Saturday, July 2, 2016

Gram's Window

I'm sitting on the floor of my grandmother's bedroom.  It is - after four decades - the final time I will step foot in her home since she died 9 months ago. 

The room is empty except for the memories rushing my brain. I rest my back against the wall where her bureau once stood. The window streams the evening sun across the floorboards. 

I hear us talking. I am little climbing up into her bed, the white bedspread with the bumpy thread design leaves little dotted imprints on my knees. 

I snuggle under the sheets made cool by the breeze flowing through the always open window. I can smell lemony Jeanate. My brother scrambles up the other side of the bed. Gram is in the middle. We are playing our math game. She holds up her hands, her engagement and wedding ring twist around.
"I have this many apples in this hand and this many apples in this hand - How many apples do I have?"
We fall asleep, three of us snug in the bed. 

The alarm buzzer rings.  The little golden clock reads 10:30 in roman numerals. She tiptoes to the bathroom. She is back in her white nurse's uniform. There's a kiss to the forehead. I hear my grandfather whispering he is mad we are in his bed. I can't hear what she says. I hear the door shut and she is gone into the night.

In the morning I see her back from the hospital, a giant vase of lilacs on the dining room table still wet with dew after she picked them on her way home from her 11 to 7 shift. 

 I stand up and walk to her window and lean my forehead against the glass. So much time has gone by. The back yard is now bare. 

I see a cookout with the family - all of my mother's brothers and sisters are around the table and my grandfather is at the old Weber grill, a bag of charcoal by its side. My gram is putting condiments on a tray in the kitchen. I am taking the white stones from the backyard path to the picnic table and using them to write my name on the blacktop. Everyone is laughing.

 I catch sight of the clothesline in my view.

I am 7 and flipping upside down, hanging from my legs while the metal hooks scratch the inside of my legs until  I dismount like Nadia Comaneci in the '76 Olympics.

I notice the wall against the neighbor's garage.

 "We triple dog dare you to do it," My brother says, backed by his friends who are smug because I am a girl and therefore unwilling to take a dare. I shimmy across the wall careful not to lose balance on the embedded stones and fall into the pricker bushes below me. I win.

I move back to the sunspot in the middle of the floor where the end of my grandmother's bed used to be. 

I am a teenager laying across the bed. She is patting my back. Telling me not to worry. This too will pass…she hums Que sera, sera…whatever will be, will be. 

I can see the bed again, she is reading a book and I bust in to show her my engagement ring…
I see my husband putting in her air conditioner… 
am laying my babies in the middle of her bed for a nap, flanking them in her pillows so they do not roll over…

One last time...I hear myself fling open the screen door and yell upstairs, "Gram, you home?"

I take this picture of her window so I don't  forget.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

When the apple doesn't fall far from the tree and other fine stories

Sometimes as a parent you have to force yourself to remember what it is like to be a kid. It's not easy with the mom voices swirling in your head - your own and/or your mother's.

I am reminded of myself as a child in some ways when my boys test boundaries of their own. The thing is, my adult mind jumps to scold first before i empathize. I think this is fear on my part... a subconscious - oh no they missed a homework again so they will end up on skid row - thought that fires up to the front of my brain before I can accurately understand what is going on.

I am not making light of doing homework or getting good grades, or being respectful because I know responsibility is important but lately I am reminded that scolding and harping on these things are not effective strategies. They just don't work and they make me sad because I usually end up acting like a jerk. In fact, I was told in no uncertain terms by my well-spoken tween that it hurts him on the inside when I yell about school. This was a bittersweet parenting moment for me. I was so proud of the ways he expressed his feelings to me and so pissed at myself for behaving like a drill sergeant. I apologized but continue to flog myself with the bad mom stick. (Queue husband saying, "let it go." For the record I obsess on my awfulness hence the blog)

In this time of guilty mothering I have been thinking or rather reminding myself of all the kid stuff I did and I have come up with a list - a childhood rap sheet as long as my arm.

I got in trouble in school. Oh yes! I know this is hard to believe as my own mother has washed away these memories but i am putting them down for the record.

In Kindergarten - yes I started young - when it was time for Mr. P to come to class (the Letter People were blow up dolls in a program to help us with phonics), we were treated with pretzels. I STOLE a couple from my classmate's  napkin. She told and I got caught and cried. This did not cure me for good.

In second grade I would always watch the big kids take chalk and write their initials plus other initials in hearts on the back of Kirtland School's wall. I had an inkling it was wrong, But and this is a big But, I did not know why it was wrong. So, I swiped some chalk from the board in Mrs. Fleming's class and went to town. I drew flowers. I drew hearts. I even made up initials to plus, I would have colored the whole school until the playground monitor Mrs. Leblanc bagged me and said she had to tell my teacher.

 Mrs. Leblanc came to class and said she needed to speak to Patty and Mrs. Fleming about an incident. There were three Pattys in my class and I wasn't raising my hand (mmmhmm that's right. I did not take responsibility). Mrs. Fleming, not suspecting me of wrong doing as I barely said two words ever, went to the next Patty. But Mrs. Leblanc said no. It was PATTY NORRIS. (queue Law & Order music theme)

Mrs. Fleming yanked me by my arm and screamed and yelled all the way to the back of the school where I was banished to wash away my handiwork.

Mrs. Fleming did not cure me of my envelope pushing either. I also schemed to wear my Dr, Scholl's wooden sandals to school even though my mother told me not to. I was sleeping at Gram's and Gram said I could wear them after I purposely left out the info of my mom banning them from school.

Later that day, all totally cool in my new big girl, real wood, sandals, I tried to jump rope in them at recess. I jumped right on my big toe and had to go home to the fury of my mom. I can still see my Gram shaking her head.


That same year, I lifted a dollhouse dining room chair from my friend's new lavish dollhouse mostly because I only had the Fisher Price Sweet Street dollhouse and I wanted a fancy one or at least a piece of a fancy one. This was wrong.

Still I pulled the chair out of my pocket and put it in the Sweet Street house. My mother saw it and screamed, " WHERE DID YOU GET THAT?" grabbed me by the arm, threw me and the chair in the car and drove up to my friend's house where I promptly returned the chair and apologized to my friend standing in the doorway of her apartment with her mother behind her.

That pretty much ended my life in crime, sort of.


By middle and high school, I too forgot homework assignments. I got bad grades and got good grades. I was inconsistent. I was far too wrapped up in boys. I broke curfews and one time skipped school.

My mother railed that I would never get into college. She worried i would get pregnant too early not go to school, become a delinquent etc. etc.

But you see, it all turned out fine.

I went to college. I made the Dean's list. I found a good job, I married a great guy and we are raising two boys who are just fine when they are not in the emergency room. (I really have to work on that.)

So the next time i get the urge to yell and go off, I am going to first look in the mirror, take a deep breath, and reassess.

I have also taken the Orange Rhino pledge not to yell anymore and you can too here.

Good luck. ;)!





Friday, December 14, 2012

Why?

Twenty years ago I learned of my first school shooting. I was a new reporter and too green to get the assignment that would detail Simon's Rock College student Wayne Lo's killing spree.
I remember the T-shirt he wore at his arraignment that said "Sick of  It All." And I remember the description of one of the victims that survived, Teresa Beavers.
Teresa was shot twice in the stomach while on post in the security shack, her blood spilling onto the floor as she sputtered the barely audible name of her would-be killer.
I was asked to call Teresa 7 years after she was nearly shot to death for a comment on another school shooting: Columbine.
My assignment then was to uncover perspective to write a reaction piece by speaking to those who understood the violence unfolding far across the country because they lived it.
But words fall short when you try to capture unspeakable terror.
My story ran and we all moved on.
When I learned of the Virginia Tech shooting 8 years later in 2007,  I was one day into my new job as a communications consultant.
No longer a reporter, I felt relieved I did not have to go looking for Teresa or others to get the perspective and ask her thoughts on another senseless mass shooting with automatic weapons.
But tonight Teresa is on my mind again as I hug my children and breathe in the smell of their hair.
What must survivors of these earlier shootings think as news trickles in about the beautiful children, babies, really, slaughtered alongside of the adults who protected them?
What must they think as they watch the faces of the next round of grieving parents knowing we've done nothing as a country to curb this violence in over two decades?
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting is a national tragedy, a repetitive crime that highlights the most innocent among us are not removed from the sights of assault weapons.
Some say it's not the time to talk about gun laws, mental health, or politics.
I agree.
We're twenty years too late.
So when does it stop?
How many more shootings does it take to take "meaningful action?"
We all should want to know.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Feeling the Pain

In sports there are winners and there are losers. And as a parent its only likely that you'll get clean up duty for the latter at some point.
Up until last weekend, it wasn't that difficult. A pat on the back and a "you'll get em next time" seemed to suffice.
But when my 11-year-old lost his playoff football game after an 8-0 season, I felt my throat constrict as I sat up high in the bleachers watching the final minutes of the game.
For the first time in my life, I knew what it meant to lose and care.
It was not my game or my loss but my heart broke for him and his teammates. I watched how hard he worked. His head wrapped up in every game, sketching out plays by flashlight in his room when he was supposed to be asleep.
This  game was a life lesson in the there-are-no-sure-things category.
Nothing is a given.
It seems cruel to tell a kid that.
I shuffled through the parents leaving the stadium and waited for the team to be released from their coach's talk at the end of the field.
The sniffles were audible.
I looked for my player and was ready to deliver a smile and a pep talk.
Then I saw him.
He was standing, tears streaming, still clutching his helmet, when he looked at me.
I hugged him and told him I was sorry.
And then I said nothing more.
For much of his life I had been the rescuer, the one who made things better when Buzz Lightyear broke, or the cheap Parade gun cracked and needed to be duct taped good as new.
Suddenly I had nothing, no magic eraser that would take the pained look from his face.
It felt empty until I realized  saying little and lending a shoulder was the best way to let him and me grow.
Losing is real. It happens and it will happen on the field, in love and in life for the rest of his life.
Feeling the pain and moving on was a better way to help despite the protective urges and cliched "it's only a game" sentiments coursing through my veins.
I wasn't sure how long the losing pall would last.
But when the request for ice cream echoed from the back seat on the way home, I knew it wouldn't be so long.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Fifteen Years 1-4-3

Today is my 15th wedding anniversary. I think it deserves a little fanfare. There is no grand party for celebrating 15 years with your spouse, no commercial card that I could find that says, "Happy Fifteenth."
June 7, 1997
So here on my blog, I am making up my own public display of affection.
These years have been the happiest moments of my life even when  pregnancy loss, my father's death and other family issues have swung the mood pendulum temporarily in the other direction.
As a child of divorce, I had one thing I aspired to as a little girl more than my goal of becoming a writer- to have an intact family of my own.
Every railroad track I crossed over, every shooting star and birthday candle wish was always the same. I honestly didn't think it would come true.
And then it did.
When Mark and I started our journey more than a decade and a half ago we had no idea what we would discover about each other - the good, the bad and unflattering. But the journey has been such great fun. We put off having kids right away and then when it seemed right, we decided to become parents. It's been tiring, exhilarating and lovely in ways I could have never imagined, like when we all meet in the kitchen and one of us or the boys yell: "Group Hug!"  We smoosh into a huddle of hugs and kisses that make me want to hold on to the moment forever.
Some days it doesn't seem like 15 years has passed until your 7 year-old introduces you as "middle-aged."
Mark and I  "re-met" after high school while being radical in the political sense. We were 26. The city we grew up in, Holyoke, was pursuing taking over its hydroelectric dam. It was a contentious political fight. He was the engineer on the project and I was envelope stuffing for the cause.
There was a meeting at Maloney's bar. We got to talking and exchanged numbers.
A few weeks later I called his answering machine and asked him out.
I regretted the voicemail message at the time because I had never asked anyone out before and now it was on tape - a record of potential rejection. Lucky for me he called back and said we should do dinner and a movie. I had just suggested a movie.
Our first date was at Aqua Vitae - an Italian restaurant in Hadley no longer around. He ate lasagna and I had eggplant Parmesan. Before the movie we went to the Hampshire Mall arcade and I lost miserably in the game wack-a-mole.
He still liked me.
After three months we pinkie swore an engagement because we didn't want to listen to everyone calling us crazy.
We made it official at 10 months. Our whole life was ahead of us.
The wedding was grand.
Yet it's the every day stuff that still makes me swoon as I did after our first kiss in Northampton.
When I have too much to talk about - usually at night while Mark is trying to go to sleep - we joke that I have not gotten in my 5,000 words for the day.
Through most of our marriage, save for when he was in grad school, Mark cooks because well, I burn.
I'm grateful.
My husband is the only one who can tell me I'm behaving insanely and I believe him.
 "If you were having a heart attack Pat you would have been dead 8,000 times."
We laugh and move on.
This may sound strange to say but I love our fights.  Fighting fair has been an evolution- talking instead of the silent treatment.  I especially love when we realize how stupid an argument is and burst out laughing noting the fight was more about being over tired or flummoxed about that matchbox car that was flushed down the toilet because one of the boys wanted to see where it would go.
I so appreciate  his calm, smart, and direct mind as a balance to my passionate, creative, and often impatient energy.
I don't mind saying my husband, my best friend, brings out the best in me. I had a feeling he would even before he proposed.
I was driving into work at the newspaper when the realization hit me...I am going to marry this man and have his/our kids.
I LOVE him.
It was a visceral.
Fantastic really.
And so it is today, just even better.






Saturday, January 21, 2012

A dog's life lesson

Our dog Guinness died yesterday. After 14 years with us I no longer see her lying by the front door. My heart feels broken and then even more shattered when I watch the tears drip down my sons faces as they try to make sense of never seeing her again.
"I don't want her to be dead mom," my youngest tells me over and over again.
Oh how I wanted to make up stories to soften this blow.
I longed to say she was going to be fine. It seemed easiest for my husband to come home and whisk her to the vet and tell them later, so they didn't have to see.
But as I watched her breathing get heavy, her body mostly motionless save for an occasional wag of tail, I thought better of it.
Guinness was  family. For better or for worse we would be there for her until the end.  They had a right to know and say goodbye on their terms.
Guinness started out in a shelter at 4 months old. Abused by her owner, she looked out from her cage at us with a look that said "take me". We packed her in the car and she promptly peed on my seat. She liked to ride shot gun on the console between us, standing up and looking out the front window.
Mark and I were newly married and trying on the caregiver role. We had no idea what we were in for.
When my cousin Caitlin came to live with us Guinness didn't mind. We took trips to Maine in our Subaru Outback with a preteen Cait, one of her friends, and Guinness squishing herself in the middle like one of  the girls.
Later, when my first son was born, we stuffed the baby's blankets in her face so she could get his smell because the baby books told us to. I fed her dog food by hand out of her dish so she could be OK with little hands reaching in. We made noises with a rattle to get her used to the idea. Guinness must of thought we went nuts but she wagged her tail anyway.
The transition was seamless.
Every night she would walk into my son's room, her nails tapping on the hard wood floors. Like a night watchman she would check the surroundings and then go to bed herself.
As my oldest grew, we would play racing games in the front yard. As I close my eyes I can still hear the joyous squeal of a toddler thinking he bested his dog in a race to our Red Maple tree while I held onto her collar so he could get a head start.
When I miscarried what might have been twins early in my second pregnancy a few days before Christmas, it was Guinness who helped me cry. Ever stoic, I was locked in thoughts of mental flogging - "Should I be sad?...I wasn't that far along anyway."  Guinness jumped up on the couch where I was sitting, put her head on my belly and sighed like she knew.
I wept into her fluffy black fur.
When my youngest made his way into the world, Guinness pushed over again. But oh, how she loved him. When he began to walk at 10 months, she began to clean up in earnest. His little hands could only contain so many cheerios and rice puffs before spilling over. And there were always the french fries on the floor of the minivan. Much to both boys' dismay, she always snubbed the green beans handed to her under the table.
Like with anything or anyone in life, it was not all roses. Her hair would shed in clumps around the house in the spring so thick we had to buy a heavy duty vac to accommodate. Her breath, well that was not always the best. As she got older she liked to knock down the kitchen trash can and forage.
Still no one could be mad for long or resist a cuddle from her when back and shaved from the groomers like a sheared lamb.
Our neighbor would ask if we got a new dog.
Our vet would say she looked like a puppy with her new haircut.
She gave me puppy eyes the day she lay dying in our living room. Only this time the plea was to end her suffering.
I gave the boys an option. They did not have to come to the vets with us but I told them Guinness would not be able to come back home. Her body was shutting down.
Finn said: "I want to go. She needs me."
Dylan asked if he could hold her paw.
We patted her head and rubbed the tops her paws and told her we would help her.
When my oldest son began to cry, the little one rubbed his knee and gave him his bear.
"It's OK," he said. "It's OK."
Unlike all other trips to the vet Guinness didn't shake and go to the bathroom on the floor.
She knew that we were there.
The boys knelt down, their faces streaked with tears, and told her that they loved her.
They left the exam room while their father and I stayed behind for her final breaths.
In a second she was gone. I closed her eyes.
We rode home crying. My oldest clutching her collar. But through the haze we knew we helped our Guinness die with love.
It was our last giving act to not look away from her when she needed us most.
As a pet she grew with them their whole young lives and in her death, she taught them the heartbreak and necessity of letting go.



Friday, December 23, 2011

Dear Santa

I fear this is my last "kid" Christmas with my oldest.
The doubts about you and your reindeer have settled in.
He's dropping hints.
 "Mom you use the same wrapping paper."
(I didn't think he'd notice. New moms make note.)
7 years ago....wow!
"Mom, have you gone shopping yet?"
When he questioned you in front of his little brother, I remained stoic.
Naturally, I pointed out The Polar Express story.
Are you sure you can't hear the bell anymore?
"Well I'm not really sure. I know the Santa at the mall is a fake."
So this year, I want one last magical Christmas, like when I was  hugely 8 months pregnant and went  early bird shopping, wrapped all presents and decorated the tree so he would have all of the holiday trimmings before his little brother robbed a share of the lime light..
I'm just not ready to give up the innocence.
And yet so it goes.
He moved into his own room a few weeks ago.
 I took down the old ABC wall quilt that used to hang in his nursery that later morphed into a toy room.
The patchwork baby blanket is now replaced with a Patriots football version of the same idea.
The transition makes me smile and cry at the same time.
Don't get me wrong, I love watching my little boy grow and grow.
I love laughing at his jokes, his love of history, and his size 9-1/2  feet.
This Christmas I am asking for a few more snuggles, one more exclamation of swearing he heard the reindeer on the roof, and the early morning running of not so little feet.
Then, I'll let go.
Pinkie swear.