Monday, June 13, 2016

Life's Message

Recently I attend the funeral of a young man who was laid to rest at just 22 years of age.  As a parent of a son not much older, I couldn’t begin to imagine the horrible pain and suffering of his family as they deal with his loss and what will become their new “normal.”

During the ceremony the minister who had been with the young man and his family at the end said; “Every life leaves a message.”  Out of all the beautiful words spoken by the minister, family and friends who loved this young man, that statement stuck with me most.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve been thinking a lot about who I am, and where I am.
Every life leaves a message.

While I’ve been contemplating the next chapter in my life and what I want to do, I’ve thought a great deal about my mother.  Not because she was a big influence on my life, or a self-sacrificing person I want to emulate.  Far from it.  In fact, I never knew her.  Certainly not in the sense a child knows a parent, and she never crosses my mind unless someone else mentions her.

I was 5 years old when my mother passed away, and I have no memory of her.  I can play a few snippets in my head of a childhood memory knowing she was in the “scene,” but I never see her, and never hear what could have been her voice.  The only thing I vividly remember is the red roses at her funeral and my grandfather crying.  To this day I hate red roses.

Having no memory or feelings for my mother used to bother me.  Shouldn’t there be something?  In my early 20's I had a conversation with a psychologist about it who said; “perhaps the only memories you have are not pleasant, so you’ve buried them.”  I shrugged his statement off, chalking it up instead to there were so many kids in the family she just didn’t have much time for one-on-one contact. 

As I’ve grown older and really listened to people talk about her, I began to think the phycologist may have been right.  Never once have I heard a kind word about my mother.  Not from her family, her best friend, former neighbors, or my older siblings.  Everyone has a horrific story/memory.  The worst by far was from the woman who had been my mother’s best friend, and apparently her drinking buddy, who looked my sister in the eye during a wedding reception and said; “I loved your Mom, but if she had lived she would have eventually killed you.”   Such a lovely, and surprising sentiment to share.  Can I get you another beer?

Her statement brought up a lot of questions and concerns for me as to who knew what, and why they never did anything.  I'll leave that for another post. 

Clearly my mother had issues.  Everyone has a backstory and hers must have been a doozey.  

Putting her issues aside, what's really sad is that my mother was 42 years old when she died, and in 42 years of living not one person found a redeeming quality in her.  If they did, it's yet to be voiced.  Was her life’s message she was not a very nice person?   I’ll never know the truth because most the players have died, and those who remember her were little kids with little kids memories.

“Every life has a message.”  What will mine be? 


Friday, February 19, 2016

Harper Lee

When I was a kid, I was shy – miserably shy. 

I would spend hours in my room reading and playing board games or cards with my sister.  If I went somewhere with my dad I always stood behind him and let him do the talking.  Even if the questions were addressed to me.

The beginning of each school year was horrible. It meant being with people I didn’t know.  I literally made myself sick worrying about going. 

Unfortunately the shyness followed me well into my teens. Really, well beyond my teens. 

In 11th grade while I was agonizing over starting school my father said; “at some point you’re going to have to learn to talk for yourself.”  Unfortunately, that didn’t come for many years, especially with any confidence.

While I didn’t learn to talk for myself, I did learn to “adopt” the confident personas of characters in the books I read to help me through difficult social interactions.  One of my favorites was Scout Finch.  We were both tomboys and had pixie haircuts. (Although I doubt hers was done by a drunk aunt who had a hard time with the bangs, resulting in almost no bangs)  Scout was able to talk to anyone.  She was adventurous.  And she had a dad I could relate to.  Atticus Finch and my father looked nothing alike, but both were smart, strong and spent countless hours talking to their kids on any subject.

To Kill a Mockingbird was the first book to thoroughly engage me.  In it I lived the adventures of Scout and Jem, wondered if I had a Bo Radley living in my neighborhood, and like Scout, I didn’t see people by color. I’ve lost count how many times over these many years I read it, or watched the movie.  So no surprise I was excited when it was announced “Go Set a Watchman” was to be published.  I couldn’t wait to read it!

Then just as quickly, I was sorry I ever picked it up.  How could Harper Lee kill Jem?  How could she have Scout leave her hometown?  How could she make the strong and righteous Atticus Finch a racist?  What happened to the family I knew?  What was Harper Lee thinking?

And now Harper Lee is gone.  They’ll be no third book to make everything right again. 

RIP Miss Lee.  Thank you for enriching my life and letting my imagination soar.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Crazy Dog Lady

A couple of months ago I decided to get a 2nd dog.  People kept telling me how great it is to have two dogs with reasoning such as;
  • Murphy, (my 5 year-old Labradoodle), would always have company and wouldn’t be lonely while you were at work
  • A second dog is so much easier to train because the older dog shows them the ropes
  • The dogs become inseparable

None of these have been true.

In fact, when I brought the 5 month-old Aussiedoodle home, (who we named Ozzy), after rescuing him from a puppy mill, Murphy was not pleased.  He ignored Ozzy for the first couple of weeks thinking he was an annoying little houseguest who soon would be leaving.

Hoping he could get me to hurry Ozzy's departure along, whenever Ozzy did something bad like chew a table leg or poop on the floor after just coming in from outside, Murphy would look at me with the expression of: “you realize you brought home a stupid dog don’t ya?”

As time passed Murphy realized Ozzy was here to stay.  Slowly he began to tolerate him, until the annoying siblings we formed.

Siblings?  Yes, they are like two little kids who either are happy to be in each other’s company, or they annoy the hell out of each other.   And I in turn, I have become the crazy dog lady who thinks of them as her kids. 

Oh not the kind of kids you give birth to and try to figure out which parent they look like.  Or wonder where they’ll go to college and end up in life.  But the kind of kids who periodically have to be separated to stop them from annoying each other and pissing me off.

A good example is the other day I was taking them to Doggie Day Care – (yes I play to take my dogs to daycare so they can socialize and play with other dogs) – and Murphy and Ozzy were in the back seat playing the doggie version of “Will You Stop Touching Me.”  One always wanted where the other was standing. Then they’d spot another dog outside the car and go crazy barking.  Two miles into this joyful ride I found myself screaming; “Do you want me to pull this car over.”   Right then and there it was confirmed, I am the crazy dog lady.

I baby them – equally – by them special treats and talk to them like they understand what I’m saying.  Sometimes I catch expressions on their faces that I’m just sure means they’re thinking; “look how stupid we can make her.”

And then there are times like right now where were all quietly sitting on the deck listening to the evening sounds…..until they hear a tree branch creak from a squirrel and they start barking like crazy.

I love my kids.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

It Never Really Leaves You

A meeting I had scheduled this afternoon would be like any other meeting about possible collaboration, only this one was taking place in the Women’s Center of Fairfax Hospital.  I didn’t think much about the location, or where I was headed, until I got off the elevator at the 5th floor and found myself staring at the sign “NICU.”

As I stood in the hospitals NICU unit I was immediately overwhelmed with emotions thinking about how my son Jake had spent the first three months of his life there back in 1990.  Quite honestly, I was surprised by the feelings standing in those halls had stirred in me.  Ironically, the unit is not even the same one we were in, but new building.  However, the stories on the faces of the parents and grandparents were the same.

Sometimes I can tell the story quite easily, and other times I can barely get through it without choking up. The pain of that experience never really leaves you.  

In a rush to get into the world, our son Jake was born on June 8, 1990 weighing in at a whopping 2lbs 16ozs.  I was only 27 weeks along.  He had a host of medical issues, the most serious was his lungs were not fully developed, but he was a fighter.

Jake battled for a month.  A month had gone by and we still have not been allowed to hold him.  We could only put I hand into the incubator and let him wrap his tiny hand around one of our fingers.

On July 2nd we got a call no parent with a child in the NICU wants to receive – the head of the NICU wanted to meet with us the next day.  It was important.

His dad and I meet the next day with a doctor who we had never spoken with – or seen – and was matter-of-factly told the respirator Jake was still on was beating the hell out of his lungs.  He could not survive much longer and we had two options, turn off the respirator and let him go, or try an experimental drug to develop his lungs.  And oh by the way, if the drug doesn’t work within the first 12 to 24 hours, it would not work at all, and we would be faced with turning off the respirator.  Stunned and shaken we asked; “does anyone really chose to turn off the respirator?”  The answer was yes.  Ours was no – we were going for the drug.

I’ll insert here that adding to this heartache was just a short year earlier our first son David was a stillbirth.  No birth certificate, just a death certificate and funeral home arrangements.  Could this really be happening again?

After our meeting we spent time with Jake, then off I went home and his dad proceeded to the US Capitol where he was committed for the next 24 hours for a 4th of July production.

The next day I made my daily trip to the hospital.  It had been over 12 hours since the injection had been given and I was terrified to go in.  As I arrived in the NICU I peered through the window feeling such impending doom but instead received the greatest gift of my life.  Jake was no longer on the respirator, but had a C-pap – the drug had worked!

The story and heartache doesn’t end there, but even through multiple surgeries, illness and a weak immune system the worse was behind us, and Jake.   Today we have a beautiful, healthy 25 year-old young man who has brought us immense happiness.

So today standing in that unit, looking at those faces my heart ached knowing what they were going through – and what they would continue to go through until they no longer waited for the other shoe to drop.

Friday, June 5, 2015


Since Caitlyn Jenner’s photos for the upcoming issue of Vanity Affair spread through the media like wild fire, there have been a lot of folks questioning her bravery.  Some comparing her “coming out” to the picture of a solider carrying another solider through the mud, while still fighting off the enemy.  When it was announced she would receive an ESPY award, it became worse.  

Tonight when I logged onto Facebook the first 3 of 5 posts were challenging her bravery.  And I wondered; who are we to question anyone’s bravery?  After all, there are many forms of bravery.

True, it’s the solider in combat defending the liberties we all take for granted from time to time.  Where would our country, and the world, be without them?

But bravery is also the child dealing with a serious illness, and even though their body looks like a pincushion and is racked with pain, they endure another round of treatment.  Often with a smile for those who love and care for them, because they don’t want to add to their parents pain.  

It’s the parents who cry in the bathroom, or cry themselves to sleep each night because they’re watching their child bear the unbearable.  Or worse yet, they’ve lost a child and can barely find the air to breathe.

It’s the person suffering from mental illness who finds the strength to go on another day, hoping tomorrow will be better.  That the new “cocktail” they’re on to to help really does help.

It’s the abused spouse who finally has enough and leaves.  Often times with nothing more then the clothes on their back.

It’s the single parent struggling to make ends meet.  Tired and wondering how they’re going to pay the rent, or buy food.  But still finds the energy to help their kids with their homework, play in the front yard after a long day at work, and snuggles them and says it will get better when they have no idea how that’s going to happen.

Bravery is the kid learning to ride a bike, walking across the dance floor to ask a girl to dance, or speaking in front of an auditorium full of strangers when shyness tells you to run and hide.

And bravery is Caitlyn Jenner embracing who she really is and sharing herself with the world hoping to help other transgender individuals along the way.

Bravery comes in many, many forms.  Who are we to say which is the hardest?