Amidst this Chaos

E&G | Issue 157

“When I was a kid, I had a severe case of autism. But it’s worn off and now I’m fine. Well, not totally fine. I mean, it’s worn off of me physically but maybe not mentally.” Isaac was telling the dinner table exactly what he thinks of his autism. “I mean, sometimes I need to take a test in a small group but I don’t need someone hovering over me like a UFO trying to abduct a cow.” We all laughed at the image Isaac painted for us and he went on and on and on. “Isaac. What year are you in now?” Dad asked, a question my kids have answered many times. “6th grade.” Isaac answered without hesitation. These kids know how to answer these questions as novel even though they have been asked of them before. “But he sounds like he’s in 12th grade! Isaac, I’m so proud of you.” Mom said, referring to his very mature and astute self-awareness. Isaac spread his hands out to either side and said, oh so matter-of-factly, “pubertyyyyy.”

No, there is never a dull dinner in this household and I, for one, am basking in these nightly conversations and quietly absorbing the more tender moments I get to witness here and there. Nearly a half hour later that evening, Mom and Dad still sat at the dinner table while Mom chatted away with Dad as he dutifully agreed and nodded to most anything she mentioned. “Tomorrow I’d like to go pick up some mums for the front yard and maybe some pumpkins. Would you like to join me?” she asked Dad. “Pumpkin? Sure we can get one and carve one up.” My mind transported me back to the 80s, kitchen table covered in newspaper as the sweet smell of pumpkin filled the room, hands wet from reaching inside and pulling out the seeds that were later to be toasted and salted. They haven’t carved pumpkins in years but Dad remembers, these things he does. “No, no.” Mom said “Pumpkins not to carve, just for the yard to decorate.” Dad nodded and said “We can do that.” Mom, trying to jog his memory a bit asked where he thought they should go. “What about Wyman’s?” she asked. “Oh yeah! Wyman’s!” Dad clearly remembered this local gem as well.

As I placed the leftover pizza in the fridge, I was struck by just how midlife I really am right now. In one moment, a child’s self-reckoning sprinkled with the hilarity of puberty. The next moment, old age and things remembered and forgotten. For the umpteenth time, my eyes filled up at the incredible beauty of it all. I took a picture of one of these nightly occurrences, an image I hope to keep forever. If this is a midlife crisis, I suppose you could say I’m handling it quite well. There are moments of complete and utter insanity here, don’t get me wrong. I have made it abundantly clear my distaste for the ticking sounds and mashup of colors featured on The Wheel of Fortune, on from 7-7:30 every single night here unless, of course, Patriots All Access usurps the time slot which pisses Mom off to no end. “Football! Football! Football! That’s all anyone cayahs about he-ah!” Don’t mess with her regular shows, people. It’s not wise. Over time, I have learned to breathe through the shenanigans and quietly exit stage left when Pat Sajak’s voice comes on, possibly the only enjoyable thing about that show. It is when I am stage left that these precious moments between Mom and Dad take place. It is a new closeness that they have and I, for one, am proud of how Mom has evolved to handle it.

This past week has been busy, busy, busy. Momming, daughtering, teaching, sports, meeting, more sports, another meeting, and appointments. It is really no wonder why I have absolutely no trouble sleeping at night. Were I not living here, however, my life would simply not be as full. I would be missing something, feel unfulfilled. As we slowly climb out of the noise of the past two years, I have found it helpful to be mindful of the glimmers that I see each day while simultaneously accepting, recognizing, and oftentimes laughing at all the shit. It is the only way for me to stay sane “amidst the chaos.” (thank you, Sara Bareilles). The ultimate glimmer this week, and I say this hoping not to jinx it, is that Mom was finally discharged from the wound center after a solid year battling an infected cancer excision on her leg. She was so happy and proud to wear closed-toe shoes for the first time in months this weekend as she and Dad toddled off to Wyman’s to gather some pumpkins and mums. Yes, I “let” them go on their own. They were just so happy to be getting out independently that I couldn’t be the bad guy. It was a choice I made and would make again just to hear my Dad exclaim “Wow! It’s so nice out!” as he slowly makes his way to the passenger side of their minivan. Yes, Dad, it is quite nice out and I’m so very glad to see the sun on your face.

An Eastern Screech Owl woke me up around 2 this morning, its whinnies and trills spookily filling the still night air. This is the second time we have been visited by this nocturnal raptor. “Woooo-oooo-ooooo-oooo! Woooo-oooo-ooooo-oooo!” it cried, sounding like a wounded horse. The sound is just so beautifully haunting and, of course, always reminds me of how I came to read Walden by Thoreau. This book, though I never finished it because that’s just how I roll, taught me how to stop, look, and listen to everything around me, even the crazy stuff. If I were to guess what this little owl was trying to tell me, as I was asked to posit by someone I care quite deeply about, I’d say that he was not trying to establish territory as I originally suggested but was instead attempting to remind me that even when you wake in the dead of a black, starless night, there is always something beautiful to be found and heard.

Undone

E&G | Issue 156

Crap all over the coffee table, laundry to be done and folded, dishes to be washed and put away, and a layer of dust on all surfaces. Add on to that that I have a significant life to-do list and this morning I felt like escaping to a small one room cabin in the woods to be alone with my thoughts and words. I have thought about building one among the trees behind my home for decades. There’s a reason why I was drawn to read Thoreau’s Walden (which I never finished because his chapter on beans put me to sleep). Were we contemporaries, he and I would have been friends that bickered, I’m sure of it. “Too much on and on about the beans” I would have said to him.

So, what did I do about all of the above? Absolutely nothing. Well, that’s not entirely true. I vacuumed and made beds. Then I took J.D. to soccer tryouts, brought Maire to a playground, and plopped myself on the grass and read Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver. Poetry seems to be the only thing I have the attention span to read these days and the words of Mary Oliver are just so meditative and calming. As the moisture from the ground seeped through my yoga pants, I read a poem that encapsulated my day in just a few lines:

Wherever I am, the world comes after me.

It offers me its busyness. It does not believe

that I do not want it. Now I understand

why the old poets of China went so far and high

into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.

With those words in mind and the fact that I did “nothing” today, I decided to take a look at exactly what I have accomplished of late. The past week has had its ups, downs, ins, and outs; it has been difficult to focus on the ups and ins. The noise of life gets so loud sometimes and drowns your ability to recognize the triumphs. At school the other day, I looked at the faces of my students and saw a glaze in their eyes that bothered me. By period 2 I had scrapped the day’s plan and decided to take all my classes outside to read a chapter book in Spanish. It was an unusually hot October day and the changing trees almost looked confused by it. “Nature misses us and the trees are sad because they’re losing their leaves.” I told the kids and encouraged them to hug their arboreal saviors. Yes, I hugged a tree in front of many teens several times that day. The week only improved from there. On Friday, I brought Isaac’s portable karaoke machine, complete with disco lights, and used the mic with an intense echo feature to call out students for using cell phones in class. “Get out of the ether. It is trying to steal your soul.” I warned them, channeling the Wizard of Oz voice. By period 6, I was impersonating Neil Diamond and singing “Sweet Caroline” as a tribute to the Red Sox who were playing that night. “You have lost your damn mind.” Meg told me last night when I recounted these instructional shenanigans. Maybe she’s right but, I’ll tell ya, it’s pretty damn freeing to be at a point in my life where impersonating Neil Diamond in front of a bunch of teens does not phase me in the least. You want to know what else? The glaze in their eyes disappeared for a bit so I will call that a mini win. My only hope is that all that ridiculousness ends up in a few students’ ‘memories of high school’ bank later in life. “Remember when Señora Alfaro hugged the tree?” they’ll say one day.

This weekend, instead of housework, I had deep conversations and good laughs with many of my favorite humans. I spoke my truth and heard the truths of others; I made myself vulnerable and witnessed others do the same. I made chicken parm for my quirky little family of 6. Dad liked it, another mini win. Yes, Mary Oliver, today’s “busyness” tried to get my attention but it didn’t. The dust is still present, laundry unfolded, coffee table cluttered, life’s to-do list undone, and my writing seriously delayed. Although I know that all of those things must be attended to and soon, I will close my eyes tonight knowing that the love I feel and have for so many and so much is enough. Good night, sleep tight, let all that you have left undone wait for morning light.

The Twist of Fate

E&G | Issue 155

When Auntie Janice’s mother, my grandmother, died after a brief illness in 1998, she decided to take life by the horns and threw herself full throttle into a career in the travel industry. Nearly 25 years later, she is now 72 and a kickass tour director who has a real penchant for taking groups (many of whom are senior citizens no doubt) to places like Nova Scotia and just about anywhere on the northwest coast. Yesterday, she was in Bandon, Oregon and then along the Rogue River. She caught a photo of a bald eagle. This year, she decided to embrace her beautiful white hair. She is ageless because she carries the genes of her ageless mother who was taken too young. She is Dad’s only living sister and, 17 years his junior, she has always been the very definition of “cool aunt” for all of my siblings and cousins. For David and Elizabeth, her children, she has been a “cool Mom”. On the anniversary of 9/11 last month, I asked her if she would like to do a guest post on Evergreen & Grey. Her 9/11 story has been giving me chills for the past 20 years and I wanted to share it here to spread it far and wide. Auntie Janice gave me the green light just recently and so, without further adieu, I give to you her story of that fateful day. We love you Auntie Janice. We are eternally grateful for whatever twist of fate worked in your favor.

“Everyone has a story to tell…here's mine

Still recovering from a broken foot, I was cleared to return to work as a tour director only because I promised to keep the "boot" on for an additional week, and because I predicted an easy assignment. Thirty senior citizens to San Francisco and my friend, Mary coming along to help. Even the flight was easy. United Airlines, Boston to San Francisco, Nonstop, departing Logan at 7:30am. On 9/11. Yes, that 9/11.

Mary and I arrived, arranged for group check-in and made our way to the gate. Mary was surprised when a man, questioned by security, had a jack knife returned after it set off the alarm. We noticed a group of about twenty young men waiting for the flight - clearly U.S. Marines - all sporting regulation hair cuts, wearing "a few good men" tee shirts, and dragging duffel bags. In retrospect, their presence was probably our salvation. We took off at 7:45 am.

Just over two hours into the flight the captain advised us to buckle-up due to turbulence. Except there was none - and we were flying very low. She then advised us to prepare for landing. Landing? Two hours out of Boston? Flight attendants were nervously walking the aisle, pacing really, and paying close attention to each of us. A young Asian man sitting next to me looked puzzled and asked "Do you think were in San Francisco already?" "I'm not sure where we are", I replied, looking out the window at corn fields, "but it’s not San Francisco."

Once on the ground a voice came over the PA and briefly stated that the FAA had ordered all planes to land because of a terrorist hi-jacking and that the World Trade Center had been targeted. We were told to exit the plane quickly and make our way to baggage claim. Seated in the rear of the plane I was followed off by an attendant - I gave her a puzzled look, and she confided that it was really bad - planes had hit the buildings and they had collapsed.

Rushing through the deserted terminal we caught images on TV screens. Incomprehensible images. The guys with duffel bags sprinted past us. As we reached baggage claim an announcement was made that the airport was being evacuated, immediately. I got my group out to the sidewalk and went back in to make inquiries - "All flights are grounded, indefinitely." "We have no information." "Oh, yes, I can tell you that…you're in Des Moines, Iowa."

An airport hotel representative approached me to say that there were rooms available, enough for all of us, and that she could send shuttle busses. "Do it." I said, having no idea who would pay for the accommodations. Mary went ahead with the group and I returned to the terminal to make phone calls and try to collect the luggage. I couldn't get through to family, at work or at home, but finally reached my office. The staff was frantic, but relieved that we were safe. Where? Iowa? The phone lines went dead.

I managed to collect all the luggage - no small feat since I was hobbling around with my foot in the foolish "boot." Two pilots helped me get it outside. The hotel sent the shuttle back and forth for the luggage and I waited on the sidewalk with the Marines, who were spirited away on mysteriously arriving Humvees. One of them looked my way and said, "Well, I guess we go to work now."

Once at the hotel I tried my calls again, finally reaching my husband. He had had the presence of mind to call my office and knew we were safe. My daughter, on the other hand, evacuated from her high-rise Boston office, spent frantic hours fearing the worst. My husband at least knew my flight number; my daughter enjoyed no such luxury. All she knew was that I was on a non-stop United flight to the West Coast. My son, in Florida on business, was also trying to get calls through. He kept calling his sister’s cell phone - which she just couldn't bring herself to answer… She finally gave in and they spoke, still not knowing. I can't imagine what they all went through; their worst hours were spent while I was still in the air.

Mary and I sat on our hotel beds, staring in disbelief at the TV. I went to the lobby and found several members of my group, red-eyed and frantic. Tears, hugs. Of course, everyone just wanted to go home. That wasn't about to happen any time soon, and I geared up for what would be major decisions. I'm not exactly sure what spurred me into action - but, clearly, we all couldn't sit in front of the TV crying for days. And after listening to news broadcasts, it seemed likely that it would be days.

I called the local Chamber of Commerce to explain our predicament, and they jumped into action. I gathered tourist brochures and came up with a plan of sorts. We managed to put together a half-day tour (due to the time change it was still morning!) They found a motor coach, got a driver to come in on his day off, and within two hours my little group and I were on our way to see the Bridges of Madison County. Not the movie - the actual bridges. Who knew? That evening I was able to speak with my girl, still shaken. Early the next morning my phone rang, but I got no response to my "hello." It was my six-foot something, football playing son, unable to speak.

Next day we were off to Boone County and a scenic train ride, we visited John Wayne and Mamie Eisenhower's birthplaces. The local casino invited us to dinner. We were pretty determined to go on. People were so friendly and caring - word got out about stranded tourists - we were treated like celebrities. When I think about it now, it's as if they needed desperately to offer assistance to someone, somewhere - and for that moment in time, we were it.

More phone calls, more crying. My office was trying to get travel information, but not having much luck. We decided that since Logan was still closed it would be best to try making our way westward, and hope that our return flight would be on schedule. We booked a flight to San Francisco via Denver for noon on 9/13.

Early in the morning of 9/13, however, I got a strange message…someone called the hotel and left word that our flight would continue on and that passengers should report to the airport immediately. I couldn't confirm this, but decided to act on it. I gathered my group, most of whom were at breakfast, commandeered the hotel shuttle and arrived at the still-closed Des Moines airport at about 9 am. It was true - since the plane, the crew and the passengers were all stranded in the same place, United decided to simply continue the flight. Only those holding tickets from 9/11 were eligible. New regulations were in place - every bag was searched, no hand carry luggage allowed on the plane, no meal requiring a cutting utensil (even at the airport - try cutting a pizza with a plastic fork.) The Red Cross served coffee and donuts. We checked in and waited. And waited. It was hours before we were even allowed to the gate. Media were there interviewing and filming, my interview ended up in the Des Moines Register.

A rather disquieting piece of information came our way… As we went through the metal detector a guard told us that after one of the hi-jacker's cars was impounded at Logan it was learned that they were holding reservations for our flight - the speculation being that several planes to the West Coast were "on the list." Remember the twenty Marines? Certainly not a flight one would choose to hi-jack. He also shared that our plane was highly suspect. A fact confirmed by one of the flight attendants.

At 6:00pm we finally took off. It was all so eerily familiar - same plane, same crew, same passengers (minus the Marines) - but everything was so very different. We greeted our pilot with a standing ovation. A man brought long-stemmed white roses for each of the flight attendants. We were treated to complimentary champagne. We were singing and laughing and nervous. We were overwhelmingly thankful.

Our landing was smooth. As we approached the gate our pilot thanked us for our trust and drew our attention to the runway. The airport was still officially closed, so there was little activity. Looking out the windows we saw that the baggage handlers had lined up their vehicles, lights blazing, so that we had a private pathway to the gate. The handlers themselves were standing on top of the carts, waving American Flags. As we made our way from the plane we were met by a gathering of about 30 airline personnel - pilots, flight attendants, custodial staff, desk staff - crying, waving flags, and singing God Bless America. By that time we were all sobbing in each other's arms. I'm not sure if it was pure emotion or emotion tinged with Champagne, but it was a moment none of us will ever forget.

The rest of our trip was uneventful - sightseeing alternating with long hours by the TV - like the rest of the world, trying to absorb and make sense of the tragic events of 9/11. We arrived in Boston on schedule, and finally got to hug those who really matter.

Somehow, the fact that our plane was "targeted" leaked out to the press and for the next two days I was inundated with phone interviews. A TV crew arrived at the house, and I gave an interview that appeared on a news show that evening.

It’s been 19 years - it was a lifetime ago - it was yesterday.”

September 11, 2020

Mother Trees

E&G | Issue 154

This week, Mom had another appointment at the wound center and, excellent news, the infected skin cancer excision that nearly took her down this past June is slowly closing up and looking fabulous. So fabulous, in fact, that her next appointment may be her last with them. “And what have we learned?” I asked her. “Not to let things go” Mom said. She had kept this infection under wraps last May, quietly hoping it would get better on its own. It didn’t. What resulted was a stint in the hospital and rehab facility that she affectionately refers to as the “nursing home”. Four months later, we are finally nearing recovery a whole year after the initial excision was done. Mom is both a tank and a trooper when it comes to injuries and setbacks. Suck it up and move on could be her motto.

Last night at dinner, we discussed Mom’s remarkable healing and then somehow got on the topic of the current social media trends among America’s youth. If you’re not aware, it is now popular to commit acts of theft and vandalism at schools all to be recorded on TikTok for likes and views. The trend has morphed into establishing themes, October being “Slap a staff member on the backside” month. “I don’t get it.” Mom said. I agreed “Neither do I.” “I mean, I could get it if you got a roll of stamps from it or a sticker. Well I guess a like is like a sticker.” she added. Approaching 87 this week, this woman is beyond wise and I absolutely love that she thinks getting a roll of stamps as a reward is appealing. I failed miserably at trying to explain why kids are so into TikTok and ended with “I’m just glad I was born in the 70s.” “Well, I’m glad I was born in the 30s.” Mom replied.

Later, as I thought about just how slow and messy Mom’s wound healing process was (it wasn’t pretty and I have photos to prove it), I drew a parallel between that and the healing of adolescents from the trauma of the past two years. These kids spent more than a year all holed up with their hormones, moods, and thoughts. All interactions were tinged with a fear of death or causing it; yes, even for the ones who seemingly didn’t care. Add to that all the social and racial discord and everything started to fester away just like that nasty wound on Mom’s leg—of course deviance was born. Let’s also not forget that these kids witnessed adults storming our government just 9 months ago because of all kinds of misguided interpretations of reality. If adults are doing that, “What is the purpose of anything anymore?” I imagine quite a few of them have asked just prior to their decision to vandalize and steal for TikTok views. We need to help these kids find purpose to life again and fast. How do we do that? By being loud and proud of what our purposes are. Here’s my attempt:

The last Christmas we spent on Kaua’i, Mom sent a package to me with a candle called “Home for the Holidays” that was scented like pine and cinnamon with a decorative wall plaque that said “Life takes you to unexpected places; love always brings you home.” This was after Mom’s lung cancer diagnosis and I think she had no time or patience for subtlety. Of course I cried when I opened it, the decision to move back was already being discussed anyways. We missed family, friends, and the familiar feel of the northern hemisphere. All it took was a false alarm of an incoming ballistic missile to seal the deal. Like magnets, we settled right back into life in Massachusetts. Somedays it is as if those two years away were a dream. Today, I woke in my childhood bedroom and now sit in my childhood living room in my childhood home and watch the leaves from my childhood trees begin to float down. This is the time of year that I missed most when living on Kaua’i. There, the seasonal shifts were different and never felt quite right to me; it was as if the island itself was telling me I was not home. My life here is far from perfect and I have many items still on my to-do list that I have not yet checked off. I’m clumsily yet actively working on that list. I came “home” because I saw more meaningful purpose here and, when everything came crashing down, that got me out of bed in the morning. My sense of purpose here, at home and at work, is a huge part of my warped sense of happiness. I hope I make that clear to these children of mine (biological and otherwise) every single day. I live and act on purpose. Deviance can and will alter course if inspired and redirected. That is not just my hope, it is my belief.I deviated and here I am again. See? Inspired redirection with purpose.

I walked outside this morning and looked up at my favorite pine in our backyard. I wanted to climb it just to feel the soft sharpness of the needles and to smell its sap; I wanted to give it a hug but stopped myself so the neighbors wouldn’t start to whisper. I like to think of this one as the mother of all the pines that surround my home. It’s bigger than all the others and serves as the base for the now defunct zipline. I shuffled to the front lawn, my Mama Elf slippers getting wet from the morning dew. I squinted through the bright morning sun to admire our pear tree. Right after the country shut down for Covid, we had an awful wind and rain storm that split this tree right in two. Our neighbor helped us cut up the section that had fallen onto the lawn with his chainsaw and offered to cut down the part that was still standing. A sucker for trees, I told him that I wanted to leave it up and see what it does.

Now, two years later, that tree is flourishing ever so quirkily. “It’s a metaphor for my marriage” I said to my neighbor when he marveled at its lopsided perseverance. He laughed because, let’s face it, that’s a good one. Existing on the same plot of earth, I think these two trees are more than just metaphors. Despite all that happens to and around them, they still stand firmly in their ground and flourish. If trees could talk, these two would have a lot to say. Alas, they cannot and must speak only through awkwardly flaunting their quirks and strengths to anyone who cares to look. Their purpose, emblematic of our own, will continue to inspire me in the face of adversity and discord. As much as I would like to round up all of America’s youth and set my Mom with a mic in front of them to drop unfiltered and giftwrapped pieces of her mind, I don’t think that is likely to happen and TikTok will take this licking and just keep ticking until the next thing comes along. So, I say “Go hug a tree” to my students instead, telling them that the practice helps lower stress. They looked at me like I was crazy and that’s exactly the look I was aiming for. You know what? I bet more than a handful of them took my advice. Maybe that will make just enough of a difference.

Some Kind of Wonderful

E&G | Issue 153

“Your son is weird!” Dad told me the other night at dinner as Isaac put on a physical comedy show for all. “You callin’ me weird?” Isaac asked, seemingly delighted by the accusation. “Yes!” Dad said confidently. “You were a weird kid too.” he said, turning to me. “What? I was??” I asked. “Oh yeah, just…weird.” he responded, not able to offer any specific details. “Well, I always did feel a little off so I guess I really was.” I told him. Mom didn’t want to agree with Dad but I decided to take his side on this one given the fact that I am now a weird adult. Hey, there are worse things I could be.

When we came back from Kaua’i a little over three years ago, it was clear to me that a lot had changed with Dad. He was less engaged and more confused; Mom was just sprinting to finish up chemo. They were both in rough shape and it was difficult for me to take it all in. Jorge and I had already discussed the possibility of making the move back and although I was overwhelmed to do it so quickly, I just couldn’t leave them in good conscience. For me, my conscience is pretty much everything. I was an “oops” child that was never meant to be but was given a pretty great crack at life by Mom and Dad, the least I could do was give something back to them. I felt in my gut that if I left, they would wither away and that would be the end of the story for them and us. I couldn’t let that happen.

Whether or not the choice we made was the right one, I don’t know. For a while I believed that it was the move back that forced the end of our marriage. I now know that this is not true; the dissolution had been in process for years but my dedication and focus on the children had shielded me from that truth. In hindsight, I realize how fortunate I was to be able to fall apart with witnesses to the pain. As much as I wanted to be completely alone, it was Mom’s hand on my back as I sobbed over an empty washing machine that told me it would all be OK. “Surround yourself with those who knew you way back when.” my therapist recommended. Thankfully that was quite easy to do in my childhood home.

Over these years, I have watched Dad steadily decline and enter a new phase of his life as the eldest member of our family. He forgets things from one part of the day to the next, he struggles to pay attention to even the TV, and gets antsy every evening around 6. He hates pizza now and sighs repeatedly on Fridays when it is the meal of choice and he could probably finish a 2 liter of root beer by himself if left to his own devices. He is still gentle and kind, calling everyone he sees “dear”. The other night we sat and had dinner after Mom and I had attended a wake of a 56-year-old family friend. Dad had stayed home and was shocked to hear, again, that Stephen Ettridge had passed. “What???” he said as Mom and I discussed the details. I found myself tearing up as I explained to him what had happened to Stephen over the years and why he had passed so young. “It’s funny” Mom said, her eyes welling up too, “Sometimes I go to these wakes of young people and I feel bad. I feel like people look at me and think ‘Look at this old lady and why does she get to live and he doesn’t? Why does God do that?’” To that all I could say was “I don’t know Mom.” Now the tears were dropping and I struggled to hold them back. “Why does anything happen the way it does?” I asked.

I have often debated whether or not to be candid about my experiences here in our home. The questions that run through my brain are the ones that mostly have to do with my kids and parents. “What if they read this and are hurt? Am I being too honest? Am I oversharing? What will people think of me? Will Mom get mad at this?” The problem with all of those questions is that they all tried to prevent me from being truthful in my very own way. By writing through the pain and triumph, I have been able to creatively capture the essence of what this human life looks like. It is simply a risk benefit gamble I make here and, for the most part, I have seen mostly benefit. By releasing these pieces into the ether in which I have tackled everything from childrearing to aging, I have found liberation and a slight relaxing of all stress and tension in the small muscles of my jaw. As I sit next to Dad and wonder what is happening behind all the smoke in his eyes, my eyes feel wide open and are comfortably absorbing it all with gratitude. I watch my children scurry around to help Nana and Grampy as best they can and I am proud of the selflessness that entails. We are a lovably imperfect crew with the best intentions and efforts amidst difficult circumstances. Tonight, this some kind of wonderful bunch will all dine at Longhorn Steakhouse and toast Isaac as he tries steak for the very first time. “You think Dad will be ok there?” Mom asked me last night. “Of course he will.” I reassured her.

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