Family and Pets

Five Words We Don’t Say/Hear Enough

Words are my love language. It took me a while to determine and accept this. Many have read or heard about the Five Love Languages. They include: Receiving of Gifts, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Acts of Service and Quality Time. I believe there could be a sixth or at least a subset of one of these, Giving of Gifts. There are those who are filled up when they give presents to others. The entire act of shopping, wrapping and then the giving fills them with joy and sense of being loved. This is not me, not that I do not like giving people gifts, just that it causes me stress rather than fills me up.

Initially I thought Words of Affirmation were my love language and set out to fulfill this need in my life. I told my husband repeatedly (also known as nagging) until it hit home. At some point in our relationship he began writing me a simple note every morning before he left for work. He left the note by my sink where I would be sure to find it. Each note brought me a smile, a laugh and a feeling of being seen, missed, loved. Over time I realized his words meant a lot to me, not just the ones that affirmed me, but all of them. The ones telling me about his day, what was on his schedule, his worries, his dreams, his issues.

I felt equally loved if his note was about how beautiful he thought I was or if it was simply telling me his alarm failed to wake him, he was running late, Bye! The message was in the act, not in the words exactly. I began to notice I felt the same way when taking time to read an uplifting story, blog, or listen to a podcast meant to edify and encourage listeners. Ultimately I found I was also fulfilled when I was the giver of the words rather than the recipient.

I told my daughter-by-choice today, I was proud of her. It seemed to take her by surprise. Immediately I took stock of the times I tell my daughter and son-by-birth how proud I am of them. I enjoy letting them know I am proud of them when they try, when they fail and get back up, and when they succeed. I also enjoy telling them I am happy for them when they accomplish something that brings them joy or satisfaction.

While taking stock of how often I do this and how often I have heard this, I realized I could not think of a single time my mother told me she was proud of me. I believe my mother was and would be very proud of me. If she were here today to see where I am in life, I believe she would tell me she is proud of me. She told me she loved me, time and time again. I am very thankful for that and the memories of it. And yet, I realize I long for the memory of hearing her say she is proud of me. Knowing we are loved is a wonderful feeling. Feeling we are seen in a crowded world is comforting. Hearing someone is Proud of us, who we are, what we have done, all or anything we have tried to do, inspires us to continue.

I worry we are waiting, withholding those words until we deem they are worthy. Not wanting to give them too soon, too quickly, concerned in doing so the recipient may think, “Well, they are proud of me, I have arrived!” What if they stop there? What if they know I am proud and decide that’s good enough? What if they don’t? What if in hearing how proud you are of them, they are inspired to go further? To try harder? To take an even bigger risk? What if one success leads to another and another? All because of these five simple words:

“I Am Proud of You!”

Family and Pets

It’s a Mom Thing

The click of the buckle barely noticed as my nose was assaulted by what could only be called, BO. What? How could this be? Surely I put my deoderant on this morning. I am a woman of routine. Car put into gear I began the drive to my next of 3 stops, all to be completed before meeting our son at the bus stop for pick up. My nose crinkled, once again slapped with an unpleasant scent. A glance around my car to be sure no one was watching, I pulled the under arm of my jacket toward my nose.

I stink. It must be the jacket. Certain I had forgottent to wash it, I wiggled my hand through the neck of my shirt, down the should and into my armpit. My pit skin dry, free of the texture of cream. I rubbed the skin and then brought my fingers to my nose for a sniff. Ugh.

Lightbulb! I used to keep a travel size deoderant in my car compartment in case of this exact occurance when taking clients to view homes. Brilliant (yes, I complimented myself)! Keeping my eyes on the road my hand fumbled around finding pens, chapstick, scissors and then what felt like….

Yes, there it was. A small stick of deoderant. I tried to pull the cap off while hoping the next stop light would be red. If I could put it on while at a light, I wouldn’t be late to Bible Study. I approached a light and removed the cap. A large clump of crumbled white deoderant fell onto my seat between my legs. I glanced down and then back at the car infront of me, seeing the headline clearly, ‘Woman rear ends car while applying deoderant.’

‘Keep your legs apart, do NOT get this white mess on your clean black pants. You do not have time to go home and change.’ I often talk to myself, who doesn’t? At the light I scooped the crumbled but still mushy mess of deoderant off the seat and plopped it in my empty cup holder. At the next light I put the car in park, unbuckled and reached over to grab the box of kleenex on the floor, placed them safely on the seat next to me and rebuckled. Green means go sister.

As I approached the next red light my fingers removed a small portion of the clump of deoderant after having unzipped my jacket and making sure my shirt was loose enough to maneuver under. Once stopped, I slipped my hand under my shirt, up to my arpit and spread the cream all around the skin, covering the BO smell with fresh scent. Traffic light turned green, the other pit would have to wait. Got it, okay, now to clean my hands. Kleenex to the rescue.

Now smelling better than I had, I parked my car and continued my non-stop day which did not come to an end until I had delivered our son to soccer practice, late, at 5:05 PM. I forgot to mention, when taking him to practice my car suddenly died, over and over again. Each time I put it in drive or reverse with little to no gas. I babied it to get him to practice then came home to look up the warranty. That will wait until tomorrow. For now, I must cook dinner.

Note to self: Purchase new travel size deoderant for car.

Family and Pets

Crazy Cat Lady

A neighbor of mine takes the ‘Crazy Cat Lady’ to an entirely different level. I could say that names have been changed to protect the innocent, but there is no one innocent here. Guilty, guilty, guilty. Her name is Carrie. A small, okay, maybe not so small part of me wants to blast her last name as well. I will show some restraint. Just a little.

Carrie lives in the condominium complex just north of our home in the lovely Bitter Lake neighborhood of North Seattle. I have met her once. A few years back I had a brief encounter with her daughter. A young girl of maybe 11 or 12 years old was dragging branches, large and small, down our road from the local park to her home at the condos. I watch her come and go a few times, it was a peculiar sight.

Finally I said, “Excuse me, what are you doing with all the branches?”

The young girl paused. Her lashes down cast she peered up at me hesitantly, “I’m making a fort.”

“Huh, okay. Well if you need a place to build it, I’m sure you could do it in our side yard.” I couldn’t imagine the other condo owners were thrilled with the mass of branches and debris she was hauling in to the common area.

“I’ll ask my dad.”

I never saw the girl again. Literally, for a few years I believe, I didn’t see her. Assuming she moved, I move one too, mentally.

Then one day I heard a male and female voice out in the street. Talking and laughing as they passed by. I opened my door to take the garbage out. They looked up and the girl and I locked eyes. It was her, only older. Long dark hair, a wool cap pulled over the top nearly down to her eyebrows. Her lashes once again obscuring her eyes. The couple continued on, down towards the park. Likely walking to Ingraham the local high school. Her walk, he demeanor, her laugh, the lilt in her voice when she spoke, once again struck me as odd. A little off as they say.

I went back inside and gave my cat a little scratch behind the ears. Rocky, neighborhood socialite. Our family got Rocky at about 8 weeks old right around my 40th birthday. It wasn’t long before he was roaming the neighborhood. In and out all day long, out to play and home to eat and sleep. Chasing birds, squirrels and other rodents I imagine. Lovingly leaving a few here and there on the porch. A thank you, I am told.

Often times when I would head outside I would find our neighbor Will, the masked man, sitting in our driveway getting his Rocky fix. Will, is one man Rocky will stop and let pet him. Will told me it was a nearly daily habit, at least on the nicer days. Other times I receive an email from LeAnn with a photo of Rocky sitting on her deck. He would climb up there and wait until she came home so he could see her. After some pets and love he would walk the rail and then wander away.

A few other neighbors tell tales of Rocky walking right into their home when they leave the door open. They look up and there he is sitting on a couch or chair, natural as can be. Thankfully they do not mind and are always good to shew him out the door when they leave or close up for the night. Except for that one time, when I heard he got locked in the condo building. Someone left the door propped open bringing in their groceries and didn’t see Rocky enter. Once they were done they closed the door. Some time later another neighbor came out into the lobby and found Rocky wandering around meowing his head off! Apparently he wanted back out.

All of this goes along with having an indoor/outdoor cat. The neighbors tell us great stories, we apologize for his intrusive behavior, and we all get a bit of a laugh. Until last year, when Rocky starting disappearing for 2 days or so at a time. First I was worried. Maybe he had been hit by a car. Maybe he was laying on the side of the road somewhere, dying or dead. We would look around unable to find him anywhere.

After a day or two we would wake up to find him at the back door meowing his head off as if we were the ones who had forgotten to let him in. Upon entering, he would make a be-line to the basement where his food dish resides. We have a silly little ritual. I put wet food in a dish and before setting it down, I lean my head down and he gives me a little head bump. We call it a kitty kiss. Only, I noticed when we bumped heads a strong smell of flowery perfume. I do not wear flowery perfume.

I began to pay attention and sure enough, whenever Rocky was gone for more than a day or two he would come home smelling of this perfume.

“Babe, Rocky is cheating on us!”, I declared to my husband.

“Seriously?” Pretty sure at this point my husband thinks I am the crazy cat lady. I assure you, I am not.

One dark and misty evening I headed out with a bucket of compost to toss in the yard waste bin. The bins are secluded from the street by an arbor vitae hedge. Works great for those times you want to run out in your night clothes (hopefully not your skivvies).

“Uh, hey. Don’t mean to startle you. It’s me, your neighbor Dwight.” The voice came from the other side of the hedge. A man stood taking a long drag of his cigarette.

“Oh hey, Dwight. How are you?”

“I’m good. Don’t know if your daughter told you, but I know who is taking your cat.”

“Oh really? Who?” My curiosity peeked, smoothing away the irritation which had crept in when he startled me.

“Her name is Carrie. She lives in our condo building. I don’t want to start trouble. But I’ve told her several times Rocky has a family and she shouldn’t take him in. She keeps telling me that she likes him and so she wants him.”

“Seriously? If we all took things we liked we end up in jail.”

“Yeah, well she’s a little bit, um, how do I say this? Off, ya know?” He continued to smoke his cigarette.

“Well, I appreciate you telling her he has a home. I was getting worried when he was gone more often. Honestly, I haven’t seen him in a couple days again.” I turned to head back to the house.

“I bet he’s in her house right now. She lives in condo #101. Uh, don’t tell her I told you. I don’t want to start any trouble. I mean, she has a teenage daughter who’s allergic to cats. I’ve told her it’s not fair to her daughter either, even if you didn’t want your cat, but I know you do.”

“Yeah, we do. Okay, well thanks for the info Dwight. Have a nice night.”

“Sure, you bet. Sorry about the smoke. Bad habit.” He slunk back into the cover of night out of reach of the street light as I turned to go back inside.

Long story, long, this lady was letting our cat into her home and then keeping him in her home. I can only imagine against his will. I have often described the sound Rocky makes when he wants out as a caterwaul, and that is putting it mildly. He carries on and on until we let him out. If we ignore him and go to bed, we wake in the morning to a pile of cat poop somewhere other than in the litter box. Rocky’s way of say, “I’ll teach you to ignore me!”

The next day by late afternoon when my cat still had not come home I had had just about enough of this. I asked my daughter if she wanted to come with me to go see if this Carrie had our cat. We headed up straight away.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

I stood in front of her door, phone in hand, with a photo of Rocky (and me) loaded up for viewing.

The door opened just a little, “Hello?” The woman shielded her body with the door and peered out at us.

“Hi, we live just over there. We have a cat named, Rocky. You know him right? Here’s his photo.”

She took a glance at the photo and nodded her head.

“Well, he’s our cat, but it sounds like you have been taking him into your home. Is this true?”

“I like him. He’s a nice cat.” She stayed close inside the door while she spoke to us.

“We like him too. Pretty much everybody in the neighborhood likes him. He’s our cat.”

“He doesn’t have a name tag.”

“Excuse me?” I was taken aback by her random comment.

“He doesn’t have a name tag.”

“Well, actually he has had a name tag. Twice someone has removed his collar and name tag. I got tired of buying new ones. He does have a collar. And he is micro-chipped. Definitely our cat.”

“I like him.”

“I know, you told me that. Here’s the deal. He’s our cat. I don’t want you keeping our cat. It’s not okay. You can pet him, talk to him whatever, but don’t feed him. And definitely do not keep him in your home. He has a home.”

She stood there looking at me with this blank, deer in the headlights stare. It dawned on me that she wasn’t opening her door very wide. Bearly sticking her head out to talk to us.

“Is he in your home right now?”

She flinched.

“Are you kidding me? Is he in there?”

She opened the door wide and stepped to the side.

Sure enough, there sitting in her rocking chair was my cat, Rocky, all curled up. Traitor.

I walked past her, into her home and picked up my cat. He meowed and then yawned.

“Do NOT take my cat and keep him in your home again. Am I clear?”

“Yes.”

We left and she closed the door behind us. Life went on as it had before crazy cat lady began taking our kitty into her home. For a while, maybe 3 months or so it seemed. We began to get more affection from Rocky. Apparently he had been getting his fill of love and affection elsewhere and thus didn’t require any from us. Now with crazy cat lady out of the picture he was a bit more snuggly. Nice.

Fast forward, present day. We headed out of town for the long weekend for a soccer tournament. Our daughter came by every day to check on Rocky, let him in/out, feed him and such. Only problem was, he wasn’t home. Not one single day. She happens to live in our neighborhood and realized she didn’t see him roaming as he usually does either.

We got home late Monday night. No Rocky. I stayed home all day Tuesday as our son was sick. No Rocky. By Wednesday I had a sneaking suspicion crazy cat lady was back at it. After a short walk, I suggested Tom go speak to this woman. He is much calmer than I.

Tom heads up to her condo and knocks on the door. Crazy cat lady opens the door and says hello.

“Hi, I am the owner of Rocky and he hasn’t been home again in several days. Have you seen him?”

“No, I haven’t seen him in like 3 days.” Crazy cat lady responds.

“You’re sure you haven’t seen him?”

“No, I haven’t seen him.”

“Hmmm., so Rocky hasn’t been in your home?”

“No.”

“He isn’t in your home right now?” A tone of disbelief dripped from his tongue and the words passed through his lips.

“No, I haven’t see him in 3 days. He’s not here.”

“Okay.” Tom turned and left.

About 60 minutes later, no more, as I was standing in the kitchen I see a flash of mixed grey fur in my line of sight. I lean over just as Rocky begins pawing the glass door wanting to be let in.

Imagine that! Rocky came home.

Crazy Cat Lady must have let him out.

Family and Pets, Life After Cancer

Everyday Necklace

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I sat in my office in front of my laptop, facing the screen listening to the voices coming out of the speakers sent magically around the world through the air no less, on what is called wireless or wi-fi. Two voices came from Edmonds, WA, another from Portland, Oregon, and yet another from all the way across the United States of America in a small town in Virginia. I, here in Seattle, could also be heard when it was my turn to speak. All of our voices sounding as though we were in the same room together, talking, sharing, commenting, laughing, and sometimes catching our breath, our hand at our throats, our head shaking as we tried to convey the grip what had been read had on our hearts.

The pocket door that separates my office/writing room from the rest of our home rattled as someone on the other side slid it open. They were hesitant, not rushed and I could tell they held the hope that they were not disturbing me. My head turned to find my sweet son, a smile upon his 9 year old face with his father close behind so that I could see the apology in his eyes for their interruption. The corners in my mouth already turning up and I hoped they could see the sparkle in my eye as I watched them slide their feet across the hardwood flooring without a sound. My attention went back to the laptop as one of my fellow writers once again was speaking and I thought I heard my name.

It was my turn to share my thoughts on the second piece submitted to the group for critique, unless I wanted to defer as they had all just critiqued mine. Maybe a moment to let their words dissipate was a good idea. I jumped at the chance to go last, muted my microphone and turned back to where my son and my husband were donning their jackets. Michael, my sweet little boy, mouthed coupled with a very soft whisper, “We’re going to the mall so I can shop for you for Valentine’s Day.” His father behind him raised brow, lips moving without sound, “He insisted.” I nodded and waived a good-bye before turning my attention back to the group waiting for me. Having not heard my acceptance to go last they awaited my thoughts, I fumbled to pull up the word document and forged ahead.

Drawn into the Galapagos Islands and the adventure my writing partner was on, my thoughts held no room for what the boys were off doing. Easy for me as I am not one to try to figure out or guess the gift another may be giving me. There is something in not knowing, not expecting, that makes a gift that much more delightful to receive. I find myself unwrapping what the giver wanted to portray in the gift rather than the item itself. At times it is where they went or what they went through to find and purchase the gift. The place they chose having meaning from our or their past. Other times the gift itself reminds them of me, something I have said or expressed an interest in, or so they thought. Then there are times that there is no real rhyme or reason, it is just that, a gift, purchased and given. And yet, without expectation, even these gifts bring a joy to fill the space within me that had opened as my fingers removed the tape or tissue that held a covering over the item inside.

Our online group came to a close with the promise of two more pieces to be submitted via email by the morning for our critique meeting the following week. I savored the final sip of my soda water and rosemary vodka as I lingered in my chair, comfortable with the cushion beneath my bum, the aroma from the diffuser continuing to waft through the air around me, and soaked in the silence of our quiet home devoid of the usual hustle and bustle. A light rap on the side door window pulling me from my thoughts. On the other side out in the cold of the now dark evening, stood my sweet boy who had knocked with restraint we often think he knows nothing of. I leaned to remove myself from my chair then settled back in as my husband, Tom, approached the door key in hand.

“Hi guys. Perfect timing my class is over.”

Taking in the relief in Michael’s eyes, I turned my chair towards to the door and sat watching him remove his shoes and jacket. Pushing himself up to his feet, Michael grabbed the bag which held his gift to me. Standing there across the room from me as his body wiggled, feet shuffled, and his eyes danced.

“Come on Mom! I’m giving you my present right now!”

I got up out of my chair, turning off my computer and essential oils diffuser, and gathered my things to shut down for the night. My back turned to him I said, “Oh no, honey that’s okay. You should save your gift to give to me tomorrow night when we have our special family dinner with Sissy. Besides tomorrow is Valentine’s day.”

I have this thing about gifts. First I am a not a huge fan of them, I do not need gifts. Not a true minimalist, but a follower of the idea that I only want to have things I actually use. Not a collector of things, I have a hard time giving gifts as much as receiving them. If you are going to give me a gift though that is meant for a particular holiday, anniversary, birthday, I prefer to receive the gift on the day or at least at the event in honor of the day. Not before.

“No, mom. I won’t hear of it. I am giving you your gift now.”

My back still turned, the small voice inside of me spoke. ‘Let him give you his gift. It’s what he wants to do. Don’t squash his excitement and make him wait. We don’t always have to wait for the right time, the right place, do the right thing, do we?’

“Alright, let’s do this.” I smiled overwhelmed by the feeling welling up inside of me, this was right and for once I was going against all things me and just letting the moment unfold as it may.

“Yes! Okay, come into the living room. Come on dad, let’s go.”

Michael hurried into the other room, whether from excitement for the gift he was about to give or to be certain I would not change my mind or his dad would not step in and decide that we were in fact going to wait until tomorrow, I do not know. As I stepped through the doorway into the living room I caught sight of Michael already on the sofa, one hand holding the bag from Macy’s the other patting the seat next to him.

“Here mom, come sit here next to me on the couch.”

“Okay, okay, I’m coming”, laughter bubbled up in my throat as I went to sit next to him.

“Dad, tell her the story.”

Tom chuckled before responding, “Well, I have to say I tried to talk him out of it, but his mind was set on what he was going to get you before we ever left the house. I tried to get him to go to Ross or Fred Meyer but he wouldn’t have it. We got in the truck and he said he wanted to go to the mall. To Macy’s in fact. He was resigned, wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say, so I said okay. You can tell her the rest buddy.”

Tom looked at me once again with those eyebrows raised. I’ve come to know that look from him when it has to do with Michael. It’s the ‘Hey, I tried to talk him out of it but you know how he can be when he has his mind made up about something’ look. The corners of my mouth remained turned up as I soaked up the excitement radiating from every pore in Michael’s body.

“Okay, Mom, I went to Macy’s and got you this. Here open it. Then I will tell you what happened.”

He handed me the white paper bag with large red star on it. Not a wrinkle in sight the only fold being the one at the very top, the sales lady having turned the top down and creased the fold tight before handing his purchase to him to bring home. I sat holding the bag for a moment, my hand stroking the smoothness before unfolding the top and reaching inside. A receipt slipped out and fell onto the couch as I pulled out the square box inside. I raised my hand to my lips and glanced at my son as he picked up the paper.

“I’ll show you it in a minute.” His eyes sparkled as he held onto the receipt and looked at me.

Savoring the excitement he was feeling and the joy I was receiving, I held the box before lifting the top off. There lay the most exquisite silver chain on a pillow of white batting.

“Feel it mom. Isn’t it heavy?”

I picked up the thick rope chain. It was heavy with a coating that made it smooth as silk to the touch. Breaking up the monotony of the rope chain were round circles snug on the chain every two inches or so. The clasp. also unique, was a larger circle on the one end and a bar at the other.

“Put it on mom! Do you need help?”

I held the two ends in my hand and they met behind my neck as I put the chain on. My right hand positioned the bar so it would go into the circle and through, then releasing it perpendicular it was held through the circle so the necklace would stay put. As I did, my mind flashed back to another necklace that I have upstairs in my closet with the same clasp. It was my mother’s. A bit flashy, layers of black beads that hold a charm that hangs in the middle of chest. The charm is a clear glass square that has several diamonds, fake, the gems float in the square that is edged with diamonds all around it. I have worn it a few times with a cocktail dress, otherwise it stays hanging in my closet.

“Do you like it mom?”

Without waiting for my response he goes on.

“Look at the tag.”

Ignoring my thoughts that want me to explain how it isn’t appropriate to look at the price of a gift nor is it appropriate to tell someone the price you paid for the gift. I instead listen to the small voice that is telling me to do as my son is asking of me. Grant him this moment. I pick up the tag and look at the front and then the back. Eyeing my husband who once again has that look on his face followed this time by raised hands of mercy hovering just above his lap, I tell me son the sales lady covered the price with a return sticker. I explain they do this so the gift recipient doesn’t see the price of the gift. Then I hush my own voice reminded by that small voice that I am saying too much.

“Oh, okay, well here, look at the receipt.”

My eyes grow big and my fingers caress the thick chain laying against my neck. I look at Tom, a look of disbelief as he nods his head.

“Oh honey! You spent sixty dollars on me? Wow! That is so very generous.”

“I tried to talk him out of it. In fact, even the sales lady who wasn’t all that, let’s say good-natured with kids, she even tried to persuade him to buy a different necklace that was on sale for less. He made his choice.”

My fingers remaining on the chain, I handed the receipt back to Michael as I looked into his eyes. I saw a flicker of hesitation.

“It wasn’t all of my money. I still have over seventy dollars. The sales lady did show me another necklace after I found this one. It was a silver chain also. It was more dainty. I had her get it out of the case so I could look at it more closely. It was real pretty. And it cost forty dollars. Even the sales lady said the other one was more fancy, special. She said this one was more ‘every day’ kind of chain. That’s what I wanted, something you could wear every day. And I didn’t spend all of my money. I still have plenty.”

His eyes looked at me as he finished his last word. My heart caught in my throat as I removed my fingers from the chain and reached out to touch his leg.

“Hey buddy, I want to tell you something. I completely get what you are saying. You want to know what this makes me think of?”

“What?”

“Two things actually. One is a very special necklace that I have upstairs. It is a thin dainty silver chain that has a heart on it made of tiny little diamonds. One year before Mother’s day a radio station ran a contest and asked listeners to call in to share a story of why their mom was the best mom. The stories were on the radios web page for a few weeks where listeners could go and read them again. Then people would vote on the story they thought was the best. The winner would receive this beautiful necklace to give to their mom for Mother’s day. Well, your sister called in and told a story about me and she won! I love that necklace and every time I wear it I think of what she did for me. It is fancy and dainty and I wear it now and then with special outfits.”

“Wow, that’s cool that she won it for you.”

“Yeah, but you wanna know what other memory this makes me think of?”

“What mom?”

“Well, several years back before you were born, Mother’s day was coming up. Something inside of me really wanted to buy my mom a pair of diamond earrings. I had never bought my mom anything extravagant like that before. I wanted her to know that I loved her more than anything, wanted to give her something out of the ordinary, different than  say your typical Mother’s Day gift of flowers or a candle. The only thing was, I was a single mom at the time and couldn’t really afford too much. I asked my boyfriend, your dad was my boyfriend then, what he thought and he said although it was genuinely a good thing to want to do it, my mom knew how much I loved her and didn’t need diamonds to express it. I believed what he said was true.”

Love threatening to spill out and poor down my cheeks welling up inside of me, I squeezed my son’s hand and smiled before telling him the rest.

“I spent time with my mom that Mother’s Day and gave her a card telling her of what I had wanted to buy her but hadn’t. My mom cried silent tears and hugged me close, telling me she knew how much I loved her. We sat and enjoyed lunch together on her couch until she was tired and needed to go lay down and rest. A month later my mom died. We didn’t know at the time that she was that sick. I didn’t know it would be our last Mother’s Day together. The thought never crossed my mind. What I did know was that I had wanted to express to her in a tangible way, a gift, the love that I held inside for her. To this day, there is a part of me that wishes I would have thrown caution to the wind and purchased diamond earrings for my mom. Not because she needed an expensive gift to know I loved her that much, but because I wanted to give them to her.

It means so much to me that you wanted to buy something very special, and spend your money, no matter the cost. You knew what you wanted to buy me and you did it. Thank you my sweet bugaboo. I love this necklace and I will wear it all of the time. There is a time to be frugal, to buy things on sale, to not buy gifts when we can’t afford them. And then there is a time to go ahead and be generous, be extravagant, and buy what we want for the one we love.”

I reached out and drew my son close to me. Wrapping my arms around him I felt the love from him that I so longed to give to my mother on that Mother’s Day so long ago.

And then my son, being the nine year old that he is said,

“Okay mom, now you have to put the necklace back in the box. Tomorrow at dinner I am going to give it to you again and you have to act surprised. Just like you are right now, you have to do all of this all over again for Sissy. You have to tell her the story you just told me and everything, okay?”

The small voice inside of me spoke once again, ‘Do it. Give this to him, it’s all part of his gift. Let him have all of this as silly as it seems.’

“Okay, honey.” My eyes met with Tom’s one more time, it was my turn to shrug my shoulders and raise my palms up in open willingness.

Michael took my necklace and placed it back on the cloud of batting, closed up the box and delicately returned it inside the still perfect, without wrinkle or crease, white paper bag. He folded the top down as the sales lady had and placed it on the dining room table where it would await the re-unveiling.

 

 

 

 

Family and Pets

(Re) Defining Family

I remember when my daughter was in the sixth grade almost as though it were yesterday. That year was monumental in so many ways for her, for me and for our family going forward. I’d like to think it had a lasting impact on her teacher as well. In the middle of her fourth grade year our little family of three broke apart. Up until that time I had home-schooled her and she had attended what was known as Edmonds Cyber School or the Edmonds Home School Resource Center. As much as I loved teaching my daughter it was not purely for the love of teaching that I had home schooled her for that long. We were stuck in an abusive relationship. One where he controlled most everything that I did and reminded me on a daily basis that what I thought and said did not matter, unless of course I was agreeing with him. Ironically he thought I was very good or at least adequate at teaching his daughter. He was insistent that she not attend public school. His position was that public school would teach her horrible things and she would turn out to be a delinquent. And so I home schooled her year after year at his insistence.

When I ran with my daughter I had to work full-time in order to provide for us. That meant enrolling her in the local public school. My daughter was happy for the change, at first. She had longed for daily interaction with others her age and had a desire to learn whatever she could. School provided endless opportunity for both. The second half of 4th grade went quite well. Going to school each day was so new and wonderful. Thankfully she made a couple of great girl friends right away. As we rolled into 5th grade more changes had happened for her and I. The newness of being just the two of us had worn off. I began dating which had positive and negative effects on my daughter. As much as she longed for her mother to be happy and to be loved she also longed for these feelings for herself as well. The first man I dated was a very kind man who treated me very well. While he was very different from her father and in no way abused her, it became very clear to her and to me that he didn’t love her. Once I realized this it was very easy for me to end that relationship. One thing I had made clear when I took her and left was that going forward we were a team. Any man in our lives either loved both of us or they got neither of us. Crazy? Unrealistic? Maybe, but that is how it was going to be.

My daughter started 5th grade with a renewed confidence that she was in fact mine, 24/7, 365 days each year, and I was good with that. At no time did I wonder when her father would take her for a weekend or a holiday. She was not a burden to me nor something I needed a break from. She was my world, and nothing or nobody was every going to change that. Not now, not ever again.

As the newness of being just the two of us wore off and we settled into our day-to-day routines, along with it came the idea that her father did not want her. No matter how many times I told her that it wasn’t about him not wanting her, but more accurately him being incapable of being who she needed and wanted, the feeling of being unwanted settled into her heart and her mind. Having grown up myself feeling cheated of what a little girl deserves in the daddy-daughter relationship department, I understood these feelings all too well. And yet, I also had to acknowledge that my life was not her life and hers had elements, both good and bad, that mine did not.

Her 5th grade teacher happened to be a man. When I first became aware of this my heart skipped a beat. Would having a man in charge over her on a daily basis stir up the feelings of fear and pain that she had lived with and through? Would she be able to ask questions, raise her hand and speak out in class, or would she turn inward and return to being shy and quiet. It wasn’t long into the school year when the phone on my desk at work rang with a call from the school nurse. My daughter was not feeling well and needed me to come pick her up. I did, only to find no sooner were we home and she was fine. Her spirits lifted, the tears dried up and she wanted to play a game or go on a bike ride with me. This happened several times over before I realized a pattern was setting in and we had a problem that was not health related, at least not physical health.

I decided to set a meeting with her teacher to check in with him on how things were going. After sending him an email he set an appointment and suggested the school counselor join us for the meeting. As the three of us chatted I shared with them what my daughter and I had lived through and what had brought us to this school. Then I shared with them what I saw was happening with her in needing me to come get her more days that not. She had also started to cry in the mornings begging me not to make her go to school. Not long into our meeting it became clear that it had little to do with school or the teacher and seemingly more to do with being away from me. I shared my concern with the teacher about him being male, but assured him that honestly I felt she liked him as her teacher.

Together we made a plan of action we hoped would help get her through this difficult time while assuring her that we were all there on her side, helping her as best we could, however we could. The teacher suggested that each day when I brought her to school that I bring her into the classroom right to her desk. He would then come be by her side as I left assuring her that he was there to support her. He would also let her know that at anytime she could come to his desk to talk to him or ask him to go to the office to see the counselor. The counselor suggested that I come to lunch for a while and eat with my daughter. When it was time for me to go back to work if she struggled I was to bring her into the counselor’s office for the good-byes and she would then transition her back to class after I left. We worked together! It took several weeks of this plan of action, and I nearly fell apart more than once wondering if it would ever work. Through our efforts and seeing an outside therapist as well, my daughter gained her confidence in us and in her self to overcome this fear of separation. Together we showed her that she was our priority. I was so thankful for how they both came along side me, as a mother, and helped me help my daughter. To this day that teacher is my daughter’s all time favorite teacher.

During that year I began dating another man. This time I was even more cautious, even giving him a list of the Nine Things Required of Dating Me. Seriously, I did! Again, I had friends who told me I was crazy to think I could ask for so much. Number 9 was simply this: A man who would love my daughter as his own. One who would be a role model of what a husband, partner, father, friend should be so that she would know what to look for in her future mate. I told him if any of the items on my list, especially number 9, scared him, then we should not proceed with dating. He assured me they were not scary and for him, doable. That year and as time went on my daughter and I learned that we had found the real deal. A man with a heart bigger than any we had ever known. One who loved my daughter as his own, something we both longed for. And she and I both found that we loved him right back.

Sixth grade rolled around and my daughter settled into her new classroom at the middle school next door to the elementary school she had been attending in the Edmonds School District. The past year had ended so well, she found she was still riding the wave of excitement in learning the previous teacher had help her re-ground herself in as she kicked off the new year. Many days after classes ended she would walk across the campus and waltz into her 5th grade teacher’s classroom to say hi, check in and spend time before I picked her up or she caught the bus home. Life was moving forward, the pain of the past was healing and we were happy. My daughter was once again thriving in school and I was breathing more easily.

One afternoon she sat in my office after school working on some homework while I finished up my end of the day tasks. She had come in from the bus with a scowl on her face and her lower lip in a pout. Not wanting to get into it at work, I had given her a quick hug and sent her off to the kitchen for an after school snack. I had caught her peeking around the corner at me a time or two vying for my attention. A knot began to form in the pit of my stomach as thoughts of the previous year wiggled their way to the forefront of my mind. I shook them off like rain drops off an umbrella refusing to give way to the notion that we were heading back down that spiral again. I wrapped up my work, gathered my things and called to my daughter that it was time to go.

We both settled into the car and buckled our seatbelts before I put the car into gear and began the short drive home. The silence was palpable one stop light after another. Without turning to look at her I asked what was on her mind.

She inhaled and the air caught in her throat as she swallowed back a sob that was determined to escape. My head snapped to glance at her and then back at the road. Giant alligator tears were spilling over her lower lashes and rolling down her cheeks. I pulled over to the side of the road and stopped the car.

“Honey, What in the world is going on?”

“My teacher said I can’t write about Tom.” [Sob, inhale, sob]

“What are you talking about? Of course you can write about Tom! I mean, why are you writing about Tom?”

“Our assignment in writing class is to write about our family. I started mine the other day. We had to turn in our rough draft for her to take a look at. She called me up to her desk and said that I can’t write about Tom. When I asked her why, she said because he isn’t my family. She said I have to write about my real dad! Oh mom, I don’t want to do that.”

“Okay, hold on a second. Let me get this straight, the assignment is to write about your family, is that right?”

“Yes, but she said I have a dad so I have to write about him.”

“Family is who you live with, who is raising you. That may be your mom and your dad, it may be just your mom or just your dad, it could be your grandparents, foster parents, adopted parents, or even friends. Who is she to say who your family is?”

I have to insert her that I was growing more and more livid by the moment. After all the two of us had been through up to this point in our lives, after what we had lived through for the 10 years before I had taken my daughter and ran, after what we had overcome during the previous school year alone, I was not about to have one teacher’s view of what is and what is not family set my daughter back to square one.

“Hey sweetie, take a breath, a deep one. Okay, now another. Yep, that’s it, How about another? Good. Now, look at me. This is going to be fine. Just fine. You are going to keep writing that assignment and you are going to write about whomever you feel is your family, be that me, Tom, The Gallaughers, The Carrolls, Auntie Dawn (who is not biologically her aunt).”

“But mom, she said I couldn’t! I don’t want to fail the assignment.”

“You are not going to fail the assignment. I will go meet with your teacher tomorrow at school. She and I will have a little chat about the assignment and about family. Don’t you worry, everything is going to be just fine. We’ve got this!”

I reached over and gave my girl a quick squeeze letting her know that was that. Then I put that car back into gear and headed home to have dinner with our family.

The next morning I called the school and requested a meeting with the teacher. I told her I was available to come over to the school that day at anytime. I was invited to come early that morning while the kids were in music. Not wasting a minute, I jumped in my car and headed to the school. I parked my car in the parking lot, took a minute to breathe calmly and said a quick prayer for composure, patience and grace, before heading to the classroom for my meeting.

I walked in and found the teacher sitting at her desk with a chair opposite her waiting for me. I greeted her with a smile and thanked her for seeing me on such short notice. We shook hands and sat down.

“I wanted to check in with you on an assignment the kids are working on. A writing assignment about Family?”

“Oh yes, the students are supposed to write about their families. I know your daughter is struggling with this assignment, but I have made it clear that the requirements are quite simple. We will have time for creative writing as the year goes on, but this assignment is simply about the students family, their heritage so to speak. It’s a good way for us all to get to know each other and for the kids to follow the directions about keeping it to the topic at hand. I do it every year with my students.”

“Uh-huh, I see. Okay, well actually my daughter doesn’t have an issue with the assignment. She is completely fine with writing a paper about her family.”

“Oh great! I am so relieved to hear that. I didn’t want this to become a big deal. She’s  good student. I’m glad to hear she will be able to complete the assignment after all.”

“Yes, she will. In fact she is nearly done with it. I looked it over last night with her. She has done a terrific job of sharing who her family is, myself, Tom and her have a wonderful family home life and she looks forward to sharing that with you and the class.”

“Oh, I’m sorry there is a misunderstanding.”

“No I don’t think there is.”

“Yes, there must be. You see this assignment is to be about the student’s family. It is only to include, their biological parents, their mom and dad, siblings, grandparents, etc. It’s just about family. In the future she will have a chance to write about other things, but this one is quite specific.”

“I see. I want to be certain that I am hearing you correctly. My daughter is writing an assignment about her Family. And you have determined that she and the other students may only include themselves, their biological parents, siblings and grandparents in what they call Family?”

“Yes, that is it. I know she is fond of your boyfriend, Tom, but he is your boyfriend. He is not her Family.”

“Uh-huh. I see. In the way you see Family, he is not her Family. I can see how some people might say that. Those who are closed-minded to think that Family is made up of blood, and only consists of the people you are related to by birth. I can’t help but think there are so many other situations out there. Not all children are brought up in a home where there is a father and a mother and a kid or two or three. Homes and the families that live in them vary greatly. I wonder what would happen if a student had let’s say, two mothers and no father at all and wanted to write about that. Would you have a problem with that? Would you tell the student and their two mothers that they were in fact not a family? Or what if they had two fathers? Would you look at those two fathers and ask them to choose which one of them the student could write about as their family, because surely one of them was not actually the student’s father and thus not their family? And if you did in fact state that to such a family, er I mean couple raising one of your students, how do you think they might respond? I imagine they may decide to have a conversation with the Principal and quite possibly the District about your definition of what is what is not Family.”

“I didn’t mean that couples raising a child together are not in fact a couple.”

“You didn’t? Because it seems to me you did when you told my daughter who she could and could not write about as her family.”

“I just mean, she has a father, she should write about him.”

“I am going to let that go. That is an entirely different conversation and one that quite frankly, I am not having with you. The assignment is for each student to write about their family. My daughter is very clear on who her family is. I wanted to come here today to make sure that we are all on the same page on what family is and the fact that it varies quite greatly. If we are not on the same page then we will need to have a further conversation with the principal in order to resolve the issue at hand.”

“Oh no, I think we are fine here. I think we can agree that families vary.”

“Wonderful. Just so we are clear, families vary and my daughter will be writing about her family as she chooses and determines them to be. And she will not be graded in a negative way if and when the structure of her family does not meet the scenario that you had laid out in the required dynamic of the family as you see it?”

“That is correct, she may write about whomever she would like.”

“Wonderful. I appreciate your time. I’m glad we had this chat.”

I stood, shook her hand once again and left the room. As I walked down the hallway, I saw my daughter in a line of kids coming towards me. I gave her a wink, a wave and a smile that said, ‘I told you we got this.’ She smiled back at me as she skipped into class and took her seat.

In no way did I plan to fight all of my daughter’s battles for her. As the years went by she found time and time again when she needed to stand up for herself. And other times she found herself facing the consequences of her own actions or lack thereof when it came to school assignments. But in this case when the battle was greater than what the average 6th grade child should have to face, when it was something that struck a personal cord with all my daughter had been through in regards to family, and due to the fact that I felt this teacher, this adult, had a small and closed-minded view of just what a family is, I felt it was my job to step in and square things away. Honestly, I felt I did the teacher a huge favor! Here I was, a single white mom with a boyfriend that my daughter considered family. No harm, no foul. If our situation had been different in one or more of the ways I had challenged her on she may have received a lot more than a simple parent teacher conference. Stepping off of my high horse, I truly hope that it opened her eyes to the students around her then and in the future that may not fit her old school mold of what family is. Just as my daughter and I were growing and changing, I hope she was too.