, I teach a creative writing class (as many of my audience knows. I’m sorry if I’m repetitive here). In it, I’d long ago come across a website that determines your writing style. You cut an paste some of your writing into the blank space, and it matches your style up with a notable author.

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 I Write Like…

I copy and pasted this (part of one of my novels) in the blank space:

CP text

And… my result: Chuck Palahniuk.

Whom I had never read, but over and over students selected Fight Club for independent reading. I found there are students who are completely devoted fans of Palahniuk’s writing and those who are not. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. I’d seen the film Fight Club and loved it!

And, now, I know why. A student recommended this book. He said I’d like it. I do. But I don’t see the connection in our writing styles per se except that we both write in first person and stream of consciousness.

So, they say IMITATION IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF FLATTERY (a phrase coined by Charles Caleb Colton, 19th century English cleric and writer). I became so curious about how my writing style is like Palahniuk’s that I began conceiving of a story in the voice of a narrator like the narrator in Diary. As the story came to me… the words rushed into my head in a narrator’s voice, and I wrote them down. Now, in taking a step back, I’m not sure I can sustain a voice like this (so incredibly fluid, choppy, non-linear, digressive, pointed…) for an entire novel.

I do this. I conceive of  a skeletal version of a story and begin by writing in the voice of the narrator before fleshing out the details. That’s where I am right now. That’s how Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Diary inspired me.

So, here I go.

30 DAYS OF THANKFUL

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By writing down one thing we are thankful for each day, we can improve our lives… (Dr. Wayne Dyer)

Mission: THANKFUL

Thankful 4Think-positive

Instead of dwelling on what is challenging me, I’m approaching the next month with unabandoned optimism.

thank ful Helen Keller

(Helen Keller)

30 days: at LEAST 30 reasons to be THANKFUL

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Follow along. I’ll add to this post each day. Let’s see how focusing on the positivity in our lives enriches our lives.

Day 30: 7/22
Today I am thankful for my faith. These last two months have been one blow after another and my faith that all of these obstacles are leading to something meaningful has been keeping me going.
Sometimes… All you can do is BELIEVE and I do.

TF believe

Day 29: 7/21
Today, I’m thankful for the time I spent with my sisters. We don’t get this opportunity to have some talk time as much as I’d like. And my sister, Diane, gave me a very special birthday gift– just a little something– two stones, on one an angel & on the other the word believe because she know I need them right now. And I love the way such a simple gift can mean the world. It brought me to tears.

TF sisters

Day 28: 7/20
I am certainly thankful that 23 years ago I found my happy place. The funny thing is, at the time, I had no idea that it even was my happy place. We’ve tried other places for vacation, but Cape Cod (Yachtsman Condominiums, Hyannis) is the only place that feels so much like home that I truly never want to leave.

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Day 27: 7/19

Today, I’m thankful to be done packing in anticipation of spending a whole week at my happy place: Cape Cod.

TF cape cod

Day 26: 7/18

Today, it’s got to be the AIR CONDITIONING that I’m thankful for. We’ve been experiencing a heat wave, here, in the northeast for days. I long to live in a climate that is Spring and Fall-like all year long. Ironically, my son, Ryan, just moved to Santa Clara last week. His first words to me on the phone last night were, “The weather is PERFECT, here.” I’m so jealous. But, I least I have central air to make this heat tolerable.

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Day 25: 7/17

Today, I’m thankful for the smile THIS VIDEO put on my face & for the very thoughtful friend who sent it to me. The Wizard of Oz has always been one of my all time favorite movies in addition to Judy Garland being one of the classic actresses that fascinated me. Not to mention being Glenda the good witch in my elementary school production– the very first experience that spurred my love of theatre. This year our school put on a performance of The Wiz which, along with this video, affirms how the classics never really go away; they become transformed and relevant.

Day 24: 7/16

Simply, I am thankful that my son is alive and physically in tact. And I pray this is the wake-up call he needed.

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Day 23: 7/15

Today, thankful comes just before noon on this sweltering HOT day when I’m strolling outside, noticing the beauty that surrounds me. Normally, I’m not someone who enjoys the work that a yard takes to look beautiful, I do, however, enjoy the spring– planting season, when it comes time to prettify my yard. Planting flowers and watching them bloom, at all stages, throughout the summer gives me much pleasure. And today it is my muse. I took photographs of all the pretty flowers and shared the beauty on my blog for others to enjoy 🙂

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Day 22: 7/14

So, I had another down-kinda day. I just kept really busy to keep me from getting into a funk. Late afternoon, I was exhausted, so I laid down to take a little nap when my puppies pounced on me to share their love. I swear animals have an innate sense to know when we need their love the most. Today, I am thankful for my dogs: Sadie (black lab), Layla (yellow lab) & Bailey (chocolate lab). They are so my babies!

Layla

Day 21: 7/13

I had a an overall crappy day today. Chalk it up to one of those days– rainy day, too much on my mind… So, in the midst of it all, a photo I saw on Facebook took me to a faraway place that reminded me how happy and blessed I have been to see it not once, but twice. Haworth is the home, now a museum, of my favorite author, Emily Bronte, author of Wuthering Heights. Whenever I visit Haworth, I feel transported to another place and time which is exactly what I needed to get me out of my funk today. So, for that, I am thankful.

BPM Collage 2

Day 20: 7/12

Today, I have faced one of the toughest things I’ve ever faced– letting go of my child, literally. He’s moving to California (3,000+ miles away from me) and will be not be coming home for at least a year. Nonetheless, I am thankful for so many things on this day. I’m thankful that it’s only a year and on the other side of the country, not more time or on the other side of the world. I’m thankful I got one extra day to enjoy his company and his presence in our home. I’m thankful that he’s brave enough to make this move, with no safety net, and follow his dream. My friend said to me, “Momma, you’ve taught him the world is his oyster and he listened.” You know, she’s right. I’m thankful at how he turned out and that I had a hand in that. Sometimes, I just look at my children and I’m so in awe of them; I think, how could they possibly be mine? I’m thankful they are mine. And I’m thankful for that bear hug he gave me at the airport, today. I’ll feel that for a very long time. He’s on his way to creating a life for himself, and I couldn’t be more proud ❤ So, yes, there is some sadness today, but, mostly, I’m thankful!

ryan

Day 19: 7/11

Today is EASY. I’m thankful for the unexpected. As a turn of events would have it, my son gets to spend an extra 31 hours with us, and I couldn’t be happier. The unexpected last dinner, the unexpected last movie, the unexpected talk over coffee at the dining room table…

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Day 18: 7/10

Today, I am thankful for something very special– one of many pleasures of my life: listening to the three of my children, sitting in the back seat of my car on the way home from dinner, all singing a song: Wagon Wheel by Darius Rucker. They were belting it out, trying to sing in unison, trying not to sing out of tune, but none-the-less they were, and it was beautiful music to my air. It made me realize two things. One, that I have passed on the necessity of music to my children. And two, it is in the seemingly insignificant moments that we experience the most joy.

Day 17: 7/9
I’m thankful for making sushi with my son, niece, Tea, and nephew, Grayson, who have been asking Ryan to show him how to make sushi for months. I actually taught Ryan how to make it, he perfected it and passed it on to the kids. We had fun & they were happy!

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Day 16: 7/8
I am thankful that I started blogging a little over a year ago. It has been a platform for so many things: my passion, insights, feelings, reflections, thoughts. I’ve used this blog to showcase my experience as a teacher, writer and, my most important job, a mom. As a sister blog, I’ve created Jubilant Journey where I blog about my travels. And, this year, I hosted All that’s Left is to Write for my creative writing students

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Day 15: 7/7

I am thankful for the device that brought me relaxation, today– something I really needed: my pool raft. I spent a couple of hours on the 90-something degree, hot and muggy day, just drifting in the pool. My husband joined me which he rarely does. And together, we enjoyed the water… relaxing, swimming, playing fetch with the dog. The whole time, I’m thinking, pretty soon it will be just this– just us.

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Day 14: 7/6

Today, I am thankful for the highs and lows of parenting. Today, we celebrated Ryan’s graduation (along w/ a myriad of birthdays including Ryan’s as well)– all of Ryan’s friends here (I told them the next time I expect to see them all together, they’ll likely be celebrating someone’s wedding). I just felt so proud, today, that he’s successfully completed this stage of his life and he’s onto the next and that he has so many good friends, as well as a supportive family to share it with. Later, in the night, as the pendulum would swing– Tyler had a tough night, a real tough night. A reminder to me that these moments– these tough times with our children are the real work of parenting that make the triumphs so much sweeter.

happy graduation

Day 13: 7/5

Today, I am thankful for my mom. She came over to help prepare for Ryan’s grad party tomorrow, in addition to the Herculean task of going through Ryan’s room, so we could weed out what he doesn’t want/need in order to pack for his move. It was cathartic going through all of his things– a walk down memory lane, and, in the moment, I was grateful she was here to share it with us. So many memories being packed up and stored away until he has his first home. While he’s my first baby, he’s also her first grandchild, and I’m sure she enjoyed sharing that with us. Then, she chopped and chopped and chopped things I needed to make salads for the party, and, at one point, she said, “Your grandmother used to do this whenever I had a party, too.” Well, that was the icing on the cake. Sometimes, I feel my mother is too judgmental with me and sometimes she puts a guilt trip on me for what I should have or should not have done, but at the end of the day she’s my mom and I love her; she’s irreplaceable. And I know I need to cherish her while she’s here because one day she won’t be and I don’t want to have a single regret.

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Day 12: 7/4

Today, I am simply thankful for food. Not literally the food itself but the way in which food seems to bring people together. There are two special people in my life who I associate with food.

First, my grandmother. She loved to cook. She spent hours cooking, especially food from her homegrown garden in the back yard. Eggplant, zucchini flower pancakes, broccoli rabe… I learned most of what I know about cooking from my grandmother. And, today is her birthday. She would have been 94 today. We always had a duel picnic/ birthday celebration on the 4th of July.

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And, second, when my son came along– born on the 3rd of July, the celebration became about him, too. And now, the love of cooking has been passed onto my son. The chef. Chef Ryan. Chef Carbone. Who, along with his girlfriend, also a chef, but a pastry chef, made us breakfast this morning. Delicious French toast and hash potatoes. But the food wasn’t even the good part. It was all of us being in the kitchen together, helping with the preparation of the meal, each of us in our own way– celebrating family.

ryan and kelsey

So, it’s the way food brings people together that is what I’m most grateful for, today.

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Day 11: 7/3

Today, it’s easy to find something to be thankful for. Not only is it my eldest son’s 22nd birthday, but it’s also his graduation day! Nothing in life is easy, nor was it easy for Ryan to find out what his life’s passion would be. But he did. After attending Northeastern University and three majors later (I’d been convinced since he was in 4th grade that he’d go into politics and I think, at first he was too… then he changed to sound production, then veered toward music management), finally, he came to the conclusion that he wanted to cook. He wanted to be a chef and own his own restaurant. So we searched schools in the Northeast and he decided upon The Culinary Institute of America from which he graduated, today. It’s been such a pleasure watching him cook and eating his delicious food; I can only liken it to watching an artist create. On the way home from the festivities, the song The Riddle, by Five For Fighting, came on, and in listening to the words I was overcome by wave of melancholia. There aren’t too many moments in life where you stop and recognize an end to something, as life is just a big, blank canvas– and as you fill it, it’s a work in progress. Perpetual motion. Always working toward something. Well, in this moment, I stopped, looked at my husband and felt like WE DID IT! We created something magical, through all of the turmoil and self-doubt (particularly over the past 6 years with Ryan)– the questioning: Are we getting this right? Are we being good parents? In this moment, I felt like I could answer YES. We have been good parents for Ryan. Here he is: graduating from college, he’s found his passion, he’s headed toward a solid career and a job, he has direction, and most importantly, he’s happy. Is this the end of our parenting because he’s an adult, now, and moving out on his own? Most certainly not. But our parenting from this day forward takes on a new shape. And I’m thankful for coming as far as we have with Ryan and in his ability to fly to the other side of the country and do just fine on his own.

C.I.A. Graduation 7/3/13

C.I.A. Graduation 7/3/13

Day 10: 7/2

Today, I am thankful for taking a moment to reflect. Tomorrow is my son’s 22nd birthday and graduation from college. I bought him a card for each occasion, but they fell short of all that I really wanted to say. Not only does tomorrow mark two very important events in his life, but next week, he’ll be moving out to the west coast (3,018 miles away from our home on the east coast) because he accepted a wonderful job offer. I am filled with so many emotions– bittersweet every one of them. My baby, my first born will be 22. And he’s graduating from college. And he got a great job offer which takes him clear across the country. I decided to write him a letter, when last I wrote to him was throughout his senior year of high school. On the day of his high school graduation, I handed him an eight page letter. Today, it was two, but in it I thought back… all the way to his birth (ironically, he will be working in the very same hotel where my husband stayed when I found out I was pregnant with him– how’s that for serendipity!), the triumphs, the challenges, the hopes and leaps of faith. I poured all the words out and my tears. I am beyond excited for his prospects, but sad, all the same, that he’ll be so far away.

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Day 9: 7/1

Today, I am thankful for completing the next phase of editing my novel. I wanted to jump up and down for joy when I came to the end– not because it was over (that part makes me sad), but because I accomplished what I thought I could not. I thought I’d finished it (finished, being a relative term in the process of writing– meaning completed that phase) when I sent it off to an agent who informed me I needed to cut out 34k words before he’d even look at it. Who knew genres had limits? I certainly didn’t. One more lesson to chalk up to experience. So, I went back to work and successfully eliminated what he wanted. When it was first suggested… I was leery, afraid it would change what I wanted my novel to be. I went through it the first time, really just tightening up the language. Then, I decided, to make it work, I needed to omit a whole character. She’s actually there, still, but more like a phantom character which actually works better. So, now, next phase… off it goes and now, it’s out of my hands. I’ve submitted up to the Gods who make things happen for me (being optimistic and THANKFUL!)

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Day 8: 6/30

Today, I am thankful for life. We learned of the passing of one of Tyler’s friends, a 19 year old girl named Theresa who has been battling cancer for five years now. I will most remember her exuberant smile, her unrelenting spirit and her amazing strength. I wish her parents and brother (a former student of mine) courage and strength as they move forward, rebuilding their lives in her absence. And, for all her friends, I hope the scars her death leaves heals– so sad that this is part of their story, now, too. I lost a friend from high school and was devastated by her loss. I know how that affected me; something that changes over time but never leaves. There have been too many children I’ve known who have passed. I thank God for the health and safety of my own children and can only pray they live long, full lives. Only on days like today do we realize just how precious and tentative life really is.

R.I.P. Theresa Fitzpatrick. You will long live in our memory ❤

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AfterGlow

** Ironically, this very same poem is the one printed on her mass card

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Day 7: 6/29

Today, I am thankful for the communication I share with my children. I strive to always be available to my children, making it clear that they can talk to me about anything. Today, I’ve turned a corner with one of my sons. I’ve gone from the mom who knows nothing to the mom he seeks advice from. It was a very pointed, “Mom, can we talk? I need your advice.” Just those simple words were music to my ears. And while I feel the pain he’s going through to seek my advice, I also tried to reassure him that it would all turn out okay. Sometimes, we have to work through the confusion to get to the good stuff. I’m not sure how much I helped, and I told him that. He responded by saying, “It just helped to talk to you about it.” And, that, made my day.

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Day 6: 6/28

Today, I am thankful for the women in my life (my daughter, my mom, my sisters) with whom I had the pleasure of sharing a decadent SPA DAY. Once a year, we’ve taken to meeting for lunch, followed by massages, manicures & pedicures. We don’t take enough time out like this to celebrate being women, being related and acknowledging, if even for one day, we deserve to be pampered.

Spa Day Thankful

Day 5: 6/27

Today, I am thankful for validation. In regards to an issue I’m dealing with one of my children (one that I’m not comfortable talking about yet), a doctor told me “As far as parenting goes, you’re doing everything I would advise you to do.” Little does this doctor know, a huge sigh of relief followed. The thing with parenting is, and I’ve been doing it for 22 years now with 3 children (4, if you consider my sometimes child-like husband– that’s a joke, but wives know exactly what I mean), you never know if you’re getting it right until it’s well beyond the point of decision making. It’s a gut instinct, a leap of faith, hope that you know each child well enough to make the best decision possible for each of them because they are all different. I used to joke about “In what ways will I f**k up my child?” Because even though the intention is to get it right, as much as possible, you never know how it will be perceived on the other end. Once, one of my children brought up a comment that I’d made years before (one that I hadn’t even recalled) as something that stuck with him. It had hurt him. Not only was I shocked, I tried to explain what I probably meant, but the damage had been done, and it stung. I know, as parents, we all have those moments with our kids no matter how hard we try to do everything just right. And, while in this instance, any kind of thanks from my child will not come for a very long time (if at all), it really helped to hear that I’m doing the right things because it certainly is not the easy path.

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Mark Anderson: Andertoons

Day 4: 6/26

Today, I feel blessed for (at least) two reasons.

The first is my passion for writing. This morning I literally got lost (in a good way) in editing my book for four hours. It was a rainy day, so I took advantage of having to be cooped up inside. Whether I am writing a novel or poetry or journaling or simply playing with words, I am always happy to have the gift of creativity. Writing not only allows me to create imaginary worlds, it also enables me to figure my world out.

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Then I went shopping and ran into the dad of my best friend, Donna, who passed five years ago, already, from a tragic car accident. Donna and I been friends since fourth grade, so I know her father well. And it took me all I could muster not to tear up when talking to him about her children and mine. I recall so vividly sitting in her kitchen, there were 5 of us girls (who had gotten especially close during high school) talking about our weddings (we were part of each others’ wedding parties) and Donna’s mom made us some kind of dessert. While serving it, she said, “I can imagine the five of you as old ladies sitting around the table still talking about this or that.” This is the image that popped into my head today, along with a flood of others. With her loss, I feel like part of me is missing, too. We were always Big “D” and Little “D,” (me, of course, being the latter). I told her dad I kept tabs on one of Donna’s daughters and sister through Facebook, and I will always remember the smile that came across his face. He teared up too. I certainly am blessed with wonderful memories of a cherished friendship.

Donna and Donna

Day 3: 6/25

Today, I am thankful not to have waken up to the sound of my alarm clock– one of my favorite luxuries that summer brings. Normally I wake up between 5:30 & 6:00 a.m.– not at all conducive to my body clock, something I hadn’t considered in choosing my career. I am a night person. I’ve always been a night person. And I’ve really tried to become a morning person, but my body just doesn’t work that way. I long for Friday’s because my inner voice always screams “Yay! I don’t have to be in bed by 10.” Ten o’clock is the very latest I can go to sleep if I want to be at all coherent for a work day– that, and plenty of coffee to begin my day. But over the summer, I can stay awake at night to my heart’s content, which is usually before midnight, and normally, I’ll wake up by 8:00 the next morning. If I can sleep until about 8:00, I always awaken refreshed.

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Day 2: 6/24

Today, I am thankful for my job. I’ve always been a proponent of change. Even when it’s uncomfortable, especially when it’s uncomfortable, it ignites growth. With change, two things are necessary: closure & new beginnings. I am lucky enough to have a job that, each year, the summer break allows me to shed the experiences of one year and provides me with the opportunity to begin anew in the fall. This year I experienced high highs and low lows. So, the catharsis is much needed. As far as I’m concerned, every job should come with a guaranteed month off. At the beginning of each summer, I’m exhausted, my creative juices depleted, my patience null. I take the time I need to just be– to escape any thoughts or deeds associated with my school– and, simply, relax or tend to other projects and people I’ve neglected, until I’m refreshed. Then, I reflect and plan for the upcoming year. I begin each year with a new sense of promise and perspective, excitement and vigor.

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Day 1: 6/23

Today, I am thankful for the calm– the peaceful ocean water, quality time with my husband, the companionship of my black lab, Sadie, and, ultimately, an epiphany I’ve been searching for most of my adult life. After a blissful day on the boat on Long Island Sound under a cloudless sky, I returned home to find my eldest son had surprised me by coming home. I cherish the days when my family is together.

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This Summer’s Promise

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Each year while I’m reading, often, three books simultaneously for school and eking out a pleasureful read here and there,  I’m accumulating a pile of books for summer. A designated spot on my bookshelf marks the long awaited promise when I have the luxury of time to lose myself. Likewise, I have an ongoing list of “To Reads” on the notepad app on my phone. Whenever someone suggests a title that resonates with me or summarizes a book that piques my curiosity, I write it down.

This summer includes some books I’ve been wanting to read for a long time (God of Small Things and Diary), books recommended to me by a friend who knows my reading proclivities (PTown and Tipping the Velvet),  books written by authors I adore (Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake and The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder), in addition to some pedagogical reads (Mindset and Write Beside Them) for a bit of legwork I’m doing for curriculum I’ll be writing this year, and, finally, a lofty read-again (London).

Ahh… the promise that awaits. I yearn to dive in… to not only lose myself, but learn something about life, education, experience and myself in the process,

What will you be reading this summer?

Creativity at Work

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So, I have completed the first draft of my novel with mostly excitement and a tinge of sadness. I’m going to miss my characters and their story.

I am reminded of the preface to David Copperfield where Charles Dickens writes:

“I do not find it easy to get sufficiently far away from this Book, in the first sensations of having finished it, to refer to it with the composure which this formal heading would seem to require. My interest in it, is so recent and strong; and my mind is so divided between pleasure and regret – pleasure in the achievement of a long design, regret in the separation from many companions – that I am in danger of wearying the reader whom I love, with personal confidences, and private emotions.”

Now, I’ve taken on the task of editing– not my favorite stage of writing, but I’ve been at it now for about a week, and I am literally obsessed. It’s all I want to do. Every spare moment is spent on reading/ re-reading/ tweaking/ thinking/ re-thinking/ checking for continuity/ expanding/ cutting back/ word-smithing…

And according to Mark Twain:

“The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

So forgive me the lack of blog posts, for now, my creative juices are otherwise engaged.

Resolution: KINDNESS

KINDNESS

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. They sound good on January 1st, but, by the end of the month, generally, they are compromised in a sea of rationales or simply forgotten, drifting with the tide, further and further out into the ocean.

This year, instead of focusing inward on the multitude of changes I can make (diet, exercise, write more, swear less, spend more time with friends and with mom…) to quell my feelings of ineptitude in one direction or another, I’ve decided to alter my perception of what a resolution is suppose to be by turning my projection of change outward: acts of kindness toward others with the simple notion of one person carrying out one selfless act in the pure interest of benevolence.

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In order to create some tangibility to my resolution, I’ve set aside a jar, crafted a label (KINDNESS), cut out brightly colored pieces of symbolically-shaped papers on which to write each act of kindness upon completion. While I’m committing to 26 Acts of Kindness, as an homage to the victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy, where my inspiration is routed, I hope to be able to fill the jar over the course of the year with many more.

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And so I begin, with three already completed before the New Year’s even begun with the hope that one Act of Kindness will have a ripple effect to another and another and so on and so on…

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What Kindness