Where Did My Summer Go??!

No summer, for me, has been as eagerly anticipated as the summer of 2019. This is our first summer living in a beach community, we are on a tidal creek, we bought a boat, and I will be starting a new job in the fall. Except here, “fall” starts for me on August 12. That’s right. Summer is over in nine days.

So what did I spend all of this time doing? As it turns out, I ended up getting quite a bit accomplished. Except enjoying the long, relaxing days with no commitments and gorgeous weather. I took a week-long graduate course, the final one in my ESL (English as a second language) cohort. After that, I spend ten days studying and practicing for the Praxis test, the passing of which is a requirement for my new job. I took and passed it on July 1. This still leaves plenty of summer for relaxing, right? Six glorious weeks. And while I’m enjoying them, I thought, I will finish unpacking the rest of the boxes from our move. Uh-huh. I will organize my office and create an easy system of filing and storing paperwork. Sure.

First, however, I needed to take a look at that list of required paperwork for my new position. Seems I had forgotten about an online training and a hands-on CPR/FirstAid/AED certification (another one). Fingerprinting at my new local jail (don’t ever let anyone tell you teaching isn’t a glamorous occupation). A current TB test. Asking the NBPTS board for a second time to send me the renewal certificate that didn’t arrive before I moved. Little things, no big deal.

Also had to get the annual doctors’ appointments out of the way; as a new employee I don’t want to take too much time off. So appointments with the primary care physician, the GYN, the dentist, the eye doctor, the mammography imaging center, and a minor surgery with a follow-up went on the calendar. Also a trip to New Jersey for my niece’s graduation, a weekend in Maine for the wedding of a dear friend’s son, and a glorious five days in Spokane with my daughter, my son-in-love, and my beautiful two-year-old granddaughter. Two trips to Northern Virginia to see my son, my daughter-in-love, and my beautiful one year old granddaughter.

With the approaching week being my last week off, the only things remaining on the calendar are the mammogram, eye doctor, and follow-up visit. Also must cross the bridge again to get the hair done (a must, every three weeks). A meeting at my new school has been added. I still need to paint four small rooms and a short hallway.

The few days I have had or times I’ve made for fun in otherwise busy days have been worth the effort and the move. There were a few days I slept in until I felt like getting up. We love the boat and are learning how to navigate the bay. We can still do that once school starts. We have kayaks ready for use on the dock. Soon. The beach will still be there, and with the waning summer it will become less crowded. I’ve spent some time in the pool. Yesterday alone my back was sore so I spent four and one-half hours in the hot tub, reading a novel from cover to cover. The unpacked  boxes, the painting, and the organizing will always be here for me. Comforting. My challenge this year, as it has been for the past several, will be to set limits on work. To take more time for myself and my family. To do more personal writing. To enjoy what we’ve worked so hard for. I wish us all a renewed sense of commitment to free time and loved ones; teachers, parents, clerks, medical professionals, accountants, first responders, all of us. If you’ve already mastered this art, please comment and let me know how!

 

 

Change…Really?

Since it has been such a long time since I’ve posted, there have inevitably been changes…good ones. We have moved. My husband and I have both been commuting an hour to and from work each day. He can work from home a few days each week. I can’t. We are in a town where we know very few people but it’s ok for me because I am rarely here in daylight. We were so steady where we were. We both worked nearby. We had friends and knew all of our neighbors (and liked them, too!). However, when it is time to change…it is time to change.

We bought our new house on a whim. Sold our old one and got here before the dust settled. Our work schedules and sites remained the same for the most part, so there was some continuity. Our youngest son and his girlfriend (who I really hope will be my daughter-in-law one day) lived with us at the old house and moved with us to the new. That has been a huge help both physically and emotionally. My mother plans to move to our new town as well so for the first time in my adult life, I will have family nearby. All in the near future. The real reason for this house, although not the pushed-up time frame, is to have a place where our family can gather. We had plenty of room at our last house, and some entertainment options, but this home, despite or because of its remote location,  offers so much more…nature preserves, beaches, kayaking from our own dock, boating from the marina…plus great restaurants and fabulous parks. In short, we downsized to paradise.

For the first time ever, our older two children and their families saw our new place today. We didn’t have a lot of time together, but enough for the kids to want to return with their kids and make more memories. We have wonderful pictures from the few hours we had together.

I will be leaving my work home of the past 17 years and my elementary cupcakes at the end of the year to teach English to students of other languages in the high school and middle school close to our new home. This is a professional change and a new challenge for which I feel ready. I am learning the first language of most of my new students beginning in August…if they can learn English, the least I can do is make an effort to learn their language. Like my new students coming to a new country with a different language, I am learning a new place and a new language. We are focused on being a blessing to our community and to making a memorable childhood for our grandchildren (and to giving our own children opportunities we were not able to give them when we were in the daily business of raising them).

So as we embark on this new adventure with all of the experiences from our previous adventures, we hope to be helpful, memorable, and available not just for our children and grandchildren, but for all in our lives. I will continue to post about the challenges of this endeavor on the blog so stay tuned! From our little piece of paradise,

Deirdre

There is a Piano in my Bathroom

Here we are. We’ve moved (?) into our new house, Christmas has come and gone merrily, and I still have two glorious days off until returning to school and beginning the life of a commuter. Must admit, I’ve always said that my quality of life standards would prohibit a long commute yet here I am, now living an hour plus away from the school from which I have lived within four minutes for the past 17 years. Am I compromising much? We’ll find out. Are we settled in? Not even close. Do I regret moving? Not for a minute. Yet.

There is a piano in my bathroom. This is not so I can practice during bouts of menopausal digestive issues…it is because the master bath and the guest bath are the only rooms that currently have floors. The rest of our furniture and possessions are largely stacked in our garage…an 18′ by 18′ cube by my eyeball reckoning. Somewhere in that impenetrable cardboard wilderness is our furniture, the rest of our clothes, and hopefully the charger to the dustbuster. We are camping in what my sister so charmingly described as a “crack den” (minus any illegal drugs) when I sent her the requested pictures of the new place. She’s not wrong. The floors are bare plywood, the essentials that we could find are stacked and spread throughout. We hadn’t yet hung any pictures at the time I sent her photos. We since have but it just lacks a certain…you know…without floors. Hopefully we will have that remedied within the next three or so weeks. Yes, there was a mistake made, no, it wasn’t ours, but really, by next year we will be laughing at this. Bring it.

We have discovered that the fireplace doesn’t work and the pool hasn’t been opened in years. The boat lift on the dock is currently inoperable. We were here for eight days before we got internet. The driveway is long yet narrow enough that every time someone has to leave we have to jockey the vehicles around. And yet we are delighted to be here. We have seen deer and cranes in our yard, we have met several friendly neighbors (two of whom even delivered oven-warm goodies to welcome us), and we have proven once again that we can overcome some inconveniences. We will emerge more appreciative than ever once the floors are laid and we can move in the rest of our belongings and have a comfy place to sit together. We will have our family visit and be able to offer them a real bed and a home-cooked meal with the oven back in the cabinetry instead of in the middle of the kitchen floor. And, most importantly, when we arrive home in the evenings after our commutes, we will be exactly where we want to be, and there will be quiet discoveries awaiting us as well as the excitement of new adventures. Our weekends will be mini-vacations and our time will be ours. Right?

On Dreams Fulfilled…?

So, my friends, here I am again further into the process of moving. We are still in our house, although it is under contract. We own the new one, although the flooring boards can’t be delivered until Friday (three days ahead of schedule!) and must sit inside the house for up to a week before they can be laid. Closing on our current home is scheduled for next Thursday and the movers are coming on Monday. So, when we had our bathrooms remodeled last spring we put a beautiful old-fashioned claw-foot tub in the guest bath. We attached the shower apparatus to it, for almost the same as the cost of the tub itself, and my granddaughter enjoyed it while she was visiting. I vowed when we decided to move that I would enjoy a long soak in that tub before leaving this house.

Last night, I had my chance. We had ordered out, eaten dinner (I certainly can’t cook in a kitchen that I’m packing up!) and I wasn’t feeling the whole packing thing after having some wine and watching last Sunday’s Outlander episode with a friend. So I decided this would be my night. My one and only night to enjoy a long, hot soak in my gorgeous tub with one of the lovely Lush bath bombs I’d purchased to sit on the counter in a glass bowl. I poured myself one last glass of wine, set it up on the stool I’d purchased to make it easier to bathe grandchildren in the tub, chose my bath bomb, and started the water.

Almost immediately I realized that I’d forgotten a lot since the summer when bathing a grandchild. I eventually figured out how to fill the tub, only to discover that there wasn’t much hot water available. Undaunted, I dropped the bath bomb in. I don’t remember what scent it was but it had herbs in it. The bath bomb dissolved without any issues, but the herbs floated in the water after they were set free. Not a problem. The first filled bath, due to the lack of hot water, turned cold fairly quickly. I drained some of the water then turned the hot on again and sat in glorious expectation. I got about two inches of warm water before the flow again turned cold. Once this second fill-up turned cold, I again let some out and turned on the hot water again. This time I got a decent amount of hot added to the cool, so I finally stretched out and was about to take that first sip of my glass when I heard the door being jimmied open with a Q-tip. My husband entered  the bathroom and enquired as to whether or not I’d fallen asleep in the tub. No. Sigh. Try to relax again.

Before long, the water was no longer warm, so again I let some out and turned on the hot. This time it had been off long enough to build up a decent store of hot water in the heater in the garage, so I enjoyed a nice, deep, hot bath. I sipped my wine, I brushed the lingering herbs off of me, and I sunk myself as low as I could go without getting my hair wet. If felt fabulous.

Then I remembered all the packing I wasn’t doing. Also that I was soaking in water but I was neither washing my hair nor shaving my legs. And I still had an almost full glass of wine. No, I didn’t get out at this point as would a less-lazy version of me. I stayed in until the heat started to leave the water, then I got out. I’d had my soak. My bath in the fabulous tub. Wow. Yea.

So, of course I have a reflection on this…I have always wanted a clawfoot tub and I do love a soak in a bathtub. So we bought a clawfoot tub and I bought fabulous bath supplies with which to enjoy it. Then I used it and the everyday intruded…you know, life. So was my bath all I’d dreamed? Not even close. But having the perfect bath would have left out my children who worried that I’d fallen asleep, my husband who insisted on checking, and an experience that would have made me want to stay in the tub far past the time I should have been sleeping.

You can’t always get what you want. But if you try, sometimes, you get what you need. ~ Rolling Stones

What to Talk About??

Those of you who follow my blog (and I thank you from the bottom of my heart) may have noticed that there has not been a post in quite a while. Here is what has happened since my last post:

School has started (this in itself is responsible for my lack of time)

We have contracted to buy a house 50+ miles away

We are packing to move

We have put our current home on the market

We are in the middle of a probably ill-conceived boat purchase

I have begun another graduate class

Gift-giving season is rapidly looming.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very excited to say that I love my new class of fourth graders (so MANY of them), I am excited about relocating to the Eastern Shore and downsizing, I’m looking forward to owning a boat, and I love Christmas. I have become rather unaccustomed, though, to so many things happening at one time since my nest has become less full. And some days I am not sure I’m up to the self-created challenge. Why is this? I used to be able to keep so many more balls in the air than this. My fear is, it’s age. I am 55 (38 if any of my students ask). I am in decent shape. I had been very active physically until the start of this school year. I can no longer get all the way down on one knee and back up again when genuflecting in church. I have been too busy to find new tennis friends since most of mine have retired and no longer need to play during the small after-school window of daylight.

So what to do about all of these blessings happening concurrently? Just keep swimming, I suspect. I must find a way to fit exercise back into my days to improve my physical and mental health. I must keep my current house in pristine condition while we pack so potential buyers won’t be offended by a mess. I must finish the last paper and quiz for my night class before the month is over. I must finish packing our belongings for the move. I must make sure any Christmas decorating we do is tasteful for strangers touring the home. I must finish (ok, start) gift-shopping. I must forgive my husband for buying a boat (it’s the DEAL of a LIFETIME, I tell you) even though I didn’t want one that big or while we are paying the mortgage on two homes. These are first world problems. I am fortunate to get in bed exhausted every night. We are lucky to have kids and grandkids who sometimes still need us.

I am not going to switch into panic mode (really, I’m not…this isn’t stress…we’re just busy). I am going to just keep swimming. While I am swimming, I will be thankful for what we have today without worrying too much about tomorrow. I will be grateful that I can still do all of the tasks I am doing during the days. I will try to be a blessing to my family, my colleagues, and my students. Happy Thanksgiving, all, and may we all be blessed throughout.

Of Hurricanes and Other Weather Events

This past week has been all about Florence. School cancelled as of Monday night for the rest of the week, friends evacuating, finding a place to go when we need one (thanks, Bob), and stocking up on essentials should we lose power (water, wine, and non-perishable snacks). At the time our friends were evacuating and the area was closing down, Florence was a Category Four storm and heading for us. By the time she arrived, she was a Category One and came ashore a full state south of us. Did we over-react? I don’t think so. Like the forecasters, we did the best we could with the most current available information. I am, however, glad that our property is in a zone B so evacuation was not mandatory. We planned to leave early Thursday morning if the storm was still tracking our way but we woke that morning to the news that she was starting to move south. Good news for us, not good for the Carolinas, most of which had felt relatively safe until now. More on that later.

Florence continues to trouble North Carolina and its impact will be felt far and wide. There were some lessons from this storm that will stay with me and my family for a long time. First, the four of us living in our home made the decision to remain together whether we stay or leave. That may sound like a given, but my husband travels for work often (and was gone for two of the “closed” days) and my son and his girlfriend are in their twenties and both have other places they could have gone. This was a big deal to me. Also, I was humbled and touched by how many of our friends offered their homes to us and our pets as a refuge. These weren’t blanket social media “come on up, we have room” posts, although I have no doubt that those were sincere and we appreciated it. These were people who reached out personally to let us know that they are concerned about our safety and wanted to help.

The prospect of danger also brought our out of town family members closer together. I spoke with my mom several times per day via phone or text. When Florence turned, it turned towards her and my brother’s family so then we worried together about what they might do (she stayed, and she’s fine…my brother and his grown children evacuated, and they are fine). My older son and his family checked in on us daily to see what we were thinking with each new weather report. I also had frequent contact with my daughter in Washington, although that is a daily blessing with or without Flo. My dad texted to find out what our plan was. My sister checked in frequently. In our lives, where we don’t live in the same towns or even in the same state in most cases, this was almost like getting the whole family together.

Another lasting impression from Florence was how many social media friends sent us good wishes and prayers. I wasn’t aware that most of them know where we live. People all over the world were watching the storm coverage and keeping those in its path in prayer. That is a powerful village. As divided as we all are geographically, politically, and economically, everyone wished for the best for those who had to watch Flo. Everyone mourns and prays for the families of the five people who have been confirmed fatalities of the storm. It is my fervent hope that we will keep this good will through the aftermath of the storm and beyond. There will be people needing help. Let’s help. There will be those needing encouragement. Let’s encourage everyone. And for any who fear they have lost everything, let’s show them they haven’t. Every day.

The Summer of Little Girls

Summer is a magical time for most in my world. We live near the coast, school is out, days become relaxed and evenings are for lingering. This magic is fleeting, though. Leaves are starting to fall and some nights dip into the low seventies. I have been blessed beyond measure this summer to have spent lots of time with each of my two granddaughters. I will soon be returning to a class of twenty-seven or more nine and ten year olds, and I will be ready. In reality, balancing the learning and emotional needs of a room full of children during the school day (while navigating through the national, state, and district mandates) is much easier than caring full-time for an infant or toddler. To my daughter and son-in-love and to my son and daughter-in-love…I don’t know how you do it. Every. Single. Day.

I am in my second week of providing full-time day-care to my almost four-months-old granddaughter in my son and daughter-in-love’s home. Nature being as kind as it is, I had forgotten just how much energy (all of it) goes into meeting a baby’s needs for an entire day. And I don’t even get up for the middle of the night feeding! My day is about twelve hours of heat a bottle of breast milk, feed the baby, burp her, amuse her for approximately 40-45 minutes rotating among the semi-reclining bouncy seat with toys, the musical floor gym with toys, the upright seat with toys, sitting her on my lap and reading her stories, walk the open floor plan, then when she starts to cry I take her to her crib and lay her down with her pacifier and her white-noise machine. Diaper changes take place when necessary throughout the schedule. If she doesn’t sleep right away I rock her until she’s drowsy then try to make the transfer to the crib without her noticing. Then I prepare or clean up a meal, start or fold laundry, and try to write or read for a few minutes. This is when I will see and hear the baby begin to twitch on the baby monitor and start up the next bottle to repeat the cycle. Four to five times per day until one of her parents gets home. These efforts are rewarded with drooly smiles, happy wiggles, and countless snuggles. So worth it.

My daughter and seventeen-month-old granddaughter spent several weeks living with us this summer while her husband was assigned to a temporary duty station so I had lots of opportunities to mind the “big girl” too. “Big girl” as in one nap per day. Maybe. The toddler routine is a bit more flexible but no less demanding. Meal times consist of preparing the food, setting it before the child in her high chair, coaxing her to eat it, then cleaning it out of the high chair, off the floor, out of her hair and diaper, and then going straight to another activity. A day might include three meals, three snacks, a swim (preceded by catching her to spread sunscreen all over her), working on colors with flashcards (they’re all blue), a walk around the cul-de-sac, blowing bubbles, pulling leaves off the mint plant and smelling them, trying to guess which of the hands behind her back has the Joker in it, reminders that dogs don’t like when you pull on their noses or or grab fists-ful of their fur, several stories, a dance party, wrestling her into a clean diaper intermittently, investigating the kitchen cabinets that aren’t locked, climbing up and down the stairs for fun, chasing games, wardrobe changes, a play-date or a gym class, and, if we’re really lucky, an hour-long nap in there somewhere. The rewards for my efforts when I’ve got her? Attempts to say, “Grandma,” outstretched arms and a plea of, “up,” huge toothy smiles when she sees me in the morning, unlimited cuddles, and offers of help “hup” all day long. Again, so worth it.

This summer, for me, had more magic in it than usual. Less down time, but the magic came in seeing these little ones learn the most basic things just as my own children did (when I was younger and had more energy). It was gratifying and humbling. Bonding with my granddaughters was a gift that will still be appreciated long after most purchases or vacations have been forgotten. Exhaustion will pass. The memories are mine forever.

There is another take-away from my summer of little girls: a reminder that parenting is hard work and the rewards are not always immediate. Just because I once did it doesn’t give me license to have specific expectations of my students’ parents during the school year. Yes, having to ask for paperwork several times or being stood up for a conference after I stayed late to accommodate the parent’s schedule is trying, as is being told by a student that they didn’t have time to study for their quiz because they had a baseball game or getting constant emails asking questions which I have already answered in the weekly progress report newsletter, in class, and on the classroom website. However, we are all doing the best we can. If your child gets to school clean, fed, and happy, then you are doing a wonderful job parenting. Even is your child is rocking only one of the three, you are doing a wonderful job parenting. And I am going to remind myself of that from September through June. I get it. Enjoy the last few days of the magical summer, and let’s make a different kind of magic during this school year.

 

Passion: Will it Ever be as Good as it Was?

By the age of fifty, many of us have experienced passions. A romantic relationship, a cause, an adventure, travel, or maybe a career or a calling. I didn’t discover my dream career until I was in my mid-thirties. It seems fitting that, after majoring in English and supplying an immediate and horrified, “No,” when asked if I planned to teach, that I would end up doing exactly that and loving it.

My calling came when we were stationed in Alabama for a year and enrolled our two younger children in a small Montessori school. Our daughter was in kindergarten and our son was in the three-year-old room two mornings each week. I used those two mornings to volunteer in our older son’s school, tutoring a second grade student in danger of failing.

It was difficult to get to the public school on those two mornings because our three-year-old had separation anxiety and, while he loved his teacher, “Miss Mary,” and in fact planned to marry her one day, (this was prior to meeting the “girl of his dreams” when he was six…she was our server at a Red Lobster one evening) he despised anything to do with school. The principal and her assistant noticed that I spent a lot of time on the campus, albeit mostly trying to loosen my son’s velcro-like grip on my torso enough to hand him over to Miss Mary. They asked me to help out part-time since I was there anyway, and my son could stay in school on the days I substituted. This seemed win-win, because although I didn’t necessarily want to sub, I hoped being in school for more than two days per week might help my son become more comfortable there. I continued the tutoring on the mornings I’d committed to it but on the other days I made myself available to substitute.

To this day I don’t know if it was tutoring the below-level second grader and helping her pass the grade or if it was the hours I spent with the preschoolers and kindergarteners at Montessori, but by the time we got orders to to my husband’s next duty station, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. To make this long story shorter and get to the point, I got my teaching license, a teaching position, and in the next few years earned a Master of Science in Early Childhood and achieved National Board certification in the same area. I loved my position and my students, grading and conferencing, presenting to colleagues, mentoring beginning teachers through their student teaching, and earning additional endorsements. It was everything I wanted…until it was not enough. Not enough for those who make laws about education, not enough for our students, and sometimes no longer enough for me.

After six or so years in the classroom, I began to hear rumblings about budget cuts for education and possible layoffs throughout the district, the state, and the country as public schools became required to continue as they had been but with fewer resources. It is important to realize that none of the mandates in place at the time were reduced; only the human and capital resources needed to meet them were drastically cut. Our district committed to reducing staffing by attrition rather than laying personnel off. As educators or assistants left the system or retired, many would not be replaced, rather, their positions were simply eliminated.

My colleagues and I were grateful; no layoffs! Sure, we would be getting larger class sizes and fewer resources, but we are resourceful people, and no one goes into teaching with the expectation of lucrative compensation. Besides, if we didn’t step up, the students would be the ones to suffer the most. Plus, economies recover. Surely this is temporary! It’s for the children! We’re all in this together. And we were. For many years. Every now and then we were even given a raise of between one and two percent. This almost covered the difference in our rising required retirement contributions and increasing insurance premiums.

We attended and spoke of our concerns at School Board and City Council meetings, our superintendent continually lobbied the state to restore pre-recession levels of funding, we marched on our state’s capitol. Still, we return each fall to large class sizes, fewer materials, and outdated technology. I know I am not alone in trying to summon back the passion that once made my days so rewarding. In fact, each year I watch several dedicated and expert educators walk away, their once passionate commitment shattered by the daily realities of the inexplicable expectation that they can do more, for more, and better, with less. Less personal attention per student, fewer resources, less technology than most students have at home, less free time, and perhaps most importantly, less respect from the state and national departments of education.

I have no new answers for this. It is August. I have purchased the supplies I need for this year’s class, I am working on some new guided reading plans for new books I’ve bought over the summer, and I’ve tweaked a few routines to save time and streamline daily procedures. I’ve collected a few things for the classroom to enhance our school wide theme for the year. I am looking forward to meeting my new “kids” and their parents in three weeks. I am trying yoga, eating clean, reading, and spending time with those I love. I am telling myself that I will still do these things when my school year begins in three weeks. My life will be enhanced by the camaraderie of colleagues and my new “family” of 28 or so. If I stay positive and open, honest and encouraging, I am still living the dream. If the passion isn’t exactly as exciting as it was 16 years ago, well, maybe it can mature into a productive contentment. Maybe that is enough.

As we all, students, teachers, staff, parents, and administrators begin our new school year in the next few weeks, let’s try to openly encourage each other to be a blessing to those we serve and those who serve us. Let’s look at things from multiple viewpoints. With encouragement and effort, we might rediscover that passion or at the very least, enjoy what we’re here to do. I would love to hear from educators, students, and parents about how you keep your own fires burning.

 

When “Home” is Not One Place

What was more comforting as a child than to run into your aunts and uncles all over town, to walk to Grandma’s house for Sunday dinners, and to have a playground full of cousins at school? Remember those days? I don’t either. I didn’t grow up near family. Neither did my children…nor are theirs. In the case of my parents, the military first brought them from the area in which they both grew up. They returned many years later but purchased their first home over two hours away. Each subsequent home purchase was at least that far.

My siblings and I went to colleges in different states. Only one of us ever lived with our parents (sporadically) after that. Two remained out of state after graduation. I am lucky now to be living in between the area in the north where my father and my sister’s family live and the south where my mother and my brother’s family live. Any time they travel to see each other, my husband and I provide dinner and a guest room to split up their 13-15 hour drive.

We raised our children in a state with excellent state universities so our children all went to in-state schools, although they lived on campus. Now in their twenties, one lives with us, and the other two have their own families. One is across the country, the other lives in our state but about four hours north of us. Sunday dinner is not a thing. Now that we are thinking about our not-nearly-close-enough approaching retirement, we too are looking to leave the suburban city we’ve lived in for most of the past 29 years and find a place where all of the children and grandchildren will want to visit. Will proximity to family be an option? I hope so, but probably not, although any of the children and grands will always be welcome to live with us should they ever want or need to.

As things are, and will probably remain, we have to make an effort to see each other. I may only see my son-in-love, daughter and granddaughter four times per year but when I am there I am ALL theirs for days at a time. We plan fun things and make great memories. I see my son, daughter-in-love, and granddaughter upstate more frequently but for shorter times. I will spend two weeks before returning to school taking care of her three-month-old self while her parents are at work, and I can’t wait. My mother will make the eight hour drive to my house earlier in the first week and them accompany me the additional four to meet her newest great-granddaughter. My daughter and her husband went to visit my husband’s father in Colorado while they passed through and he got to spend a day with his first great-grandchild.

Family weddings, and even funerals are more poignant and meaningful because so many of us come from far and wide to be there for each other. Those too far or otherwise unable to make the trip are asked after and thought of fondly. Pictures are taken and shared with all. Memories are made and bonds are strengthened. We don’t have family arguments, none of us has ever stopped speaking to another, and even physically removed, we share each others joys and sorrows.

Would I trade this to have my mom and dad living nearby, my siblings and their children in the same town with us, and my kids raising their kids within walking distance of my house? Would I trade it for Sunday dinner? Of course I would. I longed for that kind of belonging as a child and would have loved to have provided it for my children. Life, however, has other plans and blessings for my family and many others. Wherever we are, wherever they are, our door will always be open, our hearts will always be welcoming, and our passports will always be up to date.

Eulogy ~ Part 2

Laurie and I have long forgiven Joan for the Victorian-era mauve-pink bridesmaids dresses she made us wear, and I can only hope that Joan has forgiven me for the peach colored satin one I made her wear. She was six months pregnant and it had a large peach bow right above the backside. Enough said. For the next couple of years we saw each other a few times per year. Then life’s changes began; I moved to the west coast, Joan had a beautiful son, and our correspondence over the years dwindled to a phone call every now and then and an annual Christmas card.

Around 20 years later, while wasting time on Facebook, I found Joan. Within a short amount of time I’d also found Laurie and our dear friend and occasional roommate, Nancy. I hadn’t seen or heard from either in years. A beach weekend reunion (ladies only) was planned and turned into an annual event for the next ten years, often with visits in between the summers as well. Nancy hosted the beach retreats in her beautiful beach place and each summer we’d descend upon the house with chocolate, spirits, sunscreen, and stories. The four of us could spend entire days together and still stay up talking long into the night (in my world, 11:00 is late). We met each other’s children and significant others and compared stories of career paths and families. It is one of my greatest blessings that two decades after college the four of us had ten years together to make new memories and navigate our approaching middle-age together.

Joan and Nancy visited me in February of 2016. Neither had been in my area before so we went to the beach and some of the great restaurants and coffee shops my family likes. They saw my daughter play a lead role in a neighboring community theatre on opening night. Joan talked about having an appointment scheduled for not long after she would return home because she was having some back issues. None of us, including Joan I believe, thought much of this. Joan was in excellent physical shape and had no unhealthy habits other than jumping out of airplanes. After this appointment an MRI was done and a mass was found. Surgery to remove it was scheduled. I called Joan the day following the surgery and asked her how everything went and she told me to check my email. Bob had written to all of us with the distressing news that Joan had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, stage 3.

Being Joan, she and Bob immediately went about researching conventional treatments, alternatives, and available studies. She went through grueling chemotherapy treatments and endured the sickness that followed. She changed her already-healthy diet to include things that would help with immunity, strength, nausea, and energy. She was often unable to go to the gym, but when she could, she went. For the first year she continued to work when she could, not wanting to let her PT patients down. She was in remission after her chemotherapy. Remission did not last long, though, and Joan entered a study at a prestigious hospital. More treatments and medications followed, as did more emergency room visits; she and Bob heard good news and bad news in equal measure. They were both shocked when told Joan could no longer participate in the study because her disease had progressed too far. With input from a variety of doctors, Joan and Bob made the heartbreaking decision together; there would be no more cancer treatments. All further medical interventions would be to treat the symptoms and keep Joan comfortable. Bob broke this news in a heartfelt email to all of Joan’s “War Angels,” and encouraged us all to call and visit for as long as Joan was strong enough to enjoy it.

Before Christmas Joan was in a lovely hospice center and Laurie, Nancy, and I planned a visit to her. I arrived a day before and went to the center, fighting back tears and trying to still my shaking long enough to sign the guest registry. I headed down the hall in the direction I’d been pointed, and found…a party! Many of Joan’s eight siblings were there, her husband and sons, her mother, her coworkers, several friends from high school and college, and Joan was happily visiting with everyone. The next day Laurie and Nancy arrived and the atmosphere was the same. More relatives and friends had also arrived and Joan’s room and the corridor outside could not accommodate the number of people who loved her. We were moved to the center’s lounge, where Bob had food catered in and Joan would join us when she felt up to visiting or was not having a procedure done. She happily posed for pictures with everyone despite the fact that she hadn’t worn make-up since October and wore sleep pants and a t-shirt. The four of us had about an hour together that day in Joan’s room, laughing and remembering a lifetime of friendship. I hugged Joan good-bye when it was my turn to leave and she told me not to cry. Nancy followed me down the hall to tell me that she had been through this with her father and that this was not the last time I’d see Joan. We had a quick cry together, then a laugh (because my earring became snagged on her sweater). And she was right.

Joan was home for Christmas, although largely in bed, and began planning her funeral and celebration of life party. All three of us saw Joan and Bob at different times in December and January, trying to give Bob a break from being a tireless caretaker and to spend some more time with Joan. Even as she became weaker and and less communicative, she planned every detail of her wake, funeral, and celebration, and gave instructions for another funeral mass and “perfect party” to take place over the summer on Long Island. She also wrote letters to her family to be opened after she died, and was in the process of writing to many of her friends before she was no longer able. She wrote birthday cards and “firsts” cards to her sons through their 70th birthdays, and still found the time and energy to console those around her,  remaining positive and uncomplaining.

Joan passed away at the hospice center on February 5, 2018, with Bob and their sons beside her. The wake, funeral mass, and after-gathering in the subsequent days were well-attended although Joan’s huge family alone could have filled the space. The events were punctuated with moving speeches, tears, and laughter. The speeches and tears were because such a special person was no longer physically among us but the laughter was plentiful because she once WAS. There were hundreds of people participating in and attending the events in two states and every one of them had been deeply touched by Joan in their lives, many more than once.

Joan’s strength and outlook made us all stronger and more positive. The love she shared with her husband and sons made us all draw our families closer in our hearts. The love for her friends warms us still. My last communication with Joan was in a letter I received a couple of weeks after she died (Bob sent it to me). In it, she said, “I will be watching over you and your precious family and grandkids. I promise. So enjoy life…”

I will, Joan. Thank you for everything.