Living as if there is always a tomorrow…

Today was a 9.9 day. I saw the blue sky from my bed as I awoke and I knew it would be stellar!

Arriving in my seat at the dining room table after brewing the perfect cup of tea, I awoke my computer to look on a Facebook page for a picture of my 14 year old who had surely survived her first night at YEA Camp (Youth Empowered Action) in Charlton, MA. I was hopeful that she would experience a week of passion-building, consciousness-raising excitement. I was feeling good!

The phone rang next to me and I saw my sister Cyn’s familiar name on the screen. Family, she is but since she’s not too frequent in her calls, I had a flash of warning before I said hello. “Have you been on Facebook yet?” she asked.

“Not yet, why?”

“I think our cousin David died.” “I don’t know for sure, but it looks like it by his son Jake’s posts.” she said.

It was not for almost 3 more hours that I knew for sure what had happened. No one was returning her calls and Google searches pulled up nothing.

I was already dressed for a morning bike ride, having been granted a “do whatever you want day” by my lovely wife. It was her way of sharing the “burden” of having been gone almost 2 full days of every week for the past 2 years to care for her ailing dad. We are always trying to keep a balance, it seems, of energy, patience, and time. Time, I believe, is the most valuable and also the most elusive…

“I’m going to go for a ride,” I said. “There’s nothing else I can do right now.”

“Please be careful!” she said, as she does and has, for 18+ years.

“I always am.” I responded, as I always do.

When I head out on a ride, or plane trip, or anytime I feel like I might be in danger (for as far back as I can remember), I have surrounded myself in my mind with white light. I can visualize it swirling around me and protecting me. I ask my spirit guides to keep me safe, and today, I added, “It’s not my day. It’s not my time!”

This morning as I repeated that ritual, I felt uneasy. I thought of the speed at which we can go from alive to dead, one minute our flame burning brightly, the next, extinguished. It isn’t fair and it causes pain, mostly felt by those left behind. And then I think about the fact that I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason, yet there are many more questions than I have answers.

No one knows for certain what becomes of us when we die; I believe we’re all mostly just afraid of the unknown. Certainly, we must get a better understanding as we age? I fear we just amass more questions.

All I know is that time is moving at a speed that I cannot fathom and control and that unless I can find a way to slow it down, my flame will be blown out in what seems like an instant!

When I was young, I planned to live until I was 100, but by the time I was 40, I’d revised that to “90 or above would be fine.” Now, I’ve lowered it again and I’m aiming at 85. That gives my kids plenty of time to have kids so I can meet them all, which is something that I never got with my own parents.

My 2 youngest, “the babies, the twins, the little ones,” have just gotten back from a week of overnight camp. They have somehow grown into teenagers at only 11.5 years old, look a foot taller, and seem almost ready to venture out of the nest on their own. Not really, but they do seem much more grown up this week!

“Can we go for 3 weeks next year?” they pleaded

“Really? How would I be able to live without you for 3 weeks? Wouldn’t you get homesick?” I said.

“Well, maybe a little, but it would be fun! Please, Please, Mommy & Mama?!” they chimed.

I thought to myself, “No, that would be impossible. That’s like being one of those parents who just want to get rid of their kids and send their kids to boarding school. Out of the question! Two weeks, maybe, but it’s expensive!”

“We’ll see”, I said, as I mumbled ever so quietly… “never going to happen!”

They keep growing, even when you’re not around. At camp they do things for camp staff that they don’t do at home. Like brush their teeth on the first request as they herd their way towards the makeshift outdoor sinks. They go to sleep on schedule, get up early for extra activities, and try new foods. They bring their dishes on their trays to the dishwasher area! They clean up after themselves…And they make friends with kids who may grow up to be lifelong friends, tethered to each other through distance over the years, and reunited in old-age. These are memories that last a lifetime.

My cousin David died almost instantly from an aneurysm on his brain stem. I doubt that he felt any pain, nor had time to realize how dire it was. One moment he was there and the next he was gone. He had just turned 50 a day before, and left his parents, 2 siblings, 3 grown boys, a lovely girlfriend, 2 ex-wives, and the rest of us relatives reeling with the suddenness, the sadness, and the questions. I still see him as a young boy like it was yesterday, with taped up broken glasses and all of my sisters and his sisters teasing him because he was the only boy and we could.

A few nights ago, before our daughter went to YEA camp, she came to our bedroom where I lay, alone (on a night when the wife was at Dad’s), armed with her computer to show me a hair straightener that she wanted to buy.

“It’s only $79.00” she said. “Can I get it?”

“$79.00! Your hair is gorgeous. You don’t need a hair straightener! And that’s a lot of money!” I said

“It’s not $150.00, like some of the others! Please? I really want it and need it!” she whined.

It went downhill from there. I wasn’t going to buy something that cost that much when we had just dropped a good chunk of money on new school clothes. She continued to whine and I stood my ground. She didn’t even want to consider looking on ebay for a better price on a used one. I finally just told her I wasn’t going to argue about it anymore and to go to bed!

10 minutes later, I called her back in…

“You know,” I said, if you had come in here saying “Mommy, there’s something that I really want to buy, but I don’t have enough money for it. Is there any way I can work it off?” I would have listened with much more open ears. Instead, you came in here like a spoiled teenager expecting that you would just get what you want! We talked more, and she quickly realized her mistake and apologized. The next morning, she was up and dressed and had eaten breakfast and was ready to tackle the jobs I’d given her. I told her she’d be sore the next day, tired of stooping over to cut saplings on our back hill but would be pleased with herself when she accomplished her goal. 3 hours later, she texted me pictures at work to say she was done!

What was most enlightening about our talk that night, was that in appealing to her to think about being more of a go-getter and to work harder and to find a passion in life, she said to me, “You just want me to be a politician! You want me to be political!”

“Whoa, what?” “Hell, no I don’t! Politicians have to lie a lot, and they don’t do a lot of what they say they’ll do. The good ones are few and far between. I’d never want you to be a politician!”

“I just want you to be passionate about something!” I said. “I gave you life. I gave you a flame that burns inside you, but it’s up to you to fuel that flame!”

“Finding a passion is as easy as setting up a lemonade stand at a busy intersection on the bike path to raise money for your friend whose sister is dying of leukemia!” “You make signs and posters with her picture on it and you raise thousands of dollars, not because people care about the lemonade, but because they see your passion and want to donate!”

“Passion is getting your school to stop selling water in plastic bottles, but instead to encourage kids to bring refillable bottles in and have filtered water dispensers in hallways!”

“Passion is going out once a week with your siblings to pick up trash along the bike path!” It’s your future and your kids’ future that needs to be saved, and I’m just trying to get you to care about that. It’s getting tougher and tougher for people to live in this world and kids need to see that their choices now can make a difference. You need to help be that difference!

We’ll see what Saturday brings when she comes out of camp “empowered” in some way. I’m hoping that she’ll have learned some skills that she will use to fire herself up about some cause and to energize others to do the same. It’s not like she hasn’t had examples!

Life starts and life ends. What we do here in the time that we remain, matters. Instead of living each day as if it were my last, I want to treasure my time and live as if there is always a tomorrow!

R.I.P.

R.I.P. David Cassinelli

Thanks for reading!

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Pessimistically optimistic at the seashore…

I’m in Florida this week with my family minus my two big girls, enjoying a resort with a pool, a bay side view, and a nice white, sandy beach. “Life is good” says my T-shirt, and it is. Thanks to a generous gift from my father-in-law, we can enjoy this time together while the kids have school break.

All would be blissful if everything had fallen into place on the Friday before we left. I had expected a call back about a job – one that I’d interviewed for on Wednesday and had a call back on Thursday for a second interview. The job, a 30 hr/week position which barely paid a living wage, was exciting and challenging, and would evoke all of my creative talents. I was optimistic that it seemed I was the only person called back for a second interview, as the director was headed out-of-town right after our 8am meeting. I was feeling good, thought we had a great rapport, and was eager to get going on the job. All I thought she had to do was to check my references, which I was confident would be superb. Friday came and went and still, knowing that she hadn’t reached them all, I was disappointed to not hear over the weekend, but excused that fact and then again for the Monday holiday. By Wednesday, I finally got a call and was shocked to hear that she had given it to someone else.

I could have gone spiraling into a downward mope of depression and self-pity, and even though I did feel sorry for myself for a moment, it just wouldn’t  last. What I felt predominantly, was anger- at myself(again)for letting any job get into my psyche that much before I got it! I think that I’m going to get it, and I know that if I don’t stay positive, it could affect my interview, and if I say to myself, “you probably won’t get it anyway,” or “that interview really sucked” for various reasons,” or if I keep telling myself  “if you get it, it’s a bonus!” then I am casting self-doubt. That will never get me a job. Either I’ll get it or I won’t. In one case, I’ll be happy(I think), and in the other case, I’ll be upset, sad, and depressed. How long will and can I stay that way? We’ll see.

Being a very visual person can be a curse, you see, because I can see myself projected into a role easily, complete with my work attire, organized desk area, daily routines, and even the lunch I’ll pack. When I ‘m called for an interview, I diligently research the job, finding out about everyone involved in the organization, policies, staff, website, publications, history, business trends, innovations in the industry-you name it, I know it! So when I don’t get a job, it’s like a nice dream I just awoke from and discovered it didn’t really exist. It’s a major let-down and hangs with me for days or weeks, during which time I also rationalize every possible reason I might have not succeeded: “Too old”, “over-qualified, will probably leave for a better job,” “too gay,” “too strong and self-assured,” “really wants to take my job,” “won’t fit in with our style,” and the list goes on.

Am I pessimistically optimistic or optimistically pessimistic? I used to believe that I was a perpetual optimist. I could find the good in anything and always believed that things would work out for the best. “Whatever will be, will be,” is my motto, and I truly believe in the will of my higher power, but lately, I’ve got this she-devil sitting on my shoulder, saying “I told you not to get excited over that job.” “No one wants to hire you,” “you’re a threat to them,” “you’re too eager and want it too much!”

So here I am, at the beach, knowing that instead of jumping feet first into a new, exciting job on Monday, I’m still searching, sending off resumes to jobs that I mostly don’t want at places I can’t imagine working. That rare special job has eluded me again and I just need to believe that a better one is waiting for me. It just needs to come soon!

I went out for a walk on the beach alone today, heading out for some exercise and thinking time. While I could have collected shells, admired the surging waves and water fowl, I kept to my intentions and tried to just keep up a good stride and think about my feelings. I thought about one of my favorite books, Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and the beauty and life lessons she extracted from the nature around her. I won’t pretend to have found anything as profound as that, but I did come to cherish the importance of my time here with my family and the memories that we’re creating. I picked out a few shells on my way back, snapped some interesting photos, and now am sharing them with you. Everything happens for a reason!

Found Objects

I found a photo on the ground yesterday when I was out walking. It was slick with dew, lying adjacent to a lawn with no trash cans in sight and discarded as if it fell out of someone’s pack on the way to the bus stop. Five women were staring up at me, faces aglow with the happiness that comes from what I gathered was a very fun and memorable wedding and neatly labeled on the back with the bride’s name, her mother, and three friends. It was a captured frame of the joy in their moment  and a memory that would likely live on in the minds of these five women forever. The picture certainly had seen its day and was eroding before my eyes. I picked it up carefully and cradled it in my hand, curling it only slightly to maximize the exposure to air so that it could dry. For what purpose I wanted to preserve it, I didn’t know.

I’ll just get this out there now…I’m a pretty nostalgic gal. I like pictures, video, anything to preserve a moment and a good time. I’ve been known to snap photos at most events, capturing  any emotion, and taking pictures of people is by far my favorite hobby. On numerous occasions I’ve grabbed my video camera to preserve a tantrum of one of my kids, mostly to distract, but also to deflect the absurdity in the moment to the silliness that lurks below. It doesn’t always work, but the result is preserved for their own kids to see if the need arises! “Yes, your dad had tantrums too- isn’t that just ridiculous to be crying over the fact that your sister called you a butt?!”

I am my father’s daughter, and like him, photography has always fascinated me. I learned my way around my father’s darkroom by 4th grade, and by 6th grade, I was venturing into my first real enterprise – taking pictures of my teachers, printing up copies and selling them to my friends at school for a quarter. Never mind that the chemicals and paper cost me more than that; it was a great experience in supply and demand for a budding businesswoman. That teacher, one who had taught my older sisters and who was much-loved by many students, was retiring after our year, so the demand for my goods was high!

Unfortunately, thinking about that time also brings up the memory of a few years later, when visiting that teacher, who lived nearby, and who often played his accordion while I joined in on my violin, tried to kiss me on the couch in his living room. His old man smell and bristly unshaven face are now etched in my mind forever instead of that bold, well-loved, handsome man in my photo. What memories we preserve…

By the end of my walk, I had found several other goodies – an elastic rip cord shoelace in decent condition that my son would find a purpose for, and 3 more, very disturbing  items – dog poop in bags, neatly tied, and set along the sidewalk on the grass as if waiting to be picked up by some elusive dog poop picker-upper.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a few pet peeves. Irresponsibility is up there at the top. Intentional irresponsibility is even worse! I don’t have a dog, for many good reasons, (kids who can barely take care of themselves as top on that list), and not because I don’t enjoy them; I have had a good number of dogs in my life whom I’ve loved dearly. Back when I did have them, it was before the time of picking up the poop in public places, but instead, we just resorted to a leash-pull maneuver and coaxing to get the dog to poop in a benign wooded area. While I do understand the inconvenience of capturing and bagging the deed, I don’t understand the absurdity of bagging and deserting it, thus, my need to go back and state the obvious so that this derelict and any others thinking of a copy-cat offense knows that I AM WATCHING!

I clearly realize that the older I get, the less I care about what people think of me. “Crazy old lady” putting up signs next to dog poop is right up there with “crazy old lady who had 40 cats living with her in her car,” but it’s more than that for me. I’m not a “teacher” in any sense of the word but I teach every single day. My classroom may be small, rude  and resentful at times, but I’m hoping that the values I try to instill in my kids will be ones that they can admire and respect me for  someday. If we don’t do it, who will?

By the time I arrived home and set the photo on my counter, I was disappointed to see that the picture had nearly disappeared. The ink-jet printing layer had turned to dust and all but two faces were totally gone. I know, it wasn’t my memory to preserve, but for about an hour, it was mine.

Modern Family Power Outages

I admit it, I’m a technology junkie. I’m just shy of a 12-step program for techno-geeks, but I haven’t hit bottom yet. This power outage due to our Halloween Eve snowstorm almost put me over the edge if it hadn’t been for a few bars left on my iphone. My computer is my sole  lifeline to the outside world 5 days a week at work plus the sporadic customers who wander into the showroom. One day last month I was so bored that I carried on a long-distant conversation with the Freight Quote guy who calls me periodically from somewhere in the mid-west!

Power went out on Saturday night at my house. I survived the night in the cold house, then proceeded to turn on (and then back off) the light switches in each room every time I entered, then cursed my forgetfulness that the electricity was out. I charged up my essential iphone using my 2 portable chargers, and ran out of my last drop of juice in the middle of the next night when my white noise app. abruptly shut off, startling me from my fitful sleep. It was a long, too-quiet rest-of-the-night for me! The lessons I learned from 2.5 days without electricity are: 1. I need to get a backup heat source in the house, 2. I need a gas-fired water heater, and 3. I have to buy several more battery backups for my electronics, not necessarily in that order.

Don’t get me wrong…I was able to deal with the primitive living. I took a cold shower, ate lukewarm leftover food heated on the gas stove, dressed in 10 layers of clothes, and played board games instead of watching TV. I was happy to see my kids enjoying themselves and not whining about the lack of TV and computers, and even heard a statement by my 12 year-old daughter who said “I like not having electricity,” and wished I’d gotten that on my iphone video, but I wouldn’t have had enough charge anyway.

I reminded her of that several times in the last 2 days since we’ve been back on the grid, but it seems like a distant memory to her. She’s back to her music, texting her friends on her phone, and has found her old friend The Sims3   computer game, much to her two mothers’ dismay! I don’t get it. I didn’t get it when my oldest daughter was hooked on the original Sims game and I’m in the dark now too. It never interested me to watch soap operas, and this just seems like the same thing except it’s electronic. Being on the outside peering in to virtual lives seems pointless to me, but maybe that’s because I have enough real drama in my life.

My wife and I debate the computer issue weekly, as I walk the fine line of defending some limited use while she teeters on the cliff, ready to throw the computers/TVs and phones to their gruesome death. As much as it bothers me to have my kids engaged in the computer to the point that they don’t hear me (my boy), or argue about getting off when time is up (again, same boy), or try to bargain for more usage or debate the fairness of time (youngest daughter who will be a lawyer someday), or my 12 year-old who is addicted to the Sims, I can justify their use with the many good things that one can get from technology. However, having to oversee that use every day usually falls to my wife, who can see no redeeming values in them when the frustration of negotiating said allotment of time slaps her in the face in loud and annoying ways.

My kids managed to live without power for 2 whole days. Now, with 3 days so far of no school, they can’t seem to live without it. It’s not like they don’t do other things…sports every season, instrument playing for everyone with daily practicing, homework, reading, church on Sundays, Boy Scouts for the son…but it’s now become such an integral part of their lives and mine, that they feel punished when they can’t partake of the activity. How to find balance…

Each generation of kids that are born have their crosses to bear. My parents grew up in the shadow of the depression, not remembering it vividly but seeing it daily in the habits of their parents. My grandparents saved their money well, made sure that their kids didn’t suffer as they had with food rations, power outages, fears of war or the lack of essentials including medicines and sometimes urgent surgeries. They knew what hardship was all about and carefully and deliberately imparted that to their kids. My generation, born in the 1960’s were very young and naive to most of what was happening around them as children. I neither suffered nor thought much about the ramifications of the Vietnam War, and was only mildly affected by the execution of 2 Kennedy’s and MLK, and I hardly remember that war except through stories and movies.

I grew up as a “normal” kid in a small town in MA in the 1960’s. I lived with my parents and 3 sisters in a middle-class home in a mostly middle-class town, with grandparents nearby and a few cousins not too far away. My two sets of grandparents visited often or we visited them in nearby Cranston, RI, where both of my parents grew up. It was an implied notion that family came first, hard work and volunteer work came next, then music and academic studies before “fun” began. I imagined that every kid lived their life as I did, or basically the same, with a few minor differences.

It wasn’t until I was around seven or eight that I realized that my mother’s parents were different. They were both deaf. My grandmother had gotten scarlet fever when she was 5 or so, and with hearing aids could hear dull sounds. She also had experienced sound before she became deaf, so she was able to speak much more clearly and appropriately for the setting, whatever it may be. My grandfather, who had contracted meningitis as a baby was profoundly deaf, and a sweet, loving gentle soul who I loved dearly. He spoke in a hoarse, loud, somewhat crude way, not as easily understood, nor accepted in most “polite” society. I witnessed the stares and giggling when I happened to be out in public with them although I think my grandparents were oblivious or didn’t care. For a child, and a sensitive one at that, it was embarrassing and made me feel like I was constantly looked at as one of the “different” ones.

A few years later, when I was around 10, I remember waiting for my parents for what felt like 4 hot hours with my sisters in the blue family station wagon at a hospital parking lot. I did not know that this day would be the beginning of a life that my family would now and forever after know as “living with M.S.” The sight of my father with a leg brace built into his big brown man-who-works-in-an-office shoe solidified that in stone.

From my 10 year-old self on, I began dreaming of another life for me and my family. I lay in my bed every night before I fell asleep and cried for the dad that I was losing. I prayed to the only “God” that I knew and asked him to help my dad and make him well. I day-dreamed about finding a magic ring and getting three wishes for anything I wanted. I never needed more than one wish- it was to have magic powers whenever I wore the ring. Subsequent wishes would remedy the loss or theft of the ring and render it powerless to do evil. I had it all worked out in my child mind…until I was forced to grow up quickly and take on roles that an adult should own, at 14 years old. I was no longer a sheltered child. I knew what was going on and nothing was hidden from me.

My dad had declined in 4 years from a leg brace to a cane, to 2 canes, then a walker, to a motorized cart and a strong assistant, to a wheelchair, an electric wheelchair, then primarily a bed. When I went off to college at 18, he had daily home health aids and required an assistant and a hydraulic lift to get in and out of his bed. My mother continued to work as a piano teacher out of our home and directed the choir at her church, but otherwise, she was his nurse full-time.

To adjust to the constant loss of physical function was a devastating transition for a once active, energetic man. He was forced to retire from his job as an electrical design engineer at Texas Instruments and was now isolated at home. Anger was an abundant emotion in all of our lives, and often observed and acted out, but rarely spoken of in honest terms. My dad was angry at his losses, and rightfully so, and my mother was angry at her loss of self and the tremendous gain/burden/death-do-you part sense of responsibility. For me-and I can’t speak for my sisters-I was angry most because my dad and I had a special bond that was now shattered. It revolved around the things that he loved most besides us, working on his Model A Ford, his Ben Franklin Clock business, and tinkering on inventions in our basement. He no longer was able to walk, and doing it on stairs was an impossible feat. Instead, I was his hands and eyes. I fixed things that he’d previously expertly fixed when they broke, I did all of the “man” chores in the yard and house, and I continued to fulfill the orders for his clock business until I had no parts left to make the clocks. All of our anger seeped out around the edges of just about every interaction we had with each other and was responsible for  shaping the person who I have become.

I feel very fortunate that my life has taken most of the twists and turns that it has. I’ve been able to meet the challenges that have been hurled at me and believe that I am a stronger and better person because of it. I would never wish a life of pain, emotional or physical on anyone, but I do believe that everything happens for a reason. My kids do not know real hardship or challenges. They will think that they have it rough at times, and that their parents are too tough on them when they obviously disagree with our decisions, but they have had a pretty easy life so far. Isn’t that what all parents hope for?

Last night while watching the hilarious Modern Family TV show, the almost college-bound Haley was trying to write a college essay, but was having trouble with the question “what’s the biggest obstacle that you’ve ever had to overcome?” She couldn’t think of anything and went on to blame her parents for making her life too easy. Her mom, in response, took her for a drive to “show her something” that she felt her daughter “now needed to know.” In a clever ruse, she got her daughter to get out of the car to go and “read what’s carved on that tree,” and then left her 17 yr.old stranded on a deserted road with no cell phone or money so that she’d have something to write about! The show is a sitcom, so there wasn’t any scary outcome to worry about, but it managed to highlight this feeling that I’ve been having about my kids and their simple, uncomplicated lives filled with ease.

I just hope that someday, somehow, they will appreciate all that they’ve gotten in life and that some lessons will be learned. If growing up in a 2-mom home is their biggest challenge, then I hope the positive role modeling that they receive from all of the people who are important in their lives will enable them to become wonderful adults! So far I have 2 who have made it, three more to go!

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