“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”Gilda Radner

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Special Blessing

I had my oldest son Joey when I was twenty-five. I didn't think that was terribly young at the time, but now that I'm thirty-five and I have a sixteen-month-old, I am amazed at the difference ten years can make.

I've often mentioned that Joey was a surprise. A welcome one; we wanted children and were thrilled to start our family. But there has always been something about being a mother that triggers my awareness of my own imperfections. When Joey was born, he was perfect. A part of me wondered whether the Universe had made a mistake. How could I, someone filled with mistakes and flaws, deserve this perfect little person to depend on me to help him grow up and stay perfect?

I think in verbalizing that question, I've summed up all the anxieties I've felt since having children.

Joey had surgery today. It was minor and simple, but it took up our whole day and required him to be under general anesthesia, which is a frightening thing. He wore a gown, had an IV, and was taken away from me. Wide double doors closed and locked between us. I had no idea how many minutes or hours would pass before I saw him again. Every episode of Grey's Anatomy replayed in my mind, where some random patient came into Seattle Grace/Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital for something simple (like hiccups, for example) and never left.

All day long I wrote this blog in my head, memorizing details and choosing the words to describe my moment to moment emotions. In the end, all of it really only mattered to me. The fear, the worry, the love. The random moments where I was proud and relieved and just wanted to cry for no reason I could understand.

In the end, what mattered is how I saw myself surrounded by other parents who also love their children so much. I was reminded by the hour, by the minute at some points, that my children's health is a gift I cannot take for granted. Tonight I pray that my little boy won't throw up again from the anesthesia, but I pray bigger prayers for the other children I saw today.

Not long after Joey was born I visited a place called Lily Dale, a little outside Buffalo, NY. Lily Dale can be a little controversial, I suppose. It's a community of psychics. The women in my family like to go, mostly for fun, but sometimes for reassurance or hope. It was my first time visiting and I didn't expect much beyond a lot of laughing and a nice lunch. I had both. But I also had a rather unique experience with the psychic I visited. She was a tiny old woman, who held my hands in her shaky ones. She smiled knowingly and said, "You have a son."

"Yes," I said.

"He was a surprise."

"Yes," I said.

"You doubt yourself?"

"A little."

"Babies choose their mothers, you know."

I was silent. It was a concept I had never considered, and therefore foreign to me.

"They do," she went on. "And your son chose you. It's not up to you to wonder why. What's important is that this boy wanted you to be his mother. He is your special blessing."

I never forgot these words. I don't know how much I can believe the bit about babies choosing their mothers. I love it as an idea, but I've been a teacher for too many years and seen too many lonely and broken children to swallow it whole. I hold tight, too, to my belief that God decides. But her other words, those I have kept in my heart. They are the nest that holds all the love I have for Joey, Noah, and Max. "He is your special blessing."

My heart broke for Joey's fear today. I crumbled more at his bravery. I wished he was still small so I could hold him tight in my arms against my heart. And yet I know what a blessing it is that he is whole and well and tomorrow will be fresh and healthy and strong.

Today made me grateful.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Ten Reasons I Make a Terrible Grownup

Confession: I have no idea how to be a grownup. I fear this has been wildly apparent to the general public for some time, but my meager attempts at hiding it have officially exhausted me. I've also become aware of something else some time in the last week/month: I'm not the only one. I don't know if thirty-five is the magical age where people realize this, or if it's taken me inordinately long, but I feel so freed by this that I'm shouting out ten of my craziest I'm-a-lousy-grownup secrets for all the world to hear. Even my Mom. Because you know what? I've decided they don't make me a bad person after all.

1. I don't move furniture to clean. Once in awhile, a toy will fall in a hard-to-reach place or, worse, something large is being delivered and Joe has to shove the couch out of the way and, well, it's mortifying.

2. I have more than one closet where I have to duck when I open the door.

3. My children have clothes two sizes too small in their drawers. Sometimes, when they dress themselves, they come skipping into the room with with their forearms and ankles showing and they are befuddled by my shrieks of horror and insistence that they change outfits immediately.

4. School forms are the enemy. I still have some from when Joey was in first grade. They are tucked in the handy "organizers" I've purchased and set up specifically for school forms. I'm quite sure the office has a fat file with my name on it, and it's filled with all the panicked notes I send in explaining that, though I've misplaced the form, can my child still be permitted to go on the field trip/attend the social/eat the candy bars/go to school that day?

5. My basement looks like an episode of Hoarders.

6. My children hide things under their beds and I pretend not to notice.

7. In the event of unexpected company, I have swept dirt under the rug in the entry way.

8. I buy fancy baskets so I can hide, not clean up or organize, messes.

9. My children eat processed foods. Many households have two working parents who have figured out how to have fresh/organic/paleo/gluten free/nontoxic/brain-strengthening meals and snacks at the ready. Shamefully, we are not yet among those people.

10. I still wear maternity underwear and I don't care about panty lines. Of all the problems in this great big world (and as clearly indicated by this post, I have a few), I don't want uncomfortable undergarments to be one of mine.

My hope is that somewhere in this list of my deepest and darkest, you went Gasp! Me, too. (Though it probably wasn't number 10.) And other than that, don't judge me too harshly--my mom will do it for you.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


I was ten years old when I first experienced the loss that comes with the death of a loved one. It would be a long time before I felt it again. I remember it vividly however, and have carried it with me in all that I do in the years that have since come and gone.

This time, of course, is different. Like visiting a place you knew well as a child after many years, the colors have changed, the sizes seem out of proportion, and time seems to have sped up and slowed down all at once.

I was asked to write something and speak at my grandmother's funeral. "You can just put something together, right?" Right. Easy. My favorite addendum was, "We can all give you our stories and you can just put them together into a little speech?"

As I sat at Grandma's dining room table today, a sea of photographs flowing around my elbows, I was relieved that the speech was no longer a thing. Catholics don't go for personal eulogies, and while we'd hoped to be an exception to the rule, we were gently reminded that we were no more special than anybody else. But I was relieved, because the more waves of pictures that rolled toward me, the more stories I saw. My grandma wasn't just my grandma. She was an ocean herself, deeply layered with the experiences of eighty-four years well lived.

Someone had said to me, "Of course your story will be all about how she took care of you when you were sick." Like that was it, that was all I'd come up with to say about a lifelong relationship. When I was four years old, she was my best friend. Last Thursday night, while we watched Wheel of Fortune, she was fast becoming a memory. The last words I said to her that night were, "'Do you know the way to San Jose?'" I'd solved the puzzle, but she'd already fallen asleep for the night. 

But it was the photographs today, and trying to organize them by relationship or importance or historical sequence, that made it clear to me I could no more compile everyone's stories in a short speech than I could control the weather. It would be an impossible task. My grandmother was a lot of things to a lot of people, and all of them were very lucky to know her. She was what many of us can only hope to be: Important.

But I can tell you a little bit about how she lived her life. 

Runner of the Year for over twenty-five years. We tried to figure it out and lost count. Weight-lifter. Book club member. Tour guide at Our Lady of Victory Basilica. Crisis counselor. Substitute teacher. Maker of amazing meatballs. She made the best salads, of all things, but they were delicious. She was classy. Sleek. She made looking good at any age look like a breeze. Her smile was dazzling. Best of all, it was real, every time. She was a friend, the kind everyone deserves to have but rarely finds. She was fun. She laughed often and loud. And she loved. She loved so many people with everything she had. She fought hard to the end to hang on because she loved us all so much. I know that. She was our friend, our mother, our grandmother, great-grandmother, friend, teacher, counselor, and things I'll probably spend the next few days hearing all about that I never knew.

But dear Grandma, you were the strong hand that held mine when I was a little girl. You were the voice that softly called me "Lovey" and your baby, even on my wedding day. You saw the best me when I was my worst, and more than anything else, you made sure I knew how much you loved me.

I hope you knew how much we all love you. Always.