DARLENE BECK JACOBSON SAID WHAT?…2017: A Year To Be Kind

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Darlene is a freelance writer, educator, Speech Therapist and Children’s Book Author. Her first middle grade novel, Wheels of Change was named a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People 2015 by the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council (CBC) as well as awarded Honorable Mention from the Grateful American Book Prize for 2015 for an outstanding work of Historical Fiction for children. Darlene’s website is chock full of articles, activities and recipes for parents and teachers. It also serves as a resource for writers and illustrators of children’s books.

Her post, “2017: A Year To Be Kind” offers resources for adults and young people who want to share stories, engage in acts of kindness, or learn about the importance of and scientific benefits to being kind.

I have one addition to make to Darlene’s list: Can U Be Nice?

Can U Be Nice? is a new platform created to capture our stories and “spread awareness for the need to be nice to one another.” Its goal is to empower people to choose nice over negative, kind over cold.

Can U Be Nice? is the brainchild of Bill Carter, a husband and father of 3 grown sons who spends much of his day observing the world from behind the wheel of his delivery truck.

One chilly morning in 2015, Bill was waiting on a loading dock for a freight elevator. Thinking about his wife, Dianne, a veteran teacher in the public school system who he blissfully describes as sincere, genuine and loving, Bill heard a commercial on the radio for an upcoming charity walk. He thought, “That’s something nice to do.” Then the idea struck him. He wrote the words, “Can you be nice?” on a nearby box. He changed the YOU to a U with a smiley face and said, “That’s it. That’s the message.”

Bill’s mission is simple. He believes “we all have it in us to be kind and if we make a commitment to bring this side out each day, the world will be a better place. A small act of kindness can change a person’s life and have a chain reaction. One small, nice deed can lead to another. Make a decision to look for your inner kindness. Then express it to those you meet without hesitation. You will feel better and people will react positively.”

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “…Stick to love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

So the next time you are or see someone being kind or nice, share a story with Can U Be Nice? If you’re in search of ideas, please check out Darlene’s wonderful post. And if you know of a hub for kindness we overlooked, feel free to join the conversation.

Let’s make 2017 the year to be kind.

Darlene Beck-Jacobson

According to a poll by Kindness USA, only 25 percent of Americans believe we live in a kind society.  In another survey of 10,000 teens, 4 out of 5 said their parents are more interested in achievement and personal happiness than in caring for others.  There is definitely less kindness in public life.

With so much harshness, negativity, hatred and meanness that seems to populate discourse in our society, it was very encouraging to see a recent article about BEING KIND.  The article, by Paula Spencer Scott in PARADE MAGAZINE, lists ways we can change this discourse and make kindness a priority in our lives.

1.You can join PARADE and the RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS FOUNDATION in this year’s challenge: Write 52 Thank You Notes – one each week to a different person for a year.  Besides bringing kindness and joy to the recipient, this gratitude boosts happiness and well-being…

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Feminist Rising

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My husband, Mac tells a story about his late father, a tough guy raised during the post-Depression era on the Lower East Side of Manhattan that ends with his dad referring to women as “broads.”

I unfortunately never had the chance to meet my father-in-law, but from what I gather such terms of endearment about the opposite sex were part of his everyday vocabulary.

Now anytime Mac’s sister or mom were privy to one of these tales, they chuckled but shook their heads. And whenever my husband tried to get away with using broad or even so much as said “girl” when referring to an adult female, they made sure promptly to correct him.

Not one to get my knickers in a knot about the occasional cat call or reference from a stranger as sweetie or hon, I couldn’t understood their issue. Why so sensitive? What’s the harm in benign synonyms or generational slang? Mac’s intention wasn’t to make me or his female relatives feel objectified, demeaned or less than.

My mother-in-law and sister-in-law would argue in favor of selective word choice. Had I pushed back, I’m pretty sure they would remind me words are powerful; slang and synonyms perpetuate the idea that women are subordinate to men. They’d then likely ask, “Aren’t you a feminist?”

My likely response? “Meh.”

A feminist, according to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary is one who supports feminism or “the belief that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities.”

Whenever I hear feminist, my mind is quick to gloss over the definition and hone in on a visceral image of a man-hating, braless lady in bell bottoms with unshaved pits marching in protest. For me, associating with this label feels passé and a wee embarrassing mostly because as a Generation Xer, I’ve spent a lifetime reaping the benefits of rights and opportunities. By 21st century standards, feminist ideals seem like bygone liberal gibberish that only widen any existing divide between women and men.

Then I woke up on November 9, 2016; my progressive, purple haze engulfed by a thick, hazardous fog in a land where those who brag about taking advantage of woman and dismiss sexual assault as boy talk are rewarded, where no doesn’t necessarily mean no, abortions are potential grounds for punishment, the notion of having it all is a men’s only club, equal pay in the workplace is not a priority, skinny women with pretty faces and big tits define feminine worth and where an exceptionally qualified woman got passed over for a job by a man with no related experience.

And I was horrified.

In a blink, the liberties I’d taken for granted were in jeopardy. As I trudged through the holiday season grappling with this alternative reality, I thought about those who poured decades of themselves into advocating for women’s voting, health, reproductive, education and gender equality rights in the workplace.

A sense of responsibility to our history and for future generations began to stoke the embers that lay tucked between ambivalence and pride, labels and perception. By the time New Year’s Eve rolled in, I was done with setting frivolous resolutions. Primed for a revolution, a feminist was rising.

After some reading and much Googling, I’ve learned that how one interprets or brands feminism varies and who feels included in the movement is still scrutinized. My understanding is simple and grounded in intersectionality and humanism. As then First Lady Hillary Clinton said in 1995, “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”

My personal goals are also simple; take action in my community and be mindful of words.

In order to stand up for women’s rights, one first needs to believe she has the right to do so. During the final weeks of 2016, I had the privilege of supporting those on the road to empowerment by providing childcare at a local domestic abuse shelter and outreach program. I look forward to doing my small part to help these families as they find their voice.

I will also do my best to pay attention to my own voice as well as those closest to me.

On a New Year’s Day hike with Mac and the boys, Bubbe navigated us over rocks, through mud and moss. When we came to a clearing, he challenged me to a race. “C’mon Mom,” he said with a smirk, “Be a man.”

A few months ago, I would have laughed off his comment. Like his father and grandfather, I know my son’s intent wasn’t to make me feel inferior. But this time, I took a page out of his grandmother and aunt’s book and kindly corrected him. As we journey through the fog, it won’t be enough for the feminist in me to rise; I need to be the woman who raises my sons to be one too.

DONNA GWINNELL LAMBO-WEIDNER SAID WHAT?…Wocka Wocka: An Encounter of the Metaphorical Kind

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=seBvnzKBs0w

Let’s wrap up 2016’s Who said what? with a Muppet post from Donna. Thank you for reminding me about this “colorful community of diverse characters who, together and individually, inspire unity through love, laughter, and song” and for putting a smile on my face.

Fingers crossed for a 2017 that graces us with more Muppets, fewer puppets and a lot less clowns.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner

img_2934The ageing comedian, known the world over for his slapstick parodies, brushed past me in the pre-dawn chill to take his place in the crowd queuing up to board the British Airways flight from Edinburgh to London. I have packing my warm jacket in my checked luggage to thank for our chance encounter. Had I not hung back to keep warm in the stairwell, I’d have totally overlooked him.

As it was, before I could react beyond the chuckle that stretched my lips straight and crinkled the corners of my eyes, the bobbing head, tucked under his signature pork pie hat, disappeared into the forward motion of the crowd.

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My Father’s Gift

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When my father called to tell me he was having major surgery to remove a malignant mass from his chest, I didn’t hesitate to buy a plane ticket.

“The doctors have to break open my rib cage to get the whole thing out. Safest way to keep it from spreading,” he explained.

“How long’s the recovery?” I asked.

“Six weeks.”

“I want to come down and see you.”

“Okay.” His voice cracked through the line. Then my father, who under reacts in times of crisis and barely smiles for a camera began to cry.

I did my best to console his fears and hold back tears. I failed. We exchanged I love yous and hung up the phone.

Twelve years ago, had someone told me I would be speaking to my father let alone making time to be by his bedside, I would have thought they were nuts.

Divorced from my mother when I was three, my parents managed feelings about their contentious relationship and bitter divorce by throwing me in the middle even long after each remarried and had new families of their own. On our scheduled visits, which lasted well into high school, I figured my father to be a stubborn workaholic. Time at his house was spent getting to know my step-mother. In between those visits, my mother shared more disgust for and information about her ex-husband than a daughter needed to know. As such, I can’t remember a single birthday or holiday spent with my dad. I assumed he was too busy or lived too far away; but it’s likely he was never extended an invitation.

Whether my parent’s choices were driven by self-interest, youthful inexperience or something more, I’ll never know. At that moment in their lives, healthy co-parenting was not an option. To add to the dysfunction was the abuse I simultaneously experienced at the hands of my step-father.

By age 17, my entire being was a giant, rage infested mess masked by sarcasm, perfectionism and dramatic flair. Needing to simplify the noise to ensure survival, I thrust myself into the middle of my parent’s fight de jour over college selection and payment and cut ties with my father.

But skeletons and wounds weigh on one’s spirit. Fifteen years later, I was knee deep in therapy trying to make sense of our relationship. My therapist recommended I write my dad a letter. I was to consider it a cathartic exercise or an attempt to communicate. Sending was optional.

With the pressure off, I put everything out there; the anger and hurt, grievances and resentment, his emotional distance, my abusive childhood and our lengthy estrangement.

Afterward, I thought about my unborn son and what I might say if he one day asked, “Who’s my grandfather?”

Then I dug up my father’s address and dropped the letter in the mail.

He wasted little time. What followed was a blur of email exchanges followed by a planned call. I barely said hello when the words came out.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “My point of view doesn’t matter. You’re the child. I’m the parent and I take full responsibility for everything that’s happened.”

During a time when I was trying to piece together my self-worth, build a meaningful relationship with my spouse and prepare for motherhood, my father’s words were the light in my darkness and the greatest gift.

Whoever my father was or how I perceived him to be when I was young no longer mattered. His ability to take ownership without caveat or blame and express himself with vulnerability and honesty showed me who he was at present. I knew the least I could do was begin to forgive the man and let him in.

A dozen years travel fast. While I’m grateful for this second chance, it’s not nearly enough. Those tears shed over his operation were not about any cancer, but my fear of losing a father I’ve only recently learned to love.

Thankfully, he’s made a full recovery. The doctors cut out the stage one growth and replaced it with a 12 inch scar. We can only hope health and time are on his side.

During our visit, my dad was feeling energized so we took a walk around the neighborhood; no grandkids, spouses or pets. Just us. We kibitzed about his upcoming retirement, the politics of the day and puppies. Being able to experience such a simple pleasure felt, as he likes to say whenever presented with good eats, “pretty damn good.”

Occasional strolls and weekly phone conversations won’t replace the birthday parties missed, lost Christmas Eves or the father-daughter wedding dance we never had, but it gives me great comfort knowing we will mourn those losses and create new memories – together.

DENIS IAN SAID WHAT?…Mind Time

Denis Ian is a father, grandfather and education activist. He does not appear have his own blog, but I’ve read his piece on 4 different ones so far. And it’s a keeper.

Here are Denis’s thoughts about hurrying up, slowing down, the value of time and the expectations we have for children and ourselves with each passing year.

I’m already anxious about what to expect from Bubbe, Skootch and myself as we start to gear up for September. So thank you, Dennis for this beautiful math lesson.

Kindness Blog

I’m an old father now. Suddenly it seems.

My sons have sons. I own lots of memories. I polish the sweet ones and never dust the ones that hurt.

I mind time now. I didn’t used to. In fact, like lots of you, I was reckless with time. Not any longer.

When I was a boy of about 9 or so, I had the temporary misfortune of being the last to the dinner table … and that meant sitting just to the left of my father. That was like sitting next to the district attorney … or the pope. My brothers loved my dilemma … because that’s what brothers do. It’s in the Irish Manual of Life.

So … there I was … waiting for my moment of challenge. The knives were clanging plates and there were two or three different conversations happening around this table with the fat legs…

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No Peaking Allowed

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The text read, Come to room 307.

I adjusted my Spanx, grabbed the overnight bag and made my way up from the lobby. Behind the door stood two of my senior year gal pals, Shazzie and Pumpkin.

Although introduced in seventh grade and kindergarten, respectively my adult relationship with these ladies had fizzled to comments, likes and emojis. No matter. There was an easy joy about being together again.

We moved through pleasantries and tossed out filters. First order of business: pre-25th high school reunion cocktails. After a few sips, we got reunion ready while discussing work, shoes, travel, preferred products for color treated hair and of course, raising kids.

 “When my son turned three,” Shazzie said, “I told a friend, this boy can’t get more cuddly, loveable, or sweet. He’s peaked. Now, every year on his birthday she calls me and asks, is it true he peaked at three?”

“Well?” I said.

Shazzie pulled out her phone and played the recent I love you, Mom message her hoarse voiced tween left when a sleep away camp counselor returned his phone during a field trip.  “Not yet,” she replied.

We sipped some more, snapped selfies sporting party outfits and solo cups, and made our way to the main floor. I slapped on my name tag and entered the windowless, dim, pint-sized banquet hall. Waiting was a small gathering of some 125 classmates from my rural town. It was as if my mom had dropped me off at the 8th grade dinner dance equip with a cash bar.

And I wondered, had I peaked? Had any one of us peaked?

Determined to find out, I shimmied past the DJ and hot buffet, quickly refilled my cup and began to flutter about the room.

I ran into my old locker neighbor, intrigued by the cross-country mountain biking adventures he shares with his wife, concurred with my former art class tablemate who opened a restaurant after rediscovering his creativity through cooking, and was happy for the classmates who came out, found love and live life open and proud.

I chatted with my elementary school bus buddy who embraced her small town roots, adores fur babies and helps to raise her nephews, admired the crew huddled around a table who, despite time and distance sustained their decades long friendship, told Pumpkin, a working mother who nurtured her artistic talents and built an impressive career in advertising, a girl I envied as a child how much I respected her, and nestled up next to my high school crush; a sweet gentleman close to retiring from a career in law enforcement who looks forward to tending his Christmas Tree farm.

Many of my classmates married; most are raising children, some are nurturing sick parents. They have been graced with experience lines and silver hairs but the essence of who they were as children lives on.

And not one of them has peaked; not the jocks, pretty chicks, worker bees, artsy rebels, drama queens or goodie two shoes. Each seemed content with who they became; aware there’s more growth to be had.

And I, who was remembered for big hair, oversized sweaters and an even larger opinion felt inspired by my first friends.

When the clock struck midnight, the lone security guard directed us to the hotel’s neighboring bar, ushering me back to the 21st century. I thought about my own tween who was due back from sleep away camp the following week and a concerned letter he wrote about his lovie. Please sew Baby Lamb when I get home. I don’t like when he loses stuffing.

Middle school is on the horizon for my boy and so begins the battle of growing up. I can already feel his struggle; the image, fitting in, friendships, the wrestle with self and his place in the world.

I’ll continue to offer the mother to son advice he has come to hear ad nauseum: follow your passion, stay kind, always be yourself.

But from now on I’ll be sure to add, Hang tight. You’ll make it through. Just remember, no peaking allowed.

HS Reunion picture

Lessons From A Crossing Guard

A few weeks ago, I tagged along with Bubbe, Skootch and the local crew during their 3 block walk to school. As we approached the 4-way, main street intersection where the library, high school and last stretch to the elementary school meet, our young neighbor turned to the boys and whispered, “If you don’t say thank you to Doris the world will blow up.”

I think the kid might be right.

Doris is a pillar of our sleepy, suburban town and a force to be reckoned with at that. Torrential rains, icy roads, blaring horns, and testy commuters can’t stop her from parading dead center into this congested intersection during school drop off and afternoon pick up to yell, “Crossing!”

A sentinel for youngsters and teenagers, siblings in strollers, parents and pets as they travel to and from parked cars, school, practice, religion, and home; pedestrians welcome her presence.

Many drivers do not. They are forced to sit, wait and wait some more until Doris releases them with a flick of the neon flag. Held up for work or a midday appointment; some grumble, honk, and huff. Others rant on social media; the rest stress in silence.

I get it. There was a time when I dropped Bubbe and Skootch to school on route to work and inched my car too close to Doris’s east end cross walk. She took one look at my tires, locked eyes and stepped off the corner. “Hey, don’t you see children here?”

Jolted from my to-do list daze, I sputtered an apology. “Sorry Doris. It won’t happen again.”

I got over it. We regular walkers know something about the way our crossing guard approaches her job that drivers may not notice from behind the windshield.

Doris teaches children the value of a greeting.

Skootch first met Doris when he was three. Every day he watched her from his wagon as I wheeled him across the street on the way to his big brother’s school. Doris was never too busy to say “Good morning.”

As they developed a rapport, she added compliments about Skootch’s smile, noticed haircuts, and congratulated him when he was able to walk the distance sans carriage. Doris showed Skootch respect.  He reciprocated the sentiment.

Now, not a morning goes by on my little guy’s way to Kindergarten that he doesn’t wish Doris a good day. The same holds true for many middle and high schoolers who take time to look away from friends and up from phones to say Hello, leading me to believe her lesson has been repeated before.

She models generosity of spirit.

New to the district, I was shocked to see Doris sitting in the audience of Bubbe’s first grade play. The parents who had older children were not. As it turns out, she does her best to attend each of the roughly 24 class plays held annually at the elementary school.

And during the holiday season, those who walk her way will find Doris’s open car trunk spilling with free cookies for the kids.

Such gestures are not taken for granted. When a few families found out she was having a “big” birthday, moms spread the news on Facebook. The next day, her “office” was decorated with signs, balloons, flowers and handmade cards.

She gives parents peace of mind.

Bubbe often walks with our young neighbor long before Skootch and I head out for the morning.

One day, Doris stopped me. “Your son and his friend are good walking buddies,” she said. “They walk, talk, there’s no fooling around and they follow the rules.”

Even though she and I have only exchanged pleasantries, Doris knew which child belonged to me and took the time to report he was making good choices.

And reminds us to take it easy.

Doris was cut off mid sentence during one of our pre-pick up exchanges by a speeding car. “What are you doing?” she hollered at the blurry sedan. “Where do these people think they’re going in such a hurry?”

I smiled and shook my head. “Doris, I don’t know.”

I continued onward, slowing my gait for the last block and a half to my destination feeling pretty confident that, after spending my few moments with this special lady, the world was safe from annihilation for one more day.

It takes a village to shape a community.

“Thank you, Doris.”

To The Young Lady Who No Repped Me During The CrossFit Open; Thank You

Courtesy: CrossFit

Courtesy of CrossFit

HuffPo Women

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get my chest to touch the pull up bar.

It was the third workout of the CrossFit Open; an annual fitness test involving judges and score cards where over 300,000 CrossFitters worldwide do the same prescribed workout once a week over a five week period, or as in my case, a scaled version of said designated torture.

The 2016 Open was the first time I paid the twenty bucks and entered my name in the system. After 4 years of pursuing evidence based fitness, participating in mild competition holds me accountable to an exercise routine. Besides, the Friday Night Lights set up gave me a reason to forego evening parenting responsibilities. Plus, the coach stores beer in the gym fridge.

I felt confident going into this third Friday.  The task at hand involved jumping chest to bar pull ups. I’m 5’9. I can jump. I know how to do a pull up. I thought; piece of cake.

But I underestimated the importance of the angle of the pull toward the bar. Perhaps during my pre-kids, D cup days it wouldn’t have been an issue, but now a deflated C, I left a sizeable amount of air between the girls and the iron.

Each unsuccessful repetition of the movement resulted in a “no rep” from the judge. I hung from the bar like a sloth, praying for the clock to run out while convincing myself to go at again. Then, 15 seconds before the final buzzer the coach said, “Switch your grip.” I held on to the rig in chin up position and jumped. Slam! My chest hit the bar with ease.  Unfortunately, my renewed optimism was short lived. “5-4-3-2-1…” The music went silent.

Afterward, a young lady who assists with the kids’ class asked, “How’d it go?”

“What a debacle,” I huffed.  “That switch grip was the golden ticket, but I ran out of time.” I skipped the beer and went straight home, determined to improve my score.

Two days later, I did what any self-respecting, half crazy CrossFit disciple would do; I went back to redo the workout during open gym.  The same young lady was the designated judge for the morning.

When I was ready, she cranked up the tunes and started the clock. I made my way through the jumping pull ups using the reversed grip. After a few rounds my forearms stiffened and quads stung. My chest began to miss the bar.

“No rep!” she called.  “Almost there.”

I tried again.

“No rep! Let’s go, Red. You got this.”

But I didn’t “Got this.” My thoughts turned dark. Who does she think she is with the no reps? I’m not an uber-athlete. I skipped my morning newspaper to be here. Not to mention the fact that I could be this girl’s mother.

I wanted a break and I wanted her to give me one. Miss teenager could have let the no reps slide. She could have turned a cheek.  But she didn’t.  She could have felt intimidated. But she wasn’t.

So, I took a few breaths, regrouped and forged ahead. By the end of the seven minutes, I had a beautiful battle scar of bruise on my chest. What I also had was a legitimate and nearly doubled score compared to Friday night. And I had my judge, who held me to the standard to thank for it.

The following week, I took note of the young CrossFitter’s approach during regular sessions and the remaining Open workouts.  Each time she completed an Olympic lift or moved through a workout, she held herself to a high standard of form and function; and when she made a mistake, she no repped herself. Turns out, my judge hadn’t asked me to do anything she didn’t expect from herself.

At seventeen, this young lady already owns the integrity and courage that took me half a lifetime to cultivate, making her a powerful role model for girls and us masters, alike.

Soon, she will apply to college, graduate high school and move out on her own. As she cycles through life events, I hope she highlights these qualities when speaking with admission officers and future employers. And I hope she seeks out similar traits in others as she builds friendships and falls in love. Resume worthy accomplishments, physical strength and youthful outer beauty will fade; character will endure.

Integrity and courage are sometimes met with gossip, envy, and judgment. So when she catches slack for the high standards or the backlash cracks her confidence, I encourage my judge to hang tough and perhaps recall the time she refused to let this old timer break the rules during the CrossFit Open; because young lady, when it comes to life, “You got this.”

Why Write?

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My favorite place to be is in my head.

As a young girl, I soaked in the bathtub with the boom box blaring, dreaming up dance routines and doodled across my paper bag book cover until graphite designs swallowed the cardboard colored wrapping.

But it never occurred to me to try my hand at creative writing; I didn’t like to read and the physical act of writing only ever led to a callus on my middle finger.

Then one of my teachers assigned our class the task of writing an original story, forcing me to apply my healthy imagination elsewhere.

Inspiration didn’t take long.  On the bus ride home from school the same day, I was struck by images for an opening scene so fabulous in my ten year old brain that I immediately took pencil to paper and composed what I believed to be the start of a master piece.

This rush of innovation convinced me I was the next Judy Blume.  I labored over my story, submitted the completed manuscript with the exuberance of A Christmas Story’s Ralphie, and waited for my Ms. Shields to award me with accolades and an A+.

My young author fantasy collapsed within a week.  As I read through Ms. Shield’s blanket of edits, I could hear the red ink cackling, “You’re not good enough, kid.”  Already a perfectionist, I cast my new ambition aside.

Sort of.

In high school I dabbled in poetry, in business school took fiction writing and literature courses, and as an elementary school teacher, loved to teach the craft.  Each time, self doubt swallowed the artistic undercurrent.

Then I became a mommy with young children desperate for a hobby that fulfilled me in a way diapers, laundry, and sleep training never could.  I sampled dance classes but lost interest when I couldn’t remember the routine from week to week and researched community art classes but concluded my drawing skills were best left in the margin.

Nothing stuck until one snowy morning on route to preschool drop off, words stepped forward.

My youthful, creative energy plunked down in the passenger’s seat beside me.  “You don’t need fancy degrees, a library spilling with classics or outside approval to write,” she explained.  “You have heart, experience, and curiosity.  It’s time.”

Here I am, six years later writing picture books for children and essays for the grown-ups in their lives.  Why?

I write to share my truth after 25 years of secret keeping.

I write to honor the child; to validate their place in this world, capture their joy, experiences and feelings and to preserve the innocent spirit I lost too soon.

I write so Bubbe and Skootch have access to a growing collection of their mother’s thoughts and beliefs so they may learn who I am in addition to being Mom

I write to model for them what it looks like to pursue a passion.

Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of why I do what I do.

So whenever my ego swells, I become consumed with clicks, views and audience expectations, the idea pipeline shrivels, deadlines approach, rejections mount, a critique breaks my spirit or life just gets in the way, I take a breath…

relax into my favorite place,
hone in on my heart,
open the flood gates
and write.

My Brush with Greatness

Me and Pop 2015

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My grandfather remained in his living room’s Lazy Boy beside my grandmother asleep in a hospice bed where her twin recliner once stood until she took her final breaths.  They shared the space for sixty-five years and would not have had it any other way.

A few hours before my grandmother died, I talked with my grandfather for what felt like the first time.

With poor hearing and an often fiery spirit, I spent most of my forty plus years watching Pop share his World War II experience and debate about the political climate of the day from a distance.

Yes, we connected over old movies, late night cheese and crackers, Sunday afternoon football and his enthusiasm for teaching me about gadgets, opera and gymnastics but I did most of the listening.  Any of my thoughts were voiced through my grandmother.  She didn’t require me to repeat or clarify, knew how best to communicate with her husband, and preferred to be in charge.  The arrangement seemed to work best for everyone.

Sadly my grandmother was now unconscious; breathing aided by machine, pain numbed with morphine.  And although I was convinced she could hear us, it was clear my buffer was gone.

There Pop sat.  Face heavy: heartbroken, devastated and confused.

“The world is different today.  There is no goodness left,” he said.

I held his hand.  “No.  That’s not true.  There will always be violence, war, corrupt governments, and terrible decisions but most people are decent and good.”  I pointed to my resting grandmother.  “Like her.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

The family, who had gone outside for air, made their way back into the apartment.  Late into the evening as I said my goodbyes Pop looked up from his chair.  “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“No, really.  Thank you.  Stay how you are.  She would have wanted it that way.”

The moment redefined our relationship and revealed the essence of my grandfather.

It has been one year since my grandmother’s death.  I relied on her to shape my experience with my grandfather and I assumed Pop leaned on her in the same way.  Alone, I was sure his flame would extinguish.

Instead, he got up every morning and made himself coffee and eggs.  He learned how to launder his clothes, vacuumed the floor, stopped drinking wine and scotch for fear of losing his balance, and eventually opened the curtains in the bedroom.  Pop spoke openly about his grief and need to work through it on his own terms.

He accepted an invitation to a Veterans’ lunch at his grandson’s middle school and found himself unexpectedly and for the first time recounting his World War II experience aboard a ship that fought in the Battle of Normandy and Okinawa to a classroom of tweens.  When a student asked, What were you afraid of the most? Pop’s eyes filled with tears as he shared with these young people what it was like for an 18 year old boy to witness death.

He sent me an email after Bubbe left for sleep away camp to see how I was coping with the separation.  He stressed the importance of letting our children go and commended me for giving him a chance to spread his wings.  “Let your boys have their space to play, but always watch,” he advised.  “Just don’t let them know you’re doing it.”

He questioned the owner of my CrossFit affiliate as to why we do tribute workouts to honor fallen soldiers from recent wars.

“You honor one guy?” Pop asked.

“One at a time.  It’s a way for the CrossFit community to remember the ultimate sacrifice they made,” the owner explained.

“And you don’t know them?”

“No.  Not personally.”

Pop furrowed his brow and stared at the group photograph gym members took after one of the Hero WODs.  It was as if he was recalling the 400,000 American soldiers who died during the war in which he fought, remembering the 2,500 soldiers who lost their lives in one day on Omaha beach where his ship was offshore, adding up the 5,000 Americans who were killed at sea during the battle of Okinawa, and thinking about friends who saw combat but never came home.

“Okay.  But a lot of guys died.”

He stocked his refrigerator with ice cream and chocolate sauce so he was always prepared to build sundaes with Skootch, crouched on the carpet and shot marbles with Bubbe, and devoured the cannoli I brought him on Grandparents Day because according to him they help people “live to be one hundred.”

At the end of each visit he said, “Be happy.”

Perseverance.  Sacrifice.  Honesty.  Humility.  Empathy.  Patriotism.  Simplicity.  Optimism.

Greatness.

Pop embodies the mindset of his generation, The Greatest Generation; a group of ordinary men and women who survived the unimaginable.

These folks were staples of my childhood and young adulthood.  When I am with my grandfather in the quiet of his apartment today and am flooded by memories of afternoon stoop parties, Saturday night card games, Sunday dinners, holiday gatherings and family celebrations, it becomes quite apparent his generation is almost gone.

Pop strolled over during Skootch’s recent birthday as I pressed the candles into the cake.  “How are you all grown up?” he asked.  “You were only a toddler not long ago.  It went by so fast.”

My laugh lines smiled back at his and I thought, He’s right; now it’s my turn.

I only hope I do him proud.

In the meantime, I plan to relish in grandfather’s greatness for as long as God wills.  He has a lot more to give and I have much to gain.