Chris (From the Bungalow) and I met face to face in March 2012, when I flew to Chicago to join him and his wife in shaving heads for St. Baldrick’s. Before that meeting, Chris and I had been blogging buddies for nearly a year. In light of our frequent thoughtful exchanges, I fully expected my introversion to be subdued even in the face of our first meeting. It was.
If you’ve been here a while, you know Chris inspired me to read the life-changing Donna’s Cancer Story. You know implicitly of his eloquence and ability to persuade; but for that, I would have a much fuller head of hair right now. What you may not know is that he’s also a father, a musician, a music therapist and one hell of a friend. My offline life is better for knowing Chris, and I trust you will understand why when you read his powerful words below.
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I will not sit idly by…
“They’ve ruled out everything else. I have ALS.”
As I listened to my mom speak those words, they didn’t make sense. Somehow, it never really registered with me until just now, right after I typed them. There has been an underlying malaise these past few months following the loss of my parents’ house to fire, and shortly thereafter, the sudden loss of my maternal grandmother to cancer. But that diagnosis… those words? Superficial until now. I didn’t want to accept it. I couldn’t.
Lou-fucking-Gehrig’s Disease, terminal in 100% of cases. Terminal? How?! How do we not know a goddamn thing about this? How did this happen?! Forget about that. How is my mom handling her prognosis? How is my dad handling it? My sisters? Me?
What am I supposed to do now? What is my mom supposed to do? I have more questions than answers. That’s an overwhelming place to be. I’m sad and angry. She lost both of her sisters when they were in their 30′s, lost both of her parents to cancer, and now this? An innocent, loving, caring mother and grandmother sentenced to death at some not-so-distant point in the future while her body slowly shuts down? Bullshit. It’s not right. It’s not fair.
And yet, there’s this voice in my head that keeps whispering to me… Read more…
Katy (I Want A Dumpster Baby) caught me with her name, but kept me with her heart. I once tried to explain her to my godmother, saying that I loved all of the things about her that are like my mom while also loving her for who she is even apart from that. When I met her in March, I could feel her before I even saw her. And when I saw her, the love just radiated from her as if it were literally a light.
Katy is, as she says, an alcoholic who doesn’t drink and a smoker who doesn’t smoke. I say she is a lover who loves and loves and loves, sometimes with funniness, often with glitter guns and others with don’t-you-dare-try-that-on-me firmness, but always in a way that makes me think, “Man, is the world better for you being in it.”
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Mothers and Daughters
Here’s the thing about Mothers and Daughters. It’s a tricky relationship. One that ebbs and flows and, ultimately, one that teaches a girl how to get along in the world as a girl and then as a woman. The mother does her best to teach her daughter what she has learned and then does her best to let her go. No matter how many wrong turns the daughter makes, the mother is just there letting her know that she is loved. The mother will do anything for her daughter, and yet, the one thing she will not do is love her to death. There is a point where the mother does the one thing that she never thought she would have to do and that is say, “enough.” From this tiny little woman who is my mom comes this powerhouse of strength, faith and commitment. My mom is the strongest woman I’ve ever known. She has the strength and conviction of an army of men.
I may not have always agreed with her. I still don’t. But I respect her. And the best thing is that today, I’ve earned her respect. I make living amends to my mom each day I am clean and sober. It’s the best gift I could give her. I want so desperately to give her a grandchild. I am working my best on that effort and my mom has been my angel while I’ve been going though this fertility struggle. With little notes every other day, just saying “HIYA” or “How you doing Honey” or stories of my niece and nephews she knows will make me smile.
She also takes the time to write long, beautiful notes to me since they moved across the country and I am so appreciative. She knows I don’t like to talk on the phone and she has adapted. My mom is the best audience a comedienne like me could ever want. She laughs at EVERYTHING I say, all the while saying, “You are so funny, Kitten.”
I’ve been given the gift of watching my mom explore and open her mind and world to new ideas and to not see things as so black and white. I hope I have had a hand in that. It’s made me less judgmental. I’ve been sober for 10 years and when I got sober, I started smoking cigarettes and continued for 10 years. My dear sweet mom never said one word about that. The whole time, and I know she hated it. Always has. But it was the lesser of two evils and if she could have her daughter sober and smoking, that was the better option for her. NO JUDGEMENT. I find that incredible. She would even come outside with me when I visit while I smoked because she just wanted to be with me. We weren’t very touchy feely while I was growing up, but I tell my mom every chance I get how much I love her and respect her. I watched her wish she could have had a more open relationship with her mother, and I’ll be damned if I let that happen with us. I wrap my arms around her tiny little frame and I almost cry every time because I love that woman so much it hurts.
I’m so thankful I’ve had the gift of time and sobriety to grow with my mom. I think about our relationship today and it is strong. It is blooming. We like each other today. So very much.
We’ve grown, we’ve changed, we’ve made mistakes, we’ve challenged, we’ve accepted, we’ve forgiven, we’ve healed. And now, we just love. For this I am thankful.
Christine (The Dash Between) is a daily inspiration to me over at her Facebook page, but our paths first crossed in the blogosphere. Our conversations now flow between Facebook, our blogs and email, covering everything under the sun, but it was our first conversation about family that really helped me see Christine’s brilliance.
Her words expressed heartache, but even more deeply, a fierce, loving determination not to let her future be defined by the past or “The Family.” Every day I know her, I’m more inspired by her, and I’m delighted that you’ll soon see for yourself exactly why that is.
Recommended post: A letter to my Daughter: I know what it’s like
Thanks for the Pain
When Deb asked me if I would write a FTIAT entry, I was honored and thrilled! I have so much to be thankful for, I figured it would be a piece of cake to write. Was I ever wrong about that. The doubts started coming, and hard. I wasn’t good enough to be included with the many amazing writers The Monster In Your Closet has featured. I don’t write well enough. What I had to say was boring by comparison to other stories. Then I realized that I don’t have to be a fantastic writer. That comparing myself to others was ridiculous, given that we all have our own history. So, I have sucked in a deep breath and started to write.
A little over two and a half years ago, my life started to drastically change. I had been told by my then-husband that a relationship with me was too much work, and too hard for him to try. I realized that I had been a “mother” type figure in a one-sided relationship for far too long. I was home-schooling, and the kids and I were in a small town and stuck in the house 24/7. I was severely depressed, and often thought of driving into the nearest highway overpass support. Or downing an entire bottle (or two) of alcohol.
My parents had come for a visit, and I remember pouring out my heart to my mother about my marriage. I confided many humiliating things, and let her know that there was a very good chance my marriage would be ending soon. As she was getting ready to leave for home, I asked her if she was mad at me and if she still loved me. I’ll never forget the feel of her cool hands stroking the sides of my face, while she told me that she was not mad, and that of course she loved me. I felt such relief. And I felt that my foundation was rock solid.
When my husband and I finally separated, there was an uproar within The Family. These things do NOT happen in this family. The pressure was incredibly intense. I also told The Family I was no longer going to go to their type of church. The Family and Church are so tightly interwoven, that this decision was completely unacceptable to them. And the pressure increased exponentially. I couldn’t breath, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I remembered trying to reach out, to have someone HEAR me… But no one seemed capable of that.
My mother seemed to have forgotten our discussion. My sister was constantly on me to do “the right thing.” Every discussion was such a struggle. I discovered my sister had been having private discussions with my husband on how to get me to stop “this behavior.” I was asked if I had started taking medication. I was told that I wasn’t explaining myself well enough for The Family to approve of my actions.
I decided to spend a weekend away, planning on locking myself in a hotel room with several bottles of booze and never to leaving the room again. I’ve never had such an internal fight as I did that weekend. I felt the simplest solution for everyone would be for me to no longer exist. This struggle to live my life, just wasn’t worth it anymore. If I couldn’t live it their way, I shouldn’t live it at all. As I wandered that weekend, lost, feeling hopeless, yet trying to search my soul for another solution, I happened to walk into a gift store and see a plaque that changed my world.
“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly…”
When I saw that, I felt all the despair lift away. I realized this was MY life. My family wouldn’t approve of my decisions, and that was okay. I was 34 years old, I didn’t need permission from them to do what I knew was right for me. I left that store filled with hope, and determination.
During that same weekend, my husband had gone to my mother and reiterated all of the things that had happened in our marriage. The things I had told her when she had come to visit. I received an email from her shortly thereafter in an attempt for us to start honest communication. The one thing that I remember most from that email was her telling me that she just hadn’t believed me when she and I had our discussion, but she realized what I said was true when my husband confirmed it. While that hurt me more deeply than I can say, I decided to overlook it since I wanted to focus on the fact that we were having communication during this very difficult time.
I moved to another state and started life over. I started to fall in love with someone who had been a very good friend to me. However, the tension in my family was high. I knew they weren’t happy with my decision to move. Strike that. They weren’t happy with the way I was living my life, period. That was made clear when I visited them for a weekend nearly a month after my move. I remember my Mom hardly looking at me. Whenever people would ask about the area I lived, or job interviews, she just scowled. The day I was to return home was on a Sunday. The depth of her anger at me became apparent to me that morning. Mom was harrumphing her way around the house, hardly looking at me, hardly saying a word before leaving for church. When it was time for her to go, I got up from the couch to say my goodbyes. She walked right past me. I grabbed her, gave her a hug, and told her I loved her. I got a quick hug as she mumbled “I love you” back. That was the last time I saw my mother before our estrangement began.
Two days later I told my parents that I was starting a new relationship. That phone call reminds me of the saying, “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” My entire body was shaking. During this call my mother told me that she would not approve of my relationship. For the first time in my life I stood up for myself, and told her that I was not asking for her approval. I was simply informing her of what was happening in my life. She went to hang up, and I remembered rushing to tell her that I loved her before she ended the call. I got a terse “love you” in return, and those were our last spoken words.
I have been estranged from my family for two years and three months. My mother did not like my decisions, and encouraged my ex to take custody of the kids, since I had been “taken over by satan.” Finding her emails to him, and being served papers by him to take the kids away were so stunning that I literally couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t move, I hurt all over… inside and out. The pain was unlike any I had ever felt before, and that’s when I realized that my foundation I had been so assured of months before had vanished. I felt utterly alone, completely rejected, and betrayed by the one person I should have been able to trust.
I wrote a blog not long ago to my daughter about some of my darkest times. This was
one of those times I referred to. I got myself up, and put one foot in front of the other. I didn’t know what would happen, but I knew that I just had to breathe to get to the next minute, the next hour, the next day, the next week. And I did. I truly started life over that day, and I survived.
I started blogging to focus on living life. I blogged to remind myself to appreciate
everything, and everyone, in my life. I needed to focus on being grateful and thankful. But, I refused to write about this stuff. I didn’t want to go back through it, and remember the hurts, or feel the pain again. However, once Deb asked me to write about being thankful, I think I knew deep down that I was going to have to delve into this painful time in my life. I needed to remember that these are the things that have made me who I am today. And I like that person.
So, what am I thankful for? I am thankful for being hurt, rejected, and betrayed. I am
thankful for pain that cut me so deeply I thought I’d never recover. These things have
changed who I am. They have shown me that I am capable, I am strong, I am brave, and I can survive. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
last: My Blog Saved Our Family | The Strongest Woman I Know (3/30/12) : next
Shannon (Mynewfavoriteday) spoke with such candor about the simultaneous grace and hardship in her life since becoming a mother, I was immediately drawn to not only her prose but to her.
When she asked some months later if she could interview me for her blog, I was delighted. Could she ever! I was excited to complete the interview, but even more excited when the interview unearthed a few similarities between us. It turned out Shannon and I were both (a) Oregon Ducks (b) living in SoCal after (c) each spending some time teaching in Japan. While I couldn’t really tell you if there’s such a thing as fate or if it led to our connecting, my heart frequently weights in with a hearty (get it? comic genius right here!), “You betcha!”
Shannon’s voice of gratitude, love and compassion brings light to the gloomiest of days, and yet she is also a vocal advocate for her children—and her readers. As you’ll see if you meander over to her page, which I sincerely hope you’ll do, her “About me” is in part about her well wishes for you.
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My Blog Saved Our Family
‘Whenever someone sorrows, I do not say, “forget it,” or “it will pass,” or “it could be worse” — all of which deny the integrity of the painful experience. But I say, to the contrary, “It is worse than you may allow yourself to think. Delve into the depth. Stay with the feeling. Think of it as a precious source of knowledge and guidance. Then and only then will you be ready to face it and be transformed in the process.’
To say I had sorrows could not begin to describe the emotional place I was in in March of 2011.
As I sat on the couch with my legs crossed and my computer in my lap, my babies were on the floor. E in her baby chair with the oxygen tube delivering her the air she needed to survive with each breath while her monitor quietly registered her heart rate and oxygen levels with each beat of her pulse. Q happily rolling around on the floor knocking into seemingly every hard and potentially dangerous surface with his overly large head. My precious babies were now 18 months old from the day they were born, but because they had been born 3 terrifying months early, they were supposed to be developmentally around 15 months. Supposed to be.
It became clear after E came home after her 4 months in the NICU (Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit) that something was wrong. She wasn’t engaging, or looking at our faces. She wasn’t cooing or doing any of the things her brother was doing, or anything that any baby her age would be doing at any age over 20 days old. She was now 18 months old and virtually the same developmentally as a 2 month old.
I was crumbling into tiny little bits and pieces: one moment, one breath, one conversation at a time.
The resolve and strength I had been mustering and presenting to the world was only seconds from falling down around me. Everything was at stake. Our lives were at stake. I was no longer able to construct a future for us.
Like so many families, I, as mom, am the hub. And with 2 babies with medical and developmental challenges, I had been thrust into a world I had not imagined or planned for.
As a business professional, I am good in a crisis. Methodical. Rational. Practical. Resourceful. I can navigate systems and present my case to get my desired outcome.
I had been doing this in our personal life for 18 months and now it was all at risk.
I no longer really wanted to get out of bed. I wanted to stay there, with the babies. Just be with them. Shut the world out. Pretend. Pretend that for 5 minutes everything was “normal.” Not our “normal,” but “The What to Expect When You’re Expecting” normal. I wanted to pretend there were no wires or monitors. I didn’t want to talk about how they were doing, or what E’s prognosis would be, or have to make anyone feel better about our situation so that they wouldn’t worry.
I was consumed by worry but couldn’t show it and rarely spoke about it for fear of making it so.
At work I would cry, in the car I would cry, alone with the babies I would cry. I would never cry in front of anyone else; only when I was alone.
All around me people had regular babies. Happy, healthy babies. As those babies grew, they surpassed E in her own development. More cracks and tears into my façade.
I just wanted to hide.
So there I sat on the couch, hiding in our house with our precious babies but knowing I had to do something. I knew I needed therapy of some kind, but I couldn’t fathom sitting across from a therapist who had never sat in a hospital day after day as their children nearly died and came back to life on a semi-regular basis. So, a therapist was out but therapy of another kind quietly lurked at my fingertips.
From the time the babies were conceived through IVF, we had kept a journal for them. Thoughts, sentiments, pictures to show them just how happy we were they were coming to be and had come to our family. In the writing I had found some catharsis. Relief. As if air could fill my lungs can come out through the pen as it rolled across the paper.
Almost hauntingly my fingers started typing “blogging platforms.” And so it was. I would start a blog. It would be my therapy.
As I am optimistic by nature; my idea was to get back there. To pull myself out of the darkness that was enveloping me. The darkness would not beat me. My precious babies we here and alive and we would make it through. The simple gift of being here, in this world, fighting to survive, was enough to incent me to remember that each day can be and will be “mynewfavoriteday.”
And so 8 months later, “mynewfavoriteday” has become something greater than me.
It has set me free. Free to grieve, free to feel, free to speak, free to share, free to be supported, free to be me. To say my blog saved my life is not an exaggeration. It saved my life, as I know it. The positive, mostly happy, optimistic, compassionate, empathetic, hopeful, loving, and resilient, life as I know it. So today, in this great honor to guest post on TMiYC, I am grateful for my blog as it saved my life and the life of our family as we know it.
last: Two Ships | The Strongest Woman I Know (3/16/12) : next
Peg (Ramblings) was one of the first bloggers I stumbled upon in my efforts to expand my blogging horizons. Her tongue-in-cheek approach to most topics has had me giggling at things—such as the cost of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act freeway signs—that in less deft hands might be as hard to wade through as this sentence. But, oh! Her hands are deft, whether she’s using them to write compelling posts or to modify images in equally compelling, usually hilarious ways.
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I have… my children…my husband and my friends…enough to eat…a home…my health, and the health of my family…an agile brain and the education to feed it… a loving, supportive family that nurtures me…been born to a country where freedom is a right.
When I consider how much I have, the concept of gratitude is overwhelming. My mind shies away from it. I have done nothing to earn these things. There cannot be enough gratitude in the world for this embarrassment of riches.
I am reminded of Saint Therese of Lisieux, a French nun who lived in the 19th century and died at the tender age of 24. She knew she would probably never do big, great things with her life. She decided to praise God and help others by concentrating on the small things; how she handled chores, annoyances and the myriad triumphs and tragedies of daily living. She called this the Little Way.
“The only way I can prove my love is by… the doing of the least actions for love.”
I don’t mention Saint Therese as a prelude to comparing myself to her in any way, although her example encourages me anew to do better. No, I thought about the Little Way because it has something to do with how I have approached the blessings in my life.
My gratitude for all the big things is bedrock supporting an intention to try to truly appreciate the small, as well. I have unconsciously adopted a habit I will call the Little Gratitude.
In my life, there have been moments out of time that strike me almost a physical blow with their sweetness. Here are a few remembered:
- Running down the stairs in my parents’ home, my home, and being stopped, just for a moment, by the particularly luminous quality of autumn sun. It is pouring like golden, melted butter through the small, high windows of our front door, setting the dust motes to dancing before it falls onto the carpet of the front hall. Wanting to curl up like a contented cat in that spot of sun, secure in the knowledge of being a child well cared for, and well loved.
- Driving, every day, over the bridge that leads to my home, oblivious to my surroundings. Then a gleam on the water catches the corner of my eye. The setting sun, peeking from under low, purple clouds turns the water in the river to molten as it dies back for another day. I am struck dumb by the gift of such beauty.
- Coming around the bend on a summer country road in the deepening time past twilight, and spying a field heavy with fireflies. I stop with my two, young children and whisper that it is the Fairies Ball, and they are dancing with their glowing partners. We sit, spellbound, marveling at their graceful gavotte in the hot, perfumed night air.
- Lying on my husband’s warm, firm shoulder, hair tickling my cheek, his steady breath raising and lowering my resting head, and the feeling of being safe and cherished and home.
- Walking down our rutted, dirt lane, the fall air so crisp each deep draught is almost a bite, the sky a shade of blue saved from impossible only by a scattering of high, cotton-candy clouds. My hand clutches the small, soft one of my daughter and my heart is full to bursting. I am almost weeping, trying to memorize the sound of her high voice, the slight dampness of her hand, the wood smoke whiff of a distant fire and the crunch of leaves under our feet. I am thanking God for this here and now, and praying I will be able to bring it back to mind in the many, many years that may come.
These small times of blessing have usually taken me unawares, and left me trying to catch my breath in joy and thanksgiving.
For these and countless other bright, shining little moments in my life, I am deeply grateful.
John (The Adventures of Daddy Runs A Lot) had me at “I like Buffy.” Okay, I confess it’s unlikely he said those exact words, but it was somehow established we had a mutual affection for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As you probably know by now, 99% of the people who like this TV show are 10th-dan black belts in the martial art of “awesome.”
Much like our mutually beloved Buffy, John’s blog is a mix of humor and earnest contemplation. Each of these things is precious of its own right, but it’s the mixing of the two that leads to the truest reflection of life well lived.
Whether through the words “I like Buffy” or otherwise, I simply count myself grateful our blog paths did cross.
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Where I embrace my inner geek
I’m not sure how I came to follow the lovely Deborah here . . . maybe I was blog-hopping and she wrote a comment on someone’s blog that caught my eye. Maybe I was looking for topless photos of Jennifer Garner and somehow came upon her notes from being an extra on Alias. Maybe she stumbled upon my blog and I followed the link back to her place. All I know is that, once I figured out what “this,” was, I knew I was at home.
She was the mother of a little child. She loved to read. She enjoyed going to a comic-convention or two and has done what I hope to do, someday: complete a novel. She’s run marathons and can write something to make you sore from laughing one day and bring you to the brink of tears the next. ”Self, you’ve found your home,” I said to myself when I clicked on the subscribe button – and since then, it’s become just a wave of awesomesauce.
So, when the call for guest writers came out – well, I didn’t have much of a choice. I mean, I’ve already made myself at home, writing a few words seems to be the least I could do. And, somehow, writing about my inner-geek seems just about perfect here.
Why did I come to this conclusion? Because I delayed writing this because I had the Lord of the Rings on in the background, and I had to take a break for the Cave-Troll battle.
I’m fairly certain that I’ve had full conversations in nothing but movie quotes. Or Harry Potter quotes. I lament the fact that second breakfast and elevensies are not part of our culture. I know there is no greater way acknowledge an order than the words “as you wish.” When someone has unnaturally blue eyes, I wonder if they’re part-Fremen. I’ll argue, loudly, that we need to eat Irish babies in order to cure poverty in the world. I’m fluent in the rules of zombies, and I constantly question why there isn’t a single standard for vampires. I’m openly distrustful of six-fingered men. I associate the term “sex and violence” with the Muppets, and I firmly believe that the absolute apex of celebrity is to be on Sesame Street. The best way for the subject of a prophecy to not learn about said prophecy is to keep that subject from learning to read. The Seminal Fluids is a great name for a rock band. My favorite politician of all time is Clinton “Skink” Tyree. ”I know” may be the single most romantic line ever uttered on film, and Han shot first. If I could have but one item to hang on my walls, it would be the greatsword Ice. I’d fear a confessor more than I’d fear the electric chair, but not nearly as much as I’d fear thread. I truly freak out whenever I have an earache, as I’m convinced that the mind-control is near complete. Sometimes, the shadow of the great story is a better way to tell it, especially if the shadow is that of Bean. My Room 101 would have Fear Demons that grew well-past their actual size.
There was a long time of my life that I based what I liked on what I perceived others would think about it. Now, I gladly don’t care . . . and what I love about being around here is that it feels like there’s always a couch available for me.
Thanks, Deborah, for the opportunity.
Ilana (SlightlyIgnorant) comments with empathy and humor, but that’s not all there is to her. She touches on difficult topics so matter of factly in her blog’s autobio you feel confident that you could talk to her about anything. And, indeed, when you start exchanging comments and emails, you find you very much want to!
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“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
A few days ago, Deb asked to write a guest post for this, her awesome blog. I was incredibly flattered and excited and began to think of different topics I could write about. The guidelines I had received were loose enough to allow me lots of freedom: pick one thing I’m grateful for, and write about it. Simple enough, right?
Once I started thinking about it, I found that there were just too many things in my life that I was, am, and will continue to be grateful for. My parents raised me lovingly and treated me as an individual worthy of respect even when I was very small. My brother was a fun companion when we were kids – we wrestled and tustled all the time but we both enjoyed it – and has become a friend. My aunts have always been an inspiration to me and I’m proud to be able to call them family.
Then I thought of my friends: my oldest girlfriend from nursery-school who I’ve known for eighteen of my twenty-one years, the girl I met in third grade and spent most of my afternoons with for years, the shy and quiet teenager I met in high school who became an integral part of my life… and the list goes on.
The truth is, there are so many people whose presence in my life I’m grateful for that I can’t choose between them. It feels ungrateful, somehow, to pick just one.
Instead, I decided to pick something that may seem simple, banal, even silly – but it changed my life and is part of the reason I’m even here, writing a guest post for Deb.
I am grateful for Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling.
Are you laughing? Are you rolling your eyes? Are you sympathetically nodding and thinking Well, she must not have much going for her, I’d better humor her and read through her insane ramblings? If you stick with me, I’ll explain why I chose the boy-wizard and his famous, fabulous, fantastic creator.
My parents raised me bi-lingual; my dad spoke to me in Hebrew while my mom and I only conversed in English. When I was three, though, my family moved from sunny Los Angeles to the sunnier and sadly humid Isreal. Previously, I’d always spoken to my father in English, refusing, for reasons that are mysterious to me, to answer him in Hebrew. After the move, though, the primary language I heard spoken around me changed from English to Hebrew. I was forced to begin using the harsh, deep-throated raysh and chet, letters that Anglos find difficult to pronounce correctly. But I learned; or maybe I already knew how, and just hadn’t liked doing it.
Because of our move, instead of learning my ABCs at school, I learned how to read and write in Hebrew. First grade was agony, as I found the whole process of associating sounds and words with weird squiggles on paper to be tiring and difficult. What was worse, though, was that my lessons didn’t end when I finished my homework for school. Even after filling a workbook page or two with my wobbly, too-large, six-year old’s handwriting, I had to spend part of each afternoon with my mother, learning how to read in English.
It was horrible. I didn’t get it. I couldn’t get it. I learned to recognize the symbols that read “THE END” that appeared on the final page of each of the little books that my mom was using to teach me how to read, and I spoke those two little words with huge satisfaction whenever one of our torturous sessions was over.
Eventually, though, I could read and write in both Hebrew and English. I learned at the right age, and I suppose I didn’t have any more difficulty than any other average kid. But I still didn’t like reading. I loved being read to – one of my parents would read me a book or a chapter every night, as far as I can remember. If they’d hand me the book, though, with an inviting gesture and a smile, I would shrug my shoulders in that universal gesture that kids have for “Don’t wanna.”
I was, I confess, a TV child. At some point, my parents had to restrict my time in front of the television because if I’d had my way, I would sit in front of it all afternoon without indulging in any other activity.
When I was nine years old, in 1999, my brother turned thirteen and had his Bar Mitzvah. We visited family in California, like we did every summer, and my parents and grandparents threw a big party so he could celebrate this traditional coming of age with our American relatives. Great-Aunt Candy bought him what would become, although none of us knew it at the time, the vehicle of my salvation from Eternal-TV-Enslavement. She bought my brother, and me by extension, beautiful, hardcover copies of Harry Potter and the Sourceror’s Stone (remember, it was the American edition), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and the just released and much anticipated Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
We flew back to Israel. We must have packed the books, although I have no particular memory of that. I don’t remember being excited or looking forward to reading them with my mother, although I do remember her saying something about how she’d heard good things about the books.
I also remember, vividly, her reading me the very first line, quoted above; I interrupted her and said, quite indignantly, “Dursley? But it’s called Harry Potter!” My mother smiled and said “Let’s wait and see.”
I waited, I saw, and I fell in love. One night, reading the sixth chapter, “The Journey from Platform Nine and Three Quarters,” my mom stopped after at this line: “The train began to move. Harry saw the boys’ mother waving and their sister, half laughing, half crying, running to keep up with the train until it gathered too much speed, then she fell back and waved.” I recall how I tried to wheedle her into continuing, and how she wouldn’t because it was late and time for me to go to sleep. With that in mind, I guess what came next shouldn’t be all that surprising.
Every Friday afternoon, my parents took a long nap. I believe that on the Friday in question, my mom read me the second half of chapter nine, “The Midnight Duel,” before she took her nap. Writing this now, at the same desk I had back then, I can visualize the book sitting perfectly squared with the corners of the table, just where my mom had left it. I can see the little girl that I was, a little pudgy and still quite blonde, listening carefully to my parents snores, making sure they were sound asleep. The girl picks up the book and lies down on her bed, the same bed that is to her left as she types away on her computer twelve years later. She opens the book to chapter ten, “Halloween,” and begins to read.
I read thirteen pages, the entire chapter, the most I’d ever read on my own not only willingly, but eagerly as well. And I had loved it.
The funny thing was that I thought, for some reason, that I’d done something wrong. Once I realized I’d read a whole chapter, I balked and, carefully putting the bookmark where it had been before my intrusion, arranged the book to look as if it hadn’t been touched. I kept my secret all day, aching to read more but not daring to. I thought that telling my mother that I wanted to read the book alone would hurt her terribly. That night, when she began to read me “Halloween,” I couldn’t take it, and I blurted out the truth: that I’d already read that entire chapter. I burst into a flurry of apologies. I needn’t have worried. She laughed, and I remember her face glowing (although that might be my own emotions coloring the picture) as she handed me the book, kissed my forehead, and told me I could and should keep reading it alone.
If I hadn’t discovered the incredible world that J. K. Rowling created, I never would have become the reader I am today. My mother isn’t convinced of this, claiming that I would have developed a love of reading anyway. In the family I grew up in, it was almost inevitable, since everyone else loved to read.
But I remember very well how much I loved watching television, and I’m absolutely positive that without the Boy Who Lived, I wouldn’t have developed the all-consuming passion that I now have for books. Books have been my greatest escape, my most caring comforters, my friends in need and out of it, my protectors in every storm and my loyal sidekicks and companions during the days of calm waters and happiness. When I talk about books, about reading, my heart expands within me, my breathing grows rapid, and I experience the heady rush of true love engulf me. I wouldn’t have discovered the pure joy, the terrible sadness, the incredible empathy and endless wisdom that can be found in words, stories and characters.
And if I hadn’t discovered Harry, if I hadn’t become a reader, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know, but ultimately it doesn’t matter.
When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out in the summer of 2007, I’d just turned seventeen, like Harry. I grew up with Harry, Ron, Hermione and the others. I spent long afternoons discussing the books, speculating on what the next installments would hold. I read and reread the books I had over and over and over again, literally dozens of times, while still continuing to read widely and enthusiastically outside of the series.
Going to the first midnight-release party in Isreal, my met-in-nursery-school friend and I were already mourning the end of it all. Looking back at it now, I’m shocked to realize it was four years ago. Because Harry Potter’s importance hasn’t died out yet. Nor will it ever, even if it, for some odd reason, doesn’t become the classic it is already turning into. It will continue to live on in me, and anyone else who discovered the power of stories as they fell in love with Harry Potter.
Julie (goguiltypleasures) embraces and shares her guilty pleasures with such wholehearted zest that scientific studies have shown readers feel eleventy billion times happier after reading her blog than they were beforehand.
I caution you to follow the “recommended post” link below only when you have plenty of time to peruse. Like most of life’s sweetest offerings, it’s impossible to have just one bite of goguiltypleasures!
Recommended post: Sincerely Yours, Caring McCantYouSeeImTryingHere
Ten years ago, I attended a local community college in New Jersey, my sights set on transferring to a liberal arts university in Manhattan to study writing. I had a great group of older, witty, musically gifted, insanely intelligent friends, and when I wasn’t working or diligently studying, I spent my time with them. At that point, I’d been through some emotional turmoil (bullying and panic attacks) and had been home-schooled for high school. By 19, I had finally started to shed some of my old baggage, but conversations with this older crowd often left me feeling inadequate. I was always struggling to keep up with their knowledge of music, books, film, politics, religion, and hardest of all, their experience.
I liked to listen to ‘NSync and only read the newspaper if it was a class assignment. Rollerblading, baking, drawing and filmmaking were some of my hobbies. I loved fashion, Harry Potter and seeing pop rock concerts in New York City. I couldn’t get enough of my favorite television shows or juicy celebrity gossip. I was forced to admit the horrible truth: I was mainstream. Ordinary. I was doing something wrong, I thought; I needed to read those books I was “supposed” to read (but made me want to bang my head against a concrete wall), watch those films my friends said were best (but made my eyes droop with boredom), and visit museums “just for fun.”
It wasn’t just my friends who made me feel this way. Growing up, I always wanted to be The Smart One. The thing is, in my family, the bar is set extraordinarily high – I have a genius brother and an Ivy Leaguer father. To make a long story short, while I almost always got A’s in school, I never skipped a grade and never got into Princeton. I was The Artist (my brother had the coveted Smarty-Pants title, of course, while my sister had the Social Butterfly one). Even though I liked being called creative, I still felt the need to prove myself intellectually.
It wasn’t until 21, when I started dating my now-husband, that I realized how much time I was wasting on trying. Trying to be someone I wasn’t, to impress people who probably weren’t fooled to begin with or didn’t care much either way. My husband, more than anyone else, taught me to take the light-hearted road, and there is nothing I’m more grateful for. He’s shown me there’s no shame in liking what I like; the silly, self-indulgent girl I was trying to tame didn’t need stifling. Just because Clueless is my favorite movie of all-time and I’d rather listen to Britney Spears than jazz, doesn’t mean I’m any less interesting than the cerebral college mates I desperately wanted to win over. Those film snob friends who could talk for 45 minutes about the symbolism of Citizen Kane would be embarrassed to hear my husband get the same point across in one hilarious sentence.
Now when I have occasional lapses, and worry people will read my guilty pleasure blog and think I’m a shallow, one-trick pony, I laugh and say to myself, Who cares? Betcha I’m having more fun! What they might not realize is how difficult it was for me to get to this point. Luckily, I know if I start to get caught up in self-doubt, my husband will take my obnoxious words and repeat them in a ridiculous voice. Usually with a heavy lisp. You like using words like plethora, huh? Oh, you studied Nietzsche in college? Get the hell out of here, his teasing reminds me, you’re taking yourself too seriously.
My husband shows me, day in and day out, by his unwavering example, that there’s nothing better than being genuine. For this I am more thankful than champagne words can express. Even though I sometimes still have to force myself to share the goofy things [always] on my mind, it gets easier every day. And that’s like, you know, as the incomparable Miley Cyrus would say, pretty cool y’all.
Tori (The Ramblings) snared me immediately with her simultaneously exuberant and deeply considered posts. This combination of traits, only seldom seen traveling as such constant companions in the wilds of blogland, is enthralling enough, but do you suppose the magic stops there?
Not a chance! The fact she’s having her blog readers help plan her wedding is sure to have you wanting to know more, and be a part of that joy.
Recommended post: R & R (And R)
Take a Sip
“For myself I am an optimist – it does not seem to be much use being anything else.” - Sir Winston Churchill
I stood at the mouth of the ocean. The salt brushed loose from the breeze. Sand wrapped my toes. A baby babbled in the background. Just hushing wave, a child’s laughter, hushing wave, whirling winds, a child’s brilliant happiness. This is the best kind of lullaby, I thought. I love everything here.
I eyed a man to my left. I decided to call him Burt as it sounded sufficiently grumpy, and Grumpy, you will learn, was the pouty sir’s middle name. He was one man, a fuming island one slip of a tight jaw away from spewing hatefulness into pristine waters. His flimsy, red knickers suggested a playful side. His furious brow did not. Some minutes passed- him shooting angst from his eyeballs, me holding a head cocked like a concerned poodle. I waited for Playful Burt to invite us all for a leisurely game of volleyball. This never happened. I wondered if a hug would fix him right. Maybe a note tucked into his fanny pack could lighten his load? It would read: Perk up, Buttercup. Your glass ain’t half empty at the edge of this here ocean. Take a sip, fool. Take it all in. Your cup done runneth over. He threatened to rip paper from the seam with each flip of his book’s pages. He scoffed a bit, bothered by the natural beauty of it all, I suppose. I knew in that moment that for Burt the sun was too sunny, the sand too sandy, the saltwater too damned salty, and the child’s giggles so infuriating and giggly he could spit. I was sad to watch this stranger take his glass-so blatantly ready to spill over lip- and toss it aside, most certain that it held nothing for him. I peeled my feet from their borough on the beach and vacationed on to celebrate this good life elsewhere.
A week later, I am stuck in the mouth of a yellow slide. My son, the ever-adventurous toddler, has stopped for a rest mid-swirl. A line of antsy children fuss to at the top. A crowd of peeved parents fuss at the bottom. And I laugh. Oh, I laugh! My son giggles in time to my guffaws. The yellow slide vibrates with hilarity, and for a moment it is just me and my boy, tinted in the slide’s sunny shades and laughing at the echos of our laughter. Once regurgitated from the plaything, he runs past the pissy crowds towards the next best thrill the playground has to offer. States away from that awe of ocean, we find enough good in a muddy puddle. The dirt brushes loose from the breeze. Sweet smells of grass wrap my nose. A baby splashes in the background. Whoosh goes the swing, a child’s laughter, whoosh goes the swing, sun filters through every bone, a child’s brilliant happiness. I love everything here.
I look back to spot one mama still scrutinizing from a distance. Our pleasure, it seems, brings her greatest displeasure. For whole minutes she scornfully glances at us. It seems our lack of proper slide etiquette is close to unforgivable. Her children, gloriously golden-haired and delighted to play in the dirt are told to hush, to move, to cut it out. She is a gorgeous thing, slim and tan and lovely save for that soured purse of her lips. As one child ventures too deep in the dirt, she swipes them up, yanking and pulling the surprised tots towards the parking lot. Her one woman Circus of Fluster flies homeward in a luxury SUV. Maybe a note tucked into her diaper bag could lighten her load? It would read: Perk up, Buttercup. Your glass ain’t half empty when you’re double-fisting those there sippy cups. Take a sip of the good juice, fool. Take it all in. Your sippy cup done runneth over.
I check my e-mail as The Slide Scaler sleeps. A message from a fellow blogger asks for what I am grateful. Naturally, I make a list of people, places, things and more things. Health, Motherhood, Sunshine, Diet Coke. I love everything.
Then my hand detaches from my brain and scribbles Burt and Angry Lexus onto the page. How can I be grateful to perfectly volatile strangers? Before I know it I have added Cysts, Scars, Abortion, and Poor to the list. Awful, awful things for which I am filled with thanks? I promptly ask myself to shut up, but then I look closer.
It took those angry faces to teach me how not to live.
It took meals of crackers and Coke to appreciate a meal cooked, a bill paid, a bank account cushioned.
It took one miserable abortion, scars on skin and so deep down to bone to wipe me clean, to finally greet my son and tell him immediately and forever that this life, this life is so heartbreaking and good.
It took an e-mail from a blogger to make me realize that above all else I am grateful for my glass.
Some mysterious thing, some place or time, some experience or person thought in the darkest and lightest times to hand me a glass so dry and convince me that it would never, ever be empty. When, where and how this discovery smacked me I will never know, but I seem built to believe that it will never be empty. At the mouth of the ocean, in the throat of a snaking slide, I am simply thankful to be thankful.
Kasey (Single Working Mom) writes about life exactly as she lives it, addressing maddening, depressing and uplifting matters alike with candor and grace. What gets written on her blog is only half the magic of following her blog, though; the remainder falls into the equally candid email exchanges we would never have begun but for her blog! I am always delighted to read her words, no matter which forum they reach me through.
Recommended post: A Visit with Dad
All week long I was living in the town of Anxiety. Stressed to the gills about taking my daughter, Maycee, down to Grandma’s for the rest of the week, while she was sick, for a “vacation” we had planned long ago before summer began. She had a myriad of illnesses hit her at one time, two emergency room visits; I had already missed two days of work, preparing myself to miss more if her fever didn’t subside. After a follow-up visit with the pediatrician, ear infection was gone, her fever was denounced as not much to worry about, and the cold, well, it was just a cold. With the game plan in place to proceed with grandma’s visit if the doc said all systems go, we were in the car, bags packed with Blanky, Bluey, and Crystal Kitty, heading south to meet her dad for pickup and transport. Maycee was excited to be going, ready to have some change of scenery after four days couch-ridden at home, but within a short amount of minutes she was crashing out in the back seat, tired and plainly spent.
I am blessed. My daughter does not get sick often. Perhaps over seven and half years she has been really sick—REALLY SICK—about three other times. The last one was pneumonia/croup that took us to the emergency room when she was three years old. I was separated from her dad then, but still living within a close distance to him as well as other family. I worked mainly from home along with two other part-time day jobs that were not very restricting at all to parenting. I was able to be at home with her without much concern or fear, knowing all jobs could do without me just fine. It was a different time and a different place, a different life. It seems like another world away, really. She recovered from that scary illness in about a week. Not too long, and with marked progress. This time, at this age, the same end result was not occurring, and I now live two and half hours away from her father and my family, work a day job, 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, and manage all life’s complexities in isolation.
I had so many ideas for this guest post. In fact, I had settled on one FTIAT subject with emphatic decisiveness, mulling over what details I would include, how beautifully I could string the concepts together…hmmmmm…but that just wouldn’t be me. Not in the blogosphere. Not in my head. Because of this: when I grasp the hour or two I steel for myself to write I MUST simply write what is pressing on my heart at that very moment. I could be no truer to those reading if I did not write this way. And, the blogs I gravitate toward do the same. I will say this then, I’m fairly certain I will one day post my original FTIAT planned subject matter when it hits me…But today, for this guest entry it boils down to this: DRUMROLL PLEEEEEEEEAAAASSSSEEEEE…
I AM SO VERY THANKFUL FOR MY DAUGHTER, MAYCEE.
She made it through the week at Grandma’s with a lot of difficulty but some recovery. Then, it was off to her dad’s for the weekend. All totaled I was away from her for seven days. Seven days too many. As a single working mom I certainly cherish a few quiet moments “childless”. I scramble to get chores done or tackle a larger house project that I’ve had to put off. I sleep in (if I’m not under guilty duress) until 8AM and slowly drink a warm cup of coffee rather than quickly drink half of one, cold. But, if you put a hidden camera in my home during my first night of imposed “freedom” this is what you’d see (fictitiously narrated by any of your favorite announcers):
There she is, Kasey. She’s just standing there. In the middle of her living room. Looking around. What’s she looking at? Oh, there she goes, now she’s going to the kitchen. Wait, she’s back. She’s back in the middle of the living room. Staring. At the walls? It’s midnight. Why doesn’t she go to bed? What is she doing?
Because without my daughter there is too much space for me. Because without the hours filled to the brim of 9:00 at night with work, camp, childish whining, scolding, questions, giggles, and hugs I hardly know what to do with myself until a day or so has passed. This I’ve come to recognize with immense gratitude! I’m so very thankful that I do not live solely for my own self any more. That although this single mom-hood life isn’t what I’d wanted or planned for, I wouldn’t trade it for anything if it meant not having my little one. I wouldn’t want to go back to a life where the world revolved around memyselfandi. Other mommy-friends say, “Oh, I would love it if I could have a few days to myself. It’d be so nice.” Sure it would. Sure it is. I need re-charging; we all do. But more-so than the pleasure of solitary confinement, when I’m away from Maycee for days or a week at time it reinforces my sense of gratitude for this amazing gift I’ve been given. I’m a mom, I’m a mom, I’M A MOM! Rejoice and be glad in it! HALLELUJAH!
I picked Maycee up today at 4:10PM. The hours did not move quickly enough for me. I called her every day she was away; sometimes twice. I parented through Grandma and her dad by phone. I wanted to climb through the receiver to give her hugs, give her medicine, give her all of me, but I couldn’t, so I’d say, “Can you feel it? This is Mommy giving you a hug. MMMMMMMMMMHMMMMMMMMM!” She’d reply, “Ooooooh, that was a good one, Mommy! I could feel it!” I picked up Maycee today, and when I got into that McDonald’s parking lot she was holding her dad’s hand until she saw me. Then, the smile grew bigger and bigger, and she let go of Dad’s hand in anticipation. I quickly parked the car, jumped out, and grabbed my girl. Crying, I hugged her so tight, told her I loved her, how much I missed her. This time even more than the rest, if that is possible, because I had to trust her recovery within the village it takes to raise a child-not my own hands. She said to me, hugging me back, “I missed you, too.” And, I was so very, incredibly thankful she is mine, and I am hers: Maycee’s mommy. HER ONE AND ONLY MOMMY.
This drive home there was no Scooby Doo movie playing in the backseat, no DSi games going, barely any music. Just loads of relief and love you could feel through the seats and carpet and windows of the car. Talking, catching up, as if we didn’t talk fast enough we’d lose our breath. Mother and Daughter. Laughter that swelled with each mile until we reached the Yellow Submarine, and Maycee said, “I’m going to let you get out of the car and get to the door first so I can run right in [to our home, that is]!” And For This I Am Thankful.
I am also thankful for you, Readers. In this life, today, be happy, and as always, give a chuckle.
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