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Month: February 2016

No Leap Necessary

I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media about Leap Day. My various feeds were flooded today with self-helpy, motivation-laden, carpe diem-filled “go out there and do something great with this Extra Day!” crap. Which is fine, if you have the luxury of actually being able to pull that off.

In my case, and the case of my husband and most of the people I know, Leap Day was just another Monday. Another day where stuff needed to get done. It’s not like February 29 is a national holiday, a true gift of the cessation of responsibilities. Even changing the clock back an hour for Daylight Savings grants you more than Leap Day.

I got up this morning, like every other weekday morning, and debated whether I could get one more day out of my dirty hair. I showered and dressed and stuffed my backpack and cleaned the litter box. I made a reasonably healthy lunch for my kid (lean chicken sandwich = good, truffle for dessert = bad) and got her off to school. I drove to work and dove in, answering emails and fielding questions and attending meetings. I ate a good lunch with my colleagues where we talked and laughed as we always do. I picked my kid up from after care and we sorted Girl Scout cookies. M came home and rustled up dinner, which consisted mostly of delicious leftovers. We ate together and talked about our days. Zoe practiced the piano and took care of her chores, and we snuggled and listened to Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter”. I played Words With Friends with my cousin and continued reading “Five Days at Memorial” on my Kindle. I texted with a friend. M and I watched John Oliver’s incredibly funny rant against Donald Drumpf and laughed out loud. We discussed hotel accommodations for our upcoming spring break trip. I’m getting ready to wash my face, brush my teeth, and fall into bed.

I will not feel guilty for “wasting” this Leap Day. Because it wasn’t a waste. No, I didn’t go out and do something earth-shattering. There was no grand gesture. But there is a certain nobility, I think, in living a good life. In being there for friends and for children and for colleagues. In doing a job well, and with purpose and integrity. And I don’t need a Leap Day to celebrate that. It’s what I try to do every single day.

I’m all for celebrating just about everything. It’s something we’ve passed along to Zoe, who tonight announced that we should have dessert to celebrate being halfway through Lent. But our celebrations are just that: ours. They are our own private revelries for those things that pertain to us. I’m happy for those friends of mine who could actually shed their responsibilities for a day, or even for an hour, to celebrate Leap Day. But I also recognize that despite a social media trend it’s not a mandate to the rest of us, nor are we failing in any way for simply living this day the very best we can, by whatever definition of personal success we determine, as we did on February 28 and as we will on March 1.

(Full Disclosure: I had no intention of writing anything for the blog today, but I thought it might be fun to post something on February 29. Yes, I see the irony in a rant against Leap Day to post on Leap Day just to get the Leap Day time stamp. What can I say; I’m a complicated woman.)

When writing makes me feel better

Facebook nudged me and let me know that I haven’t posted in 12 days. Maybe it’s 13 now. Regardless, it’s been awhile and Facebook laid on the guilt and so here I am. Thanks, Facebook, for taking my mother’s place. Are you going to remind me that I should wear more makeup, too?

I’ve done quite a bit in the last 12-13 days, so you’d think I have plenty to write about. And I do. Fodder is not the problem. Motivation is the problem. Because when my heart is shattering, I find it hard to write.

No, it’s not my mom. (Although that would be a good guess because that happens daily now.)

No, it’s not my marriage. (Which would also have been a good guess last week when M returned home after two weeks and threw out his back and turned into a snarling beast. He’s good now. We’re good now. He’s back to himself and his halo is shining bright again and I no longer have to toss raw meat at him before speaking.)

No, it’s not Zoe. (Despite my near constant worry, the kid is thriving. She recently got palette expanders from her orthodontist and is rocking them without complaint. She’s amazing.)

No, it’s not work. (A source of angst in the past, work is now one of the highlights of my life. Specifically, the people I work with. They are awesome and they make me laugh every day.)

It’s not any of that.

It’s my church. My church. That place I used to think of as my second home.

The Roman Catholic Church. (Not Pope Francis. That guy is cool.)

As many of you have seen, the “Girl Scout issue” is blowing up again across the St. Louis Archdiocese. There’s a lot of misinformation floating around, and a lot of accusations, and a lot of hurt feelings. I cannot adequately express how I feel without going off on an expletive-laden tirade, but suffice it to say, I’m not happy, my friends are not happy, and my husband is really not happy. I also know that this, too, will pass, and that there are far greater things in the world to complain and worry about (human trafficking) (the heroin crisis) (racial violence) (school shootings) (Donald Trump) so why should I unload my temporary crisis on you, my dear readers?

So I’m not going to write about the Church and Girl Scouts. It’s already taking up too much brain space.

I went to Colorado for my annual Girls’ Weekend. Snowshoeing. Wine. This year: Moscow mules. Lots of laughter. Usually movies. This year: An Idiot Abroad on Netflix. (I love you, Karl Pilkington.) In Colorado, I am allowed to just be. I can temporarily shed most of my obligations. Work. Mothering. Wifehood. It’s a wonderful touchpoint in the midst of the chaos. And as much fun as I have, I’m always so grateful to return home. Which is a pretty good indication that I have a truly wonderful life. I left last week on Thursday morning, and Thursday night is my writing group and usually where I bang out a blog post or two. So I missed that because I was busy drinking Moscow mules and so we should blame my lack of a post last week on ginger beer and vodka.

I worked on a grant for a service program some incredible moms have started for the children at Zoe’s school. The program, called Wonder Workers, is so phenomenal I can’t even. I’m serious. I. can’t. even. (There isn’t a lot I can’t even about, but this is one of them.) The amount of good they do for others is mind blowing. They help the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the sick, people serving in the military, sick kids, families of sick kids, the under-recognized. Pretty much anyone who needs help. I can’t volunteer like I want, because of my job and my other volunteer responsibilities, so when my friend mentioned they might need help writing a grant I knew that could be my contribution. Because I love Wonder Workers and I love my friends and because I write real good. As a bonus, I got to work closely with one of my dearest friends throughout the process. She actually did the bulk of the writing. I just formatted and edited and added some words. It was good work, and I felt good doing it, and I felt a sense of accomplishment when it was done.

I’ve been reading a lot. I went on a tear downloading books from the library and have lost myself in other worlds. Zoe and I got library cards from the Kirkwood Public Library, which means we are now dual-library card holders. We are making up for the fact that M is completely freaked out by libraries and therefore doesn’t have even one library card. My nerd self is geeking out about this. Two whole libraries full of books. There is not enough time in the world, my friends. I currently highly recommend “The Kitchen House” by Kathleen Grissom and “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion. Both of these remind me that my issues are so minor as to be laughable. Right now I’m in the middle of Amanda Palmer’s “The Art of Asking,” and I have Sheri Fink’s “Five Days at Memorial” in the queue. All of these books are disparate. Historical fiction and autobiographical and self-help and creative non-fiction. That’s how I roll, people. I’m a freakin’ literary maverick.

And, my friends, there is this: my new book project is launching. I have two interviews lined up for this weekend, and I have faith that more will materialize. In the past week, when I’ve felt down or upset, when I’ve battled Holly Golightly’s Mean Reds, all I had to do was think about this project. I instantly felt better. There are stories to tell, and I just might get to help these people tell them. I love things that give me purpose, like writing a grant for a children’s service club, and this book does just that.

Huh. Look at that. Just listing all the really great stuff in my life makes me feel so much better about The Other Stuff. What other stuff? Yes. Exactly.

And now, because I haven’t posted any lately, some pretty pictures. These are all from Colorado.









On Fear

Last week, when I couldn’t stop crying, I texted with a close friend. I had gone round the bend and knew even as I was typing that I was being irrational. Which only makes things worse. She was doing a phenomenal job of cheering me up by making me laugh, as she always does, when out of the blue she typed, “Maybe you’re crying bc you’re scared.” I stopped breathing. She was totally right, and I hadn’t even realized it.

Then, this week, a writer friend wrote a lovely blog post about fear. I read it, and I related. Because right now, my friends, I’m scared of a lot of stuff.

I’m scared that M is traveling to places like Tel Aviv. And Dubai. And London. And San Jose.*

I’m scared that my ancient cats will die some day. I mean, I know they will eventually die, but I’m dreading it. Because even though they are old and disgusting and they barf and sneeze and drag kitty litter all over the house, they are still sweet and loving and they keep me company when M is traveling to All The Dangerous Places.

I’m scared that the sweet, disgusting cats will die when M is gone and I will have to deal with it by myself. Because I am sure that I will fall apart and I must not fall apart because someone will have to make sure our child is okay.

I’m scared that the BBC will only make Doctor Who available on their own paid streaming service, not one of the two we already have. Jerks.**

I’m scared that I will never be able to adequately express to the people in my life how much I love them and how much they mean to me. It’s a lot. More than mere words can say.

I’m scared that I will get early onset Alzheimer’s like my mother.

I’m scared that something will happen to my child, because I know that I would not be able to go on.

I’m scared I will never lose the weight that crept on when I couldn’t move because of crappy feet and then back-to-back foot surgeries.

I’m scared that I will never finish any of the books I have started.

Fear is a powerful thing. It can stick you in neutral and leave you on the side of the road. Fear doesn’t care. Fear laughs at your insecurities as it tosses your meager belongings out the window and drives on. I don’t want to be stuck in neutral, so I try, by and large, to power through.

However, sometimes the fear wins and I shut down. I stop writing. I stop photographing. I stop putting myself out into the universe. And then I’m even more miserable than I was when I was trucking along with fear as a constant, unwanted companion. Because without momentum, without forward motion, the fear stagnates. It swirls and binds. Fear begets misery and claustrophobia and anxiety. More than anything, fear begets sorrow. Sorrow for what was lost, what was missed, what could have been.

My fear du jour is this: rejection. I have started on a new book that I’m really fired up about, because it’s something no one else has written. There are lots of articles, but none are complete. None tell the whole story. And, most importantly, none tell the story of the very people at the heart of it.

Everyone has a story to tell. It’s amazing, really. I learned this over the course of the past three years at work, when I started interviewing faculty and staff as part of a regular feature in our weekly newsletter. It began as a way to introduce new employees, but when I ran out of them I started interviewing the veterans. I learned some pretty incredible things about people I work with, and every interview inevitably leads to at least one surprise. Sometimes it’s something we didn’t know we have in common, sometimes it’s something I’d never have guessed. Every interview has been great. Every. Single. One.

The most gratifying response is when my subjects review their bio before publication and tell me, “You made me sound so interesting! I never knew!” I love that. Because people are interesting. They’re fascinating. All of them. So many stories, so little time.

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get in touch with the people at the heart of the new book I’m working on. I found names online, and a few stray snail mail addresses. I busied myself with creating a list, telling myself that the grunt work was worthy and keeping me going. And it was, for awhile. But when I thought about reaching out to these people, I froze. So I just kept researching.

Someone (thanks, Judy!) suggested that I look into a group some of the people formed on Facebook. I searched, and I found the group. They are right there. Right within reach. All I have to do is ask.

So, naturally, I froze. I stopped all work. For days. I thought about it a lot. I thought about it as I drove to work, and in between projects at work, and on the drive home from work. I thought about it while I made dinner. I composed hundreds of messages in my head, asking them to give me a tremendous gift, the gift of their stories.

And then I’d sit my butt on the couch and watch Mad Men. When Mad Men ended I switched to The Newsroom. I finished that last night. Or almost. The third season on Prime is not free. Of course. Because they hook you on the first two and then dangle the third behind a pay wall. It’s only like ten bucks, but it’s the principle of the matter. Stop behaving like the BBC, Amazon. Clearly I am carrying quite a bit of angst about streaming television. Anyway, I’ve maxed out my free Newsroom and I’m sick of reading Writers Digest articles that all tell me I should be writing instead of watching Mad Men and The Newsroom.

I read my writer friend’s blog post about fear a couple days ago, and left a comment. What if I get rejected? What if they tell me no? What if they don’t want to talk to me? What happens to my book if the people at the heart of it decline to be interviewed?

My friend responded with very wise words. I’ve heard this before, but tend to forget it. She wrote, “Failure is not the worst thing that can happen, not trying is, because one day the question will come back and haunt you…what if I had tried?”

Her words started to haunt me worse than the fear of failure. What if I never got out of neutral and then my whole life went by and all I had at the end was regret for not trying?

Then I thought again about approaching the people whose story I so desperately want to tell. What if they reject me? I guess the book doesn’t get written. Which is exactly where I am right now. Only now I would know that at least I tried. And then I would find a new book to write.

So my writing assignment tonight at my writing group was to compose a message to one of the group admins. I had a writer friend review it for me, basically to ensure that I didn’t sound pushy or disrespectful. I want the group admin to know that I think her story, and all the other stories, are worth telling. They deserve to be heard.

And then, I sent it. Before I could chicken out. Before I could go home and cave and pay Amazon ten bucks to watch the last season of The Newsroom and fall asleep having made no progress at all for yet another day.

So it’s out there, now. Floating around with some dreams and hopes attached. Fear be damned. It feels good that it’s out there, even though the fear is still lingering. Onward.

*I never said my fear was rational. I mean, San Jose? Really?

**Okay, so this isn’t so much a fear as just a general feeling of being mad. They yanked the Doctor off Amazon, so I subscribed to Netflix. Now they’ve yanked it off Netflix. Grrrr.

UPDATE: The administrator of the group responded! She is going to take it to the members and they will let me know. It breaks my heart that others have asked to interview and they had some negative experiences, so they are naturally wary. These people went through so much, and the fact that someone would cause them more grief is unfathomable. They, like me, are scared. Wow.

A Pre-Valentine’s Day Tale of Nefamy

Zoe and I ran into Michael’s after school today, because I’m the kind of mom who goes, “Oh, no! Your Valentine’s Day party is Friday and we are completely unprepared!” We were on the hunt for the Valentines themselves and some kind of little trinket to attach, because unlike when I was a kid, you must now also give gifts to the 24 little Valentine banshees in your class. A crappy piece of folded paper printed with Scooby Doo in two colors doesn’t cut it any more. Turns out that Michael’s doesn’t carry Valentines, although we found some cute erasers and washi tape (the washi tape is unrelated to Valentine’s Day but I have a small, unexplainable addiction to washi tape) so it wasn’t a total loss, but that’s not my story. Oh, no, friends. My story is much more nefarious.*

As we entered the store, a slightly-disheveled woman in her 40s sitting to the left just inside the door caught our attention. She sat at a small, skirted table with scraps of white paper, a little vase of pens, and a glass jar that held more paper. She thrust a scrap at me and said, “Win a gift card! Write your name and phone number on this and you can win!” I took the paper and saw that the jar had lots of scraps with names and numbers already. I also noticed that there were absolutely no identification markings of any kind on her, on the table, or anywhere around, which seemed odd for a promotion. The little pieces of paper outside the jar were about the size of a normal raffle ticket and completely blank.

I’m in marketing and communications. I know marketing trickery. I can see it a million miles away, and this whole scenario wasn’t adding up. Good promotions require companies to look like someone barfed the logo everywhere because consumers are jerks and need to see something seven times for it to sink in. There are studies that prove this. There are also studies that say marketers shouldn’t call consumers jerks, but I ignore those.

So I asked, “What’s this for?” And the following conversation unraveled while Zoe stood and watched like she was enjoying a match at Wimbledon.

“It’s for a drawing!”

“For what?”

“A gift card!”

“A Michael’s gift card?”

“Yes, a Michael’s gift card.”

“Where does my phone number go?”

This is the part that kills me. She points to the jar with the other scraps of paper and says brightly, “It goes in there.”

Which is when I decide that there is no way on God’s green earth she is getting anything from me, but that it would be fun to mess with her.

“No. Where does my phone number go. Who gets it?”

“No one gets it. We do not sell or give away your number.”

“Okay, but who is ‘we?’”

She is silent, and I can tell she’s getting aggravated. The chipper “win a gift card” lady is gone, replaced by the “seriously, just fill out the dang piece of paper. I’m not getting paid enough to deal with this stuff” lady. So I try again. Because now I’m on the hunt. Because now I’m not leaving the store until I find out what the heck she’s doing there.

“Is this a Michael’s promotion?”

“Yes, it’s for a Michael’s gift card.”

“No, that’s not what I’m asking. Is Michael’s the sponsor? Who is the sponsor?”

“It’s a Michael’s gift card.” (There should be a huffy font for this line. Alas.)

“I get that it’s a Michael’s gift card. Who is sponsoring the promotion? Who is running this? Who is paying you?

“…It’s…it’s for the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch.” She looked really mad now.

Satisfied, I dropped the scrap of paper and said, “Not interested.” Zoe and I went off in search of Valentines, trinkets, and unanticipated washi tape. My child got a lecture about how important it is to find out who someone really is before you give your private information while the raffle lady glared at me as we wove in and out of the aisles. We purchased our erasers and washi tape, and I declined forking over my email to Michael’s for the millionth time. Only because I did once and they bombarded me into next Wednesday with their sale emails and ain’t nobody got time for that. And because I was in super-protection mode about my personal information by this point. I’m like a freakin’ privacy ninja.

On our way out, I watched two women stop and hand over their information to the crabby raffle lady without asking a single question. God knows what list they’re going to end up on, because I don’t even truly believe she was with the Post-Dispatch. I’ve seen promotions run by the paper, and those people are insanely proud of their logo. Plus they have more lawyers than reporters now and so everything they touch has at least 1,200 words of legal mumbo-jumbo printed at the bottom. I thought about all the scraps of paper already in the jar. So many people just blindly fork over information to someone with no identification, no markings, not even a formal raffle ticket with an official privacy disclaimer. We hear all these warnings about online confidentiality, and yet folks will hand over their contact information to a stranger without asking a single question. It boggles my mind.

Just so you know, because I’m sure you’ve been on pins and needles since I started my tale of nefariousness, we found Valentines cards at Walgreens, and they have Grumpy Cat on them so they are awesome. They say things like, “Am I happy it’s Valentine’s Day? Nope.” and “I had a Valentine once. It was awful.” and “Grumpy this Valentine’s Day? Good.” Zozo and I love Grumpy Cat, and we cackled right there in the aisle as we read them so it was a good find. Way better than Scooby Doo.

They should have Valentines that say, “Don’t be an idiot. LOVE your private information. Don’t share it with strangers!” I’d probably be the only person who buys them, though. This is why I don’t write Valentine’s Day cards for a living. I care too much, people.

*Really, that story wasn’t quite so nefarious as I first made it sound, but I’ve been dying to use the word “nefarious” here and I saw an opening and seized it. Clearly I live in a bubble and don’t know true nefariousness. Which is way too long of a word and should be shortened to nefamy. Like infamy, only with evil undertones.

Discussion closed

Hard week, this week. Mostly because Alzheimer’s sucks.

For new readers who aren’t familiar with my old blog, here’s the nutshell: in 2014 my mother was diagnosed with Posterior Cortical Atrophy, or PCA, which may or may not be a rare subset of Alzheimer’s. Depends on the neurologist you ask. That’s how messed up it is: experts can’t even agree on what the heck it is. Some say it’s Alzheimer’s, some say it’s unrelated, some say it’s a precursor. What we all know is this: it sucks.

Vision problems are the most obvious symptom of PCA. The eyes work, but the brain can’t process the images. She has that. But she also has all the memory issues that come with “traditional” Alzheimer’s. Her doctor’s haven’t said “Alzheimer’s,” because they know they cannot definitively diagnose Alzheimer’s without an autopsy and because they know that it’s one of the very worst diseases you can tell someone she has. But we say it. Because we know. And because when we say “PCA” to others we have to explain what PCA is and go through it all over again. Everyone knows what Alzheimer’s is.

My mother is declining fast. Well, fast to us, anyway. The thing with Alzheimer’s is that it’s different for everyone. Rates of decline and plateaus and even symptoms. Some people respond (maybe?) to certain medications. None that will stop the decline, only slow the progression. There’s not even a good way to tell that. The only certainty is that there’s a boatload of “We don’t know” involved.

I know that people deal with Alzheimer’s differently. I’m talking about the people who don’t have Alzheimer’s but know someone who does, or know someone who knows someone who does. All I can do is share my own reality, and my own coping mechanisms. They are these:

My reality is that I am losing a mother that I have desperately hoped to find my entire adult life. My relationship with my mother was contentious for years, from the time I was a teenager right up until when she forgot to be mean. I spent years mourning what I didn’t have: a close relationship full of love and support with someone I knew loved me merely by dint of giving birth to me. No questions asked. Mother + Daughter = Love. I know she loved me the very best she could. It just wasn’t enough for me. (I have never denied that I have unrealistic expectations.) I needed love without judgment. Love without criticism. But through all that, even when I didn’t realize it, part of me hoped (again, unrealistically, I know) that we’d get past all the scar tissue and eventually have a healthy, loving relationship. PCA smashed that hope, so I’m grieving anew. I’m grieving twice, once for the mother I always wanted and again for the mother I am losing. Yes, I do know how completely messed up this is. I yam what I yam.

In addition to unpacking my emotional baggage over and over, I am trying to help with care for my mother. My role has largely been managing the neurologist and getting involved when there’s bureaucracy. I am tackling the legal and insurance junk that comes with securing short- and long-term professional care. My sister’s role has largely been managing the day-to-day crises that pop up, which is remarkable in both scope and depth, and which she handles with grace and without complaint. She got the short end of the stick with this division of labor, and I know it, and I am eternally grateful for her and for everything she does. We both work full-time and have families, and Alzheimer’s is anything but convenient.

That’s my reality. Now, here’s how I cope.

I cry. A lot. I write. A lot. Even more than I cry. Thousands of words you will never see here, and which will most likely never see the light of day. I research. I get mad. I forcefully try to forget we are going through this and fail, which angers me all over again. I call or text my closest friends and I lean on them hard. And since they are incredibly kind and sturdy people, they hold me up and make me feel better. (You know who you are. I love you.) But what I really need to truly cope with this on a day-to-day basis is this: I don’t want to talk about it unless I want to talk about it. Talking about my mother needs to be on my terms. There is so much I can’t control with this disease and what it’s doing to my family; I have to seize control of this one little thing. I need to control when I think about it, how deep I go with those thoughts, and when I express how I feel about it. If you are a friend of mine, or a loved one, I already know you care. I’ve done a bang-up job of ditching the jerky people in my life, so I’m certain that the ones left are good people. You do not need to prove to me that you care about me, or my family, by asking about my mother. Because when I am not in that mental space to cope with questions, it feels like a sucker-punch to the gut. And most days, I am not in the mental space to cope with it. I think about my mother a lot. I think about my family a lot. I just don’t want to discuss her, or them, unless I feel like it.

Part of it is this: I know that she feels humiliated that she has this terrible disease. Even though she has done nothing to deserve it. Even though she can’t fix it. She is still embarrassed. And I want to honor her by not talking about her. This is incredibly ironic because my mother’s favorite pastime when she was well was talking about other people. I get that. Still, I am cut from a different cloth, and I think she deserves respect and privacy, as all people do, and I know she would be mortified if she knew that people wanted to discuss what her disease is doing to her.

Part of it is this: There is a never a good update with Alzheimer’s. There is no hope. There is no, “Well, we hope this new treatment will work.” No silver lining, no light at the end of that tunnel. Ever. So when I am asked again and again, “How is your mom doing?” it feels like, “Tell me what new symptoms she is exhibiting.” New symptoms are the only update there is to give. She isn’t something for others to casually review and discuss. I had a conversation with someone recently who refused to pick up on the clear signs I was sending that said, “I do not want to talk about this. Please stop asking me questions.” I had to get help from a bystander to get the conversation train switched to new rails. By the end of it, I was shaking and nauseated. My mother is not a freak show, and she doesn’t deserve to have her new symptoms cataloged in detail to others. This means the only thing I can say is, “Well, she continues to decline.” Which is always met with silence. The silence feels like, “Wow, that sucks for her” and it feels like, “Tell me more.” So let’s just avoid the awkward conversation that shreds my heart and makes me feel like throwing up.

I’m sorry this post is so intense. I don’t know how to make this funny. There are a lot of things I can make funny. This isn’t one of them. Alzheimer’s is where funny goes to die. There isn’t a lot of funny this week, for reasons no one else needs to know. I apologize, too, for being so contrary. Kind people mean well when they ask about my mother. My brain gets that. It’s my stupid heart and gut that refuse to cooperate. So please know that I know you care. Know that I appreciate your care and your love and your support. And know that when I want to talk, I will talk. Please let me initiate that conversation.

I know a man who, years ago, was diagnosed with something pretty crummy. I asked him shortly after how he was doing, and my question was loaded. It wasn’t the passing-by how are you doing. It was the heavily weighted, fraught with concern, “How are you doing?” He paused, and said, “Fine.” His voice was tight and the answer was clipped. So I asked him if he wanted me to ask him any more how he was doing. He said no, he didn’t. In fact, he didn’t want anyone to ask him. He said, “I don’t want to be known as ‘the guy with ____.’ I just want to be me. I don’t want to talk about it.” I will never forget that, and I think he is brilliant for figuring it out so quickly.

I’m not saying that this tactic the two of us take, the silent treatment, is right for everyone. Some people find great solace in open and frequent communication. To each his own. Whatever floats her boat. What I am saying is, don’t be afraid to ask someone what she wants and needs in the way of shows of support. You will be far more helpful if you give your friend exactly what she needs instead of what you think she needs.

Thanks for bearing with me. I promise I will try to bring the funny back. I miss it.

The Motorman

One hundred and two years ago today, my great-grandfather received his union card. John Foley drove a street car, and he was a proud member of the Employes Mutual Benefit Association of the United Railways Company of St. Louis. He was a motorman in the 6th Division. The back of the card says he was 5 feet 10.5 inches tall, and had black hair and blue eyes. The same blue eyes as my grandmother, my father, and my daughter. (I didn’t get so lucky.) (Thanks, Mom.)

Turns out there aren’t many photos of street cars from 1914. I know because I googled the heck out of it and found squat. 1914: good public transportation, lacking in photography. 2016: excellent options for photography, hardly any public transportation.

My great-grandfather emigrated here from Ireland. He left everything, and everyone, he knew to come to a new country in the hopes of building a better life. He landed in St. Louis, where he met and married Johanna Quirk from Tipperary. They had three children: Mary, John, and Matthew. Uncle Matt was killed in The War, and my grandmother’s heart was broken forever over the loss of her beloved older brother. It was a sacrifice many families made, but that shared sense of loss didn’t make it any easier. I could still see the broken places when she told me the story about the day the military men arrived at her parents’ house to deliver the news.

Uncle John was an eccentric old man by the time I met him, with a cottage in Ferguson chock full of hidey holes and jars of coins stashed under armchairs. He gave me treats when I visited, and I remember him being kind and gentle, if odd. Once he gave me a paper grocery bag full of peanuts in the shell. I was six, and I had never seen so many peanuts. After years of living alone (his marriage had dissolved decades earlier), he was a wee bit touched, as they might have said in The Old Country.

Mary had three children herself: Margaret (called Peggy), Joann, and Raymond. She was a tough broad who divorced her lousy husband before it was acceptable to do so and raised three kids on her own. She was fierce, feisty and foul-mouthed, and held onto grudges like a rabid pit bull. She disregarded what society told her she should do, taking the more difficult path to provide a better life for her children.

Raymond has seen his share of heartbreak, most of it inflicted by people who were supposed to love him. He is an incredible man in many ways, but mostly because he doesn’t hold onto an ounce of bitterness. He is kindness, grace and forgiveness personified. It’s almost as if his mother held onto all the grudges so he wouldn’t have to.

Today, Mary’s youngest child, Raymond, met his eldest child, who also curses like a sailor, for lunch. After nachos at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, he handed over John Foley’s union card. I see in that card the generations of sacrifice that came before me.JohnFoleyMembershipCard

I don’t know what my great-grandfather thought about 102 years ago, but if he was like me – or every other parent I know – he wanted a better life for his kids and he was willing to do whatever it took to provide opportunities. Including leaving his country and driving a street car for a living. His sacrifices, and those of his children and his grand children, means his great-granddaughter earned the first college degree in the family (plus a masters to boot) and lives a pretty darn good life. (Although BBC just yanked Doctor Who off Netflix which causes me considerable consternation. Jerks.)

John Foley’s great-great-granddaughter has the world at her feet. She’s a smart girl with an irrepressible sense of humor, insane musical talent, and an impressive amount of courage. So far, she hasn’t exhibited signs of loving expletives like her mother and great-grandmother, but I’m hopeful. And like all the parents who came before, her mother and father will move heaven and earth to give her opportunities.

Not too shabby for the descendants of a motorman in the 6th Division.