Sandy

I timidly peeked around the corner to view row after row of meticulously aligned desks. My shiny, black patent-leather shoes reflecting my pristine, white ruffled socks below knees that were most likely sporting scrapes from the trips and spin-outs that most six-year-olds experience. The first day of school was a fairly new concept to me – I’d only done it once before – but this time I was starting completely over. The year before I had lived with my Grandma in Hebron and I went to school there, but now my mom had remarried. I was able to come back to Kirkersville. I had new brothers and sisters. A new dad. A new school. And, gulp, would have to make new friends.

I thought longingly of Stevie and Connie, my best friends from Mrs. Black’s Kindergarten class. I wished that they were there waiting for me. Any familiar face would be welcome. Other kids walked past me dressed in their best back-to-school duds and immediately fell into banter with their old friends. They were animated and laughing with their old comrades, delving into stories about what they did over the summer. I continued to gaze from behind my partially obstructed vantage point, hoping and praying that someone would be seeking me out, too. I had been assured that I’d make new friends but I was kinda hoping that they’d magically be there already, just waiting for my arrival. But no, I was the new kid. Nobody was waiting for me. I tightened my grip on my book bag and took the first big step into my new world.

I don’t recall if anyone truly paid attention to me or not since I was walking with my head down, perusing each desk looking for signs of vacancy. Most of the desks had backpacks already littering their surfaces or sweaters daintily draped across the back of a pint-sized chair. Each step I took brought a bigger sense of dread, soon I was going to have to turn around and try a different row. People were going to notice that. Finally, I passed a desk that looked empty. I slung my book bag over the back of the chair and swiftly tucked my ruffled dress under my bottom as I sat down. Whew! I staked my claim! I kinda felt like I belonged. I allowed my eyes to dart to either side and noticed that I was surrounded by girls who looked friendly enough but I didn’t allow myself to reach out to them. If they wanted to be friends with me they’d have to do all the work.

Suddenly, a girl rounded the corner and starting walking toward me. Her pigtails were swinging with each step she took and I thought, “Hooray! She’s coming to say Hello! To ME!” She maintained eye contact the entire way down the row. Just before she got to me, she reached out her hand and took something off the top of the desk. It was a little coin purse shaped like Mickey Mouse. Her piercing eyes were trained to mine as my smile faded to a frown. She didn’t say a word. She just took the coin purse, turned on her heel, and walked away. I slowly realized that this had been her desk and here I was, the new girl who came and stole it. I really didn’t see that coin purse until she came and took it. I figured my chance to make friends was over.

Then, before anything else could register, a girl wearing a shirt covered with clocks leaned over and said, “Hi. My name is Sandy.” She nodded her head toward the coin-purse girl and said “That’s Holly.” Then she turned to the girl behind her and said, “And this is Laura.” I looked at Sandy as if to say “Didn’t you just see what I did? I stole her desk!” But Sandy continued to chat. I stared at her shirt as she continued to tell me about herself. She told me that she had three brothers and liked dogs. I cautiously watched Holly take a new seat. Then Holly turned and started chatting with me, too. She mentioned that she had a sister and her grandparents operated a dairy farm. I finally gained enough courage to say “I have a whole new family.” The girls seemed stumped by this concept yet intrigued all at the same time, which, interestingly enough, is exactly how I felt about the situation myself.

The four of us remained close throughout grade school but Sandy and I were inseparable. We were exactly the same size and enjoyed pretty much the exact same things. We made Top 10 lists of boys we hoped we get to kiss someday, which in retrospect is quite comical because there were probably only 10 boys total in our class at any given time. So, essentially, everyone made the list. I cherish those moments of typical grade-school-aged whimsy, but the fact remained that my home life was difficult. There was a fair amount of emotional and physical abuse – not from my mother, mind you – but I never wanted to go home. And I never said a word to anyone about what I was enduring because I was afraid of the repercussions. But I think Sandy knew. Despite her young age she was able to catch on that something was not right. There was something about Sandy that was special. She wasn’t afraid of anything. I was in awe of her. I adored her. She was so soothing to me.

Our friendship was strong until about the eighth grade. A lot of things don’t survive those pre-teen years and I know, personally, that I did not celebrate good mental health during those years. The “new family” that I got in first grade had dismantled by seventh grade and I had to start all over again. In many ways it was good to start over, but I had lost pretty much everything that I’d known for the majority of my life. So, while I wasn’t a “bad” or “troubled” kid, I certainly had enough self-loathing to fuel an entire support group of emotionally incapacitated people. I was exhausting to be around. Regardless, life went on and Sandy and I went our separate ways.

In 2004, I was sitting in a room at Children’s Hospital, eight months pregnant with Madeline and cuddling my very sick little boy on my shrinking lap. He was resting after a particularly hard day of chemo. A soft knock on the door shook me out of my thoughts. I looked up to see Sandy standing there, asking if she could come in. She looked exactly the same and here I was sitting in a dark room, swollen, exhausted, hair hastily pulled back and rocking a boy who was rapidly losing his hair… not looking like I was ready for a high school reunion by any stretch of the means. I know she didn’t care one bit but I couldn’t help but feel totally unprepared to reunite. She came in and sat on the bed, chatting about nothing – anything – to take my mind off the obvious.

She didn’t talk about Ben. She didn’t ask what was going on in my life. She just wanted to come and say hi. I wondered how on earth she knew I was there. Turns out that she worked at the hospital and had heard through the grapevine that my son had been sick. She ended up stopping by now and then to take my mind off “stuff”. It was so soothing to me.

My sweet, old friend, the girl with all the clocks on her shirt, turned out to have a true understanding of what it meant to have excellent timing. And as she reached out to smooth my hair away from my tired, tear-streaked face and leaned down to kiss my very sick little boy, she said “I know it’s been so hard for you, Sar. I know it always has. But I love you. And I always will.”

It’s just the kind of girl she is. I’m not sure if she understands how she saved me that first day of First Grade or how she saved me all those years later, but I’m so grateful for her friendship. And for what it’s worth, she’ll always have a place in the warmest space of my heart.

 

Jackie Sharp gave me today’s word and while I’m sure “Sandy” was on her mind due to the storm that is pummeling the East Coast (or, perhaps she has a beach vacation planned shortly) I knew that the only meaning that “Sandy” has for me is what I wrote about above. Jackie has been a long-time supporter of my son, Ben, while we’ve been at war with cancer. She, herself, has two beautiful boys and was a dedicated nurse at Ohio State before she moved out of state. She loves my children so very much and I love her so much for that. Thanks, dear Jackie, for giving me a word that hammered home the importance of having “dear old friends.”

 

 

 

 

 

Butterfly

I remember it clearly. A warm pre-summer day at a lake near Ohio University where bad kids used to go to skip class or good kids, who waited for the weekend, would go to enjoy the sunshine with some friends. I think I was in the former group that particular day. Regardless, I was with my girlfriend, Christine, and we were laying out in the sun. Now, I generally don’t do this because I have been known to burst into flames when I’m outside – thank the ginger gods who built my breed with such fair skin and sunshiny hair – but for whatever reason, I was very tan (as tan as this redhead can get) that particular spring. And I was freaking skinny. I’d been going through some tough emotional times and I was the skinniest I had been since being a toddler.

I don’t remember what my friend and I were discussing but I remember that I was on the flip-side of a bad relationship. I was finally getting to the point where I was feeling confident again. I was concentrating on my internship – which I absolutely loved – and I was getting ready to graduate. As we were laying there in the sun, chatting and laughing, a butterfly landed right near my bellybutton. It sat there for a long time. Christine said: “It’s a sign.”

I don’t know what he was trying to show me so I’m not sure what “the sign” was. But it was fun to watch him crawl around. In all honestly, I never had such intimate contact with a butterfly before. They might have come near me in the past but they had never hung out for very long. This one seemed to want to stay. I put him on my finger. He hung out. I put him on my leg. He walked around. I put him on my shoulder. He parroted my voice. Just kidding. But I could move him wherever I wanted and he remained very compliant. Eventually he flitted away but it has remained a special story for Christine and me all these years. If anything, whenever I see a butterfly I’m reminded of her and what an important friend she’s been to me.

Isn’t it funny how we associate things with people in our lives? Whenever I see a large flock of birds hanging out on a wire I think of my ex-husband, Rob. It isn’t necessarily a good feeling because it makes me think that he’s going through a tough time. I see all those birds and after I get over the initial shock of thinking about Rob, I have to wonder if he’s okay. All of my reminders aren’t necessarily like this, most of them are very good. Whenever I see a penguin I think of Ben’s home/hospital teacher. She’s such a lovely person and was so good to my son, so seeing a penguin makes me happy. I think of my dad whenever I hear a plane flying overhead. My dad loves airplanes. He’s a pilot and used to do some pretty scary aerobatics (on purpose). One of my favorite activities when I’m around my dad is to watch him from the corner of my eye. If you watch him long enough you’ll catch him doing these aerobatic-like patterns with his hand. He is seemingly always thinking about it even if he’s unaware of what his hand is doing. It makes me smile because, while he is one of the most serious people I know, when he does that with his hand I know there’s a part of him that’s free. A child-like sense of wonder overcomes him when he’s around planes, so they make me happy, too.

Of course, music is probably the biggest supplier of memories. I can’t listen to the Beach Boys without thinking of my mom driving our gigantic green and white Econoline van on Girl Scout outings, crammed full of girls singing songs like “Good Vibrations.” My mom could not carry a tune but she wasn’t shy about it. She’d belt it out with us. All the girls wanted to ride in Pat’s big van – she was the cool mom. And, of course, she had the sweetest collection of 8-track tapes.

And then there are the items I hold most dear: An aspen leaf. A carved, wooden heart. Stationery with which to write a love note. It’s bittersweet to be reminded of past loves. I wouldn’t say that I’m good at being in love but when it’s true there’s nothing like it. I’ve been in true, do-stoopid-things kind of love twice. I married one (the bird guy) and then the other, well, he still occupies my heart. Both of these loves made my heart feel like the ingenue of a 1950’s-era big band musical.

Wouldn’t it be fun if we lived life like a musical? Actually, Madeline and I have this fun ritual where we’ll add “the musical” after something in a simple conversation. Here’s an example: Madeline says, “I hate going to school.” and then I say, “the musical.” That makes her laugh and then she forgets about hating school for a couple of minutes because she’s thinking about what “I Hate Going To School, The Musical” would look like from a production standpoint.

So, I invite you to try that today. I bet even the most tedious tasks will be lightened by the thoughts of putting a musical number to whatever you’re doing. For instance, We’re Going To Carve Pumpkins! The Musical! I can’t wait to see how that turns out. Anything can be made into a musical. And isn’t that how life should truly be?

 

Robin Reid gave me today’s word. The significance to her is beautiful for butterflies remind her of her sweet daughter who passed away a few years ago. Butterflies bring Robin comfort. Well, they do for me, too, dear Robin. You are one of my butterflies. When I see you I’m reminded that I have selfless friends who will drop everything and fly to New York on a moment’s notice to bring me some wine at the Ronald McDonald House. You’re excellent at bringing a bit of levity to My Crazy Life (the musical!) Thanks for being there for me, for making me laugh, for giving me encouragement when I just don’t feel like going on, for slapping me when I need it (the musical!) I sincerely appreciate all you add to my life. <3

 

 

 

Bonbons

The diploma I earned from my Master’s program at the University of Denver hangs directly above my toilet. It’s not that I’m not proud of my achievement – I am. I worked as hard as my left-leaning, socialist pinko-commie* brain would let me during those 18 months of torture. I am not interested in the world of big business but I went to classes and did my work and earned my degree. The whole time I was in that program I felt like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. I clearly didn’t think like my peers. I didn’t have the drive and determination to take over the world. I don’t want to think outside of the box and there was nothing that could incentivize me to break the freaking glass ceiling. I just wanted to have a meaningful life without the use of corporate buzzwords to get me through my daily dose of productivity. I thought that if I went to business school that maybe I could take that education and start a really cool non-profit that would help others have a meaningful life, too. Oh, okay, I wanted to impress my un-impressable in-laws, as well. Unfortunately for me, my divorce was final just months after earning that piece of paper, so it was mostly for nothing. It was a very expensive mistake. That’s what I get for caring what someone else thought of me.

Most people have a nice office where they can hang their pricy piece of parchment. My post-MBA work-life has confined me to a world of mostly of cubicles. There was no solid wall in which to put a nail, and at the time there was no clip or velcro strong enough to support my $40,000 piece of paper. So my diploma hung in a fairly inconspicuous place in a house that cost about 2/3 more than my education did. Something that should be an impressive achievement spent most of its days longing for a better piece of real estate.

Of course, we all know the next bit of the story: Ben got sick. Work ended then. The world of big business seemed absolutely ludicrous to me. Nothing else was important besides getting my son well and caring for my newborn daughter. My diploma kinda just floated around from space to inconspicuous space for the next few years as I braved the next phase of my life that no degree on earth could have ever prepared me for. I didn’t work for eight years.

So now that Ben is better and my life is a lot different, I’m trying to piece things back together. Some days it works. Some days it doesn’t.

I’ve been working as a temp off and on because I was out of the workforce for so long. Usually, I get passed over right away for jobs because Big Business doesn’t understand that the “little people” have lives – and they especially don’t understand when people have catastrophic lives. It’s not like I was sitting around eating bonbons for eight years. And so what if I was? If they can’t own you round the clock you’ll never advance to the point where you’re allowed to take time off for a sick child or a doctor’s appointment without feeling guilty that you’re not giving them your all. They want your first-born. Well, I’m sorry, but I’ve worked too damn hard to keep my first-born. I’m not going to give him away to some sleazoid piece of crap who won’t appreciate him. And who obviously doesn’t appreciate me.

So, with that said, I was released from my job yesterday because I took Ben to a doctor’s appointment and then the next day I was a few minutes late because there was an accident on the way in to work. I gave plenty of notice on the appointment and I called when I knew I was going to be late. It sucks being a temp, you’re treated more like a disposable diaper than an actual person. I was told the day prior to my release that I was doing a really good job, so… it doesn’t make any sense. I spent all last night wondering WTF happened but today I’m trying to not dwell on it and just move forward. At the very least, now I have some time to get other projects done, like write. I’m more the creative type anyway.

Don’t ever try to be something you’re not. I’ve declared war on selling myself out for so little – maybe that will bring me some peace. I’m inventing a backup plan – one that involves my creativity. Because, in all honestly, that’s what I truly excel at. I’m scared, but hell, what’s new? I’m always scared.

I just want to have a meaningful life. I’m not going to get there by doing what I’ve been doing. I need to put all my gifts together -find the synergy- and grab the low hanging fruit. Ugh. I guess I can’t exorcise those MBA demons completely after all. 😉

And the next time I run out of TP when I’m dropping off “bonbons” at least I’ll have a backup plan directly above my head.

*Note: I wouldn’t say that I’m a socialist pinko-commie, but I have heard this descriptor of me from others on more than one occasion. It fit into my story so I used it. I’m more of a middle-of-the-road girl, which I should revisit because all that’s going to get me is hit by a truck.

 

Thanks, Mike DiTommaso, for the word. I tried to write about candy, I truly did, but this is what came out. It’s been a joy following you on FB the last couple of years. I know we didn’t know each other well during high school but I’m glad we’re in touch now and I appreciate your friendship! Even if you are a conservative.

Acorn

They say acorns don’t fall far from the tree and that’s probably because they are too heavy for wind dispersal. They get shaken loose, fall to the ground with a large ka-thunk and there they sit, just waiting for an animal to abscond with them and bury them for a mid-winter snack. Or, perhaps, a child will come along and add it to their collection of odds and ends. Regardless, acorns are simply not capable of falling far from the tree.

This analogy is often used to describe children. I would have to agree when it comes to my kiddos. They are so much like me, in both looks and personality. When Ben was born he had red hair. Initially – and I’m not proud to admit this – I was concerned that my newborn son had red hair. Having grown up a redhead myself I knew that kids could be cruel. I didn’t want my son to go through anything as painful as being made fun of for being different. As I was holding my newborn son and marveling at how perfect he was – despite the red hair – I had NO idea of what my son would end up going through and some of the cruelty he would eventually face. My being worried about him having red hair was a ridiculous worry. I wish I could go back and give that new mother a good talking to. What I used to worry about is laughable now.

When my Madeline was born we were just six weeks into Ben’s fight with Neuroblastoma. I had no idea how I was going to care for a newborn and care for an extremely sick – and possibly dying – toddler. Again, I was worried about the wrong things. Madeline knew exactly what she was doing when she got here. April – the month that Madeline was due to arrive – was filled with Ben’s chemotherapies and bone marrow harvesting. As I looked at an overwhelmingly booked calendar that the nurse handed me, I mentioned in a very soft voice, “But I’m supposed to have a baby sometime this month.” She nodded and acknowledged my concern. All she could say was “pick a day and go do it.” I imagine my face was twisted with an expression that revolved around the question of “you can do that?” So, I called my OB/GYN and mentioned that I needed to schedule delivery, picked a day, and that’s what happened.

Madeline’s birth was simple compared to Ben’s. Ben’s was long. Fraught with scary moments. Distress for both mother and child. It was a semi-traumatic experience, whereas Madeline’s was simple. Peaceful. Quiet. And, after being in labor for just a few short hours, Madeline arrived looking absolutely perfect. I was overcome with emotion. After six horrific weeks of not knowing if my son was going to survive horribly harsh treatments, here I was, holding a beautiful miracle of purity. She was perfect. And there was simply no denying that she looked EXACTLY like me – but without the red hair. In fact, she had no hair at all. This time, as I held my newborn daughter and marveled at how perfect she was, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to divide my energy equally or appropriately.

Miraculously, Madeline knew her role and excelled at it. She was an amazing distraction from the horrifying world of pediatric cancer we had been living in. It was as if she was a beacon of hope on J5 (the oncology floor at Children’s Hospital in Columbus). All the nurses would take turns with her at night, just holding and comforting her. The sick children would stop by during the day to visit with her. She was an excellent distraction for everyone. And as she’s grown, she continues to do that. Madeline wants to entertain. She wants to make sure that everyone is laughing. She knows the world is messed up and scary and broken – and she’s diligently doing her part to keep everyone distracted. It’s bittersweet to watch her in action. She just wants everyone to be happy. I see so much of myself in her at times that it breaks my heart. I know what it’s like to want to please everyone, to think that you’re the only one who can offer everyone else a reason to not be sad or mad or upset. Someday she’ll learn that she can’t control how others react. What I hope I can teach her is that the only thing she needs to be is herself. That she can’t truly control the outcome of anyone’s emotions. It’s taken me a long time to learn that myself.

And my Ben. In all honesty, it’s the same for him, too. His heart breaks whenever anyone else is hurting. He hates conflict. He’d rather take the bullet instead of seeing anyone else get shot down. His heart hurts for all the children who have suffered – often times forgetting that he, himself, has suffered the very same affliction. He doesn’t quite realize how remarkable he is. What a survivor he is. How many people look up to him and regard him as nothing short of amazing. His low self-esteem doesn’t allow him to see. I know how that is, too. Low self-esteem sucks and encourages you to do a lot of self-deprecating things. I sincerely hope that I can teach him – show him – that he is amazing and he needs to embrace that. I didn’t really have anyone to teach me how to overcome my low self-esteem and I’ve paid for it dearly by wasting so much precious time. He’s a fighter, there’s no doubt about that, but he needs to realize that he can use that ability in ALL aspects of his life.

I have two acorns. They haven’t fallen far from the tree at all. And while they’re close to me during their childhood I will teach them all I can to LOVE themselves. APPRECIATE who they are. EMBRACE their quirky characteristics. BELIEVE in their abilities. And to simply BE HAPPY while trying to navigate through the choppy waters of their lives.

 

Ben Brewer gave me today’s word. He says he doesn’t know why he chose it but I know why… because it gave me the opportunity to write about my beautiful children. You’re AMAZING, Ben. You are my HERO and I know, with every fiber of my being, that I am the luckiest mom in the world to have two incredible children like you and Madeline. While I encourage you to grow a tougher skin so you can brave all the cruelty that life will inevitably throw your way I don’t want you to change a bit because I love your sweet and sensitive nature. I love how you see the world through your beautiful eyes – you give me courage to take off my cynical glasses and see the world how it should be. I’ve heard so many parents talk about what their children’s futures might hold… how they’ll be the next great politician or they’ll invent something to change the world… well, I can say without conviction that I’ve seen you change the world already. I don’t have to wait until someday to see how amazing you’ll eventually be. You’re already there. You’ve already achieved it. And I can’t wait to see what you’ll do next.