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The following is from a letter I wrote to my sons five years ago. I never published it then as I was too raw and overwhelmed at the time. I came across the email today and decided I could share it, though God knows, the danger has not passed. If anything, there have been far too many more incidents of violence since. So many that we are becoming numb. This email reminded me to remain vigilant and hold onto my sons, no matter how old they get.

Dear J and D,
Ok, this is not meant to embarrass you but I wanted to share my feelings with you …
It’s been an emotional week. The bombing in Boston, just on the heels of the Newtown tragedy, has stirred my feelings of helplessness to protect my children in this crazy world.
No matter how old your children are, when a tragedy strikes – anywhere – a mother’s first instinct is to want to hug her children, as if doing so will assure me that you are ok and that I can protect you from harm. These events prove to me that we can’t always do that and it is painful to know that you must eventually protect yourself as I won’t be here forever. And even while I am here, I can’t control random crazy peoples’ deeds. So I tried to prepare you for the world as best I could. But when unexplainable things like this happen, I feel so powerless.
Yet, in spite of it, I know there is goodness – lots of it – shown through the many acts of heroism, bravery and kindness when terror struck. And that helps maintain my faith in humanity.
But no matter what, I needed to give you a hug the moment I saw you when I came home. At least I saw with my own eyes you were safe for the moment.
I am incredibly proud of the men you have become. Sensitive, with the belief you can and will make your marks somewhere on humanity. It doesn’t take a lot to change a life.
So, live your lives fully, in spite of the naysayers and the crazy, deranged people, without fear and with compassion. And remember I am by your side, whatever path(s) you choose, and throughout your lives, whether I am here on earth or in your memories.
Love you forever.

Mom

 

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There are times we think of those who have left our lives. Birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, holidays and memories of special events. More often than not, it is because we have been separated by death.

My friend, who does have a living mother, and children living nearby, is hosting a bunch of her friends (me included) this Mother’s Day. I thought, “How nice. She is inviting her motherless friends to celebrate Mother’s Day.”

As I was thinking about those reopening the wounds of their departed mothers each Mother’s Day, it struck me that I DO have a living mother, yet I am in their company. I’m sure there are others who, for whatever reason, are estranged from their mothers. It’s been four years since I last spoke to mine. The separation was not my choice, but her conditions were out of the question. If I wanted to have her in my life, I’d also have to suffer the presence and influence of my younger brother, who in my mind, is pure evil. After decades of trying to keep the peace with him, and as determined as I was not to allow him to disturb me, he kept finding ways to undo whatever calm I could muster. I concluded that blood or not, I could no longer allow such negativity in my life without risking my health.

So began an estrangement that I could not understand. As a mother myself, and knowing how deeply I love my two children, I could not fathom choosing one and abandoning the other. My mother sacrificed two daughters (my sister and I) for the sake of her son. It started with me wondering, after the last standoff conversation, if she would send birthday cards to either of us. Nope. I couldn’t imagine my children’s birthdays, a celebration of when they entered my life, passing without me needing to connect with them. The bond is so strong, it is almost physical, even long after they have grown to adulthood and moved away. Yet four birthdays for each of us have come and gone with nary a call or card to acknowledge them.

Although I am not a religious person, at the beginning I invoked the serenity prayer. It gave me a framework to “Accept the things I cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference.” There was no other choice for my sister or me, without agreeing to be continually poisoned by the son my mother chose.

Each year it became less painful, like it does when you lose a loved one. It just catches me by surprise sometimes, that I do have a living mother out there, when I’ve been living as if she died four years ago.

 

 

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“Gratitude” is becoming a cliche. Everybody’s talking about it. “It will heal you,” they say. “Letting go of the negativity prevents cancer,” shouts the Internet. Even doctors are saying taking time to count your blessings is good for your health. Is this just a passing fad, or is there something to it?

I did a Google search on “Gratitude’s healing power.” There are about 998,000 hits. Wow, there must be something to it, even if the Internet is not the source of scientific material. But wait, there are hits from respectable sites like Harvard University, the Georgia Psychological Association, The NY Times, A PhD professor from University of California, Davis, WEB MD, the National Institute of Health. What do they know that some people don’t?

I’m no scientist but I have a degree worthy of being able to analyze whether a study is reliable. I know how to judge whether the population studied is large enough, diverse enough (or not, depending on the study), the variables were controlled, the methods used in the study, and I understand basic statistics. But I also trust my gut – A LOT!

I know that when I feel grateful, I feel good. It’s THAT simple. We encounter so many negative, energy-sucking people in every walk of life, and it seems to cut across every socio-economic group. I’ve met wealthy people who have everything, including great support networks, etc., who just feel they are always lacking. And some of the very seriously-down-on-their-luck people, that I had the privilege of serving lunch to at the soup kitchen, were joyous and grateful for the simple meal and my company.

Many neuroscientists studied brain activity under conditions of gratitude and observed positive brain activity. Biological markers like immune system function, sleep patterns, blood pressure, etc., were positively affected in grateful people.

So without further ado, I give you the short list of things I am grateful for, even though I was just diagnosed with a genetic defect that will throw my next few months into turmoil.

1. A supportive and loving husband and life partner, who loyalty never wavers.
2. My two sons, who are beautiful human beings and bring me joy beyond explanation.
3. Friends and family members who offer meals, rides, errands, and check in on me to make sure I’m OK.
4. Co-workers who didn’t bat an eye even though my absence will mean they have to work later or harder.
5. Access to the finest surgeons, who were able to respond to my needs very quickly.
6. An upcoming 60th birthday trip to France, in between operations, to rest and recharge.
7. A lovely and comfortable home.
8. The ability to buy the food I want and need to nourish me and protect my health.
9. Two dogs to cuddle with and love.
10. Any art supplies and tools I need to express my creativity.

LIFE IS GOOD!

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Why do we get more sentimental as we age? Is it the feeling (and reality) that our time is growing limited? Is it a yearning for days gone by? Or is it a combination of these factors?
I am joyful beyond measure for the time we get to spend with our family. It is so rare now to have them all together at the same time, and usually not all to ourselves. With friends in their lives, we are sharing our boys with other people. I am happy about the kinds of people they choose to be in their lives, and enjoy the young adults sitting around the dinner table having mature conversations. I love the amazing meals my son and his friend turn out for us to enjoy. I love the physical closeness phone calls can’t provide.
Then why am I also sad?
It’s because I know this time is limited.
It’s because they will be wretched from us once again – each parting as difficult as the first.
It’s because I do not know when we will next see each other.
It’s because we will be moving away from where they grew up, and when they go “home” maybe it won’t be where we are moving to.
It’s because all parents carry guilt about what they didn’t do even though the outcome was good and there is no logical reason to feel that way.
It’s just because sometimes.
So, now I will put it aside and go back to enjoying the time I DO have with my sons and their friends. They need help in the kitchen!

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I’m only 59. Yes, a dinosaur to my kids perhaps, but not technologically. Many of my peers certainly are computer savvy and carry smart phones (and know how to use them), but a surprising number are adamantly denying the need for technology. “I got along all these years with a pen and paper and a phone,” they say. I try to explain why it is important to their relationships with their children and grandchildren. They huff and puff and tell me why kids have no respect these days! I invoke Kahlil’s Gibran’s “The Prophet’s” chapter “On Children,” but they won’t listen. (It is printed below. A beautiful poem from one of the most amazing books ever written.) But I digress.

Some of the obvious reasons in the relationship domain are simply related to how things are done nowadays. Don’t have texting? You may never get that last minute notice that someone is running late. You’ll be standing out in the cold waiting and wondering if they forgot your appointment. Have a computer but you check email only once a week? You’re missing invitations to join people who do use it. Don’t have a smart phone? When you break down, you’re going to have to figure out where you so you can tell AAA. Have no cell phone at all? Good luck finding a pay phone to even call AAA!

I consider my smartphone, the most powerful computer in a tiny box, my auxiliary brain. It remembers far more than I ever could, and why should I tax my brain when I can look it up. What’s “it” you ask? Anything, everything, and more. Hell, I don’t even have to type in my question. I just ask Siri to find things for me, dial the phone, give me directions, find the nearest place to eat, gas station, or bathroom. I ask her to play a song, make an appointment, write me a reminder note, take a photo, post to Facebook, send a text or email. She looks up any address or phone number. Best of all, if I lose my phone, everything I put on there is backed up on my computer and my iPad. Making my plans, writing a letter, reading a book? I can put down my phone in the living room and resume reading/typing in the bedroom, on a different device. It knows where I left off.

If I’m in the store and see something we need and want to show it to my husband for his opinion? Bam! Take photo, text to husband, he replies and I buy it or don’t. Time lapsed – 3 minutes. Time saved returning to the store later; priceless!

And if you have grandchildren, you’d better get with it. If you ever want to see pictures of them or communicate with them when they get old enough to use mom’s iPad (at about one and a half years old) you better have some technological device on which to receive it.

I may sound like a commercial for Apple, and maybe it is, but I can’t deny that life is so much easier with an auxiliary brain in my pocket.

On Children
 Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

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Some people manage to stay connected with friends from childhood. Whether it is continued geographic proximity or shared college experiences, they maintain the relationships throughout their lives. I have only one childhood friend still. Perhaps it was because all of us scattered in different states and keeping in touch meant writing letters (before internet, and when long distance was expensive, for all you young readers!) Because my one long time friend was great at writing to me, and writing, and writing until I finally answered, we remain friends to this day.

Before you go feeling all sorry for me, this has not hampered the rich experiences I have had with friends made along the way. Perhaps it was because we shared similar life experiences at the same time. I had early married friends (out of college), who were largely an extension of the high school friends. Then I had work friends, some of whom I still keep in touch with, or reestablished contact with since Classmates, Facebook, Linked In and HS reunions. Then there was the “single” friends period, after my divorce. Remarriage brought children and children bring many other parents into the picture. These people, as it turns out, still mean a lot to me, even though the kids are grown and (almost) out on their own. We shared the intense experience of child rearing, which is both rewarding and scary as hell.  We came to care for and about the well being of each others’ children. And our children remain friends, even after high school and college.

When I embarked on my creative chapter – becoming an artist – there were new friends again. Friends that shared and understood the “need” to create, and supported me in finding my creative voice. And now, just when I thought it was impossible to include another person in my life, I did. A connection in a business meeting led to more personal conversations. We learned we grew up so near each other in Brooklyn, which was likely some of the appeal. I am enjoying the unfolding of another new friend and she will not be my last “new” friend. (Unless I die tomorrow! Sorry, a little black humor!)

My ability to love them all never diminishes. Rather it swells to embrace all of it – all of them. And lucky me, to have so many wonderful people in my life.

Thank you all dear friends!

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My older son is a bona fide adult. He lives on the opposite coast, pays his own bills, has held a job for two years. My younger son is still dependent on us for food and shelter, college tuition, a phone and a car. Yet he legally becomes an adult in a few weeks, when he turns twenty-one. When he reminded me he was about to become a “legal adult,” I challenged him to define what it means to be an adult. He quickly agreed he was not ready.

Yet, to me, the fact that we can have these “adult” conversations does seem convincing. Both my sons think deeply about life, people, situations. They don’t act rashly, have good common sense, are respectful, helpful and responsible. These are the hallmarks of adulthood, so they are well on their way.

I was lucky enough to have quality time with them individually this past week. Piggy-backing on a business trip to CA, I spent a day and a half with my older son. I can only hope he relished our time together as much as I did. I felt particularly moved when he told me of a friend’s recent loss of his mother and said, “I can’t imagine not having a mother at this point in my life.” My sunglasses hid the tears that filled my eyes. Whether he realized it or not, that meant so much to me.

Upon arriving home from the trip, feeling so good, yet now missing him more than ever, I busied myself with work and catching up on jet lag and lack of sleep. A day later, I left with my younger son for Pittsburgh, for a fun tour of the highlights. We drove, so there was plenty of time for bonding. We spent day and night together for 4 consecutive days, with nary a cross word or bit of unhappiness. In fact, I was incredibly happy and he had a good time.

I know these days are numbered. Whether time, work, or eventual families complicate their lives, I know this may be the last or one of the last times I get to have with them alone. I will cherish the memories of this week. I also know I will make new ones in the future that will include others. That too will bring its own joys.

 

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