I Thought There Would Be More

So some of you may know how much my great kid and I love the movie “Boyhood”. It resonates so deeply with us because it is, in essence, our own story to a large extent. A single mother raising a son, a mother who makes many (too many?) mistakes but is always trying to make decisions that she thinks and hopes will propel her and her son forward to a better, kinder, less stressful life. The life she faces as a single woman having to be both mother and father and guide her son while praying he learns from her mistakes is one I have lived for 17 years now. The movie that we still weep over every time either one of us hears the heartbreaking words that the great Patricia Arquette says to her son as he is packing up his car and going off to college: I thought there would be more.

This is probably the last summer my son and I will have together living in the same house as he is headed off this fall to his final year of college and then onto the path that will lead him hopefully to an enriching and rewarding life. I’ve been blessed, so blessed to have 23 summers with him here at home and it’s hard for me to imagine that it has gone by so quickly with no chance to make it last longer. It’s not fair to my boy to not let him explore and conquer, try and fail and succeed, fall in and out of love, grow and learn and live his own life. But he too (I think) wishes there would still be more.

I thought there would be more chances for us to head down to the boardwalk at the Jersey Shore in the dead of winter and walk and talk and watch the waves and, no matter how cold, get an ice cream cone before we got back in the car. I thought there would be more times to sit in a movie theater and watch a film we both loved – or hated – and talk about it over dinner, hash out the plot, critique it, recommend it, and sometimes go back and see it again. I thought there would be more days when he needed my help more than he does now. I thought there would be more chances to do all those routine things you do with your kids and don’t realize how precious they were until your kids are grown and the chances are gone. I know he needs to live his own life and not make sure mine is running smoothly but is it wrong to want to slow down time, turn back the clock, relive those precious moments, hours, days?

I thought there would be more days with my Dad before he left us, more chances for me to tell him how much I loved him and how much I appreciated all the times he worked 3 jobs to keep us all warm and safe and well-fed. I thought I would have one more day to thank him for spending every waking moment with us when we were kids, a fact my Mom always reminds me of when she tells me that my Dad would always say the happiest times of his life were when we were kids and he could be with us any chance he had.

I thought there would be more time with the love of my life, a man who died a mere 2 weeks before my Dad did. I thought that because we wished for a future together, it would happen. I thought that pain and suffering and hurt couldn’t touch us. I was wrong.

I thought there would be more time to be carefree and not be troubled by bills, debts, missed opportunities, broken hearts, hurt feelings, fear of the unknown, fear of the known. I thought I would have more times to say I’m sorry, to be less stubborn and more forgiving, to ask for a second (and sometimes a third or fourth) chance, to fix the unfixable.

I thought there would be more time to pursue what I really love to do, which is write (and I am ever so grateful to those of you who read these musings and always say such kind things to me). The satisfaction of writing is enormous and fulfilling; making a living at it (as I did for a brief while) was even more so.

I thought there would be more time to recover from the still-so-painful betrayals of 2 people I trusted (foolishly, as it turns out) and more time to try to rebuild, repair, recover. Maybe there still is but some days that seems like a moving target that I’m not even close to hitting.

But despite all of what I wish there could be more of, I am beyond grateful that my clock is still running, my determination is strong (and, with the help of some unbelievably loyal friends, getting stronger), my hope that a better future is still in front of me is strong. My desire to close the doors to my past, to turn the page, to let someone mend my broken heart, to trust people again, to cherish every moment I have with my son and my Mom and my sisters and my Burke cousins and my DC girls and my best man and my Florida friends and all of the angels God has placed in my life is a flickering flame that cannot be extinguished by what cannot be undone.

I thought there would be more. I hope there will be more. I pray that you will all come along for that journey with me because I couldn’t have come this far without the part, great or small, that all of you have played.

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Letting Go

So we’re all given the same 60 minutes an hour, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to live our lives. That time is a precious commodity, a gift that not enough of us value as dearly as we should. A moment wasted never returns. And sometimes those wasted moments turn into days and weeks and years and maybe even lifetimes. That’s a lot of time to spend your energy on.

Our lives don’t come with rewind buttons and – even if they did – we would probably go back to the bad hairdo and platform shoe days of our high school years and make better fashion and makeup choices. (Why oh why did someone not tell me that blue frosted eyeshadow was not a good idea? Oh wait. My Mom did. Sorry, Mom, for not listening). But rewinding and revisiting and reimagining and replaying those moments, those actions, those choices, those decisions can be all-consuming and stop us from moving forward. Or at least slow us down enough to create our own personal traffic jam.

Sometimes we can feel exhausted even when we’re not tired and it’s an emotional exhaustion brought on by worry and fretting and thinking “If only I had . . ” or “Why didn’t I . . ” or “What was I thinking when I . . ” (I suspect you all have your own versions of these questions without answers that can play in an endless loop in your brain, always lurking back there in the shadows, never quite going away but just present enough to inhabit a corner of your mind all the time). It’s the craziness we all pretend we’re not dealing with. But we all do even if no one owns up to it.

No one ever judges us as harshly as we judge ourselves. (But if someone does, please remove that person from your orbit immediately. You don’t need their negative energy). We never stop second-guessing about a decision made that didn’t turn out as we hoped. We point the finger of blame at ourself when oftentimes it’s another who has messed up our plans, derailed our future, sabotaged our dreams, rented space in our head they don’t deserve to occupy.

As women, we’re told to empower ourselves. We’re given so many opportunities to do that, opportunities our mothers and grandmothers didn’t have. We are the people who do it all, or at least think we can. We mother our children, we take care of our parents (if we’re blessed enough to still have them), we listen to our friends’ tales, we shoulder the burden of someone else’s troubles. We work until we think we can’t work a moment longer, and then we work some more. We balance relationships, checkbooks, schedules. We function on too little sleep, too much caffeine, too many worries. We go on because we have to. We are powerful and – sometimes, no matter how hard we try – we are powerless.

But it all takes a lot of energy, sometimes too much energy. Energy is an ever-diminishing resource that we know – or should know when we’re thinking clearly – must be replenished. Sleep and food and water, of course, help. But we need to boost our spiritual energy too. The support of friends, the kind word that you didn’t know you needed until someone says it. The person who tells you that you’ve done a good job or handled a situation well or had their back when they need it. The team we all assemble that not only supports us but protects us when we need it.

So let’s focus on eliminating the things that drain our positive energy and block the things that push negative energy onto us. Surround yourself with good and kind people (and please make sure you’re one of those people yourself). Watch a good movie and laugh or cry at the plot. Re-read your favorite book. Treat yourself to something that will make you smile. Help someone who needs it. Accept help from someone who offers it. Sleep more. Worry less (or at least try to worry less). Be your own advocate. Have some ice cream. Hug your kid. Thank your parents. Say please and thank you. Let someone love you. Stop being afraid. Pick up the phone and call someone you miss. Dream big, dream bigger. Smile. Pray. Let go. Let God. All is well.

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Don’t Be That Person

So recently I went to my nail salon for a little TLC. It was a busy Saturday and the salon seemed atypically crowded. And for those of you who’ve ever had to wait for an appointment, you know what happens. If the first person of the day is late getting to their appointment, then your nail tech or hairdresser or dentist or doctor will be running late all day through no fault of their own. In the big scheme of things, it shouldn’t be a big thing at all. Exceptions, of course, do happen but a few minutes wait here or there is not that big a deal. Or so I thought.

I had to wait about 10 minutes past my scheduled appointment so I sat and read my favorite book of all time on my Kindle (it’s The Wind in the Willows for anyone who wants to read a book that has lifted me and inspired me since I was 10 years old). I actually enjoyed those few minutes I had gained, because I had been racing around all morning trying to accomplish all that we inevitably have to squeeze in on the weekend because our weekdays are so filled with too much work, too many chores, too many obligations. This was found time so I didn’t mind the wait at all. The pleasure I got from reading about my favorite characters far outweighed the minor inconvenience of having to wait.

And then some woman I didn’t know came in and found out she had to wait a few minutes and started making a very loud fuss. “What exactly is the problem?” she kept saying to the young  women at the front desk. She wasn’t in the mood to hear their explanation nor apologies and just kept carrying on. It was uncomfortable to listen to and I felt badly for the people not only on the receiving end of her tirade but the nail tech who inevitably would hear the complaints when the customer finally was seated at her station. And all I could think was don’t be that person.

I don’t presume to speak for anyone or everyone but I know I have been that person on more than one occasion and I suspect many others may have been too. We are presented – willingly or not – with an inconvenience, a small delay, a promise unkept, a delay not anticipated, a wrinkle in our otherwise planned – or, truth be told – over planned day and we react badly. We make the proverbial mountain out of the molehill. Our outrage or upset is usually so out of proportion to what has happened that in retrospect we should be shaking our heads at how we reacted. But how many of us do? How may of us have become numb to how our reactions are perceived by others? How many of us fail to realize the impression we leave on others, the example we set for our children, the bubble we encase ourselves in where only our feelings, our time, our priorities matter?

For all the good technology does us, the fact is that we lived in a speeded-up world today, so different from the world I grew up in. We expect instantaneous responses to our texts, we send e-mails and get annoyed when we have to wait a day to hear back from the person on the receiving end. We order our clothes, our food, our books online because it’s faster and saving time matters so much to us. And time is a valuable commodity; I get it. But is it more important than the impact your actions and words have on someone when you behave badly because you’ve made your time a more valuable commodity than their feelings?

We have less and less personal contact with people – or so it seems to me – since we communicate so much via electronic means. We forget that words on a screen can hurt someone, mostly because we don’t have to assume the responsibility of seeing a person’s reactions to how we act or speak. We have, I’m afraid, become numb to the lack of civility. It has become far too often routine behavior, if not encouraged then tolerated. And because of this some of us have forgotten that being rude or disrespectful or inconsiderate or nasty is not acceptable, whether it’s in person or online.

Life is short and we only get one shot at it. Life gets even shorter when you’re my age and you realize that time is going by faster and faster each day. We have the opportunity, the chance, the gift every day to not overreact, to put things in perspective, to think before we speak, to not make everything into a thing. We can take a pause, put ourselves in the other person’s place, think before we speak and make a decision to not harm others with our impatience, our attitude, our sense of entitlement, our words. I don’t want someone’s memory of me after I’m gone to be that I was the person who lost her temper over the smallest and silliest of things, things that won’t matter in an hour, a day, a week. I don’t want to be remembered as someone who was unkind or cared less about others than she did about herself. I don’t want my life’s legacy to be that I was that person. I’m better than that and so are you all.

Don’t be that person.




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Baldheaded Woman

So today is the 5th anniversary of my darling Dad’s passing. A day both happy and sad, a day when I cry easily and often but try to smile as well, remembering all of the joy he brought into so many lives. This is who my Dad was and is and always will be.

To his country, he was a hero who forged his birth certificate to make it appear he was 17 so he could enroll in the Navy and serve as a medical corpsman on a naval ship during World War II for almost 2-1/2 years. He went back again when America became embroiled in the Korean War and served the country he loved for another year. He flew the flag outside his house every holiday and was so proud to live in a country like ours. He is proud, I know, to be buried alongside his fellow soldiers and sailors in a beautiful Veterans cemetery not far from home, a place that brings me peace when I visit it.

To my Mom, he was her best friend, her partner in crime, her husband, the love of her life. The man who made her laugh every day. The man who – when she lost her own mother a few short months after they married – insisted that her father and her brother come and live with them in their tiny apartment. The man who – as my cousin Cooky rightfully points out – was there not only at the beginning of so many lives but also there at the end of so many lives as well. The guy who never met a chore he wouldn’t do, never met a person he couldn’t strike up a conversation with, never met anyone he couldn’t charm. He was her own special leprechaun. He couldn’t have survived without her had the circumstances been reversed. She was his sun, his moon, his stars, his everything.

To my sisters and me, he was what every kid dreams of as a child. A father who came to every event great and small. A dad who drove everyone else’s kids home after sporting events and school dances and parties. A man who left us notes, even after we were adults, encouraging us, telling us things would get better, assuring us that the Blessed Mother was watching over us and would protect us. A dad who came here to my tiny little condo to tidy up (one of his favorite phrases) when I had newly become a single parent raising a young child and working 50+ hours a week with a 2-hour round commute thrown in for good measure and trying to juggle it all. A man who painted my living room when he was 80 years old, filled up my gas tank whenever he noticed it was running on empty and raised himself up to his full 5’2″ of height and threatened to beat the crap out of the guy who had wronged me.

To my great kid and my niece and my nephew, he was the grandfather who would ask you to comb his hair and who thought rewarding you for doing so with a shiny new quarter was the best treat you could get. He came to all their school events. When I worked full time, he drove my son to swimming lessons and bowling tournaments and basketball games and always encouraged those activities (although, truth be told, sports was not my great kid’s thing). He went to amusement parks with them and rode on all the rides and ate hot dogs and fries and ice cream with them and then fell asleep alongside them as we headed home in the car. When my great kid was sick, he’d take the day off and stay home with him so I could go to work. And when my great kid’s own Dad walked away, he stepped in and showed him by both words and deeds what kind of man he could become. That my son is the man he is today is because my father laid the foundation.

To my cousins, he became their second Dad. He stepped in for them when others couldn’t or wouldn’t. He is godfather to more people than I can count and Uncle Bub to so many others. He loved being surrounded by his family and liked nothing more than a party that happened to fall on a day when the Kentucky Derby was being run so he could start a pool and get us all caught up in cheering on horses we had never heard of an hour before. He told them stories of growing up with their parents and aunts and uncles and passed on that oh-s0-valuable ancestral info that is far too seldom written down.

To his friends, he was loyal and true to the very end. His best friends – my Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Ed – were part of his life for over 50 years, people he and my Mom met when their son and I started kindergarden together. He loved tormenting my Uncle Ed by filling in applications for him to box in the Golden Gloves tournament or calling him on the phone to say he was the police coming to serve a warrant. When my Uncle Ed decided to convert to Catholicism as an adult, my Dad served as his godfather (although he did draw the line at having my Uncle get into a christening dress and having my Dad hold him over the baptismal font).

To those who had harmed him, he was forgiving and kind. When my Dad was in the Navy for his second tour, he asked my Mom if she had a friend who could write to a fellow he’d met on the ship who had no one writing him. My Mom’s best friend from childhood started writing to my Dad’s friend and they eventually met, fell in love and married. But when, after she died, his friend became hardened and hurtful and cut my Dad out of his life, my Dad mourned the loss and – when he had just a few days to live – asked my sister to initiate a phone conversation with his friend who had abandoned him. I was opposed to the call but my Dad  was nothing but kind and gracious in what he said to the man he still considered his friend. He was a bigger person than I was because I felt this person didn’t deserve my Dad’s forgiveness. But my Dad knew better and I learned a lesson from him that last Sunday before he left us, that it’s never too late to forgive someone and if you don’t seize the opportunity when it presents itself, you might not get another chance.

To all of the dogs and cats and various other pets we and others had along the way, he was the best friend they could ever hope for. He would stop and pet any dog that crossed his path. When I adopted a dog who was terrified of men, my Dad used to come to my house and lay on the floor as the dog barked at him, staying there sometimes for hours just so she could get used to him being there and learn he was not there to harm her. The dog eventually preferred him over all other men (my ex-husband included – what a good judge of character that dog turned out to be). Whenever any of us had to make that very tough decision to end our pet’s life, he would come with us, even if it meant driving hours from a remote location to get there. He’d sit with the dog or cat and hold it and tell it he’d see them one day on the other side of the rainbow bridge and then weep as he watched their life slip away.

And lastly he was the person who knew what mattered in life, what meant the most. That last night of his life he struggled mightily to breathe. As the night went on, it got more and more difficult and the options were few and not pleasant. About 5:00 am, he interrupted me as I was reading him passages from the Bible and said “Ask Mom to come to the hospital”. I almost didn’t call her. It was so early and I thought I’d wait an hour or so. But I didn’t wait and I called her and my sister and my son and told them he wanted them there. And they were there by a little past 6:00 am, the point where it became clear that the end was almost here. The doctors gave him something to help him be comfortable and we all held his hand and my Mom sang his favorite songs and my sister read from the Bible and we watched him be freed from the pain and the suffering. He knew, I’m positive, that he had so little time left and he wanted to be surrounded by everyone he loved. Not everyone gets that moment, gets that chance to see the people they love the most that one last time. He did and it is that knowledge that got me through those dark and terrible days.

So today I honor my Dad by reminding those who knew him how important they were to him and what a part they played in his life and by letting those of you who didn’t know him how lucky we were to have him. And in this Easter season, with the promise of the resurrection and life eternal taught to us again, I look forward to the day when I will see him again. I know that just because I can’t see him doesn’t mean he’s not here but until I do see him again, thank you, Dad. I’m the luckiest girl on earth and I’ll love you forever.


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Everyone Has A Plate

So a while ago I had a talk with my sister who related a conversation she’d had with a co-worker. She was asking him if he could take care of something and prefaced the conversation with something we all probably have said at one time or another: “I know you have a lot on your plate”. And his response was “Barbara, we all have a plate”.

And those words really struck a chord in me because I have to believe that’s really true. We all have things we deal with every day on our plate, both great and small, challenging or mildly annoying, time-consuming or a blip on our radar. We all juggle a multitude of things that need handling or navigating or sometimes ignoring just to get through each day. A sick family member, a child who is struggling, an overdue bill, the stresses of our job. A fractured friendship, the person who looks past you as if you aren’t there. The passive-aggressive dialogue that someone pretends is a normal conversation, the I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong mentality that passes as civil discourse these days.

These things all pile up on our plate and some of us are better at not being overwhelmed by them than others. If you’re like me, you probably look at some people whose lives from your vantage point look pretty stress-free compared to yours. Plenty of people probably view your life and think you’ve got it pretty good. And compared to much of the world, we all should be doing much less complaining and much more giving thanks for our blessings.

I’ve got a plate with some things I wish I could get rid of. But every time I start to feel sorry for myself and ask the universe “why me?”, I think of all the people I know and the stories I’ve heard and the courage I’ve seen displayed and know that these people too have a plate that they’re dealing with, one with far more on it than mine could ever hold.

The woman we met on a vacation last summer, sitting on the curb outside a movie theater with her service dog, struggling to get herself inside to watch a movie. Her dog was an emotional support dog and she needed him to get through each day, to be able to get out there and function in a world not always welcoming of someone overwhelmed by life. (And into the movie she eventually got, sitting in the row behind us with her service dog in the seat next to her, him appearing to enjoy the movie as much as she did).

The son of my friend and classmate, Patrice, who was hit by a speeding and uninsured driver and ended up in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down, his life changed forever because of the stupid and careless actions of someone he didn’t know. I don’t know this young man at all but in every picture I see of Kenny he is always happy and smiling and radiating joy and his mother tells me he is so appreciative of the life he still now has that you’d be a coldhearted fool not to be in awe of his strength and positive attitude.

The young man I know for whom life has never been easy. Abandoned by someone he loved and depended on, struggling with issues no one his age should have to, working hard and harder to achieve what he dreamed, accomplishing great things despite all he had been through and instead of being hardened to life becoming more empathetic and caring and sensitive to those around him.

A woman who has been betrayed by those she trusted to the point where she is reluctant to trust anyone again because she doesn’t think she can survive more betrayal, more lies, more self-criticism for making another bad choice, and who faces anxiety-filled days where all she longs for is the sleep that will stop her from thinking, bookended by nights where the sleep she craves eludes her.

The friends who have faced down cancer and beaten it only to come out the other side stronger and more focused. And the high school classmate and her family who – having lost a daughter to a terrible disease – now make it their mission to honor their brave daughter every year by holding a huge fundraiser to support the organization created to eradicate this awful disease.

We all fail and we all fall. We look outward at others when we should be looking inward at ourselves. We judge others’ circumstances and compare them to our own which is an exercise in futility. Sometimes our circumstances look better than others; more often than not we may envy the life we think others lead without knowing truly what is on their plate. We monitor and measure our accomplishments against those of others as if life was a contest and coming in second place was not an option. We think our troubles are more important, more burdensome, more overwhelming than someone else’s. And maybe they are and maybe they’re not. But the next time you think you’ve got too much on your plate, remember that we’ve all got a plate. All we can do is manage our own. And try to help someone else with theirs.


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Is this the real life, is this just fantasy?

So with apologies to Freddie Mercury and Queen, I can’t seem to get these words out my head these days. For about 6 months now, I’ve been sort of doing a social media withdrawal. At first it was just to ride out a storm and then it was to stop being part of too much drama and then it morphed into not enough time nor interest and now my social media activities have evolved more into a minor hobby than a 24/7 event. I don’t miss it. And here’s why.

More and more I was being bombarded (a strong word, I know, but that’s how I felt sometimes) with stuff I didn’t care about or topics I couldn’t or wouldn’t engage with others on or countless photos of women, teenagers and young girls with the ever-present hand on their hip. (And, as a side note, is the hand-on-the-hip now a chromosome that all women are born with? Discuss amongst yourselves).

I saw people posting dozens of selfies a day. Some people look good although the mouth-open-to-make-it-look-like-I’m-laughing-and-having-a-fabulous-time pose is not a good look on anyone. I have taken 2 decent selfies in my life and I’m grateful I even have that many. I’m OK with stopping there.

I am online friends (a term I use loosely because most times a Facebook friend is not a real friend at all) with people who have too much time on their hands and have decided their new calling in life is to provide non-stop political commentary every day. I get it; we should all be involved and care about out country and its future. But after your tenth post of the day proclaiming Hillary Clinton the devil or reminding me that Donald Trump is the anti-Christ, I don’t care any more. Your world is black and white and there’s no convincing you otherwise. My world – and I suspect a lot of people’s world – is grey but that doesn’t make good copy online.

There’s one person in particular who fancies himself a political pundit and who I only wish had displayed a tiny bit of the passion and commitment he does pushing his agenda online towards his job when he was a former co-worker. There’s a former classmate, who I truly didn’t know at all when we went to school together, who vilified me and threatened me so awfully and publicly on social media to the point where she had to be reported. And then there are just the plain old drama queens. Life is hard; I get it. But everyone’s life is hard to some extent and if you were to hold up your set of problems and compare them to any given person, you’d be ashamed at what we complain about. Sometimes less is more and silence can certainly be golden. But social media means more is not enough and noise generates interest.

A few weeks ago I found myself in a total social media blackout, by chance rather than design. After spending another lovely day with my Mom (me driving her car), I got home and discovered I had left my cell phone in her car’s cupholder. I haven’t had a landline in years so I did a little research and found I could make a call to her through my iPad. Problem solved. But the next morning, when I was going to call her again on the iPad to arrange where we’d meet up, I couldn’t get a connection online. I couldn’t imagine what had happened until I got a lovely pop-up window on my computer from my benevolent cable company telling me my service had been shut off.  Somehow I had forgotten to pay my monthly bill (and, by the way, Comcast deserves their reputation as one of the worst companies in America for customer service but that’s another story for another day). I couldn’t pay them until I got my phone back so, once that happened, I had to hop in my car and search my neighborhood to find a WiFi hotspot so I could set up an electronic payment. And even after I paid them, it took a good long time to get my connections back. I was shipwrecked on a social media-free island.

Aside from being an annoyance, the longer it lasted the more liberating it felt. I read a book. I took a nap. I cleaned out my closets. I wrapped my Christmas gifts that need to be shipped off soon. I caught up on laundry. It was great; it was productive; it was a blessing in disguise because having a cell phone is both a blessing and a curse. The blessings are obvious; the curse perhaps less so. Getting into the habit of checking e-mail, looking at Instagram, reading a tweet is a time-sucking and usually non-fulfilling exercise. Not being able to do it was freeing. I was almost sorry when I had access again.

Many of you (and I love you all who have) have e-mailed or texted me privately and asked me why I am less active on social media. I have, of course, other reasons for scaling back, reasons I have shared with those who’ve asked. But ultimately I looked at the time I was spending on all types of social media and weighed it against my priorities, my goals, my downtime, my dreams. And it didn’t even come close. My time left in this world is a running clock and I don’t want to live it behind a screen. It’s not your real life and it’s not mine either. So I’ll happily cheer your success, like your picture, wish you happy birthday, pray for you or your loved ones when you ask. But for now, my real world is out there, not in here and I’m going to do my best to embrace what lives beyond the screen.

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2:08 AM

So today is my great kid’s birthday, his 23rd in fact. A number that is astonishing to me in so many ways because I know it was just yesterday that I was in the great and lamented St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan celebrating this miracle that I had been given. (His other parent was there too but he gets no part in this story because of his actions and inactions since then).

Every year since he was born, I have celebrated his exact moment of birth – 2:08 am – by setting my alarm and sneaking into his room when he was a toddler, a young boy, a teenager and a college freshman and giving him a kiss and telling him how much he was loved. He never woke up once in all the years I did this, even though he knew it was coming. (He is blessed with the gift of deep sleep, that kid is).

Since he flew the coop to Sin City and his new college, I’ve still set my alarm for the middle of the night but nowadays I call him and settle for reminding him that he is and was the one I loved above all. My sun, my moon, my stars.

So as I did a few months ago for my Mom, my words are (part of) my gift to my great kid this year. Because I want you all to know what a special person he is.

From the time he was young, he had a soft spot for the mistreated, the underdog, the down-on-their-luck folks he encountered. I like to think this was learned from being blessed with having my darling Dad as his grandfather. A man who adored his first-born grandson, who – with my Mom – turned their lives upside down to relocate back here to be part of and a presence in his life every day. He learned how to play – and cheat at, truth be told – miniature golf when he was young from my Dad. When he was sick and I just had to go to work, he would spend the day with one or both of my parents, learning that caring for someone you love is just what you do no matter what.

The very first time I really thought I was watching the spirit of my Dad come through him was one Christmas Eve when we were at Mass, waiting for the service to start. For any of you who’ve done Christmas Eve services, you know that if you want a seat for the 5:00 service, you need to be there at 4:00. And that’s what we had done, patiently waiting for Mass to start. A classmate of my great kid and his Mom were directly across the aisle from us, in a small row saving some seats for the Dad and his classmate’s autistic sister who wouldn’t arrive until right before Mass started.

The usher kept trying to seat people in that row while the Mom kept trying to explain why she was saving the seats. The usher, I know, was only trying to get people seated but he became increasingly frustrated and a bit rude to her, telling her she couldn’t save the seats. After the last time he did this, my great kid looked over at her and grabbed my hand to get my attention. The Mom was weeping, embarrassed and upset that she’d have to let someone else sit there and that her husband and daughter wouldn’t have a place to sit when they arrived.

And – without a word from me – my great kid got up, walked across the aisle and sat with her and his classmate to fill up the row so that the usher wouldn’t bother her anymore. She looked over at me and mouthed “thank you” but I had nothing to do with it. It was Brendan’s kind heart and compassionate soul, qualities he had learned from my Dad, that had made that happen. What he did mattered in her life and to her family and to me too, so much so that I still remember it as clearly today – 15 or so years later – as if it had just happened.

He’s hopped on a plane on more than one occasion to surprise me, often at the time I’ve needed him the most. When my Mom was hospitalized last year, he flew home – after begging and pleading with his college professors to let him work remotely for a few days – and ended up staying for 10 days until my Mom got home and started to get better. To spare my Mom the agony of having to put my Dad’s cat to sleep when he became so ill he couldn’t even walk any more, he and my sister took the cat to our vet and then – after it was over – walked in the house, hugged me and wept over the loss. Because it was one of his last links to my Dad and it broke his heart. But it was more important to him to spare my Mom that experience than to worry about his own reaction to it.

He is loyal and true, standing up for people when they need an advocate or a friend. He is passionate about what he believes in and smart as a whip. He’s a hard worker, a good friend, a boy – a man now – with a heart of gold, a heart I can only hope no one ever breaks (or they’ll have to answer to me). He makes me want to be a better person and a better mother every day. He inspires me, he loves me and supports me and believes in me even when I don’t believe in myself.

So as his birthday starts to wind down, I will tell you what I tell him all the time, quoting from the great book and movie, The Help. Brendan, you is kind, you is smart, you is important. And I am blessed.

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