Category Archives: Family

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


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

 

schoolboy-was-walking-hand-in-hand-with-one-of-his-teachers-725x482

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


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


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


Seasonal Gifts

The transition from summer to fall has always been a difficult one for me.  I mourn the loss of summer’s gifts. Beach weather,  bare feet in sandals,  berry picking with friends,  billowy linen shirts, blooming flowers and  long summer evenings are all greatly missed.  And I am especially wistful when a walk to the town green  finds my favorite fountain turned off till next spring.

.                                 very wistful …..

I am not exactly sure why a brief melancholy sets in. Maybe it’s a carryover from childhood, when this particular change of season signaled the start of restless days in school.

I don’t mean to whine or complain.  My Fall blues do not last.  And it’s not that I don’t recognize the lovely gifts of Fall,  my daughter was born in the Fall.  In fact once Fall is in full swing….right about now…..I start to  really enjoy the season.

Most people enjoy the Fall in its full parade of color.  But I start to enjoy it when the colors are more yellow than red  and when there are more leaves on the ground than on the trees.  It’s then that I can view the beautiful and amazing  architecture of  trees.  In kindergarten my daughter  described it as seeing the “bones of the tree”.  I couldn’t have said it better.

 

All day today I kept noticing  how beautiful the trees were looking.  In New England the trees have shed most of their more flashy Fall wardrobe.   However, the sun sitting low in the  early evening sky  highlights  their late-Fall charms.

My daughter’s birthday is right around the corner.  And predictably, Fall feels comfortable again, just like it does every year at this time.

…. Maybe it’s a carryover from motherhood, when the birth of my daughter signaled a new season in my life.  Today, I am gratefully reminded that each season has its gifts.

Life is fine,

Sarah


Night Moves

I love this time of year, not for the long, hot steamy days, but for the long, cooler fragrant evenings.  While a beautiful summer day is glorious, the potential for a magical summer evening  makes the beauty of  that day linger even longer.  Some days, especially summer work days, I long for the evening when I will be free to enjoy the delights of the evening.  Certainly, everyone has different ideas on how to enjoy a summer evening, but here are my suggestions for some good “Night Moves” …

1. Go outside.  You can’t fully enjoy a summer evening from your air-conditioned or fan-cooled home, you have to go outside.  You really do.  If its hot inside, that’s all the more reason to go outside.  It will only be cooler.  And if you can’t go outside, fling open  a window and lean out … a bit.  Look around.

2. Feel the air.  Feel how the evening air moves against your skin.  Truly, I am not kidding.  Notice the evening air against your skin.  It has a different feel every evening.  I love the feel of a crisp evening breeze against my face after a late afternoon rain.  But I also love those evenings when the air has cooled just enough to wick the sweat off  my arms from the 95 degree day.

3.  Go for a walk.  Do it with a friend or a spouse or your kids all in tow.  Or do it by yourself…that can be even better.  Move slow or move fast, take long strides or short ones, but move in a way that makes you feel good.  The evening is yours.  Enjoy the sights and use your senses, all  5 ….and more if you have them!

4. Stand under or near a pine tree in the waning daylight.  Then, inhale.  If you’re lucky, you will catch a gentle scent of beautiful fresh pine.  Its my favorite sweet perfume on a hot summer evening.  Wafts of summer pine, as well as,  ripe peach and newly shucked corn are all on my list of fine summer fragrances.

5.  Look up at the sky.  What color blue is the sky tonight?  I only ever think the sky is blue.  At midnight it’s that black, inky blue.  When the sun is setting, its silver blue  with rainbow colors,  pink and yellow, red and orange.  I’m not an artist, and I admire (okay…envy) artists who can paint the colors of the sky.  The sky probably has more shades of blue than possible names for blue.  Ochre pit blue would be a good sunset color name.  I like entertaining what other sky blue names there could be, and certainly, I’ve wasted time on lesser thoughts.

6.  Look for fireflies. I mean this as a metaphor.  My daughter would understand.  I keep asking her, “Where have all the fireflies gone?”  Sometimes I just don’t see them.  Fireflies exist in the summer, but they can be hard to find.  You have to carefully look for the magical, the special.  Look with expectation and you may notice some magic of nature –  a flower, a bird, a star in the sky –   that has special meaning for your life right now. 

7.  Stop and Pause,  before you enter your home.  Then, Listen.  Is the wind talking?  Are your neighbors listening to music?  Are crickets chorusing loudly?  Are birds calling goodnights to family members?   Hold on to the comforting sounds.  Think of them as the ringtones of your life  downloaded for free.   And allow all other sounds to be carried away by the wind.  

I wish you a good evening, all summer long. 

                                                                                             Life is fine,

                                                                                                Sarah


Family of Man

Friday morning, on NBC’s TODAY show, Meredith Vieira interviewed a man who had risked his life to rescue a dog trapped in a Utah canyon.  When she asked him, in essence, had he considered that he was risking his own life to save a dog’s life, he replied …..”it was never a question”.  A shift has occurred and I don’t think its been fully acknowledged.  If this shift has not yet occurred for all of us, it has certainly occurred for many of us.  Dogs have reached the status of being part of the Family of Man.

I suggest that Zak Anderegg, the rescuer, responded with a gut reaction – a dog in trouble;  one of our kind;  rescue it!  Now, I’m certainly not  putting forth a genetic argument of inclusion.  But the qualities we love most about dogs –  unconditional love, loyalty, empathy,  curiousity and forgiveness – are the qualities to which we humans aspire. 

Ace in the hole: He saved dog trapped in canyon – TODAY Pets & Animals – TODAYshow.com.

Some people might argue that the social rules of dogs aren’t at the level of human interaction using this as an argument for exclusion from our family.  But then, social rules vary quite a lot in the human species.  Abundant examples of less than exemplary  human behavior abound. 

If you need further evidence for dogs’ inclusion in the  family of man, than it would be this. Dogs remain in the present moment without benefit of meditation or spiritual guide books.  They are present and grateful for the gifts at hand.  They enjoy the party of life.   And often,  dogs  lead us to that  party, in helping us find that joy.

Please give me no arguments on cognitive capacity or limbic brain processing.  I know what I know.  Dogs deserve to be counted in the roll call of family, micro or macro.   I count these dogs as family members, both past and present – Coco, Pepper, Max, Cicero and Jez –  I love you forever and for always.

family member Jez

                                                                                                              Life is fine,

                                                                                                                 Sarah