Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Halloween is one of the best days of the year in our house.

Tonight, we sent out a Nerd, a Zombie Punk, a Pirate, James Bond and a Police Officer.

I love Halloween.

At Christmas, I tend to limit the amount of gifts the kids get. I don’t think an enormous pile of material goods celebrates the spirit of Christmas, of peace on earth good will to men. I’m a stickler about that.

At Easter… well, since I don’t believe in Jesus the Savior rising from the grave, I really struggle with Easter. Sure, I love a good ham and don’t mind some jellybeans and peeps but… again, I tend to limit any excess.

But Halloween? I’m in costume, ready to go every year. I love Halloween. It is the one time I don’t limit anything. My kids can go to as many houses as they can stand, haul in as much candy as they can carry and eat whatever they want.

The first time Walter and Allan came trick or treating with us, they came in full costume. Walter was a Gladiator and Allan, a vampire.

I had nothing planned. Not that deep down I didn’t want to wear a costume, because I did, rather I stuck to the suburban role of chuckling parent on the sidewalk with the flashlight.

That was it. The next year, I was Annika Sorenstam. I had dyed my hair blonde for the first time and had a new love of golf.

The year after, Martha Stewart – in a orange prison jumpsuit, pearls, handcuffs and a lovely cafeteria tray of spam hors dourves.

The calm suburban crowd started to cheer.

Don’t cheer me and not expect a serious elevation of effort.

The following year I dressed as the principal of the school. Our principal is a wonderful woman, incredibly energetic- okay, perhaps a little too energetic- and always- always- wears a suit with a skirt and pumps.

The crowd went wild.

I just love the idea we can pretend to be something we are not for the night. To play dress up. To let loose with all the conventions we stifle ourselves with as parents every day and be silly.

The haul tonight? Ben had six pounds four ounces, 227 pieces of candy. Zach had about six pounds. Jake had candy. A lot of it.

I love Halloween.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Personality Test

I just did one of those ridiculous personality tests someone emails you. I had some time before going to pick up the kids. I couldn’t really start anything or finish anything, so … what the heck.

The test revealed I valued family, first and foremost. You rank an animal from favorite to least and this is supposedly is a direct correlation to your values. I’m not sure what liking horses has to do with family, but I do like horses, always have. The next most loved animal was a tiger that signifies pride. When my pride is hurt, I am deeply affected. I have a hard time letting go of pride wounds. The next on my list was Love. Why sheep signify love, I think only lonely Shepard’s can explain. I find it interesting that family and love are two different things. To me, they are the same. I cannot imagine family without love.

Which is ironic as I had a lot of family in my life without love. Perhaps that’s why I value it so much. And find it hard to separate. I want it to be one thing.

Last on the list- my career. I guess that means the multimedia iPod casts I’m working on will take a while.

The next part of the test had you write a single word of description for different things to signify your partner, your enemies, your life and sex. A word to describe coffee was how you felt about sex. I said fabulous. I love coffee. I love the aroma, I love the taste, I love the heat… and I like both in the morning. Imagine that.

I found it interesting how your one word description of a dog is how you describe yourself. This means deep trouble for those who hate dogs. I wrote loyal, as my own dog sits with undying affection and perseverance at my feet every day, even when she does not get a long, unleashed walk in the woods. She’s still there. Even when I accidentally roll over her tail with my chair. She whimpers, sure, but then settles right back at my feet.

I realize I am that kind of loyal. Just roll over me, crush my tail- don’t worry, I’ll still be there.

And then the test had you list people associated with colors. Yellow was easy- I think yellow, I think flowers, and I think Walter. That is the person I will never forget. How could I forget Walter? I talk to him about 100 times a day.

The next was orange and I picked Jeanine. The truth is, orange rarely matches much and Jeanine never matches. If there was ever a case for adult geranimals, it’s Jeanine. Orange represented the color of my true friend. She is my true friend. She drives me nuts, but she knows me more deeply than anyone else.

Red… for red I picked someone who has been rolling over my tail, again and again. The color seems angry and hurt to me. In the test, it represents someone you really love.


More Jerkaholics Anonymous for me.

The last color was green and I immediately thought of my mother. I don’t know why. I don’t remember her especially liking green. It was, however, the color of the rug in the house I grew up in, and spent long, painful moments with my face pressed against. And then, my father once gave me a green sweater. He said it would look pretty on me.

I promptly got rid of it.

Over the years, I’ve come to see the color as life and spring. Walter planted a shrub in my garden that was a dazzling bright, spring green. I loved it. After being on vacation in Arizona a few years ago, I remember coming back and seeing green in a different way. It felt like it washed my eyes, softened everything around me.

In the test, green was for someone you will always remember.

I will always remember my mother. And maybe, like the color green, my memories and associations with her will shift and change. I will no longer be drawn to the pain but start to see the kindness. Because there was kindness. Moments when she would shine. The times when she loved me, deeply. When I could do no wrong.

Then I realize- it’s a time bomb. I’m feeling sad and lost right now. My writing seems stupid, irrelevant. I have no purpose until my children come home. The pain shoots through me- I will never hear her voice again. I will never have a chance to be the star again. And so I seek a stronger voice to tell me it’s okay. I am worthwhile. I am a good person. Someone like my mother.

It is a path I’ve taken over and over in my life. Where I have sought the same golden light from others, the same approval from someone who has my mother’s timbre. Nothing else feels as healing.

Nothing else hurts as much.

I end up being used. Green becomes the carpet when I thought it could be soft forgiveness.

This is, in fact, about the red person. Just like my mother, there was just enough to keep replaying the tapes of the golden light, of the positive, of the love in my mind that ends up being like a time bomb, waiting to explode. I forget how much it hurt. And I believe the kindness, sincerity and love could happen again.

Because otherwise, I’d have to face how disposable I was. How completely replaceable my willingness to adore, regardless of the damage, was. The minute I believed I should have something, that it was no longer okay to give my heart away for nothing in return, the door was shut. Just like my mother.

My mother could not give freely. It meant being caught at being incapable. Broken. It froze her. The red person is the same, with her mirror held close, the rooms disappears. If it were put down, she would have to see the long line of thrown away friends and lovers as equals in pain. She would be caught in her selfishness.

And just like my mother, her pain is the greatest. The most important. The hardest. No one can compete. I always lose. I am merely someone seeking to heal my small, inconsequential self.

The test results did not surprise me. It was a reminder of what I know.

Green is a beautiful color. One of life and spring. One that makes everything a little softer, easier.

And if I forget the green carpet on my face, I forget my own voice. I forget how to speak, loudly enough to be heard.

And then I start looking for someone to roll over my tail, again and again.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Lantern Walk

One of the very first things we all started to do as a family was the Lantern Walk. Every year, in Jamaica Plain, the whole community gathers the Sunday night before Halloween and takes a walk around the Jamaica Pond. With Lanterns. Some are store bought but mostly, they are hand made creations lit with candles. Jamaica Plain is a funky, fun part of Boston, where the rents are still somewhat reasonable and is still seen as a haven for artists. While you walk around, there is a group playing drums. Another is doing Irish folk dances. And yet still another group is singing songs you remember from campfires when you were a kid.

The kids- and some grown ups- dress in their Halloween costumes. My kids see it as the ‘test run’ for any costume idea they have, to be sure it will be comfortable, that you can see out of whatever eye holes are available and nothing is scratchy.

For me, it’s a reminder every year of how our family came together, slowly, but surely over many years. Long before we spent every holiday together, we had the Lantern Walk. With strollers, at first, and a few years with one adult going back to the house with Jake who couldn’t quite make it around the mile plus walk around the pond. Now we all walk and the adults complain about the distance- last year it was Allan’s first year with a new hip. This year… well, we’re just old and whiny. Wait till the kids have to push us in our wheelchairs.

This year, Ben had a choice to go to a friend’s Halloween party.

No. I can’t miss the Lantern Walk, he said.

I agree. It is a celebration of the first tiny seeds of family that we started.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Daily Mutterings

I am often shocked at what comes out my mouth on a daily basis. Not in the moment, because in the moment, it simply is what it is. But when I look back and think about it…

Who put the toothpaste on the toilet this time?

Who wiped boogers on the wall? Do you know how gross that is? Don’t look at me. I don’t wipe boogers on walls. Neither does your mother. No, Jake, the dog doesn’t have fingers.

This is not MoCA. Your school bags in a pile are not art. Put them away.

No, you may not play basketball in your mother’s heels. I don’t care if you can. They are expensive shoes and it’s raining outside.

You cannot put the cat down on the dog’s head.

Your penis will not fall off if you let go.

If I said no to him, do you really think it’s a good idea to try the very same thing three seconds later?

When you kicked your brother in the testicles, you taught him a new trick. Don’t come complain to me when he uses it on you.

(And yes, I do use that word instead of balls. I want to say balls but I don’t. Because then I could not keep a straight face.)

And that was what I heard myself say today. So far.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Service

I just walked back in the house. I cannot talk anymore. I have talked myself out today.

Walter said to the boys, during the reception after the service, see your mom? She’s broiling hot right now, pretty tired, and see how she's talking to everyone? She makes them feel like they know her, and knew your grandma... that's what your grandma could do. Your mom can, too. Someday, you'll be able to do it, too.

And then he took them out, down the street and they played James Bond in their suits around the large pillars of a bank.

The funeral was.... intense and not. My friend Terry who came up found herself being fundraised- simply because she was a friend of the family. She was blown away. Wow, she said. I only had a taste of it and I can't believe it. I can't believe that was your life while you were there.

Yup. Every day. I was Anne Whitman's daughter. Open season.

I'm exhausted. One of my most favorite, favorite people, Pearl, was there. She is very ill. Cancer of everything, everywhere. I sat with her a while at the end. She said, you look fabulous. I know you feel like shit but you look fabulous.

I said, yeah, you too.

I want a Walter, she said. What an amazing man.

I know. He is. I am so very lucky to have such a great dad for my kids. A great friend for me. I paused and reminded her, there is an Allan you know.

I know, I know but he's not here. Walter... what a gift.


When we landed in Rochester, my entourage surrounded me. It was fabulous. I felt held and loved and known. My family was with me. We drove Terry and Maria, two friends that came with us, to see the house we lived in up there, if ever so briefly. Walter wanted to see the 12 elms I planted. The trees all started at about 10 feet tall when I planted them. All twelve are still healthy, at least three feet taller, and beautiful.

Good job, Walter said. I know he eyed the property and thought about the Beech tree we discussed, and the orchard on the side of the hill. It was a stunning piece of land. But not our home. Maria asked the boys if they missed the house and land.

Well, I miss the house and the yard was great but... I didn't like living in New York, Ben said.

The other two were quiet. I’m not sure how much they remember. We were only there six months.

No.. I didn't like New York. I mean, it was fine, in some ways but... no. I like being at home.

At the service, Dan read the poem by May Sarton, The Beggar, Queen and Ghost. It was my mother. To her core. It made her human.

I loved my mother. I loved her very much. Today, I was her protégé. I did what I needed to do to honor her.

It’s been a long, long day.

I’m rambling. I’m not making much sense. I’ve talked all I can talk.

It’s over.

Don't like Goodbyes

I’m leaving very early for my mother’s memorial service. Maybe it’s all the years I’ve lived with a composer but a song keeps going through my head.

Once again… lyrics by EH Harburg and music by Harold Arlen:


Don’t like good-byes, tears or sighs.
I’m not too good at leavin’ time.
I got no taste for grievin’ time. no, no - not me.

You’ve been my near ones, always my dear ones.
I never thought that I would find
Another love, a different kind, but it came to be.

Well, if you think I’m tellin’ you lies,
Go try your luck and look into her eyes.
But remember, you must remember she’s mine,
And my world over head has a clear new shine.

Don’t want to leave you, sorry to grieve you.
It’s travelin’ time and I must move on.
Found the girl to lean upon.
And if I could arrange it,
Oh would I care to change it? not me!

(musical interlude)

Don’t wanna leave you, sorry to grieve you.
It’s travelin’ time and I must move on.
Found the gal to lean upon.
And if I could arrange it,
Oh would I care to change it? not me!

I know today will be a long, day.

If you are looking for the song, it's the Pearl Bailey version I hear in my head. From "House of Flowers," 1954. I've tried a link but alas... I need my own website.


Thursday, October 26, 2006


I looked out my office window a little while ago because Zachary was shrieking. Zachary rarely shrieks.

What I saw was him standing, outside, with his pants down around his ankles. Underwear, too. I flipped out.

Not a little, but a lot.

What happened was his brothers, being the funny guys they are, had stuffed leaves down his pants while they were attempting to rake up a leaf pile. Started with throwing some leaves back and forth. Pretty normal kid stuff. Zachary, miserable with the scratchy leaves and completely comfortable with his body, pulled his pants down to remove the leaves and was yelling at his brothers for being such jerks.

No, they should not have been stuffing leaves down each other’s pants. No, Zachary should not have tried to immediately remove the offending leaves, instead should have opted to go inside and take care of it. Of course I would have yelled at him for dragging leaves in the house but who would think the alternative would be to be half naked- the important half- in the front yard. Shrieking.

But what I saw will give me nightmares. It is the melding of my young son’s vulnerability with my own. For a moment, I cannot separate the two. I screamed at all of them to get inside NOW and go to their rooms NOW. I was shaking. I was having a completely overblown reaction to a fairly mild incident.

It has nothing to do with my children. Zachary was fine. He is fine. I have created a safe life for him. Herein lies my challenge as a parent. It’s not about them. I project all my fears about my own safety, my own fears onto them. The image is not of my son. It is of me. The line gets blurry. My heart starts to pound. I see the exposure and it is my exposure. He is mad about leaves.

I am not seeing leaves. I’m seeing hands gripping me.

I have to stay clear. I have to see the lines. Otherwise my anger, my fear, my rage will spill into their experience and make them cautious when there is no need to be cautious. Afraid of some unseen demon that haunts me, not them. I don’t want them afraid. It is a horrible way to live.

I called them downstairs. I explained, calmly, I did not want to see that again. I explained it is not okay to have your pants down in the front yard, in the back yard, or in any yard. No one should be jamming leaves into anyone else’s pants. It’s about privacy and personal space. Don’t jam them down someone’s shirt. Don’t jam them anywhere. They are leaves. Jump in them. God only knows what you’ve raked up. Sticks. Dog poop. Trash. Just jump in them.

Okay, Mom.

Sorry, Mom.

Yeah, sorry, Mom.

They are all very quiet. They don’t like it when I yell- really yell. It frightens them.

Clearly, I am all ready to go to Rochester tomorrow. Anxiety packed, complete loss of reality to be placed in the overhead bin and fear tucked in a quart sized Ziploc bag- no more than three ounces.

I need to remember, there are no hands.

It was just leaves.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Dirty Socks on the Kitchen Counter

Oh my god.

I was gone for two days. One night.

The house looks like a bomb went off.

I asked Jeanine if they simply took things and threw them in the air.

Very perceptive, she said.

Not funny, I said. Look at this place.

She shrugged and asked me to make lunches for the kids.

I asked Ben what was up with the mess.

He smiled.

Gets a little loose around here with Mom in charge, huh? I asked.


Did the newspaper have to end up under the kitchen table? Shredded?

Whatever, he shrugged. He’s working hard on his teenager angst and surliness. But then, he’s been working on it since he was about three.

I find it hard to work when there is a mess in the house. No one else will clean it up- at least not unsupervised. That includes Jeanine. Who had not one, not two, not even three, but four lap top computers surrounding her this morning while having coffee.

Pretty cool, huh? She said, eyes glazed with techno- ecstasy.

I barricaded myself in my office. My office is clean. Neat. Tidy. One computer. That’s all I need. One.

But it’s out there. The mess.

Not the four computers. Some of them went with her to work. But the shoes, coats, hats, books, crayons, dirty dishes, shredded newspaper, sticky countertops and… yes, a single, dirty sock on the kitchen countertop, are all out there.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


I’ve only been away a couple days. I’ve been in long meetings. Thoughtful discussions. It’s amazing to be a part of systemic, deeply integrated, racial justice change. I am honored. I believe in the need for change so deep we wonder whether or not we deserve the seats in the boardrooms where we work to create such change.

For some reason, being in long meetings makes me consume beverages in copious amounts. Too much coffee, water and trips to the bathroom. I’ll be wired for hours tonight.

I know, I know, cool it with the late coffee.

And can someone tell me why meeting rooms always have the heat too high or the a/c to low? I have sat in so many meetings, in so many buildings and in my experience, not a single conference room can maintain a comfortable temperature level.

Today one board member and I fought over the thermostat. At the end, he looked at me, shrugged and said, I’m between two women. His wife on one side. Me on the other. It made me laugh. His wife is well through menopause. I am just beginning.

There is no temperature that makes me happy.

I’m on my way home on the train, a blessed piece of transportation unaffected by security changes. I get to have beverages, lotion and toothpaste in large containers. It is amazing what makes you happy when your civil liberties have been stripped away.

Tonight, though, I ache for home. I want to kiss my children. I need desperately to hold them and remember what is important. How safe they are. How much I love them and would never hurt them. It is not something I take for granted.

I woke up with a nightmare last night so horrible I could not shut my eyes again. It was a weaving of my current life with past horrors. The images are still pressed in my mind. I am uneasy. The next time I try to sleep, I’m afraid I will see it all again. It rocks me to my core. My children’s faces meld into my own. I am at once victim and perpetrator. It is beyond description except to say I wake up with a dry scream in my throat.


Please, oh god, please, no.

I know I am a good parent. I know I would never hurt my children. But the scars I have cut so deep they make who I am and who my parents were inseparable at night.

I wonder if sleeping is overrated.

My babies. I could never hurt them. And yet my own father hurt me. Without a moment’s hesitation, I became his prey.

In the long run, I am anybody’s prey.

I am up for grabs. I am vulnerable to the worst kind of people- the ones who only care for themselves. Whose desperate need to be soothed surpasses any of my own.

When I wake up from these dreams, I want to put an end to the images. I want to put a gun to my own head and stop the movie I cannot stop. I don’t want to die; I simply want the images to stop. I know of no other way. It’s as if the gunpowder and bullet will cut through my head and remove all that is bad. All that I cannot control. All that happened to me I could never control and make me better. Obliterate it with a single shot. Not surgical- there is too much to be surgical- a messy but complete removal.

I heard my voice last night say please stop please stop please stop.

It will never stop.

And the gun is no answer.

There is no answer. Except to step through every day holding the images.

And at night, hope I can let them go.

Big Mouth vs. Courage

A friend told me the other day that I had courage. My writing took courage.

I said, no, I simply have a big mouth.

Maybe a big mouth, but it takes courage, too.

I remembered something I tell my children. Being brave, having courage, isn’t about not being afraid. Everyone is afraid sometimes. It’s about being afraid and not letting that stop you. Doing it anyway.

I write what I do to go through the pain. To stop dancing around the edges, instead taking steps straight into the fray. I am surprised when it touches people. I receive emails from people who say, thank you. Thank you for giving voice to how I feel.
I think I simply have a big mouth.

But for all my bravado, I am afraid when I go to post it.

But I do it anyway.

Maybe my friend is right.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


I’m going to have to sit in the same room with the man who hurt me deeply me as a child.

My father.

No one will tell him to stay away from my mother’s memorial service. Honestly, no one can make him stay away. And now I’m terrified.

My mother divorced my father when I was very young, six almost seven years old. A social worker, after having evaluated my older sister, had told my mother to get him out of the house. My mother did. She always said she didn’t know why but she knew she had to do it immediately. She kept us safe but never believed he ever did any real harm. Not until the last few months of her life.

In my memory, my mother always hated him. I know there was a point, a time when she loved him enough to marry him. She said he could be sweet and kind. Gentle. When the country was swept off their feet by the victory of World War II, so was she by a tall man in a Navy uniform.

If there was a proverbial straw that broken the camels back, it was my mother’s final recognition that both her daughters were abused. Horribly. She could not bear it. Her final, desperate message to my sister as she was falling into unconsciousness was to let her know she always loved her. It was my father who was to blame for always whispering to my sister that he loved her more. More than anyone ever could.

My fear irrational. He cannot hurt me. He is an old man. But there is a dark corner of my mind where he has always lived. He is my fear of heights, of bridges. He is my fear of intimacy. He lurks in his corner, whispering horrible things, making images no normal person would ever wish to see part of my daily life.

I thought about a restraining order. But I have no marks. No visible ones. No bruises or scratches or bloody legs. I cannot prove he hurt me. It was so long ago; our legal system is of no use.

I have not seen him for over seven years. The last time was at my brother’s wedding. I went but without my children. I refused to have them exposed to him. I refused and I hadn’t yet had the memories come flooding back, washing over me, an unwanted movie I could not stop running through my head. The things he did to me as a child. But I knew. The memories were always there, just under my skin. Waiting to be seen, to be heard.

I remember as a teenager, refusing to touch him. To hug him. To have his hands anywhere near me. He disgusted me. I thought it was because he was a mental patient, living in hospital wards that smelled awful, going through shock treatments to try and make his brain right. Just as I could not stand glue on my hands as a kindergartener, just as the smell of a canvas tent makes me want to run, I recoiled from him. It was more than a teenagers disgust at not fitting in. It was that which simmered under my skin.

When I was 25, I decided no more. Never again would I talk to him or have to watch him rock from one foot to another, over and over again. I did not look back once. I never loved him. I could barely stand to be in the same room with him. I felt no guilt. No remorse. Ever. He would send letters and packages, which I returned unopened. I did not want to see what he sent. I did not want to read the words. Ten years went by before the wedding.

His brain was never right. It still isn’t. He is full of ticks, odd movements and he tends to walk around with his tongue out. I am told it is the result of the years and years of medications. I believe he does it to be lewd. Because the voices tell him it’s okay.

He tried to talk to me at my brother’s wedding. I held up my hand and said, no. I don’t want to ever speak with you again. Leave me alone.

He still sends letters, through my brother. Every year. One. Sometimes two. I put them back in the mail, unopened. Return to sender. Addressee unknown.

The hair on the back of my neck stands on end when I think about him. I feel my eyes narrow. My muscles tense so tight they ache.

He will be there on Friday. I will not rob my children of the opportunity to hear a community of people come say goodbye to their grandmother. She did great things. Things I am very proud of. I believe they need to know that. It is a part of her I loved very much.

On my mother's sometimes weekly will re-writing and planning for her death, she would discuss what to put in her obituary. She would assure me it was fine not to list the grandchildren’s names.

I know you don’t want him to know about them. Don’t list them.

But mom, they are your grandchildren.

I’ll be dead. Won't matter to me. Take care of them. Do what’s right for them.

I want to cry out for my mother right now. I want to cling to her legs on the kitchen floor and have her make it better. Make him go away. She always did. For all the things my mother did, she always made him go away if only at the end of a Sunday visit when I would come home, to the safety of hearing her glass of bourbon walking up the stairs.

She never shamed me the way he did.

I will be in the same room with him this Friday.

I’m terrified.

Night Visitor

I keep dreaming about my mother. Every night. Sometimes we are laughing and talking on the phone. I woke up yesterday morning and wished I could call her to chat. I wanted to tell her stories about the kids. I felt close to her, to the part of her I loved so much.

I woke up this morning, at 4AM in tears. In my dream, she was alive but told me it was only for a moment. There were some things she did not want me to have. She took me through her house and said, no, no, no. At the end of the dream, she was dust again.

During the day, I am clear and feel grounded. Every night, I see her. It sends me spinning.

This Friday, there will be one more memorial service in Rochester. It is for the community. I have no idea what will be said- she did not want us involved in the process of saying the public goodbye. I will be there, with my children, in pressed suits, to honor her very public face.

She wanted it done her way. And it will be.

Maybe then I will stop dreaming about her every night.

Pumpkin Festival

It was a stunning, fall day in New England. Boston is trying to take the pumpkin lighting record from Keene, NH- a windy night but they are attempting to light 30,000 at one time.

We all met this afternoon for the festival.

The kids were at Walter and Allan’s last night for a sleepover. I told them, as they walked out of school Friday.

You’re going to Allan and Walter’s tonight.

WALTER AND ALLAN’S, Mom. Say it right. It’s not Allan and Walter’s.

Uh, okay. Sorry. Is it Sara and Jeanine or Jeanine and Sara?

Zachary looked at me as if I was insane.

It’s Mom’s house.

Yeah, Jake piped in, Mom’s house.

You know, we just call you Mom. And Mom. Zachary shrugged. You are both just Mom.


The other day I heard Zachary and one of his friends talking about their dads.

My Dad went to Vietnam, the friend said.

The war ended before my Dad’s number came up, Zachary said.

It made me smile. They call Walter and Allan by their first names. But to their friends, slowly, they have started to refer to their “Dad.” I know which Dad he was talking about. Only one had a number drawn. Zachary didn’t say Dad Allan, or Allan. He simply said ‘My Dad.’

Sorry, guys. You’re both just Dad.

We met them at the Pumpkin Festival on the Commons. For non-Bostonians, there is the Boston Garden- not where the Celtics once played because that is gone, but a beautiful ornate garden where the Swan Boats run. And then, across the street, there is the Boston Commons, where concerts and festivals take place.

We all watched Zachary melt down after being at the event for two hours. Since a crowd of about 50,000 turns into me into a zombie, I was annoyed, set limits, but didn’t really get what was going on.

Allan and I talked afterwards.

We think Zachary was overwhelmed with the crowds.

Oh. Yeah. That makes sense, I said. I was, too.

I called Zachary in to talk to me.

I get tired, he said. But I loved being there.

Ben chipped in, I do, too. It was fun but then…

I explained how I, too, get overwhelmed with crowds. Doesn’t mean I don’t like being there but at a certain point, I need to say, enough.

Tell me enough, I said. We’ll go home.

I reported back the conversation to Allan. I know he’ll tell Walter.

It’s strange, sometimes, having four parents raising three boys. But we work really well as a team. We all bring different experiences to the table. It helps all of us be better parents. Today, Allan made a great call on one of the kid’s behavior. I followed up with a conversation and all of us will be more aware the next time we go to a big event.

The festival was fun.

We all learned something today about our boys.

And the colors and pumpkins were simply stunning.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


I'm having trouble posting tonight. Please recheck the blog first thing in the morning.

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Perfect Life?

Last night, in couple’s therapy- not a place you end up when things are bright and shiny- the therapist said to us, you are on the edge of having… well… a perfect life.

Okay, my wife is a jerk. But she has changed dramatically in the last few months. She is irrational. She is emotional. She loses control. Anyone who knows her at all knows this is huge. Big.

It makes me love her even more.

So tonight, you’ll have to forgive me. No long blog. I have spent the day getting the house ready- a fire in the fireplace. Nice steak dinner- Jeanine’s favorite. A selection of cheese, a great wine- Chateau Pichon-Longueville, Pauillac.

I think, even with all I’ve been through in the last few months, I really do have a perfect life. At least the potential. Lots of work ahead, in my relationship, in my life, but tonight? I’m going to light a fire, pour some wine, cook some dinner and tell my wife how much I love her.

Because I do.

The rest? Well… we’ll see if it passes the Weezie meter.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Walter came over today. I was talking about being frustrated with the blog writing of the day. Hadn’t come up with anything good yet. He squirmed in his seat.


You want the truth?

Yeah, I want the truth.

It’s too grim. You need to lighten up a little.

You’re saying it’s like Angela’s Ashes. Can one more baby die? Can it get any worse? OH MY GOD, there goes another!

Yes, he said. I can’t bear it.

Walter, you talk to me every day. You listen to me every day. Maybe that’s why.

No. It’s too much. You have to lighten up.

Okay. I did write about the cat the other day… that was funny.

Yes, it was. You still need to lighten up.

Hello? I’m a lesbian. I process things to death. It’s part of the code- one-piece Speedos, keens, gym shorts and long sessions of processing. Lesbian’s process.

And it reminded me of when I played on an all-lesbian volleyball team. It’s hard to imagine, quite honestly, ever taking myself that seriously again. It was an experience I’ll never forget. It was a long, long time ago.

I was a little nervous the first day I went to play. I wondered how they checked out to see if each new participant was actually a lesbian, barring any ringer straight people. But being newly single (hey this was almost twenty years ago!), I was fully prepared for any type of sexual preference test they might put me through.

I was young, awkward and really had no idea how to act casual in the company of beautiful women. Walking in the gym the first night, everyone looked at me, and smiled the knowing smile. There's a part of me that would like people to be shocked to find out I'm a lesbian-when I was in college and finally got up the courage to come out to my friends, I was truly disappointed when most of them said, “Yeah? And?” I could always grow my hair out, wear make-up and paint my nails, but I'll never be able to change the look in my eyes when I walk into a room full of women. I sat down to take off my sweats, trying not to blatantly check the women out. As feminists, we don't believe in viewing women as objects, or as pieces of meat but as lesbians we're attracted to women, leaving us in a difficult situation of wanting to check out those beautiful legs, that nice ass ·and wanting to be politically correct. Not always easy.

The first team meeting was a lesson in lesbian subculture and why we still don't have civil rights in most states. After practice, we went over to one of the player’s house and gathered. “Mary's” apartment was decorated in the minimalist approach, which was neat, and sparse, with the expected 'two women holding' pictures on the wall, along with a festival poster. Setting up households for lesbian couple's can be very hard, generally without the support of parents, no wedding gifts to fill the china cabinet. That is, unless you’ve sprung for the commitment ceremony, which is a nice way to get Crate and Barrel gift certificates, but no real legal commitments. The first item on the agenda was the type of pizza to order.

“What do y'all want?” Mary asked.

“Sausage,” I said. Everyone looked at me in disbelief. “What? Doesn't anyone like sausage?”

“Katrina” spoke hesitantly, “ Well... it's...it's meat, Sara, let alone a very questionable meat. Do you know what sausage comes from?”

At the time, I really didn't care, it was eight o'clock, we’d all came from playing volleyball for two hours- I wanted food- “O.K., how about pepperoni?”

“Yeah, that sounds good,” Mary said, writing it down. Somehow sausage was disgusting but pepperoni was acceptable? Did they know where pepperoni came from?

“One with peppers and onions,” said Mary's girlfriend.

“You're going to eat onions?” Mary grimaced.

“Mushrooms, I want mushrooms,” another called out.

“Now, should we order a couple of large with half of each kind of topping or many smalls with each single topping?” Mary asked, looking around the room.

“Well, I don't want any meat on my pie at all,” “Katrina” sniffed.

“What would be cheaper?” asked someone.

“Do we need a consensus on this or are we voting?” asked yet another.

“Oh, man,” someone moaned, grabbing her belly.

“Just order a few smalls, I'm starved,” I said, growing irritable with the hunger.

“Does anybody have any strong objections to this?” the vote counter asked, looking around the room.

“Just order the pizza!” someone shouted.

“Now, that’s a pepperoni, a mushroom and a pepper and onion, right?” Mary asked.

“And sausage,” I was going to be firm; besides, I could eat a small pizza by myself easily at this point.

“But that's not fair to order if the money is collective and no one else wants it. I object to that order,” Katrina said.

“I second the motion, it's not fair,” the now evil vote counter said.

“How about a plain cheese? Is that O.K.?” asked someone, hopefully.

“Yeah, we should order another, three isn't enough for all of us,” Mary noted.

I was going to waste away before consensus was reached.

“O.K., so a pepperoni, mushroom, pepper and onion and plain cheese, right?” Mary asked.

“Oh, man,” the belly rubber moaned again, leaning back into the corner.

“All in favor?” the very evil vote counter asked.

“This isn't a voting issue. Is that O.K.?” Mary asked again.

“YES!” A few yelled. This was going to be a long night.

In the end, the pizza was finished, voting was changed to a two-thirds majority by consensus, and I was a new member of the team. I loved and hated playing on that team. The horror of constantly getting thumped by straight women’s teams- we were as bad on the court as we were ordering pizza- was eased by the weekly infusion of pride, hanging out in a group large enough to make it safe to be loud, out and proud. The weekly meetings always took too long, bogged down by ridiculous process, but sitting on Mary’s hardwood floor in a half drenched tee shirt, I met my true love.

A woman with the most beautiful eyes I’d ever seen. Took a while before she’d talk to me but eventually, she married me.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


What does it mean to have my dead mother’s stuff?

Do I want her stuff?

Should I only have it if it has deep, emotional meaning? Does that mean wanting the flat screen TV is disrespectful?

When my great aunt died, she was the last of three generations who lived in the house where she was born. Relics dated back to the Civil War. Letters. Magazines. Clothes. Linens. Unbelievable furniture. An original Stickley rocker. Hand painted china actually from China that was a wedding present to my great grandmother. Old books with handwritten dates and names going as far back as the 1800’s.

It was completely clear wanting anything from the house was greedy and grabby. We were not to think about wanting to take the wooden bookcase, well over a hundred years old. Or baker’s table not just a decorative, yuppie touch, but bought brand new decades before as a modern appliance.

Books, I said. Just send me a few of the old books. I was afraid of how I would be seen if I asked for anything else.

Over a hundred years of family history was auctioned off or given to a local museum.

I have a few of the books. An old coffee mill. A single silver pitcher from my great-grandmother’s silver set with her initials engraved on it.

Walter once said to someone as he was showing one of his collections, of course, every piece has a story. I have a few now that have stories. They are happy reminders of my great aunts. Of the banter we had about The War. I see the mill in my own kitchen and remember what it was like to sit at the old enamel table, next to the stove, waiting for a biscuit, fresh from the oven.

It was Momma’s, one of my great aunts would sigh in sweet, Virginian drawl when asked about the coffee mill. We used it every morning. Now we have fancy coffee in cans. Imagine that.

There is more to my history with them but when I look at those pieces, I smile. I don’t remember the pain of keeping my life a secret from them. I remember how they would scratch my head and call me Miss Pittypat or tell me the definition of an eternity was a ham and two people.

When my kids ask about the items, I tell stories. They may never have met Ginsie and Ruth but they will know who they were and how I loved them.

Now I have to go through my mother’s things. Her stuff. What did she hold dear? Did she keep anything I gave her? Am I allowed to love the cherry dining room table and want it because it’s beautiful or is that greedy? I can buy my own cherry dining room table. I don’t need hers. I hear the rules again.

There are no rules, I try to remember.

And when I stop focusing on what my mother would or wouldn’t want, I hear the story of the cherry table instead. When she bought it and how surprised I was she had chosen something so traditional. She previously had a laminated goat skinned, ivory table. It was a shocking piece purchased after we had all moved away. It was… very contemporary. We all teased her relentlessly about it. It was so ugly. There was a matching buffet and chairs, as if the table wasn’t enough. While she was very proud of how exotic it was she laughed with us as we mentioned eating dinner on top of a dead animal skin was… kind of gross. When she bought the cherry table, almost Mission style, it was a pleasant surprise.

I fought with my mother at that table. She cried bitterly because I had not shared any details of my upcoming wedding with her. I laughed with her at that table. I teased her about her insistence ketchup be put in a bowl, with a spoon.

They are eating chicken nuggets, Mom. C’mon, cut me some slack here!

I cooked meals for her, all her grandchildren and served them at that table. My children have grabbed the ends and pulled, helping add leaves so everyone could fit around it.

I wonder what stories do my boys have about the table?

I’m not sure what it means to have my dead mother’s stuff. On one hand, it feels really wrong to want any of it. On the other, it’s about stories. History. I do want that in my life. I never want to forget where I came from and how it shaped me. For better and for worse. The table itself is beautiful but what makes it unique are the people who have sat around it. My children, my nieces, family, friends, all with nary a ketchup bottle in sight.

And my mother. Sometimes laughing. Sometimes crying. Always at the head of the table.

I know it is just stuff. It cannot replace my mother. It cannot erase painful memories. But if I listen carefully enough, if I can stop the rules from making so much noise, I believe I’ll have some great stories to tell.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Two Weeks

It’s been two weeks since my mother died. In some ways, nothing has really changed. Jeanine and I are back to fighting again. The kids are arguing over gargoyles and clowns- which are scarier. Eventually they slide into some form of potty humor involving gargoyles and clowns. I have meetings this week and next I’m preparing for, reading materials, making notes. I met a friend for coffee this morning. We talked about the teachers at school, our kids recent successes and things that cause us to worry.

Life, at normal speed.

And then I spoke to my sister in law. They received the copies of the death certificate. It was painful for her to read. The cause of death listed brought back a day of agony for her, when my mother was in pain and she could not get the hospice nurse there fast enough. She talked about her guilt, her anger at herself for not trusting her instincts. I was stunned to hear the cause- I don’t know why- but I was. I forget to tell her how much I appreciated all she did for my mother. Things I could not do. With kindness I could not find.

Suddenly, I realize, it’s only been two weeks.

Her house remains mostly untouched, minus the removal of old flowers and food. Security systems have been changed, the County Sheriff notified, and my brother or his wife check on it daily. It feels like an intrusion, she said, of stopping by. As if we’re doing something wrong. We’re not allowed to be there without your mother.

We both laugh. My mother always wanted to be scary, to some degree, even in death. There were some things she would look at us and say, if you do this, I’ll come back and haunt you. And she meant it. We were never allowed to challenge her will, ever. We were never, ever allowed to sue anyone- she hated how people didn’t know how to take responsibility for themselves. And if we ever did anything flashy in her name, like a memorial on some building somewhere, she would do more than haunt us.

We wondered about letters her grandfather wrote her, ones she held close, re-reading them over and over. Once, when I was home from college on a break, she showed me one. Just one. I knew it was sacred to her. And then we talked about where her wedding pictures might be, who might want them. While looking for the title to the car, my sister in law found my original birth certificate. It was in a folder marked with my brother and sister’s names. She never found the title. She couldn’t bear to keep opening up my mother’s things.

We have to go through the house, she said.

I know we do. I can’t imagine doing it. Privacy was something my mother valued intensely. I always respected that. When I was helping her with her finances years ago, I would never ask to see anything. Slowly, she showed me everything, all the certificates, where every penny was invested. It was a major accomplishment in trust. She was not happy with me when she died. I cannot wait for her to show me again, in her own time. It feels like cheating. I didn’t earn it. I’m not sure I ever could have again.

I realize, I’m afraid. Not of her ghost, if there is one, because I have not broken any of the haunting rules. And I have no secrets from her- I did until this summer. I no longer do. I’m scared of how I’ll feel when I open the cherished letters. When I see the pictures she saved of me, as a child. Of our family.

It’s only been two weeks.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Wild Kingdom

When I was little, I remember watching Wild Kingdom on TV. There was a lot of chasing and killing. I knew it was part of nature. It was about balance. Harmony.

I was out in my garden yesterday, thinking about the upcoming frosts and eyeing what needed to be cut down. It was a beautiful day. And then, I saw one. A dead bird. Half eaten. And then, another. My, I thought, there is a squirrel’s tail. My garden is full of dead, gnawed upon bodies.

All gifts from my lovely little cat, Sofia. Killer kitty, Zachary calls her proudly. When she was less than a year old, and not that big, she hauled down her first Blue Jay. Neighbors have complained about pesky squirrels so bold they scratch through window screens to get on countertops and scrounge for food. Not here. Nary a squirrel in our yard since the day she was proudly batting around the remains of their cousin.

A squirrel? My neighbor asked.

Yup, a squirrel.

Can you send her over here?

I am certain she covers that territory. She’s out all day and sometimes at night. I wanted to keep her indoors, always, but her hanging on the screens, paws outstretched, yowling at the top of her lungs was too much for me.

Buy her a collar and get another for insurance. Just let her out! A friend said to me, having witnessed the pathetic plea to get outdoors.

So I did. Not soon after that, she came in the house with a baby robin in her mouth. Still alive. Kind of. The boys all shrieked in horror.

Make her stop! Make her stop!

Guys, I’m going to make her go outside with it…


Great instincts for small children but clearly they need to watch Wild Kingdom. There was no saving the baby. For many reasons but the biggest was the fact that it was pretty much disemboweled.

What I should do is get a shovel and put it out of its misery…

More shrieking. Okay, I usually make Jeanine get the shovel but she was, of course, at work. I know it’s the right thing but I just can’t seem to do it.
So I got the bird and the cat and sent them outside.

The boys were all standing at the window, saying BAD KITTY.

No, she’s not a bad kitty. It’s what kitties do. Don’t watch.

Yesterday’s count came to six birds and one squirrel. I’m guessing the mice go down in a single gulp. I’m glad none made it in the house.

My kids now have their personal edition of Wild Kingdom. Her name is Sofia.

AKA Killer Kitty.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Happy Birthday, Ben Boy

My baby is eleven today.

I guess it’s time to stop saying the extra pounds on me are because I just had a baby.

We have a few birthday traditions in our house. One is that you can wake your mothers up at an ungodly hour of the morning to open up your birthday presents. Another is a doorway full of streamers to burst through on your way to opening up your presents at an ungodly hour of the morning. And you get to choose your favorite dinner- at a restaurant (please oh please) or made by me at home.

The last birthday tradition is one my friend Nancy gave me. Nancy gave me many fun ideas about parenting. She would sit with her two boys and take out a map and randomly, with eyes closed, pick a place. They would then research everything they could about the town or city, learn its history and on the next break from school, go there. She had also left her kids a treasure hunt that extended all over the world- literally. She would be somewhere and find a beautiful spot and bury a treasure box. She said sometimes she put in some money, sometimes a little trinket or a note. When she died, the kids were given the list of clues. I don’t know if they ever went to the small town in England she told me about where she found a stunning tree in a farmer’s field and put a box with about a hundred dollars in it in the ground. But they will always know their mother thought of them often even after they were grown men and wanted them to continue to play, as she did, their whole lives.

Nancy's tradition I have done for years is to write a birthday letter. For each boy, every birthday, I write a letter about who they are, the things they like, their world as it is defined on that birthday. When they reach 18, I will have the letters printed and bound to give them.

Hopefully by then, it won’t be at an ungodly hour of the morning.

Happy Birthday, Ben Boy.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Weezie's Flowers

Weezie sent me flowers.

They are stunning.

They mean so much to me because they are flowers. Not some permanent keepsake but something that I love.

Thanks, Weezie.

Friday, October 13, 2006


(This is has been edited. The original will be read tonight, at a private service in my home.)

What is it to grieve? Am I grieving? What does grief look like?

Walter told me my wanting my old job back was a call from a little girl, I want my Mommy! I think he’s right. I wanted security and safety. Something familiar. The swirl of uncertainty is intense. I have no idea how my family will look. Dreams of mended fences, of acknowledgment, of love are gone. She’s dead. The hope can no longer live inside me. It’s in an urn I placed in its niche last week. Ashes. Nothing more.

Every day, I have little moments of recognition, like when I was wearing jeans at a meeting with the funeral director. I am no longer breaking the rules. The rules no longer exist. It has profound meaning to me. I keep coming against old walls my mother placed around me and now they are doors. I marvel at the new appearance. Choices without my mother’s judgment to stop me. I hear her voice and think of the urn. It’s over.

A part of me may be calling out for my mommy but I cannot cling to the brief moment of kindness. I wish I could. I wish I could remember her touching my face and comforting me and erase the rest.

I did that too many times. Over and over again, I would work to maintain my relationship with her, putting up with humiliation and emotional drain while looking for that brief moment. To have my face touched gently and the golden light of approval I didn’t know how to give myself would fill me. I am prone to this kind of relationship where I invest so much of myself for so little in return. I am amazed by it’s pull.

Am I grieving when I talk to my sister on the phone and laugh hysterically about moments in our childhoods that were not funny, not even remotely funny, and as the laughter dies down we both wipe tears from our eyes and say, thank god it’s over.

Am I grieving when I resolve never again to have anyone hold so much power over me, to have my self-esteem wrapped up in someone who cannot see beyond the mirror in front of them? Because I don’t feel that in a solemn way. I feel that in a rageful way. With fury and conviction. Never again. I don’t miss my mother in that moment. Again, I think of the urn. It’s over.

Can I say there were wonderful moments with my mother? Yes. We could talk about politics and books and art endlessly. My mother could tell stories for hours. In her last few days, while unconscious, my sister in law said she was mmm hmmm-ing and saying hello, as if she was on the telephone. My mother could talk on the phone more than me. She was elegant and graceful. She had beautiful hands.

But those were moments long past. And in each one, in each golden ray of light I felt from her, there was always pain. It was never pure. It was never simple. She never once said I love you without it being about her, her need to be acknowledged back, her need to be soothed that she was, in fact, a loving mother.

She did love me. As much as she could, she loved me. And more than I ever should have left my heart open, I loved her. We loved each other fiercely. With fury and anger and hate and wounded pride. It is not a love I ever want to have again.

It is a love that is now ashes. In an urn I placed in its niche last week.

It’s over.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Jerk-aholic Anonymous

Why do I like crazy people so much?

Why do people who desperately need to be taken care of pull me?

There are relationships in my life that have been defined, solely, by how much I can give. I run to take care of them, to get their attention, to make them feel better. People who are manipulative. People who exploit me. And when I discover that I’ve been used, treated horribly, do I leave?

Nope. I go back for more.


Because I must be getting something out of this. Over and over I do it. I’m watching myself right now be pulled by a person in my life who is bad for me. Really bad for me. Treated me like dirt. Used me. And yet I find myself thinking, well, if I just get her to laugh a little. Lighten up.

For what? For me? No, Sara, that would not be for you. That would be for her. And then the door is open for me to make her laugh again. And be responsible for making her laugh. To take ownership of it.

I know there is a really basic, psych 101 dynamic going on here but I honestly can’t figure it out. I am a sane human being. I have people who love me, care for me and are in fact kind to me. Without me having to beg. Quite a few of them. People who think I’m special and interesting. (Got them fooled!)

And where am I? At the door of the completely unavailable, crazy person’s house saying, oh, c’mon, just come out to play. It’ll be okay. I promise.


It’s getting old. My wife is annoyed by it. She is tired of me being sucked dry by every needy soul out there. It’s like I have a sign on my forehead that says, “The more you kick, the more you get.” My therapist is exasperated by my repeated treks back to a well that’s not only dry but was always dry, never had a drop in it. In fact, it was a mirage.

Well, there was that one time I thought I heard there might be water maybe…

It doesn’t make any sense to me. I have a full life. I don’t need this person or their crazy, spinning world.

It’s like a drug.

Hi. My name is Sara. I am a jerk-aholic. Any time there is jerk to be found, I’m right there, snorting it up both nostrils. I love the rush of being important and being used. Anytime I can swoop in and take care of a narcissistic asshole, I am right there. The more abuse I take, the more I go back.

I went to college for this?

Yesterday, I thought I was walking down a new path. Today I realize I have to learn how to walk again. Forget the path. That’s a little too advanced right now. I need to stick to putting one foot in front of the other.

And not to any door of anyone who isn’t welcoming me, opening their arms and saying, gosh, this is a really hard time for you right now. What can I do for you?

For once, I want to be taken care of. Kindly.

Enough with the crazy people.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Daily Blog

I have been asked how I come up with blogs, every day.

It’s not easy.

I usually do anything else until about three o’clock. During my most productive time, the morning, I work on my book. It is a completely different mindset and often takes me away to a place in my head that’s hard to come back from. And then I get serious- about the blog, that is. I have to find something to write about. I start to do random Google searches on any thought that pops into my head. Recent searches have included, but are not limited to, Kenmore Progressive Vacuums, Cat in the Hat online text, Moody Street Pizza and Images of Bernard Madoff.

I wanted to know what the man looks like. Don’t ask why. It’s a long story.

At four, I go hang with the kids while they eat after school snack. If I actually sit at the table, they clam up and eye me with caution.

Writing your blog, Mom? Ben asks, having been burned once or twice with direct quotes.

No, no. Not me. What’s up?

She’s writing her blog. C’mon guys, let’s go outside.

Maybe I should do that without my computer in my lap.

I send out a lot of email every day. I am an email-a-holic. I love to write email. For years, my mother yelled at me to write letters, write letters (she was a prolific letter writer), I would shake my head no. My handwriting is terrible. No one responds to written letters anymore. But email? Instant gratification. I send out a bunch of email, usually early in the day, almost every day. If by 5pm, I’m still coming up with nada from the kids, I go through the days email to find something thoughtful or amusing to write about.

By 7pm, if I haven’t posted, I’m getting nervous. I have to get the kids ready for bed and their banter at that hour is rarely anything anyone really wants to hear. I know I don’t.

By 9pm, if I haven’t posted, I start to go through old essays, things I’ve written in the past. The other night I came across a funny script I had completely forgotten I wrote. Not blog material but definitely fun for a short film.

The Debate- The Saint, The Realist and The Hedonist:

A Bran Donut with Frosting, Please.

Okay, work with me here. Jake was an infant at the time.

By 10pm, I start going through my photos and figure, it’s going to be a very short post with a few choice words to go with an abstract image.

Needless to say, it’s a challenge. But I love doing it.

Every day.

Rules, Part Two

I love flowers.

My mother thought flowers as a statement of sympathy, or celebration, were a waste of money. She loved having flowers but never sent them. When she had returned from surgery a few years ago and the flowers started piling up, she was disgusted.

What a waste, she sighed.

Me? I love flowers. I received some today, along with a small tree, which I believe, was an attempt to not be wasteful on something as fleeting as flowers but to still acknowledge, in a traditional manner, my loss. They are all beautiful. My office smells like roses right now. I love the smell of roses.

It is completely against the rules, to be wasteful in such a manner. And I have always been a rule breaker. Not only do I buy them for myself, I often by them for friends to mark a special day or anniversary. I have been known to buy them for trivial, playful moments like the first day a friend’s oldest child entered middle school. I sent a single rose to a friend in remembrance it’s been ten years in remission from cancer with a card promising two roses when it’s been twenty. It really doesn’t matter how or when, I simply love flowers.

Why is it against the rules? Whose rules are they? Why do I embrace such a rule that is contrary to my senses?

How I’ve viewed so much of the world is changing. I’m starting down a new path, putting one foot in front of the other, trying to slowly absorb it all. A friend wrote, "Changing all this, after your mother's death, must be very very difficult. You have to do it. Think of it as going back to school, re-learning how to be, work, love.”

It’s true. Today, I re-learned something that may seem small but is very important to me. Flowers are not a wasteful expression. In my eyes, they are beautiful, elegant reminders of how exquisite a moment can be. They are not meant to last.

So, completely against my mother’s wishes, please forget donating to special causes or charities- you should be doing that anyway- send me flowers.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Chaos vs. Laundry

Maybe I miss the constant phone calls and updates about my mother’s health. The drama of a final meeting that pulled so hard at me in so many ways. Would my sister driving across the country make it in time? The chaos of it all. But today… I’m bored.

I am out of my mind bored. Bored, bored, bored.

I called my friend Margaret. You know, the Martha Stewart of Parenting.

I’m bored, Marg.

Sara… it’s been two days since you’ve been back from your mother’s funeral.

Yeah. And?

Maybe you should find something to do.

There’s plenty to do. Thank you notes are piling up as quickly as the flowers coming in. If my sister in law actually gets the flowers, does that mean I’m not technically responsible for thanking anyone for them? Something to ponder. My submissions are still sitting on my desk. I have two weeks of meetings for the foundation board I sit on coming up. A fundraiser to go to, my son’s birthday party to plan, not to mention a pile of laundry.

I have three boys. I always have laundry.

I hate the laundry, I say to Marg. I fold it and when the kids put it away, it all ends up a crumpled mess.

Okay, this is not a deep, thoughtful issue. This does not rank up there with world poverty or the AIDS crisis in Africa. Maybe it’s all I can tackle right now.

There’s something you can do, Marg says hopefully. I fold the girls’ shirts in thirds and then roll them up so they can see every shirt in their drawer without having to paw through them all!

Long pause.

I’m going to make the blog again, aren’t I?


I am not going spend my afternoon rolling shirts so my boys can eye all their options in a neat and tidy manner.

I will make them roll all their shirts so they can eye their options in a neat and tidy manner.

Needless to say, I WANT MY OLD JOB BACK!!!

At least today. As the chaos quiets down, I’m left with a pot full of feelings, long simmered like a stew, blended together. I know I have to sit and slowly savor each one, recognize the nuance of not only the single feeling but also how all the others add and subtract from its flavor.

The chaos pulls at me, a long familiar hiding place. I want to be at my old job, the busy day filled with numbers and papers, everything moving quickly. Where I am defined by someone else’s expectations. To engage again in the drama of other people’s lives, swirling, my own feelings locked away.

If I am ever going to grow past my own pain, the emotional limitations I face because of it, I will have to go through it. I have to stop running. I have to learn to take small bites of the stew, to move more thoughtfully through my days. To slow down. The chaos will kill me. Not only who I am today but who I could become.

It robs me of my potential.

The drama is over. For the first time in my life, I have been set free. I want to go back to the familiar for safety.

I need to roll shirts instead.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Once Upon a Time...

My kids love to hear stories about when they were babies, or when they were born. We sit around the dinner table at night and they ask, Momma Sara, Momma Sara, tell us about when Jake was born and how he was bungy jumping on the umbilical cord. Or, tell us a funny story from when we were toddlers.

In our baby group, now moms group (as they are no longer babies and we are still moms), I have had all the kids rolling with laughter about when they were little. Like the time one of the moms and I fed one little girl grapes, uncut, for the first time. And the little girl's mother's horror at our action.

We didn’t know it was the first time. The kid was three!

What can I say… if there was a comedy circuit for the eleven and under set, I’d be famous.

Over and over, my kids, the moms group kids, all ask for me to tell stories. About themselves. About each other. No one kid is ever made fun of, only parents, including myself, who are usually made out to be clueless oafs. Or crazy- that’s pretty much saved for the birth, pre-epidural moments.

Tonight, my boys asked me to tell them stories about Aunt Cathy, my sister, and I when we were little. They loved being with her this weekend.

I felt tears come to my eyes.

I can’t think of any. Not fun ones. Not ones that I can tell.

Of course, my sister and I were laughing hysterically today on the phone recalling who had the worst time living with mom alone- I spend two years after my brother had left for college and my sister had been thrown out. Every night was a slow march up the stairs with my mother choosing between coming in my room or going to her own. I would listen to the ice in her glass and hope she would turn the other way.

My sister bounced, while I was away in college, between an abusive, alcoholic boyfriend and my abusive, alcoholic mother.

I can’t rip carpet up unless it’s four AM, my sister laughs, and I have a gin and tonic in my hand!

You! You weren’t there every night for two years, with nowhere to go.

Yeah, I could choose between my boyfriend’s abuse or mom’s!

And we laugh and laugh. We have to. It has to be funny. My wife cringes when we go on these rants. It’s so hard to hear, she says.

C’mon, Mom, you have to have one story…

All the stories I could tell about Aunt Cathy and I are… well, they’re for when you’re older.

Were you that explicit? Ben asked. He loves explicit labels on iTunes.

Uh… not really explicit but we did swear a lot.

Aunt Cathy used to sneak cookies, Zach smiles. She told me she was the master.

She was. My sister was forbidden to have any food that was not on her very specific diet. As a toddler, she was given skim milk. Too fat, my mother always said. My sister was a big boned, strong girl. My mother was six foot tall and incredibly thin. My brother and I were allowed anything we wanted but my sister would have portions dished out for her.

Don’t clean your plate, my mother would reprimand. It’s rude.

My sister was hungry. She learned how to steal food.

I can’t think of any stories to tell my kids. They want the stories that make them laugh so hard they spit milk out of their noses.

I don’t have any.

I can only make my sister laugh.

And it's really not funny.

Special Firsts

Through this very difficult weekend, we had a very special first for one of our sons. While funerals are a time to reflect and be respectful of the one who died, there are cycles of life that cannot be stopped. Especially ‘firsts’ for children.

We drove back in two cars- Jeanine, Jake and I in one, Walter, Allan, Ben and Zach in the other.

Jeanine drives like a maniac, so of course we arrived way ahead of the others.

When Walter walked into our hotel room with Zach and Ben, he said, I have something very important to tell you about your son.

Which one?


Walter is beaming with pride. I know this is a big one. I can’t imagine- did he pump gas by himself? Did he share a deep, thoughtful insight about his grandmother’s funeral? By the smile on Walter’s face, I’m thinking it might be disclosure about a nighttime emission.

Zach peed in a bottle. Filled it up. His first one.

I was close.

He peed in a bottle?

Yup, Walter nodded with incredible fatherly pride he relayed the whole event, from the missed rest stop to Ben’s horror to Zach’s astonishment that the bottle was so warm.

Didn’t spill a drop.

I called Zachary over.

Did you pee in a bottle?

Uh huh. Snapple. I really had to go. He’s grinning from ear to ear.



You know you’ll never get to do that with me, right?

I know, Mom. He’s still grinning.

But congratulations. That’s pretty cool.

Uh huh.

He gave me a high five and joined his brothers in front of the TV.

He filled the bottle. Didn’t spill a drop.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


I'm spinning in so many directions.

I started rattling off a variety of financial details to Jeanine this morning. She looked me and said this can wait.

No, this is what I can deal with right now. It is about stuff, numbers, things. Concrete items I can move around, consider in my hands. I want to do this, it makes sense, and it makes me feel grounded. Sure.

No, Sara. It can wait.

I’m not going to feel grounded or secure. I have hope and loss colliding inside me. My mother, her rules are gone. How will I be now? What will change without her real voice on the end of a phone line or at the head of the table? I am hopeful I will find a new way to breathe. I have so many words inside a big, sharply edged box locked in my chest, impenetrable in a body that was not.

I have no one to protect anymore from what I lived through. All the screams, the horror stashed away inside the box can be set free.

I am afraid. I am still the little girl who desperately clung to my mother’s legs in the kitchen, wanting to hold on for safety. She was the only real safety in my house. She could be cruel with her words, occasionally slap me but never physically shamed me. Wrapped around her leg was the only time my body was impenetrable.

Now it’s gone. Ashes in an urn, tucked away next to someone else’s ashes in another urn.

The kitchen floor is gone.

No more numbers. No more spinning.

My mother is dead.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Every Button of Hope Pushed

Last night, at TGIF’s, I watched Jake sit in between Walter and [reference removed upon request]. Jake was in heaven. Two big men on either side, he had them both playing silly games and laughing.

The whole family was there. We were all laughing and talking and eating and drinking ... Ashley and Jena messed with my boys, their cousins. Walter and Allan did the Uncle/out of town family member questions to Ashley and Jena about what they are doing, how school was... My sister in law and I laughed when Ashley asked if she could have friends at spring break go to the condo in Amelia Island with the two of us as chaperones.

Why would we want you and your friends there? We both laughed…

For a moment, I could see the future of the family around that table.

My heart ached. I want this so much. I want the comfort of having family so much. To have a family of origin who loves, celebrates and appreciates me. What will I trade for it?

My dignity?

My soul?

My sister called me after we were all settled in our hotel rooms.

I asked [person] if he would come out to Arizona and rent some cabins at Christmas time in the mountains. I asked Walter and Allan, too. It's time to heal this family, she said to me. Will you come?

I'm crying as I write this. I want this family to be something it never was. Desperately. Do I pretend nothing ever happened? Do I hold everything in and have it eat me inside out, like my mother’s shame did?

I could so easily become her. Rotted from the inside out. Her pain a cirrhotic liver, stomach cancer, bleeding uncontrollably, the outside smile and grace never questioned.

Do I go?

I have to try. Embrace the gray. Take out the stained sheet and open it to the breeze, the fresh air replacing the stink of so many years kept hidden.

I want a family. So much it replaces my caution, my history.

I buried my mother today.

I still hold the hope of what could be.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Funeral Planned

In my mother's niche, where her ashes will be interned tomorrow morning, we will place a couple of items.

A picture book Ben made his Grandmother, with photos of the three boys from over the years.

A letter from Zachary, which reads:

From Zack
Dear Grandma,
God Bless!
Sorry Grandma but life is good up there in heaven.

(Clearly, he doesn't understand his Grandma didn't believe in heaven, God or any afterlife at all. When the hospice nurse asked about having a minister or priest my mother hissed, NO, from her place lying in bed. But it's her grandson. I'm sure she would simply chuckle and say, Bless your heart...)

A letter from Ben, which reads:

From Ben Cowen-Whitman

Dear Grandma,
I was very very very sad when I heard you died. I was so sad that I wanted to skip school to go to your funeral. I'm writing you a letter so I can tell you how sad I felt. Sad. (and then he drew a picture of a happy face- go figure)
Your favorite grandson,

And two pictures Jake drew, one of a sunset and one of a sunrise. Very Zen for a six year old.

We will all place a single flower in a vase next to her urn. Stand a moment and reflect. After we each have a turn, the items and urn will be placed in the niche.

And then we will walk away.

Dress Code

My mother was a stickler for appropriate behavior. A week before she died, she talked to my sister in law about the service, how it would be run, who would be there. Check with Dan and Linda, she said, to know how people were connected to her.

Well, will I at least get to see the thank you cards before they go out? My sister in law said, hopefully.

You, my mother said in her deep voice, will be the one to write them.

Thank you cards. Always.

Getting ready to go out to dinner last night, I made my son tuck his shirt into his pants.

MOM! I look dorky.

You don’t know anyone in Rochester. So what if you look dorky.


Tuck your shirt in, Ben. For your Grandmother.

Grandma didn’t care how we dressed!

Jeanine and I almost died laughing. You have got to be kidding.

I fought most of my life with my mother about how I was dressed. The first time Jeanine met my mother, I made her wear a skirt- no lie- with tights and a blue blazer. (It made a difference- Jeanine was the ONLY girlfriend I ever had my mother liked.)

My sister came home as a teen, once, with a shirt my mother felt was completely inappropriate. Furious, she ripped it off her.

As each person met us at dinner, I retold Ben's insistence about his grandmother. Everyone laughed- a lot- and I could see him take in another side of his Grandmother he didn’t know existed. She really did love her grandchildren unconditionally. She would pick food off their plates, stealing French Fries playfully. She would watch them run around wildly and simply chuckle, Bless their hearts. Her judgmental fury never touched them.

Only now does he know that Grandma really did care about what he was wearing.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Rules

I’m beginning to realize the rules have changed. All the rules.

I drove into Rochester today for the first time without any fear.

No anxiety.

I am appropriate enough, even though I met with the funeral home director in jeans. It is, after all, my mother who died. Who cares what I am dressed like?

My son is handsome in his preppy punk style. He knows the right fork to use. We will all go to a nice restaurant tonight and tell stories- only the good ones, I’m sure.

I will dream about the others. I always do. Maybe, in time, that will stop.

Always before, when we hit exit 43, two more to go, I became anxious. I would madly write the stories about what lay ahead. What will be waiting for me? What kind of mood will my mother be in? Will it be a good visit or will I need to leave early, again?

Today, I saw the familiar exit go by and noticed a large field, deep green with cut grass. In the middle of the field was a single, bright white flag pole with a worn, but in tact, American Flag.

It was beautiful.

I had never seen it before.

We sat around and went over the obituary. No one argued about what to say. We all knew it needed to be simple with as little information as possible. My mother made a name as Mrs. Anonymous and no additional adjectives would be necessary.

[removed upon request]

She didn’t mention your name on the list of speakers for the service. Only Linda and Dan.

And that means I cannot speak, to him. I believe she didn’t believe I would want to. We had this discussion many times over the years. Are you sure? She would ask. There will be so many people there. It would be easy not to.

I think she was always afraid of what I would say.

I won’t speak- Walter will return the Bjork dress.

But I will write.

Because… the rules have changed.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Song...

... for my mother…

Pack up your troubles and just get happy
Ya better chase all your cares away
Sing Hallelujah, c'mon get happy
Get ready for the judgment day
The sun is shinin', c'mon get happy
The Lord is waiting to take your hand
Shout Hallelujah, c'mon get happy
We're goin' to the Promised Land
We're headin' 'cross the river
Gonna wash our sins in the tide
It's all so peaceful
On the other side…

(Music by EH Harburg and lyrics by Harold Arlen. Not that there is another song they co-wrote that comes to mind...)

Good luck, Mom . A song for you on your way.

Bye, Mom

We have always loved each other. I know.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Story Time

I find myself, as the time draws nearer, wanting to tell funny stories about my mother. She had a great sense of humor.

Like the time she had the curator of the Georgia O’Keefe museum at her house, along with several other art experts. A huge, 18-wheel truck had been ordered to take my mother’s single picture to the museum in New Mexico, a loan for an exhibit. They carefully took the picture off the wall and laid it on the bed. A hush fell over the room.

And then my mother’s Sheltie, Julie, jumped up on the bed, and walked across the picture.

The art people recoiled in horror.

My mother laughed out loud.

Julie was shooed off the bed.

The picture made it across the country and back, completely unharmed. It was one of my mother’s favorite stories to tell.

Or the time her friend Ned rented a limousine, picked my mother up and went through the drive thru at McDonalds. They spent the afternoon driving around, eating French Fries. My mother never rode in limousines. Ever.

Or of the time when she took me to Toronto to see some shows and buy clothes. I was in college at the time. Toronto was a familiar destination for us but this time, she and I were staying at a very fancy hotel. It was a treat for me, as I grew up with the label of being the most expensive child on earth, needing to order lobster at restaurants and always wanting the shirts with the alligator on the outside.

It is one label I absolutely deserved- and still do.

We got to the hotel and my mother asked if I wanted to order room service. This was unheard of in my family- one, you went to dinner properly dressed and two, you never spent money foolishly on things such as room service.

My eyes lit up. YES.

So we picked our menu. At the time, I had just begun my love of wine and had learned very little but enough to make me dangerous with a wine list. This one, I pointed.

I don’t know how to say that, my mother said.

Uh… I don’t know how to say it either. Just say the number next to it.


My mother dials room service and with great dignity orders the food. And then mentions the wine, offhandedly, casually, as number 71.

Oh, the person on the other end said, you mean the Moo-Tan Ca-det? In as chunky and broken French as we would have managed.

We both laughed a long time.

I’m not ordering your wine anymore, she said playfully.

Which reminds me of another story she would tell. Her father gave her a choice of a trip to Europe or a car for her college graduation present. She picked a trip to Europe. Years later, she gave me the same choice, but that’s another story. She went with a few friends from school. One had majored in French. Her skill would be of great use, they all thought.

But she was a southerner. And her French, learned at a college in Maryland came off with such a thick southern accent, no one in France understood a word she was saying.

Moo-tan Ca-det, indeed.

There are so many more stories to tell. Fun stories. I’ve told so many stories about painful moments I feel the need to tell the playful ones. The times when my mother was real and laughed out loud, something I know was never encouraged in her childhood. Like the time she was honored with the title “General,” a title that she lived up to for years to come.

Or the night we all donned Mardi Gras beads and masks at a very expensive restaurant in Boston that shall remain unnamed and one of our party threw a plastic banana over his shoulder into the lower dining room. The owner of the restaurant came out and… served everyone complimentary port in antique glasses.

It wasn’t all horrible. My life with her had some great moments.

She is, after all, the one who taught me how to tell stories.

I hope I tell them well.

Almost Time

I could not stop crying last night. I tried. I tried calling people. I tried writing. I emailed many people. I tried everything. I could not stop.

Today, the sun is warm. I found myself laughing. I started to get nervous about what to wear to my mother's memorial service. A lot of people will be there. The "Dance of the Swans" will be played.

Walter said to me, maybe you should see if you could borrow Bjork's dress.

A faux swan wrapped around me. Yes, Walter, that would be so much better than the traditional black suit.

That would make my mother laugh. The story, that is. Not actually doing it. That would make her promise to haunt me.

I feel calm again.

My mother's breathing has changed significantly. It is long and slow. There is a rattle. Her face, I am told, shifted earlier. She's not there anymore.

It's almost time.

Monday, October 02, 2006

May I please be excused?

I’m exhausted and can’t sleep.

I want something to do and I don’t want anything to do.

I’m restless and just drank coffee- big mistake.

I have bills and laundry and magazine submissions that are already a week late. I can’t seem to write a three-sentence bio the quarterly publication my work was accepted in wants.

I want to go to Rochester and wait. I don’t want to leave my kids.

What happens when somebody dies? I’ve always had my mother to usher me through where and when I should be somewhere. Any documents that needed signing she made sure I signed. I have no idea what the process will be.

Will there be a gathering at a dark paneled, lawyer’s office for the reading of the will where everyone acts out his or her worst greed now that she’s gone? Will my siblings and I fight at that moment? Or is that only in the movies?

Where will her body go? Will I get to see her again before she’s cremated? Who will go with us to intern her ashes at the cemetery? When will it all happen? I feel like I’m a small child with a thousand questions, each one nothing more than movement for it’s own sake, like boiling water while waiting for a baby to be born. Do I need to know? Don’t be in such a rush, my mother always said to me. It makes me nervous, she would add.

My friend said to me before I drove up to say goodbye, try not to write the story before it happens, Sara. You want to create the image so you are prepared for it but end up going to so many other places. Try to stay in the moment. It will be what it will be.

I’m finding it really hard to do. I want to know. Every step. It is the one rollercoaster ride I am impatient to get on- I know I can handle whatever comes up. I simply need it to start.

And the irony is, my mother was always slow. As a child, I was always amazed at how long it took her to eat dinner. She would take a bite, put her fork down. A few minutes later- literally- she would pick her fork back up again. It drove me crazy.

I would try to mimic the way she walked. I would watch her feet while sitting on the floor in the kitchen. She chose each step. Always. I could not get my five-year-old body to move that slowly. I tried to have her grace. I never did.

My kids joke about how slow Grandma is. Pearl can run circles around her! They shout out, playfully. Pearl is ten years older than my mother, nearing 90. And Pearl most certainly could run circles around her. But then, Pearl can run circles around almost anyone.

No one could be excused from the dinner table until she was done. We would all fidget wildly. Ask a hundred times. Now? Can we be excused, please? Now can we?

May, she would remind us. May I please be excused?

One last time, my mother is moving slowly but with absolute certainty.

I’m fidgeting wildly again.

Don’t be in such a rush, I can almost hear her say.

I don't want to make her nervous.

May I please be excused?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Wait

I’m writing my mother’s eulogy today. Three years ago, my mother almost died. I wrote one then. As I read it now, it is still relevant. I wrote about her love of art, modern art. Her passion for justice. And how she demanded that ketchup be put in a bowl rather than have the bottle on the table, even with all five of her grandchildren running around the kitchen.

I wrote that I was proud of her. Proud of who she wanted to be; proud of who she tried to be.

She’s sleeping now. No longer waking up.

Walter and Allan took Ben out to get a new suit coat. The jacket from the wedding he wore fits Zachary now. Zachary’s fits Jake. Jeanine took Jake and Zachary to get new shoes. Ben’s still fit. I will go through their drawers to find the single, white button down shirts they have and iron them. Walter will pick out new ties for them.

Jeanine is arranging her schedule for the week. The trip to San Francisco has been cancelled.

Jake just snuck into my office, in his ninja costume, silently- as silently as a six year old can- and yelled boo at me from under my desk. Zachary just showed me his new sneakers and shoes- very grown up, he said. I’m going to cook dinner. Chicken Parmesan, pasta, and Caesar salad.

My black suit is clean. The eulogy almost done.

All that’s left is the wait.