Monday, November 28, 2011

You're only dancing on this earth for a short while

I got my senior yearbook out this morning to try and remember what I was like, what life was like to be a 17 year old pom pon girl, back in the seventies.

This is what I remember about that time in my life. My friends, my many friends. I remember dances and driving. I remember bonfires and bands. I remember singing John Denver at the top of my lungs with my friend Retta. I remember working in Walgreens making a few bucks. I remember hip hugger jeans and tube tops. Summer nights at the quarry and drive in movies with John Golabek. I remember I didn't get the date I wanted for prom and it didn't matter, because my mom made me a gorgeous dress. All these little snippets. I remember so much.

I remember my parents were proud of me. I was going to college, having a chance to do something they never got to do. I remember saying goodbye to Dawn, to Kathy, to Anita, to Diane to many years together and now our lives were going to change.

But nowhere in my mind do I remember being stressed. I don't remember caring that much. I was more concerned with having the right bathing suit than being in the National Honor Society. My grades, what were they? I think OK. I really don't remember. How many colleges did I apply to? One. Eastern Illinois University and it was good for me, it was very good.

The reason I am writing this, is what are we doing to our children? Lord, what are we doing? The right ACT score, the right leadership opportunities, the right passion, oh yes, passion on that college essay. All carefully planned with promises for the right school and surely that means success, that means you will have the right life. So study, study. AP classes till you are bleary eyed studying late at night. You need at least a couple and then as many honor classes as you can stomach. In your spare time, that is when you need to demonstrate PASSION. Yes! Passion for something, not necessarily what you are interested in, but passion for something that someone else in an admissions office will deem worthy. Start a charity, build a library, collect 1000 winter coats. Whatever it is, make sure it counts. Make sure it is impressive.

What was my passion? My passion was having fun spending time with friends that I had grown up with and would soon not be walking down the hall with me. My passion was doing a good job at Walgreens and saving my paycheck for spending money in college.

By today's standards, I was a mediocre student. But, I will tell you this. I would not trade the social skills I gained by all those hours of fun for anything. Because it taught me about people and about life. Job interviews were easy. I was used to talking to strangers at Walgreens. I didn't do anything really notable, but what I did do was build a reservoir of memories that are with me today. Interesting, mediocre grade, state school and yet, I had a good career that kind of unfolded as I lived my life. It had nothing to do with my grades, my school.

My little girl was beating herself up because she wanted to take Photography instead of another AP class. So, I made the decision. You will take the photography class and so what. You see, we are on that final lap before college application letters get written. She works so hard and she is so much better at grades, accomplishments. But, I need to teach her more about these precious memories of high school, the friends that will soon not be in your life. I want her to look back and say, "it was good".

In my senior yearbook there are many smiling faces and the captions read from the Cat Stevens song, "Oh very young, what will you leave us this time? You're only dancing on this earth for a short while and though your dreams may toss and turn you now...

Oh very young, there'll never be a better chance.

Gracie has one and half years of high school left. This crazy path to nowhere they talk about, well they are right. Work hard, yes, but play hard, too. Treasure these years, they are the entry way to adulthood. Parents...we will never have a better chance to teach them right.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

100 Sounds To See: The only dog for our only child

100 Sounds To See: The only dog for our only child: "My daughter Gracie is an only child, so getting a dog when she was seven years old, it just made sense. The sign on the window of The B..."

The only dog for our only child

My daughter Gracie is an only child, so getting a dog when she was seven years old, it just made sense. The sign on the window of The Barking Lot, a local pet groomer, announced GOLDEN RETRIEVER PUPPIES FOR SALE”. Just so happened, we were ready for a puppy, a companion for Gracie.

The puppies were at a home in Brookfield and I went there by myself to check them out. It was mayhem, little golden streaking fur balls, chasing each other and having true canine fun. Except one pup, he calmly walked over to me and dropped a little ball at my feet. I picked him up and he instantly snuggled against my neck. Oh God, I was hooked, this little guy, in all this craziness, wanted me…he picked me that morning so many years ago. And by the way, he was the runt of the litter and so I even got a discount!

I brought Mickey home a few days later. The picture, it is the first minutes of Gracie and Mickey meeting one another. Those first days, armed with my copy of THE MONKS OF NEW SKEET, THE ART OF RAISING A PUPPY, I was going to train this dog to be the perfect canine family companion. I had many rules, no barking, no chewing and he was in his cage according to the schedule in the book. Mickey was to live only in the family room and he was to relieve himself in the Poo Poo Palace corner of the yard. I was a psycho, dog training Nazi.

Well, he didn’t flunk out of obedience school, but he wasn’t a star pupil. He chewed, barked and pulled his way through puppy hood. He wasn’t very well mannered; his greeting would knock you down. But yet, this dog of ours, has a heart of gold. Our family fell fast in love. Mickey was an ambassador of dogs, if you didn’t like him, he would win you over in time with his charm and sweetness. My mother has never liked a dog in her life, but she coos to Mickey. The neighbor children that were afraid of dogs, Mickey caught their snowballs at the bus stop and soon they were fans, too.

We are crazy in expressing our love for Mickey. He has his own theme song, yes, he does. We all break into the chorus if one of us starts to sing to him. He in turn, lights up and prances to the stanzas. He now owns the couch, sleeps by the foot of our bed and holds court under the dining room table. Table scraps are expected; especially steak and he can make you feel very guilty if you don’t share. He loves toys, rawhide bones and a good brushing.

He keeps a routine like an old lady, a cookie after he goes outside, a nice long morning nap in the sun and a romp around the yard, early afternoon. That routine, that presence is the most comforting part of my day. He follows me around the house like a shadow. I talk to my dog, tell him about good things, troubles and he listens with total attentiveness. I can also speak for him and tell folks what he is thinking. I’m his bidder, his negotiator and his overall spokesperson.

Recently, we were in Pet Smart shopping for dog food. The woman behind me in the line reached down to pet Mick. “Oh my… what is his name she asked?” “Mickey”, I replied. Her eyes filled with tears as she hugged his furry face and said to me, “Our golden was a Mickey, too.”

And in that moment, it hit me. Mickey just turned nine years old this past month and time is marching on. He sleeps quite a bit more and he tires quickly. When did the gold fur on his nose turn so white? You take it for granted they will always be there. The thought that one day, he won’t be, well, it is just devastating to me. I push this out of my mind, just like the thought that Gracie will be leaving home in the near future.

And so is life, what is so precious and important is to be cherished. When the changes come, I’ll count the years, each one a true blessing and be thankful that I shared my home, my family and my heart with Mickey.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I witnessed greatness

In my life, I have met stars on Broadway, Pulitzer winning writers, famous TV stars and brilliant academics. They have my respect and admiration for their great accomplishments. But, nothing they have done comes close to the accomplishments of thirty-one young adults I met at a graduation ceremony at Village Glen School in Culver City, California.

My niece, Emma, graduated with her classmates on a recent morning. It was a simple stage adorned with helium balloons. The graduates entered to Pomp and Circumstance wearing red robes and mortar boards with gold tassels. In the audience I sat with all of their parents, friends, and extended family. Like all graduations, there was a thrill of accomplishment in the air.

I can tell you, that nothing comes close; nothing comes close to the respect and awe I felt in the presence of the graduates.

I have thought for several days about how to write about this experience, how to do it justice. Perhaps the young man who stood up to speak can describe it best. “When I was four years old, my parents were told that I was autistic. They were told that I would never read, never speak in full sentences. I’m here today to tell you that I can do those things.”

I have had a front row seat for the past nineteen years watching my sister fight for her daughter. Emma did the work, but Deb paved the way. My sister is my hero and Emma is my beacon in this world that says all things are possible.

You see, I believe that a fine example of true greatness are these kids and their families who have written their own futures in spite of what any diagnosis was given in early childhood. Greatness comes from the teachers that work side by side with the children year after year. Greatness comes from perseverance, set backs and victories.

Until you have watched a child struggle to use scissors in an OT session, you do not know the meaning of hard work, for the child, for the teacher and for those adults that love them. None of it has been easy, in fact, everything is hard, very hard. Yet, the victories and accomplishments are huge.

Through the speeches on that graduation stage there was a recurring theme. “We deserve a chance”, “Even more challenges ahead”. “We believe in us”.

To the graduates and especially to Emma I say this…I am humbled by all of you and I know that you represent all that is good in this world. You are brave, you are capable and you will continue to amaze me.

At the end of the ceremony, Charlie, one of the graduates, sang a song and played his guitar. Perhaps you know the song from Wicked...

I've heard it said

That people come into our lives for a reason

Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you...

Congratulations Class of 2011….Village Glen West School...

I wish you a world and a future that is worthy of you.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

100 Sounds To See: 16 years ago today...I heard the first cry

100 Sounds To See: 16 years ago today...I heard the first cry: "Gracie made me promise that I wouldn't post anything on Facebook about 16 years ago. Mothers love to announce to the world the 'event' when..."

16 years ago today...I heard the first cry

Gracie made me promise that I wouldn't post anything on Facebook about 16 years ago. Mothers love to announce to the world the "event" when their little boy or girl came into the world. Sometimes there are even a few comments about labor. She made me promise. Well, this is not being posted on Facebook, but it is going into my blog. Too bad Gracie! Moms have rights on this special day.

We had a rough road getting to this day 16 years ago. Multiple hospitalizations, unknowns that sent my anxiety through the roof. Never have I fought so hard or wanted something so much. My prayer was a simple one. "Please God, bring her to me. Let her come into my world." It became my mantra.

At 31 weeks, I went into early labor. My friend Beth stopped by the hospital to give me the heads up on a c-section. I remember seeing the fear in her eyes. It wasn't about the c-section procedure, it was the words that no one wanted to say out loud. Thirty-one weeks is early and Gracie was going to be a little over 3 pounds. As I write this, I can feel the fear creeping back. All I know is that something inside of me was stronger than that fear. It was simply faith, that I was going to have this baby and she would be ok.

Mark saw her first. He tells of how she looked right at him. There were more doctors than one could count. This was no ordinary delivery. It was chaos as the doctors and nurses rushed about and loud rock music was playing in the surgical unit. Suddenly the room erupted into cheers. I knew this was good news. She must have cried? Dr. Streicher ordered silence. The music turned off, everyone was quiet. Then I heard daughter cry. "I can hear it!" I shouted to everyone.

And that my friends, is the most beautiful sound I will ever hear.

Happy Birthday Gracie...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What are you afraid of?

Recently Father Mark in our church service asked the question, "what are you afraid of?"

First thought of long term fear icon? I hate those monkeys. When they take off out that window with orders to get Dorothy, my skin crawls. The music, geez, creepy, creepy. They terrified me as a child.

But, I know they aren't real. There are many real fears today, for many of us. Financial fears, relationship fears, health fears and even aging fears. I don't know about you, but every so often, I get a look in the mirror and I see a few more miles on the face.

I am outing myself in my blog this morning. I have something that scares me bad. Real bad. It is something that doesn't scare you, it is my own fear. My own personal creepy fear and I haven't told anyone.

You see, it is time for me to step out of my quiet incubator and get back to the hearing world. And there is only one way to do it. I have to get a cochlear implant. Now, we are talking raw, skin tingling fear. Slam the door shut fear. Cover my eyes and burrow under the blanket fear.

So, what is there to be afraid of? To be blunt, I'm not keen on drilling into my head, implanting this device and then attaching a giant thingamajig to my head with wires leading down to a box. It just has a major ick factor to me. Major creepo factor and fear...what if it doesn't work? What if the world sounds like Mickey Mouse? It really is my last hope to hold on to the hearing world. So, the fear.

The reality of it is this, I'm tired. And my tiredness for the first time outweighs my fear. I am tired of apologizing to people for not hearing them. I'm tired of missing the punch lines, the important news and even the little idle conversation that makes weaves the fabric of my day. I'm tired of accepting less when I want more. I miss my work, I miss the connection and above all, I miss you.

So, if you would, I could use your prayers. I have some investigating to do, right doctor, finances and at the same time, I'll be building my confidence.

From the time Gracie was little, we always talked about facing your fears. Eleanor Roosevelt said "do the one thing you fear the most." Well, it is time to kick the monkeys out of my head and move forward with the plan. I'll keep you posted and I hope you will pray that I find the courage. Thank you for this.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The best $4 I'll ever spend...

I have been writing letters to my daughter Gracie since she was born. Gracie knows about the letters. She even says, "Mom, don't write about this", when I comment on events.

I rarely share these letters. But, this weekend is Mother's Day and I am going to break the rule. I got my answer to a question I asked myself many years ago. Here is the letter:

Dear Gracie,
You have been at home sick with a cold for two days. Finally, you are feeling better so I thought we would go to Starbucks. You have grown to like a Vanilla Bean Frappaccino. I never thought I would see the day when I would spend $4 on a drink for a nine year old. You want to know the truth? It's the best $4 I'll ever spend.

We sat there in Starbucks on this cold winter day while your classmates were finishing up their day at school. What a treat to be sitting together, watching the snow build on the sidewalk. The high school lets out earlier and Starbucks was filling up with teenagers coming in to hang out.

As I looked around, I noticed that they were all with their friends, not a mom in sight. I looked at you, sucking down your frothy white drink and I asked myself, "will you always want to spend time with me?" Because I know that someday, Starbucks will be the place you are with your friends, not your mother.

And so the $4 drink. It is giving me a memory that will last me through those years when your friends sit opposite you at the table. Someday your friends will take my place in that chair and I'll feel sad that my little girl has other confidants in her life. That is the way it is supposed to be, but I can't help but wonder what will the teenage years will be like? Will you still want to talk to me, dream with me and pass time with me?

So for now, I'll tuck away this memory for someday in the future. Like I said, it's the best $4 I'll ever spend.


Now my little girl is in high school and yes, she spends more of her time with her friends than with her mother. But, this I know...she still likes the Vanilla Bean Frappacino and she still likes to share her dreams with me. The years are passing so fast and yet some things stay the same.

So, I'll have my own Mother's Day celebration. I'll buy Gracie that $4 drink and sit and talk about her day. God, I am blessed. Happy Mother's Day everyone!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Thank You Michael, for the gift of hearing my world

Such a simple little device...and yet, this little instrument in my ear, it signals the start of my day. Kind of like when the screen on your computer lights up and all your applications come into view, that is my world. I live in total isolation until the little gizmo turns on.

Every morning, I click on the switch and instantly, the small amount of hearing I have left in one ear tunes me into my world. All because of Michael, my audiologist, for more than half of my life, has been my resource to listening. You see, this man who I call my friend, has been my link to the hearing world.

I hated my hearing aid growing up. In fact, I would hide it in my purse when I was a teenager. My hearing was much better in those years and I could get away without it. I am a strong lipreader and this allowed me to be "normal". I just wanted to be like everyone else and the hearing aid, well, it didn't fit my image. Not cool, not me.

So, onto college, I started wearing them more to hear the lectures. Then the career years started and hearing aids allowed me to make a living. It was a combination of luck and hard work, I advanced up the ladder and worked for amazing companies. But, there is one other very important component, those opportunities were possible, because I could hear.

So, every morning, when this little hearing aid goes into my ear, I am so thankful.

Thank you Michael. Thank you for this amazing gift of hearing that you have given to me through the years. With hearing came confidence. I wasn't afraid to strike out on my own, move to The Big Apple and take on the big job on Park Avenue. Through conversation I cultivated lifelong friendships. I could hear my wedding vows and my daughter's first words.

Thank you for your friendship, for the many hours you would spend with me. There were times that those meetings were incredibly sad, the audiograms revealed yet another drop, more loss. And yet, you never gave up on me.

Today, I celebrate the Michael Santucci's of the world and their life work of helping the hearing impaired to live a better quality of life. I thank my teachers so many years ago that taught me how to lip read and the speech therapists that helped me to overcome my speech impediments. Thank you also to the music teacher that helped me to listen to notes and overcome tone deafness. Without all of you, my life would have been so different.

So each morning, when I turn on the little hearing aid, I have incredible gratitude. You see, it isn't just about a hearing is the gift of listening, learning and living.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

When I am in Trader Joes, I love to check out the 99 cent greeting cards. One of the cards jumped out at me, with the question, "When was the last time you did something for the first time?"

I purchased the card and it sits on my desk. I am guilty of doing things the same, safe way. As I get older, it gets even safer. This is bothering me. I think this may be a key component to the aging process.

When I lived in Manhattan, I made the decision to move to a little farmhouse in Connecticut. Oh a whim, I fell in love with Westport, a charming little town on the sound. I packed up my Manhattan apartment and bought a used car from a friend. I was all set to start a new chapter, new experience. Only one problem, the car was a stick shift and I had no clue how to drive it. I called my mom and dad and told them about my plans, my purchase. When they expressed concerns about the car, my response, "it's no big deal, I'll just learn how to do it."

One of the mover guys drove it out to my new home. I sat next to him and watched him drive my car. I realized it was a bigger deal than I thought. Especially when we got into Connecticut and there was this little rolling action while you waited on a hill at a stoplight. Yikes.

I had a few days off, so I unpacked my belongings and began to make this sweet little house with a wraparound porch, home. There in the driveway sat my Honda Civic station wagon and I had no clue how to drive this vehicle. I took cabs back and forth to the train. I knew I couldn't keep this up for long, I needed to learn how to master the stick shift.

My friend at Clairol, Adrienne offered to be my teacher. That weekend, she came out and gave me my first lesson. We went to a parking lot where I could stall, lunge and roll, without inconveniencing anyone. She was a great teacher, but I had a ways to go before I could set out solo on the hills of Westport.

I got up early the next morning to practice. I put a big sign in the rear view window, "please be patient while I learn a stick shift". The sign worked, people stayed far, far away. Soon, I could do it! What fun it was to whiz around the backroads of my new town. It was such a great feeling to learn something new.

Check out my picture of Gracie taking her first steps. The expression on her face is one that says "wow, look at what I can do!". So, I am going to make my list, of things to try for the first time. There is a big hill outside my house that is perfect for sledding. Gracie and her friends are on it all the time, while I watch safely from my kitchen window. Today, I am pulling on my snow pants and boots and going down that hill. Hopefully, no one will be watching as I make a total goof out of myself.

I'm going to keep the card on my desk and challenge myself to step outside of the box and try something new. Even if I fail miserably or make a fool out of myself, I'll have the satisfaction of knowing that I'm open to possibilities and willing to take a chance on the unknown.

And if I live my life this way, who knows...I may have discovered the secret to staying forever young.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

For Christina Taylor Green

I am often asked, "what is your favorite image in the book...what sound do you miss the most?" Until last night, I never had an answer. I would tell people, I love them all, how can I pick?

Now, I know. It is the sound of sheer joy. Children laughing, playing. Surely, of all the sounds, nothing is more precious than the sound of a child discovering his world.

Our role as parents, as aunts and uncles or simply if you love a child, our role is to watch, guide and protect. Is there anything more wonderful than the curiosity, the wide eyed wonder of my daughter and her friends? Even at 15, she still amazes me as new experiences unfold day after day. And through it all, I watch, I guide, I protect.

So, this beautiful girl Christina, who had her life taken from those who love her, how do we make sense of this? For me, it isn't a political discussion, it isn't about the guns or mentally unstable. It is about loss. This time, even though I do not know her, I have been crying for days. I know I am not alone. It makes me realize that my ability to protect has limitations. Life is so fragile, for all of us.

I believe that our children, they represent all that is good in this world. They remind us of living in the moment and all the possibilities of the future. So, dear, beautiful Christina, you have become one of ours and we will mourn you like we knew you. We will pray for your family and for time to heal broken hearts.

I know that I will do what President Obama suggested. I will be a kinder and better person. I will thank God often for Gracie, this incredible miracle that sleeps down the hall from me each night.

When the President referred to "jumping in puddles" in his speech last night, then I knew...the best image, the best sound, is the one that shows the spirit and joy of our children.

God Bless You Christina.

Image Copyright William Huber, 100 sounds to see

I made a donation to the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona in Christina's name. Here is the link: