Tuesday, May 31, 2011


If the high-jinx from Thursday's trip weren't enough, we had the perfect topper coming home from a local restaurant on Friday night. As we cut across the train station parking lot on our way home, a carful of boys pulled up alongside and one called out: "There's the mom with her two retards."

I have no idea who these "people' were, but apparently, they knew us.

Hubby, on Long Island, called later that night to ask if I were joining him the next day. Distracted, thinking of a 3-hour drive, I said no.

I spent a nervous night, wandering from room to room, bed to couch and back again, fretting about my sons' futures, wondering if there was a place in this hostile world for any of us, finally falling into a fitful sleep that lasted perhaps a couple hours.

When I opened my eyes at dawn, I felt anxiety where I had previously felt nothing. I stilled myself, listened to the birds, and heard the voice telling me "You are going to Long Island."

I blinked. Gabriel wandered into my room, as if on cue, and curled up next to me. He was fully dressed. "Mom," he said. "So are we going?"

Apparently so, I thought. "Wake your brother, make sure he gets dressed," I replied. I threw on some clothes and put some edibles for the kids together, filled a couple water bottles, and told Nic as he descended, fully dressed but rubbing his eyes, "Find a book and get into the car. You too, G."

So that's how we headed northeast Saturday morning. I called hubby repeatedly and kept getting voicemail. Traffic was light. Miles clicked past quickly as the boys listened to Amelia Bedelia on the CD player and quizzed me about where we were headed, what we were doing, what would the day be like. I really didn't know what to expect, and I had no expectations other than to leave the bullies and name-callers home.

When we connected with hubby, he was pleased. "But you're crazy," he admonished. "On the other hand, I'm glad you're here, so I'm glad you're crazy." Nic rode the elevator at the hotel while I grabbed my first cup of coffee of the day from the cafe. Hubby packed up his car then joined us in the van to head to the party.

Hubby's old boss lives on the Long Island Sound, and to walk through the woods as the landscape gives way to dunes, and finally, cresting over the last hill reveals the beautiful expanse of inlet with the sound opening up to the right. I stood there, amazed and joyful at how the vista alone was worth the drive.

The boys went to work exploring. Nic rescued a horseshoe crab that was stuck on its back and spent the next half hour following it around the beach. G threw stones in the water. Our friends C and F joined us. Hubby came down to watch the boys so I could visit with his colleagues (he grumbled that his old lab missed me more than they missed him and were disappointed that I missed the dinner).

The food and conversation, and exploring on the beach, and later taking the boys over to the University and to some of our old stomping grounds, did so much to heal what was broken in the previous two days. The kids loved it, are clamoring to go back this summer, and are still talking about some of the people we met and things we did.

So this little bit of time out of mind was good for them, too.

Meanwhile, I have 13 days of this school year left to deal with plus a transition in front of me. And as always, I will do my best and pray that it is good enough....

Friday, May 27, 2011

5th Grade Trip in a Nutshell

Could have been worse, but I can't imagine it could have been better. It was a long, intense day--we had to be at school at 6 am, we got there, got down to B'more before 9 (the Science Center didn't open til 10), so Nic and I wandered off and did some elevatoring in the meantime. Came back, saw the IMAX movie, tooled around on our own
(with the same obnoxious boys yelling down 'Hi Nic!' and Nic like a trained puppy waving back.

After lunch, we gathered outside the aquarium, and the boys started up again. Nic came back, I told him they weren't his friends and to stay away from them. Did I know Nic was going to go over to them and tell them that? And that they would call me a liar? And that Nic would start screaming at me to stop harassing him, throw himself down on the ground and pull me down with him with the whole fifth grade, teachers and parents looking on?

Obviously, if I knew all that, it would have shaken out differently.

And the kicker is that those kids had the balls to keep doing it. Karma will be a bitch when it shows up.

On the upside, I knew that was the worst that could happen, and the rest of the day went fine.

But I was raw by the time we got home after 8 (Couldn't even rest on the ride home, had to make sure Nic didn't disturb anyone around us, and he literally could not contain himself).

The headache I have today? Probably connected to yesterday.

But Nic and I are still here.

Team C: 10 Bullies 0

(But I will make sure justice for yesterday is meted out--one way or another)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bucket Wisdom

G, my old soul, told me very gravely last night: "Mom, I am afraid that people keep dipping into Nicolas's bucket. Can we help make them stop?"

G had read a book in his first grade class about "the invisible bucket we all carry with us; those people who make us happy keep it filled; those people who make us sad dip into it." (He explained this to me between trips to our gardening bucket while we were weeding on Saturday). He then went on to assure me that I keep his bucket full.

But his concerns about Nic's bucket are valid. A coterie of kids at the aftercare have taken to picking a play (or 10) out of him lately. He's been watching it, and processing it, and I think he's not sure what to do about it.

So I spoke to both boys separately about it last night. Nic and I brainstormed possible responses, and I talked to G about some things he can do to help.

And in the meantime, I continue to give Nic the support he needs to manage these situations on his own. His accomplishments and activities outside of school keep him going. Although he finished last in his event in areas, once again, he has proven that he more than makes up for in heart what he lacks in speed.

I love my kids. They are the most courageous people I know--bar none.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

(The Illusion of) Total Victory

A couple decades ago, I had a sleepover with a couple girlfriends. My boyfriend (now my hubby) was out of the country, so I was cramming in all the socializing that my full life of school, work, supporting myself and maintaining a long-distance relationship didn't allow me otherwise.

This particular evening, one friend had two decks of tarot cards, and we amused ourselves with readings. And she was flummoxed by the fact that no matter what my question was, the card for 'total victory' kept surfacing.

"Let's try this out on the Egyptian deck," she said. From my limited understanding, I got that it was harder to get a favorable reading from that deck. Yet somehow, the 'total victory' equivalent kept surfacing.

"Tarot loves you," she muttered as she finally put the cards away.

I never chalked it up to Tarot loving me so much as what I call my network--all the loved ones I have lost in my lifetime, some of them way too young and lost to this world too soon. And I often wonder how many times over the course of a given day, month, or year, they put some one in my path who will help me, or my boys--because we, the four of us, seem to have an abundance of good fortune when it comes to meeting good, good-hearted people.

Take Nic's track coach. Only this man could figure out a way to get the slowest kid in Region 10 to the Area Championship with the rest of his team. Last Sunday, Nic ran his first 800, only to have the heavens open up and pour rain on his last 300 m. Nic not only finished the race, he finished a full minute and 19 seconds ahead of his coach's expectations, won a medal, and advanced in that event.

It goes without saying that Nic is a full minute and change behind the rest of his contenders this Sunday. But he's still in the program.

Moreover, he joins the rest of his team at this championship.

I am just happy that he gets a full week more out of this rewarding season. And working on trying to get these successes realized on the track to translate to the rest of his life. He still battles courageously with his frustration, and hopefully the steps I am taking to help ameliorate that will help him as he transitions to middle school. (Disorientation, which happened the other night, will get its own post when I finish digesting it all. On paper, it sounds fine; throw in the Nic factor, and surprises abound. And some surprises are simply unacceptable.)

I feel sometimes like I am building something from bricks and mortar, and the last few days have had the satisfying feel of completing something. I am not sure whether it is a foundation, or a wall, or a bridge, but I feel it will be revealed to me soon enough whether I finished something, or am finishing a stage of something. But nonetheless, I am aware of the clock ticking, and that I have a ways to go before I sleep.....

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Funerals bring their own baggage. Yesterday’s challenged me to dump mine out in plain view and re-examine three separate life events—which included yesterday’s.

ME was loved in much the same way H was loved. I am grateful to have known her, but selfishly, I felt more grateful that I wasn’t closer to her. One H-magnitude loss in my life is enough; I’m not sure I could bear another. The fact that the prognosis and progression of their respective diseases was almost identical heightened my feeling of loss— not MY loss, but the loss felt by her family. I know—firsthand—what that feels like. Knowledge can be treacherous.

As her family gathered around the casket to say goodbye, my own unfinished business blindsides me. Even the youngest said goodbye. I didn’t get that opportunity with my own father. So shielded was I from his last illness that I don’t have a definite memory of when the last time I saw him was. I have six memories or so that *might* have been the 'last time,' but I have no way of knowing which memory it is.

And H didn’t have a funeral. Sometimes, I catch myself thinking I need to call her and tell her about something. Then I remember.

Fr M, my own family present, hurried by, hugged us hello, exchanged a few words and hurried on. “What do you say? Can you say?” he asked. “I’ll leave it to God.”

He did. And he did as well as he could be expected to do. No unctuous platitudes—just a gentle urging to comfort one another the best we know how and in the ways we best can.

He did his job well.

Her hubby performed the single greatest and most courageous act I have ever witnessed; he gave exactly the eulogy his wife would have wanted. I appreciate how difficult much of what he said was for him—not just out loud, but to a church full of people. But he did it because that’s how she would have wanted it. Because he loves her that much. Brave heart. Brave soul.

Going forward, offering comfort where and when and how we can. This hard new normal will soften over time, as it does, as it has always done.

Godspeed, Me. You've done well.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Hourglass

“Beyond a certain age, a journey across the city becomes uncomfortably reflective. The addresses of the dead pile up….One day, I, too, will prompt a moment’s reflection in the passenger of a passing cab.”
Ian McEwan, in Atonement

Suddenly urgent business fills my day, although nothing has subjectively changed in the material facts and appearance of my life. My dear friend H looms large in my thoughts, and it’s no accident. Imminent loss weighs heavily on my mind and heart, and while it won’t affect me and mine directly, I’m reminded—again--how easily that could change. We live our lives, dream our dreams, and make our plans, seemingly oblivious of the knowledge that it takes so little to tear it all asunder.

I’ve been busy with errands and paperwork, casting a wary eye around, making lists, checking things off, creating new lists, spending time with my boys, eying my little one jealously, perhaps fearing the worst—but carefully leaving the naming of those fears to one side. It’s possible to know too much—fear paralyzes.

A snatch of memory haunts me: my parents’ living room full of adults, seated in a circle pray the rosary. I am not quite 7. I run from one to another, asking what they are doing (I didn’t know what it was at the time outside of a seemingly endless stream of Hail Marys), not getting an answer, and finally an older adult thrust a toy set of beads into my hands and pleaded for me to be quiet or pray.

Rosary or not, dad died about 3 months later. All prayers are answered, but you don’t always get the answer you want. Pray for peace for the dying and the living, because both need it in equal measure.

As much as possible, I want everything settled, in the event I don’t live into my 90s as the women in my family are wont to do. I realize I won’t have everything prepared, but I will do my best to have it all laid out.

I think of how much we squander in a day—how much time and energy in trivia and inanity, how much energy is channeled into holding grudges, getting even, worrying about things that, ultimately, don’t matter. Do we do these things in an effort to forfeit mortality?

If so, I can’t think of a bigger waste of everything that matters.

I am reminded—constantly—that every day, every moment, is a gift.

What will you do with your gift today?