Even a friend’s published work is an unbelievable experience

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The other day my girlfriend Emily Thornton Calvo picked me up from a doctor’s appointment. My husband was leaving town so he could only drop me off. Both daughters were working. For some odd reason, Emily actually had an hour break in her otherwise insanely busy schedule. And this, mind you, is post treatment for both cancer and leukemia. Look no further than Emily for an example on how to live life past the fullest, making over-doing it look like a vacation scenario.

As we headed home, she reached into the backseat and handed IT to me. Her New Book! Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd is a compilation of her insightful, eloquent poetry honed over decades of life-transforming experiences and more recent watercolor artwork, both of which present a sample of beautiful in the otherwise crazy world we inhabit. If you’re a Poetry Slam supporter, you must know her work through her Sunday evening readings at the Green Mill Lounge. Her artwork is already so spot-on, she’s had several successful art shows, too.

She’d been talking about putting the two together into a book for a while. Recently she revisited visual art through watercolors, and I am proud to have one of her masterpieces on my wall. Emily’s no rookie, having already published two other books with a co-author, so she’s well awareLCOA of the time and challenge of taking the traditional route to publish her latest creation.

Therefore, in 2014 when Emily applied for an individual Artists Program Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events and the Illinois Arts Council, it’s really not that much of a leap to believe she won the grant. As a result, Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd became her latest masterpiece within one year, self-published through the generous support of this Arts’ program.

I held the book. I propped it up between the shift and dashboard to stare at it. Then I held it again, until we reached my front door. To know Emily is already a gift. To understand and access her vision of life in various stages is such a huge and special expression of the world  that only her words within the pages of this book begin to articulate it.

I can only hope to one day have a book of my own, capturing so many universal truths, to share with others. This creates a standard tough to achieve, but still worth the effort. To journey through all the physical, emotional, wonderful and agonizing experiences my friend has conquered, and to capture them with such presence of mind, is a rare talent. As is Emily.

The book will be available in print and electronically on Amazon and on her website, emilycalvo.com, later in October. It’s a holiday present no-brainer just as it’s a must-have for anyone searching for some sanity in this otherwise crazy world we call home.

I’m so happy and proud of you, Emily. And so honored to call you my friend. Congratulations!

Learning to Share Your Journey

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Thirty-two years ago I married a guy I was certain I would love forever. After all, in your 20s you know that you already know everything about yourself and the world. Some parents try offering insight from the decades-bigger buckets of experience they lug around. But that journey’s bends and bumps are ours alone to navigate. How we manage the curves turn us into the Adults every 21-year-old adult believes is the marker into the all-knowing. Still, loved ones watch us confidently stride into our futures, acutely aware we don’t know that we don’t really know much of anything about ourselves and the world yet.

What I didn’t know marching down the aisle 32 years ago would have long ago destroyed rain forests if I printed out the volumes describing it. And the guy I married is long gone. He’s grown into a Husband, Father, Uncle, Grandfather, Coach, Teacher, Wage Earner, Partner and more. While at that, we hurled head first into multiple moronic mistakes. There were times we thought we’d implode if we stayed together. We couldn’t agree on a path, and they all seemed too narrow to fit us both.

Yet We Did It. In huge measure by his toughing it out despite all the potholes I drove straight into as well as the unanticipated twists and turns. I’ve been sick, sad, mad, hurt, angry, exhausted and more. We’ve managed through his share from this list, but we learn that every couple racks up its unique set of shortcomings. It takes two to neglect or nurture a marriage. Some survive, others don’t.

Still, I needed seemingly endless support from this one person. Having lost my parents and siblings in only a few years over a decade ago, he somehow survived my wanting from him everything you get from your immediate family, not your spouse. The unconditional love, keeping alive a history he didn’t experience, sharing my new family’s experiences with my original one, and trying to grasp my loss as he participated with his six siblings and I shifted through anger, sadness and jealousy.

My bad luck became his, and he tried with everything he had when he could have walked away with ample justification. How lucky am I? Beyond bucket loads.

We’re all imperfect. The sooner we accept that, the easier it becomes to be most mindful of the best in others. Remembering the great and not the worst moments is neither a lesson learned early or easily, something our parents knew.

Now we are the parents. Our two daughters are our greatest achievements and possess the best of us. Yet, they’re already on their own journeys.They visit with spouses, awesome grandchildren and significant others, and then they leave us, alone.

We haven’t experienced just the two of us for almost 30 years. Neither of us are the same person we were on August 14, 1982. We’ve grown—together, even when we didn’t think so—closer, despite the moments that separated us—grateful that we didn’t choose the fork in the road when it seemed easier—and wiser, at long last.

Love is as much a journey as is life. I was lucky enough to marry a guy I could learn about love with, despite our youth and the many differences we shared but wouldn’t see until infatuation morphed into Adult reality. And I’m blessed to remain with the man he became, who stayed connected as we realized we really knew very little about ourselves and the word around us when we began this leg of our journey.

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.

The Benefits of Children Duplicating

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Recently I asked my oldest daughter if her oldest child, 6-yr-old Caitlin, could stay over one more night. I adore Cait like I love her mother. She said “Yes,” and I continued, making sure she didn’t mind her dad and I consistently stealing her away. They have a 3-month-old son now, and she said, “No, we don’t mind at all. But I hope one day you’ll do the same with Patrick.” The “Of course,” was out before she finished the sentence. I don’t get to see much of Jill now, or at least not enough of her. It dawned on me as we spoke how much I appreciate her reproducing since she is so busy with her own life now. Aha—the very core of why grandchildren are so wonderful: duplicating so grandparents can still hold on to our kids! So I thanked Jill for that, and, naturally, she laughed, reassured I am becoming a crazy old woman 🙂 Interestingly, her daughter looks, acts and feels just like Jill’s younger sister and our only other daughter, Jackie. It’s irony at it’s peak. They’re eight-years apart, and she thought a baby sister was great for Jackie’s first maybe three weeks. Jill then caught on we all wouldn’t be spending the future staring solely at her anymore. Not until they became adults have they learned to love and appreciate each other. I. Am. So. Relived! Cait sees the likeness with her aunt as well. When Cait was three and four she’d nab pictures we have around our house of Jackie, thinking they are her. Not that we don’t have dozens of her everywhere, too. I’d come home and hear them arguing over them, and the fact that “Pox,” (Papa X, my husband’s ‘grandpa name’ as translated by Cait), is Jackie’s dad and Cait’s grandfather. Cait wasn’t going to share him any more than Jackie. Two stubborn girls, aunt and niece, mirroring each other to such an incredible degree. Incredulous, even scary. Blood is thick. The capacity to hold people together as family  astounds me. I’ve written before about my family of origin all being gone, so watching future generations fascinates and holds so much meaning to me. Not only is Cait like Jackie. But Jackie has so many of my mom’s characteristics, I’ve noticed. How I wish my daughters remembered my parents. Their love for those two girls underscore their infinite love for me. They taught me more about love in their way-too-early passing than I would’ve learned in a long lifetime with them. That fact gives me no solace. But I can’t dwell. I hear my mom’s “knock it off” from wherever she is. Yep, blood is thick and omniscient.

Einstein on my mind

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I’d been thinking about an Einstein quote regarding technology becoming greater than humanity. I could spend a lifetime on Google trying to identify its context and viability. Nonetheless, this quote seems to pop up most:

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.


I think it’s true and sad. I was thinking about it because of my new grandson, Patrick Xavier. He’s smiling on purpose now, even giggling. He’s moving around more, and his world clearly is becoming larger. But his world still revolves around his mom for nourishment, a clean diaper, dry clothes, warmth and, dare I say it…love. Pure innocence and some kind of innate understanding—some will call it faith—that his needs will be met, humanity will prevail.

For what else is it when his mom or dad or aunt or sister hold him close, and he’s fed and warm and dry, and he looks at the world with such wonder and grins? He needs nothing else to be happy. Humanity in its simplicity is so obvious and so easy and already so perfect.

Leave it to us adults to muck it up.

The numbers alone tell the story. How lucky he is to be born a white male in the USA. How lucky he is to be surrounded by family on both sides who love him unconditionally and who would do anything to ensure his comfort, especially right now when he is helplessly only months olds.

All sad but true, as is this:  Neither the latest operating system or the largest 3D HD TV is associated with anything that makes him happy. And wouldn’t it be great if it never does?

If only the awe and curiosity and marvel of the world could be appreciated by Patrick his entire life, like the love and humanity that fuels him now. His intelligence could grow to its endless potential by using all those I-Phones, I-Pads and Androids as resources, but not as anything related to humanity. All of us surrounding him and by association all of us who experience the same would continue providing the identical unconditional love despite the imperfections we all grow into.

Per my quest of Einstein’s quote, technology may open open worlds of information that can help our population, but it’s yet to be demonstrated that any of that new knowledge has improved our humanity. In looking for the above quote, I came across this one from Einstein, too. A brilliant mind. I wonder if his heart hurt as he grew older.

Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.
We can only hope Patrick and all of those creating offspring will allow humanity to rule over all else, no matter what lessons he, his sister and their friends might pick up from the technology in their classrooms and common sense in the lunchrooms of grammar and high school. 

We already possess Humanity. What if we stop focusing on the technology, and use it solely as the resource it was meant? What we’re doing for Patrick and others we must continue to do if a sense of peace and happiness are truly important:  Love and trust our family, be there for them without question or condition. It’s easy when we’re talking about an 11-lb. bundle. Yet, I still see both of my girls like that. Let’s teach our kids to look at the own world the same way, every day. 

Naïve, nonetheless nothing to lose. At least put your laptop or phone down and hug someone as a reminder of the human-ness of humanity. C’mon, you don’t even have to tell the recipient why. It’s really all that counts. Really.