Saturday, October 28, 2006


1. SHY, BASHFUL, DIFFIDENT imply a manner that shows discomfort or lack of confidence in association with others.
2. SHY implies a constitutional shrinking from contact or close association with others, together with a wish to escape notice:
3. BASHFUL suggests timidity about meeting others, and trepidation and awkward behavior when brought into prominence or notice: a bashful child.
4. DIFFIDENT emphasizes self-distrust, fear of censure, failure, etc., and a hesitant, tentative manner as a consequence.

“She’s shy,” my mother would say.

“She’s shy,” my teachers would say.

“I’m trapped,” I would correct them inside of my head.

It’s a stupid word…shy.

It’s a word everyone uses to explain why someone doesn’t talk. I think they assume there is nothing to say, but my head is always bursting with thought. I become good at tending these thoughts; collecting and saving them so that they are not wasted.

Other people let the thoughts come in and rebound right back out of their mouths. They have something to say and assume that I don’t. The door to my mouth remains on lockdown and my head becomes crowded.

Each thought that comes in is like a tiny seed and I carefully plant and water it. As it sprouts, I prune and weed and allow it to twist and wrap around until the moment when it finally comes into bloom.

I’m happy in this garden of thoughts.

I long to share them and I do so carefully with a chosen few. Growing up, my mother is the main recipient of my bouquets. She is safe. She understands that I could not, after toiling in the soil and tending so diligently, simply pluck off and hand over the blossom like a two-year-old yanking the head off a tulip. No, I need to share it from the roots up. To start where the seed was planted and take it all the way to bloom.

As I grow older, some of the walls around me begin to crumble. With close friends and in small groups I begin to ease open my mouth. Still, new situations, big groups and big personalities leave me diffident. I garden ferociously behind my crumbling wall, digging new beds and producing new varieties.

As I learn to invite people in to share my treasured botanicals, I discover that not everyone is like my mother and wishes to share from the roots up. The world is filled with blossom pluckers; get to the point people. Efficient talkers who prefer to say the most in the least amount of words and expect the same in conversation. I am not good at this back and forth plucking and swapping, and I retreat back into my garden.

And so I write. Here I can plant and water and prune and blossom and need not pluck the heads off of my thoughts. I can pull up by the roots, shake off the dirt, and arrange my garden as it pleases me. Flower-haters need not enter the gates. You are welcome to wander and take as you please; no blossom plucking allowed.

Friday, October 27, 2006

R & R

Ahh vacation…

Lying on my back I am free of all responsibility.
No one asking me to cook for them.
No chores calling me.
No errands to run.
No reports to type.
Little beads of sweat gather on my forehead and am aware of how hot is seems
but someone arrives with a cool drink and I drift off into a dream.
Five days of blissful R & R.

OK, so there are a few differences between the flu and the Caribbean ,
but the similarities are many!
And with a trip to the Caribbean not on the immediate horizon,
I must say, five days in bed with the flu is looking pretty good right now.

Does this mean my life is completely out of control?
Will I be lining up for that flu shot?
No sir.
Just stick a little paper umbrella in my cough medicine please.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


The following is taken from a 1950’s Home Economics textbook Intended for High School girls teaching them to prepare for married life.

Have dinner ready: Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal – on time. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him, and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospects of a good meal are part of the warm welcome needed.

Prepare yourself: Take 15 minutes to rest so you will be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your makeup, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking. He has just been with a lot of work weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift.

Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives, gathering up schoolbooks, toys, papers, etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift, too.

Prepare the children: Take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and faces if they are small, comb their hair, and if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.

Minimize the noise: At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of washer, dryer, dishwasher or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. Be happy to see him. Greet him with a warm smile and be glad to see him.

Some Don’ts: Don’t greet him with problems or complaints. Don’t complain if he is late for dinner. Count this as minor compared with what he might have gone through that day.

Make him comfortable: Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillows and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.

Listen to him: You may have a dozen things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.

Make the evening his: Never complain if he does not take you out for dinner or to other places of entertainment; instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure, his need to be home and relax.

The goal: Try to make your home a place of peace and order where your husband can relax.


I propose the following revisions for the millennium man. This is intended for High School boys, teaching them how to prepare for married life.

Do not expect to have dinner ready as soon as you walk in the door. You have no idea what kind of day your wife may have had on the home front. In between endless laundry, constant refereeing and running errands in the rain (i.e. banking, dry cleaning, grocery shopping, post office, etc.) the dog got loose and chased wild turkeys into the woods requiring retrieval, the five-year-old’s tooth fell out causing mass hysteria, and the baby threw up on the living room carpet. Come home prepared to help out.

Prepare yourself: Take fifteen minutes before your walk in the door to shake off the workday and any residual hostilities that may remain. Your wife has been with chores and children all day and needs you to come home with a cheery disposition. Stop at a florist and pick up a single rose. Her boring day may need a lift.

If it appears upon your arrival that your wife has been attempting to sweep back the tide all day, help her by picking up and putting away any clutter and debris left over from her day in the trenches. Your wife will appreciate the effort and it will give you a lift, too.

Be ready to take over with the kids for a while. Your little treasures can be extremely demanding and your wife could really use a little break to regain her sanity.

Be happy to see your wife and encourage her to take al little time for herself (i.e. take a walk, a bath, or just sit and do nothing for a few minutes.) Remember that although your day may have been difficult, you have at least left your job behind; she is never off duty.

Some Don’ts: Don’t come in complaining about your day or bragging about your exhilarating power lunches. Her lunch consisted of peanut butter and jelly crusts and two spoons of someone’s unfinished yogurt. Instead of expecting dinner, call her early to see if she can arrange a sitter so you can take her to a fancy restaurant to be waited on instead.

Give your wife the opportunity to relax and unwind. Use the weekend to spend quality time with your children so that your wife can find some space to remember who she is. After a full day alone with the children, you will understand why this is so important.

Listen to her. You may still have a lot of business on your mind but she hasn’t spoken to another grown-up person all day. Let her talk first. You can catch up on current events when the children are in bed.

Make the evening hers. She has toiled all day without complaining to meet everyone else’s needs. Perhaps take her to dinner and a movie; try to understand her need to get out of the house.

The goal: show your wife that you appreciate her efforts to make your home a place of peace and order and make some time for her to relax.

**Note: The instructions above apply to families with Stay-At-Home Moms. If your wife works another job in addition to the hearth and home, plan to go out or do take-out regularly, plan on half of the childcare being your responsibility, and hire a cleaning lady.

Monday, October 16, 2006


“I know how I want to die,” I felt my head visibly jerk and snap upward as my daughter’s words jolted me back from the silent drive. The road ahead, newly paved created the perfect backdrop for the yellows and reds of autumn. The statement seemed so misplaced. “I want to die smiling.”

“Hmm… I suppose that would be the best way.” I responded, more sure of navigating the road under me than the one my daughter was asking to journey.

“So if I ever was going to be hit by a car or shot, I plan to smile because if I’m going to die anyway, I want it to be smiling,” In the rear view mirror I saw her grin a straight line and nod which told me she was certain.

“Well, I sure hope you won’t be hit by a car or shot! I think I’d like to die peacefully. Maybe in my sleep.”

“Oh No! I would never want to die sleeping. People around would be shaking you and wondering if you were dead or not. I want it to be quick and fast so I won’t feel anything. Besides, sleeping wouldn’t be smiling.”

What to say? Is there a best way to leave this life? No good answer. No perfect scenario. No real choice. In spite of our wish to write our future story to include a comfortable ending, it is not ours to determine.

Instantly, time rolled back to October 31, 2004, the day Uncle Larry died. It was morning and I was folding towels, warm and “mountain breeze” fresh out of the dryer. “Hello, this is Branford Hills Health Care calling about Lawrence Gallagher.” Instant flip in my stomach as I grabbed for a pencil and paper. “Fever…infection…. hospital.” I was the contact person by default since my mom moved to North Carolina. Only the middle-man, I told myself. I called my mom to relay the names and numbers. She made direct contact and they spoke of the DNR on file.

Uncle Larry.

Uncle Crazy.

He entered many family gatherings dressed as a character called “Crazy Guggenheimer” from a skit in a Jackie Gleason show singing a soppy Irish song. He wore brown and orange plaid slacks hiked up high around his belly, a gray flannel Fedora hat with the brim turned downward and a funny smile stretching wide across his face that stuck his chin out far. Uncle Crazy. He was always bubbling with warmth and an endless string of one-liners.

He took his place as #4 in a family of 10 children, he himself the only one to produce none of his own. Perhaps it was that fact that made him so lovable. There were no children day to day draining the father out of him and he greeted each one of his nieces and nephews as if we were his favorite.

He came from a family riveted with poverty. As en elder in the clan, he made it his business after leaving the nest to check in regularly with Mama, always slipping a fifty dollar bill into her needy hand. He was often the reason that my mother and the younger children knew Santa. Devoutly Catholic, he was charitable, faithful and rooted deeply in his church. He married the love of his life, a large, gruff woman who ruled with an iron fist. I feared Aunt Kay. Her white hair snugged her head in a roller comb out and her eyes small and dark. Her face wore disapproval and her voice flat and cold. They never seemed to fit but Uncle Larry loved her.

Years after Aunt Kay died from cancer; Uncle Larry began to replace her with the smooth hot burn of vodka. His home an hour away and my mom his closest living sibling made it hard for the family to know the consistency and intensity of his decline. A bad fall and then another, head injury; the vodka had taken charge. He bounced from hospital to nursing home and finally, landed in a competent long care facility in the town where my mom lived.

Visits to the home became awkward over the years. Uncle Larry’s reality inched slowly backward in time to where I was his sister and my children his nieces and nephews. Eventually, he forgot that he had ever married and stopped recognizing all of us. Occasional glimmers of him shone through, like the visit where four-year-old Cadence belted out the Star Spangled Banner and Uncle Larry fished in his pajama pants for a dollar to slip her; part of his trade mark. He made due with a sugar packet.

“I’ll leave North Carolina now,” my mom said.

“I should go to the hospital,” I told her, “I’ll call you from there.”

I should be mature enough to handle what I have been commissioned to do. I find myself still feeling like the child instead of the adult and I fear that I will be asked to sign something at the hospital. Do Not Resuscitate. No Extreme Measures. The family has decided…

I find Uncle Larry in the Emergency Room. Machines monitor his blood pressure and an oxygen mask sits on his face. I sit beside him, the stench of bowel and hospital air. No one speaks to me or even seems to notice I am there. Uncle Larry’s legs stick out from under the checkered gown, bones and white hair. I timidly reach out to rest my hand on his leg to tell him I am there. Cold. So Cold. I try to arrange the sheet to cover his legs. “He’s cold,” I say to the nurse who comes to write on his clipboard and I wonder why they seem not to notice the smell.

“We’ll be moving him upstairs soon.” She tells me and whisks away, white shoes squeaking like basketball sneakers. Thank God, I think because the smell is making it hard to swallow. The staff excuses me to the hallway as they prepare Uncle Larry to move to a room. I am told to follow. In the elevator, I wonder if the smell will ever leave my nostrils and stare at the numbers lit above the doorway. As we move off of the elevator, the smell moves with us and I realize it is coming from Uncle Larry. I wait in the hallway while the nurses clean him up and I talk to myself about being brave.

“You can go in,” I am told and I see Uncle Larry has blankets on his legs. I stick my hand out to feel his thin, soft skin. Warmer now. Better. The smell is gone. I see a plastic bag attached to a tube sticking out from under the blanket with dark brown liquid and perhaps blood. I look away quickly. Moments later a doctor enters, then another. I am asked to leave and suddenly there is much action. Scrubs in, scrubs out. All talking in the language of medicine. Confusion. “Why hasn’t this or that been done?” A short dark-haired, dark skinned doctor approaches me. Indian perhaps.

“Your father?” He asks
“My uncle,” I say.

“He is very ill. Do you understand what is happening?”

“Yes,” I say, but my face must tell him something else.

“His lungs are filling with fluid. If we do not intervene, he will pass.”

A strange word for a doctor, I think, and I explain about the dementia and diapers. “The family has decided he would not want to live this way.” The family… as if I am not one of them.

“I understand,” he tells me and explains about Morphine.

The family, I keep thinking. Some other entity, not present. I know they are right. I know my uncle Larry would never have expected that the circle of life meant that he would return to the state by which he entered the world, helpless and unknowing.

I can’t shake the words out of my head. Lungs filling with fluid. Like drowning. I try not to think. In my head it is like the scene from ET where Elliot is screaming, “Help Him! He’s Dying! Do something!” Elliot is feeling ETs feelings. Am I reading Uncle Larry’s?

I am told I can go back in.

Machines are gone now. Nothing measuring the threads of life sustaining him. I try to speak to him but nothing comes out. His eyes roll and flicker and I wonder if he is screaming inside. Help me, I can’t breath. What if the morphine simply quiets the voice, not the mind? How is allowing someone to die not the same as killing?

I realize now that I am here to usher him out.
To usher him on to eternal life.
I am the only other character in the scene and I have no script.

Breath in, breath out.

I touch his soft cheek. Try to hold the sweet image of him peaceful, but the Help Me voice screams in the back of my mind. I push it out.

Breath in, breath out. Slower now.

No doctors. No nurses.

“I love you Uncle Larry,” I whisper, then say the Lord’s Prayer. I stroke his white hair back and rub his cheek.

Breath in. Pause. Pause. Breath out. Slower still.

“It’s OK to go now,” I tell him around the lump that fills my throat, “Go with Jesus now.”

Breath in. Pause. Pause. Pause. Pause. Breath out.

I stroke his head. “It’s OK,” I whisper.

“I’m here,” a voice says, as my cousin Patty slips into the room. Thank You Sweet Jesus, I think. She takes her place on the opposite side of the bed and tells him she loves him.

Breath in. Pause. Pause. Pause. Pause. Pause. Pause. Pause. Breath out.

It is probably five or fifteen minutes but it seems like days that we stand there; stroking, whispering.



“I think he’s gone,” I say as he breaths in again.

Patty’s eyes giggle. I remember she is known for nervous laughter at funerals and I am grateful for the release. So grateful not to do this alone.

Finally, it is over.

We say good-bye and tell the nurse who simply nods.

A peaceful parting?


I think Cadence is right.

Smiling would be good.


Upon returning home from a solo trip to church one Sunday morning, I was greeted by Cadence emerging from the bathroom “clean and shiny” with her wet hair neatly combed. I was pleased to see that Brad had bathed her, perhaps for the third time in her two and a half little years, but it was the neatly combed wet hair that sent me riveting backward in time. “Did Daddy comb your hair?” I asked. “Yep!” she smiled and suddenly I was sitting on the brown carpet of the den with my back resting against my father’s knees having my wet locks detangled.

It was not any sort of regular ritual. In fact, just having my father home and awake was a treat in itself. I suppose he didn’t work so much more than other people did, but his rotating policeman hours meant he was often sleeping or working when we were awake. In many ways, my dad was a mystery to me. Often, I would see him wake as we were trailing off to bed.

Seated at the wood grained laminate table beside the kitchen window, he would make a meal out of peanut butter crackers. Butter knife in, spread on unsalted side of Ritz cracker, cover placed on top, salt side up. He would never eat a single one until he had the entire sleeve assembled and stacked in two perfect towers. Methodically, he would polish his shoes to a perfect shine, strap on his weapons and fearlessly head out into the dark to rid the world of crime. There was no doubt about it. In my mind, my dad was a superhero.

The image was affirmed for me in third grade when I brought his “Commendation” in to school for show and tell. Normally, I would be too shy to stand in front of the class to speak, but the framed piece of paper said my dad went beyond the call of duty. Holding it just beneath my chin for the class to view, I felt its power and I bravely stood and shared the story of my father’s efforts to stop a criminal. I watched the faces of the students, eyes wide, stretching for a good view. The children of plumbers, bankers, businessmen and carpenters. They stared with looks of envy, amazement and awe and I surely walked a little taller that day.

Not only was my dad a crime-fighting hero, but he could fix anything! From sinks to hairdryers, my dad did it all. I never worried when something went awry; my dad did what had to be done. He approached most of life this way; giving up sleep for that extra job or passing up lunch to save money for Christmas gifts. He had the discipline to work through anything. He had uncanny tenacity whether it was solving a jigsaw puzzle or a brainteaser; there was no quitting until the job was done. To this day, I regret not inheriting just a little bit of that diligence and discipline that placed my dad on higher ground.

When I was in college, my dad morphed from superhero to the knight in shining armor who would ride in on his white horse (police car) to rescue me from flat tires, empty gas tanks and muggings. He was always just minutes away no matter what the crisis, which leads me to believe now that he watched more carefully than I realized. Still, he seemed to know when to step in and when to look the other way.

I felt like a celebrity when I entered the police station and walked passed the security desk. The title “Serge’s daughter” brought privileges that few were entitled to and came in very handy when caught speeding.

But it was the hair combing that brings the fondest memory of my dad. Like my daughter, I had long and sometimes unruly hair that was a challenge to tame after washing. Like my mother before me, I do my best to comb my daughter’s hair in a kind and civilized fashion, but the time management of motherhood does not allow for the luxury of totally pain-free combing. On those unusual days when my dad was home and awake in the evening and my mom was still occupied with some other mundane task, my dad would comb the tangles out. He approached each on with the same determination he faced a jigsaw puzzle and yet he never once tugged a hair on my head. Slowly and gently, this crime-fighting superhero produce neatly combed hair that brought a smile to the otherwise dreaded task and moments of closeness that were ordinarily missing.

As I stood looking at my daughter, I gladly surrendered to letting Daddy do it better, knowing that a hero was growing in her heart. It made me aware of the small things that I defer to her “daddy” for fixing or solving and made me wonder what role my mother played in this image building. The twinkle in her two year old “yep” said quite clearly, “my daddy can do anything!” and it warmed my heart to know exactly how that felt.

I don’t ask my dad to save me anymore. My dad may no longer fight crime or fix my flat tires and I don’t know the last time he combed my hair, but I know that if I bring my dad a tangle, he’ll still remove it without tugging, just the way a superhero should.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


I suppose it is possible to divide everything into three.

Whether it be a workday, a pregnancy or a good book,
everything has a beginning, a middle and an end.
Most of us don’t really think of life as a triad until we enter the middle.

During the first third of our lives, we are busy forging ahead trying to figure ourselves out. We go through varying stages of rebel and excel and by the time we reach the middle, somewhere in our thirties, we have somewhat grown into our lives.

If we are lucky, life fits fairly well at this point and we go on to weave the fabric of our story.

Our best years.

This is the time when careers are built, bank accounts are filled, titles are earned, properties are established and children are raised. We have a new definition and sense of “home” that differs from our youth. We are now the masters of our castles, the rule makers, and the ones to kiss and make it better. We work hard to create the physical space while filling the heart of our homes with love and security.

I am in the middle of the middle and looking forward; trembling with fear and brimming with excitement as I watch the people I have helped to create cross through the next 10 – 20 years. I nurture, nudge, scold and support them on this journey, guiding them to the threshold where they will cross to their own middle. I realize that once they enter, it will be my time to step out of second trimester and make my final move.

Some people refer to the last trimester as ones “Golden Years.” I imagine the manner in which one crosses into the final phase has a great deal to do with personality; cup empty or full. Few, if any, leap without looking. It is the sort of transition that is carefully planned for and if one is lucky, eased into with a partner. This is the time of downsizing homes, retiring from jobs and making comfortable but decisive lifestyle changes. I can envision myself sort of side-stepping, sashaying really, across with one eye opened, holding my breath until I’m sure the ground is solid beneath my feet.

I have definite visions of what this time will be like for me:
my husband, retired and happy by my side,
a home that is established, paid for and full of memories,
children flocking home on the holidays toting spouses and little ones,
a bank account that will sustain us
and grandchildren that will visit often and spend the night reminding me that the circle of life is intact.

These are my blueprints which are probably similar to those of most of the women I know. I am sure that at one time they belonged to my mother.

As human beings, we share an illusion that that we are the designers of our own blueprints and that our life story is ours to write in advance. 1997 was a long and painful year for my mother, full of endings and beginnings. She endured divorce, three surgeries and in the middle of it all, the unthinkable: the loss of my brother, her youngest child. The tragedy of her life was overwhelming and the fabric so tightly woven was beginning to unravel. Finally, the sale of her home upon her and she was being pushed over the threshold into the last trimester.

I admired her courage in carrying on, even though the picture looked nothing like her original blueprint. Perhaps it was the indestructible nature of Irish women, perhaps it was her unshakable faith, but closing the middle chapter for my mom was anything but smooth and easy.

For my mother, the middle had played out all on the same stage.
The scenery, the props and the performers unchanged behind the curtain.
She married my father at the age of 19, thrusting her into the middle quite early.
Having grown up the youngest of ten in a poor Irish family,it was a welcomed change.
My brother came in her 21st year and I followed less than two years later.
After an apartment or two, they moved into our family home when she was 25 and it was there that the memory making would happen for the next 35 years.

This was the stage where two more children would be born, countless pets would be brought home and teenagers would be grown.

In this place, family meals were shared, training wheels were shed, and drivers permits taken.

From this home, children left for college, for the military and to make homes of their own.

Under this roof, grandchildren were rocked to sleep, tickled and given cheesecake for dinner.

On this stage, good-byes were said to the marriage that started it all, and then finally, to my brother, who left before getting to the middle.

Births, weddings and funerals.
beginnings, middles and endings unfolded here for 35 years.
Strangely, I felt no sadness in parting with the house of my childhood.
I do not understand why except I believe that my memories lie in the people, not the structure, but for my mother, I imagine it was like saying good-bye to a lifetime. I suppose if the blueprint were intact, she could have eased out of the middle and downsized into the next phase. Instead, divorce forced the house sale and by brother’s death brought despair. I saw my mother floating through a dark uncertain tunnel.

For weeks I helped her sift through her life deciding what remained of value.

Dainty china saucers and never used cappuccino cups.

Stacks of photos and children’s childhood trophies.

Garden tools and kitchen items intended for feeding large families.

We packed the “middle” with all of its significance, into cardboard boxes taped neatly and labeled for an unknown future. The “middle” was then neatly stacked into a 10 x 20 rented cubicle which would house her life in cardboard until the ride emerges from the tunnel into the light again.

I did my best to make light and cheer of the task, but never before had I seen a book shut so abruptly without marking the page. When and where it would open again was a mystery. Stepping out of the middle usually means taking most of your life with you, not packing it away.

I told my mother that it would be exciting to search for a new place and tried to make her see the temporary displacement like the dormancy of a tulip bulb.

I know this to be true, that the bloom is even more appreciated after the wait, but it was, I’m sure, hard to see from behind all of the cardboard boxes.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


“Ward Dear… I’m worried about the Beav…” I can still picture her dressed neat as a pin in her meticulously clean home, hair done up but not overstated; pearls and modest healed pumps adding a demure touch of class and her frilled apron a dash of wholesomeness as she stood with a plate of freshly baked cookies. June Cleaver… the perfect wife and mother. As a young girl, I knew that someday I would be a mom just like her.

My current day perfect mother role models are the real-life moms who “never let you see them sweat.” Perhaps a hidden camera would reveal something all together different, but from my vantage point, superimpose a 19” screen around them and I see June Cleaver in contemporary clothes. Take for example my neighbor and dear friend, Loraine.

She works as a nurse several nights a week, pulling into or out of her driveway in the dead of night.

She has two children, a husband, a dog and a beautiful home that would proudly welcome a spontaneous visitor at any time.

Her hair is always perfect, her laundry always done and put away, her children always sparkle and her car is in showroom condition.
Her garage is immaculate, dinner is always ready and on the stove, she is always at least 15 minutes early and she never raises her voice.

Her children are involved in many quality programs, they go to church every Sunday and her garbage cans never stay out more than one hour after the trash is picked up.
I’d like to say the only difference between us is that I have one more child and a cat, or that having those additions explains why a visit to my home requires one hour notice for me to scramble franticly to make the house presentable. But, I’m afraid it is more than that.

My hair is always pulled back and loose strand jump out everywhere as if to broadcast that I do not have it all together.

My laundry is always in the process of being done with one load in the washer, one in the dryer, one on the kitchen island waiting to be folded, one at the foot of the stairs in a basket waiting to go up, and one upstairs waiting to be put away. The choreography is quite something and as one load finishes the wash cycle, each load shifts forward one position, almost by itself.

My children normally sport holes in the knees and have one or the other row of teeth brushed.

My car would be a jackpot for a drive thru version of “Let’s Make A Deal” as one can find almost anything from fossilized French fries to bibles.

My garage is the home of unwanted things that my quintessential “middle-child” husband “might need someday,” and therefore it cannot house cars.
Dinner is never ready, we are always 15 minutes behind schedule, and my children are so accustomed to yelling that they only hear me when I whisper.

My kid’s extracurricular activities seem to add stress instead of well-roundedness, we’re two for four on Sundays at church, and my garbage cans have a 24 hour after pick up minimum.

Even my own mother, though not June Cleaver, had a better handle on running the family. Home cooked meals were ready at 5:00 when Dad arrived home, the laundry was done, and her four children were involved in at least eight activities collectively. Living today in the point and click information age should bring ease for me, but something about life seemed simpler back then. When my mother said she had eyes in the back of her head, I believed her and wouldn’t have dreamed of rummaging around her scalp for proof. When she said “If I have to stop this car…” I believed that life as I knew it would be over if she did. I never once recall informing her that hitting children was against the law.

Even though I know that June was made out of completely different fabric, I still can’t seem to let go of trying to fill her shoes. Just recently on “Crazy Tuesday” I took my best shot. On crazy Tuesday I watch my neighbor’s children until 5:00 and then pick up the sitter and head to work myself. I try on those days to have dinner made and on the stove by noon, work clothes ready to jump into, and a freshly baked snack ready for the three big kids returning home from a day in the trenches.

On this particular Tuesday, I felt that I had it all together and minus the apron, I was hot on June’s heels with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, a glass of milk, a napkin and a neatly sharpened pencil for each child arranged at the kitchen island. I had sincerely believed that I could fill their little tummies and supervise their homework in this tranquil environment in the 40 minutes I had before dressing and picking up the sitter. I greeted them at the door and was as cheerful as June on her best day, minus the pearls. “Hi guys! How was your day?”

I was nearly knocked over by flying backpacks and a flurry of coats and shoes and they vanished. I took only a minute to coral the shoes, hang up the coats, pile the backpacks and I waltzed, minus the modest heeled pumps, to the kitchen. If I did have my hair neatly done but not overstated, it would have fallen out at a mere glance into the room. Crumbs flying like nuclear fallout, milk spilled, a “you took my cookie” argument and a pencil swordfight made me sure of one thing, June used tranquilizers… on her children. After eight and a half years in this most rewarding of jobs, I was beginning to realize that I was doing something wrong.

Now occasionally I receive complements on my mothering. “I just don’t know how you do it!” From outside, they see a soccer mom, room mother and a person who smiles while driving even when all six passenger seats of her van are filled with little heads. It began to occur to me that the rest of the world doesn’t know that I’m not June material. As long as they don’t see behind the scenes, perhaps I could be satisfied with a June-like reputation, even if it is a façade. This idea placated me for a while and I was able to put my June quest to rest.

As usual, when it is most impossible and all odds are stacked against me, June rears her ugly head, most recently during a nasty bout of the flu.

Day one in a fever haze I rose from the couch to fold laundry, make my husband lunch (which I don’t do when I’m feeling well) and attempted to vacuum. No one in the house tried to stop me. My husband has surrendered to my stubborn Irish will and my children quite honestly would fully expect me to rise from the dead each morning to make them breakfast .

Day two I did laundry cleaned the bathrooms and read stories to the children.

Day three I actually got up to bake peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies. By that afternoon, I could have killed June and I collapsed on the couch defeated.

My husband came home and fed the children dinner (fish sticks and chicken soup) and leaving the kitchen a mess, ran an errand of mercy to buy “sneezing, coughing, fever, aching so you can rest” medicine. No sooner had he left when the unthinkable happened. The behind the scene cameras caught me live!

If you put an intellectual and contemporary twist on June, she would be named Roz and low and behold, she stopped by to drop something off for a project our sons were working on together. Roz very efficiently runs a big family (four children) in a big house on her husband’s big income and has a home environment that child development experts would use as a model: anti-violent, hypo-allergenic, proactive and politically correct. Her husband coaches sports, she plays tennis, and they are both active in school and community. Her children were always on the honor list, serve the student council and sport advertisement quality attire at all times. This is surely the type of person I require a one hour notice for on my best day.

I quickly surveyed the area as she rang the doorbell and became acutely aware of the fish stick/chicken soup aroma. Dishes spilled out of the kitchen sink and an earlier attempt at the laundry ballet left two unfolded baskets as a homey centerpiece on the dining room table. But the living room! This was the heart of the madness with me as the main exhibit.

Having not showered or combed my hair, I was looking especially ravishing lying among the crumpled blankets, a folded up dirty diaper nestled beside me that I just couldn’t get to the trash. Toys were strewn about as if an entire daycare left in a hurry. Cups of milk and crumbled cookies represented the self serve dessert my children had arranged. Shoes and jackets lay exactly where children shed them, in the doorway and I noticed the glass paned door entering our home was smeared with something that was likely at one time edible. The TV roared with an inappropriate cartoon that I’m certain Roz has banned. The vacuum lay among the rubble laughing at me for having dragged it out in the first place, and a roll of toilet paper I had been using as tissue was artfully rolled across the room.

As I heard Tyler open the front door and say “come in” I waved wildly to the children to signal that I could not have company—germs were everywhere!

“Don’t come in, I have the flu,” I squeaked, hoping that she would back out quickly without getting a chance to take it all in.
No such luck!
She had a flu shot of course.
Her son dashed up the stairs with Tyler to his room, which I later learned looked much like his father’s garage.

“Oh honey,” Roz oozed with sympathy, lips puckered head shaking back and forth “what can I do to help?” As she proceeded to roll up her sleeves and the roll of toilet paper, my hopes of a June façade quickly evaporated. “Let me at least put the vacuum away. Where does it go?” she said with a pouty frown, head tipped to show she felt my pain.

It pretty much roams room to room, I thought to myself as vacuuming, like the laundry, is a process never finished. She stayed long enough for whatever self esteem I had to surrender with my body to the flu and as she blew little kisses good-bye to Cadence through the food encrusted glass paned door, I knew once and for all, June Cleaver doesn't live here.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Having a big problem. My creative fuel has evolved from water to asphalt. I don’t know why the shift, but I could single handedly be responsible for a new law being written to make DWW (Driving While Writing) a punishable crime.

Being a cop’s daughter, cop’s sister, cop’s cousin (it’s the Irish thing) I have always tried to be respectful of the rules of the road. I do not drink and drive… well, except for coffee. I do not talk and drive. OK I do, but its “Hands-Free!” and so far I have been staying out of trouble.

Lately, however, most of my brilliance occurs while driving. It used to happen in the shower or while washing the dishes; something about the sound of running water heightened my senses and deepened my thinking. But for some mysterious reason, it is now the sound of rolling rubber on asphalt that triggers my thoughts and I know if I don’t write them down, the little twinges of insight will fall right out of my head before I reach my destination.

So if you see a burgundy colored minivan and only the left side of a woman’s head approaching, take cover. I’m hoping some cosmic shift will move me soon from asphalt so a less dangerous medium. Please don’t let it be my pillow.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Big day I'm all blogged out! As I sit here struggling with closing out, Cadence reports in... "Jammies on, teeth brushed, I just need a piece of paper to get my ideas out so I can have a good sleep." she says. Wow! Insight and wisdom and all that in an 8 year old body. Goodnight my little teacher.


“Happy Birthday my Grand Finale!”

The ritual is the same with all three kids.
Every birthday.
No escape.

My older children roll their eyes, but I know they still enjoy the ritual.

“Eight years ago today…” I begin and then spill out the details of the day that she arrived on this planet. My youngest takes in the story with a warm grin. “I’m so proud of you!” I gushed, “ I can’t believe I made you!”

“Actually,” Cadence pointed out in her usual style, a perfect blend of the harsh truth and her joyful optimism, “God made me. But you grew me.”

Conceding to her wisdom, I agree that it was God’s recipe and an amazing one at that, but I was the oven that carefully baked the ingredients for 9 months and felt a little credit was due.

“Thanks for baking me Mom.” she smiles warmly, her right cheek dressed in a dimple.

“Anytime, Darlin. The baking was the easy part; it’s the serving you that’s tricky!”

It was the first birthday in fifteen years of mothering that I would be absent on a child’s special day. Weird for me. Probably weird for her, too. Weeks prior, dripping with mother guilt, I broached the subject. I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. After a litany that ranged from singer to veterinarian, I asked another question.

“Have I ever told you what you should be?”

“No Mom. You tell me to follow my dreams.”

“Do you know my dream?” I ask.

“To be a writer?” she says with a look over the top of her eyes that tells me she wonders if I have forgotten.

“It just so happens,” I explain, “that I have an opportunity for a workshop with an amazing author that will help me to follow that dream!”

“Oh Mom! You have to go!” she clapped and hugged me. My cheerleader. I explained that it would mean missing her 8th birthday. A no-brainer for Cadence. “We can celebrate that any day, Mom.”

With her love, permission and wind beneath my wings, I left that morning fully charged.

It was all good.

I called her from the car with sudden inspiration. “I have a favor to ask,” I told her. Eight years ago, you were born and I named you. Today, my writing future is being born and my blog needs a name, so now you get to name me!”

She thought about it and said, “Mom, you said it was easy to bake me and you brought me here, so you are the Easy-Bake Mom!” And that was that. Easy Bake Mom it is.


Trevor slid triumphantly across the aged, red leather bench seat, happy with his selection. Always the front of the car, always with an empty seat across, always facing forward; I cannot travel backward. I eased myself isle-side next to him and placed our bags in the corner of the seat across, securing leg room for the moment at least. The hustle bustle of the day eased off of my shoulders and a sense of satisfaction for an accomplishment tucked itself under my belt. The trip in and out of Manhattan is itself an adventure in bravery. My nucleus in recent years had shrunken to a five mile radius of my Connecticut shoreline home and trips to the city reminded me that street-wise I am not. I always made these trips with the comfort a stronger, sure-footed city soul. This time, I am the leader.

An elderly woman smiled as she passed, looking at Trevor twist and wiggle to get the right view out the window. The sounds of the train’s passengers rustling and adjusting were warm music to my ears. I made it. Engines hissed and brakes squeaked on nearby trains. The smell of newspaper and workday all around. I snuggle close to Trevor and smile at how he has placed a grown-up face over his little boy face. His corn silk blonde strands were still slicked back making him look like a mini-businessman. Trevor and his brother had taken an interest in acting and attended an open cast call for a movie the previous summer. The final screening was in Manhattan and the call back for that day started a ball rolling I had never expected. Although they did not get the part, they were bitten by the bug and wanted more. We had made several trips into the city for “go sees”; quite simply, a look over from a prospective employer- a job interview of sorts. The trips were exciting: coordinating train schedules, hailing taxis, scouting out eateries and finding our way home again. This trip was especially thrilling as it was Trevor’s first big job.

Excitement was in the air from the 5:30am wake up to the slipping out in the cold and dark by 6:30, bags packed and pulses racing. It was one of those days just meant to be.
The photo shoot was for the Wall Street Journal; a large color photo on the cover of the weekend edition planting Trevor’s six-year-old Cheshire-Cat grin in homes all across the country. Can You Spot the Fake? was the title addressing the growing trend of designer knock-offs and the vast cost difference between the “fake” and the “real deal.” The studio was big and sophisticated and the staff on hand skilled and professional. Wardrobe people fussed and make-up and hair stylists pranced and primped until everything was perfect. Trevor took his place on the white covered floor with his new “fake “ family. They resembled mannequins. Barbie-Mom and Ken-Dad and a perky round faced older sister draped in Gucci belts, Armani glasses and Tommy Hilfiger jeans. I wondered if it was obvious that I would not have recognized a Louis Vuitton bag from a Wal-Mart special, much less the knock-off from the authentic apparel.

The other models were experienced and smooth and I watched anxiously as the bald little hair-stylist jumped out of his clogs and hopped sock-foot onto the white paper. I suppressed a giggle as he extracted a can of hairspray and a comb from his holster with the speed and skill of Clint Eastwood and postured a duel with a loose hair on my firmly slicked-back six-year-old. Funny, him being bald. I avoided eye contact with Trevor in order to mask my amusement and watched as they worked Trevor into the scene. He rose to the occasion, engaging his new family with humor and style as if he’d been born into the business. “Turn to the left a little, chin down, eyes here, smile…..Good!” Music played between film changes and Trevor threw out a few dance moves, and then froze just in time for the camera, as if he knew the drill. The group begins to meld. Jokes fly, camera snaps, nervous leaves me and pride rises in my chest. The feeling in the air was light and positive.

We wrapped up by 2:30, an hour earlier than expected, and said good-bye to the family we would likely never see again. I hailed a taxi with relative ease and we emerged unscathed at Grand Central Station with enough time to grab a sandwich and a train destined to arrive home well before the dinner hour. I was barely aware of my surroundings on the train as I nestled close to Trevor, unwrapped his sandwich in his lap and took notice of just how hungry I had become. Life felt very good and this day was a gift.

Lost in lunch, I only slightly noticed the man who boarded the train and stood at the front of the car inches away from me. I felt him before I saw him. Nervous. Seeking. I glanced up and saw him turn as if to leave, step back into the train and run his fingers anxiously over the top of his short brown hair. He inhaled as if about to speak, held for a moment and sighed. Then he spoke. “Is anyone going all the way to New Haven?” he asked with a sense of urgency. For a moment, I suspected that he worked for the railroad and was going to tell us about a problem with the train. I glanced around and behind and noticed more than half of the passengers indicated they were indeed New Haven bound. Hands up, eyes down.

He rocked from foot to foot and then spoke as if it pained and embarrassed him to do so. “I was mugged in the city today,” his eyes squeezed tight, his mouth spread into a tight straight line as he drew the courage to continue. “This is the second time that I have been mugged and I need some help. They took my cell phone and my wallet so I have no ID, no credit cards and no money. I made a police report and there’s not much they can do,” His eyes raised up like he was looking for inspiration. “The train station says they can’t do anything because it didn’t happen in their jurisdiction. I don’t want to be stranded here in New York City. Can somebody please give me an extra ticket or the train fare home?” He stood there looking desperate for what seemed to be the longest moment as I tried to remain focused on my lunch. Trevor looked at me ready to question and my lips formed a silent shhh.. My eyes cautiously perused the passengers around me. Computers open, eyes down. Books open, eyes down. Newspapers up, eyes down. The nervous man paced. I noticed that he was neatly dressed in kakis and a collared shirt. He was average. Average height. Average clothes. The sort of person that would not catch your eye was it not for his obvious distress.

The man across the isle kept his face buried in his newspaper; unmoved and unwilling. Across from him a gray haired businessman shifted in his seat. His charcoal tailored suit said successful, his white shirt still crisp after the toils of the day. His black leather briefcase rested beside him, the finishing touch of a man in the know. The deep smile lines on his face showed a different kind of knowing. The silence got louder. The sound of hissing engines and squealing brakes almost deafening.

“Look, I work for AT&T… I make $70,000 a year. I can pay you back when we get back to New Haven or I can mail you a check.” He shook his head and snickered pathetically through his nose. “They’re really good these guys,” he looked down at the floor, “I had my pocket buttoned.” His hands raised palms up to the crowd. “ Folks, I’ve never asked for anything before in my life and I’m just asking for help to get home.” The newspaper man inched his paper higher.

The consensus of the train seemed clear and I felt gripped by their collective distance; affirmed in my non-response. We were united in the silence. I found it ironic that I was again uncertain. After watching real and fake swirl and blend with skillful actors all day, I remained unable to differentiate. My father’s words rang loudly in my head. Policeman’s words. We don’t talk to strangers. He faced the criminal world daily and I know what he would tell me if he sat across in the charcoal gray suit. But I was the leader now. The kind businessman broke the silence and said he didn’t have any cash, but that if they would take a credit card he would gladly buy him a ticket. Of course they do not take credit cards. Perhaps he sensed a scam, but his smile lines told me he was sincere. I wished that someone would volunteer so that I would not have to be involved.

He stood a moment longer nervously pacing, glancing at his watch and running his fingers through his hair. “I tried to call my folks but I can’t reach them. The only thing I have left to do is sell my jewelry,” he said running his hands sadly over his gold watch, “Please…”

My lunch stuck in my throat as he turned his back to us, banged the palm of his hand against the wall and dropped his head muttering frustrated words. I stole a peripheral glance backward. Guards up, eyes down. I made eye contact with the kind businessman and knew he could read my question without words. I whispered, “Do you think he’s legit?” He answered that whether he was or was not, he would give him the money if he had cash, it was only ten bucks. The decent side of me argued with the practical side of me when my thoughts were interrupted by a tug on my sweater.

“Mom! Do something! Give him a ticket or some money. We have to help him!” Eyes up, thoughts spoken.

I thought of the pile of bills on my kitchen counter that I lacked the money to pay and knew I had no business giving money away. “Mom….?” I looked into the big blue six-year-old eyes staring up at me brimming with compassion, and my own began to sting the familiar dread of tears.

“Please Mom!”

I reached into my wallet. Fare to New Haven was $11.50. I pulled out eleven dollars and handed the money to Trevor. Before I could pull out the 50 cents, Trevor hopped out of his seat, sandwich rolling to the floor and tapped the man on the arm, proudly holding out the money. Looking almost embarrassed at the generosity of a little boy, he took the money and walked over to me, head down, eyes down to thank me. “If you give me your address, I’ll send you a check.” I handed him my husband’s business card which he pretended to glance at and he moved for a swift exit. “Just a minute,” I added and held out the change, “the fare is $11.50.”

He looked aggravated and as he held his hand in my direction. I dropped the quarters into his open palm and his eyes met mine expressionless. Then he was gone. The man embedded in his newspaper spoke over the top to the kind businessman. “She’ll never see that money.” The smile lines looked over at me and said, “You did a good thing. I hope I didn’t steer you wrong.” I looked down at Trevor, whose Cheshire-Cat smile had melted into a smile of satisfied good will.

I realized that I could have taught him about the evils of the world and the people who take advantage of kindness; how to guard against strangers and unjust scams. I could have given him a lesson in cynicism for free, inching me eleven dollars and fifty cents closer to paying a bill. Life will teach him that lesson soon enough. Handed to me that day full of thrills and excitement was an opportunity. The opportunity to teach my son to act on that untainted compassion that doesn’t need reason. It was worth much more than eleven fifty.

That evening at the dinner table, we shared our stories of the day: the studio, the photographer, the models and the fun we had in the city. I braced myself as I shared the story of the train. I was prepared to refute the impending lecture about being naive and getting ripped off and I watched my husband’s face as his mind processed the story, no doubt calculating the many ways I could have handled the situation differently. His eyes peered over the top of his glasses as looked at me, one eyebrow inching upward. As I restated the man’s desperate plea and our response, Trevor interrupted. “Mom, you forgot something. He said he never asked for anything before in his life!”

My husbandlooked into Trevor’s eyes and saw that a wrong had been righted. It really was not relevant whether the man was honest or a thief. Life is not about being able to spot the fakes, but about being open to spot the opportunities. One day, a kind hand will reach out to Trevor in need and this moment will come flying back. I never did see that money, but I know I was not ripped off. Instead, I was blessed with a child whose kind spirit could make the world a better place for $11.50. Perhaps if we all wore six-year-old glasses, the world would be all right.