Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I Have A Shadow

There's been a shadow passing over me as I've prepared for these holidays and I've wondered what it could be.

My best friend's mom has been ill; she's nearing the end of her days. I thought that might be it, but really, I've been so grateful for the extra time I've had to share some smiles with her, hold her hand, be together. So that's not it.

I thought it might be that this'll be my last Christmas with Lucy as an elementary school student. (Yes, I'm that neurotic.) But I feel lucky to have had all these Christmases with her. Any more are just icing. With sprinkles. Dipped in sugar. And bacon. (Everything is better with bacon.) So that can't be it.

It could be that, like Lucy, the twins are getting older and more mature. The other day Sam handed me a baggie with his tooth in it and said, "Tell the Tooth Fairy I could grab the dollar out of his wallet instead of making him go all the way upstairs, if he'd like." (Of course, you don't get paid if you don't believe, so the Tooth Fairy told him to forget it.) But these guys are getting to be more fun every day. That's definitely not it.

We're dealing with the usual array of maladies and melodramas, but what's new about that?

We have the added sadness this year that we're saying goodbye to some close friends who are leaving the state just as the holidays approach. I won't say that hasn't bothered me, but I feel I'm doing a spectacular job of suppressing it! And in any case, we've had some great laughs together in the last few weeks, and some good wine, and a few tears, and it's all just made me feel more and more sure that we'll be friends for a long time to come, no matter the distance.

As I've looked back on it, this year has been a most full and wonderful year with new experiences, adventures, a few scares - just to keep it exciting - and nothing but love and more love with family and friends.

So I realize, of course, there is a shadow passing over me. A kind, generous, loving, and benevolent shadow, watching over me, caring for me, attending to all my needs, especially when I'm at my most desperate and most low. I am weak and my shadow provides shelter so I may rest and regain strength. I am at fault and my shadow allows me space to grow into my better self. I am faithful and my shadow rewards me with all that I need and more than I could hope for. Indeed, there is a shadow passing over me. And I thank Him.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Growing Up A Mutt

This is me and my cousin Damon. He's Italian. (Isn't he gorgeous?) I'm Italian, too. So when I'm with my Italian family, I'm loud and demonstrative and I focus a lot on food. I also argue a lot, laugh a lot and talk a lot, mostly about folks' medical conditions. It all goes swimmingly until I blurt out some phrase in Spanish. And then my Italian family and I are reminded that I'm notall Italian. I think for them it's mostly a curiosity - like an extra toe or a streak of red hair.

But to me, it is so much more.

Because for the last few weeks I've been spending an awful lot of time with my childhood best friend, Michelle. She's going to be furious that this is the best pic I could find, but Lord help me to understand this forsaken Mac computer - I can't find a darn thing!

In this photo Michelle's neurotically placing candles on her son's immaculately decorated cake, ensuring equal spacing between each candle. That's because she's Cuban and Cubans are nuts. I am also Cuban and Michelle is part of that piece of my life. T
ogether we rant about politics, fuss over every smudge on our children's faces, reassure one another that the world is a most dangerous place and the babies should never be out of our sight, and sniff arrogantly about the style failings of everyone we know. And lots of folks we don't know. Also we eat, but the food is way different.

The thing I struggle with is that because I'm not all one thing or the other, there are so many gaps in my cultural experience. There are things about me that belong to the Italian me, some are Cuban and still others are pure Chicago. But a few weeks ago a friend asked me if what a term in Spanish meant. I had no idea and he scoffed at me that it was a very common Cuban saying. And so I was completely de-Cubanized. I was at a funeral service yesterday and a common Italian saying was mentioned, to which everyone responded by nodding, repeating the saying in a murmur. I'd never heard it, and I was instantly de-Italianized. And I'm ashamed to say it, but I put ketchup on my hot dog. I love ketchup.

There are great advantages to being a multicultural person. I'm adaptable to any environment, I can talk to anyone, I make a mean plate of food - and by that I mean to tell you that I can cook anything as long as I have garlic - and I'm a really good, nurturing (some would say suffocating, but they're mean), loving mom. If there are some disadvantages - not being all a part of something, like a cousin by marriage, feeling a little lame when the hundred percenters bump elbows and smile knowingly - they are most
often far outweighed by the benefits.

I hope the kids feel the same. They're Cuban, which is awesome, they are Italian - so cool - and they are English, French, Spanish and Mexican Indian. I can't wait until they're all cooking!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I'm About To Get Controversial

I'm cringing just thinking about how some may react to this, but far be it from me to walk away from a good cringe.

I don’t subscribe to a particular church, by choice. I am strong in my faith, knowledgeable in my faith, and true to my faith. I am so – usually – quietly, privately. I appreciate that some may rejoice in the community of faith that comes from church. I have no problem with that; it’s just not for me. I’m hoping the good Lord forgives as wantonly as I may need Him to, especially considering that period in the 80s when I may have tripped over some of the rules a little more frequently than others.

That said, I have a problem with how the concepts of faith, morality and church get mangled in our (global) society.

This is a link circulating right now on Facebook about a ‘church’ in Kentucky that has banned interracial marriage.

This is a link to an article about how one legislative body is wrangling with the issue of religious ceremonies for same-sex marriages.

And here’s a (disgusting) post from someone on a church forum trying to parse numbers in order to minimize the depravity of the Catholic church’s handling of abuse cases.

And then there’s the Bible. Here's Luke 20:45-47…
20:45 As all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 20:46 “Beware of the experts in the law. They like walking around in long robes, and they love elaborate greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 20:47 They devour widows’ property, and as a show make long prayers. They will receive a more severe punishment."

And 1 Corinthians:12-14…
12 For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body – though many – are one body, so too is Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not a single member, but many.

I’m afraid the folks who’re using the Lord’s name to foster fear, discriminate and injure – and do so with brag and bravado about their own holiness - really don’t get it. We best all hope for His great mercy.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Letting Go

I hate it. I hate letting go. I think it's why I retain all my bad habits. It's the loss of them - of anything - that I can't stand, even if what waits for me on the other side is good. I'd rather keep the familiar, thank you very much, and pass the salt.

I am sure this is because I had an overage of letting go when I was little. I attended three elementary schools over the course of eight years. I lived at home, I lived with my grandparents, I lived with my aunt. My dad was there, my dad wasn't there. I had cousins and then I didn't. I spent so much time leaving, leaving and saying good-bye. I hated it.

And I hate it now.

So I work very hard at not leaving and not letting go. So far, this has made for a very strong marriage, some great life-long friendships and some uncomfortable pants, as I probably should let some of the ones that haven't fit me for six years go. I'm sure my hips would agree, but who's asking them anyway?

Of course, the not-letting-go thing has made parenting excruciating, since all you do as a parent is let go. My children have learned to tug and pull toward the music of their own lives quietly, so as to not interrupt my symphony of psychosis. I know that's a little nuts, but it works for us and who's asking you anyway?

So I've got this carefully constructed life with the same house, same neighborhood, same pants. Same, same same! Yay!

The thing is, not everyone is like me. Some people accept, embrace - even pursue - change. These people drive me insane, especiallywhen I love them. And despite all my labors to the contrary, some of them go. I have to say good-bye and let go.

And I want to scream at them "NO! Don't go! You're going to ruin everything! You're going to make me cry and feel lonely and lost and I don't want you to go because I need you in order to keep my sameness SAME. Don't you see that?!"

I want to run at them inelegantly flapping my arms to catch their attention and then I want to clutch them close to me and transfer my inexplicable, unreasonable fear of change to them through the heat of my body so they'll stay and never go.

I want to, but I know it's the wrong thing. I know I must love those around me enough to allow them their choices without the burden of mine weighing them down. I know others' happiness belongs to them and I owe them comfort and confidence when they're off to pursue their dreams. I know that I can't change the fact that things change and sometimes I must say good-bye and carry on. I know that.

But I hate it. I hate letting go.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Be Thankful

I just went to visit my childhood best friend's mom. Today is her birthday. I spent about an hour with her, coaxing her into having a little something to eat. It's not easy anymore, as she's recently had a stroke so all her food is - in addition to being old-people gross anyway - mixed with gelatin. Yuck! I had to laugh when she managed to pull together a pretty convincing scowl, despite the paralysis in her face, so that I knew not to keep trying to push the pea-mush that was substituting for real food on her plate. It'd be easy to look at her situation and think 'This is awful, I'm so glad it's not me or my mom.'

I suppose that'd be one form of thanks, right?

But instead, I was grateful because as soon as she saw me there was no mistaking the delight in her eyes. The days since I went bounding into her house, sticky and sweaty from play have flown by in a flash. So I was relieved and glad that she took my hand and squeezed it, as best she could, to let me know she was so happy to see me. I'm grateful that she smiled at the flowers I brought and so, so overjoyed to have spent an hour with her, getting her to have even a few bites to keep up her strength and singing happy birthday to her so that she knew she was remembered and loved.

It's one thing, of course, to be loved by someone. I'm grateful, eternally, for all the love I receive from those close to me. But I have to say it's another thrill entirely to get someone else to see and appreciate the love you are giving them. It's especially meaningful when you know somone is at the end of their days, because we all know eventually the days run out.

I find this especially true today, not just because of this visit but because last night Tony stayed up late looking at old videos of our babies when they were brand, spankin' new. My beautiful Sara, rocking back and forth on those untried legs, doing everything she could to get into Lucy's 'big-girl' bed (toddler-sized, but huge to her). The ever-delicious Lucy in the background of every single video pleading, 'Can I see, Daddy?' and hamming it up for more face time. Sam, my earnest, eager Sam, bawling ferociously at the audacity of pause between placing him in the crib and handing him his bottle of milk. Those days have sprinted by, too soon. Of course, Sara is still trying everything she can to fit into Lucy's big-girl status, Lucy still chases Daddy around to dig into whatever he's doing, and Sam, embarrassingly, still bawls ferociously when we're out of milk. Some things, I'm told, never change.

And still, still, the days fly by.

So don't waste your days looking for something else. Be joyful in what you have today. You can stretch and grow and reach, but don't bemoan what is not in your grasp. Don't give time away to anger or regret better spent on thrill and song for what you already have. When it is your time to sit in that quiet chair waiting for a visit, those things won't matter. Don't place falseness or pretense in front of what is real and strong and true. You know what it is. Embrace your own flawed self with as much fervor as you do your most fantastic desires and share your truest self with those around you, even when you are weak and afraid. It is your honest love which is the most treasured by those who love you too. And be open and willing and reckless in giving your love - it is the one thing that always grows exponentially when invested. Everyone has a story to tell. Listen. Show fairness and reason and understanding. That too is rewarded and returned when shared.

And, above all, be thankful, as the days fly by.

Friday, November 11, 2011

This is What A 10-Year Old Looks Like

I have two of them - well, had, until last year when they appallingly turned 11. I just hate when they do that - get a year older every year.

In an case, this is a picture of them when they were 10. We had to try the picture several times because the two of them kept goofing off. Little gigglepots with ants in their pants and a penchant for driving one another bananas. Also, it was a windy day.

I won't ever get that day back to try to retake this photo, so this is the best shot I'll ever have of that moment. That's because they'll never be 10 again and we'll never be able to reverse all the experiences they've had since in order to regain who they were on that day. See how Sara's leaning in to Sam? Being braced by him? And how Sam is standing tall, his arm around her back? He's pushing against the wind, doing his best to keep them both steady. He's protecting her. He's 10.

I don't know all the details of the mess at Penn State University. It's all a bit too sordid for me and I've got enough worry and pre-emptive pain in my head - parenting will do that to you. What I do know is that a 10-year old was abused, raped, by a grown man in a shower at the university locker room. This event was witnessed, reported, and then ignored. There's more to it, several boys, years and years of at least suspicion, if not knowledge, that this was going on. And it was ignored.

Now that some action has finally been taken, folks are being asked whether the adult men who ignored this situation should be treated with sympathy. Sympathy? A sad ending to a career? A career? Have we all gone mad?

I don't care one whit about this man's career. Does he care that these babies were violated, repeatedly, and ruined by the sick bastard he was protecting? Is anyone at Penn State marching about that?

Look at that picture of my babies. I won't ever get that day back. They'll never be 10 again and we'll never be able to reverse all the experiences they've had since in order to regain who they were on that day. See how Sara's leaning in to Sam? See Sam protecting her? He's 10.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I Have Several Things To Say

The problem is, I think I've learned not to say what I want to say.

When I was younger, I not only blurted out every magnificent thing that came into my head, but I was encouraged to do so. My mother thought it was the best way to let me express my freedom as an individual. I was invited to speak my mind and my mom endlessly engaged me in thoughtful, provacative and often silly conversations on the most benign topics. This practice of exchange came back to haunt her in the 80s when I was a teenager and she was no longer keen on my freedom or my individuality and had long since tired of my provocation. Train. Station.

Later, my friends and co-workers egged me on. Friends, I think because many of them were too repressed to say what they wanted to say, thrilled at my willingness to scream the virtues of shaven hair at our prim all-girls college prep. Co-workers reveled in my multi-page memos on why I shouldn't serve coffee to clients, something I do for myself these days, so as not to be a total hypocrite.

Freed from the chains of social constraint on my teenage and twenty-something self (most of which I had ignored anyway) I embraced the full volume of my 30s wit and wisdom. I had opinions on every single thing and you heard them whether you cared to or not. I got a lot of attention that way, and if it was negative I was too busy blasting away to know it or care.

But now inching ever closer to the stands where the polyester print sweater brigade awaits my enrollment I find I'm less inclined. I find other folks who always have an air of authority seem immature and impatient to me. Was I those things? I see others who are opinionated well beyond their scope of expertise, or even exposure, and think, 'You look like a fool.' Was I so foolish? I'm eager to respond to things that I think require hastened attention, but I've found that if I sit back and wait the urgency dissipates. Was I always jumping the gun?

I've found I'm richer and more satisfied as a listener than a speaker. I find that even when the incompetence of others frustrates and slows me I can get past that and not feel afterwards that I've put on yet another lavish display of bull-in-china, the Carmen edition. I still feel that I'm better at an awful lot of stuff than other people, but I'm doing every thing I can to inform that arrogance with the experience of finding others' talents valuable and interesting and worthwile.

And I'm doing everything I can think of to keep some of my opinions to myself so that others can enjoy the sound and feel of their own.

I give it another couple of weeks.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Observations on Halloween

Candy corn is gross. Really.

I was so excited when my youngest girl (11) said she wanted to be a princess bride! Then entirely deflated when she said 'a dead one'.

Did not make it to pumpkin selection in a timely fashion due to extensive automotive trauma. If you were me you'd understand that. In any case, I had to purchase less-than-exactly-orb-shaped-pie pumpkins from hapless outdoor cart at Home Depot. Kids' enthusiasm level re: decorating these with paint and markers not exactly breaking records.

Am wearing my orange sweater today in honor of the holiday and am sadly much more rotund and pumpkin-like than our pumpkins. Note to self: stop eating or watermelon season is going to be ugly.

Purchased three huge bags of Halloween candy because it was on sale and the sign urging me to buy it was so damn compelling. Realized later I won't be home so the candy will just be sitting in a bowl on my counter for the rest of the year.

Make that month.

Let's be honest, maybe it'll make a week. See pumpkin/watermelon reference above.

Still do not understand the concept of spending an evening wandering around in the dark trying to get scared or scare others as a form of entertainment when the rest of the time we are constantly faced with gruesome truths like poverty, hunger, starvation, a dying planet, deception, war and crime. Maybe y'all should just pay attention the remainder of the year. It's scary enough.

Explained the above to my children last night and got two blinks and a, "Yeah, but you get candy." Insert 'duh' eye-roll.

Well, they are my children. I better hide that candy bowl.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ain't No Time Like The Present

Some days I wish I was in that other part of my life. That part where I took the train and went to work downtown and stopped for drinks on my way home. Some days I wish I still shopped at Water Tower and wore stupidly expensive undergarments and had sachets in all my drawers. There are days when I wish I still got butterflies in my stomach because practically everything was new to me. I miss my boss and my old friends from work. I wish I still had years and years ahead of me when my body could ping back and forth from just about any test without complaint. I wish I still got haircuts that left me feeling like a pampered princess and left my pillow smelling delicious for two days afterwards. Some days I wish I could look forward to crisp weather so that I could wear thick sweaters and wool skirts with knee-length boots and look like I belonged in the season. I wish I was excited. I wish I was accepting and willing and ambitious beyond measure because - why not - the world is a magical place!

I become giddy with wishing some days.

But the wishing only lasts long enough for me to remember that when I was in that part of my life I always dreamed of this part. The part where I work near the neighborhood and my husband takes me home from work and we make dinner for our family together. The part where the kids drive me bananas with questions and announcements and demands for attention as soon as they walk in the door. There're always so many papers to look at! In earlier days I'd go to a department store and see the mom in the comfy jeans and flats and the worn-out sweater with the flushed face and the scrambling kids and I'd beg God to give me that life. Today, that's me! Before I got here I'd wonder what other expensive thing I could buy to make me feel good, because what I really wanted was to love someone with all my heart and then love my babies and then cook and set tables and read books and stare at my house with nothing but thrill inside at my arrival in a life that's too good to be true.

My hands are wrinkled now. And my jeans certainly don't fit the way they used to. I'm ambitious, but pragmatic. I still believe the world is a magical place. And I'm quite thankful to be where I am, really, truly and completely.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I'm All... Uh... Twitter

So you may have noticed that I don't hang out here much on my blog page anymore. Sadly, you may not have noticed and I've just been fantasizing that you and others like you mull around waiting for some indication that my wit and wisdom has once again been set to page, er blog, so that your existence doesn't seem so mundane and purposeless. In either case, one of us is pathetic. I'll leave it to you to decide.

The sad truth is I haven't been here because I can't write anymore. I know, I know. But it's true. In the mad dash to race myself from 1987 where my hair has remained all these years to 2012 where my wild, unrequited success in business resides I've had to cast off some of my old ways. I’m obsessed with word count. Gone are the long meandering observations on the plight of a, let's say, candidate Perry, for instance, a man who's just about begged for my attention.

In my more prolific blogging days I might have had a word or two on the comical, uh, historic nature of this man's candidacy. Here's a guy who's never lost an election, and he's got the intellect of blank paper. How’s that possible? He's as bright as a bobbing boat oar. Nobody saw it? He's as clever as a box of hair. It's got to be some kind of record, right? (Don't say 'no'. It'll make me cry.)

This guy throws together big ideas like 'Ponzi scheme' and 'Social Security' like a toddler getting dressed in the dark using old Halloween costumes and the contents of a pajama drawer. "It's a Disney-Princess-Cat-Captain! Like it?!" Uh, yeah, but wouldn't elect it to the highest office in the land.

I suppose he's better than his hysterically smiling debate companion, the gal who's married to the gayest straight guy I've ever seen. How many of you have joined the office pool on when he gets outed? I'm in for $20. In the meantime I'm fascinated by the popularity of a candidate - don't be like that - 7% of the population is a good number of people if you're having them over for dinner - who dissects information to relieve it of any facts or sense before she spews it in front of cameras. It's absolutely riveting.

As is the candidate who prefaces his statements with something along the lines of 'I don't have the facts on this….' Maybe he’s worried about word count too. Doesn’t want to muddy the waters with extra info that’ll use up his characters. It's refreshing, I suppose. Kind of like your child's teacher telling you 'I can't prove it but I'm pretty sure your son is a goat with a mild cognitive disorder and a faulty digestive system. You may want to look into trade schools.' I'm supposed to overlook this candidate's blatant disregard for evidence to back up his outlandish statements because (ssshhhh) he's black. Also he knows how to make pizza. I'm not convinced on the former, but I have to say I've thrown a little extra acceptance his way on the pizza thing. I am part Italian, after all.

In place of these boorish rants are trite little mentions of articles, along with a hashtag - which between you and me is a pound sign and some typographically incoherent blather that some techno idiot made up to abbreviate an intelligible (if not intelligent) word or phrase- and a link to someone else's drivel. In my quest for a technologically current identity in business, I've foresaken my own drivel for someone else's. That's progress for you. Or ‘thts prgrss 4u’.

Worse than the choice to spend my time tweeting (why doesn't anyone else find being forced to say that the modern equivalent to shoving one's iphone-addicted self into the ill-fitting clothes of the emperor--the ones woven with the 'invisible' thread? it's ludicrous and hilarious! am i the only one getting that?) is the fact that the tweeting itself is rendering me incapable of stringing together more than 160-characters worth of sensible thought. And yes, you read that right, I said 160. Even in my revised, twitter-speak state I still manage to be verbose and require editing.

The mechanism I previously employed to carry out a thought from inception to print.. uh.. post.. involved long rambling essays, pared over time, carefully crafted to evoke emotion, imagery, finality. Draft upon draft. Rewrite, revision. Coffee. Lots of coffee.

The mechanism I use to tweet involves finding someone else's semi-relevant blurb, acting like I care about it, and then repeating it with my own three words of scintillating commentary. I'm good, but I'll confess, I'm not that good.

I get the general idea of Twitter - to pare down your thoughts to their simplest form - to express a thought quickly, succinctly and still be intelligent and relevant - to connect with others who get you. I get the idea, but I have to be honest, it ain't me. I'm a lingerer, verbally speaking. A languisher. A loller. I love 'L' words, don’t you?. And 'S' words and 'Q' words. I love them all! Isn't squishy a great word? And SCREAM! You can't scream on Twitter. You can't even intone. You can only snark and demur.

I get the whole revolution thing and the global connectivity thing, yada yada yada. Alex Baldwin is entertaining. Steve Martin, oddly, isn’t. The guy impersonating Rahm was vulgar and tedious after a while. He’s famous for being a pottie mouth on Twitter. Is that how we get famous now?

I’ll never make it. I’m doing what I need to do for work and I’m doing what I can to adjust but a part of me wants to shove 70 big fat NOs into the teenie 140-character box and find a fresh blank blog page and just WRITE A MILLION WORDS.

What’s my word count right now?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Split Seconds Count

So I haven't slept much these past few nights. Keep replaying the early evening of Friday, September 23rd over and over in my head. I was on my way home from a day out with my daughter and her two friends. We'd stopped at the grocery store. I was following a path I follow several times a week - nothing out of the norm. Until a silver SUV came rushing at me from the lane to my left. And everything

from the first time I met Lucy's friend Lauren at a pre-school play group

she still has that same pretty, baby-faced expression at age 13

to the time I realized her friend Sabrina was the daughter of my high school friend Tina

and if you think Tina's gorgeous you have to see this exotic beauty of a baby she had

to the time I laid a little baby Lucy down on a blue towel and realized her eyes reflected color

I started calling her 'Blue' after that, even though her eyes are green most of the time

to the dreams I have for all three of these babies

maybe they'll be roommates in college, maybe they'll be in each other's weddings, maybe they'll visit me in their 30s and give me hugs and treat me like family because we've known each other so long and I wonder if everyone else dreams about other people's children the way I do

all of that and I think every memory or wish I've ever had came screaming into my head all at once. That and the notion that I had zero time to decide how to keep all of us, and whoever was in that SUV, safe.

As I've replayed the flash of those few seconds over and over and over I'm exhausted by the sheer number of thoughts that raced into and out of my consciousness in such a short time. I remember clearly measuring whether I had enough time and space to turn the car into a driveway on my right. I remember deciding it was too dangerous to risk driving across the sidewalk on the off chance someone might be walking by - I had no time to avert my eyes to look. I remember trying to calculate whether it was better to get hit or possibly hit a light pole if I couldn't stop in time. I remember sensing that Lucy was lifting off of her front passenger seat and containing the panic that the babies in the backseat might be lifting too and I couldn't reach them. I remember wondering whether I've done enough good in my life to balance out whatever bad thing was coming my way. And I remember thinking - however irrationally - as I plunged my foot into the brake with all my might that if that fire hydrant didn't stop me dead center it might crush Lucy's feet and she wouldn't be able to dance at her prom.

The hydrant did stop us and all the babies, bumped and shaken, walked away just fine. The young girl - maybe 16 or 17 years old - who'd been driving the SUV was fine too. Now the dull of insurance forms and liability claims plays in parallel to my going through the motions of regular life, interrupted by brief bouts of uncontrollable tears or moments of total numb. I feel I'm actually getting worse, not better, as the days pass. I'm trying every bit I can to be 'normal' while I feel anything but. (No wisecracks please; I still have my sense of humor, however beaten.)

If I regret a million things, and I do, among them it's that I didn't tell Sabrina and Lauren that I love them, adore them, dream for them - even in the tightest of time spaces - I didn't clutch them and apologize fiercely for scaring them or putting them in danger, even though I know it really wasn't my fault. The truth is, that's what's keeping me awake. For all my worrying and fussing and attempts to protect, there I was at the heart of a dangerous situation with these babies in my hands and I had no way to keep them from it. I could only neutralize the danger, as best I could, and hope for the best. And pray for the best. And really, really, know that we weren't in my hands, but in God's.

Knowing that you believe in God and having your beliefs tested are two very different things, in case you didn't know.

Earlier in our day, a woman in the mall parking lot had called my attention - pointing at me and at her eye - indicating I should watch where I was going. I was watching, but she kept doing it even though I acknowledged her, and after she kept at it, I gave her a few choice words to let her know I'd seen her. Nonetheless, for the rest of the day I was somehow heightened in my awareness.

Split seconds I shared with that woman and her admonition. Split seconds I had to veer to the right, slam on the brakes, center the car and call to God to help me save those babies. And man, do those split seconds count.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

It's a Special-With-An-E Kinda Thing

I have my mom's family picnic today. The Speciale Family. That's actually our name. Special, with an 'e'.

We don't see each other enough any more for reasons too many to share here, and most of them completely innocent at this point. (That's right, I said innocent. They never proved anything.) So once a year we pull ourselves together for a little picnic and enjoy the closeness that you just don't get anywhere else but with your family, no matter how often you do or don't see one another. I particularly enjoy it because it's the one day out of the year when I'm still considered young enough to be a whippersnapper!

It's also predictable. Too much food, lots of trips to the bathroom. And talking. We'll be talking about three things, invariably: how big all the kids have gotten, the Bears and the weather. Since you won't be there and I have to tell someone - allow me to share a little of what I expect on just one of these topics.

It's my luck that it's going to rain on the one day a year we have a family picnic. As such, at least 5 paunchy Italians will be spending the afternoon having this conversation: 'Well, Jo, remember when we were kids it never rained like this here?' 'Oh I know. We never had this rain. We had rain. But not like this.' 'Yeah - Russ - you remember that time it rained at Vicki-boy's party? That was a good rain.' 'No, I don't remember.' 'Yes, you do. You were there. Aunt Gray was wearing an orange blouse.' 'I don't remember.' Yes you do, Russ. You were there. You were five. Or was it Charlene?' ((Char)) 'It wasn't me.' The conversation will loop from there and will include at least 20 minutes on how modern rain is a pox on society and is probably owed to television or the crap we eat.

It'll go along swimmingly unless someone from one of the generations beneath them complains about the rain. Then the conversation will take on an entirely different tone. 'You're complaining about the rain? Hah! In our day, this woulda been nothin'!' 'Yeah. In our day we had picnics in the snow!' 'We didn't care about a little rain. Ma coulda baked a cake in the rain. Without an oven! And we'da had a great time!' 'Yeah, Char, you remember that time we made mud pies and Dad got mad that we tracked mud in the house?' 'No, I don't remember.' 'Yes you do, you were there.' 'No, I don't think so.' 'Of course you do. We made mud pies. Then Dad got mad. You remember?' 'No.' 'You had lost a tooth! If ma hadn't a come out Dad was gonna give it to us... or was it Connie?' 'It wasn't Connie.' This part of the conversation will loop incessantly around Connie, her brother Henry, and how children today are so flimsy even the slightest breeze could knock them over.

I can't wait.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

More Than I Bargained For

So Sam and Sara are 11 today and on reflection all I can think is that this is not what I signed up for. I signed up for one baby, first of all. That the Lord saw fit to give me two could be viewed as a blessing.


Could not.

In this case, most assuredly a blessing of epic proportions.

I'm just saying.

Also, I was kind of hoping one of my kids would be a quiet one, kinda balance out the overage of volume at the parental level. Not the case, so far, and I'm no longer brave enough to test the averages. Look what happened last time!

The family I designed in my head had less of me in it, and these two simply did not get that memo. They repeat my temper, my tantrums and my willingness to speak my mind at the most inopportune moments. If the payoff here is that they also repeat some of my talents, it's diluted for me by the fact that they're way more talented than I am and they have some of their dad's talents, plus their own! It's a bit gauche to be so multi-talented, don't you think?

And now, they're so gorgeous? Really? We couldn't dial it down a notch by having some one or the other be a bit plain? No? Everyone's got to be fabulous in every department? In Sam's case, so far, this has only proven to be mildly annoying as little girls are becoming reticent at this age to demonstrate their admiration. Boys, on the other hand, have no trouble making every possible move a 10- or 11-year old can make to get Sara's attention. Gladly, one of her talents is oblivion. But when that turns... lookout!

So they're lively, articulate, interesting, good-looking and talented, charming.... Uh. So where are the cameras? I'm on, right? Hmmm?

Fine, I'll play along. But when the show's over I get to keep them right? I'm a little attached.

In the meantime, these two little peanuts who fit in one basket when I brought them home, who sat side by side in matching high chairs and wore coordinating overalls when they were toddlers, and learned to dance to daddy's incessant playing of 'Can't Touch This' by MC Hammer, who nearly killed me during the potty training decade (it FELT like a decade), and finish each other's sentences, and are fine to be in separate classrooms--so long as they can see one another on demand--still, who once fit together in a dresser drawer for purposes of hide 'n go seek--that is until the dresser caved in and nearly killed me (I've nearly died several times while parenting; kids are fine), who bicker and berate one another constantly but can't get comfort from anyone the way they can from each other, these two who have no idea really how unique they are in the world, my babies who will always be my babies no matter how big they get, and who love me double as twins are wont to do, and who I love, adore and treasure more than I can say, Sam and Sara are making the double digits look good. I can only hope for more and more, especially the hugs and kisses and snuggles and love, love love. Although, to be fair, I will say it's all been way more than I bargained for.

Friday, July 22, 2011

On What It Is To Be A Winner

Last night my son's little league baseball team played its heart out and lost. It was a heartbreaker and our guys were in it until the very end. When the game was over, just beyond the din of the winning team's cheers, our little boys couldn't hold back the emotion. Some wept, some stood still trying to absorb the reality, all were lost for a few moments. And then something funny happened. These boys- well on their way to showing all of us what it is to be men - comforted one another. Moms and dads in soothing stance were joined by a few bumped shoulders, some hair ruffling- some acknowledgement that a teammate was there. Still there.

Tears to sniffles to half-smiles. And if that didn't get them, a few boys doused the coach. If you didn't know it already, a soaking wet coach can urge the belly-laugh out of even the most morose little boy.

So on a night when the season's spent wishes could have easily turned brothers away from one another we savored just a few more minutes together. We lingered over ice cream at a nearby shop, laughing, telling stories, and in the favorite words of my good friend Charlie Sheen, winning. Because yes, there are winners and losers in every contest, and our boys lost that baseball game.

But there are bigger things than baseball. (Very, very few, but there are.) And in every respect when it comes to some of those bigger things - honor, brotherhood, fairness, loyalty - our boys are remarkable champions.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Gal Who's Got Everything

What to get for the gal who's got everything? My Aunt Josie, this is her with my grandmother in a photo from '95, is celebrating her 70th birthday today. For weeks, I've been wondering what I could get for a person who'd probably had their fill of scented soaps and costume jewelry years ago. And it came to me - I love her, of course - and the one thing I've never given my aunt is the one thing she ought to have and only I can give her. So here it is:

I Love My Aunt Josie by Carmen Rodriguez

I love my aunt because she's so bright and cheery. As an adult, I've grown to know when the smile is a little forced and the laugh is a little weary. But I've also grown to admire, greatly, how often she's willing to set aside whatever ails her so she can be happy. What a gift!

I love my aunt because she married and stayed married even though being married is not the easiest thing in the world. When I was little, and long before I was married, I thought maybe she was just married to someone who drove her nuts. Now, as a married person myself, I realize all people who are married drive each other nuts and the trick is to love each other anyway. She and my uncle have weathered a million storms together and should be proud and joyful that they've arrived at this place together.

I love my aunt because she was a devoted mother to my three cousins, Michael, Debbie and Jeff, and because no matter what the three of them cooked up - and there were some doozies over the years - she handled all of it with good grace and humor and strength. She has been an even better grandmother and, now, great-grandmother.

There's a certain positivity about her, a phenomenal resiliance, which I try hard to emulate but can never quite match.

When people talk about a person who is a force to be reckoned with, I reckon they're talking about my aunt. Wary the soul who faces her when she is irate and weary the traveler who treads where she forbids trespass. In our family there's much dither about whether or not we're Italian or Sicilian. When my aunt is on a path, there's no question.

She has been a caretaker to all our family since she was born, and long since an old soul. She has been counselor, aide, nurse, kitchen consultant and gardener-in-chief for all of us and has willingly carried each of us when we were falling, at whatever hour, no matter what else she had in her arms. And she never let you feel you were being carried, you just knew you were being held.

It may be my greatest sin that when my aunt was gravely ill some years ago I did not hold her. I barely called. When the worst of it had passed, I tried to apologize but it was lame and I didn't say then what I'll intimate now. I couldn't go. I was afraid. Bone-deep, I was afraid. My aunt had never been weak a day in my life. I couldn't even wrap my mind around the idea that she might be sick or pale or frail. So I stayed away like a child scrunching eyes shut hoping that if I couldn't see the hurt it couldn't see me either.

Ultimately, my aunt prevailed. Silly sickness. It had no idea what it was up against. I'm certain it was her own will, her own positive soul blessed by a good and forgiving God, that brought her through all of that. She never said a word about how I wasn't there to comfort her, never missed a beat in showing good cheer and great faith during the whole thing and now. I love her for that, too.

She continues to be a force, a go-getter and a rummage sale fanatic. She is always a great help to me at 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning when I forget what I need to do with the turkey and she is a tireless dance partner at family weddings. She's always looking for a laugh and ready to share a story. She's fun and smart and makes me feel good even when I don't mean to.

She really has got everything and so all I can add is this: Humbled by my own lacking in your shadow, I am always grateful to have you in my life. I think you're a phenomenal woman, genuine and deserving and good. I think you're a great cook, which matters, because your soul speaks through your food and it is awesome. I think you're beautiful inside and out and I hope you know it. I love your garden, soft and alive and secreting scent and color. It reminds me of you. You have been a good mom, it's not easy, and your love for your children and grand children shows every day, all the time. Your dogged pursuit of good cheer and the smile in every situation is a life lesson I've carried with me all of my days, and it's served me well, so I thank you.

I love you, Aunt Jo, and I wish you every happiness on your birthday and always.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

He's a Little Nuts

And Other Attributes of a Great Dad

For many years, this was a weird holiday for me. I felt compelled to celebrate with my mom, who did the work of my dad, albeit dressed in flowery housecoats and wearing soft perfume. I also felt the need to thank and recognize the men in my life who filled in the gaps where a well-intentioned mom really couldn't. I was as warm as I could be with this conglomerate of men - uncles, friends, neighbors - the village that Hillary was talking about - who raised me. But the truth was they were busy with their 'real' families on this day and I was an add-on. The older I got - although it was always true - this day made me so uncomfortable, at odds with my own self, because I really didn't want to celebrate with my mom and my uncles and friends' husbands. I wanted a dad. And I didn't have one of those.

So in my young life, I began to design the ideal dad, who would some day appear in my life and make everything good again. This man was tall and strong and had calloused hands because he worked hard to take care of me and my mom. He smelled faintly of soap but most often he was sporting eau de motor oil and bore the scent of work and a long day. He had a bright smile which was quick to flash around me - I was the light of his life. My dad was smart, but quiet about it - he didn't need to show off his intellect, it was just understood. He was intuitive and warm and a little clumsy in his affection because he had to trip over his manliness to get to his softer side. He was charming and funny and had a way of drawing a crowd even when he didn't mean to. He kept us comfortable and safe and even if we didn't have the best of everything it felt like it because he made us feel so grateful to be together that everything else was cake. My dad was a little nuts, he'd have to be to get along with me, but it was a funny sort of nutty and we laughed together about our quirks and oddities. Sometimes he was hard, mad and unreasonable, but that just made him human and real and all the more mine - I can be a little unreasonable too! Above all my dad loved me, loved me, loved me and never left me. Never would. Couldn't live without me anymore than I could without him. He was constant and good and sincere and I could count on him.

I waited for this dad for many, many years and - oddly - never lost hope.

On August 5 1995 I married the man of my dreams.

And on April 28, 1998 (and again on August 17 2000) he became the dad of my dreams. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The World Has Gone Mad and other observations

I was preparing lunch this morning and went to vaporize my 'healthy' lean pockets and was the victim of an involuntary snort/guffaw when the nuke-pack exhorted me to "FIND US ON FACEBOOK!!" Find 'us'. Lean Pockets. On Facebook. In what alternate universe would I be finding myself 'friending' a microwaveable sandwich?

I'll tell you which one.

The one in which I've been educated in a public school system that is shockingly, SHOCKINGLY, distressed, dysfunctional and de-funded. What in God's name (or anyone else's) do we think we gain by cutting funding for education? Cut the God-blessed electricity so the kids can get off the damn idiot box and read a book for crissakes. Cut the bloated budgets that allow my state senator's assistant to receive a pretty decent wage while she sits around a room with three other state senators' assistants chewing the fat when I come in to the office. Cut the moronic free lunches that force our kids to waste time playing Star Wars with cheese sticks instead of learning. Cut breaks for irresponsible businesses, cut interest deductions, cut waste and for crissakes, cut the CRAP. That is, if you care.

If you don't care about our future, keep cutting eduction. Keep dumbing down the society and pretty soon you'll find history books that write-up complete morons as geniuses because by the standards we're creating, they will be!

And speaking of standards, we might still have some if we stopped making every idiot's idiotic move news. Men are cheating on their wives and/or sending lewd photos of themselves in an attempt to lure some hapless gal into an affair? Folks, that's not news. It's not new, either. I don't care what Arnold does with his free time, what I care about is what he does with MY time. I don't care how Anthony handles his wiener, I care how he handles MY... uh, wait.

The point is this: stop pandering to the lowest common denominator. I'm out here! I'm starving for some class, some dignity, some decorum - even if that means you have to hide half of society from me. I prefer it! I like the fact that we don't have tawdry photos of JFK getting it on with Marilyn Monroe. I prefer the notion that he flirted with Marilyn but he was true to his wife. I know it's not real, but not knowing what I know is better than knowing what I know about what Clinton does with his cigars. It's better.

Also, stop pretending you care that politicians are playing politics with our lives. Newsflash: they are P O L I T I C I A N S. That's what they do. Baseball players play - you guessed it! Baseball. (Although I have my sad days when this is not entirely true... sigh... #cubsfanforlife) Politicians play politics. If you wanted people to stop playing games you'd hire more serious, intelligent, responsible people. Then, when we hire serious intelligent people, ElizabethWarrenSayWhat?, we'd give them the tools and support they need to get done the serious job that needs to get done. But we don't. We don't even do half of that. So it's our fault they're playing and we've nothing to do but take the hits.

Also, stop being a sore loser. Obama wins. He wins because he got BinLaden and nobody else did. Suck it. Obama may be too cerebral in many situations. He may be frustrating the crap out of Boehner, turning him more an orangey-red than his normal tangerine. He may be interested in social justice (GASP!) more than some would like. He may be a lot of things but he made the call, he got BinLaden and that's it. He wins. If you keep blustering about how it wasn't him you're really only making yourself look like a sniveling, sore loser. Stop it. Have some dignity.

And while we're on the subject of dignity, Time magazine should apologize to me for not having any. Because if they had any self-respect they'd be embarrassed about the virtual cigarette they smoked as they lay under crumpled sheets after writing that, now that I know, absurd review of Jonathan Franzen's latest book, Freedom. I read the review and was compelled to read the book and feel entirely cheated. I intuited then but can now definitively tell you that using "Chardonnay splotch" as a description of a character's complexion is hardly the literary feat that was ascribed to it in Time's review. Franzen is a 'Great American Novelist?' Ok. But if he's the standard for what a great American novelist can do, I really ought to get my butt out there and write that book. The Franzen book is all ramble, self-indulgence and righteousness lost in the uninteresting pocket lint of damaged characters. If that's greatness I fear all is lost.

Write a book about a good marriage, healthy children and a happy family. Make that the "wide shot, the all-embracing, way-we-live-now novel". Because contrary to Time's declaration that Franzen's writing "has an unshowy, almost egoless perfection" I don't think "Chardonnay splotch" is all that unshowy and in any case I don't think it's all that hard to write about unsympathetic characters with dysfunctional upbringings and lust for younger women or hottie wannabe rock stars. That's not real. That's bull.

What's real is loving your spouse and caring for your children and trying every day, slowly, methodically, to do good in the world. Write that piece so that it's not boring. Make it insightful and rich with the scent and savor of your own life but the mystique of someone else's.

I've got more but I'm sure I've exhausted your patience, as I have my own, obviously. More on a day when the sun is not shining and I don't have some excuse to break away from this dastardly machine and live a little. I'm off to enjoy my FREEDOM and lunch with my husband, whom I love and am happily married to. We're having lean pockets.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The First.

My newphew, Ramsis, graduates from 8th grade today setting off a chain reaction of graduations, quincenearas, travels, adventures, jobs and - sooner than we think - marriages and babies. As of today, I'm practically a great-grandmother. (If you've ever heard me rant this to my children, it all begins with kindergarten.)

Ramsis is the oldest child of my husband's younger brother, the first grandchild, my very first nephew. He's always been the first and always will be(much to Lucy's chagrin). We are a close family as extended ones go. Ram wears his first-ness with incredible good grace, although to hear his twelve younger rivals (three sisters and nine cousins) tell it he's just this side of Darth Vadar. It comes with the territory and if there's any reward in taking on this great burden it is that for as much as they fuss and bother, all twelve of these little ones - and their attendant parents - adore Ram and admire how well he takes the beatings that come with being first.

Ramsis is smart - sometimes too much for his own good - and that smartness comes out in ways that both humor and haunt the adults in the family. That, too, has served to dilute the effect of later iterations of Rodriguezes, who learn from his mistakes when and how to keep one's little trap shut or one's little bottom in a chair. When they don't remember, Ram is often the first to correct, gently, firmly, just like a first should.

He is warm and kind and thoughtful, sometimes channeling one uncle with his understated, subtle presence and other times giving over to the other in his puppy-like enthusiasm and silliness. I'll let Joe and Alex duke it out over who's who.

You can, and always could, have a conversation with Ram. I love that about him, especially.

He's got a terrible temper. That's his mother's fault. And his father's. And mine. And assorted aunts, uncles, grandparents, a few pets. It's a family trait; let's leave it at that.

My nephew is a charmer and a genuinely good boy, and is growing into a fine young man. He sets a terrific example for all the boys in our family. If he's made his mistakes or taken long to learn some lessons he has always been the first to try harder to get it right. He never gives up. It has served as an even better path for the boys in the family to follow - you don't start out perfect, you'll never be perfect, but you keep trying to be better.

He serves as everyone's big brother and has grown into the big shoes he's had to fill with more honesty than I think any of us could have anticipated. Lucy is a second-tier parent in our household and Ram is in his. They share a bit in the heaviness of this responsibility, but also in the reward that comes from being respected. That respect, Ram, comes not from your place but from your honor in maintaining that place, through good and bad weather.

It hasn't always been easy. Our family like all others suffers its dysfunctions. But Ram is the first to know that whatever the worry, love is the number one disposition, the first priority of everyone in our family. He was the first of the babies to be loved, he's been loved the longest and won't be allowed to forget that he is loved, with warm, too-long hugs and smoochie, wet kisses before, during and well after the desperate attempt to be cool lost vigor.

I treasure my nephew. I love him more than he knows, wish the best for him, dream big dreams for him, have high hopes for him. I am proud of him and respect him and know that this day is just a beginning, a first. Because Ram is graduating today and he is the first. He always will be.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Concert Night

Tonight, my child's elementary school will put on its annual spring performance. (There are still tix available so if you want a night of really remarkable music for a measly 2 bucks, let me know.) My husband will be on stage for one of the performances, because the band conductor has invited parents to join the full intermediate and concert bands, along with some former students now in high school, to do a smashing grand finale. He's excited - the kids are - everyone's excited. It's exciting!

And here's why, as my husband so eloquently put it to me this morning when he got back from his last rehearsal:

The full performance is complex, rousing, impressive. When the audience hears it, they hear this full sound, this resonance and depth and intricacy. And they attribute all of that to each one of us on the stage. But really, each one of us is just doing one little part. We're concentrating on getting our one little part right and then when it's all put together it sounds so amazing! The end result is a real thrill! He was so flushed when he told me I just had to smile.

One little part. Everyone together. Thrilling. Think about that.

Friday, May 6, 2011

You Scared Me

I lost my temper with my babies last night, over something that seemed terribly important at the time. It wasn't, of course. I tried to make amends, apologized, tucked them in. When I leaned over to kiss Sara, she whispered 'you scared me' and my heart broke. This morning, I awoke to this-

i'm silent, your deep brown eyes are in my devil-like ones.

you yell and scream, i keep moving on, writing you notes, apologizing, saying i love you, but you never budge.

you don't hold a grudge

but this is different.

we are children. what can i say? we laugh, and play and work all day.

i love you, you should love me.

don't you?

i can't feel our love, it's faded away.

you have no fear, i like it that way.

but when it gets in your hand, like a quarter or dime

you control it and make us all fall into ashes,

turn us to rashes

that never wear off.

i still look in your eyes and see the roles that you play.

the key to life, right in your eyes,

the problem and the salvation.

i love you mommy.

And I am humbled.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


When I first laid eyes on my first baby all I could think was


Other thoughts raced through my mind, of course. She had her mouth set like my grandmother, Lena. She was so fair - I was expecting a baby with a mop of black hair and dark skin like her daddy. She was breathing - thank God - so sweetly, and gave off some kind of newness perfume I'd never experienced before. (Later, the perfume turned on me in a vicious, ugly way... who knew diaper contents could be so toxic?) She was tiny, precious, delicious. I had none of the post-partum distance that others have experienced - I absolutely adored her immediately and wanted always to be touching her, holding her, taking her in.

I haven't lost any of that after thirteen years. In all my thoughts and deeds throughout every day my heart aches to be with her, see her, laugh with her and love her as much as I possibly can. So as to discourage you from any thoughts that I might be a complete loon, I should say that these feelings have learned to comfortably co-exist with thoughts of complete exhaustion, impatience, fury, disbelief and fret as my little treasure inches closer and closer to having my mouth and temperament. Who ordered that? Also, she's now got a killer figure that has not escaped the notice of most neighborhood boys, thereby rendering her father a sputtering curmudgeon and placing me in the precarious position of buffering contact between them, especially on the subject of the park and a certain young man with intentions Tony can smell from a mile away. I digress.

Since the moment I laid eyes on my Lucy, through all her trials (I DON'T YIKE PEEZ - in full 3-year-old-tantrum) and joys (I got 112 on that math test!! [[yick]]) the prevailing thought in my mind has been


Because it's not possible that I could have such a beauty as a child, that I might have earned the privilege of parenting someone who makes me look so good when really, truly, I'm a mess and totally undeserving. It's not possible that she might be so healthy, in every way bright, sociable, warm, funny, creative - that kind of amazing belongs to other people who know what they're doing. It couldn't be true that the clumsy, uncalculated path I took to becoming an adult led me to become the lifelong mentor to this magical person - what could I possibly offer that she doesn't already possess naturally in spades? She's so smart. She's so charming. So gorgeous. It's just inconceivable, isn't it?

(Are you repeating the line in your head from The Princess Bride about that word not meaning what I think it means?)

And yet, if ever a prayer has been answered, mine was. If ever a dream came true, mine did. If ever the impossible has happened, she is. As inconceivable as she might be, my lovely Lucy reminds me every day that, with God, all things indeed are possible and even the least worthy among us is treated with treasure and precious love. And for that, I am eternally grateful.