Ghosts of Thanksgiving Past

My earliest memories of Thanksgiving always surround my grandparent’s rowhome on Kirkwood Road. A table extending two rooms with half of us seated in the dining room and half of us seated at the other end of the table in the living room.

 I spent most of my childhood living in the same neighborhood my dad had grown up in, just a short walk from my grandparent’s house and I visited often. If I was lucky and visiting two days before Thanksgiving, my grandmother would assign me the job of setting the two room Thanksgiving table. I would pull out the ivory china plates and gravy bowl with delicate pink flowers etched on each piece from her china cabinet. A gift she had given to her mother for Christmas while my grandfather was away in the Korean War. Having placed them on layaway at a jewelry store months before Christmas, she visited every Friday, after receiving her paycheck, to pay toward the balance because as she always reminded me, “You could only purchase fine china at jewelry stores, back then”. 

 And Thanksgivings continued that way for years but just as families evolve, so did our Thanksgivings. My brother and I began attending every other year, an alternate schedule most children become accustomed to after their parents’ divorce. My grandparents eventually retired to the beach and we decided it would be memorable to move our family Thanksgiving to Deep Creek Lake. A few of my grandfather’s siblings each renting houses with their branch of families and turning Thanksgiving into a 4-day extended family celebration, complete with my grandmother learning the game of Asshole and never hesitating to yell “beer bitch” when she finally had a good handle on the rules of the game. Our branch was kicked out of a few houses that Thanksgiving night but Mommom didn’t care, she just invited everyone back to our rented lake house for the remainder of the night, after we provided a detailed explanation of the game of Flip Cup to her.

We didn’t know it at the time, but that was the last Thanksgiving in Deep Creek Lake and the last Thanksgiving we would celebrate with my grandfather. Life can be cruel that way. We do not always get a chance to appreciate the importance of a moment until it is in the rear-view mirror.

We, as a family, decided that the Thanksgiving following my grandfather’s death would be less weird for my grandmother if we held a Hawaiian themed Thanksgiving, complete with Hawaiian shirts. This was not so. It seems Mai Tai’s and leis do not distract a person from realizing their husband of 50 years is still dead.

 After that, Thanksgiving in our family lived a nomadic lifestyle and bounced around between my dad and his two brothers’ houses until firmly landing in my lap about 10 years ago.

Always ready for a challenge, I took on the role of Thanksgiving hostess with desire and determination, despite being the only family member with two small children. I created a menu complete with detailed shopping lists, flower arrangements and set my table not 2 days early but 3 days early, just to be safe. 

On the eve of hosting my first Thanksgiving, after putting my two boys to bed, I grabbed the turkey I had been thawing for days, per the Butterball thawing recommendations, grabbed a pan, ready for roasting brilliance. Removed the turkey from its plastic casing, pulled out the neck and bag of giblets, (wondering what in the hell I was supposed to do with those) and placed my turkey in the pan. Then flipped it over, again, and again and again. “No problem”, I thought.  Nothing a quick google search can’t solve. How do you know if a turkey is upside down?.… Nothing. I searched again. Photo of turkey in roasting pan… Still couldn’t tell. I was out of options, I decided to call my dad. 

“Dad, don’t let Mommom know you are talking to me. How do I know if the turkey is breast side up or back side up?” I asked.

“HOW DOES SHE KNOW IF THE TURKEY IS UPSIDE DOWN?” he replied, yelling out from the phone.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph! She doesn’t know if the turkey is upside down or not?”, I heard my grandmother eloquently yell from the background before grabbing the phone from my dad and offering, “THE POPPER UPPER!”.

I realized by her volume I should have understood but her description provided little guidance. She completed her advice, with instructions “not to listen to my stepmother and to cook the turkey covered, on low, overnight and then pop it up in the morning”.

My stepmother’s voice was next on the phone, offering zero advice on how to locate the breast on a turkey but instead, instructing me in a hushed voice, “to not listen to my grandmother and to not cook that turkey below 350 degrees or you will give everyone food poisoning”.

I hung up the phone staring at my turkey, still unsure what side was the breast of the turkey, picked a number between food poisoning and 350, threw the turkey in the oven and called it a night. That Thanksgiving, eenie meenie miney mo prevailed, no one died of food poisoning and my grandmother said it was one of the best turkeys she had ever eaten.

This year, on my 10th year hosting Thanksgiving, I am reminded that our house is bigger than the rowhome on Kirkwood Road, but our table is smaller. Family now scattered amongst different states and different time zones, celebrating at different tables, some with new faces and some with empty seats.

This Thanksgiving may be very different for many families. Traditions change through the years, even when we don’t want them to. Some we are only able to visit in our memories, enveloped in nostalgia but if we are lucky, a few survive for us to pass down through our family.

On Tuesday, I will pull out the ivory china with the delicate pink flowers etched around the edge and matching gravy boat, although I haven’t heard my grandmother’s voice in 5 years. My children will help me set the table, as I tell them the journey of our Thanksgiving dishes, reminding them of course, that the finest china could only be purchased in jewelry stores back then.

All while still wondering how you know if a turkey is upside down. 

Remembering those that created the memories of Thanksgiving past, grateful for those creating the memories of Thanksgiving present, and hopeful for our children who will create the memories of Thanksgiving future. 

Climbing Marriage Mountain

My husband and I went to a wedding a few weeks ago and I have come to realize weddings are one of those things you either love attending or simply go because you feel obligated. I love weddings. Honestly, what’s not to love about an event surrounded by smiles layered with happiness and optimism, topped off with an open bar, dance floor, and hopefully a few 90’s hip hop songs?

As I think it does for most people, each wedding I attend always floats memories of our own wedding day to surface. I think back to the day we stood with crowns on each of our heads connected by ribbon, at the front of a little Greek Orthodox church tucked away on a side street in Baltimore. And how when we fell into bed at the end of the night, it felt like a dream because the day had gone so fast, neither of us had even had the chance to eat our dinner. How all the decisions that had seemed so important during the prior year of planning faded into the background unnoticed. Through all the culture compromises, flower arrangements, seating charts, and attempts to appease our families, what stands out the most about that day is us. 

We may have shared an optimistic naivety about marriage that day, but we decided we were in this life together moving forward. I also always assumed those were the exact words coming from the priest’s mouth during our ceremony, but I don’t speak Greek so I decided to trust that God had my back on that one. 

But that’s kind of what marriage is, isn’t it? It’s putting your faith into another person and trusting that person to have your back until one of you dies. The concept is simplistic, however, for anyone that has been or is married, the journey to this accomplishment can be treacherous and daunting, at times. 

It’s like the climbers that attempt to climb Mount Everest. I imagine, at the bottom, during the beginning of their journey, they are optimistic and proud to be attempting such a difficult task and I imagine many of them even feel fully prepared for the trek, but as they climb higher and the altitude increases and it gets colder and colder and oxygen levels lower, some begin to wonder if they are too weak for the climb or crazy for even trying. Some even give up or get injured and climb back down. But a few get injured and keep on climbing. 

Climbing the marriage mountain is no different. I have friends who are divorced. I have friends who have been on the verge of giving up but decided to keep climbing. I have a friend who was widowed far too young and chose not to abandon her journey, but simply changed her course to the top. 

Because the marriage mountain does not have a set path. 

And sometimes we forget this. We see strategic photos shared on social media of other couples or families and the doubt starts to creep in. We start to wonder if we have taken the wrong path in our climb to the top or why it is so damn hard much of the time for us but seems so easy for others. 

But you see, I imagine the climbers of Mount Everest only snap their photos to document the journey when it is safe, or they have just finished a really hard climb, or the sun is shining and they have been overcome with a feeling of empowerment. I am fairly certain they do not pose for a selfie when they are hanging from a cliff contemplating their death, or in the middle of a blizzard, or on the verge of giving up.  They share the near-death experiences only after they have reached the top and taken in the view.

My husband and I have not reached the top – yet. And from the conversations I have with those closest to me, they haven’t either. So I am here to report from halfway up marriage mountain that the climb is often difficult. It is filled with bickering and loud kids who seem to miss the toilet more than they hit it and arguments stemming from small and insignificant situations. A dog who loves without limits but literally barks his head off every single day between the hours of 3 pm and 5 pm. It is filled with taking care of parents, doubleheader baseball games on different fields every weekend, middle of the night trips to the ER, and date nights that are canceled because, well honestly, life gets in the way. We are torn in so many directions most of the time we do not have an hour to ourselves, let alone with each other. 

And I often wonder if the priest should have not only spoken in English during our wedding ceremony but perhaps have been a bit more specific in our vowels to each other. Replaced the vague for sickness and health and for better or worse with more specific situations, you know, just to keep it real. “Do you take him to be your husband even though he will leave his items on the bathroom counter, every day for all of eternity, when it is in strict violation of your no personal items on bathroom counters rules, or will you take her although she will rotate black leggings on a 3-day schedule for 5 years and befriend many bottles of dry shampoo” 

But then I think about if the priest had said, “Do you take this man to be your husband when he does the dishes even when he is tired because he sees just how desperate you are for a small break, or will you take this man when he works a ridiculous amount of hours just so you and your children will have not only the things you need but the things you want also. Or, will you take this woman to be your wife when she takes on the bulk of raising your children, when she is sick but still finds a way to wake up with the kids and make lunches with crustless sandwiches and get them to school because she knows even though you wouldn’t complain that you still need some sleep.” 

Because the climb, it’s a tricky one. It’s filled with arrogance and celebration on the way up and it’s being humbled while you hold on for dear life as you begin to feel yourself sliding down. It’s staying up all night with sick babies, it’s handing out grace when your husband snaps at you and it’s accepting grace when you’re not quite sure you deserve it. It’s feeling under-appreciated while not being quite sure if you are as appreciative as you should be. 

And as I think back to that night we plopped into our bed on our wedding day, that’s what this life feels like much of the time. All the decisions we stress about and bicker over and all the decisions we have deemed of utter importance at times, fade into the background as we reach new altitudes. 

As our boys get older and their needs shift and they become more independent, the view has changed. The climb has often been scary and tough but we never once thought to take those crowns off while we were climbing. Sometimes, if we are lucky, we even remember to stop along the way on our ascent and take in the view and it is a spectacular one. It may not look the way we had always anticipated but it is still breathtaking and humbling, none the less. We never forget that it was killer sometimes but many of those memories hide in the shadows when we remember that we were never lonely. 

Because we trekked it together.

Perhaps we can talk about all of that and how it almost killed us when we reach the top…

And of course, get the chance to pose for a selfie. 

Daughterless

 

It seems today, according to Facebook, is National Daughters Day. I am not even sure it is a real holiday, but each year the world of Facebook is hell-bent on reminding me of every person in my friend’s list that has received or birthed a child with a vagina, but me.

If I sound a little salty, it is because I am. I mean I can French braid for Christ’s sake. How do I not have a daughter or a sister, for that matter.

When I was a little girl and would screech to my parents “But I want it!”, they would without fail, begin singing “You can’t always get what you wa-ant”, in their best off key Rolling Stones impersonation.

When my cousin’s daughter was born deaf, we never spoke of all the sounds I already knew she worried her daughter would never hear. A bird chirping, the crescendo in a song ultimately leading to the emotional understanding of a listener, or the possibility of her daughter never hearing her own mother’s voice. I wasn’t alone in this avoidance, most people skirted around these topics. But there were always the people who seemed genuinely clueless and maybe it was meant as an attempt to comfort, but the phrase that would always irritate me was, “You don’t miss, what you don’t have.”

Fortunately, my cousin’s daughter was a candidate to receive Cochlear ear implants when she was young and is able to hear the sound of her mother’s voice. But what if she had never been able to hear her entire life? I am not sure she still wouldn’t have missed the idea of hearing because the understanding that those around her did hear would never be muted. She still would have understood that although she had never experienced sound, those around her did. That there was an entire level of communication that she was not privy to. An entire sense that she would never experience. Never hearing a sound would not necessarily equal never wanting to hear a sound nor negate her longing to hear.

Most people always assumed my desire for a daughter was simply filled with dreams of ballet slippers, leotards, glitter, and pink tutus. Don’t get me wrong, those definitely would have provided a much-needed break from urine splattered toilet seats, stinky cleats, and athletic cups left on my kitchen island, but I was never looking to fulfill some fairytale dream of holding my very own real-life daughter baby doll.

Having three boys herself, my grandmother always understood how it ran much deeper than lacey dresses and pretty hair ribbon. It had nothing to do with disappointment or an ungratefulness for mothering sons. It was about the lost opportunity to become the mother we had both longed for. To right the wrong that had been handed to us in an effort to tip the mothering scale in our favor. To prove that good mothers didn’t always come from perfect mothers. To raise a daughter the way we had both desperately wished we had been raised.

I love my sons and I cannot imagine a life of mine where each and every one of them doesn’t exist in it. There is simply a very different dynamic provided by having a daughter. Perhaps a daughter life would be nothing like I have always pictured it to be. Perhaps I am like a person who is deaf and misses the sound of laughter because they can still see it and understands it exists for others, just not for them. Perhaps, one day I will be like my cousin’s daughter, who was so overwhelmed by sound when she received her cochlear ear implants, she used to try to throw them out of the car window from the backseat, while my cousin was driving. And now, now I watch videos of her singing and dancing, to the music she almost never heard.

I also understand that my sons are on loan to me.

Of course, I will always be their mother and that will never change. I am the most important woman in their lives, for now. However, one day, in a future that seems to be approaching at lightning speed, I will pass the torch 3 times to each of their wives. And if I have done my job correctly, she will become the most important woman in each of their lives. She will become their support and the one they will seek out for advice and comfort. Still, my hope is that one day, she will smile at me in a way that says “thanks for raising such a good man,”, even if he never did learn to lift the toilet seat up and still leaves dishes in the sink. More than that, I hope she will understand that when I handed her that torch, I also handed over the very piece of my heart that ignited that flame, three times.

My soul sister and I have 7 boys between the two of us and they each fill us up in ways we never dreamed. Our cup runneth over with love and worry and how did we ever endure life without them. (a bit quieter, I imagine) Still, every single one of those 7 pregnancies, we prayed for one of us to have a girl. It didn’t matter which one of us, because the best friends in life are the ones that still want you to listen and dance to the music, even if they will never hear it.

A few months ago, I picked up my son from baseball practice, and on the car ride home I asked him, as I always do, how practice was. He said it went well and that he had worked with the pitching coach this practice and the pitching coach was impressed with his changeup and wanted to know who showed him the grip.

“My mom did”, he said

And I thought about that Rolling Stones song. The one my parents used to sing to me when I was a little girl and how when I was a bit older, I heard that song on the radio and realized there were additional lyrics.

“You can’t always get what you want… But if you try sometime you find, you get what you need”

Because sometimes, it takes a little longer for the music to reach your ears.

A Day to Remember

Everyone old enough to remember, remembers where they were on September 11th, the way my parents still remember the day John F. Kennedy was assasinated, even though they were only 6 years old.

I remember the horror, watching as the second plane hit one of the Twin Towers. I remember the fear, when we all realized that there were possibly more hijacked planes. I remember the sadness, as we watched people die right before our eyes. But for me, during the aftermath, when the dust settled and the fires were extinguished, I remember the healing.

How every person in this country grabbed hands to form a giant bandaid to cover the wound we had suffered. How our first instinct was not to place blame on one another. How our first thought was not one consisting of engaging an attack on a side with would have, could have, should haves. It didn’t matter how we had arrived where we were that day in September, we just knew we needed to leave together. We understood there was only one side and we were all on it, because there is strength in numbers and we refused to allow anything to divide us, whether it be evil, politics, or a plane. We chose to focus on one thing, our sameness, our commonness, our love for our country and everyone in it. A one for all, all for one approach. If one of our buildings was burning, all of our buildings were on fire. If one of us lost a father, mother, son, sister, daughter, brother that day, then we all mourned – in unison.

We may have been battered and bruised that morning, but when we went to bed, we were one – a whole.

Yet we never knew just how temporary it would be. And I think about where we are now, less than two decades later, and how different we have become. How, if the powers that tried to divide us with planes that day, knew they just needed to be patient. Because we we would do their dirty work for them, fracture ourselves over and over again. We would point fingers at one another and place blame for any and every thing we could find. We would decide that the pieces of that whole were better off solitary and cease seeing their beauty as the sum of the entirety. We would decide to rip off that band aid we had formed, and not only stand around to watch, but hand out fault as to why it still bled.

Today, when I think of those that were sacrificed, the families that paid the ultimate price and the ones whom risked their own lives to save strangers, without knowing where they stood politically, religiously or other wise, I remember what we all were that day – we were human. And I wonder what it will take for us to realize that again. In loving memory and honor of all those that lost their lives that day, the families that still grieve, and those that continue to pay the price. One for all, all for one. Let it not be in vain.

The Last Kindergartener

My youngest heads to kindergarten this year. One, in a series of lasts for our family. The last baby to cradle, the last to place to sleep in a crib, the last to pose for the obligatory first day of kindergarten photo. Despite this being my actual third time at the kindergarten rodeo, it very much feels like my debut. 

Yes, it will be a very different first day because of this recent pandemic. Yes, I wonder if I am choosing the right path for him, but what really keeps me up at night is wondering if he is ready for the world without me and if the world is ready for him without me as a shield, for an entire school day, 5 days a week.

He is my spirited child. He has a spirit that I stopped trying to tame years ago. It took me a while to realize, but to tame his spirit would mean to put out the very fire that fills his soul. All three of these kids will have plenty of material to discuss at future therapy sessions and I am in no way looking to add soul extinguisher to their list or my conscience. 

I realized a few months ago, it isn’t necessarily his willfulness and his defiance, at times, causing concern. It is his willingness to express openly and vocally every emotion that floods his heart. If vulnerability is the equivalent of standing naked in a room full of clothed people, he is like some type of rogue emotional streaker running through life, leaving a path littered with his clothing along the way. For a life long people pleaser, it is beyond comprehension how someone so young and so small, cannot only be comfortable with expressing every emotion, but fiercely confident in the demanding of others to recognize and respect those same emotions with little regard for their acceptance.

My husband and I both, for different reasons, spent a large portion of our childhoods being adults. We learned at a fairly young age that our personal emotions needed to take a back seat most of the time. It is why we and our marriage work – many times we understand each other without needing to verbalize it. Yet we have been given this child to raise with complete opposite expectations from himself and from us. Who makes no apologies for his vulnerability. The child Ying to our parent Yang. It is astounding the many lessons our children offer us, when we are willing to pay careful attention.

We have grown to love, appreciate and most importantly, admire this part of his personality, even though it is very foreign to us. However, I worry many will not have the acceptance or admiration for our emotion streaking warrior as we do. That the very same fire I have tried desperately not to extinguish, will be put out with ease one day when I am not around. He represents everything we have worked hard to undo and the mistakes we never wanted to repeat. The baggage we both silently swore to leave behind on the carousel and never force our children to tote around. 

After I signed and submitted his school intent form, I took him to the dentist. He had two cavities at his last check up. Luckily for me, our dentist is a family friend and agreed he would not place an asterick beside my name or place my name on any wall of shame.

I am terrified of the dentist. Apparently, my own vulnerability issues extend to dentistry. I don’t make the rules, I just endure them. He is a great guy and dentist but still, I avoid it at all costs. I faithfully take my children though, because I think I read somewhere that routine dental visits were on the list of what good moms do and I already abandoned the no yelling and baking homemade birthday cakes from the same list.

I have always accompanied my youngest to the back. Every cleaning, I have sat nervously in the little swivel chair at his feet and smothered him with “great jobs” and “wow, you are so braves”. My praise was completely genuine. I am always legitimately amazed at his calmness when I white knuckle it for a routine cleaning in the same seat.

But, this was no routine cleaning. This visit was fillings, needles and a crown. I was anxious enough for the both of us. The dental hygenist arriving in the waiting room dressed in the equivalent of a hazmat suit to escort us, didn’t exactly ease my nerves either.

I asked if I was still allowed to accompany him to the back but before she could answer, he jumped up from the stack of toys he was playing with and announced confidently “I’ve got this by myself this time”. I gave the hygenist a look of question as he promptly walked over, patted my back and said “Don’t worry, Mom. I am going to be just fine”.

And maybe, just maybe, he will be.

Get Naked

I have written for years but only recently started sharing again. After a recent post, a couple of girlfriends reached out to me on a group text, to ask how I had never shared this secret of mine. The answer is simple – vulnerability. Whether you have a knack for putting together words and structuring paragraphs or not, sharing your inner thoughts and how you process life in your head is very personal. It is why diaries come adorned with locks.

For a writer, the feeling of vulnerability isn’t absent, it hopefully becomes overshadowed by the compulsion to take the words and sentences floating around in your head and the need to pour them out on paper and make sense of them. The way a photographer sees a sunset cast a shadow in a unique way and is compelled to grab a camera, or how I imagine a runner feels the need to run, even without a destination. The last one still boggles my mind because the only time I have ever been inclined to run is if one of my kids is about to dart into a street, but to each his own.

When asked why I was hesitant to share my writing, I responded by asking them to envision standing nude in a room filled with fully clothed people. Their response was “Get naked”.  Not, literally, in a weird Girls Gone Wild way, but figuratively, which can still feel just as weird and actually a little scarier for me.

Usually, I have my mom, husband, or best friend read over pieces before I publish. Generally, my mom cries, my best friend tells me how much she loves my writing, and my husband has a similar answer when he finally has a chance to read it, in between running our restaurant and being a dad. Having those closest to you believe the words floating out of your head are gold, is great. Everyone loves a compliment, but what I am usually seeking is a different type of feedback.

My high school creative writing teacher popped into my head the other day. “Wonder if he would be willing to read a few pieces and offer some guidance?”, I thought. A few days ago, after a quick search on Facebook, I sent him a message:

Dear Dr. Blankenburg,

My name is Shannon Armenis, previously Kearney. I took your creative writing class, as a sophmore in high school, about 25 years ago.

You probably will not remember me. To be honest, there was nothing memorable about the writing I submitted and shared in your class. I was much too busy hiding during my high school years, rather than displaying myself.

But you, you wore your pain and failures like a badge of honor. Proof that you had lived life, with no apologies and this has remained with me. All these years, I never stopped writing, although it did take many years to gain the courage to begin sharing and I have you to thank for that.

I am aware that you have mentored many writers over the years. Would you be willing to read over and critique a few pieces I have written? I do not have a writers’ circle, and I would be grateful for your input in any capacity.

Once a Comet, Always a Comet.

With Gratitude,

Shannon Armenis

I was not alarmed when I did not receive a response the next day. However, I found out yesterday he had passed away, the day after I sent my message. Is it coincidental that I thought of him and sent him a message the day before he died? Absolutely. But I am a strong believer that, intuitively, we are somehow connected to the people that have had an imprint on our lives, whether they realize it or not. Dr. Blankenburg never knew how he had affected my life as a writer, but I did.

Vulnerability is not only the key to elevated writing. It is also the key to elevating the encounters we have with other people. When we open ourselves up and share our stories, with honesty, we may just reach someone. Many times we will not be aware of those hearts we have connected with. We may not receive a thank you note or a hug. We may not receive a like or a comment.  A lack of response does not always indicate a lack of connection. Although not visible, the imprint we leave is still there.

Sometimes, it’s quiet eyes behind a computer.

Sometimes, it’s a struggling mom in a grocery check out.

Sometimes, it is a 15 year old girl trying to hide in a creative writing class 25 years ago.

“The greatest use of a life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”

– Willam James

There Are No Sides, Just Paths

I have been quiet the past two weeks. Honestly, I think my brain is on complete overload and overwhelmed by all of the opinions, conflicting data and options concerning the school year.

Unfortunately, schooling has become another addition to an already long list of divisive items accumulated in recent months. The notion that we can only set up camp in one of two sides is utterly and completely exhausting.
I have a high schooler, a middle schooler and a kindergartner. My oldest and my youngest attend private school and will most likely have the option to attend in person school in some capacity and we will be choosing to send them.  Our local public school system has decided that we will not have options or a choice concerning my middle son. He will be forced to either continue remote learning or I will un-enroll him and pick an appropriate homeschooling program for this year. I believe my children need to be in school. I also believe that someone else’s children may not need to attend in-person school this school year. Disagreeing with a choice for my family is not indicative of disagreeing with your choice for your family.  I believe in the right of each and every family to determine and choose what they feel provides the best education for their children.
Crazy, right?
I have zero opinion or judgment concerning how another family is choosing to school their children this year, or any other year for that matter. The same way I do not hold an opinion concerning your choice to breastfeed or bottle-feed, co-sleep or not, allowed your child walk around with a pacifier or refused to give them one. Your family, your choice, your decision. I follow this weird ideology of staying in my lane and minding my own business. I never have and never will attempt to force the choices I make for my family on another family because I fully understand the uniqueness of each family’s situation. While I am confident in my ability to make my own decisions, I am absolutely aware of the possibility I could be wrong. I do, however, have an opinion concerning decisions being made for parents and options being removed, specifically when the decisions have consequences and the consequences do not affect each student and family equally.
I have the luxury of not worrying about childcare. A luxury I understand many parents are not afforded and directly correlates to the reason working parents deserve a seat at the table. Unfortunately, their chair was ripped out from under them and they were told to stand. I am not interested in hearing an argument about schools not being responsible for childcare either. Let’s be honest, for many families, a parent’s ability to work during the day is directly related to their children being in school. It is not about free childcare for many parents, it is about access to childcare. It is insulting and arrogant to suggest otherwise and reeks of ignorance when many are unwilling to acknowledge the burden this presents to many families.
A response often aimed at those advocating for the opening of schools is  “I care too much about my child’s health to send them to school”, as if to insinuate a family needing two incomes or a single parent needing to earn a paycheck must clearly feel the health of their children to be trivial. A person advocating for a child’s education also cares about health, they also understand health is multifaceted and not solely defined by illness. Dismissing a parent’s concern about attempting to balance education with their ability to provide basic necessities, by suggesting they must not care about their child’s health, is not only privileged but cruel. A person’s health is comprised of many factors, food and housing rank pretty high up on that list.
This same argument was also applied early in the pandemic when small business owners were begging for the ability to open. Greed was being prioritized over human lives. It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now. Many are just trying to survive, simply a different type of survival. The decisions being made concerning closures of schools and businesses affect families differently. The problem is and always has been the removal of choice – the choice to work, the choice to send a child to school, the choice to be able to decide what is best for each of our families.
While some students can learn online, many children are unable to effectively learn via remote schooling. I encountered this in my own home. My high schooler didn’t miss a beat, my middle schooler needed limited assistance and my youngest struggled with all online instruction even with assistance. Those are three children from the same household with access to the same resources. Now, factor in children from different households with varying levels of income, education and resource accessibility to see how quickly we further ourselves from the idea of an equitable education.
Many special needs children have largely been forgotten or have become a complete afterthought throughout this decision making process, as well. The daily educational intervention and therapies these children depend on to progress have vanished. The schedule and structure at the core of their ability to thrive has been removed and seems to not be of concern to anyone but the parents, who continue to watch them regress and fall further behind. Their health matters also and they too deserve a seat at the table but they also have been left standing.
Teachers, I do not envy your position. I have many friends whom are teachers and most want to get back to the classroom. If you are uncomfortable returning, you should absolutely have the choice not to and the only person making that decision should be you. It seems an effective solution would be for teachers wanting to return to the classroom to teach the students also wishing to return and the teachers choosing not to return to handle online learning for the students remaining home. I am unsure why this logical approach has never been offered. Recently, the teacher’s union has discussed the possibility of a “Safety Strike” for teachers. Educators have been undervalued and underpaid for years and to be frank, your safety has been jeopardized long before this pandemic. I do not recall the Teachers’ Union threatening a strike as the violence against teachers from students has continued to increase inside schools in past years, while also being largely ignored. In fact, many times those students are allowed to return to the same classroom with the very teacher they have assaulted. Why was your health and safety not made a top priority in the past? If the Teachers’ Union is requiring strict safety measures to prevent infection, what safety measures are they requiring to protect teachers from suffering from verbal and physical assaults while on the job? Physical safety is not just a matter of protecting from infection, it is an inclusive term requiring more than one protection and you should be demanding it, in its entirety.
The safety and health of the grocery store worker checking me out since March and the millions of other essential workers that have continued to work throughout this pandemic to collect a paycheck are also of importance. Unfortunately, I have not witnessed a similar public outcry. The risk to these workers and their families exists also. The risk is present for anyone working outside their home right now. It is a risk that will not be disappearing anytime soon. It isn’t fair, it is simply the current world we live in and will be living in for the foreseeable future. Exactly when would it be deemed safe for schools to reopen?
My county does not have a casino, however, the city and county that border mine do. They have both announced that schools will continue online instruction through January, yet their casinos remain open for business. We need to ask ourselves if our leaders genuinely have the best interest of our children at heart when it is deemed important for a gambler to have a casino to gamble in and our children are not afforded a school to learn in. Couldn’t gamblers have the same experience through “remote gambling”? We must ask questions and demand answers when the rules are contradictory and are not applied across the board. We cannot tolerate a haphazard approach applied out of political convenience.
With so much conflicting information every day, one thing is for certain – not one of us knows, with certainty, what the right answer will be. Not one of us. Not me, not you, not the politicians, not the school board nor the doctors with conflicting opinions. I have questions, a lot of them. The majority of them remain unanswered. My hope is we never stop asking questions and demanding answers even when it threatens the validity of what we thought to be true. As parents, we all have the common goal of simply wanting the best for our children. Our goal is the same and there should never be sides, just varying paths of travel.
May we always be mindful of our common desire and never be willing to block or sacrifice another person’s path, just so we may comfortably walk our own.

Parenting Grace

An edited version of our family’s story about international plane travel, was shared on the TODAY Show media channels over the past few days. The unedited version can be found here.

In true internet fashion, the opinions were abundant, both positive and negative.  Many had been in a similar experience, but many clearly had not and felt the need to call me “selfish” for traveling with my youngest, that I obviously did not know how to parent and my favorite “I needed to set clear expectations for him.” After 3 boys, I practically have a PhD in setting expectations and handing out punishments.

What they did not know was this trip had been planned for months, before the first flight. We were traveling for my children to meet my husband’s family and see where their father had grown up as a child. Fortunately, I was born with thick Irish skin toughened by years of victories and failures. It still may be unable to withstand sunlight without being lathered in SPF 70, but after 15 years of being a mom, it has become a shield for parenting opinions and criticism to roll off of.

The irony is the original article had two paragraphs which discussed not passing judgment on fellow parents and maybe choosing to replace it by offering grace instead. It costs absolutely nothing to extend grace to another person and at the same time, may mean everything to the person it is being offered to. It is certainly something that we could use a lot more of in the world.

I am a mom to 3 boys. I have 3 extremely different and unique sons. In all honesty, my oldest was so easy to parent from the start, it resulted in my own arrogance for a time.  It is the reason I continued to have more children. My second proved to be a little more difficult and was completely different then my first and my youngest; I imagine God either saw me floating around in all my parenting arrogance and decided it was time to serve up a slice of humble pie, or knew I was going to be in need of some serious parenting experience under my belt, before parenting him. “Yup, she’s ready. Let’s put her skills to the test and send in number 3. Better yet, take it up a notch and make him willful and stubborn.”
I received more unsolicited opinions and parenting advice during his toddler years, than his older brothers combined. Most of the strategies and parenting tricks I had used previously to raise his two compliant and rule following brothers, simply did not work. The advice being offered was always connected by the same theme – I must be doing something wrong.
Parenting is like running a relay marathon. We all have the same goal to get to the end, but we may not all be running the same leg of the course to the finish line. Each of us has strengths and each parent may stumble and struggle at different times. It isn’t always an indication that we are doing anything wrong, it may just mean that some of us are stuck running the uphill portion while others are able to easily pace on the flat land of the course. Even in an individually ran marathon, the person crossing the finish line last has worked just as hard as the runner who finished first, many times even harder.
Imagine if we approached racers running a marathon the same way mothers are approached and sometimes attacked concerning their parenting abilities. If the spectators spread along the race course offered criticism, judgment and opinions to the struggling runners ready to quit. “YOU ALREADY HAVE A CRAMP!?! YOU MUST NOT BE RUNNING RIGHT!!”… “YOU NEED A WATER BREAK ALREADY!?! I NEVER NEEDED A WATER BREAK THIS EARLY!! YOU OBVIOUSLY DIDN’T SET CLEAR HYDRATING EXPECTATIONS!!”…”WHY ARE YOU RUNNING SO SLOW!?! YOUR RUNNING IS INTERFERING WITH THE PACE OF THE OTHER RUNNERS!!… YOU CLEARLY NEED NEW SHOES! KNEES TO CHEST, MARY!”
Spectators are strategically placed along a marathon course to serve as a constant cheer-leading section for all the runners brave enough to attempt such a daunting task. They are there to give them a nudge when they feel like giving up. They are there to encourage the runner running up hill they are almost to the leg of the race that is downhill. They are there to say to the one trailing behind, we see you and we are proud of your effort, keep pushing. And sometimes, when a runner has given everything and collapses before crossing the finishing line, a fellow runner, in recognizing the effort, has even abandoned their own goal to carry them to the finish line.
What if we applied this same marathon strategy to parents? When we see a parent stuck running up hill, we replaced opinions and judgment with grace. Grace costs absolutely nothing to offer, yet may mean everything to the person it is being offered to. When we see another parent losing steam and falling behind, we chose to slow our pace and run alongside them. When they are on the verge of collapse and ready to give up, we abandon our own arrogance, offer a kind smile and a back for them to hop on should they need a little help to the finish line.
I have learned more parenting my youngest son than any of my children. At times, it is a battle of our wills and stubbornness. He has exposed my control issues and forced me to allow him the room to be his own person. The most difficult aspects of his personality to parent, are the exact traits that will lead to his greatness. He was born to lead, not to be lead. Even though he was surrounded from birth by two brothers calling me Mom, he chose to call me “Shan”, until he was just about 3 years old. I have accepted that he will always live life on his own terms and will never be easily defeated. He is not easy to parent, but I take pride in the fact that we are willing to learn alongside him and will continue to nurture the person he is meant to be. He is extremely charismatic and I pray each day he will understand the power included with that characteristic and use it to change the world for the better.
The results of our parenting efforts are not always immediately visible. We catch a glimpse now and again, but often a lot of our hard work isn’t obvious until our children are much older and begin interacting with the world independently.
Unfortunately, many continue to assume that a willful child who may take a little longer to understand their emotions and boundaries is a direct result of a lack of parenting. However, in many cases those parents are working twice as hard. Believe me, I have been on each side. I am lucky enough to have had the opportunity to parent two children with fairly easy going personalities first. I am also lucky enough to be humbled by a head strong, independent little wild card, so when I see another mom struggling I will never hesitate to say “I know it’s hard, I have been there. Keep pushing, you are almost done running uphill. Let me tie those laces for you. Better yet hop on, let me help you to the finish line.”
Two years later he was the mayor of the plane and was sure to fist pump the pilots as a thank you and tell them they were doing a great job.

Backyard Hindsight

Photograph Courtesy of Dawn Kearney Photography

Each spring, for years, my husband would throw grass seed in our backyard. As soon as the soft green spikes would begin to rise from the ground to make their presence known, they would disappear. His dream for a sea of backyard grass would be trampled by the feet of young boys and his hope would be quickly diminished by just one neighborhood wiffle ball game.

Defeated, he would begin grumbling about how the grass in our backyard would never recover and why we had the only yard with a homemade baseball diamond comprised of oddly shaped dirt base baths, yet with a perfectly round large pitcher’s mound in the center. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the boys would faithfully hose down and rake that pitcher’s mound when he wasn’t home, in preparation for the next game to be played. Instead, like a supportive wife, I would just yell helpful advice to him from our deck like, “NOW YOU KNOW WHAT I GO THROUGH INSIDE THE HOUSE!!! “YOU SAID YOU WANTED ALL BOYS!!!…REMEMBER, HONEY: IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME!”

And they did, for many summers.

Many times a day, I would find myself startled by a foul ball smacking me in the head as I relaxed on our deck or one drilling the side of our house causing the dog to bark and the baby to wake up. I would often open an empty refrigerator in our garage, after having just filled it with drinks the day before. I spent much time picking up the pieces of mangled wiffle balls left behind to become victims of our lawn mower.

The grass worn and the dirt spread, as the base paths grew larger and larger, signifying the start of base leading in little league. We were forced to replace the pickets on a neighbor’s fence every couple of weeks, as the home-run boundary moved further and further away. Right handed batters started batting left to add an additional challenge for each player. Until one day, the last game was played. The last strike was argued. The last home-run was hit. Bats were put away for one last time, even though a few wiffle balls still lay strewn across the yard, waiting for the next game that had always come.

No one knew it was the last time. Not the boys in the backyard, not the parents calling them home for dinner that day. It seemed almost overnight, the field had suddenly become too small, the game no longer challenging enough and the boyish voices I had listened to make bad calls all those summer days in the backyard, had now lowered several octaves.

One of the benefits of having a larger age gap between our older two boys and our youngest, is the benefit of hindsight. We are often reminded how quickly these “lasts” happen. We won’t receive a sign from a third base coach, warning us. There won’t be an announcer or a score board to let us know what inning we are playing in the game of their childhood. It serves as a reminder that if we aren’t paying careful attention, these lasts will wiz past us like a carefully placed fast ball on a batter, caught looking on a third strike. 

We all know the quote “the days are long, but the years are short”. I knew it would happen quickly but even still, I was caught looking. In my efforts to calm my husband down, I would often remind him that one day, very soon, we would look out from our kitchen window and find the most beautiful yard filled with luscious green grass, worthy enough to be the envy of any golf course. Our hearts though, would look out that same window and envy the old, dusty, dirt base paths and carefully crafted pitcher’s mound.

We have one little boy left in this house, our last. Now, when I look out from the kitchen window and see an empty yard with overgrown base paths, I try my best to enjoy him a little more. To listen and memorize the mispronounced words spoken in his little boy voice. To hold his hand that still fits neatly inside mine. I still forget, at times, but I think about the boys in our backyard and I am able to remember much more often.

Our youngest son was riding his little motorized 4 wheeler in our front yard the other day, while our older neighbor watched him from his porch. I use the term riding fairly loosely. It really is just my son pushing the gas while I run after him shouting, “PAY ATTENTION!” and “WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING!”, combined with the efforts of my hands quickly cutting the steering wheel, to prevent collisions and protecting our gardens.

He spotted our neighbor, left me in the dust and hightailed it through their lawn, dismounted his four wheeler and stomped through their garden to join my neighbor on his porch. I quickly scolded him and apologized to our neighbor for the fresh 4 wheeler tracks on his front yard and the 5 year old foot prints in his flower bed. He smiled, welcomed my son and said “Don’t ever worry about that. We raise children, not lawns.”

True words spoken from the father, in our neighborhood, with the most beautiful grass.

Lessons Learned from a Cabbage Patch Kid

When I was 4, I dreamed of having my very own Cabbage Patch Kid doll.  It was a fairly common dream in the minds of many little girls as the Christmas season approached, strategically stepping up the pressure on their parents a notch. It created what was known as the Cabbage Patch Craze in 1983, filled with determined parents attempting to shop and fulfill the desire of their little girls cradling a Cabbage Patch Kid doll on Christmas morning.
I had been sent a baby brother about a year before and I dreamed of cradling a little girl doll with flowing yellow yarn hair that resembled my own and a pink dress with lacy edges. I had wondered what assigned name would read on her cabbage patch birth certificate when I pulled it out of the yellow and green box with the clear window front. I thought about all the places she would go with me and all the fun we would have together. And on Christmas morning, I awoke to find a Cabbage Patch Kid waiting under my tree with mint green overalls, a white shirt, short brown hair and a boy name – Jeremiah.
In retrospect, it was probably one of the first, in a series of hints from the universe, indicating that I would be raising 3 boys, no daughters. It was also indicative of the kind of father I would have.
Children generally are not aware of the difficulties their parents may be experiencing, as they shouldn’t be. I didn’t know that Christmas morning my parents lived paycheck to paycheck and often worried how they would stretch money to make it through the month, let alone be able to afford to buy me a baby doll. I didn’t know that my father had woken up early one cold morning to wait in line, outside of a closed toy store before heading to a 12 hour shift at the shoe store he managed at the time. I didn’t know when the shoppers rushed the aisle, my dad arrived to an empty shelf and argued with another woman as she grabbed the last doll to be placed in a cart already packed with several dolls. I do know that he won that argument because I opened a Cabbage Patch Kid on Christmas morning in 1983.
I didn’t have a shiny new car with a big red bow on my 16thbirthday, but I did have car when I moved in with my Dad half way through my senior year of high school to prevent me from needing to change schools. I didn’t get to attend a fancy, out of state college, but I did attend a 4 year in-state college and graduated debt free, thanks to my Dad. He taught me the value was in the work put into the degree, not where it came from. I didn’t have chair covers at my wedding but it was a beautiful wedding graciously paid for by him and I had a dad whom I was proud to have stand beside me and walk me down the aisle that day.
I have a dad that taught me the importance of my independence as a woman. He made sure I was the first to graduate college in his family because he knew an education provided me options and prevented me from ever needing to stay in a bad marriage because of financial dependence. I have a dad that made sure I married a good man and would never be in a bad marriage by setting the expectations for how I should be treated by men and the type of a father to expect for my children. Who taught me to always trust my own instincts in life and to not require a confirmation from anyone else. Any request for his advice was and is always answered with “What do you think? Go with your gut.” Who never boasted or bragged about me to others, yet never let me question his pride and, at the same time, taught me to be humbled by that pride. I have a dad that taught me where my stubbornness originates, even if we both continue to refuse to admit it.
The outcome of our actions often does not reflect the heart of our efforts. My parents made many mistakes raising my brother and me, just as I have made many mistakes in raising my own children. However, it is in those same mistakes that I have learned the most valuable of life’s lessons. I gained the most insight not from what I had as a child, but what I didn’t have. It taught me the vast differences between need and want and the pride in earning will always outweigh the gratitude of being given something. Sometimes I forget this in raising my own children. We try our best to prevent any unhappiness in our children, often failing to realize the missed opportunities for learning when preventing their slightest discomfort.
The lessons of my childhood at times were obvious, but most didn’t come into focus until I saw them through adult eyes. I may not have had everything but I did always have a dad that tried and that was everything, even when it was a little boy Cabbage Patch Kid, named Jeremiah.

Dear Preschool Teacher

Dear Preschool Teacher,
They say “you never have a second chance to make a first impression”. I repeated these words over and over in my head, last summer, as the days passed and the countdown began toward the first day of school for our son.
We were worried. Worried his willful nature and impulsiveness would forever cast a shadow over the wonderful aspects of his personality during that first impression. Fearful, he would be the student you would secretly exhale with a sigh a relief when not hearing his voice call out “here”, during morning attendance.
When we entered this school year, in addition to our anxiety, we expected a preschool experience similar to the one living in our memories of our older boys. We expected he would learn his letters and numbers. We expected, with time, he would find his friends. We didn’t realize spending 5 mornings a week in your classroom would cause him to grow and mature more than any one of the 5 years since he entered this world. We certainly didn’t expect an unscheduled, premature end to the school year or the lost opportunity for a fitting goodbye to the last of our family’s little boy years, before our youngest heads to Kindergarten.
We never expected you would drive to our house to drop off schoolwork at our front door. We never expected the excitement we would witness on a little boy’s face as he waved from behind a glass door, while you stood in our driveway. We never dreamed that a pinwheel you personalized and left for him to enjoy, would be proudly displayed to our family and friends, while also keeping it safely beside him every day, even as he slept.
We believed we were seasoned parents with nothing left to learn, but very soon he exposed all the flaws quietly waiting amidst our arrogance. While we concerned about his progress and his weaknesses, you always chose to focus on his kind spirit and empathy. We never expected that you would always choose to see his heart first and his shortcomings second. We expected you would teach him how to change for the world, yet instead, you chose to the lay the groundwork and began teaching him how to change the world.
You not only taught our son, you taught us also.
You reminded us that learning happens every day, all around us and should not always be measured by traditional standards. You reminded us that learning happens differently for all children, at different times and just requires a little patience. To appreciate the sum of his combined traits because they each contribute to the total of his uniqueness. You never pushed him too far or too hard, you encouraged him by holding his hand and gently leading him in the right direction. You offered him grace in abundance and always waited patiently for him to join you, in his own time.
It is true, you never have a second chance to make a first impression. How grateful we will always be that his first impression of school included you as his teacher. How grateful we are that your lasting impression will now serve as the basis by which we will measure our expectations for all his future teachers. May they be willing to fill the big shoes you have left for them. 

Changes

I have hesitated to write about George Floyd and the current racial divide in our country. Not for fear, but because it seemed better suited as an opportunity for listening, rather than talking.

As I watch city by city in this country burn and crumble from within, I am reminded that not only do we have a portion of our population being marginalized, undervalued, attacked and killed, we have a portion of our population exploiting that very same pain.

I will never pretend to understand the anger and frustration of the black community. I refuse to pretend to relate to the fear any mother of a black son feels when her son leaves the house. I will not pretend that although I was born into a family lacking wealth, connections and power, I still may have had little to overcome in comparison to the obstacles experienced by many others.

I will also not pretend that one of the issues preventing change in this country isn’t accountability.

Accountability that bad cops, unfortunately, do exist and are too often given the benefit of the doubt until video surfaces. Accountability that good cops, with noble intentions, are met with misplaced anger and prejudice every shift of every day. Accountability that a black man’s pulse must rapidly increase when a siren sounds and lights flash from behind his car.

Accountability that the issues plaguing much of our inner city communities run deeper than overt racism and are much more systemic in nature. Accountability for the continued election of failed leadership in my city of Baltimore and also around the country. Accountability for the small crowd that gathered when a 7 year old little black girl was shot and killed while riding in the back seat of a car a few years ago. Accountability for the lack of media coverage when her 5 year old sister was shot just 4 months later, while playing in front of her house. Accountability for why our city did not erupt in protest for either of them.

Accountability that burning down businesses and neighborhoods only further marginalizes the communities being fought for. Anger and frustration are normal human emotions, destruction is never a solution and must not be tolerated nor excused, as it will never reach the ears it is aimed and will only confirm and validate current biases. If change is what is being sought, it is necessary to project your voice to those that stand in front of you, not just the ones standing beside you. Accountability for allowing groups instigating violence, to be combined with those peacefully protesting.

Accountability that although we all may have experienced discrimination at one time or another, some of us historically pay a much larger price.

Accountability that many white people do not consider themselves racist simply because their families were never slave owners and a quick social media post quoting Martin Luther King Jr or detailing their outrage is enough confirmation for many others.

Accountability as to why the last times my city received this much media attention was in April 2015 and when it was referred to as a shit hole. Accountability for the fact that our city has not only never recovered from those past riots, but has been on a steady decline ever since. Accountability for the change that never occurred.

Accountability for the ease with which we use our voices when we are reminded to by the news. Accountability for the muting of our voices when the news cycle changes, the cameras go home and the politicians are done taking photos. Accountability that the same voices crying out now for the protesters right to be heard, were some of the same voices attempting to silence different protesters a few weeks ago and vice versa. Constitutional rights should be supported at all times, not just when it is of political convenience for either side.

Accountability that we have never fought for change in the way truly needed. Accountability that change will never happen until the cameras are turned off, the fires extinguished and we each take a seat at the table to not only acknowledge, but accept responsibility for the past and present.

 I do not have a full proof solution to offer, but I have a pretty good idea where to start.

We can start by repairing the relationship between our police and those they have been tasked with serving and protecting before it becomes irreparable, which is quickly approaching. We can start by fighting for justice all the time, not just when we are told to by the media. We can start by recognizing the same fingers used to point at someone else, can also be pointed at our selves. We can start by removing the corruption that plagues many of our local, city governments and ask questions when our elected officials get richer and our schools do not have heat. We can start by not re-electing politicians that have already been caught stealing from the constituents they promised to help. We can start by electing representatives whose focus is to help the people, with a willingness to work hardest when no one is watching, not just when it is time for re-election. We can start by teaching those who need to learn, how to fish, instead of just throwing a fish to keep them quiet. We can start by not using every crisis as an opportunity for a political play.  We can start by understanding and accepting the multitude of factors that have contributed to our current state.

But if change is our goal, we must first start with accountability before we can start the process of healing.

The Petticoat Rulers

                                          Photograph – JHHSM Collection 1958. 0263.001
In the past few days, I have been bombarded with articles, videos and comments sections filled with attack, finger pointing and hurtful words. Unfortunately, this rage is hurled back and forth, in most cases, by women.
At the same time, I encountered several messages, in a writer’s group, from women scared to use their voices. Some of the fear linked to the vulnerability required when sharing your words with the public, but I fear that part of the apprehension is attributed to a concern in becoming victim to an attack from someone fulfilling the need to prove their rightness.
It is reminiscent of the mass hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials, except witches have been replaced with opinions and pitch forks replaced with keyboards. We allow ourselves, as women, to become further divided by an invisible barrier. Eventually, we will find ourselves surrounded by wall after wall until, finally, we will each stand in solitary silence.
We continue to blare the sound of why we are right, instead of listening to the reasons we might be wrong and, in the process, censor the voices that could possibly offer insight due to their fear of being forced to a side.
The scariest part, some of our most objective and positive voices are being muted. When we, as women, begin silencing each other, we are undoing all of the hard work endured by those before us to allow the opportunity for our voices to be heard. Remember, there is room for everyone’s voice in the choir, we just need be sure we do not drown one another out. 
We have become deaf to the world of possibility. The possibility we could be wrong, the possibility we all lead very different lives, the possibility someone else’s opinion can still be valid even if doesn’t align with our own, the possibility that support doesn’t necessarily equal agreement and the possibility that our voices become more powerful when they blend together.
Angry voices have evoked change in the past, but more often than not, we lose our listener when anger turns to rage. I am not referring to angry voices demanding change, I am referring to rageful voices demanding to be recognized as right. When we become too arrogant to admit there is a chance, however slight, that we could be wrong, we lose the ability to communicate and, unfortunately, it seems this is the path many are currently traveling.
I continue to remain hopeful and hope, for me, came in the form of a small article shared by the female voices of one of my favorite families. An article about the Petticoat Rulers, a group of women who ran and won for Mayor and Council in a little town called Jackson, Wyoming in May of 1920, shortly after the Spanish flu pandemic. The women had won an election, in spite of the fact they had not yet been granted the right to vote by the government. A group of women had won and promptly appointed women to hold other municipal positions. Three months into their term, the 19th amendment was passed. In 1922, when asked about their assistance in proving that women could not only hold political opinions, but were capable as effective leaders, Mayor Grace Miller replied “We simply tried to work together.”
Nearly 100 years later, I believe we still have much to learn from those words.

XVI

I don’t remember the first time someone pointed out my astrological sign. I always found it presumptuous that a person would claim to understand anyone based simply on a day of the year they had entered the world. Maybe it’s the fact I was given a sign with the connotation of ravaging bodies and killing people, or that of all God’s creatures, my assigned symbolic spirit animal is the crab, a sideways walking crustacean. 

Cancer is the dimmest of all the zodiac constellations. It isn’t as easy to see like all the rest. It’s light takes time and careful patience to catch a glimpse of in any night sky and is not visible to the naked eye from most urban cities.

Crabs continue to form a new shell when they grow; except the female crabs, they stop growing when they reach sexual maturity. The male crabs are allowed an infinite amount of growth. They are allowed to get bigger, stronger and nature just keeps providing them with a new, larger shell. It is not that the male crabs have told the female crabs not to grow. For whatever reason, the ocean has told them they are done growing and they are expected to stick with the same shell for the duration of their lives.

At times, marriage can begin to feel like the world is requiring you to stay in the same shell. That your light has been dimmed by the shadows of motherhood. Endless days of jobs, kids activities, bill paying, errands… It is unavoidable and the monotony and mundane activity of each day can start to allow restlessness to set in. Maybe this feeling is just the soft whispering of life telling us it is time to grow so we may comfortably fit into our new shell. We have learned and mastered the lessons of those days and now is the time, as a couple, for learning new lessons and new growth. To enter a different stage, together.

My husband and I celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary today. 16 years of high tides and low tides. 16 years of growing and protecting one another’s soft exterior while awaiting our new shells to harden. That is what marriage is about, allowing each other the space to continue to grow and patiently awaiting for that growth to happen. Growth makes everything stronger. Most living things struggle to survive when their growth is stunted and marriage is no exception. 

Not accepting the lessons in the mistakes you have made as a couple, will almost always guarantee the weakening of anyone’s shell. We have made plenty of mistakes. We have yelled, we have bickered and we have remained silent, at times. I have always wondered who came up with the rule “never go to bed angry”.  Nothing can bring reflection and fresh perspective like a good night’s sleep and the light from a new day. We try our best though, to not repeat the same mistakes. Like the words of one of my favorite writers, Maya Angelou “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, you do better”

We are not successful at this all of the time. My husband still has yet to learn the lesson of not leaving all of his personal items spread out on our bathroom sink every day. I still have hope one day he will absorb this lesson and “do better”, before we enter a retirement home. For now, I try to love him for the man that he is, not a man that puts away his deodorant, shaving cream, floss, and aftershave. The same way he still loves me and all of the blonde hair he finds daily in his brush.

I do not have the secret to a lasting marriage. Just like the ocean, it can be scary and unpredictable and other times, calm and steady.  What I do know, is that my husband and I are at our strongest when life gets rough and choppy. When the storm brings the tide waters crashing into our house, we do not wait and watch it flood our lives. We start shoveling sand, bagging and building a wall together. When that water finally recedes, we always find we have not only grown; but have found a deeper bond between us; the way the best seashells present themselves on the shoreline following a bad storm.  

Upon first meeting my husband, one of his first questions was my birthday. When I told him the date, he replied “Ah, you’re a cancer. That’s the best sign. I am a cancer too.”

Thank you for walking with me on gray beaches, when you prefer the contrast of black and white.  For teaching our children the truest meaning of the word father. For sacrificing so we would never find ourselves needing to. For always having the patience to see my light, even when it is at its dimmest. For pinching me, when I deserve it and for always handing me a new shell and reminding me to grow. 


There is no one else I would rather crawl sideways through life with. 

Harmonizing

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous when hitting publish on my last post. With the current climate in this country, expressing your feelings concerning any politics seems to almost guarantee emotional backlash. I asked for my husband’s opinion beforehand, not because I needed the approval but more for the nudge, since he is much more publicly vocal than I am.

Unfortunately, it seems, we have reached a point where we have lost the ability to listen to points of view differing from our own and this is a really scary place to have arrived. We search for things to keep our selves divided, rather than taking the time to find the parts we share. I have yet to meet a person I have been unable to connect with, even if the commonalities are minimal; but we miss those connections more often than not, while browsing in search of the pieces that do not fit.
The voices that do not harmonize perfectly with mine, are the voices that can sing a powerful song and give me the most to think about and we need to be careful not to drown one another out. We are all allowed to have a voice in the choir, but the loudest voices are sometimes the most difficult for me to hear. I tend to tune those out, the way my kids tune me out when I am angry cleaning. My ears respond better to the softer melodies, like most people. The most brilliant musicians were inspired by all genres of music and play many different instruments, not just one.
Somewhere along the line, we all started to believe this notion that if we did not agree on every thought, belief or political ideology, than we should stand across from each other, on opposite sides.
My husband and I usually can’t even agree on what to watch on TV, let alone the meaning of life, yet somehow we find a way to stay married and raise a family.

I have never fit neatly into one box and, honestly, I don’t ever plan to. Most of our beliefs change and evolve over time, either succumb to or grow from the wisdom of our individual experiences throughout life. To continue to fit in one place would only stunt any growth and I plan to continue to grow for as long as I continue to breath. I would be okay, though, if my thighs weren’t copied on that memo.

We do not need to pick a side, there is not always a right or wrong. I have sat on the fences of both sides and realized long ago that I am able to balance myself much better when keeping one foot planted inside each. We may never have the opportunity to walk in each other’s shoes, but we sure as hell can listen to the story about the trip, believe it and try to understand it. One person’s path doesn’t erase our own, it confirms that there will always be more than one way to travel. We can take different routes and still arrive at the same place, if we are willing.

But my voice, my voice is just as important as anyone else’s, even when it sings out of key for some ears. No one will ever be able to hear me if I just continue to lip synch. All are welcome to sing along or to stop to listen. Just don’t change the channel until the song is over or you may miss out on singing the words you know.

Political Chess Match

I try my best to not involve myself in political banter, especially on social media, but today marks the third day in a row that I have read an article of yet another restaurant closing its doors in this state. This does not even include the small “Ma and Pa” shops that will never reopen their doors, deemed not newsworthy enough to grace the pages of our local newspaper. The name of the newspaper may change, but the story reads the same across the country. Minute by minute, we are losing small businesses at an alarming rate. For many of us we are left wondering not if, but rather when we will be next.
“We are all in this together” has become the slogan of Covid-19. Business owners are accused of being selfish or putting money before lives simply because they want to salvage what is left, certainly doesn’t ring the sound of togetherness. It is a very easy task to agree with the forcible shutdown of businesses and the economy when you continue to receive a paycheck and I have a feeling many opinions would shift, if required to forego their entire income for 8 weeks with no possible end in sight.
However, this would require empathy within all of this togetherness. The act of understanding another person’s experience and situation may be very different from your own. Compassion for families wanting to keep what they have sacrificed and worked hard to build, for years. Grace for these same families, as they only ask for the opportunity to attempt to rescue what little is left from their livelihoods. We all value human life, but starvation kills just as easily as illness and it seems many have forgotten the effects of famine on the human body and spirit. This is not about money, it is about survival.
My husband and I, we are some of the fortunate ones. If our income was currently measured by the heart and support of our loyal customers, soccer and baseball families, friends and community, we would be millionaires at the end of all of this. While our business has received continued support in its limited working capacity, it is not a sustainable business model. We can only accomplish so much with our table and chairs empty inside. The mortality rate of small businesses will far exceed the mortality rate for this disease. These lives deserve your consideration also.
We understand the effects of death on a family. We mourn the loss of anyone that has fallen to this virus, but we cannot run for the rest of our lives. When will it ever be enough? Wouldn’t it be possible to balance this equation by allowing those vulnerable to remain at home and those in desperate need of providing for their families the opportunity to do so? I posed this question once to a woman who said she feared going to work because her mother and husband were immune compromised and she would be afraid to bring illness back to her home. She would lose her job if her employer opened and she did not return. In other words, I am to continue sacrificing my income so you won’t need to lose yours? Doesn’t really sound like “we are all in this together”.
In March we were told by our Governor that we needed to take one for the team, close down for 2 weeks so our healthcare system was not overwhelmed. This announcement happened to come the day before our busiest day of the year. No problem, we knew we would never recoup that money, but we were willing to do what was being asked of us. Then, an additional 2 weeks was to allow for hospitals to be fully prepared with proper PPE, equipment, testing… Next, a couple more weeks because we needed to see 2 weeks of downward trends in hospitalizations and ICU admittance. Now, when a check mark sits beside each of these, the Governor transfers the decision to county leaders. Our County Executive releases a statement that we still need PPE, equipment and increased testing capabilities before we can even begin to enter Phase 1, directly following the Governor’s announcement that the state now has enough of all of this.
So which one is it fellas? Do we have enough or do we not enough? Where are the 500,000 tests that we overpaid for? Do we need to have hospitalizations decrease over a 2 week period to reopen or not? If you cannot test enough people, how do you know the true number of people that have already been infected and recovered? Where are those antibody tests? Might be helpful to know how many people you are illegally forcing to stay home that are not in danger of becoming ill or infecting anyone else.
There are dangers all around us, every day; but we find a way to work together to minimize the effects. We do not split up, run in different directions and hide. This has never been an effective solution in the past and certainly isn’t one now. Despite pool drowning deaths, I never kept my children from ever entering a pool. Instead, I explained the dangers and taught them to swim.
I will no longer allow my family to be used as a pawn in your political chess match, and that is exactly what this has turned into. I, along with many other citizens, are no longer willing to move around the board to keep the King safe. You were elected as a public servant. To serve, protect and hold the best interests of ALL those you govern. I urge you to re-read those words carefully and be sure this is your only concern when developing an approach to reopen. There is no reason to sacrifice any of your pieces. We are all important to the success of our state, counties and communities. It is becoming clearer every day that the basis of these decisions are fueled more from political agendas and less from the needs and well-being of those who trusted you to objectively hold your office. Remember, the king is only as valuable as all the pieces willing to move to protect him.
Checkmate

Find your Elephants


                                                      CREDIT: BIG LIFE FOUNDATION PHOTO/NICK BRAND
 
While yelling at my kids the other day to get off electronics and find something productive to do, I came across a video during my 37th scroll of Facebook. The video was of a honey bee whom had accidentally fallen and was covered in honey.

When the beekeeper placed the bee at the entrance of the hive, the other worker bees immediately began cleaning their friend without hesitation. Each took a section and went to work. One cleaned the face, two worked on the wings and another started cleaning the body until the bee was back to normal and could fly again.

As someone born lacking coordination, I was intrigued by these honey bees and their willingness to help a clumsy friend. I thought to myself what a great metaphor for the type of friendships we should all have. This led to an hour long reading session about honey bees. It turns out honey bees haven’t caught on to the idea of democracy, are tricked into submission by the queen bee and in all honesty, a little shady. Basically, they play a game of eeny, meeny, miny, moe to find a leader, feed some royal jelly to the winning egg and poof a queen bee is born. The queen bee rises to power, without qualifications and having never even submitted a resume. She immediately starts casting some type of hormone spell to keep the worker bees in line, which also happens to make them infertile. When her hormone powers start declining, they kick her to the curb and make a new queen.  I have come across a few honey bee friends over the years, definitely not the kind of friends a girl wants around.

You’re not going to be for everyone and everyone is not going to be for you. It took me a long time to understand and embrace this concept but it is a very important one.

I yelled up to my kids to make sure they weren’t wasting their time on electronics and settled in for another hour, on my phone, searching the social hierarchy of the animal kingdom. Low and behold, I found my metaphorical posse.
 
The elephants.
 
Elephant parades are comprised of female members. They have a matriarch but she is not self-appointed, voted in or haphazardly chosen. The parade members push her into leadership because she is respected for her wisdom and knowledge. She has proven overtime that she can be trusted to make wise decisions. Like any strong leader, she is always accepting of suggestions from parade members, even from the youngest elephants. Each member has a unique personality that contributes to the protection and success of the parade. They cooperate and work together for survival. This includes anything from providing defense to protect the group from danger, to sharing responsibility in caring for any or all young calves of the group. Elephants grieve when a parade member dies and have the capacity for empathy. They also remember and recognize one another upon being reunited, after living apart for long periods of time.
 
If there is one thing I am sure of, it is the importance of strong friendships. Just like the elephants, my parade is filled with an eclectic group of women. Some are family, some I share a name with, many are friendships that were formed long ago but we still recognize our connections when we reunite. One even attends drive-thru confession during quarantine and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t planning to drop her name when I arrive to the pearly gates. I’m sorry God, could you check that list again? SH is part of my parade, she attended drive thru confession during quarantine.”  I have never attended confession but if I can confess my sins the same way I order a cheeseburger, I may be willing to give it a try one day.
 
They are as different and unique as night and day, but like night and day, they compliment each other perfectly. They deserve to be celebrated when their suns rise and when their suns set. I have always believed that each person is born with a gift or an insight to be shared with the world. Sometimes that gift takes patience and trust before it can be revealed. Just like the time it takes for the wisdom and trust of an elephant matriarch to be proven before she begins her leadership.
 
It is said “everyone has a friend during each stage of life but only lucky ones have the same friend in all stages in life”. Of all my parade members, there is one that has spent more time standing inside, than outside of it. We may have even spent some time together in a hive, hanging with some honey bees. For whatever reason, a sister was not in the cards for me but instead, I was sent a soul sister.
 
A phone call to my soul sister in the middle of the night, on any night would be answered with “Do I need to bring a shovel or a bottle of wine” and I would reply “For Christ’s sake soul sister, what kind of person do you think I am? I would never run out of wine. Get over here and bring a damn shovel”. She would show up in minutes with a shovel and an alibi.
 
My soul sister and I share in an ability to make inappropriate jokes during uncomfortable situations and we both share in the pain hiding just beneath that coping mechanism. A person willing to stand with you to watch your sun rise but also stick around after it sets. Sharing pain is the most selfless act of any friend. Finding one that can also make you laugh while you endure it, is a friendship you never loosen your grip from.
 
Wherever life takes you, be sure to find your parade. Fill it with people willing to protect you, provide support and make you laugh through the tough times. If you are lucky enough to find one, be sure to include a kindred spirit with a willingness to help dig a grave in a moment’s notice, without asking any questions.
 
But please, for the love of God, stay away from the damn honey bees.

 

 

 

Quarantine Grocery Shopping

One of my favorite authors is Glennon Doyle and for years she has repeated the mantra “We Can Do Hard Things”. Lovely, isn’t it? In fact, so lovely, I have not only embraced it but actually believed that I could do hard things. Unfortunately, it seems hard things may not be the area I need guidance and assistance these days. Apparently, during quarantine life, I cannot do easy things.

I took a highly anticipated trip to the grocery store yesterday. The kids had cleared out most of the snacks several days ago and, although a plumber’s nightmare, flush-able wipes were also at a seriously low level. Both bring on a crisis of ridiculous proportions to the male occupants of this house.

Aside from my inability to remember reusable bags and coupons for nearly every shopping trip in the past 10 years, I would classify myself as an expert level grocery shopper. Not only can I carry a ridiculous amount of bags from my car to my kitchen in one trip, I am as fast and efficient as any top contestant on an episode of Super Market Sweep shopping through the aisles. Until yesterday, this had always served me well.

I was so excited at the prospect of leaving the house, I not only showered, but washed my hair and put on my fancy work out clothes. They have never really seen the inside of a gym and dashing through the grocery store is about the most exercise they will ever get to see. I vetoed makeup not only because it would fracture my exercise image, but it also causes extreme suspicion from my kids when I wear makeup or jeans and now is not the time to add any additional stress to their lives.

My jolly mood marched on as I pulled up and scored one of only four normal sized parking spots this grocery store offers. Ever tried parking a Suburban in a spot built for a Prius? It ain’t easy and I have, more than once, had to climb into my car from the passenger side at this specific store after being pinned in by an actual, Prius.

I had even picked a fully functional grocery cart on my first try, which was CRAZY!  I really believed this was the equivalent of locating the holy grail. You could search for it knowing that you would probably never find it and just needed to have faith that it actually existed. I usually spend at least 5 minutes trying out carts before giving up, grabbing the one with the least jacked up wheel and then cursing at it under my breath for the next hour. Never had I located one that not only made right and left hand turns equally, but also had the ability to be pushed straight with ease and didn’t emit a sound like I was dragging a half dead bird through the store.

Upon entering, I thought to myself damn, when did grocery stores start playing such good music. I sang along to Coldplay and shimmied through the produce aisles. I will admit, even with the sweet sound of Chris Martin serenading, things seemed a bit tense. A few people quickly hurried away as I was exiting aisles they were attempting to enter. An elderly couple gave me a questionable glance as I carefully bagged the one and only banana bunch to have touched my man hand fingertips. I received a couple eye rolls as another customer and I almost collided carts. Not today Satan, not today, I thought. I understood the apprehension and grumpiness given the current state of affairs.

A few aisles in, another woman adorning rubber gloves, stared me down as I smiled and passed her and thought to myself, she must be admiring my fancy workout clothes. I gave her a pass concerning the fact she was ineffectively using rubber gloves, having half removed one to scroll through her phone while holding the phone with the other rubber gloved hand. I telepathically tried to send her where to purchase the outfit, while also mentally instructing her to still wash her hands and wipe her phone down when she got home.

After unsuccessfully finding hand sanitizer in aisle 13 for the sixth week in a row, I stopped at the pharmacy. The blooming trees had to led a daily question of is it Coronavirus or is it Allergies?  I waited my turn at the designated 6 foot safe location and casually perused the store. I noticed an arrow painted on the floor of the aisle I had just exited. An arrow, pointing in the opposite direction than I had just been heading.  A quick scan reveals that EVERY aisle in the store has a pointed arrow painted on the floor and 90% of them face the opposite direction I had chosen to travel.

After a little investigating, I quickly come to the conclusion that the produce aisle had been a complete free for all. Maybe it was my excitement as the driver of the holy grail cart but I darted around that section the way my youngest darts around a playground after I tell him it’s time to leave. Then it seemed while I had been on the right track heading down aisle 1, that success was short lived once I skipped aisle 2.  Ultimately leading to some type of unintended, rogue journey through the remainder of store. These people had been staring at me and avoiding me because I had spent the majority of my trip shopping like some lawless, quarantine bandit on a suicide mission while smiling and nodding at each person along the way.

I decided to finish strong as the finest, rule abiding shopper on this side of the Mississippi. I momentarily thought about referring to the compass app on my phone but remembered I was flying solo on this trip and my oldest son wasn’t here to actually find that app. Even still, I felt confident. I looked at the arrow, down the empty aisle and back again to double check the arrow’s direction. Took a deep breath, grabbed the handle on my faith cart and repeated to myself, You Can Do Hard Things.

Behind the Plane Ride

Lately, It seems as though every time I log on to social media, I am greeted by a video that has been posted and shared over and over. Some of these videos are harmless but more often than not, I find myself confronted with a recording of some poor soul in the midst of a really bad moment in their life. Specifically, I have seen quite a few “kids on an airplane” videos, ripe with opinion and shared with the intensity of a frat boy sharing a Girls Gone Wild video. It is reminiscent of a group photo where everyone is smiling except you because the camera clicked at the exact moment you felt the need to blink or talk. Yet, somehow, this photo makes the cut and is chosen to be posted (usually by a person who looks great). To add insult to injury, you are tagged in the photo ensuring the highlight of your inability to be photographed.

There is a show that has been on VH1 for years called Behind the Music. It details the journey of famous bands and musicians during their rise to fame and sometimes fall from grace. Showcasing the stories unfolding at the same time. If only the stars of those unflattering internet videos were given an opportunity to explain the unknowing stories behind their videos. Maybe they would be offered more grace and less judgment from behind a computer screen. We have all experienced bad days and how fortunate we are to be able to not have it captured by a cell phone, unsuspectingly recording us.

I like to refer to the following little anecdote as “Behind the Plane Ride”.

We had already taken this trip to Greece once before with my oldest when he was 18 months old. Honestly, we didn’t even bat an eye at the idea of traveling internationally with him. He rose to the occasion and was better behaved on the plane than I was. This was a different time though. While my ability to travel for 16 hours had hopefully improved, I had real concerns about our 3 year old.

You see, out of all three boys, the youngest is one that doesn’t exactly go with the flow. He is more of a swim against the current kind of kid.  He was born with a strong will and spirit, while also lacking a redirecting option. Even still, I remained naively optimistic.

Embracing my strong need for planning, I thought it would be a brilliant move to introduce him to the idea of being on a plane by taking a short flight a few months before the big trip. Since my husband could not get away from work, I decided to take a solo trip with all three boys to Myrtle Beach and visit my Dad and Stepmom for spring break. It is, literally, a 1 hour flight and I felt confident that I could handle anything that could possibly be thrown at me for 60 minutes. I was prepared…heading into war prepared.  In addition I had two soldiers with me, my older two boys.  Everything was moving along smoothly, until we sat down in our assigned seats and the crying began. Screaming may be a little more accurate. Screaming, in row 12 – seat B, as if he was injured and lying on a civil war battlefield with only a shot of whiskey as I amputated a limb.

My older son who was seated in the row in front of us, promptly put his earbuds in, did not make eye contact the duration of the flight and acted as if he had no idea who we were. My middle son who was seated in the row with my youngest and me, looked on in horror as the color quickly drained from his face. The rest of the passengers, although very kind in their offers of candy and help, quickly retreated to their seats in defeat. The screaming and crying continued for about 30 minutes until the plane took off, at which point he fell asleep. Unfortunately, the relief was short lived and he immediately picked up where he had left off with about 15 minutes left in our flight. Upon landing, I sent my Dad a photo I had snapped during his performance intermission, with the message “I am going to need a drink and please, make it strong.”

As we stood up to exit, I quickly announced to the plane “If anyone would like to travel with us again, we head back to Baltimore on Saturday”. They chuckled, I cringed without acknowledging my keen ability to make jokes in uncomfortable situations.

This is the exact story I relayed to my husband, in addition to voicing my concerns. I kind of got the feeling he thought I was exaggerating the situation. That is, until we entered the plane headed to Greece a few months later.

Imagine you have a friend that keeps asking you to get on the tallest, fastest roller coaster that exists. You have already taken a ride on this roller coaster. You’re sure it is a bad idea. You know the friend may never recover from the terror but the friend keeps insisting that there isn’t a roller coaster out there that could be that scary. “Let’s do it” you say and ride the roller coaster, against your better judgment. Just as you inch to the top, you’re frightened but also a little giddy at the idea of watching your friend become paralyzed with fear while at the same time realizing that you were right. When the ride ends and comes to a halt, you promptly look over and tell your friend, as they vomit, ” I told you so”. Now, imagine that ride lasts 8 hours, takes place overnight and everyone else on the ride wants to punch you in the face, specifically one French lady seated behind you. That was our plane ride to Greece.

We sat on the runway for a good hour, lengthening the duration of combat time spent on this battlefield. My husband’s expression appeared similar to how I picture his face if we were, together, in the middle of a desert, water less and my head was on fire. My oldest followed his fool proof method of acting like he had never met us before and our middle son followed his lead this time. I was sure that if we could just get in the air, he would fall asleep and victory awaited us. In addition, I had prayed to god for his mercy and given him a dose of children’s Melatonin before we boarded. Before I receive some sort of backlash for giving Melatonin to a 3 year old, I consulted our pediatrician beforehand and suspect had she been traveling on our flight, she would have chosen to prescribe a Quaalude instead.

In between screams, passengers kept throwing lollipops to me like I was some type of amateur mother, with a juggling knack, who would board an international flight without a backpack full of candy, toys and activities. I felt their pain and the flight attendants on AirFrance felt mine. They were so kind, understanding and helpful. I highly recommend flying with them if you have an uncooperative, feral-like family member. The French lady seated behind me…. not so much. I ignored her as she rolled her eyes while huffing and puffing after each one of my failed attempts to console him. I understood that this was a difficult situation, but being a jerk wasn’t helping and certainly wasn’t changing a 3 year old’s position about not wanting to be on a plane.

At last, we take off and just as I had suspected the little one falls asleep, albeit with 90% of his body sprawled across my lap and chest. Looking back, I should have been willing to hold a plank with him sleeping on my back for the 7 hour flight, if it ended any sound exiting his lips. I don’t know whether it was the scoliosis in my back or the feeling like I had just gone 12 rounds in a boxing ring, but in any case, I decided that 2 inches of recline could possibly provide me with some comfort and relief for the remainder of the overnight flight. It just so happens that, unbeknownst to me, mon amie was attempting to get up from behind at the exact time I had chosen to recline. I call it Karma. She chose the term “bunch of animals” in French, which I understood crystal clear from studying French in high school and college.

I spent 30 unsuccessful seconds attempting to conjugate French verbs before abandoning my efforts for English and yelled out “I am not an animal, lady, you’re an animal!” At which point my husband, who was seated in front of me, turned around in horror and asked what the hell I was doing. I explained the situation, strategically increasing my volume when confirming that “I understand French” all while staring her down as she stood in line for the WC. This may in fact have served as the metaphorical point on the roller coaster ride where my husband realizes I was right.

I spent the rest of the flight silently scolding myself for not brushing up on my conversational French at some point, over the past 15 years. Pondering how a French lady could possibly dislike a woman that loves Brie and wine as much as I do but as they say in France, C’est la vie!

What I can tell you from this trip is, if I am ever seated behind you on the other side of the same experience, feel free to recline that seat all the way back, sister. Need a drink? I got you. Want me to start a collaborative, passenger rendition of Joy to the World by Three Dog Night to drown out your child’s cries? I am on it, because Jeremiah isn’t my only friend. Anyone in your position is also a friend of mine. And if by chance someone so much as looks like they may grab a phone to record your agony, I will knock that bad boy out of their hand with the warrior mastery of a Feudal Japanese Ninja. I got you, weary traveler.

Because sometimes you must walk through the dark to get to the light, even if that light is dim and  far away, looking down from the window of an airplane.

DPW – Part 5

I gave Rudy a deadline of 48 hours to respond. He missed it, leading to another email…

Dear Mr. Rudolph Chow,
Remember that time I sent you an email about being overcharged and you sent me one back apologizing and said it was corrected and would never happen again? Yeah, me neither, so here I am again.


I have been checking my email for two days now, anxiously awaiting your response. Unfortunately, I have received nothing but an inbox full of spam. In the past, I have given you guys a ton of leeway and made excuses when I haven’t received a reply… maybe they’re on vacation, it’s cold and water mains are exploding, it’s flu season… but not anymore. 

Look Chow, I don’t take kindly to continually being ignored. You are going to force me to have to come down to the city with the youngest in tow and if I am being completely honest, the kid is kind of a wild card, Rudy. He has also spent the majority of his life witnessing his mother battle “the water company” and his opinion of you guys is in the toilet. I am just giving you fair warning that his behavior, at times, is not what one would call conducive to a productive work environment and let’s face it, Rudy, you guys certainly don’t need any additional distractions, if you know what I mean.

In addition to reading the many articles concerning the gigantic mess you have with the the aging infrastructure and erroneous billing system, I have also kept fairly up to date with the soaring crime rate Baltimore CIty has been experiencing. Your offices have the convenient location of being smack dab in the middle of Baltimore and with limited parking, I am sure. 

Now, I have never personally experienced hostile gun fire but I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that dodging bullets to get to your office is probably going to prove much more difficult while shielding a 3 year old. It also means that I will be forced to take the day off from doing laundry, in my High Efficiency washing machine, of course (wink, wink). I am not sure if you are familiar with the amount of laundry 3 boys can produce, but let me tell you, it ain’t pretty. Why would you want me to have to go through all of that, Rudy? When you have all the information you need at your fingertips? 

It is fairly simple, I need my water meter fixed or replaced immediately and when I say immediately… I mean, like, this week. Not when the youngest heads to kindergarten. I need a credit, once again, issued to my account for the erroneous meter reading from this last billing quarter. If any of this is confusing, I believe it is what is referred to in business circles as “customer service” and “a refund”. Let me know if you need further clarification on these terms. I am fully aware that these duties may not necessarily fall under your job description but remember, we lead by example, Rudy and there is no “I” in team, so get her done.

Respectfully yours,
Shannon Armenis

P.S. It seems I need some type of access code to log into my account on your customer portal that I do not have. Apparently, it is sent on your very first bill, which, in hindsight, I should have saved 5 years ago but you live and learn, Rudy. If you could be a dear and get that to me, I would sincerely appreciate it.


Either Rudy felt my pain or realized that I was bat shit crazy because a few hours after hitting the send button, I received a phone call from a Supervisor at DPW. She informed me that my emails were forwarded to her to handle and that SHE was my contact moving forward, not Mr. Chow. She was not only able to make all necessary credits to my account but also arranged for my meter to be replaced. She was pleasant, efficient, followed up consistently and my water bill has been correct ever since. 

Straight to the Top – DPW Part 4

After the last email, Robenia either quit her job or went into the Witness Protection Program because I never did hear from her again. However, I am not only competitive but do not give up that easily. So I accepted the challenge and after a little research found the email of Rudolph Chow, the Director of the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works, at the time. He quietly resigned a few months ago after it was found that some high end condominium complex in Baltimore had not been billed for water in 10 years and owed the DPW millions of dollars. 

March 5th, 2018

Dear Mr. Rudolph Chow,
I have included, for your reading pleasure, a detailed account of my experience with your Department of Public of Works, as well as, email correspondence concerning continuous billing errors with my residential property located in Baltimore County. 

Although the email correspondence only accounts for the past two months, I have been attempting to have this corrected fully for two years. TWO YEARS, RUDY. When I first contacted your department, 730 days ago, I was bouncing my infant son on my knee… he is going to Preschool now, Rudy. 

Although I have now received proper credit to my account, my water consumption has once again mysteriously doubled. I attempted to contact the person who was able to offer assistance in January but it has been two weeks, and still nothing. This seems to be a common theme in your department, in addition to lack of follow through and accepting responsibility for your errors. I figured it was about time to cut out the middle man and head straight to the top of the chain of command. I attempted to copy Mayor Pugh for good measure, as I like to cover all my bases, but her email address isn’t quite as easy to obtain.

Upon browsing your website, I found these eloquent words under your contact information “DPW prides itself on providing quality services and strives to be responsive to your needs.” Lovely photo, by the way! It was a nice touch to be able to put a face to the name. I also would have included a photo with this email but unfortunately, Rudy, I haven’t slept through the night in like 10 years and my nerves are shot from having to deal with your ever efficient department that I can’t hold the camera still enough to capture one. Maybe after all this is done. 🤞Circling back to those delightful words on your website. If I had to pick two words to describe your government monopoly, quality and responsive would absolutely be at the bottom of the list, along with efficient, accurate and expeditious.

In my experience, your billing is so completely arbitrary that I picture a giant Plinko wall in your office where you disperse Plinko chips with my address on them to see where they may fall and what I owe for each quarterly bill. I am going to pay this quarter’s bill, not because I want to, Rudy, but because I have made great strides in potty training the youngest and I need water to effectively continue that progress. Well that, and I am obviously stupid. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts concerning the customer water consumption and it’s appropriation.

It may behoove you, at this point, to scroll down and read all of the previous correspondence, to allow you a full understanding of the situation at hand.

I took the liberty of heading over to your employment opportunities tab to see if you were actively seeking someone who could answer the phone over there in under 20 minutes or respond to an email but it seems your present concern is to obtain more CDL drivers. You’re probably going to want to re-evaluate that, Rudy. I am not trying to tell you how to run your department but as a restaurant owner, if the food was coming out of the kitchen too slow, I am not going to start hiring more bartenders. Just some food for thought.

I would be happy to discuss this over lunch, at our restaurant, where you could enjoy a burger and I would then give you a bill for 4 steaks, just as a thank you for opening my eyes to your business model of charging customers for services not rendered and then of course, ignore you when you asked to be charged for what you actually ate.

In Gratitude,
Shannon Armenis

Edit or delete t


DPW part 3

Finally, I received a call from Ms. S who informs me that she was previously a supervisor in the Adjustments Department but had recently switched roles and departments. She did agree to credit my account and forward the request to someone in the Adjustments Department to be processed. She also gave me her contact information should I encounter any further issues, which of course I did.

January 16th, 2018

Robenia,
I have just received my most recent statement for this last billing period and I would like to, first, thank you for FINALLY issuing a credit of $200 to my account. I would, second, like to congratulate
 the Baltimore City Department of Public Works on their move concerning the doubling of my water usage for this billing quarter. A lot of customers may have overlooked the fact that their water consumption not only doubled, but did so in a billing quarter with 15 days less than the previous one. Not me, Robenia, attention to detail is my thing and only paying for the water my family uses is my game. But I do have to give credit where credit is due so… Well played, DPW, well played.

I am beginning to get the slight feeling that I am being underestimated or mistaken for a fool. I am actually pondering the idea of shopping around a book to publishers filled with nothing but our correspondence concerning this billing issue and using the royalties to pay for the Well that my kids are currently digging in the backyard.

Per our last conversation, I am aware that your position has changed and you are no longer in the Adjustments Department. I generally commend a company that creates opportunities for it’s employees to advance, however, in this particular instance your role change is of extreme concern to me. In two years, you are the only person that has been able to issue a fairly easy billing adjustment to my account and done so with lightning speed.

This whole relationship with your employer is beginning to feel like a bad marriage. I keep giving and the Baltimore City Department of Public Works just keeps taking. It really does feel quite one sided and believe me, I would have broken this relationship off months ago but, unfortunately, I am married to the only Water Supplier in town. So here I am hanging on, hoping one of you guys will bring me flowers and tell me I am pretty but instead you keep overcharging me and insinuating that I am some type of water hoarder.

I am frightened, Ro. This is exactly how things started two years ago. My consumption doubled, then tripled, then reached a point where we were being charged more for our residential water bill than the commercial account for our restaurant. I usually give you the benefit of the doubt during the summer months. I mean, I do water 4 potted plants outside on occasion but during the middle of the winter? What exactly could we have done to double our water consumption? BGE has already slapped me upside the head with their winter billing, but you guys? That’s what we call kicking someone when they’re down, Robenia.

I like you, Ro. Educate me. Lead me into the light of who it is that can get this fixed once and for all. I hope you had a great extended weekend and I look forward to hearing from you upon your return.

Thy Humble Servant,
Shannon Armenis


DPW – Part 2

After my first email, I received a response from the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works stating that my account was being forwarded to the Adjustments Department and that I would be receiving a phone call from a Supervisor by the end of the next business day. 

January 12, 2018

Good Evening Ms. B,

While I was hopeful that someone would be in contact with me today as you had promised, I have yet to hear from anyone from the adjustments department as of this email.

Look, I get it. I read the newspapers and all the articles detailing the exorbitant mess that is the Water Billing System in the City of Baltimore.


I have read how understaffed your department is in correlation to the amount of accounts that are serviced. I am not here to make your life difficult. Am I frustrated? Yes. But I am willing to do whatever I need to to do to get this resolved as quickly as possible. I am sure that, at this point, you may dread hearing from disgruntled customers as much as I dread having to keep following up with the Department of Public Works.

I appreciate that you were the only person to reach out to me from your department and that you cannot make a colleague pick up a phone and call me, however, you are the closest contact I have to a resolution. Please do not abandon my account, contact me if there is anything I can do to help this along. I promise, I am easy to deal with. Although I am frustrated, I haven’t lost my sense of humor as I would hope you could deduce from my first email. 

If you would prefer to give me the contact information for the supervisor assigned to my case in the Adjustments Department, feel free and you can move on to another customer with a water bill issue. If you can’t, then you will get the opportunity to enjoy my charm for a little longer. I am sincerely hoping that you find this email after a wonderful, relaxing weekend. Looking forward to speaking with you.

Sincerely,
Shannon Armenis

I gave her 2 business days but still nothing. So, I sent her another email. 

Robenia,
Is it okay if I call you Robenia? Although this relationship is beginning to feel a bit one sided, I am still getting the inclination that it will be a long term one. Therefore, it seems suitable that we be on a first name basis.

Moving on to the issue at hand. I will admit Robenia, I was feeling a little hurt that I didn’t hear from anyone on Monday. However, after breaking up somewhere north of 17 fights between my older boys, it dawned on me that your offices were also closed in celebration of the MLK holiday. My happiness and relief was short lived when I didn’t receive a phone call or email on Tuesday either.

I am starting to feel like the Baltimore City Department of Public Works just isn’t that into me but the fact of the matter is, Robenia, I’ve got 99 problems and a water bill is still one of them. It is also beginning to appear that the Adjustments Department Supervisor seems to have somewhat of a mythical existence.

So,where do we go from here, Robenia? What can I do to get the old ball rolling? To quote my good friend, Jerry Maguire, “HELP ME, HELP YOU!” Looking forward to your input.

Namaste,
Shannon

Department of Public Works – Part 1

This is the first in a series of email correspondence with the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works. The snarky emails have become a favorite among family and friends. The first email was sent  out of complete frustration, to a contact that I received from our local community representative, after making monthly phone calls for over a year. I will also be adding the additional emails that followed (that’s right, even 1 snarky email did not do the trick, it took several) to the humor folder.

January 11, 2018
Dear Ms. W and Ms. L,
I was given your contact information from my local representative’s office, in the hopes that one of you may be able to assist me with a water billing issue I have been attempting to have corrected since July 2016. Yes, you read that correctly – 2016. Dozens of phone calls and several promises, here I am 1 1/2 years later, still waiting. 
After receiving a bill for more than 4 times my usual amount, I contacted the City of Baltimore in July of 2016 concerning the billing period of 04/26/16-07/19/16 in the amount of $288.66. A technician was sent out and upon arrival, found running water at the street meter. He informed me that I must have a leak inside my home. He advised me to have a plumber come out and submit a bill of any repairs to the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works and my bill would be adjusted. 
Sounds pretty easy, right? I had a plumber, at my expense (and we all know those bad boys aren’t cheap), review my entire home and although he was unable to find any indication of plumbing issues, he did locate one toilet with a flapper that was slightly loose. He replaced the flapper and I submitted the bill to the Adjustments department on 08/12/16. While waiting for the adjustment, I paid the $288.66 bill to avoid my account becoming delinquent (probably my first mistake) and assumed (my second mistake, you know the old saying!) I would just have a credit balance posted to my account upon the adjustment becoming finalized. 
In November of 2016, I received my next quarterly bill for the billing period 07/19/16 – 10/21/16 and eagerly opened it like a kid on Christmas morning in anticipation of seeing my lovely credit balance. However, you can imagine my let down, upon reviewing my bill and finding that in addition to not having credit, I now had been issued a bill for $356.15. My bill was now 5 times its usual amount. I contacted the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works again, and was told that they had never received the fax that I knew had been sent because I saved that handy little sheet that fax machines shoot out, letting you know that your fax has been successfully sent. In any case, I re-faxed my first fax to the Adjustments Department and was assured it would be corrected. 
Guess what I received in January 2017? A delinquency notice for the $356.15 from the November bill because at this point I am not paying a second incorrect bill. So, I make yet another phone call to my new found friends over at the City of Baltimore on January 17, 2017, all while my 2 year old is crying and requesting fruit snacks as I attempt to relay a detailed account to one of the representatives for probably the 6th time. This time, she informs me that the credit will not be issued to my account because my water usage has increased and not decreased since I submitted the repair order from the plumber. I think she takes pity on me mostly because she can hear the tantrum taking place in the background, but in any case, offers to send another technician out in the morning and gives me a Work order #377938. 
The technician comes out the next day and has me turn off my water from inside… and tells me that I must have a small leak because the meter is still moving slowly after my water is shut off. I plead with him for an answer. I explain that I have already had a plumber inspect my home, inside and out. That there are zero signs of any leaking water anywhere in my home. I invited him to come inspect my home himself. At which point, I may have scared him a bit, because he told me to have a plumber come back out and seriously high tailed it out of here. I stand defeated in the cloud of dust left from his vehicle and although I am positive that the issue is not our plumbing or water usage, I am becoming desperate so I call the plumber, again. He agrees to come back, again. He inspects the house, again. He hooks up a valve to my faucets inside and out to detect any running water… Zilch, Zero, Nada, Nothing. Just as I had expected. I spend the next few days in a haze, trying to do the calculations and realizing that if my bill continues to increase at the rapid rate it has, I may need to start dipping into my kids’ college funds to pay for it.  
A few days later, I receive a new quarterly bill and although the delinquent amount of $356.15 has not been adjusted, it does show that my current quarter water consumption rate is back to that of a normal customer and my current charges are only for $69.34. After 6 months, a dozen phone calls, two technician visits, two paid plumbing visits, and two faxes my water consumption returned to normal just as mysteriously as it had increased previously. 
I am feeling pretty victorious at this point, I patted myself on the back for my diligence and ability to follow up. Just to be safe though, I make a quick call to the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works to discuss the little issue concerning the past due amount (remember that $356.15) and the $288.66 that I had paid 6 months ago and had never been credited. Well the call wasn’t really quick because I apparently had called during a time they were receiving “high call volumes” so I pushed the key to have the Water Gods call me back when it was my turn. I guarded the phone, actually stalked the phone would probably be a more accurate term. I had to fend off two kids that had now arrived home from school and wanted to call a friend, but I prevailed and about 20 mins later the phone rang, which I mistaken briefly for the sound of angels singing in my naive hopefulness that I was getting closer to a resolution. I spoke with another representative who was quite lovely and she told me that she could see that my account was being reviewed and to simply wait for a new bill to be sent to me after the adjustments had taken place, or I could call back in 3-4 weeks and the review/adjustments would be done. I thanked her and quickly let her off the phone because I certainly did not want to waste anyone’s time at the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works and I definitely did not want to anger the Water Gods again. 
Just for reference, our family averages around 250 for our average daily gallons use, however, your meter readings had us using a little over 1,400 gallons for our average daily use. Seems legit. To give you an indication of what we would need to do to consume that much water, I have researched a few items. We would need to fill up an average sized swimming pool… every two weeks and we don’t have a pool, become the daily, local watering hole for about 28 elephants – as elephants can consume up to 50 gallons of water a day or flush our toilets about 280 times a day. I could go on and on but I think you get my drift. 
I make phone calls a few more times over the next several weeks to follow up, because at this point, I am a professional follow upper of the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works, which I have now added to my resume under the skills section, as well as, a reference under previous employer. Each time, I am told it is still in review and should be finalized in 3-4 weeks. A few months pass and I am still patient and hopeful as Spring begins and the weather starts getting warmer, that is, until I receive yet another quarterly bill for 01/20/17 – 04/26/17 which still has 0 adjustments, the delinquent amount of $356.15, the now delinquent amount of $69.34 that I was told to not pay and wait for a corrected bill and my current quarterly billed amount of $69.34. I call, again. 
This time a representative says that she can see a credit coming through my account, Hallelujah!!! but that I need to pay $78.74 to keep my account in good standing. I agree and pay online that evening. A short time later, I receive a bill reflecting the adjustments that have now been applied to my account, it is for the quarterly bill for 07/19/16 – 10/21/16 which was originally for $356.15 and has now been adjusted to the amount of $67.46. We are finally making some progress!!! I double check the envelope to be sure that there isn’t another statement because I still haven’t received credit from the 04/26/16-07/19/16 quarter, which is the bill that sounded the alarm but I had paid in full and started this entire process. So guess what I have to do, again? That’s right, make another phone call to “you know who” and spend another 30 minutes of my life that I will never get back speaking to a representative and explaining this saga One. More. Time. 
The representative, this time, is a real hoot and she explains to me the very strict rules and guidelines the City of Baltimore has concerning water bill adjustments. She tells me that I can only have one adjustment in 1 year, and since they adjusted one quarter, I am not eligible to have my 04/26/16 – 07/19/16 quarterly bill corrected. I put the phone on mute, screamed to the Water Gods for mercy, collected myself and uttered out ‘Huh? I am sorry, what?’ believe me, it was much better than the words floating in my head. She reiterates that I am not “eligible” to receive an adjustment for another year. I explain to her that I am not asking for an adjustment because of an error on my part but, instead, simply requesting to pay for the actual amount of water that I have consumed. I try to explain how this business model of “Our first mistake is on us but all other mistakes made in a year are on you” is absurd. She isn’t getting it, so I ask to speak to a manager. I am told that a Manager is not available and that her Manager’s boss is also “unavailable”. I tell her that we can just hang out on the phone until a manager becomes available because I have about 6 episodes of Paw Patrol on the DVR and a bag of Goldfish to keep the 2 year old happy so the world is my oyster. 
Magically, a manager becomes available and I yet again get to repeat my water journey for maybe the 15th time. She understands my issue and says she will submit my account to the adjustments department for a “special review” because of the unique circumstances but will be sure to follow up with me in a few days – that was about 3 months ago. I have now been forced to contact my local representative’s office to ask for help which leads me to you. I have grown a child in my body and given birth in less time than it is taking to make simple adjustments to a bill with an error that is not my fault. I am now told that because my water consumption rate was way off, my property taxes have now also erroneously increased. I am out of options and begging for any assistance. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me via email or phone.
Thank you
Shannon Armenis

Commencement Address to the Class of 2020

Some of you may have the chance to walk across stage, collect your diploma and pose for a photo. Maybe even say goodbye to your teachers and friends. Many of you may not be afforded this opportunity. In either case, this is for all of you.

“If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.”
– Winston Churchill

Through no fault of your own, you are graduating in the most uncertain of times. A time when hand shakes are forbidden and the term “social distancing” has become a part of the vocabulary in nearly every language, in every country and every continent.

You may be looking to your parents for answers to questions that, if I am being honest, we do not have answers to. This is uncharted territory for us all. Our parents have never been here, even our grandparents, with all of their experience and wisdom, would not be able to provide us with guidance. A collective pause button has been pressed on the world, as we know it, and no one knows when we will be able to hit play again.

What I do know is that with silence, comes reflection and while you are looking to the older generations for answers, we are all looking to you for hope.

Hope that, in this instance, your generation will open your eyes wider than they have ever been before. That you will not focus on the ever present chaos but use your lens to capture a glimpse of  the kindness and compassion, the willingness to help, the ingenuity that surrounds you right now. That you will be able to extract the good in a heartbreaking situation.

Hope that you will ignore arguing politicians, finger pointing and misplaced anger and instead choose to observe the teachers finding a new way to inspire and reach you, car factories finding a way, overnight, to make medical supplies, small business owners continuing to pay their employees before themselves, the medical community working tireless hours to care for their patients.

Hope that you will be a generation of doers and not talkers. The ones ready to roll their sleeves up and get their hands dirty.  A generation of forward thinkers and problem solvers. Perspective can change a situation and a positive mindset will help you to overcome any problem. We are ready to see all of your grit and determination.

Hope that your generation will find a way to make sure this never happens again.

We know it is a lot to ask but we have faith in all your abilities.

We have faith that you will be able to forgive all of the debts owed to you, that you were never able to collect. The last walk down the halls, the last game on the field, the last dance, watching the prideful eyes from the audience as you walk across stage in your cap and gown and the goodbyes we never realized would not have a chance to leave your lips.

We have faith that you will continue to understand the importance of a firm hand shake and will not abandon it. That you will never forget the feeling of being unable to hug your grandparents and that you will begin to hug them more often and for a little longer. We have faith that you will never take for granted the ability to work, to sit down and enjoy a meal inside a restaurant, or a visit with a friend.

We are looking for you to unite us.

We want you to see “social distancing” as temporary, not a permanent solution. In fact, we hope you never social distance ever again. We hope you hug your children, hold the hand of a friend, and kiss your spouse more than any generation before you. If I can promise anything, it is that the world needs so much more of this.

We want you to show us that opinions are just that, opinions. They are not the guidelines to base friendships upon. They can vary and differ but not alter the bonds we have formed with people. We want you to always be willing to listen to anyone and not only find, but stand together on common ground.

And through all of this, we want you to remain humble. To show the world what your generation will be remembered for, not tell us. No personal documentation, no boasting. Leave it for the history books because remember, a lion doesn’t need to tell everyone he is a lion.

Again, we know it is a lot to ask.

And in that moment, when our paths cross, we will look you in the eye and extend our arm for a hand shake but I have a feeling that you will say you’re welcome by wrapping your arms around us and holding us a little tighter.