Riding in Cars

Being a parent is no picnic – especially being the parent of teenagers. They’re too old to be treated like children, yet too young to be treated like full-grown adults. You know you don’t want them to do anything stupid, like get pregnant, or quit school, or experiment with drugs. Yet, they have to make their own decisions when they’re out there with their peers. That urge to protect them at all costs is so deeply ingrained in your psyche, that letting go is almost like pulling teeth.

This year, my youngest daughter is a junior in high school. She has many friends who drive, and she gets picked up for school each morning and often goes out at night or on weekends to the mall or into town or to the beach with said driving friends. And this, I find, is when I have to bite my tongue the most.

Each time she gets in a car with one of her friends, I’m tempted to remind her to wear her seat belt, don’t distract the driver, don’t get in a car with anyone who’s been drinking or getting high. I want her to insist that the driver not speed, in case there might be a person/animal/obstruction or black ice on the road. I want her to call me or my husband if she needs a ride home from anywhere.

You see, these are all things I’ve said to her a hundred times. I’ve asked for the cell phone numbers of her friends, the make and model of the car she’ll be in, the names of her friends’ parents, and even their addresses. I’ve asked her to text me when she leaves one place and goes to the next. (When I DO get her texts, I breathe a small sigh of relief that she’s OK.)

I’ve talked and talked about the dangers of teenagers in cars so many times, I’ve lost count. And her reply to my warnings is always the same – “I KNOW, Mom.” And I know she knows. So, in an attempt to reign it in a little, lately I’ve just been saying, “Please be safe. Keep in touch with us. I love you.”

Last week, two teenage boys in a local town were killed after crashing into a tree on a dark road. One died in the car; the other died later at the hospital. They were coming home from hockey practice. And every single parent of a teenager who drives, or has friends who drive, said a little prayer. I did.

We can’t hold them back. We can only try to guide them, and warn them of the potential dangers that are out there. That’s our job. It isn’t an easy one by any stretch, but it’s what we signed up for.

We can love them, shelter them, protect them as much as we can, nag them until the message we’re trying to convey sinks in, and then set them free and say a prayer.

 

 

 

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The Power of Random Acts

I’ve been feeling disillusioned lately. You see, I’m one of those annoying people who always looks on the bright side of things, and counts my blessings, and always tries to see the good in other people (even when people make it pretty damn hard to see). I am optimistic and hopeful, and I love these qualities about myself.

However, I’ve been feeling like disappearing off the grid these days. I feel myself becoming angry, and losing patience easily. I hear myself saying things to other drivers (“Turn, already!”, “Oh my God, at least go the speed limit!”, “Freakin’ tourists!”), even though I know they can’t hear me. I feel myself frowning as I scroll down my Facebook page, with post after post of Trump, Hillary, the Kardshians, Kanye, and the like. Ugh.

I’m still unable to find full-time or even part-time work, and unemployment insurance is about to run out. I constantly feel the pressure of that ticking clock. Being laid off three times in four years is, by far, the most frustrating thing that has ever happened to me. I have been turned down for jobs for which I am perfectly qualified. On the occasions when I do ask why, I get the canned answer, “We found someone who better matched the job description.”

I’ve been at this long enough to know that that probably means they didn’t want me because A) I lack a degree (even though I’ve spent well over a decade doing what I do, and doing it well), or B) they found someone who’d be willing to do it for less money, or it might even mean C) they found someone younger to hire, which would tie in to B. I hate to admit it but, at 46, this is now a potential reality, even though, of course, it’s completely illegal.

I digress. Because of all of these things, I find myself losing faith…in myself and in other people, which is something I never wanted to happen. But then, once in a while, something will happen to bring me back.

A couple of nights ago, I was on my way to pick up my daughter from the waterfront, where she had spent a few hours with friends. There had been an SUV in front of me for at least the last 10 miles, taking it’s time, driving at a leisurely pace. (Traffic around this neck of the woods in the summer is just cray-cray.) As I slowed for the dozenth time behind this SUV, a teenage boy on a bike rode out in front of my car, and slammed into a Jeep coming in the opposite direction…so hard he took it’s side mirror clean off. He laid still on the ground and, for about three seconds, it was as if time stood completely still.

And then chaos erupted all around me.

People came running from everywhere, all directions, offering to help. Someone put a clean white cloth or towel under his head; others asked him questions…what’s his name, can he feel his legs, can he move his toes, did he feel pain in his head or neck…others, myself included, were out of our cars and calling 911. People were talking to the driver, asking if he and his passenger were OK.

I was struck by the generosity of everyone present. All these people jumped into action the second they saw someone in need of help. I was moved. Once more, my optimism was restored by these simple acts of compassion. Strangers were willing to help. That was all it took.

It restored my faith in humankind. And I still have hope for all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

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Letting Go

We’ve been cleaning out the cellar and garage for the better part of the last two weeks. By that, I mean my husband has been doing most of the cleaning out, and I have been doing most of the watching.

Each year, like clockwork, he’ll point to different items in the basement and ask, “When are we getting rid of this?” and I’ll say, “Don’t get rid of it. I’ll have a yard sale and sell it.” And I always mean it. I consistently convince myself, without a doubt, that on the very next fine-weather weekend, I’ll haul all the boxes and bins up the driveway, set up tables, and make some good cash on our old stuff.

Yet, it never happens. Why? Because I finally realized the truth. I’m a hoarder. I hoard.

All those boxes and bins and broken, useless things that have been sitting in the basement and garage all these years represented memories. There were plastic bins of books I had as a teenager, filled with adventures to which I’d escape every single chance I could. There were boxes of toys and books and stuffed animals that represented our girls’ childhoods.  There were skateboards, roller blades and bike helmets, and a very old hurricane lamp from our first home, as well as an old griddle that we’d bought years ago for our new home. Every single item, for me, was a memory. And I just didn’t want to part with any of it.

But even I could see that things had gotten way out of hand with all the clutter. And I knew that if I went through every box and bin carefully, I would end up squirrelling away as much as I could to other parts of the house where they might temporarily avoid notice. Believe me, I know myself.

So, other than a few very important items (baby items, christening and first communion dresses and the like), out it all went. My husband would point to a box, give a general idea of what was in it, and I’d just nod or squeak out a half-hearted “OK.” It was the right thing to do. It was the SANE thing to do. All of those possessions that had been buried in boxes for a decade or longer would be donated. They’d be much better served to be in the hands of someone who could use them.

Do I sound mature saying that? Did I take the high road? lol

The thing is, parting with all of those earthly possessions made me face the realization that those parts of our lives are either over and coming to a close in the near future. Our eldest daughter is already married and living out of state. Our youngest will be out of high school and pursuing her own life in a few short years. My years of being the mom of two young children is over, and a new chapter – a chapter in which the nest will be empty –  is soon approaching.

It will soon be time for new adventures for all of us.

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Still Crazy…Even Now

Shhhhh…..I’m cheating. My 23rd wedding anniversary is this coming Saturday, and I’m re-posting a column here that I wrote several years ago, not because I’m feeling lazy but because it’s one that I really enjoyed writing. It meant a lot to me then, and it still does. I hope you enjoy it.  🙂

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I’ve heard people often ask those who’ve been long married, “What’s the secret to a good marriage?” The answer is usually different, depending on whom you ask. And I think that’s because the answer IS different for everyone. Because, regardless of what we might want to believe, there is no one special ingredient, no magic formula, that’s the secret key to wedded bliss.

My husband and I will be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary at the end of June, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time lately wondering how the heck we pulled that off.  We married young, at only 22 and 23. And in an age of divorce we have, thus far, been able to trump the statistics and somehow hang in there year after year.

We couldn’t get enough of each other from the time we met in college, at the ages of 17 and 18. We were young and stupid and stubborn, and wouldn’t listen to anyone’s advice or opinions and we did what we wanted to do. We even quit school so that we could work full-time and save money to get married. To heck with college, we thought. We were in love and that’s all that mattered.

I’m shaking my head even now, as I type this, at that young, foolish couple. What we really were was lucky.

I can’t honestly say we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, because we did. We waited five years to get married, and we got to know each other very well in that time. We fought, we broke up, we reconciled, we worked, we fought, we broke up, we reconciled, and that’s how it went for five years. I ignored my parents’ attempts of advice, telling me that we fought too much, and it wasn’t healthy, and maybe we should take a break from each other. I wouldn’t hear it. And neither would he.

And some way, somehow, we always managed to scrape our way back to each other, regroup and keep our eyes looking forward, together. We were always able to somehow get past all the petty crap, for lack of a better term, and keep the big picture in mind…the part where we still wanted to share our lives and raise a family and grow old together.

And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing ever since.

So now, if you’ll allow me, I’d like to impart a few words of my own wisdom on what it takes to have a good marriage. I’m no expert by any means, but I have learned a few things over the years.

First of all, you have to learn how to compromise. And it ain’t easy, believe me. The power struggles and arguments that can happen in the course of a marriage can be exhausting, and sometimes ugly, and if you aren’t familiar with the art of compromise now, learn it. It really does make things easier.

Second, learn to listen. If you’re spending a majority of the time talking to your partner and not listening to them, you’ll regret it. Respect what they have to say and pay attention to them. You’d want the same for yourself, wouldn’t you? It’s not too much to ask, or to expect.

Next, if they come home in a cranky mood and say they don’t want to talk about it, understand that they don’t want to talk about it. Don’t rain down a bunch of questions, and foolishly assume that you’re helping them by forcing them to let it out. They’ll let it out when they’re ready, believe me.

And don’t underestimate the importance of giving each other a little space now and then. Everyone needs to do their own thing occasionally. You really don’t need to be glued at the hip every free second of every day to prove that you love each other.  Have your own interests.

On the flip side of that same note, make some time to be together….alone. I can’t stress that enough. Life can get crazy with work and kids and sports and so many other distractions. Make a date where you can have a drink, or see a movie, or take a long walk and hold hands and just talk and be together. Connecting is so important.

And make love as often as possible. I don’t care if you’re a newlywed or a couple who’ve been married 50 years, showing your physical desire for the person you love and enjoying each other intimately is one of the most important expressions of human emotion you can make, not to mention the fact that it’s a basic human need.  Passion shouldn’t die once the babies have arrived, nor should it after the kids are gone off to college. Those flames need to constantly be fed.

Finally, have a sense of humor. Being able to laugh at a situation (or at yourself, as the case may be) is so important. It’s true that something that seemed so significant at the time can…and will…most likely be laughed about down the road. Being able to laugh at something together can bring you closer. It can make you feel like kids again. It can make you remember that it’s OK to be silly and funny and goofy together. Everything doesn’t have to be so serious all the time.

Marriage isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination. It can be hell on wheels sometimes. It’s like a maze where you can be constantly twisting and turning and ducking and weaving. It’s an uncharted road for everyone, and each couple has to find their own way. But if you’re able to stick together, if you can continue to hold hands and keep your heads down and just keep plowing through, while managing not to kill each other, it can be the greatest adventure of your lives.

With that said, I would like to wish my husband, my confidante, and my partner-in-crime a very happy 20th anniversary. Thank you for all we’ve built together….the good, the bad and the crazy.

May we have many more years of us.

Credit to Gatehouse Media New England

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Too Far Gone

I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother lately. October will mark six years that she’s been gone. She died of primary peritoneal cancer. Do you know what that is? Before her diagnosis, I’d never even heard of it.

A couple of years before she died, she began complaining of pain in her abdomen and having difficulty using the bathroom. She said she went to see a doctor, and they couldn’t find anything wrong with her. I asked her how that was possible. Did they run tests? What did they say? They must have shed some shred of light on what was happening.

As months went by, her pain increased. She would take laxatives like they were candy. I kept asking her to see another doctor and find out what was happening. She’d placate me, and tell me she saw a doctor and they said they couldn’t do anything about it. Of course, this answer was completely unacceptable. Either she was brushing off whatever the doctor was telling her, or she wasn’t even going at all.

My parents are immigrants. They’re from the old school of thinking where one does not visit a doctor unless a limb is falling off. Going to a doctor risks hearing bad news (they actually said that to me once, believe it or not). They often cited a friend of theirs who visited a doctor for a small procedure and he nearly bled to death. It was stories like that that kept them away from managing their health as they should.

As time went on, my mother got worse. I begged her to see someone. I offered to drive her and go in with her and ask questions on her behalf. But she always refused, making it sound like it wasn’t important. I was pulling my hair out at her stubbornness. She finally told me that she didn’t want to go to the doctor, in case it was cancer –  as if not going would somehow make it disappear on its own.

After a year or so of living in pain, she finally did see a specialist and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer isn’t the end of the world. It’s cancer, yes. But it’s curable if caught early.

Surgery was scheduled for my mother and, on the day of her operation, my father and I sat in the family waiting area at the Mass. General after she was wheeled in to the operating room.

A short time later (far too short for surgery to have been completed), a nurse came to us and said the surgeon wanted to speak with us in one of the private rooms. My father and I sat next to each other, playing with our half empty cups of coffee, trying not to talk about what the doctor may have to tell us.

The doctor explained to us that my mother had primary peritoneal cancer. The ovarian cancer had gone on far too long untreated and now her entire abdomen was filled with cancer. It was cemented to her major organs. He asked us to imagine pouring a bottle of glue into a bag of groceries. That’s how it looked. He couldn’t operate. He couldn’t do anything.

My father kept looking at me as the doctor spoke. I asked him if he understood what the doctor was telling us. He shook his head, no. “Mom is dying,” I told him. “The doctor is telling us that the cancer has spread too much. She’s not going to make it, Dad.” And I held his hand while we cried.

Eight months later, she was gone.

Six years later, I still find myself hanging onto some small degree of anger at her. If only she’d followed up on her health, if only she’d advocated for herself, or let someone else advocate for her.  If only she’d taken better care of herself and received a diagnosis and treatment sooner, she might be alive now.

I could say she didn’t know better. She didn’t believe in seeing doctors unless you were extremely ill. It doesn’t really matter now. But she might have lived. I wouldn’t be missing her all the time. My father wouldn’t be alone. She would’ve seen my daughters grow into women. She would’ve been here for me to call when life is sometimes just too much.

She might have lived.

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Employers, You May Be Missing Out

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Dear companies large and small, potential employers, HR delegates, etc.,

I feel the need to educate you on an important issue. I’ve learned over the years (the hard way) that many of you will not hire someone who does not have a college degree. It will not matter if they’re highly experienced in their field, or if they qualify for a position you are in need of filling, or even if their resume matches your job description otherwise to a T. If they don’t have that piece of paper, you will not even consider them. And I feel that you are truly missing out here.

I am not a college graduate and I have no degree. There. It’s out there for the world to see. I never wore the cap and gown, listened to a commencement speech or recieved a piece of paper validating my intelligence. I started college twice, in fact, and never finished for a variety of personal reasons, none of which includes not having the desire to finish.

I have been out of work for any length of time to speak of exactly twice in my lifetime. Both then and now, I have been turned down for positions for which I am perfectly qualified (even over-qualified, in some cases) specifically because I do not hold a degree. And I’m afraid that this is truly your loss.

You may feel that someone who does not hold a degree lacks the commitment you’re looking for in a potential employee. But you’re mistaken. Those of us who have committed our years to our chosen field as opposed to the classroom are a testament to commitment. The knowledge and life experience we have accumulated out in the world during that time has matured us, trained us, shaped us and prepared us better for any career, I feel, than sitting and taking written tests and listening to lectures ever could have.

And yet, we are consistently made to feel unintelligent and uneducated, as if not completing college or having that degree is something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.

I am not an uneducated person by any means. My life has been my education, and I am constantly learning and growing. I read voraciously. I expand my vocabulary. I educate myself. Unfortunately, there is no degree for being self-taught. Yet the benefits are equal to or greater than those I could have received in a controlled educational environment.

Do I think formal education is important? Absolutely. Because of my own personal experiences with this issue, I have drilled into my children’s heads how crucial it is in today’s world to have a degree. But it isn’t everything. It should NEVER be the be-all and end-all to landing a good job. A person’s character, life skills, experience in a field and personal commitment should be the deciding factors. Not whether or not they hold a piece of paper.

So, I beseech you, before passing over that resume only because it does not have “graduate of such-and-such college or university” on it, seriously reconsider. Give that person a second look. They could turn out to be the best and most dedicated employee you could ever hope for.

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Facing the Face-to-Face

For someone like me, whose primary means of communication with the world at large is the written word (social media, texting, email, blogging, messaging, etc.), it isn’t always easy to get out there, in person, and network. But when one is trying to build a business, it’s necessary.

Since I lost my wonderful, fabulous job in February (due to budget cuts), I’ve been trying to get “out there” more to meet and mingle, talk about what I do, and basically promote myself to people, face to face. I’m very sociable in a room full of people I know. But put me in a room full of strangers, and it’s a completely different story.

My husband has been encouraging me to attend more networking events. I can see, of course, the benefits to all of these. But, as I explained to him, if I don’t know at least one person, I eventually find myself standing alone, feeling out of place, and wishing I could magically transport myself somewhere else. Anywhere else.

You see, I don’t seem to possess that gift for arbitrary gab. I don’t find it easy to walk up to a complete stranger or discreetly insert myself into a conversation, and have it appear completely natural. I am sociable, yes, but there is still a small sense of shyness beneath that smiling, confident outward appearance that, even at my age, can be almost paralyzing.

At the urging of a peer, I attended a women’s business workshop recently. I didn’t know a soul in the small group of 15 or so women, but enjoyed the topic and everyone’s input. They were from all walks of life, all ages, and a variety of interesting professions. Yet, at the end of the talk, as they all greeted one another with familiarity, and went off into little groups, I found myself standing there, alone, not knowing if I should politely butt in and pretend I was at ease, or quietly make my escape while no one was looking. The latter was very, very tempting.

Instead, I took a deep breath and forced myself to approach the woman who had been the speaker that day, and catch her eye. I introduced myself, told her what I do, offered her my card and asked for hers in return, and told her I’d like to get in touch with her to talk more about ways I could possibly be of help to her growing business.

Feeling a little more confident, I then approached another woman who owned a local small business, spoke briefly in the same line as I had with the previous woman, and handed her my card as well. Finally, I approached the organizer of the workshop, told her how much I’d enjoyed myself, arranged to get on their mailing list for future events, and thanked her. And I was out of there.

Should I have stayed and networked some more? Possibly. But I’d already put myself out there as much as I was prepared to do at that time. And I felt good about it. There will be more events in the coming weeks that will offer more opportunity to network. I’m told that the more you do it, the more comfortable you become doing it.

One can only hope.

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