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Life Topics

A Million Tomorrows

elementaryschoolYou’re alive in a body full of
baggage and wiring.  Turn away from any voices that whisper lies.

Protect the hope in your pocket.
Warn those who reach for it. Don’t let dissapointments throw you to the muddy ground.

Slowly reveal your scars.
Pick at them carefully, without letting
them bleed.  You’re a grown up for God’s sakes.  Never give up the child inside, or you’ll be lost forever.

Be obnoxiously curious.  Find the answers built on an endless list of ignorant questions. Don’t be afraid to ask.

Build your life on what could be.
Your dreams can fill a million tomorrows.

Life Topics

Your Gentle Muse

Hands covered in paint,
blotted fingers with peeling,
chipped nails.  There is a story
to tell, maybe a secret
to learn.

The brush can lead you too
soon to the final chapter.
Pace yourself, stroke lightly.
Study what you reveal, and
leave nothing unsaid.

Go back and tell them again.
Darken the line, the paint will speak
for you if you let it.   I am bold, I am sad,
I am beautiful.

Expose the things you hide, things
you’re too afraid to say out loud.
Let the canvas be a soulful messenger
holding dear the paint that is
your gentle muse.

Life Topics

Red October

After more than 20 hours of extreme physical pain I was beyond exhausted.  I pleaded for release, an escape.  But they continued to barked orders at me. “I don’t want to do this” I repeated in defiance.  My heart felt like it was going to explode in my chest.  I was a prisoner.  It was now well beyond my control. I was fighting with every ounce of strength that I had.  None of the people in the room would listen to me.  They just kept saying to me, through low voices, that I was fine.

First, I heard an agonizing scream.  Was it coming from me?  I was confused and couldn’t tell at first.  In and out of a groggy haze, in a dimly lit room, I could see figures coming and going.  They didn’t seem concerned about my discomfort.  I realized the guttural scream was coming from deep inside me.  I was hot and uncomfortable, cursing them with each breath.  My hair was plastered down with sweat, and I was feeling nauseous.  I prayed to God for it to be over.  “Please take me now.”

They moved me to another room.  It was cold and brightly lit with hanging lamps.  I looked up and squinted because of the glare.  Again, I pleaded and cursed.   Instead of helping me, I was just told to keep going.  I wanted to go, get as far away as I could. In the transition between wake and unconsciousness, I silently begged for help.  They just turned to each other and quietly chattered amongst themselves.  I tried to hear their words to understand what was going on but couldn’t.   And then, the knife came out.

In a remarkable moment, the room fell silent.  I could feel a chill calm in the air.  Was this the end?  My breathing had slowed, and the pain was starting to subside.  I wasn’t screaming anymore.   They must have injected me with something to numb my body.  All I could hear was the din of rhythmic machines in the room. I looked up, and he was standing over me.  I noticed he had kind eyes right before I turned my head in total defeat.  It was over.

I heard a short high pitch cry. I felt my soul leave my body, floating above my captors.  I was shivering uncontrollably, as warmed blankets were lowered onto my body.  I glimpsed at the clock on the wall, it said 10:42 on this chilly autumn day.  A moment later I was gently handed my first-born child.  The nurse had quickly cleaned him up to make a fitting introduction.  As he was lowered into my arms, I saw his feet.  The first thing I noticed was that he had my ugly toes.  Why didn’t I pass on something charming and attractive?  Nonetheless, I cradled him, and softly caressed his head, his shoulders, his back and whispered, “I love you, you’re perfect.”   Through my exhaustion, I was completely relieved and happy.  I felt like I had waited forever to meet him.

The agony of a 24-hour labor was beyond worth it, as this was a well-deserved reward and an epic moment in my life.  It’s a blessing that the ordeal is soon forgotten when you first lay eyes on your child.  I realized since becoming a mother, twice, that birth was the least of my concern as a parent.  There would be a lifetime of worry to come.  With time and love I learned that they are my purpose in life – to raise my sons to be good, strong and decent men.

As far as the toes, it really doesn’t bother him. That long ugly second toe that reaches beyond the big toe isn’t the worst thing in the world.  He came to me healthy, which is all I prayed for.  Merely a superficial anomaly, an awkward physical trait.  He did, however, also inherit my humor, my nose, and my walk.  I’m not going to go as far as to say he’s my favorite, but I do gravitate to our similar dispositions.  He has been strong, independent and stubborn since the day he was born.

I survived both births and promised myself to never wear open toe shoes again.

Life Topics

Second Chance

How early is too early to arrive at the airport; two hours, three hours?  If you are taking an early morning flight and like to get there when they are washing or fueling the plane – you are there too early.  If arriving before dawn, which I did tonight, chances are the place will be a ghost town with few gates open.  Getting through security is a breeze but getting a cup of coffee is damn near impossible.  Trudging through the dim gray lifeless terminal, I stop several times to put my large pink tote bag and luggage straps back onto my shoulder; a groggy balancing act.  I knew I should have brought my suitcase with wheels. A few people are ahead of me making their way to a glowing area, the place where the journey starts or maybe ends.

I wait at the gate, people watching and typing on my computer.  Across from me sits a pair of new parents with a blue stroller in front of the dad, and a lot of gear littering their space.  The mom sitting a few seats away from the dad eating a yogurt, probably exhausted.  It’s 3:30 in the morning.  A large red bag that resembles a hockey duffle sits between them on the uncomfortable plastic airport seats, no doubt filled with baby stuff.  Mom was tall and thin with shoulder length brown hair, which looked like she wore it up a lot, maybe just took it out of a ponytail.  Wearing black sweatpants and a zipped-up fleece jacket, she sat staring into space.  The dad is obviously on duty, looking into the stroller intermittently.  He is shorter than the mom, a little hefty with sandy blonde hair, with day old stubble wearing a layered winter coat.  It was a cold March night in Boston.

I could see little arms and legs flailing inside the buggy but couldn’t see a formed human.  There were fussing noises coming from inside, as he reached in to relieve distress.  He pulled out an alert and adorable 8-month-old baby girl.  She wore a blue dress, cream tights, and a ribbon in her peach fuzz hair.  The dad held her on one knee which made her shriek with delight.  I can’t help but drift back in time to when my sweet angels were an armful.  I’ve been there, juggling a bag of toys, diapers and Cheerios, my travel buddies for years.  Then slowly over time, one by one, you would lose the rattles, then the diapers and finally the Cheerios, substituted with soft granola bars suitable for their new teeth.

I don’t know if it is because I’m so tired that I can’t stop looking at them.  I didn’t sleep before leaving at 2am for my flight, running on anxiety and anticipation.  Am I having a nostalgic breakdown here at the airport?  My mind continues to wander.

My daydreams happen everywhere, coffee shops, libraries, restaurants, anywhere.  I look at new parents like I’m an infertile woman, longing for a child.  This makes no sense, as I am a middle-aged mother of two grown children.  I was blessed with two sons and feel so lucky to be their mom.  I’ve enjoyed them and have paid my dues; those days are over.  I really don’t want another child.  So, why do I do this?  I think I miss having a little one. Their arms and legs full of rolls and puffy cheeks, kissing exposed knees and rolled necks.  Maybe I’m trying to vicariously re-live those precious days. I want to once again feel that velvety baby skin against my face.  Inhale the unbelievably clean fragrant smell of the top of their head.  I want to be a grandmother.

The dad reaches into the large bag and pulls out a small plastic container of yogurt.  Putting it down beside him, he balances her on his knee and opens the treat to start feeding her.  Her eyes are wide and bright with wild anticipation of a creamy sweet mouthful.  She starts with a shake of excitement for what is coming.  A little shriek of euphoria follows as her eyes are transfixed on the spoon.  Her blue eyes bulge, the arms shake like a baby bird, and the legs stiffen, ready for the first installment.  I laugh a little at how cute and funny she is.  The mom catches my voyeur eyes and sees how amused I am.  We smile at each other.  She is so proud of her child.

About eight years ago I started to think a lot about having grandchildren.  It happened as the realization that my fertile years were over.  My friends were becoming grandparents and were transformed into a higher being.  All the fun with little responsibility; no babysitters, parent-teacher conferences, or doctor appointments.  I thought a lot about my sons having kids and being there to help them.  To me, it would be like having a second chance, enjoying the child of my child.  Watching them create a family and care for them as I did them.  However, my sons do not plan to have children, and I’m proud of them for making such an important decision.  If it’s not right for them, then I totally respect that.  Their happiness means more to me than anything.

There is a loud announcement that my plane is boarding.   I looked up from the computer, and the new parents are gone.  They slipped away without me noticing.  Just like my mothering years slipped away.  I hope they enjoy every step of the journey with their baby.  I gather my heavy bags and decide that this is my second chance.  I will live life to the fullest knowing my kids are safe and happy.  I can travel anywhere I want, whenever I want.   There’s great satisfaction knowing that I did everything I could to provide a happy childhood for them.  I believe being a good mom is the ultimate reward.  No more dreaming about things that aren’t meant to be.

I may never become a grandmother but I gave my mom two beautiful grandsons.

Life Topics

A Fabulous Retirement

I dream about retirement these days like a dog dreams about a bone.  That blessed and well-deserved day when I get to call it quits.  I imagine the leadup to “o-dark-thirty” may be stressful trying to wrap everything up for the next sap, I mean person, who takes over my job.  My boss will say, “Jo, make sure he/she is well trained…and will you be available if we have any questions?”  I’ll be like, “absolutely, and I will be around if you need anything”.  Right.  Of course, I would never leave anyone high and dry, but already my priorities have changed.  Sometimes learning OTJ is the best way.  I’d be doing them a favor if I was unavailable.  Baptism by fire and all that.  When I’ve finally fulfilled my parting duties, there’ll be no more looking at the clock, no meetings, no deadlines, no projects, no managing people and no boss.  A blissful life full of nos.  But even more so, a presence full of yes’, for anything I want to do if it’s within my newly fixed income.

I’m not what you would call a “planner.” So I may be in a bit of a financial crunch when I stop taking in my lucrative Public Access pay.  I could learn to live meagerly if I had to.  Coupons and day-old bread could be adopted into my routine.  On the bright side though, I’ll be rich with time and an overactive imagination.  Think of the possibilities!   Lunch with friends, reading novels, showering daily, writing stories, walking the dog, sitting in the sun, doing light chores, getting a haircut, maybe do artwork, plan get togethers and floss my teeth.  And, if I get even the slightest bit bored, especially with the personal hygiene, I can get a little part-time job for some pocket change and mental rescue.  As long as the job’s hours are short and flexible with an obscenely high pay rate.  I most definitely plan to live a dilettante life.

Who do I want to be when I’m done being a grown up; fabulous, absolutely fabulous.  My life of leisure will be outrageously delicious.  I will amusingly pretend to forget what day it is saying, “is it a weekday, or weekend day?” I’ll laugh as I say this, feeling clever and witty; feigning confusion.  I’ll be old enough to be excused for being obnoxious.  The only people who would take offense would be those who begrudgingly must work the next day.  Pontoon boat rides in the summer will be a daily activity, staying out late, as there are no more “school nights” to worry about.  Young people may seek my worldly, yet practicle, advice on everything from boiling an egg to changing their motor oil.  I’ll arrogantly think I have it all together, or maybe just bluff, like only a seasoned retiree can do.

I’ll have to wait a while to become that eccentric, retired old lady.  There is still a whole decade before I start to live this fanciful existence.  In the meantime, I’ll practice saying “get off my lawn!” and “God love ya’”.  There’s time enough now to start my retirement hobbies on the weekends to prepare the future.  As far as my job, I really like it and have little to nothing to complain about.  It has served me well.  My mid-life has had no crisis and is mostly unremarkable.  My fifties have been a training ground of fetching rocks and putting out fires, teaching me how to be a stronger woman. All these experiences have helped create a solid gateway to my next phase.  Afterall, a fabulous life must be built, it doesn’t magically happen one day.

Life Topics

Sunday Best

“How about 20 minutes?” I asked after he told me we had to leave in 15.  He quickly replied, “Sure, 20 minutes” without pause.  This was the easiest negotiation I’d ever been in.  I had successfully bought myself extra time to drink more coffee to get wired.  I could down a lot of coffee with 5 extra minutes.   It was Sunday morning before church, and I needed to get caffeinated up to stay awake for the sermon.  I had almost proven, on a few occasions, that I could do this.  However, most times I would hang my head pretending to pray and get in some needed rest, eventually ending with snoring.  He would nudge me out of my sleep before the priest finished, and the others noticed.  Then it was time to stand.  And with a big “Amen” I sprung up and was back in the game.  No one the wiser.

We were lapsed Catholics who finally found our way back to the church.  It wasn’t one thing that brought us back, it was a lot of little things.  We found a priest we liked, we talked a lot about religion and virtues, and unlike many people, had fond memories of growing up in the Catholic faith.  We weren’t heathens per se, just void of a spiritual life for a while – basically taking an extended vacation from God.  We finally concluded that something was missing.  So, with a little commitment and repentance we became part of a parish.  Living together and being divorced were two strikes against us, but we didn’t care. Rules are in the eyes of the beholder.   In our mind, God is good and will accept us as we are.  Scripture can’t stop us.

Today I stayed awake for the Gospel, occasionally lowering my head down but not falling asleep.  He was proud of me.  It was both the extra coffee and my deep faith that kept me listening.  I looked over at his face as he stood next to me in his church clothes.  Remember those uncomfortable church clothes?  I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt.  I don’t believe that God cares about what you wear.  The priest was in his finest robes but I would have listened to him if he was wearing a track suit (now I’m dating myself).  It’s not the clothes that make the man, even in church.

I had a cup of coffee when we got home, as he changed out of his Sunday best.   By now I was chipper and ready for the day.  I sat at my computer and started writing as I often do, while I thought about my faith.  I know it is true and good.  I believe we should all take care of each other, do unto others, and all that.  A faithful life is very simple and basic; not scary and overwhelming.  Show up, be compassionate, help others, be humble, always be generous, and above all (for me) drink coffee before church.

Life Topics

Anatomy of a Yard Sale

Writing about a yard sale isn’t exactly cutting edge.  If you’ve ever attempted to off-load dusty objects that you once couldn’t live without, or thought you somehow needed in the future – it can be an emotional circus of epic proportion.  I must have imagined, at one time, that owning 4 apple corers would enhance my life beyond expectation.  Or, if called upon for a favor, I could magically produce a kitchen gadget that would impress even Martha Stewart.  However, the experience left me staring at decades of  “inventory”, that read like a diary of  chaos and gluttony.

The parts of the yard sale can be greater than the sum.  Each activity involved mental angst over the memories that I infused into them, like the reeking odor of an overly perfumed woman.   “I remember the holiday we used those dishes….remember we made Christmas cookies with those cutters?….I used to read this book to Adam when he was little……”  I mumbled half-hearted regrets to myself as cars were loaded,  and kids skipped away with Colin’s favorite game.   I’m not saying that everything sold put me in a spin.  I just realized that there is a headset that you need to have to peddle your goods, and necessary advice – “Detach yourself from your junk, or DON’T HAVE A YARD SALE!”

So as the day wore on we watched the identity parade of bargain hunters ebb and flow.   We priced items and reduced prices during the lull, as we heard the intermittent downshift of cars pulling over; some sounding like a last-minute decision, others slowly and deliberately.  For the serious bargain hunter,  we were on the day’s yard sale itinerary.    Whatever their reason for stopping, I knew that the sound of car doors closing meant possible sales.

We met neighbors we’ve never met, and all walks of life.   People stop by to find items that were lost in a divorce, like air conditioners and cooking pots.  Some had no desire to browse,  as they inquired if we had things like WWII memorabilia, small tables, and antique tools.  No, no and no.  One woman examined a “like new” $4 iron, for at least 40 minutes.    “Does it leak?”  “Does it really shut off automatically?”  We offered to plug it in, as I explained that all irons leak a little until they’re warmed up and the water turns to steam.   She struggled with the decision, like she was buying a new car.  She parted with the money, asking one last time, “does it leak”.   I no sooner turned to scan my remaining items, and she had returned for a refund.  A case of overwhelming buyers remorse.  I imaging that the possibility of a  leaky iron was too much to take, no matter how much it cost.

Jamie made a decision, early on, that he was the one to price items.  This came about after I offered everything that wasn’t marked for $1.  He’d roll his eyes, or shake his head like a parent disappointed in a child.  I gladly put him in charge of the money, so I could concentrate on product placement and hosting responsibilities.  Some shoppers noticed his shrewd, but fair pricing, and my lack of market knowledge (“Miss $1”), and waited for him to go to the bathroom to negotiate with me.  We caught on to this and had a good laugh with a woman who came clean, admitting this strategy.  She was offered a discount, based on her initiative and honesty.

The best part of the day was when Jamie negotiated with a little girl over  a small orange beaded purse.  He would have given it away, but she was there to play.   She  held the bag in the palms of her hand, like it was an injured bird, allowing him to see its full value.   Her firm, but gentle grip, revealed that she was serious.  They talked about the price, as she would excuse herself to confer with her mother.  This went on for several minutes, until she came back to Jamie with the purse, and an old Sony Walkman.  If she was going to spend her birthday money, it was going to worth it.  He finally turned to me, and said, “how much for the purse and Walkman?”  Here was my chance.  “One Dollar!!!!!”

I didn’t mention why we had a yard sale.  Jamie and I have decided to live together after 15 years.   As I say to people, “we didn’t want to rush into anything.”  I think the timing is right.   Jamie’s lake house is small and comfortable, as long as clutter is kept under control.  So, I’ve come to terms with only keeping important things like my lucky Kentucky Derby hat and my Woody and Buzz Lightyear action  figures.  As far as those memory infused things, well,  Colin’s game may live to see another yard sale, if all the pieces remain.  Adam is grown as well, and will not be needing to read that beloved book.  It is etched in his heart, and on his tattooed arm (Ferdinand).  The book may end up at a library book sale anyway, or going off to college with a kid who loved it as much as Adam.

Now, where did I put my new apple corer?

Life Topics

Winter’s End on the Lake

The Lake in Winter (photo credit Eric Vickery)

The rough texture of the sun-soaked ice is deep shades of gray and white with small mounds of snow scattered, showing weeks of thawing, and freezing.  The lake’s surface transforms by the day as the Spring approaches.  Sometimes there is open water, then two days later its ice again, dashing my hopes of warmth.  Bright baby-blue skies with a few dabs of clouds and majestic pines lining the solid shore creates a collage of brilliance.  Long shadows and the bright glare bouncing off the lake can trick you into thinking it’s warm, as you gaze out the window.  But the wind!  Oh, the wind does not lie.  It howls like a hungry wolf, hunting for its next prey.   The trees shake angrily, and the one chair sits on the deck holding its ground until Spring.

It’s the coming end of Winter that brings promise.  However, late one night, the weather people excitedly announce a coming storm, as my eyes and the season begin to fade.  Tomorrow will be like a rebirth of a frigid December day.  A rerun of a Winter’s day when you hoped for snow for the holidays.  This time of year the alarm is futile, as the soft falling puffs are half melted before reaching the ground.   If the snow sticks to the few spots of uncovered grass and mud,  it will be short lived.  In two days it may be warm.  For now though, I’ll just imagine myself sitting by the fireplace, that we don’t have, thinking of Summer boat rides.  Maybe I’ll start to make plans with friends who have been in seasonal hiding, barricaded in their homes.  Because, if you dare have intentions in the dead of Winter, you’re an optimistic fool.  I’ve learned, as a New Englander, to have a respectful fear of a volatile Mother Nature. Hopefully she is starting to calm now.  Her last attack will be a roaring March storm with whipping winds to warn you she does not give up easily.

The beauty of Winter is undeniable.  The lake transforms, blanketing the water with solid rock of cold intentions.  It begs your eyes and mind to daydream. However, the dreadfully short days and long dark nights start to deplete my sanity.  But, soon all the birds will come back to sing their songs.  I will sit in the warm sun on the deck, in the lone deck chair that survived, staring at the twinkling ripples on the lake.  It always seems strange to me that people marvel when the nice days come, they’ve been here before.  The Spring always comes.  She usually appears out of nowhere, as I pray the latest storm will usher away the Winter for good.

Life Topics

Thoughts On Dad

Mom & Dad

“He fell again” she slid in between telling me she didn’t have my cousin’s email and something about work.  The phone broke up a little, so all I heard was Dad at first, then she said, “He fell again.”  This was happening a lot lately, and I just hung my head and audibly exhaled.  His health was failing.  A few weeks ago, he fell and broke his ribs and hit his head, followed by a hospital stay.  He shuffles from room to room with his walker, as we follow behind ready to catch him, like an unsteady toddler.  His breathing is labored probably from years of smoking, even though he gave it up decades ago.  When he’s not sleeping, he’s watching TV, where he usually falls asleep. He doesn’t read anymore.  Dad is almost 85 years old and is as weak as a newborn.  He has shrunk to half the person he used to be, and his mind I am afraid won’t be far behind.  If he can hear you, you might be able to have conversation.  Screaming sometimes helps.

I never imagined Dad getting old.  In my mind, he would always be forty.  The guy who coached and umpired little league baseball, ice skated, took us out fishing, or just for ice cream.  Even though he worked more than one job, he always made time for the six of us.   He never brought in a lot of money, but we were fed.  Boys reigned supreme in our house, but he made it to every dance recital.  I’m sure it bored him to death.  His humor was his strong suit and he loved to tell jokes.   He would have the occasional beer and lie down at the end of the workday.  He had tight knit friends, who were loyal and devoted to him.   You could say by the way he lived that he was a real man’s man.

Our house was always in chaos with games, sports and fighting.  A lot of fighting.  You never wanted to get in trouble or Mom would say, “wait until your father comes home.”  Dad had a quick and angry temper that there was no escaping.  The boys bore the brunt of it.  However, between jobs, I can remember him emptying diaper pails, and vacuuming.  Anything to help my exhausted mother.  I can still remember them kissing and laughing in the kitchen when he got home from work.  He would often bring her fresh picked flowers from a field he was driving by.  He treated her like a princess, modeling what a man, a father and a husband should be like.  The first man I ever said “I love you” to.

My sister is caregiver, daughter and confidant now.  Mom and Dad moved in with her 3 years ago to help her with work and the care of her special needs daughter.  In turn, she would assist them with anything they needed as they grew older.  It was a good situation at first.  Dad was capable, and would feed the dogs, do some yard work and errands.  He and Mom would go out around town or to the casino.  He loved to play long cribbage games with the family after dinner, telling jokes while trying to beat Mom.  Then he slowly started to do less yard work, less cards, and stopped driving after some confusion and minor accidents.  Then the falling started.

I always greet Dad with a big hug, my arms around his bony body where he sits in his chair.  I never know when the last time I’ll hug him will be.  He is always happy to see me and tries to pep up like there’s nothing wrong.  But everything is wrong.  He is being stolen from us, like a kidnapping in the middle of the night. I can’t bare the thought of losing him.  I can see how sad Mom is in quiet moments, when she’s not giving him his pills.  She is a master at pretending that everything is ok.  My sister, the nurse, has come to terms with his frail condition.  She has a healthy outlook on life and death but understands that time is fleeting.

I pray when the time comes that he has a peaceful crossing.  I will be by his side, like he has been for me for almost 60 years.  Until then, life will go on, falls will happen, jokes will be made, baseball games will be watched, and cards will be played.  There will be a lot of hugs, sadness will not rule me.  We take care of each other and will be there to care for Dad.  His humor and wit will never go away.  We will carry his generous, loving, lingering soul with us for the rest of our days.