Author Archives: Sarah

Family Bonds

Armorel and L.

Armorel and L.

I spoke with my mother-in-law, Armorel, tonight. She told me, “I feel sad tonight, somehow.” And that’s exactly how I feel tonight, just sad somehow.

To set the record straight, Armorel is not my mother-in-law any longer. Twelve years ago I gave up any official, legal status as one of her family members when I was divorced from her son. It was a painful break-up, hers and mine, for we had seemed to share a mutual understanding about life. At times the break-up seemed even more painful than his and mine.

I have missed Armorel in my life, the way she once was. I miss the bond I thought we had. But divorce can break families in unexpected ways and the lines of communication are not smooth or open.

This weekend Armorel moved to an assisted-living residence. She is 96 years old, and until now, has pretty much lived an independent life. Armorel only just gave up her car at 94, with more than a little reluctance and feistiness.

In fact Armorel has lived a mostly independent life, at times having to be fiercely independent. When she was 18, Armorel left a small fishing village in Newfoundland to join other hard-working “Newfs” in Chelsea, Mass.  She married at 28, and by 35 was the sole support of her family with two young children, her husband gravely ill with brain cancer. At 46 Armorel’s children left for college, and her home was empty. At 63 she married again but had just three sweet, short, years with her second love.

Armorel is accustomed to the tough changes that life can bring, and she’s always demonstrated amazing resilience in continuing on. Her faith has a lot to do with that.

But tonight’s phone call was challenging. It was our first conversation with Armorel since she moved to her new home, her assisted-living residence. My daughter spoke to her first and looked concerned mouthing, “she’s very sad.” As I took the phone to speak, Armorel’s wavering, deeply sad voice said to me, “Oh, Sarah.”  She didn’t need to say more. And it was at that moment that I recognized the bond we’ll share forever. It’s a bond known only by the heart and not by divorce decrees.

I knew exactly what she meant by “Oh, Sarah” and what it said of where she was right now and where she has been in the past and what she has thought about… because I know Armorel. I truly know her despite those in-between hurt spaces of our lives. I know and love all the family stories about Armorel and her sisters, a time so long ago. And I remember the wonderful times in our lives together in the not so distant past.

“Oh, Sarah” she said with such great wistfulness, and I welled up. There was so much to say and so little that would change things. Armorel knew that I understood what she meant. “I’m so sorry Armorel,” I replied. “I know I’ll get to like it,” she offered. “I know you will,” I encouraged. We both got quiet. And there was peace in that moment of quiet, a reflective space. We understood. We have a bond. We weren’t just  talking about her new living arrangement but about this stage in her life. It’s such a terribly bittersweet stage, but a stage you only face if you’ve been gifted a very long life. Armorel will, I am sure, live it with grace.

Love you, Armorel… always have, always will.

Life is good, (and sometimes just hard)
Sarah

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Soul Train

I am writing, writing on a train.  The train is taking me on a journey from New Haven, Connecticut to Williamsburg, Virginia. But actually, it is taking me farther than that.  It’s taking me and my daughter to a new time in our lives.  You might be able to tell that I’ve been on the train for a while now, with abundant time to think and reflect.

Most of the time I drive or fly. I rarely take trains or so I thought until today.  Today, as my train began stopping at train stations along the way, I was surprised to remember that I have more than a passing acquaintance with several Northeast Corridor train stations.  In fact some I know quite personally, and unexpectedly, they have played a supporting role in various transitions in my life.

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Let’s start where my journey began today, Union Station, New Haven.  I’m familiar with Union Station not for my leaving or going but for my daughter, LB, leaving or going when she lived in New York City.  LB moved to New York City soon after graduating college. Like so many newly minted graduates it was her dream to live in a big city.  LB’s first big move after college marked her transition to independent adulthood and to my nest being officially empty.  My home was only full again when she chose to return for a visit.   I would look forward with great anticipation to the occasional Friday evening when I could pick her up from Union Station to bring her home for a cherished weekend visit. And I would always be distressed on the following Monday morning when very early I would have to rush her back to Union Station so that we could both make it to work on time.  Monday mornings always came too quickly when LB was visiting from the city.

Penn Station.2.New York City.jpg

A few hours out of New Haven, my train stopped at Penn Station in New York City.   It triggered a memory of my own trip back home to New Jersey  as a young adult on college break.  Rather inexplicably, my college career began in Missouri, and my first trip back East was for winter break.  To save my hard-earned student money (I washed dishes at college),  I traveled by train from St. Louis to New York City.

It was a memorable trip, really, truly memorable.  It included a blizzard so severe that for 10 hours the train was stranded on snow-covered tracks in the middle of some Midwestern plain.  Not moving, without power and heat, the train soon became a party with fellow travelers sharing packed lunches, drink, laughter, sweaters, pillows and life stories.

On that train ride, I met a young poet from England who had taken the train from California across the country.  He was studying here on a fellowship and had started the journey seeking artistic inspiration.  The poet was certainly rewarded and perhaps, might I add, with a little poetic justice.  In fact we all were.  The trip was made special by close camaraderie sparked by a freezing cold train stuck in the snow. This journey marked the beginning of my own independent life from home and was just the start of many unexpected life journeys to follow.

Newark

Newark’s Pennsylvania Station was the next major stop today.  I grew up a very short train ride from Newark.  My mother didn’t drive until I was in 7th grade (can you believe that?), so when I was in elementary and  junior high school, Newark was the place to shop for school clothes if you weren’t going into New York City.  At that time, Newark had a number of major department stores and many independent shops.  In 7th grade on one of those shopping trips, I bought a pair of chunky high-heel type loafers. My mother thought they were terribly ugly.  I thought they were great!  That train trip began my foray into making independent choices that were often not parent-approved.

Ah Trenton.  It’s certainly not a pretty station, and I say that kindly.  There is no architecturally significant reason to visit Trenton’s Transit Station. My apologies Trenton, but you know it’s true.   The station’s cold, modern appearance mirrors my own experience there, a romantic break-up.  By now I don’t remember the exact cause of the break-up that day on the train platform, but it happened. Right there.  Was it that I couldn’t commit?  Was it that he couldn’t wait?  Did we live too far apart? Or were we just too different?  I remember crying cold hard tears on that train platform.  And today the platform looked just as cold as I remembered.

Philly_30th_St._Station_interior

Philadelphia.  I love Philadelphia.  I felt young and beautiful in Philadelphia.  In the city of Brotherly Love, I felt loved.  It is also is where I was married.   Philadelphia’30th Street Station is a beautiful station.  It’s as grand as Grand Central and as stately as Washington’s Union Station.  I may be biased.  From its platform, I greeted more than one love and it was a gateway to my arriving and leaving that city.  Sometimes I am sad that I ever left, that I ever got on that train platform to leave.  I will always have a fondness for Philly.

Wilmington Train Station is next.  My memory of the Wilmington Train Station is vague.  I believe it’s a brick sort of building.  I have both arrived and left from that train station.  Most likely my vague memory of Wilmington Train Station is due to the fact that I was going through a divorce when I took a train there.  I had traveled to visit my mother looking for familial support.  My daughter, my only child, was in Greece for a semester abroad.  My friends were all married, some happy . . . some not. But it was difficult for them to understand what I was going through, the restarting of a single life. My mother tried her best to be helpful, but she was not.  I learned on that trip that it really is a single journey, the journey back to single life.

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Union Station Washington D.C.   I first arrived there on a Metroliner from Philadelphia.  My future husband had splurged on a Metroliner ticket so that I could visit him, in style.  He was no longer living in Philadelphia and so for several months before we wed, we only saw each other when we visited each other by train.   My Metroliner ride was a one-time experience, and I still remember it.  I traveled in a club chair that swiveled and viewed scenery along the way from over-sized picture windows.  It was a comfortable and wonderful trip, and I thank my now ex-husband for a lovely day of train travel.

Williamsburg Train Station will be my last stop today.  And it will likely be both my first and last visit to that station.  I have traveled with my daughter to help her pack up and move back to Connecticut.  She is pregnant.  We are both starting new journeys with great anticipation, she as a mother and I as a grandmother.

Trains, and train rides, I think I really do love them.

Life is fine,

Sarah


A Requiem for my Father

Four years ago, I was reminded just how fragile life is when my father passed away a day after Christmas following a brief illness.  The preciousness of each day was highlighted for me  that holiday week.

Holidays often do not turn out how we  plan them.  Our lives often do not turn out how we  plan them.

This year I ended up in the hospital for emergency surgery right before Christmas, and it reminded me of the poignancy of my last holiday season with my father.  Soon after  I was back at home, I searched for the scrapbook I had made for him and found a piece of writing I had forgotten about.

The piece consisted of hastily written-down comments  my father had made and observations I had during that time four years ago.  It had been my attempt to capture and remember in writing the spirit of my father as he was leaving this world. . . .

At the end –

He was apologetic

– To me, to my daughter, to my sister (when he was confused and thought I was she)….  for hurting us in anyway.

He was quiet and reflective

     – Speaking  of his long forgotten friends from high school and remembering that a friend who was Jewish had a hard time socially in their 1940’s community.  He admired how his friend had handled it.

He was gently brave

-Trying a Healing Touch treatment offered by the hospital chaplain (My Dad was a 1940’s veteran, not a “new age” type of fellow), he commented afterwards “That was Wonderful!”  When the chaplain responded “You’re glowing”, he said “Really? I haven’t been glowing much these days.”

He was sarcastic

– Joking and laughing with the nurses, he liked that they appreciated his wry sense of humor.  Speaking of his sister, he said it annoyed him when she sat on his hospital bed without asking.  He observed… “She sits on my bed and holds court like Grace Kelly!”

He was peaceful and calm

-Listening to Christmas music we had brought, Ave Maria became his chosen favorite.  At one point he asked for us to turn off the music but to . . . “wait till Ave Maria is finished”

He was parental

– Asking my grown daughter when I was out of the room, “I think I know the answer to this question, but is she (meaning me) a good mother?”

My daughter replied “She’s wonderful”

My father replied “I thought so”

He was ethereal

– Lying so still and calm in his bed with his hands folded in prayer position, I often thought he was asleep when he was not.  If I would get up to leave the room at these times, he would suddenly open his eyes and say “Just sit with me…”      I think he wanted that peaceful protection of someone you trust watching guard while you rest.

He was illuminated

-Letting the burdens and hurts of this world pass from him, he reached out with the deep inner love that is within us all

Love you Dad!  Miss you!

Life is Fine,

Sarah


Mothers Who Walk

 

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During the course of a work day, I see many mothers with their children, but my heart is most often touched by the Mothers Who Walk.  Let me explain.

My job keeps me on the road between the early intervention families I visit and my office which is based in a public  school.  Our little school is pretty special because it’s dedicated to teaching only preschoolers.  It is home to the town’s Head Start program where there are morning classes, afternoon classes, full-day classes and lots and lots of preschoolers!

Every day, as I travel to and from my office, I witness the coming and going of the daily tide of students and their families.    Dedicated parents and family members  bring their children to attend Head Start and then return later to bring them home.  There is no bus transportation for the Head Start program.

Most of our students arrive by car.  It may be in a family or  friend’s car or sometimes even a taxi, but a car is the most frequent mode of transportation.  However,  some parents do not have the luxury of private transportation. These are the Mothers Who Walk.

Mothers Who Walk with their children in tow must walk at least a mile from the bus stop to our school. They walk  in sun, in rain, in wind, and in snow.  And I don’t even  know how far these mothers and their children have walked just to get to a bus that will take them to the our Head Start school.

Can you imagine walking a mile on a super hot day while in the last trimester of pregnancy?  I have seen more than one mother doing this. Some have been carrying a baby in their belly and pushing a toddler in a stroller while  holding the hand of their  preschooler.

Can you imagine trying to contain the boundless spirit of a preschooler to keep him safely on the sidewalk for more than a mile, after a bus ride or possibly two?  I have seen dedicated mothers doing this every day.

Headstart mother

Can you imagine faithfully walking your preschool child to school for an entire New England winter? Last winter after our serial snow blizzards, the snow was so deep that I could only see the heads of mothers above the piles of 4 feet high snow as they walked their little ones to school.

Today was “Fall Festival”  at our little school.  The festival was held in the late afternoon at the end of the day’s classes.  For most  parents this made it an easy fit   into their day  but that was  not the case for all  our parents.  Mothers Who Walk who have children  in morning classes had to walk to school again if they wanted their child to participate.  And some of the mothers and their preschoolers did just that!

As I was heading home after the Festival, I drove past one of the  Mothers Who Walk who was walking with her preschool-aged son and her two older boys who had also attended the Fall Festival.  They were the picture of a close-knit family as they walked home together in the waning daylight, walking closely, side by side. The symbolism was poignant. My heart was warmed by this mother’s dedication.  I wondered if she was aware of  her accomplishment in drawing  her family closer together on this festival afternoon. It’s so easy when you’re  a parent not to notice your accomplishments.

All of the young mothers I see, but especially the Mothers Who Walk , walk toward a brighter future for their children.  These mothers have a purpose and a vision for their family’s future.  Even if they do not see it yet . . .  I do.  They have made a commitment to family and to learning.

. . .  I am so incredibly and indelibly touched by that.

Life is Fine,

Sarah


Understanding 9/11

I do not have words to offer so I offer another’s . . . .

            “I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.”

  –  Helen Keller

Life could be even finer,

Sarah


Simple gestures

I have a quote from Rumi posted near my desk at work.  It helps me find my center each morning.  And, it reminds me of the purpose of each day.

“Be a lamp or a lifeboat or a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal.  Walk out of the house like a shepherd.”

                                                                                                                   -Rumi

Yesterday, I was more of a step-ladder…. but it still felt good.

Yesterday, I helped a work acquaintance with the simplest of gestures, a ride back to a restaurant where she had forgotten her wallet.  In doing so I learned that she’d been upset about more than just forgetting her wallet.  We chatted, commiserated, laughed and rejoined our work colleagues who were going to see a movie.

We have all been there when on some given day someone has turned our challenging moment into a moment of relief. Some small catalyst of change …..a kind word, a reassuring hug or a shared laugh…. has changed our perspective and moved us to a more positive reaffirmation of the moment we are going through.

I have been offered lamps, lifeboats and ladders. The kindness of others has taught me about reaching out. But here’s the thing, being a ladder for someone else, lifts your heart as well….in an instant.

My work acquaintance is now a friend.  A simple gesture turned a nice evening into a very nice evening and an acquaintance into a friend.

Rumi!  ….Pass it on!

Life is fine,

Sarah


Rock ‘n roll

Sitting on the floor,  toys strewn about,  in a house not my own.

I was with my teaching partner, MT, when the Earth decided to move.  MT and I only rarely do home visits together, but this past  Tuesday, we were sitting on the concrete slab floor of subsidized housing assessing a little boy’s developmental progress.

 My world was decidedly rocked.

In a moment, everything before me turned in to visual waves.  The curtains, the TV, the rug became flowing linear lines that shimmered like waves on a Spectrograph.  I asked MT if she saw it.  “What? See what?” she said.  The movement suddenly changed.  I revised and asked MT if she felt it.   MT paused and our eyes met.   Her look of concern acknowledged that something was not quite right.   We both waited to see what would happen next.

The motion intensified and then suddenly stopped.  We quickly and reassuringly dismissed it, “Maybe, the neighbor was playing music with the bass too high”.  But the dismissal did not fit.

My cell phone started ringing.  It was my daughter from Virginia calling.  “Did you feel the Earthquake up there?” she said, “It rocked our office building, but everyone is all right.”  Fear and relief claimed my consciousness at the same time.  An Earthquake.   All was well but could have been worse.

The little boy we were assessing suddenly began to cry.  His response to the environmental shift was pure and unedited.  MT reached for her phone and called her mother to check on her son.   We left the visit a bit shaky feeling decidedly off-balance. We called the office and family and friends.  It was jarring to learn that some people had not felt the quake at all.

That Tuesday evening, I remained uneasy and unsettled by my earthquake experience. I was unable to roll with the events of the day.  I thought about the distance that separates me from my daughter especially when thinking about what might’ve happened.  Other recent earthquakes kept coming to mind.  My daughter had known a college friend living in Japan when the quake hit there.

Mostly, I thought about Fate and how it sets people together or apart at critical moments in life.  For the most part, we don’t get to choose.   I wondered, what if  this afternoon had been the last of my life.  I considered my company at the time of the quake, MT and a 2-year-old toddler named  NG.

MT is gifted at being a teacher, a mother and my friend. We most always enjoy the toddlers and the families we visit.   Today had been no exception.  NG had made his silly “Thinker” face.  His favorite since it always makes the grownups laugh.    MT and I smile and laugh and sing with our students.  We really do have some pretty fine play skills.   That thought made me smile as did the next  . . . It would have been okay with me to leave this plane in such fine company.

Sitting on the floor,  toys strewn around,  in a house not my own… with my teaching partner, MT.    I would’ve been honored to be in such good company.

……Just wanted to let you know MT


Reflections on blogging

It has been a year since I started this blog.  I thought I’d be writing more.  While I didn’t think that writing on a regular basis would be easy, I didn’t think it would be this hard.  In reflecting on what has made more frequent blogging challenging for me, I have come to some conclusions:

1.)    I love words and I love writing, but I’m a perfectionist.  Maybe it’s related to being a speech-language pathologist, but I recognize the power in words.  Especially the power in words, written or spoken, that are woven together well.

2.)   I find it hard to share my personal thoughts in writing.  That said I generally do tend to wear my heart on my sleeve.  I can be overly earnest and honest in what I say to others.  So, I’ve learned to monitor my words.  And it seems this extends to my writing in a public blog.

3.)  I find my monitoring of words is further magnified when carefully crafted phrases can be re-used by other, less earnest, bloggers.

4.)   My work life can make unreasonable demands on my time.  As any speech-language pathologist can tell you, we have unreasonable caseloads and workloads that do not meet the suggested ASHA guidelines (www.asha.org).  I often write at night . . . comprehensive initial referrals, review evaluations, initial IFSPs and review IFSPs.  And I won’t even mention lesson plans (oh, I just did!).  All of these work related documents are specified, mandated, time-lined and rigorously monitored by one or more friendly government agencies.  After much holding of breaths, my agency just passed an in-depth file review with flying colors.  (This is what takes up valuable thinking and writing time!)

5.)  And finally,  I will write a paragraph when a sentence will do . . . enough said.

So after some further reflection, my goals for the next year of this blog are to:

1.)   Post more frequently

2.)   Worry less about sharing  (Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… sort of)

3.)   Write briefer, shorter posts

4.)   Not obsess over grammatical constructions

5.)   Balance Life and Work obligations better   (…not just a blog goal)

As always . . . .

Life is fine,

Sarah


New Year Message in a Bottle

There is a children’s song… “make new friends but keep the old, one is silver, but the other gold”  At the beginning of the New Year, I think of memories like that.  Cherished old memories are like gold, while shimmery silver new memories are just waiting to be made.

Memories, especially as I get older, make the holiday season more bittersweet, but I’m fine with that.   It shifts the focus of the holidays and the New Year to an appreciation for the people and positive events in my life, both past and present.   After this season’s reflection,  I’ve decided to write a New Year’s “message in a bottle” to one of my cherished  memories.

In the 1970’s, I was a live-in  au pair  to a well-heeled Manhattan  couple and their 10-year old daughter, Lauren.  I was twenty, attending a well-known secretarial school and taking singing and dancing classes on the side.   My goal was to finish secretarial school so that I would have a way of supporting myself while pursuing a career in acting.  Naively,  I thought I could take on the New York City challenge… “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere”.

I had lived close enough to the city to have visited frequently, but I arrived in New York young, sweet and relatively innocent.  Not only did I need to work on my acting skills, I needed to develop a tougher,  more street wise demeanor.

However, New York had different plans for me.  What I learned during my tenure as a nanny was that my softer side was my greater strength.

 To this day, I have fond memories of  afternoon walks to Carl Schurz Park with my charge, Lauren, and her dog,  Christy.  This was one of my favorite activities while living in Manhattan.

 

 I also fondly recall the many hours of laughter Lauren and I shared.  Discussions centered around her experiences of  5th grade drama and friendship politics and, of course, debates with her mother about fashion choices.  (no dresses please!)  I think I gave some pretty good advice, but as anyone who has worked with children knows, I also got some pretty good advice about my own life.

 After completing my au pair year and secretarial school,  I left Manhattan and my acting dreams behind.  I moved to another city with a slower pace that was a better match to my personality.  My goals and life focus had changed. Indeed, I had learned a lot  during my stay in NYC.

 I learned, like many  twenty-somethings, that if you don’t make it in NYC  you can still make it anywhere.  More  importantly, I learned the value of being true to who you  innately are …. perhaps, that’s the goal in this life.

Later in my twenties when I had my own daughter . . .  named  Lauren.  I hoped my own Lauren would the have  the same qualities of strength, inquisitiveness and caring as Lauren E., and, of course, she does.  Hope so often creates reality.

I lost touch with my au pair family several years after my employment ended.  But  I have carried hopes and dreams  for Lauren E. in my heart for over 30 years.  Many thoughts of good wishes have been sent to her through the years.  I hope they have added to an already happy life.   My young charge is now a grown woman.  In this age of social media it might be possible to reconnect, but I am not sure I wish to intrude.

So, instead,  I am sending this “message in a bottle”  to Lauren E . . . may it find its way to you wherever you may be in this New Year.  You,  like my own daughter, will stay in my thoughts and prayers forever.   I am an  unknown cheerleader in your life.  I send hope and good wishes that life is well with you!  Namaste!

                                                                       Life is fine,

                                                                          Sarah


Pretty in pink, but prettier in purple

I always get a thrill driving across the George Washington Bridge, especially at night. This particular crossing was a Friday  in early October, just last month. It had taken me quite a while to even get near the George Washington.  Stuck in traffic for an hour on I95, the weather changed from clear to rainy as I neared the bridge.  The infamously polite New York drivers made the approach to the bridge even more challenging when construction required a lane merge.

Limos, trucks and huge SUVs claimed their status on the road, overtaking more humble vehicles like my own.  After all, it was Friday night so  city-driving rules  applied in this teaming traffic tie-up.  With seven more hours of driving before me I was, quite frankly, quickly losing my Zen.

I took a deep breath in and a deep breath out.  Breathe in calm; breathe out tension.  This didn’t help a whole lot.  I took a breath mint.  That didn’t help either. Traffic was still not moving at all. I called on Reiki spirit, on the power of light & love, and I started to feel better.  And then, my lane starting moving.

Finally, finally, I was on the George Washington Bridge… but  more than that… the bridge’s spans were lit in Purple colored lights!  How beautiful the bridge looked in the rain. How absolutely unexpected and  amazing. I captured it in a photo.

Lights on George Washington Bridge

What did it mean, I wondered, these Purple colored lights?  And then my mind turned to late September and the tragic death of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers’ student who had taken his life on the bridge; these Purple lights must be a tribute to him.  How wonderful, I thought, society is surely changing when acknowledgement of such a senseless loss could be honored in such a public display.

How beautiful those Purple lights looked to me. My Zen feeling was back. It seemed to me in that moment, that tolerance for differences, as well as intolerance for persecution of those differences, were true possibilities.

 I drove across the George Washington with a pretty good high. I drove across the George Washington with loss and sadness for a young man’s life and his parents’ grief.  The Yin always with the Yang.

Of course,  my story does not end there. After crossing the Bridge, I headed south and exited at a rest stop. I sent my daughter the photo I had taken and texted her how touched and amazed  I was by the Purple “memorial lights”  on the George Washington Bridge. She quickly texted me back……”the lights are Pink, it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month”.

……I sighed.  ……I reflected.  Pretty awesome Pink lights, I thought!   We’ve come a long way to get Pink lights on the George Washington Bridge.  Society just needs to go a little further to have Purple lights on the George Washington Bridge.

Life is fine,

Sarah