Monday, December 28, 2009

Where's Waldo?

In the past three days, I've been to the cinema three times.

Up in the Air.
Alvin and the Chipmunks Take Manhattan. (Or something like that...)

Alvin? Took the little squirrels.
Up? Took the man.
Avatar? Took the big squirrel.

Now it is widely known in these parts of Bear Swamp that the English instructor who once taught a semester-long class of science fiction doesn't really care for science fiction literature. So what in tarnation was she doing at Avatar?

Falling in love with a 10-foot blue creature with a tail of ticklish fancies.

I confess that when films are released in 3D, I typically avoid them. I'd rather save the extra 3 bucks for a four-ounce bag of Swedish fish. But when I asked Ann to go with me to see Avatar, I knew I had to sweeten the deal: "We can do the 3D and go out to dinner." It was an offer she couldn't refuse. So we went to the theatre rather early so as to not get caught in the front-row frenzy of late arrivals. With 30 minutes to previews, we situated ourselves with a trough of popcorn in two seats set off to the side, so as to avoid people who would need to hit the loo. After all, the film is 2 hours and 40 minutes long.

Long-story-short: we had a wonderful time. We probably annoyed some people with our small whispers and impromptu chortling. And I confess that I don't get to spend a lot of one-on-one time with her, largely because she's got her own thing, and I have mine. And then there are our differences, ones which have at times sharply divided our worlds. Still, at the root of it all, she is my kid, and she bears so many idiosyncrasies that she has adapted from my persona. A compliment to me, such as it is. Afterward, we ran through the rain, grabbed dinner, ran back through the rain, soaked our jeans, laughed heartily.

When we got home to an empty nest, she said she was heading out. I felt sad in a way, but happy that she has someone to love for now. So we took a picture of our Waldo 3Ds before she ran out the door. I put on some Frank Sinatra and began baking toll house. The holiday season is closing down, my child is leaving her teens, I think I've come to the point of where I can let go.

Grey vortex.

I stare down into the grey vortex as it spins beneath me and grows wider, deeper. My conflict is in its midst and well beyond my grasp; I'm not sure if I should save it or let it perish in the fast current into some unknown depth of black pitch. I reach for its small green limbs, but my hand aimlessly flutters. Helpless. Nothing. Nothing will come of this attempt. And the conflict becomes smaller and smaller, turning and twisting before someone grabs the sides of the vortex. He sharply pulls it from my bent chest, which heaves in pain, pain from loss. He confidently twists the top, seals it with a white twist-tie. It is now today's trash. Baggage. He slowly drops it in the bin for dramatic effect; the lid loudly slams. I turn in silence, walk away.

Dreams. How can I turn away? The unresolved conflicts from other days, those which bear some regrets, which have shaped me as person, a mother, a friend, a basket case. I dream so much without the 4:15 alarm. They haunt me with a vengeance. Still, the holidays are a welcome respite from the day-in day-out routine of literature with a side of attitude at 8:30, lunch at 10 a.m., writing with a dose of accomplishment from 11:30 to 2:30. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This is the cycle of life. Unfortunately, for the most part.

When can we throw all of this routine away and live like we should? Creatures meant to share in the beauty of nature, the beauty of each other. The holidays have become too far materialistic and alien to me. The stress and pressure of wanting to please everyone else at the risk of sacrificing your own principles ... I dunno. But with two little squirrels, I am stuck in this pattern. And I don't know how to get out of it. I can't, I guess. Christmas morning brought slammed doors, thrown gifts, looks of disappointment. Am I allowing them to buy into this external pressure of keeping up with everyone else? Meanwhile, I wear my suede Keds, Mary Jane style, circa 1994, and a pair of old Levis that give me a truck-butt. Is this a sign that I've given up? That I will soon not care about my aging spirit?

My girls awake, determined to play this Nintendo DS. Why did I do it? Buy into this mass marketing crap? Good reasons: sharpen fine motor skills and critical thinking elements for a squirrel tagged "learning disabled." Fine. But now, it's her crack. Conversations, I fear, will disappear. So, to balance it all out, we put on Puccini. It was "too loud." It made it difficult to hear the talking animals on the pink box of wonder. So right now, it's a no-electronics moment. It's craft time, with a little bit of arguing thrown in for good measure. They push each other a bit. They throw aside each other's beads. They say "yours is ugly" and "no, yours is ugly." And they wipe their noses on their sleeves and steal the purple ones from each other. And that's fine. At least they're talking. And this will serve as more of a memory than an average day at school, even if it feels like a spinning vortex at the moment.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Today I received an email from a former student for whom I wrote a rather glowing college recommendation. He was not an exceptionally stellar student. However, he was a solid student. But it was his humble persona that clearly stood out to me, his choices to be open and affable to all of his peers, to his teachers, to the principal, to the superintendent. All of this and a member of the football team.

Well, in his email, he wrote: "So how are things at Emmaus? They better be treating you well! Do you miss us?"

What's not to miss? Large class sizes? Gang presence? Questionable job security?

This weekend proved to me that I left behind some of the most wonderful people, talented educators who dealt with issues that are often unfathomable to people in suburban districts. They don't see the diverse problems that an urban district brings, the far reachings of poverty, language barriers, hurdles created by an economically challenged tax base. But in the face of these barriers, my former colleagues and I always laughed (and sometimes cried) at what we witnessed.

So a few days ago, seeing them and hearing the new stories made me long for days gone by. I haven't yet found a family, and I felt almost like an outsider when I saw them. A few of them treated me that way--but just a few. The rest were just as loving, just as welcoming. I talked to an administrator today about how lucky I feel that I started my teaching career at Freedom. I had incredible mentors and leaders--people who stressed rigor, who wanted students to gain skills rather than memorize curriculum. Without them, I would not be who I am today.

And as for my squirrels, wow. I only wish that I could see all of them, to know that they are on the right path to success beyond the four walls of Freedom. How can I do that? I don't know. Maybe I can't. I can only wish that they accept new challenges, no matter how difficult they can be, no matter how other people may judge their decisions.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Official Start.

It snowed last night, a lot more than most people in public education would want for a Saturday night. The result: a snowed-in Sunday.

Typically, I might not mind it, but we're on a mission today: to climb the steep incline of the foothills of the Poconos in a futile attempt to find the perfect 9-foot Fraser fir, which we will then kill with the sharp edge of an axe and decorate in triumph with lights. Richard The Cat will proclaim it his monthlong home, while Eddie The Yorkie will attempt to lift his six-ounce leg upon its lower branches.

Fine. Fun.

But the hurdle remains: the snow. Somehow I fear that getting the two elves up the mountain will bring upon me some tremendous anxiety. Let's guess which will be the most popular whine:

A. My feet are wet/cold.
B. My hands are wet/cold.
C. I'm tired. Pick me up.
D. All of the above.

So right now, now that I've downed three cups of coffee to calm my jitters, I'm organizing all rubber-based clothing with the hope that I don't end the day with three cups of wine.

Otherwise, it will be long day for Santa's little helpers, let alone Mrs. Claus.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

December blues.

The day before Thanksgiving, someone called me into an office and delivered news that probably should not have shocked me. But it did. Apparently some people don't like me. They want to see me screw up. And I need to watch my back. Why? For something that happened 20 years ago when they were different people, when I was different people. And in the end, it's all very petty in the scope of life.

Being the big person that I am, I smiled through the delivery, assured the person that I was fine with hearing it, agreed that I would watch for daggers.

But as I silently returned to my desk, I felt as though a mule back-kicked me in the jaw. My teeth hung from the sides of my mouth, a few got lodged in my throat. It wasn't pretty. I sat in silence for about 20 minutes, drove home, collapsed in bed, and wept.

Still, as the hours passed, I got pats on the back from other people who repeated that politics are ugly, that players are ugly, that people who take time from their own lives to hurt you are ugly.

Seems to me there are a lot of ugly people out there.

Unfortunately, I wear a bold magnet across my forehead--trimmed with hot-pink neon, I'm sure--that screams: "Ugly people welcome!"

Within a month, I've encountered three situations in which I've discovered that people take time from their own lives to attempt to create unhappiness for others, namely me. Why is this so? I can't really tell. I actually prefer to live a rather simple life. I dislike drama. In fact, I have often lamented that one of the worst things about being a woman is that you have a lot of female friends. And that potentially spells high drama. Still, I'm continually trying to be the Christopher Robin, the one who seeks balance in all relationships. But somehow I suffer for this quest of egalitarianism. People who were confidantes want to see you hurt. People who are family want your marriage to fail. People who share children attempt to sabotage the other parent.

I've warned Mark that I may some day just clear out all of the savings and head west. I'll leave everything and everyone behind and end up in New Mexico, living in a small trailer on a dry patch of land trimmed with a dead cactus and bony tumbleweed. I'll work second-shift in a 1950s diner, slinging luke-warm coffee and runny eggs to people in dirty denim who think Oral B is a moniker for a prostitute with an attitude. I'll read trashy novels and write trashy screenplays. I'll watch my skin sag and no longer care. I'll wear deodorant only if I feel like it. This way, separate from everyone, I won't have to think about who wants to see me fail, who wants to see me hurt, who wants to break apart my family.

I think about this almost daily. But then, thanks to the invention of a reality check, I reflect on my girls. And I wonder what they would think of my priorities. And how my inability to handle conflict well would eclipse my ability to be a good role model for them.

Little do they know that their lives are part of what keep me grounded. For example: Kendall and shoes.

Kendall continuously makes a fashion statement out of wearing only one shoe. This is not a new concept for her. As a babe, she would always pull off one sock and just crawl around, one socked foot, one bare foot. As a toddler, she always ditched one shoe. And now, it's just who she is. She comes home, and somehow she's down to one shoe, hobbling around as if she needs a cane. But she won't take off the remaining shoe.

So what would happen if I ended up like Flo in some crumb-infested tin diner while my kid stayed here in Bear Swamp without me and without one shoe? I would never know when the day arrives, and she says: "Crap, this one-shoe gig makes me lean too far to the right. I gotta stop wearing just one flip flop/Mary Jane/sneaker/boot."

I would miss it. And I don't want to. I wish I could say: "Well, I'm just going to shed my thin skin," and I'd let all of this spiteful stuff go. But I can't. It's part of my identity. Just like some people live to be vindictive and petty, I know that I live to be diplomatic and rational--and that means not just for me, but for my girls.

Someone else is going to have to rent the trailer. I'll stay here and pick up the shoes.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Long week.

Thanks to a bus driver strike, it'll be a four-day work week. However, it certainly seems longer. In the three days that I've worked, each one has been a 13-hour day, thanks to newspaper production.

Am I tired? Absolutely.

Am I behind? Most certainly. I owe someone college recommendations, and thanks to the flu and production, my back is against the wall.

Am I frustrated? Definitely.

But my biggest woe? My girls.

I've missed them. I get home by 7 P.M., shove food down the pie hole, try to find out what's going on, and then veg out. As tired as they make me, my girls complete me. Looking at them is like revisiting my own girlhood, back before deadlines and bills and standards and commitments. They bear the innocence that we lose all too quickly.

The highlight of my weekend (which far outweighed trying out the triathlon bike) was going for ice cream after we spent an hour comparing bikes. We went to the kitschy Ice Cream World with its robin-egg-blue stools and flying saucer dessert selection. Watching my girls enjoy the simplicity of ice cream brings me comfort, as does looking at their photo. There was no arguing, no issue of sharing, no efforts to tease--for that would get in the way of dairy heaven.

And lord knows we never mess with dessert. Never.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Having the flu is no fun, but it does provide ample time to ponder about the great mysteries of life.

Such as: Why are all the foods I crave typically bad for me? How can the lovely peanut wreak such havoc and misery for some people? When will I come up with the perfect idea for a video that will win America's Funniest Videos?

I thought I devised the idea today for the video. Thanks to fevers that range from 100.5 to 103, I'd been deliriously lying in bed for three days and next to me the entire time was my loyal man. Eddie. All 7 pounds of hunk and charm. Intelligence and suaveness all wrapped up in a mat of gray hair and triangular ears. At some point I made this hand dog puppet and made a little bark. Truthfully, Eddie's seen me do this before. It entertains him. (So, I have issues. Maybe.) Well, Eddie must've been as bored as well, so he decides to play along. And so, he barks back. Well, Hand Dog responds back, but we go a little farther than usual. He turns his "head," snaps his "mouth," lets out a yelp, tries to nip Eddie. And Eddie? He goes nuts. He starts growling, charging, back and forth across the bed. He's pissed.

Well, since I've been sick, I've kept a tube of crackers at my bedside. And so being the good dog owner that I am, I offered a saltine to Hand Dog, all while Eddie watches, his curiosity obviously piqued. Hand Dog took the cracker in his "mouth." The reaction. Pure Yorkie insanity. Up and down, off the bed. Circles around the room. Back on the bed, attempting to bite Hand Dog and snatch away his treat. This went on until I couldn't laugh any longer, the tears streaming down my eyes. Conservatively, 15 minutes. I'm lucky I didn't wet the sheets. I mean, I have been drinking water continuously for days now, so...

Of course, there were weightier matters that pressed upon my mind, but it was Hand Dog-brain candy such as this that cut through the monotony of being forced into a world of wearing a mask and avoiding my family. Having the flu makes you realize that you do really need people to be happy. It makes you realize that being alone isn't that far away from being lonely. Eddie and Hand Dog can substitute for a while, but they are only just that -- substitutions.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Gift.

My birthday was two days ago. It seemed to follow the course of a typical day. Run at 4:30 in the morning with my girl, go to work, eat yogurt and Wheat Thins for lunch. Later, come home, get my baby girls, get dinner ready. Turkey chili.

We had celebrated in a small fashion the prior night with my parents. Nothing big. Just pizza and store-bakery cake.

So my true birthday looked to be your average Tuesday. That was fine with me. So I went ahead, made the supper, waited for Mark to get home. But after he arrived, something really special happened.

Grace opened her book bag and pulled out this clear plastic envelope. "Look," she said, "I got a book." Yep, you always get books from the library... "Come here," she waved before she patted the sofa cushion. No time to read, got to stir the chili, check the Facebook. "No, I want to read to you." Uh-huh. You want to read to me. "Come on, Mom. Come on, Dad."

I looked at Mark. Is this for real?

Four years ago last month, we took this same child on the long journey to Geisinger Medial Center in Danville. It was for the appointment that we felt extremely fortunate to secure, considering every major medical facility in Philadelphia gave us a year-long wait, at the very least. Some had us waiting 18 months.

At the time, we needed to know why she was flapping her hands, why she was throwing herself on the floor, why she was giving us vacant stares. And more importantly: why had all of her vocabulary all but disappeared. Words she knew were gone. Vanished. Her talking stopped. What replaced it? Screaming. And so we drove to this strange yet massive hospital--replete with its own children's hospital, trauma center, Ronald McDonald home, and constant shuttle service--in silent fear.

Today as I look at the initial report, I recall the caring words that stung harshly no matter how gently Tom Challman, the neuro-developmentalist, tried to delivered them. PDD: Pediatric developmental disorder--not otherwise specified. Autism spectrum. Severe developmental delays. Serious behavioral disorder. Something to be feared: a diagnosis that's not a diagnosis because her disability will never be pinpointed.

Would he predict she'd be mainstreamed with "normal" kids? Probably not. Did he think she'd ever grow up to live independently? Hard to tell. Probably not.

So we threw everything into her. Everything we could. Occupational therapy. Early intervention. Speech. TSS. Behavior modification plans. Gymnastics. Scouts. Art therapy. Some worked, some didn't. But we tried. I remember putting my two-year-old on the little bus for the first time. I'm not sure who cried more. She wasn't even potty trained, and here she was headed to an autistic class some 30 minutes away.

Fast forward to now. First grade. My birthday. Chili on the stove. Grace patting the cushions on the sofa. "I want to read you a story. It's called 'A Big, Big Box.'" OK. Whatcha got, kid?

Mark plunked down on one side; I sat down on the other. She opened the book and read. And read. And read till she finished "A Big, Big Box." And with each page, I silently wept. Tears of joy. Tears of relief. She beamed. I beamed. We beamed. I realized then, for that moment, that this gift will be the most memorable I've had in years. The gift of knowing that my girl will be OK one day. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But one day. That all of this planning and driving and therapy will all be worth it. It has to be. It just has to.

Friday, October 2, 2009


I am officially spoiled and officially smitten. Today was our school's tailgate for teachers, which was held right before the Emmaus-Northampton game.

The camaraderie in the school overwhelms me. Maybe this is the protocol in most schools, and maybe my old school just didn't "get it." Or they once "got it," but they don't any more. But we received t-shirt to wear today to school, and for the first time, I didn't have to pay for a shirt that promoted school pride.

And we were treated to dinner at the tailgate, along with a raffle and entrance to the game.

OK, it may sound hokey and really not all that impressive to a lot of people. But to me, it's the little things that really add up. The environment that surrounds this school is unlike anything I felt in the prior nine years. Granted, there were moments. But this is an overall mood that we are part of a team, part of something larger. And that we all belong. Yup, there are cliques that exist. And that's fine. You'll have those no matter where you go.

But in the end, everyone seems to come together and celebrate. When we got home, I asked Mark what he thought about my little school community, which really isn't that little, but still, compared to corporate. He simply said: "I absolutely love it."

Yeah, me, too. When I leave every Friday afternoon, and I check off another week in, I say a few words of thanks for this opportunity, this gift to work in the community in which I choose to be a part and raise my family.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


It is officially autumn. Actually, it has been for a couple of days. But metaphorically speaking, it continues to be the autumn of my life. I need a rake to keep all of my emotional leaves in check.

This weekend I went through the lugubrious task of giving away nearly all of the girls' baby clothes to sweet Jamie, who is expecting her own bundle of girl in January. (I am so excited! I haven't held a baby in years, it seems; although, I did hold a student's baby last year...) But I also turned over the Medela pump, the Cadillac of breast pumps that cost me about 300 bucks. It was well worth the cost for I was able to out-milk most of the cows at Happy Tails Farm in nearby Longswamp Township. Sheesh, each day I could've made a gallon of ice cream, a few pints of sour cream, and a few balls of mozzarella with the amount I could pump out. It was, indeed, downright scary and unbelievable.

So the Medela was worth the investment. But letting it go, along with all of the gorgeous dresses and adorable footed pajamas, confirmed to me that my days of motherhood are now limited to child-rearing. There is a part of me that wanted another child, the little boy that I sought but never had. Jackson. Jack, for short. And this was long before Jack became a popular name five years ago. Heck, I've been holding on to that name for at least 15 years, back when I went through this Jackson Pollock phase. (I read an incredible autobiography, long before the film.) And the name stuck.

So I secretly longed to have this little boy. And this weekend I realized he will never be. That saddened me, almost as if I was grieving a loss for a child I will not bear. So I had Keni hold up some of her baby clothes, took some pictures for our memory box, and I moved on. We packed up everything, took it to Jamie, and I silently bid it farewell as it will now comfort another babe, another mom, another family.

As for my Jack, he'll never be. But I will always have my Eddie, who I spoiled dearly. I took him, my young four-legged son, to the dog spa on Monday. I got him the full treatment. He is my babe, and that's about as good as it'll get.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

It was a day of great escapes.

For one, I started the day with a most relaxing eight-mile run out to Victaulic and back, the run that everyone loves to hate. Except me. There' s something about an out-n-back that just appeals to me. I know where I have to go. I go there, and I come back. Done. The run today was the last of the long runs in this training cycle, and doing it with my "running daughter," as Mark calls Christine, just tied up the loose ends of the past 16 weeks.

It's been a tough cycle, for certain. I stuck to the schedule, did the tempos, did the speed, did the strength. Thrown in was a lot of swimming and cycling, thanks to the three triathlons. I feel that, overall, I'm in better shape and my legs aren't as tired. But I somehow developed PF with less mileage than ever before. Go figure.

But this pinnacle, of getting the hay in the barn and respecting my taper, is very emotional for me. Hanging out with Christine and Jamie on the final weekend before the race was a reward, of sorts. I wish Jill had been there as well, but the business of life has placed a hurdle on our schedules. Christine and Jamie both exude these qualities of a younger life, one that I saw more than a decade ago. Being with them makes me feel a connection to the past, to days before grey hairs and wrinkles and sagging body parts. I love to breathe in their wit and charm, hoping that it will soften the sharp angles of the cynicism that sometimes pervades my otherwise beautiful exterior. (Insert eye roll here...)

Later in the day, I had the fortunate opportunity to leave my girls in the gracious hands of Henceforth, herself an example of beautiful character and charm. My girls chatted endlessly about her this morning; I knew earlier this year that her placement into my life was extraordinarily fortuitous. Cathy told me this when she learned she was on my class roster. Knowing my girls were in her hands allowed me to enjoy a rather lovely dinner of pad thai, crab and mango summer rolls, corn fritters, and pinot. The conversation was rather interesting for it did not focus on our girls. Then afterward, we sat through Inglourious Basterds, a most thought-provoking film of the Nazi-occupied Paris and the Jewish-American bandits who are on a quest to end the war. I loved it. It was one of those films that, when it ended, you said: I must own this.

To know that so many people subscribed to the misguided tenets of an insane Austrian remains unfathomable to me. It should serve to remind us that we need to be thankful for what we have: our family, our country, our freedoms, our friends -- even if they are young enough to be our own children. We learn so much from one another, no matter who they are or where they've been. And we learn from ourselves.

It was, indeed, a great escape of a day.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Simple Life.

I don't want to forget my visit to the Lyons Fiddle Fest last weekend. There are many times when I wonder if I was born in the wrong era, in the wrong culture. There is this simple side of life that greatly appeals to me, a world in which money and materials are not necessary for happiness.

And something about the Lyons Fiddle Fest reminded me of the belief that I think I would've been happy had I been born before technology, before television, before inventions that all too often distract us from what is truly important, what truly can make us happy.

So on Sunday, we paid a $1 donation to go into the bucolic Berks County park, which sits across the street from where a tornado ripped through the town of 500 people a few years back, damaging a long row of homes that would later be fixed by the gracious Mennonites. Simple people in a complicated and complex world.

A lot of folks at the festival, I believe, subscribe to similar philosophies of life. Their tenets, akin to many of mine.

More than a hundred musicians of all abilities strolled through the park, falling into impromptu jams of guitar, mandolin, banjo, violin, lute, finger board. Strumming, plucking, stringing. Acoustic patterns woven together by a passion for melody. You walked around with a homemade turkey barbecue and freshly made birch beer, watching Kutztown professors, retired farmers, factory workers from the battery plant, blue-collar, white-collar--all had come together to form small bands for five to ten minutes. They nodded, they challenged, they laughed. And man, did they groove. People tapping feet, slapping thighs, nodding heads to the rhythm beneath the trees where destruction once brought a town to tears, to its lowest point.

It reminded me that we all suffer on various levels at some point. We need to regroup, refocus, rebuild to become stronger, more resilient to the things and people that let us down, that break our spirit.

And so here was the town, supported by people from way beyond the Berks border, to see the modern world step back a bit and make room for an untainted slice of heaven. A community that has come together as one, that has healed from something that nearly shattered its roots. As long as I have access to culture, unprocessed food, good running shoes, and people who love me, I shall be happy--as long as I can be at peace with myself. I know I've cleared most of the hurdles placed before me. Most.

Aside: Ron Devlin, a most talented writer and mentor to me (although I've never told him so), insisted some dozen years ago that I go to the Fiddle Fest. I remember leaning over the wall of his blue-carpeted cubicle in the newsroom, chuckling as Devlin would ruminate about how he relished this gem. Chances are he was holding a cup of coffee and leaning back in a red chair while wearing a patterned shirt with a corduroy jacket that had patches on the elbows. I didn't quite get it then. I thought I did. But I get it now. I do. I really do. Sometimes I'm a slow learner...

Where do munchkins come from?

So we headed to Dunkin' Donuts. Again. Big surprise. It was 10:45 AM. Grace wanted--no, Grace needed--chocolate munchkins. If it was after noon or so, I wouldn't be shocked if the tray of brown sugary balls was empty. But it was still morning. And we walked in. And she ran to the counter. And then she turned to me.

Eyes wide. Tears forming. Hands quickly covering her face.

No chocolate munchkins. Gone. Sold out. Nada. Nothing. A major crisis. We've experienced this before. Nothing good can come from it. But today had to be different. Needed to be.

What to do, what to do. I knew this could be a major meltdown. Quickly, I looked at the trays of donuts. And there they were. The chocolate glazed circles of donut wonder. The mommy and daddy of the chocolate munchkin. But would she buy into this?

And so I told the story of how the chocolate glazed munchkins were made: They each have a mommy and a daddy. And they are those big donuts, the chocolate glazed parents on the tray beneath the strawberry mommies and daddies. And those chocolate mommies and daddies popped out their little chocolate glazed munchkin babies, and today's babies had all been adopted by other hungry people. But the mommy and daddy donuts, who tasted just like their babies, needed a home.

Would she be willing to take them home, to give them the satisfaction of filling an empty belly?

Yes. I'll try them, she nodded. All of which surprised me.

And so I ordered them up. Two chocolate glazed donuts. Big people's donuts. No little kid munchkins today...

We got back, and before I knew it, she had them both on a plate. And she realized that yes, indeed, the mommy and daddy are almost as good as the baby munchkins. And so, within a half hour, this was all that remained:

Everything is gonna be all right. Right?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saturday sublime

It is dark at 5:30 a.m. in September. And thanks to a clear sky like today, you could see the entire span of constellations. Mark offered to run with me, as I was planning to go solo and still have this fear of tall corn and strange men. I jumped at his kindness.

And so we headed off, me trying to run straight while pointing out Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Orion, and any bright star that caught my attention. (It's tough to run while looking straight up...) I chatted, he ran in silence. Typical. After 20 minutes, I asked him to tell me a story. He paused. After two minutes or so, he recalled something from his Hershey days, I believe, about an extremely talented female runner who asked him to pace her. And by his standards, she was slow. He ran backwards, sideways, almost on his hands, and she still couldn't keep up with him. Yet, she was a state champion in the two-miler. Finally, it dawned me: I was too slow for him! This was the purpose of his story.

Still, I didn't take it personally. That's what happens when you're old like me. You just keep pushing forward; you let stuff roll of the rolls in your back. Well, we continued out out toward Alburtis, past the tall scary cornstalks, turned at the church, and headed back. We watched the sun rise, saw skittering squirrel and rabbits, heard hawks and blackbirds. By mile 9, I knew I was on pace to beat my race time from the half marathon that I did last weekend on the canal path. How was this? Probably the fuel brought on by Mark's tale. I didn't want to be the woman who would have her partner run backwards, or sidewalks, or cross-eyed. I found a nice groove and just kept riding it. By 9.5, we parted. He headed home, I kept going. We kissed at the corner, and I turned just in time to see three red-tailed hawks. Lucky me. By the end, I beat my half time by 5 minutes. It wasn't a true race time, but it was the validation I needed to assure myself that I am ready. Again.

Hours later, recovered somewhat, I gathered up the girls and dogs and piled them all into the Pilot for Dunkin Donuts. I earned a salt bagel. My girls, who are putting up with my hobbling today, deserved their pink donuts. And my dogs (who lost out on their walk last night due to the heel) needed the car ride and the chance to feel the breeze push through their ears. Windows down, Sting playing, kids laughing, dogs sniffing, woman smiling.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Just thinking.

That I have to run 26.2 miles in 16 days. And I'm getting nervous. It's a combination of anxiety and fear. I know how painful this one is going to be. Extremely. Worse than the other five, I fear. Just let the endorphins take over, I repeat. Just let the endorphins work their magic in your heel.

And then I start to wonder...when am I going to plan my races for next year. Is it time to get off this marathon kick. Four in a year. Too many. I love the tri. I really do. I want to complete a HI next year. Can I swim that far without panicking in the open water? I dunno. I can swim a mile in the pool. I've done a mile and a half, in fact, and felt great. Open water. It's something else. But I love looking at my tri pictures and envisioning how relieved, yet how refreshed, I felt when they were finished.

You can run a half marathon and still have a great day. You can run a marathon and still go out with friends. Crunch them together, and I think I can get across the line on two feet. I have to shop races this weekend. I need new goals, new challenges, new ways to remind myself that my time is limited. And I refuse to waste it. People who do are fools.

They need Harold Melvin. Wake up everybody, no more sleeping in bed. Time for thinking ahead.

Loggins & Messina and one sunrise

So tonight I sit here, knowing that so many of my favorite kids took the field in the Frank Banko Stadium in Bethlehem, squaring off with kids at my new school. I wanted to go, didn't want to go.

I feel quite conflicted. How is this? I guess I am like the general population. Change is difficult. Maybe I linger too long. Maybe it's one of my greatest fears. Perhaps that is why I always feared leaving my newspaper as all of my friends went on to larger and better papers. In the end, however, most didn't do any better than I did. In fact, a lot of them are unemployed, and I feel very safe in a job where I still feel valued. But it pained me to see them leave, and years later it pained me to leave as well.

But still, I sit here and listen to Danny's Song and reflect. It is my song when I need to reach back and hold on to those who have walked next to me over the years, people I cherish so deeply and passionately as friends. I think of Pam. And how much I miss having her in my life. And how she truly was like a soul sister to me. The ups and the downs we so shared. She was the Mother Earth in Danskos and long skirts and pottery. She knew why I loved Willi Singleton, why he'd make a woman swoon with the throw of the clay and his foot-spin of the wheel. And all of the other women who have been my nearest and dearest friends, people who got me, get me. Who cared about me. Who knew who I was (and still am) as a woman, a mother, a partner, a writer, a survivor. These wonderful people who have been daily parts of my life, but only in moments of my life. People who help you erase some really bad, dark events that at one point make you wonder when you will recover, if you will recover from the abyss.

But you can't hold onto people, as much as you want to. I want to hold the world in a paper cup. Drink up my friends, keep them close to me, not let them go. Keep them in the chain of my life. Like Pam. And Marcy. And Cathy. And the women before them. And the women after.

This week I witnessed the most beautiful sunrise as I headed to work. I pulled over at The Hillside School, the tiny facility for special needs kids, kids like my own. My cell phone didn't do the scene justice. But it's verification for me, when I need it, that life truly is a gift. It's not all of this artificial crap over which people fret and fight over. It's the simplicity of life that makes me happy. My girlfriends. My girls. Seeing my students laugh and learn. The sunrise. Comfortable shoes. A potter on the side of Hawk Mountain. Danny's Song. People like Pam. A squirrel when you need one.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I guess the slow progression toward old age is really bothering me. How do I know this? Is it the repetitive checking of grey hairs? Nah. They blend with the blondes. Is it the constant checking of my back-fat in the mirror? Nah. Been doing that for at least 15 years. No, it's the fear that won't be able to do things that I should've done in my 20s or my 30s. And when opportunity knocks, I don't bother looking through the peephole, or whatever you want to call it. (Peephole is just the wrong word...) Instead, I just swing the door open and say: "C'mon in..."

And that's what happened when Terry emailed me.

"Hey, let's do this little triathlon at Bear Creek. It's called the Dirty Grizzly. The shirts look cool."

Hmm...I have three marathons in two months this fall. I've been training fairly strongly and seriously for the past three months. Sure, why not mess everything up? Heck, there's a cool shirt involved!

The details are gory. The race was ugly. Basically, it was a highly technical mountain bike race with a little swim thrown in at the start (oh, there was a ton of goose poopers everywhere...) and a short run (2 miles) up a ski slope to the top of the mountain and then back down on rolling rocks. The bike ride, however, was a task I will not soon forget.

Within the first quarter-mile, I flipped the bike downhill, and over rocks, onto my head. That was, I repeat, the first quarter-mile. What was I thinking? I just kept letting people pass me, people who I had beat in the swim and little transition. People who were not nearly in the same physical condition as me, but who knew how to jump bikes over rocks. Long-story-short: I carried that bike for at least five of the six miles on the trail. It took me an hour and 53 minutes to do so. I rode off the trail, smashed my tailbone, earned bruises the size of cantaloupes on both legs. Three days later, I still feel as though I was in a car crash.

Someday I'm going to listen to my own advice, the warnings that I yell down the street as Grace and Kendall attempt to ride off on their bikes while wearing flip-flops. I didn't listen to my gut, my common sense. listened to my young heart, the one that says I don't want to grow old. I don't want to be left behind. I want to remain young at heart, even if old age threatens to stop that. After the race, we all gathered on the deck of Bear Creek, nursing beers and sharing bloody wounds with people half our age, people who look like they were at mosh pits the weekend prior. Yeah, we held up. We survived. We didn't just roll over.

And the shirt? Terry was right. It's pretty cool.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Obama and Kendall

Welcome to the Wedding of the Century.

This is the imaginary one in which my daughter, Kendall, marries the man of her dreams: President Obama. The kid has been obsessed with the Prez since last summer. Someone at daycare with a deep love for the Democratic party must've put a bug in her ear. Not that there's anything wrong with it. But this affinity for BO has become pretty deep.

We had a conversation about her love this week when a life-size poster of his head arrived from the DNC. Mark told Keni, a leggy blue-eyed blonde with big Chiclet teeth, that she had mail. He unfolded the picture, and her smile spread as wide as the Nile: "Baaaarack Obaaaamaaaahhhh..." It was like oral chocolate. Looooovvvveeeee.

I swear that diamonds glistened in her innocent eyes.

Innocent. Yeah. Right.

So I said to her: Do you still like Obama?

Keni: "I'm gonna marry him."

Me: Really? You do know he's married.

Keni: "Huh? Who he's married to?"

Me: Michelle Obama. I think it's pretty solid.

Keni: [Pause...] "He's gonna tell her he doesn't want her anymore. He wants to marry Kendall." [Smile spreads...]

Me: [silence....]

Keni: "And then I'm gonna have a big belly. We're gonna have four babies."

Me: Hmmm....

Wait to the media maelstorm that will follow this love story. I never envisioned my 15 minute of fame would happen this way. To think: my future son-in-law is President of the United States. How cool is that.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Who is this thief that sneaks into Grace's life and steals her away from normalcy?

Wednesday was a heart-breaker and a heart-maker, all in the span of two hours. She had speech therapy with Rebecca. I took the kid and read in the waiting room until she was done. Afterward, Rebecca walked her out and revealed to me (and other people around us) that Grace performed well on her speech in a controlled situation. But in a pragmatic setting, she cannot seem to get the words out. In other words, she lacks the words necessary for social dialogue. She couldn't answer the question: What kind of furniture do you have in your bedroom?

Well, Grace looked at the floor, shuffled her feet. This all seemed so familiar to me; a year ago at Geissinger the doctor asked Grace why fire was dangerous. She looked around, pointed at the ceiling sprinkler and said: "Look, water!" There was a connection, but it was more of disconnect.

So here she is, a year later, and Rebecca brings this up in front of the kid and in front of strangers. Feeling sorry for her as we walked to the car, I said: Hey, guess what kind of furniture I had in my room? I have a computer, a desk, a tv, a chair... Well, with that, she let out a big little-girl sigh: "I'm not smart, Mom. I'm dumb." My heart sank. I felt horrible. I talked about her grades, her ability to do math, to write her name, to read some words. Nothing except the same response: "I'm not smart, Mom. I'm dumb." But by now, it was followed by tears and head that hung so low. She was like a young Cindy Brady, blonde innocence and no front teeth and all lisp.

I could not say or do anything to change her mind. Instead, I stopped trying to convince her. As I drove on the highway, I reached behind to the back seat. She found my hand, latched on tightly, and we headed home in silence.

Fast-forward two hours.

By now, she had quietly recovered. We headed to the Lehigh Parkway to watch Mark run a 5K. She typically seems to ignore him at races and, instead, looks for rocks to skip in the creek, much to the annoyance of the fishermen. But this day was, indeed, different. As we stood on the footbridge, she stopped and watched for him. As he passed beneath us in the lead pack, she yelled: "Go Daddy, go Daddy. Run fast..." She scurried to the other side of the bridge to watch his back. We then walked to the other side of the path where he'd pass on the Two Mile mark. She waited for him. As he eventually ran toward her, she yelled: "Go Daddy. You're the best daddy in the world. I love you, Daddy." She beamed as she watched him forge ahead in the evening humidity.

Eventually, he headed up to the end loop and returned toward the finish. And she waited a third time. And again, she shouted words of encouragement, more than anyone else was yelling for their runners. The people around her smiled. I'd like to think she noticed their approval, but I'm not certain.

Autism is a strange creature. It has robbed her of so many options in life, perhaps even the ability to live on her own some day. But it has done one thing: it has made us acutely aware of all of her actions and all of her words. We pay close attention to her because we have to help her feel successful, help her feel supported, help her recover from her pitfalls. And in turn, maybe she has learned to support others in the process. Perhaps she is not as GraCentric as we think. And that is a wonderful thing.

Monday, June 29, 2009


It's been a long time. A really long time. This goal that I basically gave up on after Round Three back in 2007. After that letdown, I resigned myself to the fact that it wasn't going to happen. I rationalized it: there are certain kids who need me, my kiddos with whom I have forged relationships, the ones who I consistently float money for lunch, the ones who need the fist-bump and constant praise.

But this time, when the opportunity arose, it paid off. And as thrilled as I am, this will be one of the most difficult life changes for me. Leaving my new friends and longtime colleagues will be hard. I will miss most of them; some of them I will probably never see again. Leaving my room, 209, saddens me. I know it's just a room, but I molded it to represent me. It stood for comfort, safety, creativity, a place where risks can be taken without fear. It was "the newspaper room." Leaving after one of the best years there, with some of the neatest kiddos, causes me heartbreak. I confess that some kids knew that I had again applied. They told me not to, just as they do every year when I joke that I may not be back. I can't count the number of times someone has said to me: "I'm taking Journalism 3 next year." And I replied: "Well, maybe I"ll be here to teach it." The response was always: "Oh, you better be here. You can leave after I graduate."

This time, it's true. I have a slew of young adults that I will miss: Professor, CashMoney, Linds, JLibs, SZ, Neela, Sean, Henceforth, Steph, and too many others. I feel, in a way, that I am letting some of them down. I want to see them graduate. And I won't.

Even more so, I feel as though I'm leaving my girl, my Queen of Shit. My mentor. All too many times I've relied on her so greatly to pull me through my rough spots, to help me refocus, to remind me to hold the line and respect the standards, to emphasize the three Rs: rigor, rigor, rigor. She scared the living crap out of me during that first month on the job, particularly when she stared over the top of those reading glasses and gave "the look." I'm sure this happened the first time I invoked the word "clusterfluck," one of my newsroom phrases.

I remember how tough it was for me when Pam left. She was the younger sister that I never had. We shared so many personal similarities; we were kindred spirits. Then Cathy left. She was the eldest sister that I never had, my literary guide and cheerleader, the person who "got" me as I suffered through all of the mixed family drama. I needed Marcy to stay. She was my middle sister, my rock. The one who kept it all together with grace and style and poise. We could sit in a meeting, listen to some knucklehead squawking, and just smile, knowing what each other was thinking. She completes me. And every time she's mentioned the R word, I'd get anxiety. After all, she's way too young to retire.

But now I'm leaving. Maybe this will help me avoid the pain that I would be experiencing upon her leaving me. I think that would be worse.

And so this is where my persistence has left me. Ecstatically sad. But in the end, richer for what I'm taking with me. If only I could take these people with me in more than spirit.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

OK, here's some verification about Keni's choppers, to which I refer in the previous post. If you look closely as she does her Hannah Montana goes to Bear Swamp dance routine, you'll notice that those front teeth have already signed up for an appointment with the orthodontist. Money from the tooth fairy? Heck, no. It's all earmarked (toothmarked?) for some head gear.

18 months later.

Wow. Who would've thought that I'd wait 18 months to write again. I could tell a small fib and say that I was just waiting for some really good stuff to happen in my life. But that would certainly be a lie.

Perhaps the tragedies of the world have moved me to words. The Death Of.... Billy Mays. Inventor of Oxi-Clean. Seriously. I know MJ and Farrah were icons in their own right. But seriously. Did they make life easier for the mother of four? No. Yet take Billy Mays and the wonder of Oxi-Clean. With one swallow, that stuff could clean out all of the stomachs of a cow. Stains? Gone! No longer did we have to worry about the girls eating spaghetti. Cleaning products are the inventions of some understanding goddess.

Speaking of goddess, Kendall (who is currently in the midst of a nail-biting championship round of Dora Candyland with her father) started to swim today. Thank goodness she eats a lot of kibble because her very round stomach seems to help keep her above water. This pooch-belly acts as a buoy, allowing her to swim in small circles as if she was the star pupil studying at the Esther Williams School of Water Acrobatics. Of course, she will not yet put her face in the water. And as a result, she's squinting quite a bit, and I fear that she may swipe into the side of the wall with those rabbit teeth.

Tomorrow marks the official start of summer for me, despite having off for the past three weeks. Why is that? Well, summer school begins for Grace, and Kendall will be heading back to day care part-time, giving me time to catch up on all of the Judge Judy and other important daytime shows that managed to stay on the air during the school year. I do love daytime. Gimme a blue bag of Doritos, a case of Coke Zero and the remote control in the month of July and I'm as happy as a clam (even if I am allergic to shellfish).