Parental Guidance

When my son was four years old he came down with the chicken pox. It was winter time, he was quarantined at home (which meant I was quarantined at home.) It was not a lot of fun.  But worst of all I wanted my mother, and she was gone. I wanted to ask her how she dealt with my bout of the chicken pox, how best to apply to calamine lotion. But she had passed away a few months before and I was on my own.  Oh, I talked to a friend who had live thru her two daughter’s almost simultaneous pox-a-rama, I talked to my pediatrician. But it wasn’t the same.

Recently, when I read the pages of my Facebook, or those of my local newspaper I learn that the parents of my childhood friends, my peers and co-workers are dealing with serious health issues, and yes passing away. If you’re a Disney character you sing “The Circle of Life.” If you’re a real person you pause and remember. You remember the room mother who made and delivered the cupcakes for the Valentine’s Day party. The father who drove a carload of girls to the roller rink for the twin’s birthday party.  The store owner, the teacher, the bane of your best friend’s existence, and the person smiling and tearing up at the same friend’s wedding.

I was a young mother when I lost my parents with in two years of each other. It was not how I wanted to lead the group. I still had questions I wanted to ask, advice  I wanted to ponder. My son confessed recently he barely has any memory of my dad with whom he had so much fun at Disney World at age 5, and that he does not remember at all my mother who died when he was four. My daughter never met either of my parents. I’m only happy that she had a sweet, close relationship with my mother-in-law. Twelve year olds tend to remember things. Things like famous deviled eggs, or funny stories about your dad’s older brother.

I once read a quote by a sociologist that when one loses a parent the loss is compounded by the feeling that a barrier  between our self and mortality is breached. This may be true. But I also remember a favorite client telling me something when I offered my sympathy for the loss of her mother. She herself was a grandmother already and at least 20 years older than I. “I’m just kind of mad, I want my mom back,” she said.

This is what I know about losing your parent. You will look at old pictures of them from when you were young, and you will be struck by how young they look. You will be unable to replicate the meatloaf/lemon meringue pie they made. You will wish your dad was coming over to  help fix the car or watch the game. And if any of these things are true for you then you will have been very blessed in deed.

I read an interesting quote a while back. I noted it, and it fits this topic as well as any other. “We’re all just walking each other home.” It’s good to know that the first people to hold our hands are part of the memories of not only us but often of the people we played, laughed, and grew up with.  I’m just say’n.

After The Ball

Halloween night my husband and I went to view the Great Pumpkin event our little village hosts. For all of the time I have been a resident here, I have enjoyed this wonderful kickoff to autumn. A village consortium of volunteers and a non-profit foundation put the event together. My children and I have all volunteered in the past. And, I remember fondly,now, how when they were young, they would ask to go see the pumpkins at night  –every night– that the jack-o-lanterns were lit. Truth be told, when a Whitefish Bay child stops asking to go see the pumpkins, it’s a little sad.Sort of like when they no longer believe in Santa.

I was thinking about the folks who put the event together, neighbors, scouts, schoolchildren, teachers, civic group members. And it dawned on me that some of those contributing time, candles, doing the carving, the unloading of the more then 1000 pumpkins, were not all on the same side of the political fence. Why, just as the pumpkins kick off Fall so too do the appearance of election yard signs. This realization gave me pause and yes, a really  good feeling. Despite our political differences our resident can work together towards common goals. No small thing when you read and listen to some of the words that pass as “public discourse” these days. I would venture to say that civil discourse was the norm for all those involved working on the display. And probably, no one volunteered using a “pen” (re: false) name while engaging in name calling or character bashing at any time while working on the display.

While I was walking my dog  through my neighborhood Halloween week, a neighbor who ,yes, has an election sign in direct opposition to the one in my yard, came out to talk to me. We often chat. Sometimes I ask him about his daughters, now grown and on their own. Often he just wants to say “hi” and pet my dog as we are both longtime pet owners and we have even hugged when one of our dogs has passed away. He’s a good guy. He’s my neighbor. I like him. He will still be a good person the day after the election- no matter who wins.

On the day after Halloween the DPW came to clear away the tents and the pumpkin remains. The little park is empty and the fountain is closed up for winter. In a few days the yard signs will be all gone too. Let’s all remember that the day after the election we will all still be here as neighbors and citizens. Let’s work together on small neighborhood projects and insist that our public servants follow our lead and be civil and work together too. Whether it’s a school, civic, or charity project we all do know how to get along. It makes our communities much better places to live, and working together also actually gets things done: I’m just say’n.

Farewell Old Friend

I said good bye to and old friend today. A relationship only five years shorter than my 32 year marriage. An association that outlasted two dogs,six cars and numerous soccer socks and beach towels. Today my new washing machine was delivered and my old one removed by two young men who seemed unaware of the history they hauled out of my basement and onto a waiting truck. Am I alone in feeling slightly sentimental over an old appliance? We bought the washer at the same time we purchased all four of our major appliances, for our “new” old home. Our first house. They all made the move (with the first golden retriever) to the next house. But, alas they all were replaced and updated by newer shiner models. Happily not all at the same time as was my fear. But that washer kept on washing. Four years ago I thought it was done for, poor timing, as my eldest was on his way to Spain to study abroad in a few days, and a college tuition bill was due. But a gifted repairman worked his magic and the fix we hoped would last about a year stuck. Even now it wasn’t broken, it just wasn’t efficient enough, too many trips up and down the basement stairs coaxing it to the next cycle finally sealed its fate. And so I gave it a gentle pat and bid it adieu. Now those who know me know that I sentimentally attach to things. The Wedgewood dishes from my college dorm residents,a bridal gift to their R.A. The watercolor painting my cousin painted of her grandson and my daughter. The Spode tea set a beloved friend found in an antique shop and sent for my birthday. These are treasures to me. Not too hard to understand. But just as valuable to me is my ironing board. On my 22nd birthday ten days before my wedding my mother gave me what I thought was the lamest gift ever, a new iron and ironing board. I smiled to myself at this most practical and least sentimental gift a mother could give a daughter days before she left her home to marry her college sweetheart. It was a total representation of her practical nature and outlook. And, these many years later I think of her every time I pull it out of the closet and press a shirt. It still sports the pad she purchased and fit over the old white sheet she covered it with, to provide what she thought was the necessary padding for optimal ironing. Yes, just like the pink handled pie server the ironing board and the washing machine were the not so glamorous tools of some of the least romantic and sentimental aspects of family life. Our family life. Not as pretty as a picture or graceful as fine china, but used and reused and touched and explained and instructed about to each of us in this family. Sometimes memories are not made of parties, graduations or holidays. Much of our lives are connected by daily tasks and chores. A son ironing a shirt shocking and impressing his mother, a daughter finishing and folding the laundry. The times that mark the passage of time as household appliances age and wear out. So farewell old friend. I still remember how excited I was the day you arrived. I promised my self and my husband that I would never complain about the laundry now that I was released from the pay laundromat.

I’m pretty sure I kept that promise. I’m just say’n.

Turn, Turn, Turn

The college freshmen walked toward the student union to check in. She was excitedly focused on what was in front of her when she heard her name called from behind. It was her mother. “I didn’t get to hug you good bye.” The freshmen was startled, she gave the obligatory hug and continued on her way. The mother returned to her car at the curb, and she and the father drove away.

This morning on my walk my neighborhood was full of moms and dads taking first day of school pictures of kids. The children smiled at the camera, depending on their age, with big excited grins or embarrassed “can we get this over with” grimaces. There were no pictures at my house for the first time in 20 years.

This morning I ran into my daughter’s ,now retired, kindergarten teacher in Starbucks. She asked if I noticed all the little ones lining up for school. I told her I had dropped my little one off at college yesterday. She clutched her heart.”How was that for you?” “It feels worse today.” I replied. She shared a memory of my daughter from all those years ago. I remembered how much my daughter loved K4 and this teacher. I remembered how I had tried to talk her pre-school teachers out of advancing her to kindergarten. “She could stay, but she’d have to co-teach the class,” they laughingly told me.

I know that this next phase of our lives will be just great. But right now I’m feeling nostalgic for hands to hold and parent teacher meetings. I know I’m not alone. If you’ve ever dropped your oldest off at college you understand. If you’ve dropped your youngest off at college you feel my pain.

I know what I need to focus on are the blessings this day represents. Two healthy, mostly happy kids who worked hard to get themselves into college. Two young adults starting the next phase of their young lives. The boy I dropped off at the university 6 years ago is on his own now, a college graduate. He’s a different person than the boy who asked us as we prepared our exit, “You mean you’re leaving now?” His little sister and I had made his dorm bed and hung his clothes. His father laughingly said “Yes, we won’t be staying at college with you.”

I can only wonder at the growth and changes that the little sister will experience during her college years.

I’m not the first parent to realize that everything we do as parents to love and nurture our children is to get them ready for this day. My husband was only half joking when he shared his thoughts to a young neighbor mom. Her little darling in the pixie bob with the almond eyes, a beautiful gift from China. She showed us her little pink glittery shoes and and told us how kindergarten started next week. “You ‘ll love them so much, buy them hundreds of shoes, and then they’ll leave you.” he predicted. And in the end that’s what happens.

But it’s a wonderful journey. One I’m sure we would never want to miss. And It’s timeless. It will be repeated next fall with others, by  this year’s high school seniors. And 18 years from now by the moms pushing the buggies down my street today. You see the clueless freshmen who forgot to hug her mother was me. I never dreamed I’d be in my mother’s  shoes one day. Sad, happy and grabbing one more hug from a girl focused on what was in front of her. I’m just say’n.

Better Than Chocolate

Who’s your Valentine? Who do you send a card to, give a hug to, remember fondly? February is hearts and flowers time. As the 14th draws near I can’t help but think of love and chocolate. Although, to be honest I purposely looked away when the stores displayed all the Valentine gear before I had swept up all the New Years confetti. But now “V” day is around the corner and I have some “sweethearts” to celebrate, multiple sweethearts. I hope you do too.

I’m talking about those people who have slipped past friendship into a zone I’ve named “framily.” Twice recently I’ve been caught by surprise when someone with whom I share no name or DNA, has referred to me and mine as “family.” After the lump in my throat subsided I gave the designation some thought.

The first “framily” label occur ed when the college age daughter of friends announced at my Thanksgiving table that spending the holiday with us was simply spending it with family. The 2nd occasion was in a hospital’s surgical waiting area. The son of our long time friends was undergoing serious surgery and we had come to sit with them early one morning after Christmas. When the surgeon came in to talk to the parents he looked at my husband and I and said “Are you family?” The mother without a moments hesitation said “Yes, they are family.” And so we are.

I recently read that we build the family we didn’t have from the friends we choose. This framily creation may happen accidentally. But if you are smart, you will build this “framily” over time with effort and love.

My husband and I are both from small families, we’re low on siblings and cousins. And, we both live out of the states we were raised in. Over the years our “framily” has been through a lot with us; the addition of our children to our families, the drama of adoption, the loss of our own parents. They have come with us to court, lent a hand when a trip to the emergency room was needed, helped pack up a parent’s last household. And I like to think that we have been there for them as well. Their children may call us “Aunt” and “Uncle.” They call for advice. My son asks about them when he calls home. My daughter has their numbers programed into her phone. They both know their “framily” is a “contact person.”

So this year I’m sending them all a Valentine. To the childhood friend of my husband who lived on my floor in college, to the neighbor who visited my parents when they were ill and I was out of town. She moved out of state but maintains our relationship with love,long distance. To the former co-worker and neighbor who says my kids were her first “grandchildren”, and to all the others, Happy Valentine’s Day. A proverb from Ghana says “A family is like a forest. When you are outside it seems dense. But when you are inside each tree has its place.” Thank you for adding us to your forest, for letting my saplings gain aunts and uncles, cousins, “framily.” Happy Valentine’s Day, I’m just say’n.

Keepsakes and Memories

When is the right time to discard or find a new home for memorabilia? Every morning when I brush my teeth (and for that matter every night too) I see it. A small stainless steel cup, a raised teddy bear face on the front, my son’s name engraved on the back. It is somewhat like the sterling silver cup on the windowsill over my kitchen sink. One is filled with Q-tips, the other houses lip balms, assorted sewing needles and other small items. They were both gifts to my now 23 year-old son. I don’t think he realizes they are actually “his.” And while he does use Q-tips, he does not have a kitchen sink window in his Chicago apartment. But I wonder, at what time should I relinquish ownership to the rightful owner?

I have nooks and crannies all over my house that hold someonelse’s something. And while the two cups are emblematic they do give me pause. The collection of school art work, report cards and his National Honor Society certificate are all safely housed in a Rubbermaid container. Will he ever want them?

I’m not the first parent confronted with these questions. When I had been married 2 years and my husband and I were moving across state lines my parents had us stop by to “pick up a few things.” Let’s just say that it was a good thing we already had a truck. Some of the items I was ecstatic to take, like the antique oak curio my father salvaged that had been in my room since I was 10. Other things like paperback books were just things I then got rid of. But, I feel like my mother must have back then. She could not just dispose of the items of my past no matter how large or insignificant. It would feel just wrong.

I have a friend who helped her mother-inlaw move from a home of many years to a condo. In cleaning out the basement they came upon the dental retainer of my friend’s husband. That’s really a piece of personal memorabilia. That story prompted me to dispose of both my children’s retainers when they passed out of the land of orthodonture. But I hold on to other things.

I have small remnants of both of their “transitional objects.” Otherwise known as security blankets. They remind me of a sweet time in their lives when a soft cloth could ease their hearts and give them comfort.

The reverse of this story is of course the keepsakes I inherited from my own parent’s lives. The box of really old photos of nameless unknown people from the lives they had together and separate of each other haunt me from my attic. I just could not get rid of them.

These are not things I cherish, I just feel like releasing them is too close to erasing my parents lives from history. Periodically, I am able to get rid of something. The last winter jacket my dad wore hung in my basement for years until I could put it into a coat collection barrel. But that bowling shirt with his name on it, his driver’s license, I still have those.

And so I think I’ll keep the baby cups for a while longer. They really don’t fit into a 20-something’s decor. But there will come a time I’m sure when they will have to go to their true owner. But somehow I’m sure they will always mean more to me than they mean to him, I’m just say’n.

Do you have a treasure trove that is not quite treasure? Please comment and let me know.

Golden Time

Summer time is “golden” time. And I’ve enjoyed getting to know the Golden retrievers who have been part of our “pack.” They’ve all been unique dogs, possessing the central characteristic of a golden. People-love. A vet treating one of my dogs summed it up this way. “He’s a golden so he will mope when he’s not with his family.”

Our first Golden was Kalahan. Selected from a shelter as a gift for my husband, basically the smartest dog I’ve ever known. A friend once told me “he’s not a dog he’s a person in a dog suit.”

Kalahan, could open a peanutbutter jar, and not leave teeth marks. He opened drawers, and rearranged stuffed animals-neatly-under the dining room table. He also retrieved items on command. An especially helpful trick, when my hands were full of baby. He never growled or frightened children. But he guarded his “charges” loyally, always placing himself between them and approaching strangers. Eating the babysitters dinner seemed to be a small price to pay for such devotion. When it came time to help an aged Kalahan on to his next home, we were all bereft. But he looked at us with his typically wise eyes and bid us fairwell with grace and dignity.

The children were young and I missed a walking partner so seven months later we brought home Yankee. He joined our family at two-months old a few days before the Fourth of July. Hence the name. (Which my husband came up with in fear that the kids would name the dog “Guy.”) Although only a puppy, Yankee was always ,to put it simply, huge. He grew taller than any other golden I had ever seen and though I kept his figure svelte ,he weighed in at over 100 pounds. Other golden owners would stop me and ask where I had gotten such a mountain of dog. Yankee just smiled his golden smile and waited to be petted. And that was Yankee’s gift. A large heart just wanting some love. If Kalahan was one part of the canine IQ scale, Yankee sat on the other end. I never had to clear the counters of food. Cookies out of the oven could cool on the kitchen table and I could leave the house! Yankee seemed to have no faults except for his inability to fit places. Which was fine with me since that included most of the furniture. He just lumbered through life. My son, a teenager at the time called him “Sweets”. And never was a nickname more justly deserved. When Yankee did not wake up last July 5th the entire neighborhood was shocked and saddened. No one could belive he was 12 years old he seemed like such a puppy. One neighbor remembered how just a few days earlier,Yankee had appeared on his back porch gave one bark to be petted, and than trotted home. “As if to say ‘goodbye” to me , he mused.

“So,” my husband said as this year’s Fourth of July neared, “we lost Yankee last year at this time and a few months later you brought home Ethel Merman.” Well, her name is actually Bella. Named by the family who turned her into a local Golden rescue group. And like Ethel Merman she sings. It’s loud, really loud, and untrained ,and full of gusto. It’s a fullthroated song of joy when any of the family returns home after a prolonged abscence of say 5 or 10 minutes. She also sings when friends arrive. Bella is also our retriever most likely to truly play fetch -for hours and hours if she could. She is, my husband says, our most athletic dog. To use his basball analogy , Bella is a centerfielder, Yankee was a DH, and Kalahan was a baseball executive.

Loving a golden means sweeping up soft mounds of golden fur, having a large supply of tennis balls , and keeping track of your socks. It also means unconditional love, and being the recipient of that daily “golden smile” that means “I love you, and it’s so great we are all together.” What more does anyone need? I’m just say’n.