Iris

I am holding his hand, but I can’t form words. In truth, there is nothing to say.  It occurs to me it has been a full day since we have spoken to each other. It’s a blistering hot day, and I take note of the heat the same way I might notice a buzzing fly; it is around me but I cannot feel it.

My phone rings and it’s our friend who has told us to take a break and “get outside” since it would be a while, a few hours more waiting.

“The doctors are here with the results.”

I don’t say anything to my husband, just spring from the bench and sprint for the hospital door, his footsteps behind me. I am grateful for the mostly empty hallways as we run, my husband shouting the way behind me — “Right!” then “Left!”

I begin to cry as I sprint, my chest burning and arms pumping, crying because I don’t know what I am sprinting toward. The tears slide down my cheeks as I speed past blurs of people, never slowing. Whatever it is, I must get to it.

The night before, our ten year old daughter Iris had been admitted to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. There had been pneumonia and antibiotics and just when she appeared to be getting better, a limp had begun. I’m the idiot parent who had recently bought a backyard trampoline, so I told myself that could be it, but even as I thought it, I knew it was a lie.

“It’s bad news,” the kindly ER doctor told us hours into the night. I would be old and gray and remember It’s bad news. There are some things that instantly imprint into your being, like a raggedy edged signature carved in fresh cement.

A bone infection, they said. Bacteria from the pneumonia likely got into her bloodstream and traveled to her knee. They would start strong antibiotics right away because bone infections are stubborn things, tough to treat.

We were scared, but would experience a new level of fear the next morning when doctors swarmed our room announcing antibiotics were being stopped because they believed it to be a tumor.

Could it be cancer? It could. They didn’t know.

I had told stories of children with osteosarcoma. That, combined with some googling confirmed that tumors in little childrens’ bones are almost never good.

Off she went to the MRI tube, weeping bitter tears of fear. A childlife specialist walked her through it, and I sat next to my ailing daughter, wishing there were a momlife specialist for me.

It was after that late afternoon sprint that the doctors would tell us we were back to bone infection. Just a bone infection.

daddy

Thank God for a serious bone infection.

In the two weeks that followed, our little girl would have surgery to remove infected bone from her tibia. The drugs to fight the infection were so strong they would consistently blow out her tiny veins, necessitating daily new IV’s. The care we received was extraordinary but it was still hideous, because watching your child suffer is the definition of hell.

Big brother was worried, but pooped papa in the background makes this a favorite

Another team of doctors believe her bone infection is instead a rare inflammatory disease that affects 1 in a million, a disease that is difficult to diagnose and precisely mimics bone infections. 1 in 1 million. Overachievers-R-us. As of this writing, we still don’t know. I have made peace with the fact we won’t know for a while.

It hurts my heart that people whose children have been diagnosed with cancer will read this, how we dodged that bullet, and it pains me that they may feel resentful or angry that their dread and fear was not alleviated, but was instead confirmed. I’ve told too many of their stories. I love many of them, and I know how it happens, that in a horrifying instant the bottom falls out of your life. We see and read the stories every day, secretly feeling guilty yet grateful those people are not us.

I will never forget the hours we lived in the in-between. I researched and had conversations and made decisions, while out of my body. I was breathing but I couldn’t get air. I was walking yet my legs were a thousand pounds of solid lead. I heard myself delivering opinions and participating in discussions, yet I couldn’t think. The non stop soundtrack that lives in my wacky head came to a halt that day. The chatter of my constantly unspooling inner-narrative vanished. The silence was terrifying.  Even prayer fled me. At the moment I needed it most in my life, I could not pray. Prayers were replaced by grunts of ‘please’ and ‘help.’

The sight of my daughter was exquisitely unbearable. The sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her little nose. Her wide hazel eyes looking to me for reassurance. Her weak hand with its brightly painted fingernails intertwined in mine. The sight of the dozen stuffed doggies and kitties that shared her hospital bed.

The utter innocence of her sweet little soul that had done exactly nothing to deserve this.

Almost a month after surgery, Iris is running and playing and slowly regaining weight.

Friends remarked that I must have cried a lot. I don’t think I shed a single tear (aside from the sprint) in the hospital. I was in med school, trying to fill my head with information so I could advocate for my child.

All those pent up tears came out a week after she got out of the hospital, when my husband and I headed to Washington D.C. for 16 hours to see U2 (tickets my husband had bought half a year ago), my favorite band of more than 30 years.

I stood at a concert I had first attended 30 years earlier, a lifetime removed from the 17 year old me who had no idea what the future would deliver her, who had no idea that grown-uphood would be unbearably beautiful and awful, often at the same  time.

youthful oblivion 30 years ago with my U2 BFF

Young me wasn’t so sure she could do that ‘family’ thing and would much later realize that the sound of your husband and children laughing in the next room is the holiest sound on the planet.

Seventeen year old me would one day understand that “I love you, Mommy” is the single most powerful sentence anyone would ever say to me.

My younger self had yet to learn that she would gladly offer up her life so that her child might be okay.

I wish it weren’t the case, but sometimes it takes awful, scary shit to force you to step back from your life and see it for what it really is, an unlikely miracle held together by duct tape, tears, laughter, hard work and dumb luck. I sobbed so fitfully at that concert, I’m fairly certain the poor woman next to me thought I was not of sound mind.

How could I explain to a stranger that I was having an epiphany? That sandwiched between the  jobs and the bills and the lack of sleep and the kids and the worry is this luminous thing for which we all yearn — life.

It is rich and unpredictable and unbearable. It is elevating and utterly crushing, and I would choose it again and again and again.

Come what may, we have her.

And she has us.

Amen.

some things don’t change, even in illness

Izzie the therapy dog was a huge comfort

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Mayday

You saunter in looking all pretty and sunshiney, all fresh cut grassy with flowers blooming everywhere, but behind your back you’re toting yards and yards of rope that you will use to hogtie, hamstring, and incapacitate us, so that by the time you leave, we are deranged and disheveled.

I don’t like you, May.

We think when you arrive we can celebrate surviving another school year. We forget EVERY DAMN YEAR that you have 2,013 more obligations for us. There are the end of year choral concerts (my personal favorite was when 9 schools performed in one night), the end of year plays (you feel pressure to attend all five performances like the really good parents, but don’t because you have a job and stuff).

A word about end of year major school projects. Yes, we’ve known about them for a long time. The problem is we don’t give a crap anymore, which makes coordinating a meet up between four families for a donation drop off super fun (make that EIGHT families after my son brings home another scrap of paper with random phone numbers scribbled on it).

No, I will not purchase any more markers/glue sticks/poster board, so help me God, and I will ground you if you ask again. This edict is reflected in a project using dried up markers, blue glitter glue, and copy paper, because it’s what we have. “We were lucky to have a pencil growing up, so stop whining that it looks bad.”

You are sneaky, May.

I never prepare for you. I should treat you like Christmas or Thanksgiving or Easter or the kids’ birthdays. I know they’re coming, so I put thought and planning into getting ready for them. You? You hide behind your perfect weather, your little downcast daisy eyes blinking, “Who me? I’m just a sweet little month, the last full month of wonderful Spring.” 

Sweet, my a–.  You stand between us and summer like a hulking, massive, muddy hill we are forced to climb. In church clothes. With smiles on our faces.

Just last week I saw a mother at a school event and we looked at each other and the only thing I said was, “May.” Then we exchanged a knowing nod (to be clear, ‘May’ was said with the same tone I use for the most blow out of the four letter words). We both looked like crap, because you pull us in 20 different directions and make us so tired that putting on lip gloss or brushing our hair are things we will resume in June.

I’m calling Mayday on this ridiculousness. You heard me. Mayday. What a perfect word to go with this insane month. I looked it up and ‘Mayday got its start as an international distress call in 1923. It was the idea of Frederick Mockford,  a senior radio officer in London. He came up with the idea for “mayday” because it sounded like the French word m’aider, which means “help me.”‘
How perfect is that, my pretties? All this time there has been a word for what we go through, and while Mister Mockford liked it because it sounded French, maybe he had a Mrs. Mockford who was helping their child with a homelessness project by dragging 200 pounds of canned goods out of the school in a work dress and high heels. No? Oh yeah, that may have been me. Anyway, I’m sure Mrs. Mockford would agree, that instead of stockpiling wine for Maypocalypse, or picking pointless fights with bewildered husbands who search their brains trying to remember what they did wrong, we just simply say, “Mayday.”
 Husband: Why are you screaming at everyone?
Me: Mayday.
**husband’s face relaxes as he nods, with deep empathy**
 Husband: Why are you burning the childrens’ backpacks and lunch boxes in the backyard?
Me: Mayday.
** husband nods and leaves to go get the fire extinguisher out of the closet**
 Husband: Why is Thomas Jefferson glued to copy paper with blue glitter glue gushing out the sides?
Me: Mayday.
**husband walks to refrigerator to get me a glass of wine**
 ***The husband reactions are merely STRONGLY encouraged suggestions.
So, here we sit, May. This week we have graduation, multiple end of year parties, gifts for hugely deserving teachers and support staff, and tryouts for elite hockey — all before Friday.
Mayday.
* I know I’m lucky that I have the time and energy and good luck to whine about something as benign as a month on the calendar. It still won’t stop me from whining about it. 

 

 

 

 

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When…

I am sitting next to her in the front seat of our metallic blue Chevy Monte Carlo, my bare feet dangling above the floorboards, the backs of my skinny legs sticking to the vinyl seat. My mother is at the wheel, also barefoot, her toes eternally painted bright pink, navigating the winding back roads to my grandparents’ farm, her long, bare legs working the mysterious pedals that somehow get us to Grandma’s house. The windows are rolled down and the smell of fresh manure wafts through the car, making me pinch my nose between my fingers as my mother smiles and says the same thing she will repeat hundreds of times throughout my childhood,”That’s fresh, country air.” I distinctly remember the non whipping of my white blond hair. Dubbed a tomboy at birth, I will sport a shagged pixie, cut by my mother, until puberty hits a few years from now. In an hour, I will be plucking freshly killed chickens at my grandmother’s kitchen table, but for now we are cruising past blurred rows of corn in companionable silence.

The memory is so clear, so intact, and what stands out about it is not how easily I recall it, but what is missing from it.

I wasn’t thinking about the future.

car ride age

I was in the car with my beautiful, young, barefoot-car-driving mother, admiring the way her golden legs glowed from the lotion she put on them, comparing them to my own shorter legs as I slowly lifted one, then the other, unpeeling them from the hot seat, experimenting with holding my nose, realizing if I plugged only one nostril, the manure still filled all of my tiny smelling self.

My mom circa 1970’s. I want that outfit

Flash forward to now.

I’m worried about finishing a video project at work, about my son dealing with mean kids at school, about the car we need to buy but I don’t want a car payment, about my parents getting older, about predators who might hurt my children, about how my daughter will fare at sleep away camp because of  her fear of water, about bad drivers on the highway, about my husband whose lingering head cold whisks me to the future where his senior citizen body won’t rebound at all, about if my friend’s daughter/husband/father will survive that cancer/stroke/illness.

‘Little me’ didn’t worry about the future. I guess that was what parents were for. I was wherever I was, good and bad. That time I found out that boy in Miss Kuenzler’s first grade class liked me, too. That time the kids made fun of me for the surgery that made me miss school for months.

My children are much the same way. “I’m bored. I’m miserable. This is cool!” They’re in the moment and I’m in the room with them, thinking ahead — to homework, to dinner, to baths, to the end of our lives. See how quickly it devolves?

I don’t know when it happened. High school? I don’t remember worrying, even about college. I knew I would go. After college? Maybe that was the beginning. I began to worry about making it in the competitive business of broadcast journalism. I think the living forward boulder dropped on me when I became a mother and suddenly I was the mouse dropped into a maze, my babies on my back, and it was all up to me to get them to the other side (adulthood), which meant anticipating any and all road blocks/sneak attacks/detours.

I know I’m lucky, dear God in Heaven, I know. And just as soon as I finish feeling grateful, I switch back to future mode, fretting over my chess pieces on the board of life, trying to dodge the pitfalls that remain unseen until you’re hurtling head first into them.

I live by ‘When.’

When the kids are older, when we pay that off, when I get that job, when I finish that project, when the week is over,  when we’re not so busy, when school starts again, when summer is over, when it’s Christmas break, when we have more time…

Funny how when when shows up, I’m already past it, onto the next when.

I’m chasing a future no human being has ever caught.

Maybe I think my constant mental motion will help me outrun the random things that befall others.

I’m trying to figure out (and I’ve thought about this a lot which is why I’m finally resorting to writing about it), is it possible to contend with the emotional complications and weighty responsibilities of adulthood/parenthood and to not be looking and living ahead?

In the spirit of transparency, I love to have fun. It’s everyday life I’m talking about

In polite conversation with people who love me, it manifests in conversations, like when one of my best friends and I wondered, “Will we regret we didn’t enjoy this time in our lives more?”

What to do? Meditate, read ‘The Power of Now,’ work on being present. Tried it, read it, failed at it.

The sexist me believes men are better at this than women. My husband can eat a sandwich, and while he’s eating that sandwich, guess what? He’s eating a sandwich. He’s not remembering that he forgot to empty the book bags or move yesterday’s laundry to the dryer, or that we still don’t have a sitter for that Saturday workday.

I have older friends who tell me to enjoy life because ‘before I know it, this will all be behind me.’ To me, that’s like saying humans walk upright. No offense, but I know that.  Invariably, when we keep talking, I discover that these friends were like me at my age, frantic and split in two, juggling and careening, trying to keep up, and it’s only in life’s rearview mirror mode that they see the mistake in not being in the moment. Their own regret is then delivered to me as an edict of Don’t do what I did. 

Is ‘being in the moment’ a crock? Are people who live in the moment better at their faith than me? Have they learned some Jedi mind trick that eludes me? How can you be a mother and not worry all the time?

I’m told most often to ‘give it over to God.’ Arrogantly, I’m certain God needs help steering my bus full of crap. I know.

I have moments. I will be struck by the beauty of my daughter’s face when she is deep in concentration, coloring the 15th doggie she has drawn this week. My growing son will roar with laughter, understanding the adult, sarcastic remark I make to my husband. I’ll put my head on my husband’s chest and his arms will encircle me like a warm cocoon.

A friend told me my children would be my greatest teachers. I’ve come to believe that me as a child has much to teach me as an adult. It begins by going back to a ride in the country with my young mama on a summer day. It’s a truth filled with sticky legs, short hair and and an innocent, full heart that already knew, but would grow to forget, all of life is in this moment.

 

 

 

Posted in Off the Air

Splintered

I am four people away from getting my single Friday night margarita when I see my husband frantically waving me out of line at our favorite taco joint. I had been deep in conversation with a dad behind me who was giving me his opinion of the public middle school our son is slated to attend. This is my obsession of late, which is why I didn’t notice my husband leave the line.

I apologized to the man and walked over to my husband. “We have to leave. Jude has a splinter in his butt.”

There are words you learn to expect when you’re a parent.

“The dog rolled in cat poop.”

“Why can’t I pee outside? Animals do.” 

“Iris punched me in my head.”

“If we get enough snow, can I jump off the roof?”

“Before you walk into my room, let me explain what happened.”

“I peed/pooped my pants/the bed/at camp.”

“You’re old for a mom, aren’t you?”

Splinter in the butt was a new one, and I will confess, my first reaction was not one of sympathy, even as I looked at my son who was fighting back tears. It was a pity party for me because my husband was finally recovering from the flu (yes, he got a flu shot) and I had been a single mother for most of the week at my brand new job. My pitying sing-song went something like, ‘All I wanted was a stupid margarita and fish taco. Yet another week in which mom gets nothing for herself.’

My husband tells me he has taken an initial splinter peek in the bathroom and it’s bad. We are immediately moving and winding our way back along the 45 minute long snaking line, taco hungry customers probably grateful to be four people closer to the order counter.

Away from the crowd, my son explains he was sitting on one of the benches with another boy, playing each other in video games on their phones, when he scooted down the bench.

And that was it. The perfect angle for a waiting spike of wood to take a dive into my boy’s left cheek.

Happier days long ago on ‘THE’ bench with buddies.

“I can’t sit in the car! I can’t do it.” The tears are flowing freely now as he limps across the parking lot.

“Try to sit on one cheek,” my husband offers.

He winces from the back seat as we discuss what to do on the drive home.  “How bad is it?” I ask. “Can I get it out?”

“I don’t know. It’s a big black spot that looks all the way in.”

Ouch.

The ER at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta looms. A kids’ ER on a Friday night. The opposite of a margarita and a taco.

We go into breaking news parent mode. We decide we will put him on the bed and use my husband’s professional lights so I have the best possible lighting. I decide I will use my tweezers and a tiny tipped knife.

When my son hears the word ‘knife’ from the back seat, he yells out, “Knife? What are you going to do with a knife?  WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH A KNIFE?”

This is when I fake it. I explain how I will get the splinter out and not hurt him and make things okay. This is the ultimate in adulting, pretending you know what to do, even in splinter-in-the-butt scenarios.

I know.

The situation does not improve 10 minutes later when we are setting up production lights and I place the tweezers and knife on the bed.

“Mom. MOM! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” He is wild eyed, looking at me like I’m about to shoot up heroin.

I begin to explain that I’m not going to stab him with the knife, but that I will use it to whittle the splinter out. He doesn’t like that explanation. At all.

We get him on the bed and he is saying, “Wait, I need to calm myself down, I need to calm myself down, I NEED TO CALM MYSELF DOWN,” yelling now.

Holding his hand, my husband gently pushes his head onto the bed and that’s when I get my first glimpse of the splinter. Oh sh*t Oh sh*t Oh sh*t. Be cool, woman. Be cool.

It’s big and there’s a tiny part sticking out of the skin. I gently grasp it with the tweezers and lightly pull. The wood snaps off and my son screams, unleashing the mother of all curse words, the one that got Ralphie’s mouth washed out with soap in ‘The Christmas Story.’

We let it slide, not even acknowledging the word. This situation has earned him a free pass in the ‘F’ department.

I go right back in, this time having to go below the surface of the skin with the tweezers. The waiting room of the ER is coming into sharper focus and I decide I will go down swinging.

I maneuver the tweezers around the teeny tiny tip of the splinter. My son is shrieking now as I begin to pull, trying to be steady and straight. The image of me as a little girl pulling earthworms from the warm dirt of my parents’ garden pops into my head. It is that delicious, sickly sensation, the reluctant exiting of something that would rather stay buried in the moist earth, or in this case, my son’s rear end.

 

Then it’s out.

The screams immediately cease and he lifts his tear streaked face from the bed. “Oh thank you, Mommy! Thank you!” He suddenly sounds like a gracious child actor out of a Sound of Music style movie, minus the British accent.

I check to make sure I got all of it and then he is off the bed, restoring his dignity with the pulling up of his basketball shorts. He races from the room, the incident already behind him.

I show my husband the splinter. “Jesus.” I nod. It’s the biggest splinter I’ve ever pulled out of anyone.

My son hugs me until bedtime. “How did you do it, Mommy?” At one point he says, “You know how to do everything.”

I don’t point out the truth, that dealing with life’s splinters is a crap shoot that just happened to go our way this time.

Margaritas be damned, I wound up being a Friday night hero.

That is happening less and less as my kids grow up.

I’ll toast to that.

 

 

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About A Boy

Epiphany is a big word. We’ve all had them, the aha moment that awakens you to a new truth.

For my friend Jake Burke, his epiphany happened in the middle of a McDonald’s six years ago.

“We were in line and this gentleman ahead of us turns to Jack and says, ‘What’s wrong with your eye?’ But Jack doesn’t answer.”

Jack is Jake’s six year old son.

“So the guy looks at me and asks me what’s wrong with his eye and I say, ‘He’s all set. He’s alright,’ but the man, he wouldn’t let up. ‘He doesn’t look alright. He looks pretty whack. What’s wrong?’”

And that’s when Jake reached into his protective parent backpack and pulled out a convenient lie.

“His brother hit him in the eye.”

Jake’s epiphany happened after he and Jack had gotten their food and sat down. He chokes up remembering his son’s simple, yet devastating question. “Daddy, why did you lie to that man? Why didn’t you tell him I have a tumor?”

“I don’t know,” Jake told his first born.

The truth was that he had been trying to protect the stranger’s feelings. The epiphany was that it was at the expense of his son’s truth, at the expense of his struggle. He promised Jack that day in the McDonald’s he would never do that again.

Jack quickly offered his heartbreaking forgiveness. “It’s okay, Daddy.”

YANKED AWAY 

“Old-ish and spry.” Jake laughs when I ask him to describe himself as a then 37 year old first time father.

An Irish son of the Boston suburb of Medford, Massachusetts, he married Elizabeth O’Brien (of course) and when she got pregnant with their first child, they didn’t find out the sex until Jack came into their lives on January 24th, 2005.

Jake describes his foray into fatherhood as ‘Panic at the Disco,’ those whirling dervish years spent trying to get it right and thinking you’re mostly doing it wrong. He laughs, remembering how Jack called milk ‘gunk’ and would chug from his bottle, “Drinking it like a sailor at a bar, tilting his head back to get as much as he could.”

On a visit to Atlanta, before they permanently moved to Milton a year later, two year old Jack got sick. When the doctor at the urgent care took off his shirt, she noticed the brown café au lait spots on his tiny torso.

Jake says the doctor turned to him and said, “Oh, he has Neurofibromatosis.”

Jake and Beth had thought the spots on their son’s body were just intense Irish freckling.

“What did you say?” he asked the doctor.

That’s the moment the only life they’d ever known was quickly yanked away.

That night Jake drank beer and searched online until 3 a.m., an ugly combination that led him to a single conclusion — “Jack might die.”

Within a few weeks, they would get confirmation, that their son had been born with the genetic disorder that affects 1 in 3,000 people.

“We hit the sh*t lottery,” Jake says. “The condition causes tumors to grow anywhere there’s a nerve ending in the body. It can be on your spine, in your brain, anywhere there’s a nerve ending.”

The tumors can become cancerous. They can grow. They can spread. If you try to remove them, they can come back bigger.

Jack has two tumors, one in his brain stem and one near his eye. He has had brain surgery and orbital surgery and a year of chemo. There are the MRI’s that take hours and the treatments that require sedation.

Jake remembers those times as the absolute worst.

“They’d make me have to hold him down. He would look right at me. It was me and these people against him. And he’d say “Please daddy, don’t do that.”

The memory brings more tears.

“That was the hardest thing and it happened a lot.’”

CURE NF WITH JACK

With wisdom that has been brutally earned, Jack has had to contemplate the end of his life.

“When he was ten, we were driving home from an appointment and he said, ‘Am I going to die?’ I said ‘We’re all going to die.’ He said ‘You know what I mean. Am I going to die from NF?’ ‘I don’t know.’ That’s what I said.”

There is no trading places with his son. No amount of prayers or pleading or begging can alter the reality.

But Jake has a mouth. A born talker, he used his now softened Boston accent in the world of sales to get people to buy in. It got him his car and his house and his life and now maybe, that mouth could help save his son and the 2.3 million other people with Neurofibromatosis.

He started the non profit, CureNFwithJack. He networked and planned a golf tournament in Atlanta. Jack Nicklaus’s son, Mike played the tournament with some buddies. He met Jack. He was hooked. He suggested they do a tournament in Palm Beach. Mike went to his dad Jack. The Golden Bear got on board.

Then professional race car driver Ryan Eversley reached out to them. He wanted to help. Then musician Kevin Griffin from the band Better than Ezra. All were willing to leverage their celebrity to raise money.

Jake and Beth had hoped to raise $1 million in ten years. They did $1.3 million in five.

CUPID’S UNDIE RUN

“For $250 dollars, you can sit at the bar all day and drink.” Ever the salesman from Boston, Jake pushes the open-bar-donation deal for Saturday’s Cupid’s Undie Run in Buckhead.

Dozens of Undie Runs are held in 38 cities across the country to benefit the Children’s Tumor Foundation.

CureNFwithJack, now a power player in the world of fundraising and research, has helped sponsor clinical trials that have saved childrens’ lives. Jack’s ten teams will account for 10% of the more $3 million dollars raised from all the races.

Next year, Jack will head to middle school. “He’s your typical wise ass 12 year old.” You can hear the pride in Jake’s voice when he talks about his son, how he manages — to get A’s in school, to be happy, to move forward in a life that is far more difficult than is fair. “He has never once said, ‘Woe is me.’”

Jake worries, not about middle school, but about the rest of Jack’s life. There are tumors living within his son, and he knows every bad thing that can happen.

There is the worry about Jack as an adult – when Jake can no longer shield him from the inevitable, dark parts of life. Jake is counting on Jack’s little brother Luke and sister Grace, to take his and Beth’s place, when they can’t be there anymore.

Like any parent forced to confront their child’s mortality, Jake will never stop – never stop using that mouth, that Boston bravado, that soulful Irish spirit – to save his son.

I’m not sure you’ll find a happier place than the Undie Run this Saturday.

Whether you run the one miler or stop by Big Sky Bar, go find Jake Burke.

He wants to meet you, and raise a toast to his boy.

To donate to Jack’s team, click here. 

To run with Jack’s team this Saturday, click here. 

To donate to Cure NF with Jack, click here. 

To see Jack’s journey, click here. 

 

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Starbucks Shot o’ Truth


Yesterday I received a FB message from a friend of mine who was at Starbucks during what is normally a packed morning rush.

I’m sitting at one of the busiest Starbucks in Atlanta at the intersection of Mansell Rd and Alpharetta Highway in Roswell. It is EMPTY. It is usually overflowing with people. I asked the barista what is going on and she told me the Starbucks boycott campaign due to agreeing 10K refugees is severely impacting business.’

I looked online and read about other Starbucks that were far emptier than usual.

Where do I go with this?

To the truth.

In an open letter to the company’s employees, CEO Howard Schultz wrote, ‘we are developing plans to hire 10,000 of them over five years in the 75 countries around the world where Starbucks does business.’

It’s true. Starbucks is going to hire refugees in the U.S. and 74 other countries around the world.  The announcement ignited a firestorm, and #BoycottStarbucks began trending, with people accusing Starbucks of hiring refugees instead of American veterans.

Except that’s not true.  Starbucks announced a few years ago it would hire 10,000 veterans by 2018.  As of this week, Starbucks says it has hired ‘8,800 veterans and military spouses.’

Starbucks is also opening stores in low income areas, including Ferguson, Missouri, and says it has already met its goal of hiring 10,000 16 to 24 year olds who are unemployed and not in school.

So, to recap — refugees and veterans and spouses of veterans and low income and unemployed young adults.

You can disagree with the company’s plan to hire refugees.

You cannot claim it’s instead of everyone else.

Truth means transparency, so I will also point out that Howard Schultz supported Hillary Clinton. He is not happy with the executive order. ‘We are living in an unprecedented time, one in which we are witness to the conscience of our country, and the promise of the American Dream, being called into question.’

I’m not advocating to #DrinkStarbucks. Drink whatever coffee you please, even the rot gut that sits out all night at roadside gas stations, if it makes you happy.

I’m saying beware of selective truth. Guess what sentence immediately followed the announcement of refugee hirings?  ‘And we will start this effort here in the U.S. by making the initial focus of our hiring efforts on those individuals who have served with U.S. troops as interpreters and support personnel in the various countries where our military has asked for such support.’   

Keep reading, my brothers and sisters. Keep reading beyond the headline. Beyond the tweet. Beyond the hashtag.

If you want to find me, I’ll be at my neighborhood Starbucks enjoying a tall flat white.

 

 

  ‘We are in business to inspire and nurture the human spirit, one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time – whether that neighborhood is in a Red State or a Blue State; a Christian country or a Muslim country; a divided nation or a united nation. That will not change.  You have my word on that.’ — Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz
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Week 1

 

It has been one week.

For some of you, it’s the week your country started heading in a better direction. For others, it’s the week that everything you care about went to hell in a hand basket.

We are living in a world where truth is debated and facts can be alternative.

A long time ago a priest said to me that feelings are neither right nor wrong..they just are.

I couldn’t agree more.

But feeling you are right about what is happening in our country and whoever doesn’t agree with you is wrong, is a great way to have a long, lonely four years.

Too many of us are taking our puffed up feelings of righteousness to Facebook, acting shocked when people don’t agree with us. For those of you whose fingers catch fire, anxious to comment on your friend’s idiotic post, I suggest a healthy helping of the backspace button on your keyboard before you unleash your wise rebuttal.

Did you not just live through the same election as me? There will be no conversion. I don’t know about you but I had some ugly fights in my extended family. Ugly.

Many of us are beyond disagreeing. We are officially divided. A divided land breeds distrust, dislike and disappointment in people we’ve known a long time.

It’s sad. But it’s a reality.

It’s also a good time to remember the word liberty. My favorite definition of it is the power of choice.

That is what we are seeing people do. Exercising liberty by going to the inauguration. By Marching in Atlanta and Washington and around the country and the world. Some are choosing to take a stand, some are choosing to kick back and celebrate. Having that choice is what makes us lucky to be Americans.

You know what I’m going to do?  I will do what I believe is right for my family and my country and I don’t care if you agree with me.

I think the best we can do right now is try to respect each other’s right…to be wrong.

Next time you decide all of us on Facebook need to understand how right you are, I suggest you remember these words from Mark Twain, a man so good at gutting us in the name of truth. His advice?

 ‘Never ague with a fool. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.’

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Second Act

I was about a mile from my house when I noticed it. A tiny bug on the windshield of my car that had likely been there since I pulled out of my driveway. His veiny, delicate cellophane wings were flapping furiously in the wind, his minuscule feet fighting to stay in place on my windshield. I knew he/she was a goner. I slowed my car.

 “Let go, bug. Let go or your wings are going to rip off!”  As if he heard me, he let go and was gone.

I am the bug. I have been trying so hard to hold on. My God, there is so much to hold onto. I meet amazing people. I get to tell remarkable stories that inspire and enrich my life and hopefully, the lives of some of the people who see them. But a while ago, my wings opened, and I was like the mom who yells, “Who left the door open? Where’s that draft coming from?”

I would try to pull my wings down and tuck them away, even as I felt this shifting deep within me. I am a bit of a tortured soul — a dreamer and a worrier and a way-too-deep thinker. I came into the world that way. Add to that I’ve been a non stop questioner for as long as I’ve been able to make sentences. Ask my long suffering parents or anyone who grew up with me or has ever known me.

My unquenchable curiosity necesitated interventions from family and friends before they would let me meet someone new. “Don’t grill him/her to death. Please don’t bury them in your questions. Please don’t freak them out with you.” I get it. The problem is, I need to know you. If we’re going to talk, I have to peel your mask off and see into you. How else are we going to have a connection? Isn’t that why we’re here? You tell me something. I tell you something. It’s a soul quid-pro-quo and it fills me in a way few things do.

I want to understand the why of everything. I am always searching for the deeper, greater meaning (I fully realize normal people don’t see bugs on windshields as a sign to change one’s life).

I always knew that television would be one of the things I would do in my life, but I knew it wouldn’t be the only thing. When I became a journalist, I learned that TV allows little room for anything else. It is a calling, a way of life, and the dedication it requires is necessarily staggering and gratifying.

I began this blog a few years ago as a way to quiet the restlessness. Writing is my joy, and I thought if I released some of what was inside me, it would do the trick. It did the opposite. It made my restlessness almost unbearable.

The truth I kept coming back to is that I have more in me that needs to get out, and there are a lot of ways I want to live my life in the years I have left on this wondrous planet. I want to be scared again. I want to be challenged and confused by what I don’t know. I want to stretch until I just about snap. The reality is, I am most comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s how I know I’m growing.

So, I’m stepping back — but not entirely away — from this wonderful, insane, beloved career. It ranks as one of the most difficult decisions of my life.

I will miss my colleagues. They have been my family for almost 25 years. Journalists are like the Island of Misfit Toys. There’s the diva and the bookworm and the braggart and the nerd and the wannabe — just like high school — just like life — but beneath the various facades is a common, profound dedication to getting and reporting the truth, for exposing rot, for being the catalyst for change. Despite the hell rained down on us this election season (some of it deserved, some not), I will always believe in the importance of what we do. Take a look at countries where the press is shackled and you will find a place we would never want to live or raise our children. I hope fake news, which has done so much damage, meets its deserved end.

I am so grateful for my stories. They’re like my kids. On any given day, I couldn’t tell you which is my favorite. The truth is that I fell in love hundreds of times, not with the words I wrote or with the beautiful video my photographers shot, but with the people whose stories I told. Man, I fell hard. There are so many names I could utter with such love. Kevin Enners, Chip Madren, Leo Lucier, Mary Elizabeth Paris. I told their stories and in exchange, they gave master classes on grace and grit and dying, and most of all, living. Living with pain. Living with illness. Living with difficulties most of us can’t bare to contemplate.

I have been on shoots where I felt my heart hurting in my chest. I came to believe they were growing pains. I was getting paid for my heart to grow, thanks to these extraordinary people.

There are thousands of people whose names I will never know. They were the woman rushing past me, a baby in one arm and a toddler on her hip, fleeing a flooded trailer park. They were Bosnian mothers huddled together inside a tent in Albania, rape victims from another senseless war. They were Russian tourists at the olympics in Sochi, communicating with me through gestures and smiles and break-your-back hugs. They were people playing pianos placed in parks around the city, drivers stranded in an ice storm, fans at the Braves playoff games, homeless men at bible study, relatives waiting for news of a loved one at the hospital, people whose houses and lives were ripped apart by fires/tornadoes/hurricanes/lightning strikes/gun violence. It was a sacred privilege to be on the periphery of their lives, to feel the crushing responsibility to tell their stories with integrity and truth and sensitivity.

How do I walk away from that? Because it’s time. And because I’m fortunate to not be walking all the way away.

People have asked, “Won’t you miss it?” Of course I will, but missing something isn’t enough of a reason to stay. I have given up other people and things in life that I miss to this day. They were hard, yet right decisions and so is this one.

My soul needs to take the next leap. I am still going to tell stories. I will still attend master classes. I’ll be doing all of that at Emory University in a position I never could have dreamed up for myself. I will be telling stories for them, and I will still be telling stories from time to time on 11 Alive News.

The bottomline line is that I’m luckier than I deserve.

I have nothing but gratitude for every great and ghastly TV experience of the last 24 1/2 years. None of it was wasted and I learned just as much as I could.

I will still be writing here and at The Huffington Post and 11 Alive.

The day the bug on my windshield let go and flew away, I thought, ‘That poor bug doesn’t know where he is now. Maybe he lived his whole life (all 3 days of it) in my backyard and now he’s in a foreign land.’

My next thought was, ‘Cool. That bug is having a new adventure. He’ll adapt.’

Here’s to letting go.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Peace.

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The Outside In

He definitely wasn’t reading. He kept flipping through the same pages, stopping and pretending to read, his eyes darting up to look around every 30 seconds or so. He was tucked into one of the few comfy chairs, one hand flipping pages, the other resting against his cheek.

Just a dude in a Starbucks reading a book.

Oh God, please don’t let me ruin this 40 minutes alone with my husband. This was supposed to be a mini date over a four dollar coffee while the kids were at choir practice. My husband was still in line so I had time to get a grip — to squash the familiar twisting inside me.

I couldn’t take my eyes off him, his head pointed down at the book. The book was tattered and worn, sort of like him. He was in khakis, the bottoms frayed and blackened. The tops of his black rubber soled shoes were covered with knots from laces that had broken in a dozen different places. There was a rip in the shoulder of his coat. He had a black knit cap pulled down over his eyebrows. Without moving his head, he lifted his eyes from the book and looked around again, darting to the register, the door, the other corner, then back down.

On the floor next to him sat a backpack and on top of it was a neatly folded blanket, the colorful sort bought as a souvenir on a beach trip to Mexico.

My husband sat our drinks on the table as I blurted out, “That man is homeless and he’s acting like he’s reading a book so he won’t get thrown out.” The rain poured off the gutters outside the window behind the man’s chair.

“See how he glances around so quickly and goes back to pretending to read?” The man looked so uncomfortable, and even more than that, he seemed exhausted.

Imagine the burden of trying to make yourself invisible. It appeared he had succeeded. I didn’t see anyone give him so much as a glance. I did hear caffeinated laughter from people eating and drinking just days from Christmas. He was right there in our midst, but might as well have been on another planet.

“Can we buy him a gift card? Just like ten dollars.”

“Sure.” My husband took a sip of his drink, bracing himself. He is a compassionate man, helping our kids make an extra lunch before school which he then delivers to whomever he finds that day who needs it.

He’s also married to me, which means a simple cup of coffee is never simple.

Ten minutes later, after enduring my assessment of the man I’d never seen, my husband was back in line, waiting to buy a gift card, but the line was painfully slow and at some point the man got up and walked out. I ran to my husband to tell him, the man now walking down the street.

What happened is that nothing happened. We didn’t get the card. Time ran out and we had to get to Mass. We didn’t see the man as we left and drove down that same street.

I was crushed.

“Honey, I’m sure we will see someone else we can help before we even get to church.”

“That’s not the point. I wanted to help that man.”

The Starbucks man’s invisible effort was so people wouldn’t realize that most awful of truths — he didn’t belong. He was an outsider.

His situation is extreme, but we’ve all been there, on the outside of life.

I had some serious health issues as a child, and other kids made fun of me. As much as I tried, I was stuck on the outside. When I got divorced, I spent about a year on the outside, happy-hand-holding-couples on sidewalks reminding me of all I had lost.

I’ve discovered that parents of children who are sick or have disabilities are outsider experts, spending their lives fighting for their kids to have a chance to know what it feels like to be on the inside.

I think of my cousin Jamie, who died from leukemia when we were kids. He was 12 years old and the last time we were together at my grandparents, he was tiny and gray and under a blanket with my aunt on the living room couch. I was healthy and wiry, running around the farm that day with the rest of our cousins. I know with aching adult certainty that Jamie and my aunt and uncle were living in a hell of outsider-ness.

The homeless. The heartbroken. The poor. The depressed. The sick. The bullied. People out of work. Parents who’ve lost children. Children who’ve lost parents. Widows. The lonely.

Outside is never far away, threatening to ruin our plans.

I have squandered so many opportunities with excuses such as:  It’s not my business. I’m sure she/he is okay and has other support. It makes me uncomfortable. What if I make them uncomfortable? I don’t have time. It’s not my place. 

My go-to excuse is: It’s too much. After all, what can I do? 

When I get out of my screwy head, the answer is simple. What I can do is what I can do.

So at Christmastime, with its message of Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men,  I encourage us to think small. We can’t single handedly save the world, but we can buy a homeless man breakfast. We can talk to that co worker going through a divorce. We can reach out to that friend who lost her child. We can let someone get over in the lane in front of us.

This isn’t about doing something to get more likes on Facebook. It’s about doing right by each other because we know  the distance between inside and outside is as a close as a freak car accident, a phone call with a bad diagnosis, or a lost job.

We lucky insiders waste so much time searching for the Christmas Spirit, thinking the right gift or movie or batch of cookies or get together will fill the space within us.

The older I get, the more I’m convinced it’s a holy space that can only be filled by acts of selflessness.

On the way home from Mass, we stopped at a Waffle House where my husband had been struck by a young boy who sweeps floors for them and works so hard, head always down, almost apologizing for his existence.

While we waited in the car, he went inside and thanked him for his work and told him he’d forgotten his tip, and handed him 20 dollars. My husband said the young man was stunned and confused.

Then he smiled.

Let’s do what we can to bring the outside, in.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In Between

Many years ago I stood in the doorway of my new studio apartment, one of my best friends facing me. We stared at each other, wordless, tears streaming down our faces. I didn’t want to close the door, because then it would be real. Her visit to see how I was doing had to end sometime. We inched backward, her toward the elevator and me back into my unfamiliar narrow hallway with its creaking wooden floors.

I don’t remember if we uttered the word “goodbye.” I do remember the clicking shut of the door announcing I was all alone. I put my back to the wall and slid down it, sobbing.

doorway girl. still here.

doorway girl. still here.

That was a low point in my divorce, of which there were too many low points to recall.

In the past week, I have thought more about my divorce than I have in the past decade.

Any divorced person will tell you that one of the surprises is the friends you lose. I lost so many friends, people I knew would be by my side when we were old and gray and sitting on a bench, watching the youngsters stroll by.

But they left. They felt they had no choice but to choose, so they did. The blessing of hindsight is that I understand they suffered, too. They lost, too.

So that is where I am today, thinking of the extinguished friendships and fractured families after the election. I watched two men in their 60’s, dear friends since high school, end their 50 year friendship, on Facebook, in a hail of ‘eff you’s!!!!!!!.’

Last week, each of these people felt they had to choose, so they did. The outcome of their choice makes me think of the wildfires burning in our state. You’re either scorched earth or the odd tree somehow spared and still standing.

On Election Day, I urged us to remember that no matter who won, we’d still be stuck with each other, here. 

I guess I was shouting into the wind. I’m among the majority still unfollowing friends and relatives on Facebook whose post-election spewing rivals Mount St. Helens.

In the midst of this, my divorce reared up — reminding me of all those lost friendships. The flip side of that crap coin is that everything I lost made space for the next remarkable chapter of my life.

major 'up' right here

major ‘up’ right here

I lost. Then I won. I was down. Then up.

There’s a reason people say, ‘Ride the wave.’ Right now half of America is riding it and the other half is swallowing water in the undertow.

I’m urging us, the downs and the ups, to consider a move, to a great and welcoming place known as In Between.  

If you haven’t heard, In Between is a place free of gloating and wallowing and chastising and name calling and accusing and blaming and finger pointing and Monday morning quarterbacking.

In Between is filled with shoulder shrugs and shared smiles and knowing looks and sighs and wiped away tears and whispered prayers of thanks and hope.

In Between is a place where everyone admits they don’t know.

In Between works well in life, especially if you use it on Facebook, or better yet, face to face.

And most of all, (gloaters and wallowers take note), In Between exists to remind us — wherever we are, it won’t last.

Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Plea

The low point for me was when a neighbor had a sign stolen from her yard and posted about it in the security section of our neighborhood website. Fifty commenters chastised her for the name on that sign. They made fun of where she was from (another country). They asked how much she would pay to get the sign back if they had it in their garage.

The woman whose sign was stolen responded to the comments — upset she would likely see some of the commenters as she took her children trick or treating that night.

These were neighbors.

The ones we count on to watch our kid if we can’t beat the bus home. The ones who organize a food train for an ailing parent on a street. The ones who have a glass of wine together in the front yard on a balmy evening. The ones who give their kid’s hand me downs to the youngster up the street. The ones who show up to PTA meetings. The ones who teach Sunday school. The ones who pay their taxes and give to charity and sock money away for college and retirement.

We have turned on each other.

I’ve lost count of how many friendships met bitter ends on Facebook. Because you’re an idiot if you vote for him/her. Because you’re not the person I thought you were if you could vote for her/him. How could you? How dare you! There are many !!!!exclamation!!!! points and copious cursing and insults hurled with Herculean force. I’ve read comment threads that made my heart pound and my face turn red. My husband (who left Facebook months ago) has said to me, “Stop doing this to yourself.”

I can’t. I must be a witness to the end of civility. I can’t look away because I’m part of it.

I am so sad what has happened to us.

We have reduced each other to our vote. You may argue it’s okay to do so. This election matters!!!! Much is at stake!!!! The end is nigh!!!!!

Someone is going to be elected president tonight. Facebook will be electrified with hate and gloating and anger and despair — half celebrating, half despondent.

And then what?

Tomorrow will come and we will wake up and get our kids to school and go to work and at some point realize we didn’t thaw out the chicken for dinner.

In other words, life will go on.

In the 1980 election, my parents split their vote, one for Reagan and one for Carter. I only dragged the truth out of them a few years ago — who voted for whom. My father believed (and still does, which means mom told me) that one’s vote is a private decision based on your core values. Boy, do I miss those days.

It’s okay to be worried about the direction of our country, to fear that terrible things could happen if so-and-so is elected, but I can promise you we don’t feel this way because of what you posted on Facebook. There is no converting, only commiserating, and while it feels endorphin-rush good, I’ve also seen it devolve into screw-you bad.

Let’s accept we’re disappointed/deeply troubled/terrified by the other’s poor choice. Feel free to fret over what it says about their character. Pray for their sorry soul.

Then move the hell on.

The woman whose sign was stolen received some private message apologies from neighbors who said they reacted inappropriately. They were welcome band aids on a painful wound.

Neither candidate is going to invite my child over to play or talk me through a tough week or invite me to their Christmas open house.

After today, one thing remains certain — we are stuck with each other.

When my husband and I bicker, my secret weapon retort is, “Shoe’s on the other foot. How would you feel?”

For half of our country tonight, the shoe will be on the other foot.

Please think about that before you post.

Vote.

Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

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Ugly Vote

voteAs a critic of people who try to portray perfection on social media, I need to call out — myself.

I posted this photo yesterday after I voted. There we are, the mommy and her children, blissed out by the voting process.

The reality is that this photo followed a total sh$% show motherhood moment.

I came up with the harebrained idea to take the kids with me to vote. We’ll make it a family civics lesson! I was proud of me, impressed with my great idea, smugly imagining my grown children harkening back to that dazzling day when their insightful mother took them with her to vote, carefully explaining each detail as they looked on in wide eyed wonder.

Now this is parenting! I was humming as we drove there.

We arrived at our neighborhood library, the parking lot packed, the line long. Just as we were nearing the table to hand them my license, my son realized we were in his library and took off for the kids’ section. My daughter shot a quick glance up at me, then bolted after him. I wanted to call them back, but we were IN THE LIBRARY and it was quieter than my church on Sunday morning. I’m serious. Awkwardly quiet, not a single person speaking. I gave an S.O.S. arm wave to their scrawny backs as they rounded the corner out of sight.

Conundrum — Go get them (coax them, fight with them and lose my place in line). Or vote.

I voted. Alone.

Moments later I slapped on my ‘I voted’ sticker and harrumphed my way through the library. I found the mini scoundrels in a back aisle, sitting on the floor, shoulder to shoulder, reading a book.

“Let’s go.”

My daughter looked up and saw the sticker. “You voted without us?” She was incredulous.

“You ran off, missy.”

“But I wanted to see voting!” Her voice was raised and big fat tears were already slipping down her cheeks.

She was annoyed with me. Imagine.

I pointed at my son. “Too late. Put the book away. Let’s go.”

“No! I want to see us vote for president!” She was full on sassing me now. “Get back in there and vote again!”

I spun on my heel and left them, the only surefire way to get them to follow me without making a scene in a library. Books slammed and feet scrambled and seconds later she caught up to me and began tugging on the sleeve of my sweater, trying to pull me toward the line. People were staring.

That’s a tremendous moment — when bored people in line are watching you attempt to parent, thinking that poor woman, or what did she do to her kid, or I wonder how this will play out.. 

We exited — a noisy trio of tears, a half pulled off sweater, and a boy who clearly wished he had fewer females in his life.

Three minutes later, tears barely dried, we snapped the above picture.

What a crock, eh?

Here’s the thing.

My plan bombed (this is actually a great name for a parenting book).

I still got it done.

It wasn’t pretty or easy — few things worth doing are.

Vote.

Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kissing Frogs

My excuse for telling my 9 year old daughter who she should marry is that I was delirious. It happened as she was kissing me good night and tucking me in. I get up at 2 am for my job, so my children put me to bed each night.

Before you picture sweet hugs and giggles and “Sleep tight, Mommy –,”don’t. 

It’s more like, “Get out of my room. I love you, too. Get OUT of my room. Give me my sleep mask. Put down the remote. Get O-U-T!”

My kids don’t do anything wrong. They’re just kids, which means they’re relentless and needy and demanding and care not a whit that I’m about to fall over from sleep deprivation. (Note to self: I should have milked this stage of my childhood more. It’s a narcissistic Narnia.)

A few nights ago, my 9 year old daughter was sitting on the edge of my bed, and for once I wasn’t frantically conducting child-from-room-evacuation.

frogs“I miss daddy,” she said. Daddy would return in ten minutes from dropping her brother at hockey practice. Her missing him was because she couldn’t wait. On this night, with mom passed out and her brother away, the two of them would play ‘church’ or ‘teacher,’ my poor husband always the student or the church goer. I had laughed when he told me how she would preach or sing at the top of her lungs and how he’d turn to the imaginary person next to him and murmur, “She’s really something, isn’t she?”

“You need to marry someone like your daddy.”  I was picturing her father being the obedient student/churchgoer when I said it. I knew he was exhausted, that he’d rather watch Sports Center with his precious 25 minutes before he had to get in the car again.

My daughter leaned in and wrapped her arms around my bent leg, balancing her delicate face on my kneecap.

“How will I know?”

The depth of her question floored me. How will she know?

I could have pointed out her dad’s wonderful qualities — how he treats me like I’m still his youthful bride, how he notices what I do for our family and tells me how much he appreciates it, how he is one of the most well liked people I know, how he is a helper in his community, how he wears his heart and faith on his sleeve, how he walks in the back door of our house every night, no matter how hard the day, armed with a wide smile and kisses all around. He is the only man who can smooth out the edges in his edgy wife. He is also the only person in the house who is the finder of all things lost (stuffed bunnies, video games, hockey tape, homework, his wife’s iphone/car keys/earrings).

Age 9. Heart not yet broken.

Age 9. Heart not yet broken.

But that’s not what I said to my daughter.

“Well, sometimes you figure it out by being with the wrong people first.”

“What?” She knit her brows together.

“You have to be with people not like your daddy before you find someone who is.. ”

She jerked upright like I had just spat at her. “Well, I’m not going to do that!”

I nodded. “I know, but you probably will. We all do. You won’t marry the first man you like.”

Now she was standing, disgusted, little hands propped on narrow hips. “Well, I’m not going to date the wrong people, mommy. Geez.”

To be clear, geez in this context means, “you idiot.” 

And that, my friends, is why I have written this. You are proof this conversation happened. I will resurrect this essay when she brings home the boy who churns my stomach, or worse, the one who will break her heart.

I will do my best to understand, even commiserate. It seems another lifetime, yet I can still recall the exquisite agony delivered to me by boys “not worthy of me” (so said my mother).

Several wrongs can make a right. See above

Several wrongs can make a right. See above

Then there is the thing that she can’t know until it happens to her. The wonder of being found, of having that right person arrive, able to see beyond the mess that is you, recognizing that you are their home and they have made it.

The path to that place is not an easy one, but it is worth every heart busted-up moment. It makes you realize Mount Everest is an ant hill compared to the learning curve that is life.

I excel at errors. I’m a master mistake maker — my life one of constant course correction, each failure an opportunity for grace.  I just won’t be getting any grace from the 9 year old.

She leaned over to kiss me, a chaste, quick, I’m-disappointed-in-you kiss, the silk of her long red pony tail sliding across my cheek.

“I’m not doing that, Mommy.”

“Okay.”

“I’m not!”

“Okay.”

She heard the back door open and slowly stepped away from the bed, her ‘I’m not doing that’ face still in place. Then she turned, and with a dismissive over-the-shoulder wave, was gone, off to play church with the first, best man she would ever know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Deadwrong

My husband and I screwed up so badly last weekend that we didn’t even try to blame each other. Imagine that, a giant screw up in which neither spouse points the finger at the other. Yep, that’s how obviously awful it was.

You know how the scary movie always begins with a scene so idyllic it seems cliched? The young, happy couple heading out on that perfect picnic at an empty park, or the adorable, young family embarking on a beautiful hike in remote hill country. The audience knows what they don’t, that the crazy clown serial killer or mutant hill people are just off camera, waiting to wreak havoc and destroy innocence.

the innocent beginning of the sleepover

the innocent beginning of the sleepover

That is how my 11 year old son and his 10 year old best friend came to watch the movie Deadpool. With my permission. Under my roof.

Allow me to set the cliched opening scene. Two boys, friends since the day they were born (because their parents are the best of friends) spend the afternoon riding in Dad’s cool pick up truck, then ice skating, then romping around their huge yard, throwing tennis balls to the playful golden retriever. Mom and Dad grill hamburgers and hot dogs and make brownies — all the boys’ favorite foods. There is much laughter and sugar consumption as the 10 and 11 year old discuss which movie they will watch after dinner. Mom and Dad are in a particularly jovial mood because their daughter is away at Girl Scout camp and the boys are entertaining each other. Mom and Dad discuss which movie they might watch while the boys enjoy theirs.

“Deadpool! Deadpool! Deadpool! Deadpool!” When I walk into the living room, the two of them are chanting, pumping their arms, their eyes dancing. I look at the TV screen and see what looks like a super hero wearing a mask.

And this is when I made the world’s worst parenting decision. I did not look up the movie. I had vaguely heard of it. I read the two sentence blurb on the screen that, in my mind, sounded like a typical superhero movie. Like Spiderman. But different.

“Okay.” They cheered and I left the room to clean up the kitchen. I should have noticed that my son doesn’t normally cheer when allowed to watch a movie. I should have paid closer attention to the almost desperate look on their faces. I chalked those things up to buddies having a great time.

I would later learn that Deadpool was the stuff of lore at school. Some kids their age bragged they had seen it, but those kids were not to be believed. Why not? Because Deadpool is filled with graphic violence and nudity and sex and is Rated R. It is a profane, critically acclaimed movie that is for adults only, not 10 and 11 year old boys.

In ignorant bliss, I continued my major parent fail by suggesting the boys watch it upstairs alone, so my husband and I could watch something in the living room. They sprinted as if chased, probably still stunned that mom had said yes.

So how did we finally realize our huge mistake? My husband went upstairs when the movie was almost over, to check on them. He walked downstairs, his face ashen. “Uh, I just heard f*&! said about five times in a row.”

I almost fell out of my chair grabbing for my phone. I googled the movie. I actually heard myself groan when I read what was in it. It was filth. As in dirty-dirty-filth. I can’t even share with you all that’s in it. I can’t. It makes my stomach hurt.

We had to fess up to our dear friends who had entrusted us with their son for the night. They were appropriately horrified. They knew all about Deadpool, because adult family members had seen it and told them, “Don’t EVER let your kids see that movie.”

You’re welcome. Deadpool watched. With adult permission. Check.

I am accused, quite regularly, of being overprotective of my children. I find that journalists are pretty paranoid, because we often see the dark side of human nature. I am the mother who has more smoke detectors than recommended. I am scared to let my son walk two doors down to his friend’s house. I do not let my children go on just any play date. I don’t let them attend pool parties without me. I don’t let them have any screen time after school during the week. I don’t let them eat high fructose corn syrup, for goodness sake. I am suspicious and scrutinize everything  and my kids would probably tell you, with big, sad eyes and great self pity in their voices, that mom says “no” far more than she says “yes.”

I sure made up for lost time.

I waited until the morning after to tell them that we had made an awful mistake. They were still giddy. I was very stern. No, Daddy and I made an awful mistake. They reassured me the movie was very funny. It wasn’t that bad. No, they weren’t scared. My son’s friend said, “I’ll work it out with my parents,” like an attorney arguing leniency for his client. Even he knew I was screwed.

My son begged to be Deadpool for Halloween. No.

When I asked about naked people, the look they gave each other can only be described as the sort that will be remembered when they are grown men, recalling that time their mother let them watch that filthy movie. Alone. Upstairs.

Who knew I was such an effective defiler of innocence?

At some point I realized, ‘Oh my God, I’m that mom who buys her underage kids beer.’ We all thought that mom was cool until we grew up and realized she was the bad mom.

Just like that, I’m that mom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Break Up

There were signs I should have noticed. That’s always the way with hindsight. He was unhappy. Complaining. Even angry.

I still didn’t think my husband would do it, even though he’d been threatening to do it for months. I mean, who can really break up with Facebook?

kennyfacebook3Social media is a significant part of our daily lives. For many of us, Facebook adds meaning and information and interaction with people we don’t get to see everyday. It keeps us connected. It takes us along on friends’ vacations/family events/birthdays/milestones.  It helps spread the word when someone is sick or in need, or even a dog is lost. That is when you see the best of this online community.

That’s the good. Then there is the bad.

Exhibit A - with a lot of pretty girls, winning Emmys

Exhibit A – with a lot of pretty girls, winning Emmys

Facebook is ‘Brag Central.’ You do it. I do it. You may tell yourself you don’t. Trust me, you do. We all do. You may not be as bad as my one friend who posted their new $150,000 car on Facebook and made sure we all knew they paid cash, but we all do it in our own way. And it’s addictive. Who wouldn’t rather receive 70 likes on a post, versus the 9 likes you got on that last post? It’s like high school. Am I popular enough? Oh, please like me.

We crave the feedback and attention. It’s like things aren’t happening to us if we’re not posting them on Facebook for people to see and agree, ‘Yes, that is happening to you! I see you. I will like you. I will even comment.’

Our phones have made us 3rd party observers to our own lives. We enjoy our family outings and trips through the lens with which others view us.

That’s pretty whack.

The hate talk on Facebook has spiraled. A casual scroll of my feed at any time of day will find friends facing off, insulting and threatening to block or unfriend each other. I have witnessed ugly friendship break ups in comment threads.

Discourse is a vital part of life. But the civil part has all but been abandoned.

This year’s presidential election has made Facebook a land mine and there is no safe place to step. The intolerance is staggering. We get on Facebook and denounce someone and then react with anger and shock when our friends disagree with us. It’s like that time I touched my grandparent’s electrified fence at their farm. Guess what? It shocked me. Guess what? I knew it would. Action begets reaction.

My husband is sick of it. All of it. The adorable photos of his sibling’s kids is not enough to keep him on. The wonderful new friends he made at the Olympics in Rio, whose homes are peppered around the globe, is not enough.

I told him he would miss sharing his stories. He said he'll be fine.

I told him he would miss sharing his stories. He said he’ll be fine.

He’s had it with the hate. He doesn’t want to let any more of it into his space, into his heart or his head.

He’s already tried to say goodbye once, but somehow Facebook wouldn’t post it. Hmmm. The big brother aspect struck us both.

The second time worked. He is off.

We know other friends who have done it. They tell him that they grab their phone to check the feed and realize, ‘I’m not there anymore.’ Most report a feeling of relief. Somehow life goes on without seeing the giant burrito Bob ate for lunch.

I’m betting my husband will answer the siren call of Facebook again one day. Our son will make an incredible goal or our daughter will do something adorable, and no doubt he will feel a twinge, a deep urge to share. But here’s a novel thought. For now, when that happens, he will just enjoy it –as their dad. He will not be grabbing his phone to document it. He will be in the moment. I know as I type this and get ready to share it on Facebook, that’s a really good thing.

 

 

 

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