Tuesday, July 22, 2008


My first sip of coffee catches in my throat when my eyes see the date in the corner of my computer screen. July 22nd. I feel a tight pull in my stomach and I try to keep the rewind button of my mind from pressing, but I am zooming backward to that surreal moment. I can see and hear and smell that moment, when everything went still. “Michael’s dead.” It was as if a huge pause button had been pressed and my mind could not allow the words in.

I remember as child losing a tooth; in spite of the bitter sting of the empty hole in my gums, I could not keep from sticking my tongue into the void. There was nothing to gain from this but pain, but somehow I could not hold back from confirming the empty space over and over. July 22nd always finds me poking around in the bitter sting of the empty void.

Stepping outside into the morning, the heat of the day already blazing, I look at Michael’s tree. We planted this beautiful Weeping Cherry in my brother’s memory that summer in 1997. It was a trunk with a few wispy twigs adorning the top, planted with laughter and tears. It blooms in April, right around Michael’s birthday every spring and now holds the memory of beloved family pets in its roots.

I stand beneath its canopy, looking up through its tangle of strong branches, now towering above the roof top, sheltering me in the shade. Peeks of sun shimmer through the heavy foliage. The remnants of last spring’s Robins nest are wedged tightly between a cradle of branches. The breeze sweeps the weeping branches out and back like breath. There is peace here.

Michael would have loved this tree.

Sunday, July 06, 2008


I turn to look over my right shoulder, wanting to absorb every bit of the moment without making myself obvious. Cadence sits with her feet barely reaching the bubbles, holding the arms of a chair that was meant for a much larger body. I see her suppressing a ticklish giggle and I am careful to be sure she doesn’t notice me; her image wavers in my eyes between little girl and young lady.

She has an astounding appreciation for all things and recently, we watched a movie called "Fly Away Home" that she described as the most beautiful movie she had ever seen. It is a story of heroism and love in which a young girl rescues a clutch of abandoned goose eggs and with the help of her father, sees them through to adulthood. The girl needed to teach them to groom and to fly and to migrate by modeling these behaviors, as geese learn through imprinting.


rapid learning that occurs during a brief receptive period, typically soon after birth or hatching, and establishes a long-lasting behavioral response to a specific individual or object, as attachment to parent, offspring, or site.

I think about my role as human mother and know that the process is really not so different and wonder how long this brief receptive period lasts. As parents, we imprint so much of ourselves onto our children; the good and the bad. As humans, many of us fight the imprints, struggling to shed them or to pattern something different. Some of us slowly become our parents as time moves us forward to raising our own flock.

The imprints of my parents are clear markings of my life pattern. My father taught me to be efficient and strong-willed. There is a part of me that is methodical and strives to maximize production of each moment. He taught me to plan and to be on time and never to rely on anyone but myself. My dad was a hard-working man who never relaxed or did anything just for sheer enjoyment. I know as I bounce from project to project and from job to chores that the need I have to not be wasteful with my time is branded deep into my being.

My mother was likewise hard-working. She taught me that women are strong and capable and can do anything. She taught me about faith in God and how to pray. She taught me about sacrifice and about going without so that someone else might have what they need. My mother grew up the youngest of ten in a home of profound poverty. She learned from her own mother how to be strong and proud and to make things work no matter what the circumstances. Her mother taught her to be private about her troubles; ‘no one else needs to know’ and the imprint of my grandmother finds its way to me through a deep marking; no weakness and no asking for help. We are strong Irish women who do not need to be coddled.

I steal another glance at Cadence who is trying to appear casual, as if being in the nail salon is a typical experience. She had accompanied me for hours on a rare and wonderful shopping spree into the finest boutiques in town. It is not the standard trip to a department store, where the first thing I look at is the price tag. I am on a quest for the perfect outfit for a special night and Cadence partners me with her eye for fashion and brutal honesty. Our last stop on this long and hot summer day is the nail spa for a manicure and pedicure, another atypical indulgence for me. “I don’t have an appointment,” I tell the woman, “Do you have time for a manicure and pedicure….” I pause, “for two?” I wink at Cadence as we are directed to take a seat.

I had my first pedicure when I was well into my thirties and the mother of two. This type of pampering is not found anywhere in my deep Irish imprint. It would be years between that first and second time for me and some time after that, I brought my mother for her first pedicure. We learned together about being kind to ourselves and it was a ritual that we would treat ourselves to once a year or so.

Several years ago, Cadence wrote on Mother’s Day tribute at school that her mother was ‘magical and got things done really, really fast.’ I think about what I am modeling for the youngest in my flock about efficiency, strength and sacrifice. These are important to her future, however I must change the imprint to add relaxation and stillness and self respect. I need her to know that guilt does not need to hold hands with self caring.

Cadence climbs into the black swivel chair next to me, toes shining and adorned with tiny flowers and fully extends her arms to reach the manicure table. “How was it?” I ask, as if I am speaking to a contemporary.

“Amaaazing!” She says, turning to the woman who is filing her fingertips. “My mom says I shouldn’t get used to it.” She adds.

“Not until you’re older,” I tell her, “and then you can get used to it.” Cadence nods and shoots a dimpled smile to me and I have no doubt that she will. It isn’t that my imprint or that of her grandmothers will elude her, it will just be altered to include a new dimension and perhaps, I will be learning through my own teaching.