The Blog

What makes life fun?
November 16, 2018

Pick a child. Any child. Ask that child to explain the ideal way for the holidays to unfold. Would it mean a shopping trip with Mom or Dad on a random Saturday afternoon, where everything on a wish list is deposited into a shopping cart and taken home to play with? Or would it involve letters to and visits with Santa, weeks on end of wishing and dreaming and scheming?

Scenario two, duh.

Not knowing the outcome makes the season magical. Uncertainty makes it delicious.

The happiest grownups I know have a lot in common with little kids. They let their imaginations run wild, they’re wildly creative in pursuit of their dreams, and they stop at nothing. To crave certainty is silly, they know. They wouldn’t pay to see a movie where it’s clear from the beginning the hero gets everything he wants. They know they deserve a story at least as interesting.

It’s easy to forget what makes life fun when we’re in school because we’re usually rewarded for the right answers. After that, the spoils usually go to those who ask the right questions.

Here’s one. Why not surrender to the unknown? The unknown’s kind of in charge that way!

To listen to my sweethearts tease me, you’d swear I hadn’t been paying attention in driver’s ed. I’ve been known to “forget” to signal (in a parking lot!), treat stop signs as suggestions (in the distant past, for those of you in law enforcement), whatever.

I’ve been religious about following the rule to check my blind spot, though. I never move into the lane to my left without checking the rearview mirrors and turning my head around to look out the window for any vehicles that happen to be in that blind spot.

I’m alive today because of it. So are lots of other people. I’m sure of it.

Kind of makes me want to check a few other blind spots, metaphorically speaking!

One thing defined me as a mom. I didn’t pull rank. You can ask. I had to a few times, granted. But I hated it -- and Katie knew it. She knew I’d never say no to her unless I had a really, really good reason. She accepted that. Even when she really, really hated it.

I hadn’t realized just how much she’d hated whatever it was. Not until recently, when she brought up a smattering of those things -- to (get this) thank me for making the tough calls. She attributes much of her happiness, much of her emotional health, to those calls. She’s thankful I saved her from what she couldn’t see at the time, and she plans to do the same for her own children someday.

It was in that context she admitted just how unhappy she’d been for a while.

I had no idea. There hadn’t been any tantrums. Not one. “Nothing would’ve changed,” she told me. Which is true. Also true? There was nothing -- not even a sideways glance -- that would’ve told me how unhappy she was.

So much for knowing Katie. I apparently had not. I knew she was sweet, but this? She wasn’t about to let a little thing like not getting her way -- on big things! -- spoil a second of our time together. Not only that, but she didn’t call my attention to her unhappiness, and that’s what gets to me the most.

We have an expression, the two of us: “I love you so much it hurts.” The other night, after alluding to part of this story on the talk show, I had difficulty falling asleep. I couldn’t get over what a sweetheart Katie is. I wondered all over again how I got so lucky to be her mom. My chest hurt, literally hurt, at the thought.

I’m crying as I type.

It’s difficult to do the right thing. But once in a while someone might surprise you by telling you just how much she appreciated it. Eventually!

thanksWriting thank-you notes wasn’t little-kid Katie’s idea of a good time. Getting presents was, though. It’s a package deal, I told her. So to speak.

Of anything the twenty-something version of Kate thanks me for, inspiring a devotion to thank-you notes is right up there. One lucky recipient recently told her a thank-you letter she wrote him was the most beautiful thing he’d gotten in all of his forty-five years. Can you imagine? I was lucky enough to see a copy of it, and I doubted the guy would ever be the same. Heck, I was only a witness to it -- and I’ll never be the same.

As Katie grew up I’d occasionally think about what I learned from my own parents, that you aren’t doing your job if your kids don’t hate you sometimes. Thank-you notes didn’t fall into that category, thankfully. But a few other things did! I’ll elaborate in my next post.

How do you know you rate?
November 12, 2018

A woman I know has a last name that’s difficult to spell. That’s why, when she gets a handwritten note in the mail with her name spelled correctly, she’s touched. She knows the person went letter by letter to get it right.

It reminded me I’ve been corresponding with some people for more than twenty years, signing every note as “Maureen and Darrell,” and have yet to get a note back with “Darrell” spelled correctly.

It also reminded me there are people in my immediate orbit who don’t pronounce my first name correctly. It’s “more-een,” not the blurred together “mreen.” You wouldn’t think the second version, which almost sounds like a baby engine trying to rev up, would be that much easier to say -- but it does save a fraction of a second, so…maybe.

This isn’t a buffet. There’s one right answer. I mean, it’s up to you. But you’ve probably heard there’s nothing sweeter to someone than the sound of his name. Why not double the fun by spelling it correctly and pronouncing it that way, too?

What holds you back?
November 11, 2018

When Katie moved out of the house Darrell and I decided we weren’t going to turn it into the Museum of Katie. We knew we’d be moving closer to where she settled, eventually -- and now that she’s closer to settled we’re closer to moving. My piece of that for now is deciding what to do with a lifetime of things she left behind. She wants me to save some of it for her, but not much. Not much at all. The rest? It’s up to me.

Here’s what I’ve learned. Katie’s clutter isn’t her. Keeping it won’t bring little-kid Katie back.

Things have a sort of gravitational pull, don’t they? The toughest part of the process was getting started. It was saying goodbye to every last T-shirt and dress and pair of heels she’d left behind. Once I’d cleared all that, though? Oh! I could imagine living somewhere else. I had begun.

My heart almost stopped the day I wrote this post, though. At the bottom of a pile of toys I discovered the little cloth Christmas rattle she got from Santa when she was a baby. I remembered that rattle. It’s actually a bracelet. It was a big deal back in the day.

Now here it was. Stained. Kind of gross. I tossed it.

The faster I part with the memories, the sooner we can make new ones. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

Are you growing?
November 10, 2018

I get an annual checkup every two years. A couple of years ago I was told I’d lost an inch and a half of height in the previous two years. Not good.

Not good, but what can you do? People my age don’t have growth spurts.

Or do they?

In the two years since, I’d done everything I could think of for bone health. I gave up coffee, started eating cheese, whatever the Internet suggested. Nothing too scientific. And nothing that amounted to anything, I bet, compared with the main change I made. I started stretching. A lot. With gusto. I stand up straighter and I walk taller. I stopped being afraid, as my friend Jane Brody says, of taking up space.

I kept stretching.

At my last checkup I’d reclaimed half an inch in height. I had the nurse measure me again, just to be sure. Sure enough.

“Your bones aren’t growing,” the doctor told me. “But something good is happening, right?” I asked. “Oh, yes,” he said, smiling big. “There’s more space between the vertebrae, that’s all.” I think that’s what he said, anyway. I was so happy for this progress report.

That’s what visits to the doctor are, right? Report cards. How well do you take care of yourself? There’s so much outside your control, granted. But don’t let that stop you from taking control of what you can.

“If you keep anything long enough you can throw it away.”

presentIt’s an echo I’ve heard often over the years when I’ve decided it was okay to part with a present I hated. You have a few of those yourself, I bet. A ghastly sweater, a garish picture frame, a ghoulish lawn ornament.

I’ve shrunk the time between thanking someone for a gift and moving it on. It’s the thought that counts, after all, even if you wonder what the bestower was thinking.

If that bestower requires you to don or display the present, it wasn’t really a present, was it? It was an order.

Thanks, anyway!