5/19/22

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Man, I really hesitated with this one. Can you handle another Moment about Olivia? When I mentioned last night that I would be writing the blog today, Olivia said, “Well, at least you know what your Moment is!” I do! But could she have waited another couple weeks before doing something Moment-able?

So a few weeks ago, Olivia received an email that she didn’t show anybody. It was through her college, and it was inviting her to join something that had the word “honor” to it. In true Livvyonian fashion, she zeroed in on that word and thought she was being offered the opportunity to take honors classes in her senior year. Which she didn’t want to do. So she ignored the email. The deadline to answer passed.

But they emailed again. They asked if she was going to do this, and they extended the deadline…for her. This time, she showed me the email. “Should I do this?” she asked.

I read it and gasped.

It wasn’t for honors classes. She was being invited to join Delta Epsilon Sigma, a very prestigious national honor society. The requirements to be invited are a very high bar, but Livvy didn’t even know she met them.

And so I explained.

“Oh…” she said.

And then she accepted the invitation. Last night, we went to her induction. And my Moment occurred, not when her name was called and she received the certificate and everyone clapped, though that was wonderful too, but a little bit earlier, when Delta Epsilon Sigma was being described.

“The women who are invited to join have to be at the very top of their class,” the advisor said.

I turned to look at Olivia. I have no idea which were wider…her eyes or her mouth. Absolute shock. Absolute disbelief. Absolute amazement.

When she could talk, she turned to me and said in a whisper, “Ohmygod!”

Indeed.

I write a lot about Olivia. Her brilliance, her talent, and yet her absolute…niceness. There’s no other word for it. And when you add all of this to what she had to struggle through, it’s just mind-boggling, even for those of us who were here to witness it. I always go back to that moment when I was told she was autistic. I sat in the doctor’s office, my almost 3-year old playing on the floor. Every time that doctor said something sad – she won’t talk, she won’t acknowledge you, autistic, autistic, autistic – Olivia tapped the toe on my shoe. I looked down and she looked right at me and beamed.

Don’t listen, Mama. I’m here.

And now…well, look at her.

But this goes beyond her accomplishments. It was that face of hers, when she heard that she must be at the top of her class in order to receive this invitation. She had no idea.

What she does know is that she’s a hard worker. She sees what she wants, and she goes for it. She wanted to talk, so she learned to talk, in her own way, through memorizing the scripts from the kids’ television shows and then trying to apply those words to what she wanted to say. She wanted to make music, she wanted to play the violin, and so she struggled through difficulties with sensory issues to rest that violin under her chin, feel the vibrations, but play anyway. She wanted to learn how to read, and she did. She wanted to learn how to do math, and she did. She wanted to learn to draw, and she did. She saw her parents writing, so she wrote a book. She started before she could type, laying on the floor of her bedroom, her arms and legs stimming, and dictating what she wanted to say. We typed faithfully. We still have those early stories.

She wanted to go to college. And despite her Early Childhood teacher saying, “Well, we can always dream,” when I told her that we fully expected Olivia to go to college and live a full life, Olivia is doing exactly that.

You know that phrase, “She believed she could, so she did”? I swear it was written for Olivia. And we believed too.

But the thing is, despite all the cheering, she is still amazed when she achieves.

One of the most important things I can say about my daughter is that she’s nice. And right up there with it is that she’s kind. She’s compassionate.

That day in the doctor’s office, I am very, very sure she was able to comprehend what the doctor was saying about her. Yet her reaction was to comfort me. And to let me know that she wasn’t the person the doctor was describing.

Don’t listen, Mama. I’m here.

Boy, is she ever.

Please forgive me for another Moment about my daughter. But that face, that glorious face, just eclipsed the rest of my week.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Olivia at 3, when she was diagnosed. Hands open and stimming. No words…yet. But she was there.
Olivia – high school graduation photo. Whenever she can get her hands on paper, she’s writing and drawing.
Receiving her certificate!
Ta-dah!

5/12/22

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

So I had an orchestra concert to go to. During the spring, as the school year runs out, it seems like concerts and award events and communions and weddings and pretty much everything that has to do with a gathering pop up all over like daffodils. When Olivia was in middle and high school, I would hear that a concert was coming and I’d quietly groan. Other than a handful of times, during those seven years, her orchestra concerts inevitably fell on a night that I worked.

Of course, it didn’t help that I work every night. Hence the inevitability.

For the first few years of college, the concert circuit went silent as Olivia’s school, Mount Mary University, doesn’t have an orchestra. She continued with her private lessons and then, last year, she joined the Wisconsin Intergenerational Orchestra. And it’s been amazing. She is thrilled to be back in a group, and I am thrilled she is thrilled.

So far, there have been two concerts. And counting the one that was this week, I made it to both. This one, amazingly, fell on my day off.

Yes, I said a day off.

AllWriters’ is 17 years old, and for 17 years now, I’ve worked 85-hour work weeks. Anyone who thinks owning your own business means setting your own hours needs to rethink – your business sets you. But the most wonderful plus – those 85 hours are magical hours. If I was working 85 hours a week at a job that I hated, well, I wouldn’t be here now, I don’t think.

But still, 85 hours a week, even of a good thing, a magical thing, can be a problem. So a year ago, I put a new routine in place (this is one thing you can do when you own your own business!). I began to take one day off a week, and I stagger the days. One week, it’s Monday, the next, Tuesday, and so on. This means that all students and clients have started counting on their fingers to the next day off and that’s when they set their doctor appointments, dentist appointments, dinner appointments, and on and on, and they no longer have to miss a session or a class. And I get one day a week to sleep in, catch up if I’ve fallen behind, and do things like go to my daughter’s orchestra concert.

Sleep in, catch up, see my daughter. Huh. Sounds like that self-care thing, doesn’t it. I’ve heard about that. Maybe an almost 62-year old can learn new tricks.

So, amazingly, Olivia’s concert fell on a day off. I couldn’t have been more delighted. The first concert was a joy, and this one was set to be a spring concert of Irish music, complete with a visit from Irish dancers and musicians carrying special Irish instruments.

It wasn’t until we were on the way to the concert that Olivia said, “Oh, by the way, I’m in a group that will be performing a solo.”

Oh, by the way??????

The doors weren’t open yet for the audience when we arrived, so I sat in the lobby and read the ever-present book I carry with me for such emergencies. Stolen moments with words are the best. Then, as soon as a program became available, I snatched one. There was Olivia’s name, under first violins. And then…there it was again, under a song, with a “featuring” in front of her name.

And I didn’t have to miss it.

But before the concert began, there was a special Moment. Also on the way there, Olivia told me she has a stand partner who really enjoys talking to her. “She’s about your age, Mom,” she said. Soon after I sat down in the theatre, Olivia came over. “My stand partner wants to meet you,” she said.

And along came this bouncing, energetic Asian woman, “about your age, Mom,” who amazingly squatted down on the stage in front of me (I would have been stuck there in that position for the rest of my life), and who said, “It is an honor to meet you, and it is an honor to be your daughter’s stand partner.” She then proceeded to tell me how wonderful my daughter is, and I told her the same thing, and Livvy blushed a red that may still be causing a glow in the darkened theatre. Then her partner said, “You are a wonderful parent. She is a wonderful girl.”

My smile is probably still causing a glow too.

They began to play. Because I’d been assigned the first row, I was too low and close to really see Olivia, but I peered through the chairs and music stands and thought I saw her bare legs, her black shoe tapping the beat. Overhead, I thought I saw her bow. Before the song where she and her group would be featured, they were asked to wave their bows. I definitely saw her bow then.

But I heard her. There was no question of when I heard her. You know how they say a mother can detect the sound of her own baby’s cry in a room full of wailing children? A music mother can detect the sound of her baby’s instrument over all others, even in the middle of an orchestra.

There she was. Her violin sang. She sang. This girl who was never supposed to speak, never supposed to acknowledge me, never, well…never.

I am still in amazement of this child, even 21 years into it.

I’m sure I was the only parent in the theatre with tears running down her face. The music was just so beautiful.

And I was there to see it. On my day off.

I can’t waste the energy on regretting all that I missed. But I can throw everything I have into relishing what I am here for now.

Self-care, huh? I think I might like it.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Olivia visiting me before the concert.
The program. First violin!
What’s this? She’s featured in a song? “Oh, by the way, Mom…”
Olivia’s high school senior photo, taken by Ron Wimmer of Wimmer Photography.

5/5/22

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I’ve said before that I’m not a plant person. I always believed I was a sort of plant murderer, a belief that was mostly confirmed by my mother who always claimed that I killed her plants when I took care of them when she and my father were away from home. Yet somehow, despite not being a plant person, I now have plants on every floor of my home, including the AllWriters’ studio on the first floor. And I just ordered an upraised garden type of thing for my third floor deck. My vision isn’t for veggies or fruit, but for flowers. I even watched a video about how to do the “thrill, fill, spill” method.

Hm. Not a plant person.

Those who follow me know that I am particularly attached to a hibiscus tree. I shouldn’t use the singular – there have been three. The first was one that sat for years in the studio during the cold months, and then outside by the front door, shading a concrete lion, during the summer. I was bereft when it died.

When COVID came, I went masked and hand-sanitized and terrified into the grocery store near the start of the pandemic and found myself entranced by a bunch of hibiscus just inside the doors. When I walked around them, admiring them, one branch reached out and grabbed me. That hibiscus came home with me and became Ms. Hib. My lonely first COVID summer, isolated in my home and on my third floor deck, was eased by her presence as I spent a lot of time on that deck, setting up my computer next to her, photographing the amazing amount of blooms, and yes, talking to her. Unfortunately, I think I waited too long to bring her in for the winter, as I’ve since learned that sudden changes in temperature can kill a hibiscus, and that’s what happened. Even so, it took a long time for me to have the skeleton tree taken outside and disposed of. I kept hoping she was just dormant and would magically come back. She didn’t.

Last spring, hibiscus trees were slow to appear in the stores. The day I finally found one, I was grieving the death of a student, Carla. Carla, the recipient of a double lung transplant because of Cystic Fibrosis, spent that first COVID summer online and isolated with me, and we often exclaimed over Ms. Hib’s beautiful flowers. Carla passed on May 11th, 2021, and a few days later, as I wandered around a hibiscus display in Menards, grieving-Carla-tears were flowing out of control down my cheeks. And again, a hibiscus grabbed my sleeve.

She came home with me and is named Carla. Throughout the summer, she blazed fiercely with blooms and I applauded, and I talked to both her and the real Carla as I tended the plant. “Look at her,” I said. “She’s gorgeous and she’s a fighter, just like you. Thank you for pointing her out.”

I made sure to bring Carla in before the threat of the first frost. Even so, for a while there, she lost most of her leaves and I worried that I was going to lose yet another friend. But her branches never went brittle and a few green leaves always remained. There were a couple of winter blooms. I maintained hope. Set in my deck window in front of my desk, Carla keeps me company, along with the usual array of cats and dog, as I edit, meet with clients and teach classes, and write my own work.

And then…a bud appeared. I don’t think I’ve ever celebrated a bud so hard in my life. I watched it daily as it swelled. And then – KA-BLAM! – it bloomed!

Spring. The winter is over, despite it still being in the 40s outside.

Oh, that bloom. Of course, my metaphor-mind went nuts. The bloom was spring, yes, but also hope. Joy. Hell, it was a sign that life itself continues all around us, despite the horrific nature of the news lately. The “despite the news” that started this whole blog.

And of course, it was also Carla, whose first anniversary of her death is coming upon us. It was Carla waving and saying hello.

More buds are forming. Her leaves have thickened and are the most brilliant green. And all of her keeps turning toward the window, looking forward to the day I carry her back outside and she can bloom away for all to see from my third floor deck. She and I will talk about the raised garden, which is due to show up any day now.

But I’m not a plant person, no.

I’m really more of a Celebrate Life person, wherever I can find it.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Some of the amazing blooms from Ms. Hib, during the Covid Summer.
Carla on the deck last spring, soon after coming home and just starting to bloom.
This year’s first bud appears while still inside, on 4/26.
Three days later, starting to open! 4/29/22
KA-BLAM! On 4/30!

Keeping me company as I write this: Muse the cat and Carla.

 

4/28/22

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Over the weekend, I took my granddaughter, Maya Mae, to see the musical, Little Women, based on Louisa May Alcott’s novel of the same name.

When I was ten years old and bored one summer day, my mother dug out her old copy of Little Women. The book, unlike those I was used to getting from the library and through Scholastic book orders, was very beat-up. The cover was hard and dark green, the title and the author’s name plain and black, and there was no picture to give an idea of what was inside. The pages were browned and brittle. I had to be so careful when I was turning them, or the corners would snap off in my fingers.

My mother told me that she read Little Women when she was a little older than I was. Louisa May Alcott became her favorite author, and my mother gently placed a cardboard box from the basement at my feet. It contained even more books: Little Men, Jo’s Boys, Rose In Bloom, An Old-Fashioned Girl, Eight Cousins, Under The Lilacs, Jack and Jill, Scarlet Stockings. All of the books were in the same condition: beat-up, no pictures on the covers, plain lettering, brittle pages.

Well-read.

I remember it was raining that day, which was part of the reason why I was bored. We had a turquoise sectional for a couch, made of rough bumpy material I never knew the name of. I propped a pillow behind my head, stretched out (after taking off my shoes, of course, no shoes on the furniture) and began to read.

And read and read and read. I tore through that box of books like a treasure box, which is, of course, exactly what it was. As I grew older, those books moved with me, gracing bookshelves in my home and finally in my classroom. Eventually, they fell away to dust. But I still carry them in my head.

Jo March, of Little Women, introduced me to the fact that it wasn’t going to be so easy to be a writer, which I already knew I wanted to be. But she also showed me that it could be difficult to be female. I read in horror as publishers told her to stay at home, get married, and have babies. I wondered why you couldn’t be married, have babies, and be a writer, all at the same time. Jo even thought about writing under a pseudonym which wouldn’t let anyone know she was female. If I remember right, that’s what she did. I may have to reread the book. But I mostly remember being so seriously affronted. Why did I have to get married? Why did I have to have children? Why couldn’t I be a writer?

Well, of course, I did all of the above. And it was hard. But Jo thrums within me.

In 1994, the movie Little Women came out, starring Winona Ryder as Jo. My daughter, Katie, was 7 years old. One afternoon, we bought McDonalds for lunch, hid it in my purse, and walked into the theater to watch the movie. When Jo, on the screen, was sitting before the desk of a publisher, and he told her that writing wasn’t a woman’s work, every inch of Katie stood up. She put her hands on her hips and yelled, “What? It is too! Girls can do ANYTHING!”

There were approving noises from those around us as I soothed her into sitting back down and watching the rest of the movie. But I smiled. Jo was thrumming within Katie too.

Katie is now teaching math at the University of Louisiana – Lafayette. The math field is predominantly men. It didn’t stop Katie.

Thrum, thrum, thrum.

And so, 9-year old Grandbaby Maya Mae and I took ourselves off to the live theatre to see the musical, Little Women. Maya Mae is already writing stories. We read together almost every night. I did a blog once, when Maya was still very little, and we talked about what it means to be different, or in Maya Mae language at that time, “difwent.” She stood in front of me, pounded her chest, and declared, “I am ME!” Oh, most definitely. So I was eager for her to see this musical. At home, I already had a new copy of Little Women, an anniversary edition with all the original illustrations, waiting for her.

Early on in the musical, Jo receives a rejection letter from a publisher who tells her to stay home and have babies. And then I waited.

But that was it. Jo continued to write, and by the end of the musical, she had a book accepted for publication.

Wait…what?

I loved the musical. The singing was fantastic, the energy wonderful. But…boy, was there a hole. And from my granddaughter, there was no affront. No aggravation. No thrum. I glanced at her in the rearview mirror as we drove home. She quietly hummed some of the music we’d just heard.

Well, I was thrumming.

When we got home, I handed her the book. She held it with both hands and admired the cover. Unlike my first grasp of Little Women, this cover was intact and glossy. It had an illustration. The pages were new and white.

And then Maya Mae said, “It’s heavy. It’s really heavy.” She fanned it. “There are lots of words.”

I agreed, and then I told her all that was missing from the musical. I told her what was between the covers of that book, what was waiting for her in there. In my mind, I pictured Maya Mae propping a pillow behind her head, stretching out on the couch in her home, and reading. Reading. Reading.

By the time I took her home, Maya Mae was thrumming. She thrummed with what wasn’t said in the musical. And her nose was in the book.

You know, I don’t think Olivia ever read Little Women. I’d better get another copy.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Grandbaby Maya Mae waiting for Little Women to start.
Louisa May Alcott.
My mother. Thank you for giving me Louisa May Alcott.

4/21/22

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Easter kind of slipped by me this year. I knew it was late, and I was so caught up in my trip to Louisiana, I just kept it in the “late” file in my mind. All of a sudden, it was Friday night, and Easter was in two days, and how the hell did that happen?

My husband slipped out of the house on Saturday and bought Easter candy for our youngest child (who is 21), and eggs and egg dye. We asked everyone about the possibility of a dinner, but one son was going to be at his in-laws’ home, the other worked until eight Sunday night, my oldest daughter lives in Louisiana, and the youngest, who we bought the eggs, dye and candy for, was working at her job on her college campus until noon, and then would likely take a nap because she was up so early. On Saturday, she returned to campus right after dinner so she wouldn’t have to get up early at home and drive in.

So the eggs stayed in the fridge. I put the dye into the cupboard for next year. We didn’t plan a dinner at all, but figured Sunday was just going to be a Sunday.

Late afternoon on Easter, Olivia texted. “Are we doing anything?” she asked.

I was flabbergasted. It was 4:00. “We’re not doing anything special for dinner,” I said.

“Oh.”

It’s amazing how two letters can look so sad on a phone screen.

“You could dye eggs,” I said. “We have the eggs. We have the dye.”

“Yee!” she texted in her generation’s weird way of saying yes. “I’m getting ready to come home.”

And so, after a thrown-together dinner, my daughter dyed Easter eggs at 8:00 on Easter evening. My 36-year old son came over and dyed them with her. I listened to their laughter.

For some reason, the dye worked its way through the shell and, after peeling, the eggs sported bright jewel tones all over their white bodies. All week, as I’ve taken two from the fridge and made egg salad for my lunch, I’ve smiled at the rainbow colors shining up through the yellow of mayo and mustard.

The jewel tones reminded me of another Easter egg, a long, long time ago. When my family lived in northern Minnesota, we went to church sometimes in a small church in Carlton. Afterwards, we would go to a late breakfast/early lunch at a little family restaurant. The name that sticks with me is Stuckenbergs, but I could be wrong. I was seven years old, I believe, when we stopped there after Easter mass. I remember it, because the waitress gave me an Easter egg.

Now, we had Easter eggs at home. We’d dyed them and hidden them and found them. But this egg was different. It was really big. It was the color of the sky during the summer I was impatiently waiting for. The shell felt very thick, which is why I asked the waitress if it was real, and she confirmed that it was. I cradled it in both hands as we drove home, and then, instead of putting it in the refrigerator in a basket with the rest of the eggs, I put it into the jewelry box on my dresser. It was my special box, that held anything but jewelry. Instead, it held treasures that I’d found. The box played music and there was a ballerina that twirled. I didn’t call her that though; she was a goddess who watched over my treasures.

This egg was a treasure. It was a gem. It was so, so pretty.

I didn’t tell anyone it was in my treasure box.

Months passed. The spring of Easter moved into the summer I longed for, and then fall. From time to time, I played with that egg in my own way, the way I had with most of my playthings. I’d get it out of the treasure box and place it carefully on my dresser, where I could see it with my eyes and where I could see it in the mirror’s reflection. Then I’d plant my elbows beside it, rest my chin in my hands, and go to impossible places with that egg. Sometimes it hatched marvelous things. Dragons. Fireflies. Magical people. Sometimes even a chicken, but it was never an ordinary chicken. Other times, it wasn’t an egg at all, but an enormous jewel in a crown, or a planet in the sky, a doorknob that opened a door into a secret room.

When I was done with my play, I would sigh, cradle the egg carefully in my two hands, admire its color which never faded, and then put it back into my treasure box.

For months.

It was somewhere around Halloween when I took the egg out to play and discovered there was a crack.

Oh, no.

Carefully holding it in one hand, I brought it out to the kitchen, where I rummaged through the junk drawer, looking for glue. My mother asked what I was doing. “My egg has a crack,” I said. “I need to fix it.”

I can still hear her shriek when she realized what I had. What I still had.

“You can’t glue it!” she said. “It’s broken and it’s rotten and it’s going to stink! We have to throw it away!”

I quickly hid the egg behind my back. In the garbage? My egg?

Ducking outside, I found my mother’s little shovel that she used for working with her plants. I walked to the creek that ran through all the neighborhood yards, because I knew the ground was softer there. Kneeling, I buried my egg. Patting the dirt all around and over it, I’m pretty sure I managed to do it without it cracking further. My egg would never stink. My egg was not rotten.

This week, smiling down at the rainbow colors in my egg salad, the Easter eggs made late after a forgotten Easter, I found a memory.

Magical.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Olivia holds one of the Easter eggs she dyed. This is AFTER peeling. So pretty!
Me and my brother on an Easter long ago. This was before we moved to Minnesota – we’re in St. Louis. I was 4 years old, about to turn 5 that summer.

 

 

 

4/14/22

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

You know, sometimes, Moments are so fast and breath-taking, they require next to no build-up. This week was like that.

A side effect of being on a plane is that you are thought-trapped. You can’t do anything, really, in such a limited space, to distract yourself from your thoughts. Sure, you can sleep, though I find that dreams can be crazy on a plane, maybe fed by all the dips and sounds. Waking up yelling in your bedroom is embarrassing enough if you have a partner, but waking up yelling in a crowded airplane is a whole different experience. You can also read, but I find that the airplane seems to take my thoughts and zing them along a flight pattern of their own, no matter how good the book is that I’m holding.

So during the flight home from Louisiana, I found myself thinking a lot of time gone by. Mostly, of course, I focused on my experiences as a parent, which are ever evolving. With Olivia, my final child, turning 21 years old, I’m officially trying to figure out what it means to parent adults. I can no longer point my finger at their rooms and direct them that way. For three out of four kids, their rooms don’t exist in my house anymore. I can’t make appointments for them that they don’t want anymore, like for the doctor or dentist or eye doctor. In Livvy’s case, I can’t even talk to her teachers about her anymore. It’s like I was suddenly fired from being her advocate, which was until now a Livvy-lifetime position.

It’s an odd place to be. I am still their mother. I am still concerned about them and protective of them. I still help wherever I can, and watch quietly (which is sometimes a struggle) when I can’t. I still love all four wholeheartedly, with a love that matches no other in my life and that is tantamount in importance.

One of my favorite moments from my trip to see my daughter in Louisiana was when I said, “Remember when…” and saw her face light up in a soft smile that reflected my own. She remembered. Our history is shared. At least in her memory, “Mama” is alive and well.

So the thoughts scrolled on the plane as I flew from Lafayette, Louisiana, to Atlanta, Georgia, and then Atlanta to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My flight was early morning and there were several hiccups, which meant I was exhausted and frayed upon landing. My oldest child, Christopher, picked me up at the airport, his daughter, my granddaughter, Maya Mae, in tow.

When we got in the car, I looked over my shoulder and smiled at Maya Mae. She beamed back, her face so like my son’s when he was that age. As my oldest, he is the only one of my children who had me all to himself for two years and two months, before his little brother came along. We headed out to the freeway, and I turned to him and asked:

“Christopher, I was a good mother, wasn’t I?”

A question out of the blue. A question from left field. A question he wasn’t prepared for, hadn’t thought through, hadn’t pondered. My oldest son is famous for answers like, “Well, I’m 89% sure that…”

But there was no hesitation or dead air.

“YES!” he said. His heart in three capital letters.

And then my heart was full. That was all I needed to know.

I sat back to keep on learning.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

And then there were four. Olivia was born when I was 40. Katie was 13, Andy 14, and Christopher 16.
All the kids just a few years later.
Best shot I could get of a photo of all of us that hangs in my room. I didn’t want to take it out of the frame to scan it.
Christopher and Maya in the car!

4/7/22

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

You might want to consider this Part 2, and last week’s Moment, Part 1. Last week was anticipation. This week, reality. I am in Lafayette, Louisiana, visiting my daughter, Katie, who I haven’t seen for two years and eight months, because of Covid restrictions.

I’m actually going to post this Moment early today, because at the normal time, I plan to be on the University of Louisiana campus, with my daughter.

I’ve become ever more aware this week of the full effects of the pandemic, even if you never caught Covid at all. We were, and are, all affected. We all faced hard times.

As a mom, even as the mom of adults, the Covid years left me pacing. How do you protect your children when you can’t even be with them?

The pandemic reminded me a lot, in emotions anyway, of 9/11. One of the moments I remember so clearly from 9/11 occurred a few days after the attack, when I was watching Oprah talk to Christiane Amanpour. The conversation included a clip of Amanpour asking a senator if he thought US citizens would all be given gas masks, similar to what happened in other countries. “Oh, no,” said the senator, “we’re not in that much danger.” Then Amanpour asked him if he was aware that everyone in the Congress and Senate had been issued gas masks that day.

My fear went into overdrive.

9/11 happened in 2001. Olivia was one month shy of one year old. Katie was 14, Andy 15, Christopher 17. That night, I fled to my basement office and began searching on eBay for gas masks. Vendors were selling “family packs” of four, but there were six of us, including a baby. The prices were in the thousands, which I couldn’t afford, yet I placed bids anyway, and was outbid in seconds. I never went to bed that night, glued to CNN, and feeling like there was no way I could protect my children. I was a failure. I was too poor. My kids would die because of me.

And now, years later, the pandemic. Only one child, Olivia, was still under my roof. My sons were close by, in the same town. My daughter, Katie, impossibly far away in Louisiana, a place she’d only called home for seven months when the world turned upside down.

And again, I felt useless. I saw Christopher, his wife Amber and my granddaughter Maya Mae every night on Zoom. I still saw Andy, because he was over so often, it didn’t make sense to suddenly not see him. Olivia was just down the hall, in her room. But Katie. She was with her husband, Nick, so she wasn’t alone. But she was so far away.

And a thought that kept crossing my mind, as I considered and researched and explored how to keep my kids safe, was that I was high risk. Between my age, the breast cancer, the asthma, and fibromyalgia, I knew if I caught Covid, I would likely die.

And I would die without seeing my daughter.

Today, I said to Katie, “It’s been a hard couple years.” And she looked at me and said, “Yes, it has.”

And yet one of the things I’ve seen over these years is that my kids can handle things on their own. I am not as necessary as I once was. Which is, of course, hard to handle. As I’ve been here this week, I’ve watched the one child I couldn’t see for two years move easily through her environment. She is confident and sure of herself. Which is, of course, what I’ve always wanted her, and the other three kids, to be.

Speaking to a barista at Starbucks this week, I told her why I was in town. “Two years!” she exclaimed. “I can’t imagine being without my mom for two years!”

I wondered if Katie felt the same way. She seemed to be just fine, without me.

I watched her stride. I watched her call out hellos to students and other faculty members. I watched her teach, her hands raised and moving, like mine, her interactions with her students, like mine, her “Gotcha,” my word.

Where did the little girl go? The little girl who was so scared of kindergarten that she wouldn’t let go of me and I had to inch her into the classroom. I had to come up with a plan, where first, she stood just inside the playground fence and I stood outside of it. Her fingers, behind her back, laced through the chain link and into mine. Then, day after day, week after week, I moved backwards. To the sidewalk. To the curb. To my car. Inside my car. And eventually, the day came when she stepped onto the playground and I drove away.

So proud.

And now, two years and eight months without her mother, where was my girl? I didn’t drive away by choice. But she was definitely on her own.

When Katie showed me her office, I looked around and, first, saw the painted mannequin I created for her when she moved to Tallahassee, Florida, for her masters degree. Math words and formulas are buried in long squiggles and curves of color. She has it on a shelf, right above her computer. And then I looked to the right.

“Bowser!”

When Katie was six years old and had given up Pinky, the ragdoll I wrote about last week, she and I found a stuffed Old English Sheepdog at a rummage sale. He quickly became her best friend. Bowser. He went to every sleepover, every vacation, every bed in every bedroom through moves and college and grad school. And now here he was, in her office, in the university where she teaches math.

I rested a hand on his no-longer-furry head.

Katie smiled. “Sometimes students need a stuffed animal to hold onto, during difficult times,” she said.

And sometimes, so do daughters. When their mothers are far away for two years and eight months.

There she was. And she’s just fine. While she may not need me as much as she used to, she’s still very much my girl. Every moment while I am here, beside her, is my moment of happiness despite the news.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Katie and me.
Katie teaching Calc 1.
Katie’s office.
BOWSER!

3/31/22

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Anticipation: noun. The act of looking forward. Pleasurable expectation.

Sometimes a Moment hasn’t happened yet, and it already causes great happiness. Anticipation. Many of us hear that word and think of the old Heinz Ketchup commercial where the song “Anticipation” is sung as the camera follows the slow release of ketchup from its bottle. That was a good commercial, though I’m not overly crazy about ketchup. But anticipation can also mean so much more than a condiment.

In August of 2019, my oldest daughter, Katie, moved away to Lafayette, Louisiana, to teach math at the University of Louisiana. I watched her go with great grief. She was the first, and so far, the only, child of all four to really truly fly the coop. My sons live here, in Waukesha, and my daughter Olivia is still in college, which is 20 minutes down the road. Katie first went away the furthest when she attended grad school in Tallahassee, Florida, but then she returned here to earn her PhD at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. I visited her often in Tally, and she came home fairly often too. When she left for Lafayette, for the permanence of a job, I still figured it would be like the Tally experience. We would go back and forth.

She didn’t come home for Christmas that year, as moving is expensive, and so is airfare. I didn’t like it, but I figured I would make a trip down in spring. For the first time, one of my kids was living somewhere that I couldn’t picture. She was living someplace I’d never been. And so I looked forward to the spring of 2020.

But, well, COVID.

Consequently, I haven’t set my own eyes on my daughter since August 2019, other than through a screen. I haven’t hugged her. Haven’t walked alongside her, haven’t taken her shopping for her birthday, haven’t met her for coffee at Starbucks.

It’s been a long two years and eight months.

On Saturday, I am flying to Lafayette. And I am going to see my daughter.

Anticipation. It’s a moment of happiness that exists now, and it keeps growing bigger. By the time I actually see her, actually hug her, it will be a moment of undeniable joy.

All week, I’ve been over my head and out of my head with memories of this little girl.

The way she wanted to always be in a dress, because she was a girl and the brothers were boys, but she also wanted to do everything they did. Ever see a little girl try to stand at the toilet to pee like the boys? Soaked socks.

The dance recitals.

The school telling me that they wanted to skip her at least two grades. Saying no, and hoping it was the right thing. It was.

Brushing her hair.

Pinky. Pinky was a Fischer Price pink and white checked ragdoll that I bought at a garage sale three days after Katie’s birth.  Teeny tiny Katie crushed that ragdoll to her face and it became the lovey she couldn’t live without. Except Fischer Price was no longer making them. I scoured rummage sales and thrift stores for years and bought one whenever I could find it. When one would wear out, Katie would take it with her to a nap and wake up to a Pinky who looked the same, but had a slightly different rattle. “She must have a cold,” I would say. She bought it. In my storeroom, there is a box of 21 Pinkies. I can’t stand to give them away.

Pride. So much pride in this girl, now woman, who took to math the way I took to writing. Whenever I traveled, I would look for any schools having book sales, and buy up any old math textbooks I could. It was how Katie had fun. When she moved to Tallahassee, I took a calendar I gave her with monthly illustrations of fractals, cut them out, and mounted them on her wall so her bed’s headboard would be mathy. I’ve given her math t-shirts and jewelry.

And so now. She’s been fully in my heart, but she’s also been a face, a voice, a line of type on a computer screen. For two years and eight months. On Saturday…well, on Saturday, she’ll be Katie. My girl.

Anticipation. The act of looking forward. Pleasurable expectation.

I can’t wait to define reunion.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Baby Katie. 6 weeks old.
Watching tv.
High school senior.
Katie and me, on one of the trips where I visited her in Tallahassee.
Teaching at a Tallahassee high school in between her master’s and PhD.
Coming back to Wisconsin to earn her PhD in math at UW – Milwaukee. Ready to take on the world!
Having coffee with the bright girl in yellow.
Now.

3/24/22

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Years and years ago, I saw my first sandhill crane. I don’t know how I missed them; I lived in northern Minnesota from the age of 6 until I was twelve, and I’ve been in Wisconsin ever since. It seems like they’ve become a lot more prevalent in populated areas in the last decade or so, and now, I not only see them, I watch for them.

I’m terrified of birds, to the point of ducking whenever I hear them, which is often. The other day, the bushes lining my chiropractor’s office was filled with chittering, cheeping creepy little birds, and I nearly had to call the office to ask someone to walk with me. Instead, I plastered myself against the wall and slunk-ran as fast as I could. Then, I had to find my way back out. I flat-out ran.

But the sand hill cranes always held a fascination, an admiration, for me. They move ponderously, like they’re thinking great things. And in flight, they’re just a ballet. They never seemed threatening to me, despite their size and prehistoric appearance. I’m not saying I’d go out of my way to stand right next to one; but I almost always pull over my car when I see them, just to watch.

For quite a few years, I had a student, a poet, who took workshops at AllWriters’, my studio, and also worked with me one on one when she wanted to write a children’s book. I think we spent as much time talking as we did working. She was a joy to know. She supported me and my studio and cheered as the studio grew and grew and grew.

I walked her out to her car one day and, across the street, there stood a pair of sandhill cranes. We leaned against her car and admired them. She filled me with facts I didn’t know:

*they are among the oldest living birds on the planet,

*they stand at 3 to 4 feet tall, but their wingspan is 6 – 7 feet,

*their flight reaches 25 – 35 miles per hour, and they can fly up to 300 miles a day,

*they mate for life.

“And they’re just so elegant,” my student said.

That word, elegant, has stayed with me all this time. When I see sandhill cranes, I think, Elegant.

“Do you know the legend?” she asked.

I didn’t.

“When poets die, they are carried to Heaven on the back of a sandhill crane,” she said. She smiled at the couple across the street. “I like to think of that,” she said. “I look forward to that. What a wonderful way to end a wonderful life.”

That stuck with me too. I like to joke that when I die, it will take about 20 of those elegant cranes to haul me up to Heaven, if that is indeed the direction I will go. But while I joke, I also always think, They’re magic. I will fly on the back of one magical crane.

Yesterday, I heard that this special, gentle, elegant student passed away. At first, I was awash in sadness. Mostly, I realized, for my own loss.

And then, the oddest, most wonderful thing. On the day that I found out about my student’s death, March 23, yesterday, Facebook, which likes to remind everyone of what they’ve said and posted on that particular day, but over the years, told me that my blog, at that time called Today’s Moment Of Happiness Despite The News, was about sandhill cranes. It was on March 23, 2017.

And I remembered.

When poets die, they are carried to Heaven on the back of a sandhill crane. I like to think of that. I look forward to that. What a wonderful way to end a wonderful life.

She earned her ride.  I hope it was every bit as joyous as she expected. I hope it was as wonderful as she was.

And now? Every time I see a sandhill crane, I will think, Elegant. And I will think of that ride. I will think of, and remember, her.

She is not lost to me.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

(Because the first year of the original moments have been published in a book, Today’s Moment Of Happiness Despite The News; A Year Of Spontaneous Essays, they no longer appear on this website. But if you have the book, you can see the original sandhill crane post on March 23rd. To order the book, go to https://www.amazon.com/Todays-Moment-Happiness-Despite-News/dp/1684331293/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1648152852&sr=1-4

A pair of sandhill cranes. Elegant.

 

 

3/17/22

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Do you know what weeks are the hardest for writing a moment of happiness? There are the weeks, of course, where many things happen, and I have to sift through them to figure out what brought me the most, what stopped me in my tracks with a moment of happiness so palpable, I was conscious of it. And there are the weeks when nothing comes to mind at all, and I sit at my computer for an impossible length of time, digging through everything that happened that week, looking for something, anything, that made me smile. And there are the weeks that I compare my moments, good and bad, to what is happening in the world and feel like I just can’t even talk about my little life when so many things are happening. Ukraine weighs heavy on my mind these days.

But believe it or not, the hardest weeks to write about are when my moment of happiness centers on a personal accomplishment. I struggle sometimes between seeing happiness as happiness or seeing it as bragging. So I wondered about that, as I realized, very quickly and profoundly, what my moment was this week. Because I immediately began looking for something else, thinking, not that I didn’t want to write about it, but that I “shouldn’t”.

I found myself several times this week talking to students and clients about the writing life, and a life in the arts as well. While such a life means doing what you love, it also means your success is fully dependent on what everyone else in the world thinks about it. In a conversation with Eva, my Australian client, we said the following (we meet in the AllWriters’ chatroom, so I have the conversation in black and white):

Eva: Why is this all so hard sometimes?? This creative life?

Me: Because writing isn’t supposed to be easy. If it was, everyone would do it. Think of it as a scavenger hunt. You’re looking for a story. And finding pieces.

Eva: Questioning ability…

Me: Yep. All the time.

Eva: Even when you know you have something…it’s not there all the time.

Me: And even when you know you have something, not everyone sees it.

Eva: So yes, this creative field is hard because subjectivity, and you are always progressing, progressing, never arriving…

Me: Yes. And we are always dependent on the viewpoints of others.

Eva: Oh yes.

Me: And at the same time, we’re preached at to put our own opinions of ourselves first. We’re told it’s what we think that matters. But in writing, and other arts, our success is totally dependent on what others think.

After Eva and I talked, I thought a lot about this. Often, when I tell my students and clients what a good job they’ve done, where they’ve really gone above and beyond, and even when I crow about their publishing successes, their response is to duck their heads, look away, mumble thank you, and quickly change the subject. But when I tell them what needs to be improved, what didn’t quite make the cut, they are all laser-eyes and focus, pulling in every word.

While I think this is really predominant in those of us who work in the arts, it’s not just for us alone. Years and years and years ago, when I worked as a weight loss instructor and coach (yes, I did!), I did a presentation on accepting compliments. Every person in that room acknowledged that when they were paid a compliment, they pushed it away and often disparaged it.

“You look great today!”

“What? Oh…really? No…I barely ran a comb through my hair. And this sweater is decades old.”

When I was still an undergrad, I took a course on 20th Century Literature. And in one particular class, led by the head of the English Department, we’d just handed in important papers the week before. The Head said he was going to choose a paper to read that was exactly what he was looking for and more. And then he read mine.

I found myself sinking in my seat. I hoped to heaven he wouldn’t say whose it was.

At the end, he didn’t say, but he handed me my paper first and my authorship was obvious to the rest of the class. When the bell rang, I should have stayed and thanked him. But instead, I slipped out before anyone else reached the door and I ran down the hall. Even as I did so, I knew if it was anyone else’s paper, they would have done the same thing. Later, I showed up at his office hours and thanked him. When he praised the paper again, I ducked my head, looked away, and mumbled thank you, then told him what I was doing in other classes.

Good grief. How far back does this go? In all of us?

And now it’s this week. And the moment I zinged to immediately when I considered what to write about. I started this moment in a dozen different ways, and then I wrote all of the above, and as I did, I thought, To hell with it. I did this. I was acknowledged. And I’m gonna use it for my moment.

In the middle of my day on Tuesday, out of the blue, I received an email from an editor I hadn’t heard from in a very long time. His name is Jordan Hartt, and the magazine was Conversations Across Borders, an international literary magazine that was interested in connecting people of the world. He had the title of the story he’d published, “108 Worldly Desires”, as the header of his email, and I opened it with great curiosity.

“Hey, Kathie,” he said. “I published this over a decade ago, and it’s still getting 10-15 views a day. Thought you’d get a kick out of knowing that!”

A kick? Oh. My. Gosh. A story, MY story, over ten years old, still being viewed 10 – 15 times a day. This was crazy! I very quickly did some math, which I verified with my mathematician daughter, because I’m not good at math. 10 years, 365 days in a year, not counting leap years, is 3,650 days. He said it was viewed 10 – 15 times a day, so let’s go middle ground, 13 times a day, And not figure in that it was likely read more than that earlier on. But 3,650 multiplied by 13 equals 47,450.

My story, “108 Worldly Desires”, has been read at least 47,450 times. And it’s still garnering reads over 10 years later.

I stared at that figure and I was shot through with happiness. Absolute. Profound. And a feeling of great accomplishment.

And so now, I’m not going to duck my head, turn away, and mumble thank you, then change the subject. Though I did send him a thank-you email. With about a million exclamation points.

Lookit, lookit, lookit! (Link is below!)

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Link to 108 Worldly Desires, so you can add to the number who have read it:

108 Worldly Desires

Me in college, senior year, the year that the head of the English Department read my paper out loud to the class.
Me, the year 108 Worldly Desires was published.