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.

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.

Sometimes life just sucks

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There’s no getting around it. To ensure it wasn’t just me, I googled the phrase. Nope, I’m not alone. Sometimes life just sucks. People you love save hurtful things, and worse, they occasionally take joy in it. Sometimes things seem just great with your kids, and all of a sudden they can’t get out the door quick enough.

Sure, I’ve done lots of things that provoke that treatment. But many times I haven’t. And that’s one thing my parent’s never prepared me for: sometimes life just sucks. People will hurt your feelings without feeling sad about it, or they won’t apologize for something, or they won’t appreciate your efforts when you’re dying for that recognition.

My mom spent the last decades of her life trying to toughen me up. She knew how deeply I loved. She and her mom and her mom’s mom taught me that love. But for some reason I’ve always had a hard time taking the hurt for what it’s worth — something unkind and something I don’t deserve and something I need to learn to walk away from.

If she told me once, she told me a thousand times, “Don’t let people treat you poorly, and don’t let people think you deserve to be treated poorly. You don’t.” At the same time, she’s said, “Own your mistakes. Apologize for them. Make sure your apologies are heard, too.” If anyone knew it took two to cause problems, it was my mom.

I remember one particular conversation with her. She was so worried that I wasn’t “toughening up.” She worried I took everything to heart. I kept saying that’s how I was, and it was okay because I always had her or Toto or my dad, my aunt and uncle — all of them to remind me that I am a nice person and I’m loved by the people that count. And she said, “Doll Face, we all won’t be here one day. You have to toughen up. You have to know that a bully will bully you as long as s/he knows its possible.” It was a Saturday night in our living room in Glenview, and I can tell you where we both sat, and how the light in the room changed as the hours passed, and how her eyes pleaded with me as much as her heart and her words.

I know now she kept on with this conversation so often because she loved me, and she didn’t want me to always feel so hurt by the words and actions or silence and inaction by those I love so much. I know now she probably even then felt the discussion futile, but maybe I’d think twice during these times when it feels like life just sucks.

My mom was so loving and so tough at the same time. I don’t know how she could be both. I know she had more than her share of disappointments, and I know she was a pro at shaking them off and moving forward. In so many ways I’m like my mom. I wish that were one of them.

But I’m SO grateful that I had those countless talks about toughening up to recall. I may not ever succeed in achieving that ability, but I learned about love from a pro. I learned about love from someone who never had to tell me and only through her actions proved what unconditional love is. So if sometimes life just sucks, I hope you have someone to remind you that you are worthy of unconditional love, and you don’t need to put up with those who would hurt you solely because they can. Or judge you as if they were better than you.

I’ve lived a blessed life with so many more wonderful than terrible moments. And to honor my mom, my grandma and my great-grandma, I have to remember that when some bully feels like it’s okay to make me feel bad. Because you know what — sometimes life just sucks. But there’s always someone out there who will love you for all the right reasons. So we have to shake if off and move forward. The bullies are the losers. Not those with hearts so big they can’t be shut off no matter how much they should be.

Some lessons take a long time to learn. Moms — they’re really something. They get that no matter how hard they work to convince you of something, they know you won’t learn some of those lessons in their lifetime. But thank heaven for them. Because that doesn’t stop them from repeating the lesson over and over again. They must know it echoes inside of you until eventually it resonates. They’re right. Sometimes life just sucks, but no one deserves to be treated poorly just because they can.

So whoever it is who loves you without condition and keeps telling you something repeatedly, and you just don’t buy it now, store it away. The truth of it will reveal itself when you need it most. As my mom would say about this and the few other truths that get me through my toughest moments, “stick with me.” Life isn’t always great, but some memories surely are.