Category Archives: Growing Up

Bouncing Back, Moving Forward

I am more than fairly amazed at my 11-year-old son’s resilience.  He’s had a tough couple of days, but it seems he is not at all taken down by happenstance that might crush an adult; he simply bounces back.  I am not speaking of his ability to down 16 Swedish Fish and two packs full of gummy worms in one setting without gaining an ounce, (in good time my son…in good time!), but rather the day-to-day stuff that can reach inside his bony little body and put a choke hold on his fledgling self-esteem.

For example, last night was the last game of his baseball season.  His team had been down 5 to 1 but had rallied during the final inning and brought it back up 5 to 4.  We parents were in a rapturous lather and were cheering our little on men to victory.  When my boy got to bat, the kid before him had been walked to first and the bases were loaded.  Two outs were showing on the board.

Let me stop here to say that my son loves baseball.  He has improved greatly this year, but sadly, although he made some good plays, he does not excel at batting.  He got one hit all year and it was a bunt that went foul.  I silently blessed the other parents for not groaning  audibly  when he stepped to the plate.  (They’re good people, these baseball parents).  Strike one…ball one…ball two…strike two…strike three.  Game over, season over.

While I died a thousand squirming deaths for him and tried to pretend I didn’t notice the other parents avoiding eye contact, he came bouncing up with his bag over his shoulder, corn chips in one hand and G2 in the other.  “Hold this” he said, slinging the chips at me as he used two hands to bring the oversized bottle to his mouth, and tried to open it with his teeth.  I watched his undisturbed countenance for a moment.  Wordlessly, I held the chips back out to him, traded him for the bottle, opened it and handed it back.

On the way back to the car, my husband broke the heavy silence.  “That sure was an exciting game.  Too bad you guys didn’t pull it off.”  There was no pregnant pause, although both of us wanted to give Bryce the opportunity to talk about what had just happened.  “Yeah,” he immediately replied, “I’m gonna spend the summer getting really good and then I won’t miss again!”

And this is where I find myself in awe of the child.  He didn’t bluster about “losing it for the team.” He didn’t pout and shuffle his feet or declare that he “sucked.”  And most surprisingly of all, he didn’t look remotely like he might want to cry…it never crossed his mind!  He believes he is a good player and that he will work hard and come back even stronger.

What a wonderful, beautiful gift this child has and I will do all I can to cultivate it.  Now if I could just cultivate a little of that for myself!

Those Kids

Sometimes, it’s all worth it.  Sometimes you get the much anticipated gift of knowing your hard work has paid off.  I am speaking of course, of when your kids “do you proud.”

We live in a small NC town where people know each other or know more about each other than they would prefer.  In a town like this where anonymity lasts about 5 minutes after you move into your neighborhood, it is crucial that your kids not become — you know — Those Kids.

Several few weeks ago we were dining at Gianni’s, one of our favorite restaurants in uptown Concord, and the waiter in the pizza loft was chatting with us as he was taking our order.  He mentioned that he had a band and was going to play a gig for his album launch at a kitschy little restaurant/pub across the street called Little Robert’s.  Our teenage daughter Clarke chirped back that she had a band, too, because first of all Kevin is a good looking young fellow, and secondly, she’s a teenage girl with functioning eyeballs.

Kevin, invited her band to open for them without having heard the band at all, which was both generous and brave of him.  We realized this was a great opportunity and immediately encouraged her.  She said she would check with her band and let him know for sure.

I asked how much she would be paid.

Well, since Kevin is of legal age, he and his band were being paid in beer.  Clarke would be paid with experience.  Still, it was a good opportunity.  She got her band members to agree and she and Kevin agreed a few days later that they would perform for about 20 minutes.

The band practiced several times.  My husband Frank and I made all concessions to ensure she got as much practice as necessary, as we were very excited for her and proud for her to have the experience.  We told our friends and family about the gig, and several people agreed to come.  This thing was happening!

The night before the gig, we were back at the pizza loft enjoying ourselves and Kevin and Clarke were chatting about the next night.  Then he said it…the thing that changed everything…he said he was looking forward to her 30 minute set.  Clarke doesn’t speak rock and roll and took him very literally at his word.  She called the band members the next day and said they needed to throw in a couple of covers to stretch the set and make the 30 minute requirement.

The bass player would have none of it.  He baldly stated that it was a recipe for disaster and that the band was in fact NOT ready for the gig.  He was not coming.  After several hours of back and forth with the drummer and  lead guitarist discussing plans and attempts to convince the bassist that everything would be fine, the efforts came to nought.  The boy would no longer answer his phone and fled to his girlfriend’s house.

His reason for not showing was simply that because it would make the band look bad for them to show up and not play well, so he refused to try.

And this is when our girl began to shine.  She called the lead guitarist and stated that she had made a commitment to Kevin and that people were counting on them.  “We may suck,” she told him, “but we’re going to play no matter what.”  The guitarist, Heath (God bless him) agreed.  This was at 3:30 pm when they were supposed to be at the pub for a 6 pm sound check.

Clarke spent the rest of her afternoon coming up with a song list of covers and original music, printing the music she needed, tuning and practicing.  She timed each song to be sure they met the time requirement.  She went to the pub, met up with Heath and they went over the music from sound check until set time.  (The drummer, for reasons unknown, also did not show that night but it turned out to be for the best.)

She and Heath rocked it.  Make no mistake, our Clarke is very talented, and for that we are extremely proud of her.  But the fact that only half of the band showed up, and she made it happen with a fresh set of tunes and sheer determination blew us away.  It blew everyone away.

I told Heath he was my hero and kissed him on the forehead.

I told his parents how awesome their son was.

I danced when my daughter sang and embarrassed her to tears, but she kept singing.

Yeah, Clarke and Heath are Those Kids:  Those Kids that made us proud!

Adventures in Driving

Like most Catholics, I am a firm believer in the help I receive from Guardian Angels. Tonight, as my daughter and I set out on an errand, I prayed that Jesus would cover us in His protection…forgetting all about poor Flossie, my Guardian and friend for Life. Luckily for me, Flossie shows patience with me.  Otherwise, I’d have been dropped from the protection roster long ago.

Anyway, on our merry way home, Clarke had to change lanes in order to make her turn. There was a short span of available lane for her to use and she dutifully checked her blind spot, as did I.  Neither of us saw the *insert your favorite insult here* coming from behind her to pass her, and as she was half way into the lane change, this (ahem) individual came careening up on her right side, blowing the horn and maintaining position with a roaring engine.

To say I “squeaked a bit” might be an understatement, but rest assured the squeak was in stereo. Clarke pulled back out of the lane allowing the (ahem…) individual free rein to speed by us and jet forward another hundred yards, so that he or she might get to wait at the red light just a little sooner than would have been possible had they applied their brakes.

Once our hearts were out of our mouths and we could speak through the panting, I told her I pray a blessing over people like that. “Heck, it’s only traffic,” I said, “Grow up, chill out and move on…ya know?” “Yeah,” she breathed, still stunned from the experience. “So, it’s a good thing our Guardian Angels were looking out for us, huh?” she asked. Then she said she didn’t know the name of her Guardian Angel or whether she had a girl or a boy protector.

“Flossie!” I said. “Mine is named Flossie!”

“How do you know that?” She said. “I heard you’re supposed to pray to them and ask them to tell you their name,” she stated, matter-of-factly.

“Well, I did that,” I replied. “I did that and my angel said ‘Flossie.’ I heard it in my head.” Then I began to laugh. I began to laugh really hard.

Clarke glanced at me as if she thought she might have to keep driving to the funny farm and drop me off.  You see, I had been imagining meeting Flossie. What if our little incident had turned out for the worst and I came face to face with my very own Guardian Angel? In my mind’s eye, Flossie was standing by the side of the road, arms crossed wearing a disgusted look. Head shaking side to side, Flossie, who closely resembled Mean Joe Greene, growled at me, “Flossie! FLOSSIE?!” That wasn’t me talking in your head — that was that jive-ass Gabriel messing with me again! Pleased to make your acquaintance, Claire…the name’s Crusher. Now, c’mon and I’ll take you to God…

…she’s got a thing or two to talk to you about!”


Dear present self, Just like so many other writers before you, you have chosen to write a “from future self to present self” piece of work.  As lame as that is, (and I know you know it is) I still … Continue reading

American Idol Experience – Mom’s perspective

I took my daughter to audition for American Idol this weekend and learned many valuable lessons.  Let me end the suspense right off the bat:  Clarke did not get past the first round but she did get to audition, which not everyone does.   Had we driven several hours and waited from 5 am (YES, 5am) until 3:15 to audition, and she had NOT gotten to sing for anyone, the frustration level may have been more than we could have endured.  However, we were spared that and I am grateful.

What you see on TV, if you ever watch the show, is thousands of excited fans waiting gleefully in line to get into the audition venue.  It’s a big party, right? Let me let you in on a little secret:  the mass of people in line to audition is not to be under estimated,  it’s frightful.  It’s more a cattle call than a curtain call.  No one that shows up screaming joyfully on the screen is actually that excited – they just want to get into the venue.  After all, Charleston at 5 am begins the day at 85 degrees – the thought of the sun coming up struck more fear into me than it would have had I been a vampire.

At 8:30 when we finally got in, the air conditioning did in fact bring brief and actual joy to contestants and guardians.  Then we got to our seats.  The TV hype began immediately.  A constant loop of Lady Gaga’s “On The Edge of Glory” played so that everyone could learn the song and participate when it was time to film.

For those who had not jumped from the upper levels to escape the inane song in sweet and welcome death, a few treats were in store.  One of the low level producers let the crowd know what to expect: we would be filmed for TV – all 12,000 of us.  We were to shout ridiculous phrases and then jump up and do the wave and hold up banners (if we had them) as the camera panned around the coliseum.  They had us chant, “If Scotty McReery can do it, so can I!”  and “I am the mouth of the south!”

It was at this point that I elected to get in one of many long lines to buy an some way over-priced  food.

In line, I was pleased to find I had escaped singing along with the crowd for the filming of  “Edge of Glory.”  Although I sound bitter, this is not the case:  we had air conditioning, a seat that was not pavement, and eventually, we even saw Ryan Seacrest – the AI people could have gotten anything from us.  Anything except $6.50 for a bottle of water!

Ryan got the crowd genuinely excited for about 30 seconds, then evaporated for the remainder of the day.  This made the entire trip “worth it” for Clarke, so I was glad for that. The low level producer then explained how the sections of the coliseum would be brought to the floor of the complex, lined up in groups of four and marched up to one of the 12 tables of judges beginning at around 11 am. (And you will be shocked to know that J-Lo, Randy and Steven were not present at any of those tables.)

After an early lunch of salted soft pretzel for me and nachos without cheese for Clarke, we shared a $3.50 clear soda to save her white dress from any insult or injury.  While we waited for Clarke’s turn, thousands of contestants marched up to the judges and did what they came to do.  Winners exited to the “winners room” stage left with a  golden ticket (but not THE golden ticket) and non-winners had the long walk of shame to the right of the coliseum.  Guardians of contestants under the age of 18 were put in a corner of the floor of the coliseum that I referred to as “parent time out” to await their childrens’ fate.

Let me insert here a few notes about a full coliseum of very talented and nervous individuals.  The singing one hears in the hallways, corridors, sections of seating areas and from the floor during auditions is phenomenal.  There is a TON of talent out there and a 15 year old can get a bit shaken up.  And at any point the producers can say, “Thank you for coming out, but we’re done.  Try again next year” and they will pack up their kit and kaboodle and leave like the Cat in The Hat.  So, part of the nerves everyone feels is whether there will be an audition at all.

The smell of bathrooms reflect the fear in a major and unsettling way.

During the first part of the morning, golden tickets are handed out like candy.  One after another walks left to the cheers of their peers and a few quietly take the walk of shame to the right.  By lunch hour, less and less walk left and more and more walk right.

Clarke’s chance to audition did come around 3 pm.  Tickets were fewer and fewer and I was just grateful she was getting a chance to sing.  Her practicing had been lovely and hopefully intimidating to those around her.  I went to parent time out and she began the long journey toward her chance.  As I stood on the floor, I heard one after another incredible voice and watched in shock the rejection of many talented individuals.

I did not get to see or hear Clarke’s audition — parent time out was near table 12 and Clarke’s audition was at table 2.  So I shook and prayed and kept my eyes glued southward.

Waiting for Clarke to emerge from the other end of the floor seemed longer than waiting to give birth to her, I swear, and I had no drugs to dampen my anxiety.  She emerged finally with the other three contestants from her table, got her wrist band snipped by some soul-less drone and began, not the walk of shame toward me, but a walk of extreme grace — with a large smile and arms stretched out for a hug.  I ran out to greet her, arms out too and heard Parent Time Out heave a collective “awww” for us.  I was doomed to cry either way, but I was so very, very proud of her and would do it all over again.

She got some good feedback – she got to sing 2 songs (Alison Krauss’s “Lucky One” and Paramour’s “When it Rains”) and they said she did very well but that she was still young and had time on her hands.  They encouraged her to come back again in a year or two, reminding her that Haley Reinhart didn’t make it her first time either and that David Cook was 28 when he won.  So, I see a return trip in our future – the girl just rocks.

Lessons learned for next time:

1. Register early – EARLY and get a good seat and audition before the judges are sick of everyone.

2. Ignore the rule that say “one bottle water can be brought per person” — bring three each in your back pack.

3. Ignore the “no chairs” rule.  They have a place for the chairs to be stored before you enter the venue that can be picked up later.

4. Once you are registered and have your seat, there is no need to show up at 5 am to stand in line.  Arriving by 7 should be sufficient.  If you still feel the need to get there at 5 am, get to the port-o-johns before the sun comes up.

5. Do not be intimidated by other singers.  There is a lot of talent out there; the fact that someone else can sing does not diminish your own abilities.

6. Don’t forget a moment of the experience.  You’ll have it forever whether you go to the winners room or walk the other way.

7. Ryan Seacrest really does seem shorter in real life than on TV.  But that remains to be seen at a later date.

Chance to heal

I have been presented recently with a spiritual and emotional challenge…actually, as a friend of mine would say, it’s an “AFGO.” (Another *@!%ing Growth Opportunity.)

A person from my past contacted me out of the blue not long ago. Yes, that lovely tool called Facebook was the impetus for the contact. Being raised to be polite, I accepted the friend request with some trepidation. There was a fair amount of curiosity about this person I have not seen in over 20 years, but there was also the age-old pang of wanting so much to be accepted. The fact that she was pursuing contact with me was a small victory.

When we were kids, we went to a small school. Andsby virtue of the fact that we were children, we behaved as such and were fickle with each other. Sometimes we were friends, and sometimes for reasons unbeknown to me, she would become angry with me and suddenly stop talking to me.  For WEEKS at a time…I would go completely berserk following her around, begging her to speak to me.

She would smile and continue silently on.

As we grew older, still trapped in the same small school, things got worse. She became better at alienating me, and one day convinced several children on the bus to cheer when I got up to leave. Humiliation and impotent rage do not begin to describe the feeling of a 4th or 5th grader being heckled by an entire bus load of children (Hmmm…been meaning to talk to my therapist about that). That’s right: I don’t have a therapist.

Now, I’m not saying that I was a perfect child or that she didn’t have reason to become irritated with me — often — but some of what I experienced stayed with me deeply. I’m now faced with a choice: do I want to use this time to try to heal or do I want to hang onto old hurts out of spite and resentment?

Those were excruciating days for me and I don’t doubt they contributed heavily to the low self esteem I struggled with for years. However, it’s been over 34 years since the bus incident and well past 25 years since she stole my first high school boyfriend then ceased to speak to me for the remainder of our time in high school. But for some reason, it still stings to think about my relationship with her. I have failed to mention that the girl was, and still is, “smokin’ hot” so I never measured up in the first place.

My choice is clear: forgive as my Lord and Savior forgives me for the heinous things I do to Him on a daily basis in thought, word and deed, or cling pathetically to the hurt I had so competently buried. Human nature says cling to hurt and try to hurt back. AFGO says, “grow up and get over it already.”

Lucky for me, it is Lent. A time for reflection and repentance. I’m likely not going to cling full out to the past, nor let it go entirely. I learned a lot of valuable things from that time in my life and it has made me a better friend, a better mother and better able to give counsel when needed. I think I’ll sit with this for a while and see how I am led.

Blubbering over chicken in Crested Butte

Hello, reader!  Long time no post, I realize…but I’ve been away.  I’d say I was “off”, but surely you realize, I’ve been “off” for years.  Be that as it may, my family and I took a ski vacation to Colorado week before last and life is just getting back to normal.  Several good things happened whilst we were away:

  • It snowed.  A LOT.
  • The plane(s) didn’t crash on the outbound or inbound trips.
  • We did not suffocate our children or each other in our sleep due to too much togetherness.
  • Our house didn’t burn down while we were away
  • We had beautiful accommodations and enjoyed cooking and eating in a great deal.

But the most wonderful thing happened the last night we were in Crested Butte.  During dinner at a restaurant called The Secret Stash, I returned via taste sensation to a childhood memory that literally brought tears to my eyes.  It may have been the 2nd glass of Cabernet after a long day on the slopes or it may have been the complete bliss of the moment, but either way, a snippet of time that had long been buried was unlocked and I was so very grateful to go to that place in my life again.

I had not realized how powerful the taste of spare ribs cooked on a charcoal grill in the back yard could be.

Funny thing was, I was not eating spare ribs at all.  I was eating grilled barbecue wings.  The sweet sauce the cook used caramelized on the juicy plump wing to create exactly that bite of extra rich, sweet burned and crisp taste that is part and parcel of grilling.  It might just as well happen if one were to slather a piece of shoe leather with BBQ sauce, but who’s to say?

I bit into the wing, silently wishing at first that we would have chosen the stuffed mushrooms, when a slightly tangy crunch stuck in my back teeth.  In a flash, I was taken back to New York at a time before my mother had passed away.  We didn’t have a lot of money and neither did anyone else who lived on our block in Ossining.  Times were simple.   On the 4th of July, the neighbors gathered in somebody’s back yard around 4 pm.  The memory I traveled back to was a year when the cook out was in our back yard.  The Salazzos, Sterns, Sabliches and Eggoloffs came over.  Cases of beer were brought, potato salad and deviled eggs were prepared and massive amounts of meat was thrown on a rickety charcoal grill (or grills, if the neighbors wheeled theirs over).  The fare was burgers, hot dogs and spare ribs, as I recall…but I was very young so my recall may be questionable.   I think I remember at least 3 things:

1. Running barefoot from yard to yard with a passel of other children amid the smell of freshly cut grass as the evening cooled.   We played freeze tag and kick the can.  The older kids played tricks on the younger ones to scare them.  Mostly, anything we asked our parents was answered with a “yes” because they didn’t want to be bothered and they figured the whole pack of us were not likely to be harmed, lost or stolen if we stayed together.   We were free unlike any other time of the year. It was an intoxication the like of which I have only found in childhood and no other has ever matched it.

2. Waiting for the charcoal to get hot was interminable.  Not only could I not wait to eat, but mostly, I could not wait until the coals were just right so I could find a grubby stick and put a marshmallow on the end of it, just to burn the treat and enjoy the velvety middle inside the charred skin.  Luckily, there were plenty of fireflies to catch while I waited.

3. The sweet taste of the spare ribs, the watermelon and the corn.  This was the only time of the year we ever grilled out.  Dad was busy ladder-climbing, so mom did most of the cooking (inside) and it was a rare treat to get anything grilled.   It was the unbelievably tasty surprise of biting into that chicken wing that brought me back my first smoky, sticky, sweet spare rib when I was 4 or 5.  It only took a second to unlock that door, but once unlocked, the floodgates opened and caused me to cry like an idiot 40 years later and hundreds of miles away.

Last Saturday as I tele-ported to that time and place in my back yard in New York, I missed my mother and father with an intensity I have not experienced in many years.  I missed large, connected yards and the fresly cut, cool dewy grass tickling my bare feet as I ran with abandon and belly-laughed with other children.  I missed feeling slightly afraid of holding my first sparkler and the wonder of learning to write in the air with it.  I missed settling down in the dark afterward to warm up on my mother’s lap, wishing that night would never end.

The night didn’t end, apparently.  It burrowed down into my soul and laid dormant until last Saturday night.  I wonder what else I’m carrying around?  I can’t wait to find out!  Better get back to Colorado, fast!

Musings on Motherhood revisited

I will open this reprint by saying, I had NO CLUE what I was talking about when I originally wrote this.  It is so much harder that I thought. The “ick-you-make-my-stomach-lurch-because-I’m-too-cool”-ness of it all is here in full force.  A simple “good morning” can start a fight as easily as a breeze blows over a house of cards.  I am simply dying here.  Thank God for an awesome husband and a well stocked wine cellar.

It was Mothers’ Day and my nearly- 12-year-old daughter said to me, “Mom, I think I need to shave under my arms.”  “Really?” I replied dryly, nonplussed by this request because she had been asking to shave her legs since 5th grade when all the other girls purportedly started.  “Let’s see then,” I said.  She raised her stick-thin right limb and revealed to my horror a patch of scraggly ashy gray hair akin to what one would find on the chin of a 15 year old boy trying to grow a beard.  “Heavens to murgatroid, Maddonna!” I yelped, “By all means, we’ll get right on that this afternoon!”
Well, I shouldn’t have been so surprised.  I’d seen the developing buds at her chest and some hints of nether hair on her body before and had decided it would be in bad form to actually look or stare.  But in her guileless nudity getting in and out of the shower, I had stolen the askance glance over the last few months and had noted with some pride that she would by next summer be a knock out.  But there was something alarming and obscene about that grimy looking patch of pit hair.  It said, “I am puberty and I am here to stay.”  It simply made me weak.
I have heard all the horror stories of happy go lucky girls who simply adore their moms that suddenly become she-devils who will set a mother’s bed on fire as she sleeps.  I have seen my friend’s teen age children snarl derisively at their well meaning moms who have the nerve to offer them a sandwich when it is plain that only a hot pocket will do.  I have determined not to let this happen between me and my daughter.  But the patch of hair hiding behind those bony shoulders tell me that I have no say in the matter and that the storm is coming whether I like it or not.
What puzzles me more than all the portents of my own relationship with my daughter about to take a tail-spin is the way my friends deal so calmly with their teen demons.  They do not dissolve into tears when the children call them at work demanding they buy a different clothes softener because Snuggle isn’t as good as Downy and then hang up on them with an oath for their selfishness and inconsiderate behavior.  I have yet to hear any of these sainted ladies call these brats the names that are hurled at them behind slamming doors.
I do not want this.  I do not want this pit hair, shrieking, stealing of sanitary products and $100 shoes.  I don’t want the low-slung pants wearing loser boys to come sniffing around the door and steal my girl’s heart away from me.  I don’t want the moroseness and the “ick-you-make-my-stomach-lurch-because-I’m-too-cool”-ness of it all.  But it’s coming and the need for the Venus triple blade tells me so.
But what I do want is what this trial by fire brings.  When the loser-boy dumps her a week before prom, I want to be there to bake three batches of brownies and down them with spoons full of mint chocolate chip ice cream right out of the carton together.  When the queen-bee girlfriends turn on her because they just feel like it, I hope she’ll find me not too repulsive to turn to.  And on some of those nights when she’s cried herself to sleep and I’ve gone out and left flaming bags of dog poop on all the appropriate door steps, I want to know that I can sleep soundly because a little piece of her may still belong to me.
Despite all the tears, shouting, name-calling and demands, deep down when the monkeys take flight, I hope that girl will always want her mommy.  It will be then, when we’re egging someone’s car that I’ll know it was all worth it.

A valuable lesson

In March of this year, I attended a conference called WomenSpeak.  It was hosted and organized by Paula D’Arcy and the Red Bird Foundation.  Mostly it was about female empowerment and the power of love to change the world.  Those of you who know me and realize that I am not much of a “Kum-bye-ya” person are probably wondering what the *bleep* I would be doing at a gathering such as that.  But, let me tell you – When Paula does something, she does it right and I will “Kum-bye-ya” with her to my grave.

One of the keynote speakers for the weekend was a woman named Erin Gruwell.  You may know Erin’s story from the book called The Freedom Writers Diary.  It was a NY Times bestseller that chronicled Gruwell’s journey with 150 high school students who had been written off by the education system.  Through sheer determination, and admitted naiveté, she ultimately helped them re-chart their future. They dubbed themselves the “Freedom Writers” – in homage to civil rights activists The Freedom Riders – and published a book.  In addition to hearing this woman’s story, I had the privilege to hear the story of one of her students who had been called a failure, was told she was destined to be a teenage mother and a drop-out and that she was basically worthless.  By the way, it was her teachers and her principal that told her these things. (Talk about a spirit-crushing, ego-busting, gut-wrenching experience!)

Now, why am I telling you all this?  (You realize, fan, that you ask me this every time I blog, but you know I always get to the point eventually.)

The student who spoke to us graduated with her class and is in college.  Not only did she not get pregnant in high school, she aims to become the first Latina Secretary of Education for the United States.  As uplifting as all that was, that was not what struck me about this young lady.  What blew me away was that she did not spend one moment trashing the people who put her down.  She did not spend time in self-pity.  What she did instead was to insist repeatedly that she owed those people a debt of gratitude for laying out those horrible potential truths that she could have so easily lived up to (or lived down to, as the case may be).  Based on their harsh and ultimately inaccurate assessment of her, she was determined to make a change in her life.  I realized that although I’ve never been called a worthless gang-banging slut,  I owe the same debts of gratitude to a few people in my life that also helped me make some changes.

In particular, I had a friend in college — Freshman year — who did me a huge favor.  She laid it out for me.  She told me exactly the kind of jerk I had been and how my self-aggrandizing and know-it-all attitude turned people off.  She and another friend had taken just about all the crap they could from me.  I blubbered.  I stammered.  I blamed my father for teaching me that bad behavior.  I did everything except verbally take responsibility for the fact that she was right on the money.  I had been a jerk.  No one had ever called me out quite so thoroughly and authentically in my life.  I needed it desperately.

While I got exactly what I needed and deserved, let’s just say I didn’t take it well and we parted company.

These many years later, I discovered I owe that friend my gratitude.  There have been other friends and family members since who have been able to hold the mirror up to me and I made the choice to make a change, based on that first painful assessment.  While I didn’t admit my part at the time, I was personally humbled by the experience.

If you have friends like these, don’t let them out of your life.  Even if you part company with them, keep the lesson close at hand.  Use it to become a better person and try to teach it to your children.  It’s been over 20 years since I got that lesson, but like my hero the Freedom Writer, I value it and keep the humility I learned with me.  And if you have the opportunity to dole out some tough love, do so.  Be honest with the people you call your friends because it’s the best thing you can possibly do for them.

Getting it right

I  attended a weekend retreat recently.  While I gained a lot of spiritual graces, I was privileged to share a table with a lady who was recovering from cancer.  She shared with us that when she was 80 pounds and bald and she had just moved here from another town, she attended our church for the first time…and no one spoke to her. If you read my last post, you’ll know how deeply I was wounded to hear this.  It is likely I was one of the people who did not speak to her.  What a dreadful and life long lesson that was.  I will always be thankful to this gracious woman for having the courage to share that with me; for holding that mirror up to my face and showing me fear.

Following my meeting with this new friend, I had an opportunity to put my new education to use.  Later that week, I ran into a woman in the bathroom at a local restaurant.  She was wearing a leopard print bandanna and over that a straw hat with a band in matching print.  Instead of avoiding eye contact or pretending to be thoroughly engrossed in washing my hands, I looked her straight in the eye and told her I liked her “jazzy ensemble.” She replied with a wry smile that she didn’t at all.  Undaunted, I told her I was sorry that she was having to make that fashion choice but I thought she chose very well.  She seemed to brighten, thanking me for telling her that.  Strangely, her response helped ME feel uplifted.

Just tonight, I dropped into the library.  There, coming out was a dear lady with whom I became acquainted when our daughters were babies in the same daycare.  Later we became friendlier when I joined the parent advisory board and when we moved to Concord eight years ago, she and her husband were among the first to stop by and welcome us to town.  And here she was now in front of me in a brilliant royal purple top and a straw hat with a jaunty purple flower to match on the right side.  The hat covered a perfectly smooth scalp.  Her lash-less eyes brightened when she saw me.  We hugged, and commenced the small talk.

Before long I noted that she had a new look and asked how she was feeling.  I had known she was sick before, but the loss of hair was a shock as the last time I had seen her, it seemed she was on the mend.  Apparently not.  She informed me she had just had a bone scan to see where the cancer had moved to this time.  All I could do was make a sad face and say, “Oh, no…it’s moving then is it?”  “Yes,” she sighed, “I can stand not having hair but I really miss having eyelashes.”  “They’ll come back?” I prompted, hopefully.  “No,” she whispered, “I’ll be on chemo for the rest of my life.”

…And how long would that be? I wondered in my now completely stunned mind.  What a dreadful, awful, horrible thought.  I wish I could un-ring that bell.  I can only be thankful that my friend from church taught me to say something; anything.  To acknowledge.  To be available.  To say how bad it sucks that your eyelashes won’t be back.  It is the prime way to do a small thing with great love.  But it takes a great bit of courage.

I’m sorry for the sins of the past, ladies.  I’m sorry for the times I did not acknowledge, and feared opening up to your pain.  You may decide I’m a self-congratulating ass and you may think I am nosey or intruding or completely clueless…but you will not think I am ignoring you.  You will not be overlooked.  Not by me.  Not by me.