Posts Tagged ‘Family’


I had my first garage sale over the weekend. It was beyond exhausting, but what surprised me the most was emotional part. I was not prepared for it. It was like watching “This is Your Life” except that greedy strangers appear and snatch up your memories and haggle over them.

There was this one woman who grabbed my daughter’s little navy dress with the white polka dots. Elizabeth wore it to my cousin’s funeral when she was just a baby.  My cousin had died tragically young from a drug overdose and we were all shattered. In that dress, on that day, Elizabeth was my only source of light.

As she nuzzled her fuzzy head into my neck and drooled on my black cardigan, I felt comforted. When she took her fingers out of her mouth and flashed her wet gums to strangers, I knew she was providing the best form of bereavement counseling. 

I wanted to go over and pull that dress out of her hands. That little dress was my tiny reminder that when pain nearly stops our hearts, new life arrives to show us that we can smile again.

Then there was the yellow Ralph Lauren duvet with matching pillow shams.  I remember the day my husband and I bought it.  We had just gotten back from our honeymoon and were giddy, in love and clutching fast cash made from returning wedding gifts.

Emboldened by the fresh start ahead of us, we splurged on the silky Egyptian cotton linens. We were so happy to be appointing our married life with much finer things than our single ones could have afforded.  We were naïvely certain that the days of crappy, irregular sheets from the deep-discount table at Bed, Bath and Beyond were behind us.

On some level, selling that duvet felt like acknowledging the end of the newlywed belief that married life will always be exciting and fun. Though considerably faded, I wasn’t sure I was ready to abandon it completely.

Nearby in a bin of books sat my tattered copy of Pat Conroy’s “The Prince of Tides”.  It was one of my first pleasure-reads after college while vacationing in Arizona. As I lay in the sun scalding my skin a dark pink, I fell in love with Tom Wingo’s gorgeous South Carolinian prose. It was the first time I would ever think of an author’s words as lyrical because, well — they were.  

That book marked the beginning of my great love affair with books to which I remain besotted for life. I had marked my first lover “50% off” — which shamed me more than just a little.

And then there were the little froggy rain boots we bought at a beachside gift shop. Once during a rainstorm, Caroline put them on with her fanciest pink nightgown and went outside to dance like Gene Kelly.  She was so deliciously transported into her own world that I raced outside to take her picture for which she posed proudly.

Those boots marked my little fashionista’s first awareness that very often it is indeed, the shoes that make the dress. 

I looked at the bits and pieces of my life sprawled out before me and I thought: that’s it. I simply could not part with any more of it. I nudged my way in amongst the shoppers in their fanny-packs.  I was ready to start pulling stuff from the sale when I was stopped by a woman with a thick Irish brogue. 

She wanted to confirm the size the gauzy, white flower-girl dress Elizabeth wore in a wedding last December. She was buying it to send “back home” to her sister in Ireland. She said it would be perfect for her niece’s first holy communion. 

I had a vision of a red-haired girl wearing the dress in an old Irish church and I was pleased beyond belief. I know it’s predictable to say “think of all the new memories your things will enjoy”, but in this case, I was totally fired up.

Godspeed, pretty white dress!

That’s when I knew I would be okay.


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I need to put my small-town business aside for a moment to talk about the passing of Tim Russert.  I’m so sad about it. I seem to be taking it personally — and it’s not just because he’s been so integral to my Sunday morning ritual. It’s more than that.

I come from this crazy, politically charged family. Both ends of the spectrum are fervently represented, from my right-wing activist parents to my left-wing idealist uncles. No one takes it all lightly either, and what results is a big, bad blurring of politics and personal.

My dad likes to throw out red meat emails to provoke my uncles, ostensibly to debate, but really – I think – because he misses them. They, of course, respond in kind — blasting back passionate arguments from their side, leaving my dad unconvinced but later, (surprisingly) puzzled why they’re not closer.  When it comes to these family political “debates,” scores are never settled, no one ever agrees and damage gets done.

I can’t claim to be above the fray either. My mom and I had a recent scuffle over a political email she sent me.  It was an attack on a candidate’s character, and I responded furiously by attacking hers.

Once at a dinner party, my husband called the hostess a communist.  We were three minutes into our conversation and grilled salmon when he burped up that assault. He was horrified.  I was practically under the table.

Must politics always be so mean?  It doesn’t take long before our discussions veer into anger. It’s like road-rage on our personal values.  

I read Maureen Dowd and I can’t get past how bitter she seems. I watch Sean Hannity and I think – that guy is an asshole. Bill O’Reilly may claim a “no-spin zone” , but the guy is always cantankerous and growling, ready to pounce. 

And then there was Tim Russert –razor sharp, but jowly and twinkling. He wasn’t angry about politics, he was downright gleeful. Perhaps that’s what made him so effective. When you watched his show, you knew he wanted to get all of the answers – so we could judge for ourselves

That is what I’ll miss the most. I learned a lot by watching his show. Tim Russert’s classroom was safe from playground bullies. Politics were to be appreciated and respected. He seemed to enjoy the process as much as the ideals, and his enjoyment was infectious.

Sunday mornings will never be the same.

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#16 Skip some stones

School is out. Thank god. I can’t take any more crazy school-mom mania.  The overachieving moms get me all worked up with their uber involvement and super fabulousness.  The closer we get to the last day, the harder they organize, schedule, and plan.  I am so not made that way, and I get really grumpy and rebellious when I’m around them. Cut it out, crazy moms. Go home, eat something and stop with your highly organized efforts.

I can’t handle the super summer scheduling of kids either.  I’m a firm believer in free play.  Unleash the imagination! I refuse to sign them up for a bunch of crappy camps that cost a fortune and require me to drive them all over town. I brag about this to the uber moms, hoping to induce a new competition for just letting kids play. They don’t buy it.

I relish the idea of summer: no alarm clocks, no lunches to make, no barking about homework.  Ahhhhhh just sleep, reading and the unfolding of a new day.  Who knows what today will bring.

Apparently, today (the first day!) it brings: fighting, whining, crying, pinching, pulling, demanding, eating, spilling, and trashing. Shit. I need a crappy camp to get them out of the house.  I panic. What was I thinking?  I start flipping through the catalog of expensive day camps.

Quickly, I rough out a schematic for this week: fairy camp, safety town, hip hop dancing, tennis and lacrosse. I make plans to dip into their college savings to cover next week. Everything’s going to be okay, I tell myself.

Then Elizabeth hands me the list she’s made of “100 Things to do this summer”. She’s done it on her own, inspired by a summer of possibilities. She’s decorated the cover with a crayon drawing of a beach umbrella stuck crookedly into a yellow hump of scrawled beach.  The list is written in purple marker.  It’s four pages long and stapled together in the corner. I read it and relax. Here are just a few of her summer aspirations:

#5 Watch a scary movie
#11 Ride bikes to the library
#18 Visit a relative
#22  Read a book
#35 Make up a dance
#46  Sun bathe
#50  Make friendship bracelets
#66  Go to the beach
#72  Take a nap
#85  Make a sand castle
#97  Catch bugs

I toss the camp catalog in the garbage. Clearly, she has better ideas. I start making lemonade. Welcome to summer.

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When we first moved here, I didn’t know what a Hosta was.  My new neighbor, Karen, told me.  That first spring, still stunned by the loss of my career, I looked out at my new yard and felt helpless and stupid. I was lonely, bored and completely overwhelmed with all the little green shoots popping up, taunting me in their omnipresence. Karen, a serious gardener who is all about good dirt, came over in her rubber boots and started telling me what to do.


I couldn’t tell the difference between a plant and a weed, so she showed me. I went out and bought some cheap gardening gloves and started digging up weeds. I would spend hours bent over, yanking things out by the roots while my daughter, Elizabeth, serenaded me with little melodies. I started to relax.


At Karen’s urging, I watered the climbing roses regularly.  I pruned the spiraea.  I dug up old tulip bulbs that were planted in the wrong places.  I tried unsuccessfully to rescue a dying rhododendron and in the process, learned some basics on pruning, placement and site conditions.


As the weather got warmer, Karen and I would go running together.  She would point out different plants and why she liked them.  We planned our routes around gardens we wanted to show each other.  She gave me an extra copy of her favorite gardening book (Lois Hole’s “Perennial Favorites“). At the end of that first summer, I sat back and enjoyed the payoff: a few good blooms, a blossoming friendship and the beginning of a new education.  It was official: I had a hobby. 


The next spring, Karen and I sat down and planned out a whole new perennial garden by my back patio.  My husband dug up four feet of soil, an event that rivaled an Amish barn-raising.  Neighbors stopped by to watch the progress, marveling and laughing at the job we had undertaken.  We were knee deep in heavy clay and cow manure.  But in two days, we had gorgeous black soil and my new perennials oozed happily into their fertile home. We were exhausted and proud, having ceremoniously claimed the land as our own.


Each spring, I can hardly wait to get started. As soon as the first green leaves peak out from the warming earth, Karen and I begin making plans. With cups of coffee steaming in the morning air, we discuss what we have in mind for our gardens –and then we get to work. 


 With husbands and kids pitching in, we work outside for hours, stopping frequently to admire our progress.  We usually end the work day about the same time and retreat into our respective homes to shower off the mud — only to meet outside again, open a few good bottles of wine and relax on each others patios. These are among my favorite days of living here.


Three years ago, Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She started chemo shortly after Christmas and finished in early June.  On days when she felt strong enough, she put on her rubber boots and headed out to her garden.  With a blanket beneath her and her daughters around her, she weeded and took naps in the sunshine, her bright, bald head resting on her outstretched arms.  It was as if she needed to absorb the life around her.


 I decided not to offer to weed or prune for her.  I thought it would be stealing pleasure, reminding her even more of what the disease had taken. Her garden looked a little sad that summer.  It seemed to be in a state of shock as well.  The growth was quiet and slow, as if waiting for her return.


 This is the third summer since her last treatment.  Her scans are clean, and her garden is flourishing wildly. It is vibrant and defiant, almost messy from the rapid growth. She keeps planting more and more things in it. With the cancer weeded out, there’s no stopping her.  


My garden is doing pretty well, too.  When I sit outside with coffee and the paper, it keeps me company and gives me perspective. I look at it and think: well, yeah– there’s progress.  I’ve done some good here.   


Dostoevsky once said “At first, art imitates life. Then life will imitate art. Then life will find its very existence from the arts.”  I think that’s the way it is with the garden.

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There’s this thing about a mother’s intuition. We’re supposed to listen to it right?  


Not too long ago, a new family moved into JCrewville. They are young with two cute kids. I’ve talked to the mother several times. She seems sweet and church-going.  I’ve been careful to watch my language around her.


Other than a little small talk however, I haven’t made the best neighborly effort.  We haven’t had them over for dinner or brought them a pie. I’ve felt guilty about this.


So when my older daughter wanted to have their son, Mason, over for a play date, it was probably the guilt that got the better of me.  Mason is a sweet four year-old with a round face, freckles and auburn hair. Whenever we walk by, he stands at the window and waves furiously. He sooo wants to hang with my daughters.


On this particular day, I was a bit more tired than usual.  I was trying to diet (again) and my blood sugar was low.  I was jittery and cranky.  Add that to my daily caffeine overdose, the upcoming dinner-making hour, and you have the beginnings of a perfect storm.  I should have said “no” more firmly, but the whining wore me down.


“Pleeeeese, Mom” she begged, “Please, can Mason come over?” 


“Honey, it’s just not a good day,” I countered, wobbly. “I don’t feel good, and I need to clean up and make dinner. I can’t really keep an eye on Mason right now.”


“Oh Mommy, I’ll watch him, I promise.You won’t have to watch him at all…pleeeeease?”  


This went back and forth for a while until I caved.  I was tired, worn down, and frankly, thought maybe this could count as a welcoming, neighborly sort of thing.


When I called to invite Mason, his mom was down-right elated. Clearly, she needed a break. “Thank you, thank you” she kept saying gratefully as she stood on my porch, “I’m just going to go for a quick run, if that’s okay – oh, thank you so much for having him”.


“No problem, take your time” I smiled back neighborly. I shut the door and turned Mason over to my daughter Elizabeth.   


All went well, for the first couple of minutes, than the “wanting” began. Mason wanted a snack.  Mason wanted to use the bathroom.  Mason wanted to watch a movie.  Elizabeth came to me for all of this and I started simmering.  I was growing increasingly shaky and behind schedule.  I needed them out of the house.  I told them to go outside even though it was a cold March day, piles of half-melted snow dotting the muddy backyard.


They went outside, and I began trying to get dinner started.  Now, seriously shaking and running behind on things, I tried to keep an eye on them, but I was scattered and distracted.  I don’t know how much time elapsed before I noticed they were missing.


Elizabeth!!!!” I yelled out.  No answer.  ELIZABETH!! Where are you???!!” I yelled out.  Nothing. I started to panic. What if I had lost the new neighbor boy?


I couldn’t see them out the back windows, so I went out the front door, unknowingly leaving it ajar.  As I turned the corner to the back yard, I spotted them.  Elizabeth had the garden hose running in the 30 degree March air.  She was squirting the icy water on Mason’s bare feet and up his pant legs.  She was trying to wash the three-inches of mud caked up to the thighs of his pants. He just stood there shivering in the foggy vapor, one little bare foot in a pile of snow.  Elizabeth had thick, dark mud up to her thighs and was barefoot as well.


I completely snapped.


ELIZABETH, What the ?????  Get inside, NOW!!!” I hissed. Mason jumped, wide-eyed and confused.  I scooped him up (gently) by the armpits, took him inside, stripped off his jeans and told him evenly to “go play, Elizabeth will be with you in a minute”. He scurried off in his Scooby Do underwear.


 I grabbed Elizabeth by the arm, yanked her inside and wrestled her long, heavy eight-year old body onto the kitchen counter.  I was incensed and out of control. She started sniveling.


“DAMMIT!!!”  I yelled as I put her muddy feet in the sink, “Do you see why I DID NOT WANT MASON OVER HERE??!!, I seethed uncontrollably.  “I told you I did NOT WANT TO BABYSIT MASON right now!!  We should NOT HAVE INVITED HIM.  I have too much to do!!  This is UNACCEPT—-“


“Hello?” I hear behind me.  Shit.


I turned around and there she was, in my kitchen.  Obviously, I hadn’t heard her knock. But there was no way she did not hear me. Her little boy was all alone in the living room in his Scooby undies, probably climbing up an un-bolted bookshelf or something.


“Oh, hiiiii.” I said.  Shit. Shit. Shit.  “Um, just having a bad mommy moment” I stuttered. “I, um, was trying to —“


“Oh that’s okay”, she cut me off swiftly and gently without looking me in the eye.  “Come on, Mason, let’s go home now!” She sang out.  She swooped up her half-naked son and in one single movement, gathered his muddy pants and wet shoes and said, “Thank you, again, for having him.” She smiled quickly and before I could say more, she ran out the door with Mason balanced on her hip, his bare feet flopping as she sprinted across the street.


Yeah, my mother’s intuition tells me a pie would have been a better call.



Postscript: Happy Mother’s Day to my Mom – who laughs with me about so many things – especially the crazy moments of motherhood.  Could it be that she’s had a few as well? 

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My daughter Caroline recently informed us she was adopted.  Apparently she used to live with her “First Family” until they were “killed and eaten by a deer”.  Now, she’s announced, she “has to live with us”.  I think she’s mostly okay with this fate, although occasionally we’ll be going somewhere and she’ll comment nostalgically “Yeah, I used to go there with my First Family.” It seems she and the First Family had a heck of a time together. 


 Poor Caroline. Those nasty, killer, family-eating deer — I guess I’ll have to spend the rest of my life trying to make it up to her.

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See Stick Run.

My daughter, Caroline, has a new pet stick. Denied any real pets in our house, she now takes inanimate objects under her wing. This week, it’s a big stick. Her benevolence is adorable as she cuddles her orphan stick broken off cruelly from the mother tree and left alone in the grass. And it is cold out, it’s so sad, the poor little….oh yeah, STICK.

She brought it in the house the other day –this chubby, gray stick that’s smooth on one end and flaking dead bark on the other. She’s been talking to it, carrying it around. Somehow, it always seems to end up in the kitchen when I’m racing to clean up and start dinner. And like with everything at that time of day, I have no patience. I grab it and throw it far out the back door. It doesn’t take very long before Caroline notices.


“Um, I don’t know. I think it went outside” I try sweetly.

“MMMMOOOOOMMMM!!! Quit throwing my stick outside!!!!

She stomps outside to retrieve it, totally disgusted with my cold heartedness. Now it’s back in the house, all cozy and warm, making little piles of dirty bark on my floor. I’m going to kill that little stick.

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