Our Choices; Our Decisions

So I was watching the great This Is Us last week and the equally great Sterling K. Brown, playing the conflicted and confused Randall, the adopted child in the Family Pearson, said something that really got me thinking. He said, “I think about all those people making choices about my life before I could make choices for myself”. And I realized how true that is for all of us.

At a certain point in our lives, we arrive at the place where we can begin making our own decisions, both profound and mundane. Who to date, who to marry (please don’t ask for my advice in that area. My track record is terrible.). What job to take, what place to move. Who to buy a Christmas present for, what movie to see. What car to buy, what outfit to wear each day. Whether we bring a child into this world, whether we can capably assume the responsibility of loving and devoted care for another person (whether that be our children or our parents). We are all faced with decisions every day. But to get to that point where we can make decisions (whether proactively or by default), many other people had to make choices for us long before we could.

That our parents’ paths crossed through chance or circumstance and that they made a decision to become a family and bring their own families together is where our first foundation of what we were to become was formed.

Our parents, of course, made the first big decision that allowed us to grow into the people we are today. They made the decision to love us, teach us, encourage us, correct us, shelter us, spare us, lead us by example. Whether we had siblings to look up to or to be an example for is also a decision we had no part in but the fact is that those of us lucky enough to have siblings have a connection, a shared blood like no others you’ll meet.

Our parents also determined what God we believe in and what church we worship at. They picked our schools and that is when, I believe, they truly put us on the path that we now walk on our own. By my parents selecting my Catholic grammar school, they introduced me to wonderful teachers and girls and boys – now women and men – who have remained a part of my life. The advice I received from my teachers and the friendships I formed with my fellow students and the goals they had for themselves helped me pick the high school I attended. And my parents, God bless them, found a way – by making their own choices to sacrifice and do without – to make that decision about my high school, the late and lamented Dominican Commercial High School (the best high school ever. Suck it, The Mary Louis Academy) become my reality.

And the girls I met in DC, truly some of the most amazing and heroic women I have been blessed to know, were all placed in my path because of the decisions and choices that their parents and grandparents had made for them. They have shaped me into the person, the mother, the daughter, the friend I am today and they helped me move onto the next phase of my life by encouraging me and advising me when I picked my college.

I met my best friend, Jimmy Courage, in college through my ex-husband (and the less said about him, the better). And a friend of his became a friend of mine and she introduced me to the man who became my first boss at the company I ultimately worked at for over 30 years. That he befriended me and became my champion, my go-to guy, my inspiration and helped me launch a career are only some of the reasons that my life is better. And his parents (especially his wonderful mother, Gloria, who is still so missed) made the decisions and choices that ended up with him sitting down next to me in the school cafeteria and changing my life.

And no matter what I think about him, that my ex-husband’s parents made the decisions they did meant I met him in college and ultimately ended up with the best thing that ever happened to me, my great kid. So as painful as it was with far more bad than good, my decision to marry him cannot be regretted.

I could go on and on with more and more examples of how people I have met and loved and lost and relied upon and were betrayed by all were there because of decisions and choices not only that they made but that their parents and friends made for them. We are all a sum of our parts. We are all a tapestry of people and places and things and experiences. We are all part of the bigger community, the brotherhood of man. And the decisions and choices we have made, we make today, we will make will be the building blocks of our children’s and our grandchildren’s lives, their legacies, their futures.

Don’t take that lightly. It is a privilege and a responsibility to choose wisely. Think and pray and ponder your decisions. Remember that you are preparing them to make good and responsible choices for their future. Teach your children well so that they can teach their children well. There is no greater gift you can give them.

 

 

 

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A Stranger In a Strange Land

So last time I wrote about hearing for the first time in years a song by the fantastically gifted Sting. It was “An Englishman In New York” and one of its lines had inspired me to realize the peace that you receive when you realize, decide and accept that being honorable is better than being right. But the song itself is about more than that. It’s about being, as Sting calls it, a “legal alien” and how one’s natural customs are not always welcomed or appreciated or even noticed in another place. And that’s where I find myself now.

As some of you may know, my move from New Jersey took me to a new and, in many ways, a strange land: Utah. It is a spectacularly beautiful state. I am surrounded by mountains (already snow-capped!) everywhere and from my front door I can see the church steeple that is in my sister’s neighborhood, a 15 minutes ride away.

I am blessed to be living in a locale that is as nice a place as I have ever lived in with so much space we still have empty closets and cupboards to fill. I am doubly blessed to be here living with my Mom and getting to spend more time with her than I have since I left the nest after graduating college back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. We get to see my sister and her family every weekend and she’s introduced us to new adventures and different places to go and see. My mother’s cat and my dog have learned to co-exist in a relatively peaceful manner. All is right in our pet world.

My great kid is now a mere 5-hour drive away instead of a cross-country flight away so I get to see him, and he gets to see us, far more often than we’re used to. When the awful carnage happened in Vegas (where he goes to college) a month ago and he needed to come home to feel safe again, that he could do that made his emotional recovery easier and my anxiety over him being so close to what had happened more manageable once I was able to hold him in my arms again.

Not having to set an alarm every day is also a fantastic thing. I’m working remotely on some freelance things and have the ability to set my own schedule which is very freeing. That schedule lets me take my mother when she needs to see a doctor or needs to pick up a prescription or just wants to go out to lunch. That I can do that for her is very gratifying particularly since both my parents chauffeured not only me but all my friends around everywhere we needed to go when I was growing up. I am happy to be able to now be her personal Uber driver.

And the people I’ve met have been very nice to me, although I have yet to meet anyone I’d consider a friend. Nearly everyone I’ve met has asked me where I’m from (somehow they think I have an accent. I’m quite sure I don’t!) We’ve found nice restaurants to eat, great doctors for my mother to see, good hospitals just in case, a fantastic hairdresser and a good nail salon. Life is good. And yet . .

I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the speed limit in the lower half of the state being 80 MPH and having drivers on my tail in the slow lane on the road because I’m (only) driving the posted speed limit. Patience while driving doesn’t seem to be a mantra that’s lived by here. Red lights and turn signals seem to be optional. I never assume when a light turns green that I have the right of way because nearly every day since I’ve been here someone has run the red light or continued to make a turn directly in my direction instead of waiting for the next light to turn signaling to them that it’s safe to go.

Seat belts also seem to be optional here. Too many times already I’ve seen parents get in cars and not only not buckle themselves in but drive away with children – sometimes toddlers – standing up in the back of the car. Cell phone usage while driving seems to be the rule, not the exception. And you don’t have to wear a helmet while driving a motorcycle in Utah. (Hello? Has anyone checked in with Gary Busey to see how that worked out for him?)

And guns. Oh my, guns. You can carry an unloaded gun anywhere, you don’t need a license to own a gun (although God forbid you don’t have a license to operate a car), you don’t need to register your guns (but you still need to register your car). And you can carry a loaded handgun in your car without a permit. (Which is why my mother constantly encourages me to avoid my New Jersey habit of honking at people who almost hit me because they’re talking on the phone while driving or cut in front of me without signaling because they’re too busy talking on the phone to use their turn signal.) I’ve already visited far too many places (hospitals, stores, supermarkets) which post signs on their front door asking people to please leave their guns outside. (It would never occur to me to bring a gun into a hospital but I may be the exception to the rule.)

And I suspect that if someone from Utah was transplanted to New Jersey they’d question most of the things I take for granted. They’d wonder what was the difference between pizza and Sicilian pizza. They wouldn’t get the concept of an egg cream. They’d think we drive too slowly. Parallel parking might be a challenging new concept to them. They might not get why we let gas station attendants pump our gas. (As my son’s great friend, Alison, just reminded me, New Jersey people come out of the womb saying “$20. Regular. Cash.” ) And they’d never understand how people like Snooki or The Situation warranted their own television show. We all have our own ways, neither right nor wrong when compared to others, but just what we’re used to and reacting to new ways of doing things, incorporating them into our lives, learning to accept them can be challenging. The “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” syndrome.

So while I do love my new home, some of its customs and accepted practices may never sit well with me. And I miss so much about my old home: the Jersey Shore, Dunkin Donuts and my friend Raj, White Castle and WaWa, my hairdresser, my mini-reunions with my high school classmates, my sister, my Burke cousins, my DC girls, my best friend Jimmy Courage. I’m blessed that social media lets me keep in touch and I hope that one day I’ll feel more comfortable, more acclimated, more receptive to what is still a different way of life to me. Until them, I’m an Englishman in New York. Or at least a Jersey girl in Utah.

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Be Yourself, No Matter What They Say.

So as I travel around my new location and being unable to find a decent radio station to listen to (oh, WCBS-FM and Scott Shannon, how I miss you!), I’ve taken to listening to my iTunes library on my phone while I learn to navigate the lay of the land out here. And today through the randomness of iTunes shuffle, a song I hadn’t listened to in ever so long popped up and its words resonated with me.

Last week I got caught up in some drama that I didn’t create and didn’t want to be party to. The details are unimportant but the stress it caused not only to me but to people I love was almost crippling, both emotionally and even physically. For several long days I felt like I was walking on eggshells and I ultimately came to the conclusion that the mess that had been created had to be ended and I had to end it, consequences be damned. And I did and there were consequences. But I am confident in my belief that I did the right thing for the right reason.

So when I heard the great Sting today singing the words “Takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile. Be yourself, no matter what they say”, it was kind of a gut punch. Confrontation and facing unpleasant situations are not my strong suit. In fact, I have always been a “go along to get along” kind of person. I’ve had relationships of all types with too many people who are too volatile, too always inclined to believe their position is the only position, too quick to criticize, too slow to forgive. And I’m not going to be the person any more who accepts that as normal behavior or stays silent when someone else is behaving badly. I’m too old to accept that a lack of civility or empathy or coming together to find a common solution is normal or right. Not on my watch; not any more.

I did what I truly believed I had to do. I honored the memory of someone I loved and lost and took flack – a lot of it from a few folks – who thought they knew better than me. And maybe they do and maybe their intentions were as pure as mine. It doesn’t really matter in the end. What matters is that I can live with my decision even though it has cost me dearly.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on all things. I’m not even close to being an expert on most things. But I am an expert on honoring your commitment, on treating others the way you want to be treated, on being civil when you disagree, on loving someone even if you don’t always like them and on walking away when you have no more fight in you to wage a losing battle. I have my parents to thank for that, people who taught me that being honorable is more important than being right and that, ultimately, no matter what someone thinks or says about you, you have only yourself – and your God in heaven one day – to answer to for your behavior, your actions, the choices you make.

So while I may have lost the battle this past week, I was true to myself. And that I can live with.

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Twenty-Five Years

So this time 25 years ago I was in the maternity ward at the late and lamented St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village. My due date for my one and only baby was 2+ weeks past and my wonderful obstetrician had told me the day before that the time had come to help my son make his entrance into the world. (My son’s father was there too but this is his one and only mention in my story because he is a father in name only and gets no recognition in the celebration of my great kid’s birth).

At 2:08 am my son was born. As many mothers have told me before and since, you don’t remember any of the pain or anguish you go through when you’re in labor. Those sensations and the ability to recollect them are gone the moment a baby, your baby is placed in your arms and, if God is good and all is well, you’re told he is healthy and perfect.

I was very fortunate to be in a position where I could spend the first 6 months home with my son, learning about him. What he liked (baths and the soundtrack from The Little Mermaid) and what he didn’t (apricots mostly). What worked (the baby swing) and what didn’t (overly bright lights). What made him laugh (kisses on the top of his head from the dog) and what made him cry (too many to list. If you’re a parent, you’ll know that’s true).

I have been blessed to have been able to have many good people – my parents, my sisters, my friends, his pediatrician, his teachers, his friends – share their wisdom, shape his life, sharpen his skills. What they’ve given him, what they’ve given me has helped me be a better mother and helped him travel the path that has led him forward even when looking back seemed like a better choice for both of us.

Many of you know him personally and some of you only know him through my words. My words can never truly do him justice but they are all I have to celebrate the joy and happiness he has brought me for 25 years.

He is kind to everyone and polite to a fault. He checks in with me every day and when his adopted city, Las Vegas, suffered through that most unspeakable tragedy a few weeks ago, he told me that he needed to come home to be with my mother and me in order to feel safe again. To have someone love you that much, to know that you have been the center of someone’s world since the day he was born is both humbling and rewarding.

He knows  – or at least I hope he does – that no matter what he says or does, thinks or believes, feels or doesn’t feel, telling me is safe. He knows that there is no mountain I wouldn’t try to move, no battle I wouldn’t try to fight, no dragon I wouldn’t try to slay to make him happy. He knows that he can lean on me when he needs to and can trust me to give him space when that’s what he needs.

He gives people the gift of his time, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen. He volunteers for causes he believes in and doesn’t shirk from responsibility or bad news. He studies hard and works harder. He makes me laugh and sometimes he makes me cry. He makes commitments and he keeps them. He knows that when you make a promise, a true and good man keeps it. He is a gentleman.

I always want him to look at me and see love and hope, trust and pride, gratitude and blessings reflected back. I want him to know that my first thought every morning and my last thought every night is of him. I want him to feel the prayers I say for him every day. And I want him to one day have children who bring him even part of the joy he brings me.

I hope, I think, I trust that as a single parent I have done the best job I could possibly do. There are things I might have done differently with the perspective of hindsight. There are mistakes I’m sure I’ve made. There are choices I wish I hadn’t picked. But the one thing I would never change, the main thing I treasure, the exclamation point to my life always has, always is and always will be my great kid. Happy 25th birthday, Brendan. The best 25 years of my life.

 

 

 

 

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How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?

So I am reeling this week, overwhelmed by such sadness and anger and fear. My friend of nearly 50 years, the incomparable and irreplaceable Miss Beans, unexpectedly lost her battle – her third battle – with cancer. I can’t seem to accept it. I’m distracted. I’m aimless. My Mom talks to me and I don’t even register what she’s saying. I’m lost. I’m brokenhearted.

And logically I know that death is a part of life. We’re taught that from the time we’re young. The Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible (and then the great Pete Seeger via song) tells us that “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born and a time to die.”

I’ve experienced death before, of course. I lost my maternal grandmother before I even knew her and my maternal grandfather when I was a toddler. I’ve lost cousins and acquaintances. I lost the love of my life a few short weeks before what was the hardest loss of all:  my darling Dad, who is gone over 6 years now. Each one of these losses takes a little piece of your heart, leaves a little scar that doesn’t really heal, imprints sadness on your soul that never goes away.

Even though I am older than I can possibly grasp, I never think of myself as old. Perhaps it is because I am lucky enough to still have my Mom with me and I believe that you always think of yourself as a child when your parent is still there for you. But old is what I am and this untimely death of Miss Beans has made me face my mortality – and the mortality of those I love – in a way I haven’t before.

Most of my closest friends are from high school so I have known them for decades, almost half a century. And I know that is a blessing from above. The random good fortune that all of our parents chose the same great Catholic high school for us and the randomness of us being grouped alphabetically in class in many cases means that I was connected to some of these girls from the time I was 14 and they have become the cornerstone of my very existence.

But this also means that all of these girls – and my Mom and my sisters and my cousins – are all facing down our mortality and I’m going to ultimately have to deal with losing people I love dearly far more often than I can possibly prepare for. I’m not sure I’m ready to face that. I’m not sure I know how to do it. I am sure I don’t want to do it.

My contemporaries and I are aging and beginning to feel the effects of that aging. We all have various ailments and conditions that we’ll try to manage and control but, like a wind-up toy, eventually we – and everyone we know and love – will slow down and stop. The circle of life and all that.

As we age, it gets harder to connect with new people, to make new friends. I knew someone a long time ago who told me that he knew within 5 minutes of meeting someone whether they’d be friends or not. He believed that life was too short to spend on people who wouldn’t be able to be your friend for whatever reason. I sort of agree with his theory. Life is short and the chances to establish a true friendship, a kinship with someone who gets who you are is rare. And the chance of me ever meeting another person who measures up to my love and connecting with that person for a happily-ever-after is remote as well. I accept that as my reality and it makes me cling to my friends here now even tighter.

So to lose one – and to know that I (and they) will be faced with losing others – is very hard. But it being hard is filtering it through what I feel and I know that’s selfish. My friend was suffering and wasn’t going to get better. She is in a better place now and I know our paths will cross again. I know that in dying we are born to eternal life. I just wish, selfishly, it didn’t have to happen this soon.

Don’t waste time on things that don’t matter. Don’t hold grudges. Hug each other. Make that call. Go to church and thank God for your blessings. Get enough sleep. Forgive and forget. Love one another and hold on for dear life for we may never pass this way again.

Goodbye, my friend. You made my life better in so many ways. I’ll keep talking to you even though you can’t answer back any more. I know you’ll be the little voice in my shoulder encouraging me, kicking my butt when needed, letting me know you’re still here even if I can’t see you. Because there is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

I’m going to weep and laugh and mourn and dance for you, Miss Beans. I’ll see you again one day. Godspeed, my friend.

 

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Don’t You Dare Look Back, Just Keep Your Eyes On Me

So the new adventure begins for me soon. The moving van will arrive to pack our belongings and make the long trek across the country. I will pack my puppy and my great kid and my Mary Poppins snow globe up in his car and send them on their way to meet up with me in a few days. The car will be en route and I will be too soon. To quote the Peter, Paul and Mary song, I’m leaving on a jet plane; don’t know when I’ll be back again.

Emotions and feelings are flooding my senses now. These past few weeks every time I’ve done something, every time I’ve talked to someone, every task I’ve tackled, every thought I’ve had has had a pounding beat behind it: the last time, the last time, the last time. I don’t know if I’ll ever visit my father’s grave again. I don’t know how many of the people I interact with on a daily, weekly, monthly basis will ever cross my path again. I don’t know if the roads I’ve driven on for years will ever be beneath my feet again. I don’t know if the local radio station (the great CBS-FM led by the equally great Scott Shannon) or the local television station (WNBC and the morning crew which wakes me up and entertains me every day) will be available for me to listen to or watch where I’m going.

I don’t know if the sun setting on Point Pleasant Beach will look the same where I am, or if I’ll see the Atlantic Ocean again. I don’t know when I’ll get to go to see the Somerset Patriots again, that wonderful minor league ball team that has $1 hot dog nights, fantastic seats behind home plate for $10 and encourages people to get up and do the chicken dance between innings.

I don’t know if I’ll ever see the wonderful women who help me keep myself presentable when I visit their salons. I don’t know if I’ll get to talk again to the great and beautiful woman at Dunkin Donuts who hears my voice say “hello” and knows what I want to order that day without me telling her.

And I don’t know when I’ll see my DC girls and my Burke cousins and my best friend, Jimmy Courage, again and that is the toughest part of all. The person I am, the person I was, the person I became, the person I’ll always be could not exist without their support and friendship and kindness and love. And I know – because I wrote about it recently – that social media means we are all only a click away from each other. But even if I didn’t see all these special people often, it’s the idea, the notion, the life raft I cling to that I could see them when I wanted or needed. And now it will require more effort, more planning, more money, more time and spontaneity and “just because” will be removed from the equation.

So even though I’m sad, I’m also happy that there is a great future waiting out there for me. There’s a new adventure, a promise of new experiences, a dream of a happily ever after. And isn’t that what we all want? We want to know, or at least hope, that our best times are not behind us, that beyond the blue horizon waits a beautiful day. I believe that; I have to believe that; I will believe that.

Off I’ll go soon. Wish me luck and know when I leave here in a few days that, like Peter Pan, I’ll be headed to the second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.

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So Long, Farewell

So I have arrived at that point in my life so beautifully described by Robert Frost in his glorious poem The Road Not Taken. I have come to where two roads diverged in the wood and I have chosen the one less traveled by, a decision I neither ever thought I would make nor take lightly now that I have made it.

As a lifelong resident of the east coast and a person who is a New Yorker by birth and, even though I have lived in New Jersey for many years now, a person who will always be a New Yorker in my heart and soul, I will be leaving my home and everything I have known to head across the country to a new city, a new state, a new way of life. I am a charter member of that sandwich generation that cares for our parents and our children simultaneously and what I am doing and why is because of that.

If you are someone who is blessed to have one or both of your parents, you know that eventually, inevitably the role of parent and child is turned on its head and we begin to parent our parents. Aging can be a cruel process where your mind, your heart, your core tell you “yes, I can” but the realities and the frailties of our bodies cannot be ignored. And my mother, a very healthy 85-year-old woman, all things considered, needs not to be alone any longer.

For years, my sister and her husband have tried to convince first my parents together and then my Mom alone after my Dad left us to move closer to them. They wanted to participate in her care, to help share in the process and to spend more time with her at a time in all of our lives where the days speed by and the years seem to go even faster. And, truth be told, the past more-than-a-few years have not been kind ones to me for many reasons, each accompanied by a story I am tired of telling and the outcome of which doesn’t change no matter how often I recount it. The opportunity to do for my mother what she has done for me, for my sisters, for my great kid and niece and nephew all of our lives as well as to turn the page in the story of my life, to start a new chapter which may have that happy ending I’m still looking for was impossible to resist.

So we’ve sold our homes, are purging, sorting, donating, repurposing and packing our pared down belongings and will be headed to our new adventure in a few weeks. Life will be different for sure where I’m headed but I like to think I can and will adapt and grow and flourish in this new garden I’m planting myself in.

Most of the people I’ve shared my news with have been incredibly kind and happy for me. Even though they’ll miss me, they are genuinely supportive of this and want what is best for me. Others are surprised at my decision and view it through the prism of their experiences and I understand that but cannot let it factor into my hopes, dreams, excitement, challenges or – ultimately – belief that what I do and why I’m doing it and what it will mean for my family and me is right.

So many of you I know on social media are people who have befriended me or reached out to me because of some mutual friend or connection or some other commonality. And that I am part of that large social media community means I will never truly lose touch with anyone. All of you who have agreed (or disagreed) with things I’ve posted, who have supported my writings, who have stepped up with a kind word or thought or prayer, who have sent me private messages of comfort and professed public support are woven forever into the fabric of my life and I will never, ever not be grateful to you.

So please wish me well, know I am a mere keystroke away, believe that I won’t be gone forever and trust that I know how blessed I am to be surrounded by so many good people in my life. Until we meet again, thank you all.

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