Friday, October 29, 2010

Dearest Baby Brother

Dearest baby brother,

Today, I celebrate 31 fabulous years of you. The night and day of your arrival defy my usually horrible memory. It was late night, October 28, 1979:

I was seven years old. Mom and I slept on the family room floor (yes, she slept on the floor even then), under a garish, muli-colored afghan. (Maybe Grandma knitted it to match our rainbow shag carpet...ahhh, the 70s). Suddenly, Mom bolted up because her water broke.

(Side note: I know that most guys don't really enjoy thinking about exactly how they entered this world, so I won't dwell here. But it bears mentioning because I'm profoundly moved, even 31 years later, to know I was there when you decided it was time to arrive.)

Someone drove me to a pre-appointed friend's house. My senses continued on high alert: the cold of the red, vinyl Chevy seats seeping through my pajamas. The craggy branches of the emptying trees boldly stretching into the dark October sky. The palpable anticipation--and my sense of co-conspirator in the whole event--fluttered wildly in my belly. It seemed as if the entire world pulsed in chorus: The baby's coming! The baby's coming!

The next morning, I sat in my second grade class. Suddenly, the PA system crackled and the principal called me to his office. (Thank you for that, dear brother, for that was the only time in my entire goody-two-shoes life that I ever got called to the principal's office. But, I digress...)

And then they told me. My baby brother had arrived.

I could hardly wait to meet you, to hold you. To see you. In honor of the occasion, I chose a super special outfit consisting of one red and blue plaid wool kilt, tights, pig tails, a toothless-smile and brownish-tanish cork wedge sandals. Absolutely smashing.

I remember walking through the long, antiseptic hospital halls which seemed to stretch on forever.

And then, finally, you.

You. You're such an amalgamation. I've so many swirling memories of you bringing laughter and tears. You gifted your first smile of your life to me. You, at two, wearing my doll's tiny straw hat, while riding your Crayola crayon bike. You, also at two, throwing a temper tantrum because I wouldn't let you play in the drinking fountain (by the way, dude--Mom's rule, not mine.) You, at 10, wildly independent. You, at 12, visiting my sorority house in one of your black Megadeath tshirts. (A unique juxtaposition to my circa 1992 Laura Ashley floral print dress with a peter pan collar.) Your talent and love of drawing: if you didn't have a pencil and paper, you drew imaginary pictures in the air. You, at 30, preparing to marry a beautiful, intelligent, warm woman whose love of you rivals mine.

Sometimes the polarity in our personalities confounds me:

You: stoic (Me: not so much)
You: long black eyelashes (Me: blond eyelashes...WTF?)
You: let's say, not as concerned with putting things away (Me: Type A neat freak)

Your crazy intelligence. I always knew you were smart, but will never forget the time I figured out that you were wicked smart. You and I visited with some of my friends at a bar. You were an undergrad. Someone mentioned religious theory and you calmly interspersed details and themes of all worldly religions like you were just talkin' about the weather. Totally a "how 'bout them apples" moment.

I admire your integrity. And your solid moral compass. And your knowledge of self. You knew, with absolute certainty, how you wanted to craft your career--you refused to take any job unless it filled your soul and made your heart sing (ok, those are my words, not yours, but you get my drift).

You're an amazing uncle. Remember when Abby was about four-months-old and we were at Mom's? I ate salt and vinegar potato chips near her and you worried about the crumbs getting into her tiny eyes; you were concerned that the vinegar could harm her. Honestly...what 20-something guy thinks about those things? And you still have some amazing karmic gift coming your way for babysitting Abby, just 13-weeks old, when you got doused with breast milk. (Dads don't even like that. Sorry man.) You last winter, playing in the snow with Abby and Henry for hours.

You cried when I asked you if you'd walk me down the aisle at my wedding.

I am honored to have you as my brother and my friend. The sureness of our bond, the intricacy of our roots, they say, run deep. I love knowing that I've got you in my corner. You are one of the most upstanding, strong men I know. And, in case I have't told you, you restored my faith--kept my faith--in the male persuasion when others did their best to tarnish that faith.

I love you, baby brother. Happy Birthday.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Today, I am part of the From the Heart Guest Author series. So, if you'd like, head over to their site to read my post, Blessings. (And while you're there, consider purchasing a book...all proceeds go to Children's Hospitals and St. Jude's Research Center. And then, not only will you support those amazing causes, you'll have a book with my first published book essay in it--and that is SUPER cool.)

And a sincere thank you to Katrina Kenison--whose words spoke to me from the deep, eternal wells of truth--for inspiring me to take the time, on an ordinary Tuesday to let my dearest friend know, in no uncertain terms, just blessed I am to have her on this journey with me.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Autumnal Gifts

The raw beauty of this year's autumnal display squeezes the air out of my lungs to prepare for the inhalation of the vibrancy of the next breath-taking display.

Hypnotized and spellbound by the crimsons, goldens, purples, brazen oranges and firey yellows, I stay still. Struck by the stark newness of the trees' ornamentation, a rumbling of nostalgia washes over me.

Humbled by the ancient, predictable yet always glorious dance.

(Thank you, Lindsey, for frequently reminding me to take a look up at the sky.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

I Celebrate Me

I am not the same person I was a year ago. Of course, I am. But yet I'm not. I embarked on a fabulous journey of excavation and introspection, quieting and forward action. I've unearthed many insights, from the seemingly slight to the profound. One tidbit I learned is this: most of my life, I've searched for, and expected, validation from eternal sources. When I accomplished something, I looked for grades, raises, flowers, praise and/or presents from others. I think this is partly societal. But I can't blame it all on our ever-powerful society because I believe it is also just inherently me.

So, outwardly I looked. Seeking accolades from my parents, teachers, friends, bosses, boyfriends, strangers walking down the street. I placed the fulcrum of my happiness under the lever of other's unpredictable cadences. Understandable, I guess, but in retrospect, not very smart. Not really smart at all.

One random smack or capricious whim could easily crumble me.

When I accomplished something, or reached a big goal, I looked to others to celebrate me. Not too surprisingly, looking for validation in exterior places littered my life with many disappointments. And ultimately left me empty. Because I so busily looked (and looked and looked and looked) for acclaim, I forgot to look within.

So. With careful recalibration and awareness, I stopped. I now rejoice and celebrate my wins and successes. If others
want to join in (and bring presents), I'm certainly not going to stop them. But I own the celebration. It's critical for me...and I've realized, critical for my children. I want their compasses to encourage inward celebratory introspection rather than outward validation.

Recently, I met a huge goal of mine. So, after much mental high-fiving and giddy excitement, I drove myself to the store. I walked (maybe even strutted) into the jewelry department and located
the necklace. The one I've coveted. Simplistically gorgeous, perfectly commemorating my success.

I bought that necklace. I wear it proudly. Everyday. It will forever remind me of my accomplishment. And, it will act as a talisman of this truth: that looking frantically for things outside ignores the wealth and bounty within...and leaves me with. out. anything.

Every accolade I want and need comes from within.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Remembering A Dear Friend's Baby

On this day, seven years ago, a baby was born. Three short days later, he died.

Today, like many days, I remember him.

At his funeral, one of his aunts read this excerpt from The Little Prince by
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night... you, only you, will have stars that can laugh!

When I look at the night sky, I see you shining in the stars, sweet boy. I see your bright light and your sparkle. I wish we'd had more time together. Please continue to shine for us. Your mom and dad, your sister and brothers miss you. Your whole family misses you. I miss you.

Thank you for the laughing stars.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Sign Post of Reflection--20 Years

I graduated from high school 20 years ago and recently attended my 20th High School Reunion. In the weeks leading up to this milestone, I felt as if an odd time warp descended in which past, present and future intersected.

My thoughts swirled: Who would be there? I can't wait! Would I remember everyone? How would everyone look? WHAT SHOULD I WEAR? Would this combination of faces and personalities throttle me back to my less-evolved 18-year-old self? Like a yard stick, the weekend begged me to measure and analyze the last two decades of my life. So, I did just that. And I was pleased:

In the last 20 years, I've learned as much as I've forgotten. I gained confidence and sure footing. I now know that I don't know--especially when I think I do. I didn't in high school and I don't now. I do not hold the answers to the indefinable future. I've learned that as the years push on, hair grows in funny places on your face (damned chin hairs).

In 20 years, I've lived. I watched snow flakes melt on my childrens' hoods. I inhaled the intoxicating scent of the first autumnal fire. I experienced dark days...dark years.
I felt the exhilarating rush of bright, happy days. Sometimes sunlight frolicked on the fringes of my days and others, it boldly blinded me. I questioned many things. I fell in love--and stayed in love--with Hubby, the father of my children. I felt and watched life grow inside. I cherished the chubby weight of my own flesh and blood against my chest, hearts beating Morse codes of truth and connectedness. I held the hand of a man who loves me, just as fiercely as I love him.

I returned to center. I redefined my truths--sometimes slowly, sometimes at the force speed of light--and created
my own, personal dogma.

I realized, during this maelstrom of remembering, that when I tried to eek out memories of high school, wide, gaping holes existed.
The frayed edges of my memories become more fragile and mailable as I continue living. I did not inherit my mother's razor-sharp memory; I live knowing the past happened and that I had a place in it. But the details escape me.

But then I remembered my blue Tiffany box. The box of stuff holding decades of faded keepsakes. I pounded upstairs, skipping two and three steps at a time.

The box sat in the corner of my closet. Its corners crushed, its creases and bends filled with decades-old dust. I opened the lid and piles of papers, cards and photos--along with the scent of old--met me. My fingers began deftly sorting through my personal time capsule. The contents of this box--the piles of notes, cards and paper--helped fill in those blanks. I sorted through the momentos, happy with my younger self for saving these bits and pieces:

- Animated notes from a high school pal which we traded between classes (we now pass notes through Twitter and meet at each others blogs, instead of the locker-lined hallways of our past)
- Signs that decorated my locker, announcing to the world the arrival of my 18th year
- My very official-looking (but not sure what it is) Presidential Academic Fitness Award, which seems to be signed by George H. W. Bush (geesh--the things I save).
- My senior-year weekly calendar, outlining long-forgotten tests, papers and assignments

Other memories formed from the haze: the day I found the perfect black velvet dress for Heart Hop. The confounding nature of Shakespeare. Dime-sized zits. Individuality mixed with conformity. Wanting to be asked out by boys who did not want to ask. Ended friendships. New ones. First boyfriends. The realization that sometimes, marriages must end. Searching frantically for the perfect pair of worn-in Levi 501s. Laughing so hard I cried.

I recalled the first time I stepped foot on that high school campus, half-way through my junior year of high school. Coming in part-way afforded a new beginning. But it also commanded a crash-course in ranks and politics. The startling juxtaposition of these two realities--my gratitude for the fresh start and my intense desire to be steeped in this community's history--remind me, 20 years later, that emotions deliver complex messages in sometimes confounding packages.

In my blue box, I found conciliatory cards from friends during sad times. As I read the loopy, girlish notes of encouragement, this thought grounded me: life's brilliant dichotomy plays out one moment at a time, throughout each life.
Each day comprises of ups and downs, sadness and celebration, losts and founds.


The magical weekend of the reunion has now passed--my intrinsic curiosity about the future satisfied through the predictable passage of time. I now hold new memories, tucked away for future examination and introspection: A slow drive past my last childhood home. The embrace of friendships now 20 years old. The cocktail party filled with distinguished accomplishments and the years worn well by my classmates--and the fabulous delight in not worrying about our parents or, gasp, the police, breaking up our party. Leg air guitar (and, to my dismay, photos to indelibly capture my participation). Discussions about the best hair straightening techniques (since gone are the days of big, big hair and curls to match.) The joy of seeing familiar smiles.
Saturday's football game: old hellos, bear hugs, the cracking of football pads, cheering fans. Fire-burnished air, fringed with a pre-winter chill. I viewed it all through my seasoned eyes (complete with well-earned crow's feet). The lake littered with the yellows, oranges and crimsons of fallen leaves. The pounding of the metal bleachers, the air reverberating with cheers. The slow descent of a single leaf. Laughing until I cried.

Yet at certain times, all tenses converged again. Sometimes the past's presence was so palpable, I felt as if I could whisper sage wisdom back over the years and through the ether to my 18-year-old self:
You are beautiful.
You are loved.
Everything in this moment is perfect.
Be easy on yourself.
When you see beauty, stop and embrace it. Savor it. Taste it.
Live. Now.

I hold with reverence those 18-year-old's experiences, which all add up and equal me now. I can tell you that I wouldn't go back to relive high school. But I can also tell you with conviction that I wouldn't change a thing.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

From the Heart: A Collection

Above is a picture. It's a picture of an essay of mine which is part of a great charitable book, From the Heart: A Collection of Stories and Poems from the Front Lines of Parenting. I just got my copy and I'll admit: I'm a bit excited. This is the first book in which I've been published. Opening the crisp pages, feeling the weight of the paper and seeing the contrast of black words against white paper made my stomach take a giddy tumble. I'll also admit that I want to tell everyone I know, "I'm in a book! My writing is in a book!"

I cannot wait to settle down and read all the essays from the other contributing authors. 100% of the proceeds will be split between Children's Hospitals and St. Jude's Children's Research Center. Won't you consider supporting them? (And, sorta me, too, since...(did I mention?)...I'm in the book!)