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.

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.

I’m a writer now

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My life has changed dramatically since I returned on March 21 from Ragdale, a writer-in-residence retreat in Lake Forest, IL. I’m a writer now. I’ve got no problem saying it, writing it, filling it in the occupation blank on forms. Those 18 days surrounded by other writers and artists transformed me from a tentative wannabe into a determined published author and writer.

All my life my mom told me I was destined to write the Great American Novel. Not too much pressure. When I was probably 6 or 7, my cousin pulled from her bookshelf a copy of Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, and I was hooked.

After a million more books and sitting in more classrooms than your average nerd, I learned fiction isn’t my thing, so I’m not on the line for the Great American Novel catch. I write essays, or what’s known nowadays as creative nonfiction. They just moved the deadline out a month so I won’t find out until September if I’ve been accepted into the University of Chicago’s Writer’s Studio. That would be two more years of classes, 24 months of nirvana. I have everything crossed.

I’ve written several essays and sent two to dozens and dozens of publications. I’m learning how to deal with rejection letters. Remarkably, however, both were picked up at More magazine.

The first one was called “Connections,” but the editor changed the title to “What Needlecraft Gives Me.” They could have called it “This Writer Sucks” and I’d still be thrilled―a published writer! It can be seen at http://www.more.com/print/438749. Forty one days later, they picked up my other essay, which was laying on slush piles all over the country. “A Picture Bigger Than Life” is at http://www.more.com/member-voices/your-stories/picture-bigger-life.

Now I’m working on a compilation of essays for a book I hope provides me the opportunity to read rejection letters from a whole new audience: agents. The Writer’s Studio would be The. Perfect. Place. to complete it. In your second year you work with a professor to write your final project: a 250-page creation.

But I’ll survive if U of C rejects my first attempt at the program. In fact, I may then just write those 250 pages in a single year, get an editor, then read rejection letters from agents. And that’s okay. I’m a writer now. Rejection comes with the job description. And so does one the most rewarding career-sided emotions when that one out of 100 letters/texts comes back saying “accepted for publication.”

And who knows. One of these days someone may even pay me for my own words 🙂