Lemons to Lemonade

This past week someone commented on my ability to turn a negative into a positive.  I guess I haven’t thought about this for awhile, but in contemplating it after the conversation ended, I realized that it is a learned behavior that through time and practice has become hard wired.

I come from a long line of positive thinkers.  My mother, who was by no means saccharine, could add a teaspoon of sugar to any sour situation, making the medicine go down as well as Mary Poppins herself.  When disaster prevailed, her solution was to have a good cry, preferably wrapped in her arms and held close to her heart, followed by, “That’s enough now.  Dry your tears, buck up, and let’s get to work to fix this.”

My grandmother, Helen Dow, was a bit more stoic, but infinitely kind and gentle.  She had eyes that danced with laughter, and she approached life much like making cookies.  If you spill in too much salt, just increase the flour, sugar, butter and vanilla until you double the batch.  You’ll end up with twice the fun.

I adored these two women and learned much from their grace under pressure.  If plans fell to pieces, serendipity abounded.  It’s all in how you define success.  I guess I picked it up by osmosis, or at least by careful observance and modeling.  However, in thinking more carefully, there are steps to follow.  Here are 10 basic beliefs to get you started.  (And yes, there are more of food metaphors.)

  1.  Remember you have options.  If you are handed a bowl full of lemons, you can lemonslet them sit on the table, just as they are.  They won’t be anything but lemons.  They’ll look like lemons, smell like lemons, and taste like lemons as long as they are left untouched.  Or until they rot. Then, they’ll turn brown, smell awful, seep into the bowl, grow mold, and lose their shape.  You can enjoy- even relish fresh lemons, just as you can bask in the sadness of life’s disappointments.  But only for a season.  It’s up to you to determine how long that season is.  Just know that the longer the season, the less fresh the fruit.
  2. It’s okay to cry over spilled milk.  Positive thinking is not ignoring the reality of a tough situation, or pretending that we aren’t daunted by disaster.  When faced with sadness or disappointment, it’s important to recognize and validate those feelings.  After all, the elephant is never going to leave the room until you acknowledge him, name him, and even nurture him for awhile.   Have a good cry.  Emotional tears release endorphins. They release stress.  They clear your sinuses.  And a good cry makes you look as miserable as you feel, so you are no longer bound to hide behind a false smile.
  3. Share the wealth.  Admittedly, this is something that I preach much better than I practice.   I have a tendency to “forget” to mention if something is amiss in my life, so when life events- like my divorce, or a major surgery- arose, people were stunned.  I heard a lot of “Why-didn’t-you-tell me?” and “I-had-no-idea!”  Loved ones were actually hurt that I had not kept them in the loop.  So although I still prefer to silently shed my tears in the shower, I try to be a little more open about my personal challenges.  I’m not saying that we need to post every little issue on Facebook, but sharing disappointments, fears, and challenges with a trusted family member or friend can garner support, encouragement and a fresh perspective.
  4. Don’t give up.  I am a practical Yankee at heart, who believes in mending, gluing and repairing as much as possible before calling it quits.  When my children struggled to find a solution to a problem, their father often urged them to “Find another way.”  These were wise words.  Most torn relationships can be sewn back together.  They may bear the scars of the stitches, but given the correct attention, scars become badges of honor.  And some things just take perseverance. When I trained to be a smoking cessation coach, I learned that most people make several quit attempts before they succeed.  We learn a little every time we fail, so the next attempt may just be the winner.
  5. When all else fails, let it go.  One evening when I was around twelve years old, I new-year-broken-dishesbegan to set the table for dinner.  The plates were stacked on a shelf that was just above my shoulders, and in my attempt to juggle enough for our family of ten, the stack began to slip from my grasp.  One by one, the plates fell to the floor, smashing to ceramic shards, until there was one lone plate in my hand.  I turned to my horror-stricken mother.  Her eyes were wide and her mouth open, but no sound escaped.  I knew the next moments were not going to be pretty.  I looked at the lone plate in my arms and without a word, let it fall too.  Some things are not salvagable. When you meet the end of the road, call it quits and find another route.
  6. Look for the silver lining.  This may be the most important step, as it’s the key to turning a negative to a positive.  I’m not Pollyanna-ish, but really, some of the best things in life result from trials.   As a child, my daughter Elizabeth was often in the hospital.  I often wondered if all the tests, prodding,  IVs and blood draws would make her feel as if she lost part of her youth.  Now an adult, she assures me that her life was in many ways richer.  She met incredible doctors and nurses.  She learned a lot about her body.  And what touched me most is she says that the time she and I spent in hospital rooms together strengthened our relationship.  Even though she often felt sick and scared, she believed that she and I were an invincible team, and she never doubted that together we could overcome any obstacle.
  7. Separate needs from wants, and appreciate what you have.  When disaster strikes, assess the situation.  Are your loved ones still alive?  Are your relationships intact?  Remind yourself that “stuff” can be replaced, and evaluate whether it is something you really needed anyway.  Chances are, losing “things” will matter less to you once you categorize according to needs and wants.  And when the worst happens and you lose someone you love, bask in the memories of the time you did have.   Recall a conversation.  Tell the story of a particularly memorable occasion.  Let your mind wander back to a time when you were both happy, and allow yourself to bask in that sunlight for a bit.  Then, take a look at the people who are still with you.  These are your treasures.  Cherish today with them.
  8. Prepare by making every little moment as special as possible.  When my kids were growing up, we often did things together, but I also tried to spend one-on-one time with each of them every week.  My son tells me that his self esteem soared after taking a long walk on the beach together, or going out for pizza.  As parents we often think that the best times of our kids’ lives will be the trips to Disney or the huge birthday parties.  But now I know that the most precious moments were those laughing over silly illustrations in a book, or listening to a mix tape together.  It is these moments that build the armor to withstand the winds of disaster.
  9. The cookie will crumble, but know that this too shall pass.  No poor situation lasts for ever.  Sometimes you just have to get through it.
  10. Look up.  I would be a liar if I pretended that my faith has nothing to do with mysky-22116_960_720 ability to turn negatives to positives.  We don’t always understand why, and it’s not that trials won’t come.  But we are never alone.  And in the end, it all comes out in the wash.
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Missed Opportunity

“My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and there were bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away

And he was talking ‘fore I knew it and as he grew
He’d say, “I’m gonna be like you, dad
You know, I’m gonna be like you”

This past weekend, I accompanied my daughter on a shopping trip.  I usually avoid malls, but Elizabeth wanted to check out a specific store only found in a nearby mall, and happy to spend the day together, I agreed to brave the crowds.

We parked the car and headed through the door, dodging a couple who were texting rather than watching where they were walking.  We passed a cosmetic stand where a sales associate awkwardly tried to sweep the latest blush over the cheek of the client seated before her. The customer was loudly talking on her cell phone, completely unaware of how difficult she was making the task for the associate.  As we crossed the mall floor, I almost rear-ended the young man in front of me who had suddenly slowed his pace so he could redial.

Finally, we reached the store Elizabeth wanted to visit.  I browsed through the dresses with her, and when she went into the dressing room to try a few on, I plopped myself on one of two red wooden chairs to rest my aching back.

eliz tat 5.24.16It was not long before Elizabeth summoned me to her door to give my opinion on the dress she was trying.  As usual, she looked beautiful; tall and willowy, with huge gray eyes fringed with thick lashes.  The dress, silky and black, set off the tattoos I have come to embrace.  She is exquisite.  And unique.

I smiled.  “Lovely.  You look beautiful.  Do you like it?”

She nodded, relieved that I approved.

“Try the others, just for fun,” I urged.  A shopping trip is not worth the time and effort if you leave after only trying one item.

I turned to sit down again, when a family of four entered the dressing area.  Mom and the little girl closed themselves in a dressing room.  The little girl appeared to be about seven years old. She skipped as she hugged a green and white dress and excitedly shut the door behind her.  Dad and his son sat in the two chairs and each pulled a cell phone from his pocket.

“Rats! I should have taken my seat sooner. I missed my opportunity,” I thought.

The son looked to be in middle school.  He was handsome and well-dressed, and sported an ace bandage on his left wrist and arm, like the kind that results from a skateboard injury.  I thought of my own son, Gabriel at that age.  All arms and legs, he had reminded me of a colt waiting to burst into a full gallop.  He was in awe of the world, filled with questions and opinions.  He was always in motion; drumming to a song heard only in his head, tapping a toe, jiggling a heel, reaching to see if he could touch the ceiling.  Every moment with that child was an adventure, and although I adore the man he is now, I miss the boy he was.

The father and son never said a word to each other, each engrossed in his cell phone.  Soon the little girl emerged from her dressing room.  She twirled in the green and white dress as her mother said, “Show Daddy.”

She twirled again, obviously pleased with herself.  Dad glanced up from his cell phone and shrugged his shoulders.

“What do you think?” asked Mom.

Dad looked up and shrugged again.

“Raise your arms,” Mom instructed, and the little girl reached toward the ceiling, presumably to see how short the dress would rise.

Dad shrugged again, and went back to his cell phone.

“Okay,” said Mom, and the two went back into the dressing room.

At that moment, Elizabeth emerged, happy with her selection and we headed for the checkout area.  I was happy that she found a dress but I couldn’t forget with the missed opportunities I had just witnessed and they had nothing to do with a red chair or a sore back.

I’m sure those parents love their children.  Most do.  And the children are probably well cared for.  They looked healthy, well fed and clean.  They obviously have stuff.  New clothes.  Cell phones.

But they could have so much more.  It was the perfect time for Dad and son to bond over the boy’s injury or bemoan the trials of waiting outside the dressing room.  Or talk about how they would spend the rest of the day.  Or discuss a book, or a T.V. program, or how the Red Sox are having an abysmal season.

If only Dad had put down his cell phone, he would have seen that his little girl was searching for his opinion- his validation.  All children look to their parents for approval, and it’s so easy to satisfy this need.  All he had to do was tell her how pretty she looked in that dress, or that it didn’t do justice to her freckles and ponytail, or that the dress looked pretty because she was wearing it.  Just a few words.  A few crucial words.

john and judah 11.15.15I love technology and social media.  I check my Facebook wall several times a day, read my WordPress stats as soon as I post and take my cell phone with me whenever I leave the house.  But sometimes I feel as if our love for technology does more to isolate us than to bring us together.  Time with our loved ones is something we take so much for granted.  Every minute we have with each other is a chance to share a slice in time.  A chance to share opinions.  A chance to listen.  To watch.  To affirm.  To cherish.  Let’s not miss our opportunity.

“Well, I’ve long since retired and my son’s moved away
Called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, dad, if I could find the time”

“You see, my new job’s a hassle and the kid’s got the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”

And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me”

~Harry Chapin, “Cat’s in the Cradle”

Thanks for Caring

deckNew England has been hammered with heavy snow and frigid temperatures for the past several weeks. Boston has been practically shut down and even New Hampshire, where snowy winters and subzero temperatures are common, has been challenged by the relentless cold and drifting snow.

After the fourth blizzard in as many weekends, I woke Monday morning and checked the news for the  temperature.  It was five below zero with wind chills at least four times as cold.  After a hot shower and two cups of coffee, I layered a scarf under my coat, pulled on my boots and trudged through the snow to my car.   It reluctantly but thankfully started, and shivering all the while, I drove to work.  The parking lot at work looked like something from a science fiction movie, with twelve-foot snowbanks and snow-covered paths.   Trying to ignore the wind that bit at my face, I locked my car and hurried into the shelter of the building, where I bumped into the smiling face of one of my coworkers.

He is a favorite of almost every employee where I work.  He is in his early twenties, with spiky red hair and a perpetual grin.  He comes from Project Search, a program that places high school graduates with developmental challenges in the workplace.  He has been at my workplace for several years, and often stops at my office to chat. He tells me his favorite video games and the movies he’s watched over the weekend.  He asks my favorite football team and laughs at me when I admit to not knowing how a fantasy team works.  I know he usually walks to work and back, even though he lives a couple of miles away.

“Are you walking home today?” I asked, concerned about the subzero wind chill.

“Nope.”  My dad drove me here and he’s picking me up.”  He replied.

“Great.  Have a good day,” I smiled, and started for the elevator.

Right before the door closed, I heard his voice, “Thanks for caring.”

Thanks for caring.

I’ve thought about this all week.   How often do we say thanks for caring?  How often does someone say it to us?  And, is caring such an anomaly that it deserves special recognition?

It was by watching my mother that I learned that acts of caring are generally free, but their value is more precious than gold.  She was one of the most caring people I have ever met.  She checked in on the neighbors during storms.  She baked bread and mended clothes for people at work.  It was a rare dinner when there was not an extra place set for a visitor. And she was never too busy to offer coffee and sympathy to someone who was sad, or hurt or just needed an ear.  She always took time for a hug.  She never walked past a stranger without smiling a hello.  She stayed up late when her eyes were heavy with fatigue to finish sewing a costume or a dress that was needed the next morning.

When she became ill, Mom gave me a list of people to contact for her.  She asked me to write letters she was too weak to write by herself. They were letters of kindness that expressed her regret of a moment of carelessness, a word of encouragement, a gentle and final farewell.  And the night she passed away, she took a long look at me and said, “I’m worried about you.”

“Me?  Why?  I’m fine!” I replied, hiding the fear that the lump in my throat would choke the very life from me.

“You’re all alone,” she stated, her eyes filling with tears.  We didn’t speak of the real truth.  Where my siblings had their elderly-handsspouses, I was divorced.  Alone.  She knew she wouldn’t be there to comfort me, to guide me, to help me bear the sorrow in the days to come.

“I’m fine,” I lied.  “I have wonderful family and friends.  I’m never alone.”

Her gaze relaxed and she smiled.  Releasing her from her responsibility was the last gift I could give her.

You taught me well, Mom.  Thanks for caring.

Touchdown!

$(KGrHqN,!p8FIM6+Fs-3BSI7UbdNlQ~~60_1My father had a love/hate relationship with football.  He loved the game and talked about playing when he was in college, although I never knew if he was a member of the school team or if his career was limited to pickup games on the campus fields.  At any rate, he watched game after game on the television during fall and winter weekends.  The family only owned one television set, and my dad hogged, dictated, directed the programming.  Weekends were devoted to sports, and most often that meant football.

My dad sat in his easy chair and alternately cheered for and yelled at the quarterback.  When his team was down, he stomped from the living room to the kitchen, swearing off football forever, and then returned to his chair to watch the rest of the game.  He yelled if my mother’s sewing machine created static on the screen during a play.  He yelled if we kids walked between him and the set.  He yelled because his team was ahead.  He yelled because his team was behind.

Once, in an attempt to bond with him, I asked him to explain the game.  Thirty minute later, my eyes glazed over, I stumbled from the living room more confused than ever.  I was convinced that I would never understand the game and decided that I would spend my weekend afternoons doing something more interesting.

53-4294-coffee-1375134029To fully grasp this, you need to understand that I was brought up in a generation that valued women one notch below the family dog.  If you don’t believe this, take a look at the advertisements that were popular when I was in my formative years.  53-4312-blender-1375143694When I was a kid, girls were taught that they could grow up to be housewives (really? married to a house?) nurses, teachers or secretaries.  Always a bit of a rebel, I was the first girl to ever ask to take high school shop.  I thought the principal was going to have apoplexy, but after several meetings, permission was reluctantly granted.  Oh the times they were a-changing.

For the next few decades, I was content to avoid football games.  My son and his father often watched games on TV, but I busied myself with other activities.  When my kids were part of the high school band, I went to football games, but mostly concentrated on what the band was playing rather than how the team was doing.  I never felt that I was missing anything.  Until last winter.

At the end of football season I was channel surfing on a Sunday afternoon and fell upon a Patriot’s game.  I had noticed that many of my women friends watch football, so I thought I might give it a few minutes.  Something strange happened- I rather enjoyed it.   When the season ended, I thought nothing of it, but when this season began, I started to keep track of the Patriots wins and losses.  I went to the NFL website and read the rules of the game.  By the play- offs, I was watching from my sofa, yelling and cheering.   Dad would have been proud.

I noticed small changes in how TV land regards women.  Commercials shown during half-time are no longer as demeaning toward women.  Women reporters are interviewing players on the field.   According to a September 2014 in the Washington Post, women account for 45% of the NFL’s fan base.  I found that astounding.  And encouraging.

My children were raised to believe that their desires should not be dictated by their gender.  My daughters embrace their femininity, but have never been afraid to try something because it has been branded as a “boy” activity.  My son respects women and regards them as different in substance but equal in value.

Will I ever turn down dinner and a performance of “La Boheme” so I can watch a football game?  Not on your life.  But will I be tuning in to see if the Patriots win the Super Bowl?  You bet your life.

We’ve come a long way, baby.  Rottenecards_2437311_p4tztdknk8

Payback’s a …

Last weekend, my daughter Elizabeth was in town to do some Christmas errands.  When she was finished, she returned to my apartment to relax and have dinner.  She burst through the door and as she hung up her coat, she exclaimed, “You wouldn’t believe what happened to me!”

I was washing dishes at the kitchen sink.  Stealing a quick glance at her, I noticed she wasn’t smiling.  “What?” I said aloud, although I was thinking, “Oh no…now what?”

“Well, I was on South Willow Street and decided to stop at Starbucks…”
mochaI smiled, remembering how she recently introduced me to the evils of Iced Peppermint Mocha.  Such a delightfully decadent drink!

“And I went to take a left hand turn into the drive up.  A woman zoomed up on my right hand side and tried to cut me off.  I could see her yelling at me through the windshield.”

Holiday traffic on South Willow Street is a nightmare.  I’ve been on that road theroadrage2 weekends preceding Christmas when it’s taken thirty minutes to travel a quarter mile.  Like any city driving, there are times when you have to be fairly assertive, if not aggressive, least you become caught in the middle of a catastrophe.  However, I’ve always encouraged my children to be polite drivers and not allow themselves to be dragged into a situation where hot tempers and poor judgment prevail.

Elizabeth went on. “She didn’t succeed in cutting me off, but she ended up in back of me in the Starbucks queue.  I was furious.”

I nodded understandingly.

“But I got her back.”

I surveyed my youngest child’s face. She is strikingly beautiful; tall and willowy with huge eyes fringed by thick lashes.  Elizabeth is a free spirit- artistic, brilliant… and a bit impulsive.  She is usually soft-hearted and thoughtful.  I have often thought that she couldn’t be intentionally mean if she wanted to.  Still, the holidays can bring out the best, and the worst in all of us.

“Lizza!  What did you do?” I asked, fearful of the answer.

A smile played at her lips.  In an instant, memories of my child flashed through my mind.  Elizabeth elbowing an opponent twice her size during a basketball game.  Elizabeth throwing a rubber spider at a nurse in the Pediatric ICU and making her scream.  Elizabeth and her brother stuffing seaweed into Abby’s back pack before leaving the beach.

I have to admit that although my daughter looks angelic, she does not always make heavenly choices.

She hesitated a moment.  My stomach began to tighten.lizza beach_n

She broke out in a full faced grin.

My stomach tightened more, anticipating the worst.

“I paid for her drink.”

Merry Christmas to all.

Footprints

christmas_tree_decorations_200943It is December and Christmas magic is rolling in like fog across the ocean.  Secrets are whispered behind loved ones’ backs, bells and ribbons are pulled from the attic, and the aroma of pine and cinnamon send shivers down the spine.  The brown soil that November left behind is covered with fresh snow.  It is a time of peace, good tidings and joy.  Everyone is happy.  

Almost.

I came across my nephew’s post on Facebook tonight;

“The world has grown cold now that you’ve gone away, Constance Madison.”

It was followed by comments from my niece, my sister, and my daughter.  They shared the same sentiments.  As I read, the lump that I keep stuffed deep in my throat reminded me that it still lives.  My eyes threatened to spill the hot tears that I blink back whenever my heart longs for my mother, and I thought, “It has been almost four years.”  

It has only been four years.

Almost immediately, I thought of a Christmas carol I learned long ago.

When I was a child, my mother had a beautiful book of Christmas sheet music.  Each carol was meticulously illustrated with angelic children with blushing cheeks and curls gilded with glittering gold.  The pages were as much a delight to peruse as the strains of the noels it contained.

It was from this book that I learned all the traditional carols, from “Silent Night” to “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella.”  My mother pounded the keys of our old upright piano, while we children clustered around her, eagerly chorusing for yet another favorite.   Some of the keys stuck. Some didn’t play at all, but to us it was music of the gods.

One of Mom’s favorite carols was “Good King Wenceslas.”  It’s not one of the more commonly sung carols, and I’ve never understood why, but I know why Mom loved it so.  

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I shall see him dine, when we bear them thither. “
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

I remember my mother wearing the same old coat every winter.  She lived in a house with threadbare rugs and holes in the plaster walls.  But she never hesitated to give a portion of what she had to someone who was in need.

“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”

I remember putting my small feet into my mother’s slippers when I was a child.  They were big and flopped from my feet.

“Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”

“In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.

The slippers still held the heat from my mother, and warmed my icy toes.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”

I think it is time to walk where my mother stepped.  To take up where she left off- to christmasmirror her love, and kindness. To give a little more and hold on to a little less. 

I close my eyes, and remember her smile, and the world is a bit warmer once again.

Loving Judah

When my daughter Abigail gave birth to my first grandchild, Judah, I knew I would be smitten.  Everyone I knew warned me that the well of love that comes with the birth of a grandchild is very deep.  “You will love being a grandmother!” they predicted.  “It’s more special than anything!” they encouraged me.  “You won’t believe how much you love him!” they assured me.

I knew they were right.  I just didn’t realize that the well is so deep it is bottomless.

Last weekend, Abby and her husband, Johnny went to a wedding and left Judah with me for the afternoon and evening.  I rose early and finished my normal weekend chores so I would have nothing to do but care for my little grand bundle.  At 1:30PM, the prince arrived, and armed with frozen packets of mother’s milk, flannel burp cloths and magic diapers that change color when they get wet, I settled in for an afternoon of cooing and cuddling.

We played judah sleepingPat-a-cake.  We sang songs.   We played with a rattle.  Judah woofed down a bottle, burped and spit up on the living room carpet, grinning with glee.  But shortly after a diaper change, his little face crumbled like the mask of a sad clown and he began to cry.  I gathered him close, stuck his pacifier into his mouth and gently stroked his head.   Within a moment or two his eyes closed and his little body relaxed in peaceful repose.

Afraid I might wake him (okay- that’s an excuse lie. The truth is, he was so warm and snuggly I didn’t want to put him down) I held Judah in my arms for the next hour and a half, moving him just long enough to occasionally kiss a wisp of hair on his little head.  While he slept, I pondered.  “Why is it I love this little guy so much?”

Often times we love people because of what they do.  We love them because they make us feel good. Because they whisper sweet nothings that brighten our days.  Because they make us feel proud. Or important.  Or warm and cozy.  Or needed.  But Judah doesn’t really do anything to earn this love.  He just is.

But what does that mean?  What is it about a grandchild that flips our heart upside down and makes us want to drop everything for a cuddle and kiss?  I decided to break down some of Judah’s qualities and see if I could make logical sense out of this.

  • Judah smells delicious.  I read somewhere that the most expensive perfume sold is Clive Christian #1 Imperial Majesty Perfume.  It sold for $12,721.89 an ounce. Clive-Christian-No.-1-Imperial-Majesty-Perfume-300x200  I can guarantee that its scent is no sweeter than a newborn baby’s downy head.   Sniffing Judah’s neck makes me somewhat euphoric.  And it’s free.
  • Judah thinks everyone loves him. This is probably true, since his experience is limited to family and friends.  But there’s a lot to be said for approaching the world with total confidence that everyone thinks you are wonderful.  When people smile at Judah, he mirrors those good vibes.
  • baby basketJudah reminds of us that life is about the basics. Getting enough food.  Staying warm and dry. Love.  There are a ton of products that advertisers will tell us we need for babies.  But babies don’t really care if their clothes are new, or if they are wearing hand-me-downs or thrift store finds.  Babies all over the world are pretty much the same, whether they sleep on a mat with their mothers, or in a $2,500 Egg Dodo Baby Basket. (No, I didn’t make this up.)   All they really care about is food, staying warm and dry, and love.  How do we so easily stray from these priorities?
  • Judah makes us laugh. We laugh when he splashes in the tub. We laugh at his funny faces. We laugh judah awakewhen he laughs.  Laughter lowers our blood pressure and sets off a small explosion of endorphins to increase our sense of well-being.  I’m convinced that if I took a ten minute “Judah break” every morning and afternoon, I’d be more productive and happier at work.  I just need to convince my boss and work out the logistics…
  • abby and judah 9.Judah is an extension of me. I watch Abigail- my first born- deftly tend to him and am in awe that this capable mother who is clearly this baby’s favorite person on earth was once my own helpless newborn.   I’m sure his other grandmother feels the same way when she looks at Judah and remembers his daddy as a little tyke.  The continuity of this life cycle is comforting and reassuring.
  • Judah has made two families one.  I thought this would happen when Abby and Johnny first got married, and while it did in theory, the relationship was more one of the head than of the heart.  But when Judah was born, we gathered together in one room, as one unit, to welcome him to the family.  We all love him- grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins- and as a family we will raise him to know this.
  • Lastly, but this speaks most loudly to me, Judah has my mother’s eyes. They are big and gray and serious, just like my mother’s.  They laugh easily, but sometimes I catch Judah’s eyes studying mine, as if he’s looking for what’s hidden deep inside my soul.  My mother’s eyes searched mine- when I was a child and wasn’t telling the truth, when I was a young woman sharing my hopes for the future, and in her final hours, when I held her hand and reminded her that the faith that guided her in this life would carry her to the next.  I look into the deep gray pools of Judah’s eyes and I see my judah eyespast and my future.  And somehow, for a few moments, everything is right in the world.

Beating the Sloppy, Soggy, Cranky Morning Blues

I woke up this morning feeling incredibly grumpy.  The central air conditioner in my apartment broke for the second time this season, and besides being against the rules, it’s impossible to fit a fan in the windows.  Because of the tropical temperatures and 100% humidity, I had to sleep with the blinds open, which meant the lights for the parking lot flooded maskmy bedroom.  I tried wearing a sleep mask, but it must have been too hot, because it was under the bed this morning.  I woke several times during the night and by the time my alarm went off, I was more exhausted than when I went to sleep.  I looked out the window at the dripping sky, and hearing a noise, looked to find its source.  Just under my window was a skunk, foraging for its breakfast.  I quickly cranked the window closed and immediately my room became hotter and stuffier.

Getting ready for work brought no improvement.  My hair frizzed and my makeup smeared.  My back ached and my head pounded.  I muttered under my breath at the unsigned lease sitting on my desk, wondering if I could scrape the bottom of my bank account for the deposit on a new apartment.   I pulled on a pair of khakis and a cotton top, packed my lunch and grabbed ticketan umbrella.  As I turned the corner to drive into my workplace parking lot, I almost ran into a police car, lights flashing, stopped on the hill so the office could dole out a speeding ticket.

“Serves you right,” I growled.  “People drive up this hill much too fast.”

I slogged up the stairs, opened my office and turned on my computer.  My email was already clogged with requests.

Five minutes later, there was an announcement of a “Code Red” on the overhead intercom.  Code Red means fire.  The location was the parking lot.  I ran down three flights of stairs to locate the source and assess its severity, only to find that the “smoke” seen by the person calling the alarm was steam from an overheating truck.  I trudged back up the three flights of stairs and plopped into my chair to attack the emails.

Giving an audible sigh, I opened the first one and found this.

And suddenly, the sun is shining.  Judah 7.14.14

Hello Judah. I’m Your Grandmother.

On June 21, 2014, I became a grandmother. Abby Johnny and Judah 1

My daughter Abigail gave birth to a beautiful little boy- Judah Gray Wallace. Shortly after his arrival, I rushed to the hospital and was handed a seven pound bundle.  I gently pulled the flannel away from his little face and tenderly kissed his forehead.  I was totally undone.

This morning, I looked into the mirror.  “I am a grandmother.”

grammieGrandmother.  The word evokes images of white haired wrinkly little ladies who dodder around and speak in shaky voices.  It is an image I am not yet ready to embrace, and here’s why.

I have never been a little lady.  I’m five feet eight-and-a-half inches.  Okay, so I’ve shrunk to five seven, but nobody will ever describe me as “little.”  Ever.

I do not dodder.  I stride.  At work I often get on a roll, taking long steps to get from one office to another.  My long arms swing with each step- sometimes so far that I painfully smack them on the door frame when taking a sharp turn to enter my office.  These are not the movements of a doddering old woman.

While I will admit I have more sags and wrinkles than I did thirty years ago, I do not have prune-like skin and jowls that flap when I laugh- at least not when I take off my glasses.  And I do not have white hair.  That gray streak that slowly appears at my part miraculously goes away whenever I visit my hairdresser.

Even though my days of singing in bars and coffee shops are far behind me, I can still carry the harmony to any song played on my car radio, and project across the courtroom when the judge asks CASA’s stand on an issue.

I am strong, and unafraid, and capable.  I come by this legally.

My grandmother did not dodder.  When I was in college she and I climbed the seawall near her apartment, walked a mile down the beach, and when the sand cooled and our shadows grew, walked back home, to enjoy tender pan-fried flounder and creamy potato salad.  My grandmother got her driver’s license at seventy-six.  She visited the shut-ins from her church when she was in her early nineties.  And although her voice shook at our last conversation, the eyes that held my gaze were steady and filled with love.

My children’s grandmother did not dodder. She dug in the soil until it burst with peas, squash and beans to feed the many mouths gathered at her table.  She swam in the ocean, letting icy waves crash over her head.  She read countless stories aloud, transforming ink and paper into living characters that danced through the imaginations of everyone who listened.  She watched basketball with my nephew.  She laughed at my brother-in-law’s slightly off-color jokes.  And although her voice shook, her arms were strong as she wrapped my Elizabeth in a loving embrace hours before she passed into the next life.

We_Can_Do_It!There are no doddering women in my heritage.  They were strong New England women- fearless, energetic, full of fun.  They were unafraid during thunderstorms and blizzards.  They kneaded bread with strong hands, and wiped away tears with soft ones.   They knit booties and sewed flannel pajamas.  They listened to twelve-year-old boys give play-by-play descriptions of football games, and gave equal ear to fifteen-year-old girls describe their back-to-school outfits.   They faced life with courage and enthusiasm, and they faced death with anticipation and confidence.

This is the kind of grandmother I want to be- the grandmother I will be.  Judah and I will ride waves together in the Atlantic Ocean.  We will make mud pies in spring and snowmen in winter. I will sew him flannel pajamas, and make him cookies to spoil his dinner.  I’ll read to him.  I’ll rock him to sleep.  I’ll listen to him complain that his parents don’t let him do anything his friends can do.  I’ll go to his soccer games and his music recitals and lie next to him in the grass to find pictures in the clouds.

We’ve only begun, but we are well on our way to a lasting friendship. He will not remember these first few days, but I judah close upwill. How he snuggles his head into the crook of my neck.  How his little body relaxes when I hold him close and rock him.  How his skin is velvety and his scent is like his mother’s when she was only days old.

Most likely, Judah will grow taller and stronger than I am.   He will think of me as old.  But he will never describe me as doddering, because I have a legacy to uphold.  I’ll be unafraid of thunderstorms and blizzards.  I’ll charge forward, head up, full steam ahead, like those who went before me.  Even if my voice shakes, my eyes will be steady and full of love.  I’ll face life with courage and enthusiasm, and someday, I’ll face death with anticipation and confidence.

Hello Judah.  I’m your grandmother.  Stick with me, kid. We’ll have a blast.

Whimsical Wednesday- A Time for Wishing

Make_a_Wish_by_VefobitseqI have a fairly active imagination and sometimes catch myself engaging in a long diatribe of wishful thinking.  Today, on “Whimsical Wednesday” I decided to indulge and invite you to do the same.  You may be surprised when you give voice to some of your deepest desires.  What do you wish?

I wish that…

Fat cells came off as fast as they accumulate.  I can scoff down an ice cream sundae with extra whipped cream in minutes.  However, it takes hours to burn the calories accumulated by such an indulgence. This is grossly unfair.

I wish that…

Money did grow on trees.  I would own a nursery, although with my current gardening skills such a venture might result in bankruptcy.   Still, it would be fun to harvest dollar bills every fall and give away bundles of them for Christmas gifts.

I wish that…

I had bought a little cottage on the beach back when it was affordable.  It wouldn’t have mattered if it beach 29were small and
simple, because most of my time during the summer would be outside.  Besides, when it comes to cottages, the kitschier, the better.   How nice it would be to drink my morning coffee while watching the sun rise over the Atlantic.

I wish that…

Time travel was possible, because there are some people I would really like to dine with- Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Michelangelo, Elizabeth Blackwell, George Gershwin, and Corrie Ten Boom, to name only a few.  I’d love to meet the little girl who my grandmother once was, and my great, great, great-grandchildren who aren’t even yet a glimmer in a young man’s eye.

I wish that…

The days didn’t pass so quickly.  For all its trappings, I love this life and wish it didn’t speed by at such a breakneck pace.  There is never enough time to spend with loved ones, or watch old movies on TV, or sew, or write or splash in puddles during an August rain.

I wish that…

Every child had at least eighteen years of unconditional love.  I suspect that the world would have a lot fewer problems if we didn’t have to spend so much time making up for being unloved, uncared for and feeling unworthy.

I wish that…

Our culture would stop sending subliminal messages to children that hold them to impossible standards of beauty and body shape.  If we put as much energy into shaping our insides as we do to our outsides, there would be no more eating disorders and many more random acts of kindness.

I wish that…

Time1Life gave us equal time for play as it does for work.  Can you imagine how much fun it would be to have an eight day week- four for work and four for play?  Who says we have to be on a seven day cycle anyway? After all, this is wishing…

I wish that…

We could, as Cher put it, turn back time.  I would do a few things differently.  I would have been more patient with my children.  I would have been more understanding of my father and spent more time with him and my mother.  I would have laughed more and loved better, and taken a vacation more than once every thirty years.

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