Today I was on Facebook while waiting in a doctor’s office and noticed a friend’s status update about the happenings of her morning (my apologies to those of you who have no idea what I just wrote). She is a teammate of mine from Notre Dame and her post stated that she sent her son on his first field trip today.
This might seem minor to some, but it wasn’t to me.
I recall vividly the day my oldest son’s first permission slip came home for his field trip to the Baltimore Aquarium. It was the first month of Kindergarten and I knew the field trip was coming. I had prepared myself as best as possible, knowing since his birth that this day would come. The day he wanted to ride a bus.
I thought I could do it. I wantedto do it…I really did - and I still do. But I wasn’t ready. It had nothing to do with my son; it had nothing to do with a school that I knew would be sensitive to my feelings and fears; it had nothing to do with thinking that buses are unsafe, because I do not believe they are unsafe. It just had everything to do with me. And that is not a usual place for me to be - only thinking of myself. I was devastated for my son and sorry that I would keep him from traveling with his friends and from being a normal kindergartner.
So I drove him. We met up with his class at the aquarium and we stopped for ice cream on the way home. We have done this for each field trip over the past two years. It is no longer a discussion at our house, nor with his teachers; it just is what it is - and it’s just what we do. It might not be my son’s first choice, but he has embraced it. We often talk about looking at an event or situation that we might not like, and finding something good that has come from it. From this, we have both found a special time for us to spend together…no carpool, no brother, no dad - just he and I.
I was reminded and reaffirmed and re-saddened by the revelation that my teammate also struggles with sending her son on a bus. I know many of my teammates do not share in our struggle - and I know many others who do, yet send their child on the bus anyway. I envy them. I admire them. I am not one of them, but I hope to be. I know there will come a time when my children will ride a bus and I will be thrilled for them. But I will miss my one-on-one time with my child in the car. Hopefully when that time comes, I will find something good that has come from missing that.
These are the small moments - scrolling through Facebook and staying updated on a teammate’s life - that catch me off guard. They remind me that life goes on, and yet in a moment I am taken back to a time or an emotion that is so powerful it never fully goes away. This too I must embrace and in it, find the good.
Last week I got an e-mail from a friend that read:
I’m sitting in the hospital in upstate NY with my 98-year-old grandmother waiting for Hospice to come. Did you get the 1st grade class doing their song? If yes, would you mind sending it? Louie Armstrong is a favorite of my grandmother’s…
Of course, I replied, and I immediately sent the link that showed both our sons signing (yes signing, not singing) “What a Wonderful World.” I was happy to help in a small way. And then I cried.
My friend was about to lose her grandmother. Even at 98 years old, I know my friend was sad when her grandmother passed away a few days later. Four years ago, I lost my own grandfather one week before he would have turned 100 years old. He lived a long, happy and healthy life for 99 1/2 years. If there was ever a life to celebrate, it was his. Yet, I was still sad when he died.
I have many reasons in my life to be thankful and to have a positive outlook, but I often thank my grandfather for this trait. My grandfather was in his 40s when my mother was born, and near 70 when I was born, so I only knew him later in his life - yet he taught me many lessons.
When my grandmother became sick and my grandfather had to stay at home to tend to her, he took up baking as an at-home hobby. He was horrible in the beginning - and all of his children and grandchildren suffered through many a bad loaf of bread or coffeecake. A chemist in his early life, he was often mixing “odd” ingredients into his loaves: pineapple juice and flaked mashed potatoes, to name a few.
Yet something happened the more he stuck with it; he got good. It took him years to perfect his breadmaking. My mother put miles on her car driving him to various bakeries to purchase new items, to have his mixer cleaned or to test out a new ingredient. I witnessed it all.
If you knew my grandfather, you knew he was a baker. He made several loaves of bread daily, often taking them to morning mass to pass out to his fellow churchgoers. Never do I say the “Our Father” and not think of my grandfather: “give us this day, our daily bread.”
He was by no means perfect. But he made lemonade out of lemons - and dang good lemonade at that. A year after my grandmother passed away at age 81, my grandfather was diagnosed with throat cancer. We thought we’d lose him too. No chance. He underwent a full laryngectomy and retaught himself to talk. He then spent the next several years as a volunteer for the American Cancer Society, visiting schools all over southern California to talk to children about smoking. Like I said: dang good lemonade.
This is the example I witnessed during the later years of his life; from him I learned the lesson of making the best of what you are given. He often told his grandchildren to “make the world a better place.” I strive to live out both of these examples. And with his death, I learned how sad it is to lose a loved one, no matter how old they are. It is a sadness I know my friend is experiencing now, and I am saddened for her. Yet I am thankful for the insight to understand and to share with her - and our children - the lessons we have learned from our grandparents.
What a Wonderful World indeed.
Sometimes it’s hard to share my feelings - To say what’s on my mind
For years I have watched you give and give - Be generous and be kind
You never waiver in your love - No matter my words nor deeds
You are there for me 100% - At times sacrificing your own needs
I think of you each and every day - Though the miles keep us apart
With busy lives and lives to touch - You are always in my heart
I talk about you all the time - As readers praise your spirit
I couldn’t be more proud of you - And today I thought you should hear it
With all I’ve done and all I’ll do - There’s one main reason why
You’ve guided me to live my life - And gave me the strength to try
You’ve challenged and supported me - In things you do and say
My love goes far beyond the words: Happy Mothers Day!
I love you, Mom.
One year ago today, my book officially went to print. It was a labor of love - emphasis on the labor - towards the end, and a lot of work. Like anything worth doing, it was a learning experience and at times challenging.
What got me through it? The determination to tell my story. It was hard to go back and relive a dark time in my life. It was painful, and tearful at times, to read my journals and revisit the emotional journeys I had taken. In many ways, writing the book was a continuation of that journey.
Was it worth it? More than I knew one year ago today. Last year, I hit “send” and sent off the final “okay” to send the book to the printers - with more than a few prayers of “I hope I got it right.” But there is no right or wrong, there is only the journey and the lives it has touched.
And it has touched lives. Thank you to those of you who have written and shared your thoughts and emotions. You are the reason I wrote this book - you too are part of the journey.
Here’s to another great year of Sharing the Inspiration!
This week as part of my Masters in Teaching program, I had to interview members of community-based organizations: organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, Rotary Club or Optimists Club, that interact with the students and public school system in our county. The assignment was to begin to understand the relationship the schools have within the community and to begin to learn how the community views the schools.
While interviewing one of my subjects, I asked him if his own schooling experience was similar or dissimilar to those of the at-risk youths with whom he interacts daily. He said, “Great question!” and then proceeded to share with me some of his own past and history. “One of the reasons I can connect with these kids,” he said, “Is because I can look at them and say, ‘I understand,’ and they know I know what they are going through.”
I understand. Not the experiences of being an at-risk youth; I was blessed to have been raised in a stable household (both emotionally and financially). But I understand what it is like to be able to connect with someone with those two words: I understand.
Also this week, I travelled to Waynesboro, VA, to run five workshops - most of them within the Waynesboro Public School District. After one of these talks, I met a young boy named Joseph. Having Joseph hear my story and being able to say to him, “I understand” is a gift that not many can give him. Not many people understand being confined to a wheelchair and the stereotypes and struggles that come with his physical limitations. They are physical, but do not in any way limit who he is as a young person - nor do they limit his dreams and future.
Just as at-risk youths may be limited in their financial resources or in having their emotional needs being met. But that does not limit their dreams and their future.
As with any child, they just need someone to care for them, to believe in them, to understand them.