Good things often happen when you're looking the other way.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Happy birthday to my daughter

To my daughter on her birthday:

Today, you are 41 years old. Happy birthday!

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of you. How can I not think of you, my only child who was once at the center of my life.

There is a memory of you stuck in my head when we celebrated your first birthday. Seated in a high chair, you cried when family and friends sang the Happy Birthday song. I still have the picture, one of my treasures.

There is another photo I also treasure, and it's sitting in the corner of my desk at work. You were 15 years old when the picture was taken. You asked me to take you to a professional photographer, and that's what we did. Your hair at the time was long and wavy, way past your shoulders, and puffed up on top. You wore pink that day, a pretty color to offset your lovely complexion.

I have other photos of you, all packed away except for one taken at Christmas when you were 22. We were close then. That clearly shows in the picture. You were leaning in to me while I had my arm around your shoulder. You were wearing a bulky sweater I bought for you — one that you had asked for.

When the photos were taken, I had no idea what would follow a few years later. Maybe it's just as well that I didn't know because I would have had to carry my grief that much longer. Bad enough that 16 years have passed without you. 

So much has happened since you left. Your grandmother died in August 2011 at age 95. Grammie never held it against you that you left without so much as a backward glance, and neither do I. She loved you to the very end. Just as I will. 

In 2007, Tony and I married. You may remember him as a big blustery Italian guy. I may have lost you, but I inherited his three grown children and their spouses plus six grandchildren. They are all doing fine, and so are we. 

Grammie left a little something for you and she left the house and land in Nova Scotia to your aunt and me, and we still go there every summer. For a small house, we sure did pack a lot of people in there while you were growing up with your cousins, didn't we? One of my favorite pictures of you is when you were 14 and were standing with your grandmother holding a big pan of vegetables picked fresh from her garden. 

Tony and I love to have company, and it's for certain that if you were part of our lives, you'd be at the top of the list when it came time to put out an invitation for supper. 

Joan is still my dear friend and continues to live in our old neighborhood. She's a grandmother now, and one of her granddaughters, now age seven, was adopted from China. So now she and I have even more in common. 

Remember Callie-Cat? We lost her in 2009 at age 20, but two years ago on December 8, we welcomed a new kitty to our home. Her name is Stella, and she's a lynx point Siamese, stripes and all. I found her at a Siamese rescue center in Virginia, and she made the trek all the way up the line, passing through Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and finally, Massachusetts. She entertains us every night when she plays with her toys and races through the house. An interesting fact — she's more Tony's cat than she is mine.

Marrying Tony brought another blessing — my current job as staff writer for the Wakefield and Melrose newspapers. Being on staff means I get to write the police and fire news, school board news, feature stories about people in both towns, business stories and everything in between. Our photographer passed away a year ago, so his job has fallen to me, and I love doing that, too. I have no plans to retire, but one day when I do, I will devote my time to writing and other creative pastimes.

In 2010, my first novel was published — Former Things. My mission in writing the book was to show how fragile relationships are and that when there is a breakdown, both sides of the story must be told. It is said that "it takes two," but sometimes it takes three or more people to derail a relationship. 

About 15 years ago when I was in the deepest part of my grief, I reached out to a therapist who got me through. She said, "Gail, here's something to remember. Life is short, but it's also long." I know what she meant. That there is still plenty of time for reconciliation. 

I think of what she said, and though the days are dwindling one by one, there is still time. I think of the mistakes I made, but I also think of what I did right.

There was a time — many, many years ago — when my Christmas wish list consisted of material things like a pair of pearl earrings or new slippers. Today, my list contains nothing material at all because I have learned that material things have no real value in the long run. But relationships do. What I really would love for Christmas is a message from you. A message that says: "Let's not dwell on the past. Let's start over."

You are now entering middle age, a time when you can expect change, a time when you may become more introspective, a time for renewal and growth. 

I think of you all the time and hope with my whole heart that you are at peace, enjoying good health, are working at a job you enjoy, whether at home or in the outer world, and are very much loved. Though we are apart, I will always be your mother and that means I will always love you. It also means that I want what is best for you. And if that means we must be apart, then so be it. 


With love, Mom

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Six degrees

There is a man I’ve known for a while now who has served Thanksgiving Dinner to the needy for the past 28 years. They are the destitute, the lonely and the aged. They are often people who have no family to share dinner with. This will mark year 29 of Scott’s outpouring of generosity and caring. I got to know Scott when I wrote about what he does to “serve God’s people,” as he put it, for the newspaper where I work.

Scott pays for everything – turkeys, stuffing, vegetables, cranberry sauce, rolls and butter, desserts, beverages and anything else he needs – and he will not accept donations. He also cooks the food and enlists a few people to do the serving. Then he cleans up. This all takes place in a church hall. This year, he had to move his regular venue to another church because there was a problem with the oven.

Scott owns a vacuum cleaner and supplies store near where I live, and last week I paid him a visit to see if he would be hosting Thanksgiving again this year. The answer was yes, and this year he had asked a man I knew in the past to help him out. When I heard the news, I thought about those six degrees of separation and how they apply to each of our lives. I haven’t seen the man who will help Scott for a long time, but I’ve thought about him now and then and wondered how he was doing. Next time I visit Scott he’ll tell me. Who knows? We may even reconnect.

That’s how it is with those six degrees of separation. Someone we haven’t seen for a long time will suddenly pop up in the most unlikely of places or under bizarre circumstances. I personally hold on to those six degrees of separation because there may be a likelihood that someone, somewhere will bring me news about my daughter – or, in the best case scenario, I will see her myself.

I’m happy to hear that my old friend will be helping Scott this year because I can’t think of a more meaningful way to observe Thanksgiving. It’s a day to be thankful AND a day set aside for giving. If I didn’t already have plans for the holiday, I might volunteer myself.

But I do have plans, and I will be spending the day with my husband and family, and that suits me fine, too.

From our home to yours, here’s a wish for all of you – That you will enjoy this special day and have peace and love in every corner.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pinched Nerves

For a few weeks now I’ve suffered from a pinched nerve in my neck area. It’s due to disc degeneration and perhaps even a bulging disc that’s putting pressure on a major nerve. Regardless of anything, it has caused me a tremendous amount of pain in my left arm all the way down to my hand and fingers. It wakes me up at night and bothers me during the day at work. I’m getting treatment for it, but my doctor told me it would be slow going.

There’s another kind of pinched nerve that adult children suffer when they grow up in dysfunctional environments. I know in my heart that my own daughter grew up in such an environment, and because I failed to do something about it until she was 15, it is my fault that we are estranged. I've never talked about it on this blog, but it's time I did.

Looking back over the years is something I do all too often. I’m getting older, and I’ve read that this is what people do when they enter their 60s and beyond. They review their lives. In some cases, people long for a do-over. In some instances, they are satisfied with how they handled their lives. Most people fall somewhere in the middle. They have regrets but think they did the best they could.

I personally would like a do-over, starting with my choice of a mate. My mother warned me. You’re too young to marry, she told me when I was 20. You’re not a good match, she said. And when I rebelled and married anyway, she said, ‘Okay, you’ve made your bed. Now lie in it.”

And I did for the next 20 years.  Our family life was anything but peaceful. It was more like the proverbial roller-coaster ride, a ride I was only too familiar with while I was growing up. It was a ride where we would coast along nicely for a few days and then BOOM! that bend in the track and steep plummet to the ground. It was not a healthy environment in which to raise a child, to say the least. The only thing predictable was the unpredictability. That’s what defined our household. And I handled the problem so poorly until I learned how to handle it many years later.

When asked about our marital relationship by the caseworker at the adoption center, I didn’t let on that alcohol was a problem. I was afraid we would be turned down if I revealed the truth. But it was a problem, and I brought a baby girl from South Korea into our “den of affliction.” I had no business doing that until I was certain that positive, permanent changes would be made.

But I was desperate for a child. I wasn’t thinking about how a baby would fit into our lives, only that I wanted to be a mother. I wanted a baby and that was that, emphasis on I wanted. I was not thinking about her at the time, and for that I am truly sorry.

I wish I could turn back the clock to May 1969. That was the month that led to a decision that would plague my daughter and me for 20 years. What would I have done differently? I would have taken a step back and asked myself why I was so intent on marrying a man I barely knew. Why was I unwilling to listen to my mother, a woman who knew that I was making a mistake? Why was I not listening to the woman who had my best interests at heart? Why did I allow the marriage to continue for 20 years when it should have ended after the first few months? Why did I not see certain truths that were masked for all of those 20 years? Why was I so stupid and naïve?

I’m to blame for my estrangement and no one else. And I’m sincerely sorry that my daughter had to suffer and witness things that no child should have to witness or be called upon to do.

She suffered then, just as I did. And now I suffer alone because she is gone from my life. I only hope and pray that one day she will recall glimpses of good in her childhood because in spite of all the chaos, there were good days.

I hope, too, that she did not carry over any dysfunction into her own family. I hope she broke the cycle of dysfunction and is living a life of love and peace. I hope there are no pinched nerves in her life. I hope this because I love her.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The welcome mat is at the door


Yesterday, Tony and I went to a family wedding where his great-niece, GinaMaree, and her new husband, Ryan, exchanged their “I do’s.” It was a traditional service with beautiful music and scripture readings. Privately, Tony and I reaffirmed our own “I do’s” along with GinaMaree and Ryan.
Later, about 200 of us gathered at the Burlington Marriott Hotel about 10 minutes away from where we live. The party was in full swing a few minutes after we entered the grand ballroom because the DJ knew how to get things going. Almost immediately people were on the dance floor and having a great time.

While all these festivities were going on, I couldn’t help but think of my daughter and what she’s missing out on by not being in touch. First, there’s Tony, a big-hearted, generous and fun hunk of man and quasi-patriarch of our big Italian family. Tony is a blustery, passionate type who loves the New England Patriots (when they win) and cooking and entertaining. (And we do, a lot.) He's also a computer geek and clamors for the latest in technology. He's interested in world events and loves to talk about what's going on.
Then there’s my step-daughter Lisa, a gorgeous woman with a sparkling personality, who loves to sell real estate, read and cook and bring us up to date about her children, Michael and Lauren (Michael is launched and is climbing the corporate ladder; Lauren is a college student). Next is Paula, equally beautiful, engaging and smart. She also enjoys talking about the books she’s read and about her children (Luke and Nora, two bright and sweet kids). Next is Michael, a handsome, funny sales guy and master storyteller. He loves his wife and kids (Clara and Graeme) and large gatherings of family and friends, sports and his new fishing boat. I tell him if I had been fortunate enough to have a son, he would be it. Tony’s children all have spouses – Michael (an executive at John Hancock), Meghan (an elementary school teacher and about the same age as my daughter) and Mark (principal of a middle school). They add to the sparkle and joy of the family and would surely welcome the inclusion of my daughter and her family, no questions asked.

The people I just mentioned are only the beginning. There’s Tony’s sister (age 84 but you’d never know it), six grandchildren aged 7 to 24, nephews, nieces, grand nephews and grand nieces. All lovely, welcoming people and all doing well in life. One niece lives in Silicon Valley and has a guest house that family members can use if they wish to tour northern California. (We did, in May this year. Thank you, Dianne and Charlie.)
I want for my daughter a welcoming, loving family just like the one I have. I want for her joy and peace and love. I want her to know the wonders of having an extended family whose members enjoy a good time. I want for her children to feel loved and included by extended family.

I don’t know what my daughter’s life is like. I only hope that her life mirrors mine. I want for her experiences that enhance her life. I want her to be wrapped in love, to be happy and joyous and at peace.

What I really want for her if she doesn't already have it is this: I want her to come home so she, too,  can have warmth, love, acceptance and peace.  Yes, I want her to come home. No questions asked.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Boomer Bookings and Stage Whispers

Travel buffs might be interested in reading my review of the Nova Star cruise ferry out of Portland, Maine and a review of DOUBT A PARABLE now playing at The Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass.

Visit www.boomerbookings.blogspot.com and www.stagewhispers-greaterboston.blogspot.com.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Living in an upside down world

This week I spoke with our town’s Police Chief about the wave of violence being reported among star athletes. Chief Smith commented: “Domestic violence is an ‘unacceptable crime.’” Well, what he meant is that all crime is unacceptable, but domestic violence simply should not happen among people who profess to love one another. But it does happen and probably always has because people are people, and when there’s a clash of wills domestic violence is often the result.

I was thinking about this today along with the notion that we live in an upside down world. It’s something the Chief and I talked about yesterday while we were “off the record.” We both agreed that the world has gone out of whack, and what once was thought to be good is now considered bad and what was once thought of as bad is now good. This extends to family life, and I have a story to prove it.

It was in 2001 that I got an urge to have a child in my life, a child I could nurture and grow to love. And so I signed up for a mentoring program offered by an organization run by the state. After a background and CORI check, I was assigned to a little girl eight years old. She had a sister a year or so older, and she was waiting for her own mentor but few were available so I got permission to include her in outings. Both girls lived with their mother in a three-family home.

Our times together were fun and sometimes even exciting. The child assigned to me was overweight, so I signed us up for swimming at the local YMCA on Friday nights. And yes, her sister came along, too. I got tickets to the county fair and went on rides with them. One morning we had breakfast at a municipal airport and watched the small private planes take off and land. We talked about where they might be going and that led to discussions about traveling to far off places.
My neighbor and close friend Joan would give me bags of cast-off clothing (all bought in trendy boutiques and high-end stores by Joan’s friend who gave them to her) with the idea that they would fit the girls. They did, and their wardrobe grew beyond what their closet could hold. The girls got to go to theatrical events with me, and I might have even taken them on vacations if our relationship had continued. Having not one but two little girls to care about felt good and natural. I’m a born mother and love being around young children.

Things began to change, however, a few years after we first met. The younger girl was now ten or eleven and was quiet when I would pick her up. I tried to engage her in conversation, but she held back. Something was clearly bothering her. As time passed, she became even more quiet to the point that I worried about her constantly. I mentioned the situation to the family’s caseworker and a visit was paid to the girls’ home. And what was discovered? That their mother was using drugs right in front of her young daughters. I was later told that the mother was making a habit of living with various men, too. She was also found to be negligent. Very little food was in the refrigerator or the cupboards. The girls were going to bed hungry.

I am sad to report that the girls had to be removed from their home and placed into foster care. Since I was not certified as a foster parent, I was not eligible to take them. The younger child ended up at a home south of Boston in a seaside community where she learned to ride a horse. The older child went with a family closer to Boston. I can’t imagine the pain they must have suffered, first knowing that their mother was using drugs, second that they had to be separated and third going to live  with people who were not family members. We lost contact because the caseworker determined their adjustment to new living situations would be easier for them if I wasn't in the picture. I missed them greatly and thought of them all the time.

But in spite of their difficulties they seem to have survived and even thrived. A while ago, I searched the Internet for them and found that they were all grown up. There are pictures of them with their boyfriends. Pictures of them having fun at various events. And pictures of them with their arms around their mother.

This is a most curious thing from my point of view. Here was a woman guilty of hard drug abuse (cocaine). Here was a woman guilty of cohabiting with men who were not her children’s father. Here was a woman guilty of neglect. And yet there were her children, firmly attached to her.

Seeing these photos left me scratching my head. How is it that this mother has the affection of her children and I don’t? I’m not comparing myself to this mother because it would not be fair and it would also be judgmental. At the same time, it boggles my mind.

The only conclusion I can come to is that we do, indeed, live in an upside down world. How else can it be explained?

 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

In the shadows

In recent months, my ability to love has been put to the test. Some would call it the “ultimate” test, and maybe it is.

It was in April 1999 when I learned I had a grandson. My daughter called to tell me the news after being “in seclusion” for the better part of a year. Her news came as a shock. In the same breath she told me she had married the baby’s father two months after graduating from college in May 1998. I had known nothing about her wedding plans. I also didn’t know she was expecting a baby.

It was a beautiful day for her college graduation, and immediately following commencement exercises, I invited her and her boyfriend to brunch. We went to her favorite place in the South End of Boston, and conversation was light and friendly. I had no idea at time that when we parted at South Station, it would be the last time I would see her. I remember our final hug, our “I love yous” and a promise to have supper together soon. I turned and watched her walk away into the crowd, thinking that she was the most beautiful girl I had ever known. I also thought how fortunate I was that she was mine. Had I known then what was to follow  a nightmare I would not wish on any parent – I would have run after her and held on to her for dear life. Now, 16 years later, I continue to wonder how and why this estrangement happened.

The details of what we both endured following her graduation are, at this point, unimportant. What is important is that there is a handsome, musically gifted boy I have never met. And though I don’t know him, I feel a deep love for him all the same.

I found my grandson earlier this year on the Internet where he posted YouTube videos of himself playing various musical instruments. Though I don’t know for sure, he may be testing his parents’ limits on some of the music he is choosing to listen to. But since time began that’s what teens do. I think about the Stone Age when teens may have used makeshift hammers to sound out rhythms on the walls of caves and more recently the 1920s flappers, the 1950s Bobby-soxers, the 1980s teeny-boppers and now this current generation.

My grandson is a handsome boy. He has his mother’s eyes and mouth and beautiful teeth just like hers. Sometimes his facial expression is so intense, he reminds me of my own father when he played violin. It's that intense expression that tells the story  he becomes one with the music when he plays. He also has a personality that sparkles. He’s funny and clearly fun-loving, smart and even charming. I would love to know him in person. But at this point, all I can do is view him (and his music) from afar.

I’m not surprised that he’s gifted musically because his mother was, too, and possibly his father. When my daughter was a little girl, she took piano lessons for about six years. She got to the point where, while at home for semester break, she could go to the piano and play “Maple Leaf Rag” without music in front of her. I wonder if she remembers those days. When she was 12, she begged to be released from music lessons. The call of her teen girlfriends was loud and clear, and the last thing she wanted to do was practice. So, though I thought she might live to regret it, I said OK. But learning to play a musical instrument is kind of like learning to ride a bike. Once you learn, you never forget. Oh, you might get rusty, but with a little practice, it all comes back.

In one of the YouTube videos, my grandson plays a piece of classical music. In another, he instructs viewers on another type of music that, to me, resembles fingernails clawing at a chalkboard. I love to visit his YouTube videos and look at him. When I study his face each time, I see new glimpses of his mother. This past time, for instance, I noticed a dimple in his right cheek – my daughter has one in the same place.

How she must love her boy, how proud of him she must be. I am, too. And I think about how fortunate his other grandmother is if she knows him in a personal way. If she does, I hope she realizes how blessed she is.

I sometimes fantasize about what I’d like to do for my grandson. If, for example, he wanted to go to Berklee School of Music in Boston, I would love to help him. If he needed a new instrument, maybe I could help him buy it. These gestures, I think, are simple but loving. It’s what a grandmother would do. But buying and spending does not equal love. While I’d love to be able to help, even in small ways, I would cheer him on, which I think is a better gift. I would tell him he has wonderful leadership qualities, even at his tender age, and that he might be an awesome conductor someday. Maybe he could play at Carnegie Hall. Maybe he could be concertmaster. Or, maybe he could join a rock group and gain fame just as The Beatles did. Why not? Other people achieve their goals – all they needed was some talent and a cheering squad behind them.

And so, this cheering squad of one grandmother is rah-rahing her grandson on, whether he knows it or not. Maybe someday he’ll come across this blog and wonder “Who is this woman who claims to be my grandmother?”

If and when that ever happens, I will tell him only what he needs to know. That all along he has had a grandmother in the shadows who loves him, even without knowing him. That I loved his mother the first time I met her at the JFK Airport when she arrived from Korea in August 1974. That I continue to love her to this very day.