What an overwhelming week for family & friends

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Two infected teeth, preparing for my first day of school and my daughter having the audacity to step into 30 years of age, fearlessly, makes today feel like Saturday already. But on top of that,  25 copies of Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd by my girlfriend Emily were delivered early to allow for a “soft launch” of her poetry and watercolor book at Ed Hinkley Studios this Saturday and Sunday, October 4 and 5. His 16th annual Waterworks exhibition will include some of the paintings included in Emily’s book, some new ones, and of 20141002_113331course there will be the first pile of books on sale!

It’s so great to watch good things happen to good people. Here they were this morning waiting to open up the first box of books! If you have a free time between noon and 5 pm, come join us celebrate this awesome piece of work at 4052 N. Western Avenue.

By then despite how my teeth feel, I’m going to enjoy the wine, cheese and excitement surrounding a new exhibit. And I’m getting some holiday shopping done at the same time.

As for my daughter Jill, it seems three decades flew by faster than three years. I remember being in the hospital for two days as they induced labor for this little pip-squeak who’d clearly moved in. Thankfully, my doctor wanted to make it home for dinner the second night, and delivered she was. Perhaps a little well-done, but otherwise perfect. As fast as the time seems to have flown, the 21760_380724235336667_1537020678_nyears I’ve spent being proud of her mountain of accomplishments assure me it’s been at least 30 years.

But now I understand why my mom was bummed when my sister turned 30. She said it made her age 10 years―to 49 years old.

Those were great days. And so are these. I’ll take two messed up teeth as my family’s biggest problem any day.

Fairy Tales Coming True, It Can Happen To You

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Once upon a time a little girl with long brown hair lived in a castle with her mom, dad, sister, dog and other pets, like fish, lizards and hamsters. She had her own bedroom painted pale pink, her favorite color at the time. Eventually she even had a full wall mural of a sandy beach with water and palm trees, and a blue suede chaise lounged in front of it.

Her sister, 8-years her senior, had a room right next door, painted in her then favorite colors of navy blue and yellow. She had a long closet where her friends signed their names, leaving permanent messages in pen and marker.

The castle was remodeled with the top floor converted into a giant master bedroom suite, huge walk-in closet, a long bathroom with a shower and a whirlpool bathtub. The addition, like a loft, overlooked the downstairs living room. Looking up were double doors revealing a beautiful office with custom-made bookcases and a large cherry-wood desk sitting in the middle. On the opposite wall upstairs sliding glass windows brought the sun and the stars inside, the chirping language of spring’s first birds, splashing water and laughter from kids  playing in the pool.

For a brief time, the little princess with the pale pink room liked sleeping upstairs with her mom and back-scratcher. It was 13 stairs up to the master bedroom where double doors opened to the huge bedroom and a sitting area complete with a couch, television, plant stand and some more books, separated from the office only by the long bathroom.

During this bewitching period in the past, the moon sitting on the horizon, the young princess felt compelled to climb up the stairs, look at her mom and the empty spot next to her on the bed, then return to the double doors and yell down: “Dad, can I sleep up here with mom tonight?”

Both the mom and dad waited excitedly every evening, hoping to hear those few precious words.

Next the little girl would lie on her stomach, legs stretched over her mom’s, her back in perfect reach for scratching and massaging. She never wanted her mom to pause, nor did her mom want to, but soon she was asleep. I would straighten her out so she could rest comfortably through the night.

Those nights flew past with unfathomable speed, and soon enough the little princess didn’t need  mom rubbing her back to help her go “night-night.” Instead her bedroom became her sanctuary with closed door, long phone calls and something called MySpace introducing her into a larger world she would one day conquer with successes even her greatest admirers still can’t envision.

Mom still alternates between abandonment and accomplishment, recalling those times tucked under the duvet in the big bed with her little princess, sharing magic that happens when backs need to be scratched and Full House is running a new episode.

Last night, a successful, beautiful woman stopped by the family’s down-sized castle in a rare moment of free time. It was particularly special because for a couple of hours she lie next to her mom in the big bed, watching TV, chatting, occasionally texting and often just resting comfortably and quietly next to me as if we’d quietly traveled into once upon a time.

In each second I appreciated the differences, both minuscule and monumental, reveling in the miracle of a parallel past and present storyline magically merging into moments my memory routinely replay until this new episode unexpectedly ran. Every now and then if you pay attention life will give you a peek into something seemingly unbelievable—like fairy tales coming true.

Those Short Summer Breaks

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I have a princess visiting over this and next week. She’s everything one imagines of royalty: beautiful, poised, self-confident, someone you’re proud to say you know and be seen with. Of course, as is also true of royalty, she can be high maintenance. She prefers to be served her favorite food on her schedule. She counts on her wardrobe clean and at her disposal. She enjoys books read to her, arbitrary trips to her favorite stores, mani-pedis and at least one person with or near her at all times.

Those who know me have already guessed I’m talking about my six-year-old granddaughter, Princess Caitlin. There’s a three-week gap between camp and first grade. Her mom, the original princess and my oldest daughter, Jill, has taken off the third week. She’s excited to get her pix1354681652941daughter new supplies and wardrobe for the start of school, 12 years that neither of them realize zip by in such a distorted span of time it defies any normal understanding we have of days and years.

After all, it was only a few years ago we were preparing Caitlin’s mom and aunt for grammar school, then high school and finally college. And now they’re out in the world doing remarkable things without holding our hand or calling us for permission or even advice. So when Jill asked the family if anyone might be available to watch Caitlin during the two weeks between camp and her week off, I didn’t hesitate to ask for every one of those days.

Caitlin grows more independent by the minute. She prefers Justice, a clothing story, over toy stores, Buffalo Wild Wings over Chuck E. Cheese. She’ll ask for Nutella and crackers too close to dinner time. She has known every word of Olivia Helps with Christmas for at least three years, but she asks me to read it to her all the time. And if I step out of the room for more than a few minutes, a sing-song, “Grandma where are you? Are you coming back?” is routine.

Sure we’re spoiling her. But she’s a loving, caring, kind little person who somehow also knows this time together is special and doesn’t expect everyday life to be as accommodating. At the same time, her grandfather and I know all too well that being able to make this remarkable little girl content so easily is a finite ability. Happiness will be more complicated, her needs something only she can find a way to achieve.

Thankfully, Jill agreed to let us revel selfishly in the little time we have left to soak in all that is Caitlin, fighting over our own time to spend with her. Soon enough we’ll revisit paddy cake paddy cake and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star with our new grandson while Caitlin follows her mom and aunt out into the bigger world where greatness awaits her, too.

Eventually We All Win

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Last weekend Xavier and his friend drove to Cooperstown to watch inductions into the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame and see his oldest grandson play ball on the professionally manicured fields. I bet every male there fantasizes belting one over the fence. Xavier and his buddy had the time of their lifes.

For a long time our worlds were easier when we were apart. Life was complicated. We had kids, jobs, bills, college to save for, family, unending disagreements and deafening arguments not to mention the daily challenges of raising two daughters eight-years apart and galaxies away from understanding each other. What worked predictably was the relationship between dad and daughters.

I’d finally started accepting that the pledge, “Eventually that will change” is as over-promised and unrealistic as, “The check is in the mail.” Then last weekend happened. I spent day after unexpected and unplanned day with my granddaughter, as herself and as stand-in to her mom, my oldest, and her aunt—my 22-year-old “baby.”

Some might say this isn’t unusual, but nothing could be further from the truth. First, Caitlin and I hand sewed a pillow! Next, a phone call resulted in her aunt joining us to shop at Wal-Mart. We bought an entire sewing kit, and Jackie only smiled. When we split up to divide and conquer at the mass marketer, I grabbed two bags of our favorite Neutrogena face wipes and so did Jackie. We had lunch at Corner Bakery. Traffic was terrible, but no one evoked even the smallest groan nor did a single eyeball roll. In fact, we chatted right through the bumper-to-bumper finale.

The next day Cait was summoned home by Daughter #1. While driving her there, Jackie called me asking if she and her boyfriend could come over for dinner even though they knew it was only me at home. After we ate, he went downstairs to watch some “guy” show, while Jackie and I sat in the living room watching reality shows, chatting and even sitting wordless and comfortable. I can’t recall a single cell-phone interruption.

The next morning Jill called and asked if I’d look at documents she’d just emailed to me. She wanted my opinion and any minor suggestions, and she called before I was done, so anxious she was for the input.

Later that day, Jackie’s boyfriend called to ask if they could come over again. They’d bring the dinner and their laundry (I’d have made an 8-course meal and washed every article of their clothing with an ear-to-ear grin). After we survived the discomfort of the final episode of “The Bachelorette,” they headed downstairs to watch TV.

“C’mon down, mom,” Jackie said. “Leave the dishes. We’ll do them.”

“No, it’s okay. You two have some time alone together,” I said.

“No, mom. You better come downstairs. Drew, tell her she better come downstairs.”

I threw a load in the wash, another in the dryer, folded the warm clothes quickly, and made my way downstairs, where they included me in the conversation.

Yes, dads, daughters and even granddaughters have a remarkable connection. I once read that the love of a daughter is the safest kind of love a man can feel, thus it is a big deal for a man to be the parent of a girl. And what immeasurable value it is for daughters to know they will forever possess unconditional love with one man they’ve loved from the first moment they can recall.

Of course daughters love their moms, too. But daughter and mom share the love of a husband and father and that can be a complicated tango to master over a lifetime. It’s a dance with abrupt pauses and unusual rhythms, and we inadvertently tread on each other’s feet as we work to master it. Often Husband and Mom struggle to manage the missteps as much as Dad and Daughter. Until we realize we must learn and depend on muscle memory, those slip-ups can pile up and be more toxic than anticipated, even among family choreographed from love.

Xavier, his friend, son and grandkids may have had a major bucket list moment last weekend, and I couldn’t be happier for them. But I wouldn’t trade it for the Grand Slam weekend I had enjoying all the riches that only daughters can offer.

The G-Word

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Hundreds of emotions rushed through me when my daughter announced she was pregnant with her first child. Her health, age, future, childbirth, anything a mom can fret about simmered within me throughout her pregnancy. The biggest surprise, though, was the difficult time I was having accepting the reality that I was old enough for grandparenthood.

If that doesn’t prove “youth” is relative, I don’t know what does. As if I couldn’t have passed for a grandmother without my daughters having children. I’d already had practice. My stepson had three handsome kids of his own who I adore. I spent a great deal of time with the oldest when he was young, and it remains among my greatest experiences. Gus is the first little person I didn’t give birth to who enjoyed being with me as much as I loved being with him. Nonetheless, he’s a reminder my husband is older than me, and another Grandma rightfully ranks first in all their big hearts. Bottom line: I avoided the “I’m-a-grandma-now” reality check.

Daughter #2, Niece, Daughter #1, aka Mom, and Cait

Like the teenager who knows everything, I was an early-in-my-50’s mom who still had much to learn but didn’t think so when daughter #1 announced her daughter was due in September, 2007. I was abuzz with busy―baby showers, learning the latest in all things baby, and calling friends, most of who held their Grandma comments to themselves, although I could see the smirk in their eyes.

My daughter allowed me to be with her when Caitlin arrived. I was overwhelmed remembering all the love and happiness greeting my oldest when she was born. My parents and I spent years staring at her, awake or asleep. My youngest daughter, Caitlin’s new aunt, joined us in the birthing room soon afterwards, and I remembered how excited my mom and dad were at her arrival, especially my dad who’d finally slowed down enough to revel in all things infant and toddler. Every mispronounced word worthy of a story, told repeatedly. Then in came my niece, and I relived the joy my grandmother, mom, dad, sister and I felt when she made her debut―the first girl born near enough to hover over since my birth.

I held Caitlin close for a few minutes, introducing her to these women whose blood she shares. I told her about the long line of strong women preceding her, a tribute to those who instilled a love so powerful that those remaining were present now. The notion of missing even the first few moments of this new life unthinkable to each of us who instantly became part of her story through no choice of her own.

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Grandma and Cait

What an aha moment for this mom. Just when you think you’ve experienced all the great stuff in life―job promotions, marriage, rock star kids, beautiful homes, and even the significance of surviving the big 5-0―it’s not a leap to believe any big, magical milestone moments might be behind you.

Silly, inexperienced me. It took a year before Cait could say “Gamma.” Now that she’s getting ready for 1st grade, she can pronounce, spell and read Grandma as her mother, aunt and great-aunt did before her. And, I learned that just when I thought there were no longer any more big life lessons left,  being a grandmother is perhaps the most definitive life-affirming experience.

Caitlin and now her little brother multiple infinitely the profound love I felt when I gave birth to their mom. I don’t think either my very tired and hard-working daughter and equally exhausted niece can process the concept of so much love. Nor can my youngest who will be a terrific mother after she ventures down the many paths still before her. They have plenty of time. But this mom, who’s more motivated than ever to stay healthy to experience her baby’s babies, too, alternately laughs and cries at that naïve 50-something woman who feared the thought of being called Grandma.

It’s only when we stop learning new things every day that we genuinely have something to fear.

She Pictured It Long Before I Did

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It was a month ago I learned I was invited to spend 18 days as a writer-in-residence at Ragdale. March 2, my mom’s birthday, and of course a birthday present from her from wherever she is, watching after me still.

I loved every minute of those 18 days, and I can’t wait to return. Of course, I love my family and home, too. But re-entry is very difficult, and it’s probably worth a seminar during a Ragdale stay in order to prepare one for it. 

In the three weeks I spent at Ragdale, I napped once. I never watched television. I only read my colleagues writings, the NY times and other literary publications. I stayed up late reading and writing. I woke up early, anxious to do it all over again.

I was originally teased when I arrived at Ragdale because I was so tentative about saying “I’m a writer.” Should there be any doubt, that apprehension is thoroughly washed away now. Not because I’m writing more since I’ve left Ragdale. But because I miss the environment created solely to stoke one’s creativity. Sure, at home I can ready our place to move, paint, clean out closets, shine the wooden cabinets in the kitchen, and then find some time to write. But it’s not the same. Nonetheless, I. Am. A. Writer. And write, I will.

If I learned anything at Ragdale, I learned how important it is for writers to take their craft seriously whether or not others do. To put dedicated time aside to put words on paper and know we’re creating magic in doing so, as painful as the process is. Because we really do look at blank pages. Writers start and then restart. Swear we’ll write 1500 words without editing a single one until we’re done, then go back and spend a full week editing each of those 1500 words until they sing the story we’re appointed to share. 

Writing is hard work. The odds of getting rich from it unlikely. But that’s not the point. I can no more not write than I can not breathe. I find My truth in writing. I learn more about myself in writing than in anything else I do. Writing is as much a part of my life as are my children and grandchildren. 

Perhaps the biggest lesson from Ragdale is to prove it. Find the time to write. The world did not fall off its axis while I was away writing. What makes me think it will if I’m home writing? Whatever was in my head that had me thinking that way has had its day. I’m a writer now, and I’m going to take the time to create the words that fight to get out every day―when I’m home or in the car or just about ready to doze off.  I’m simply not going to go to sleep at night without giving time to the craft that fuels me.

Theodore Roosevelt understood the concept:  “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…. Hunter Thompson was no less brilliant: “Anything worth doing, is worth doing right.”

And if Shirley Stone were around, she’d add to those thoughts with words she used long before any sports equipment company’s advertising agency made them famous: “Just do it!” she’d be saying, and probably has been all along. And only as she can, she found a way to make sure I start listening to her again.

That’s mom’s for you, or at least what I’ve learned about what it means to be a mom: they never stop looking for ways to help you achieve your dreams, whether they’re sitting next to you or finding ways to remind you even after they’ve slipped those surly bonds. 

I’m on it, Mom. Thanks for the reminder.