Monday, May 29, 2006

Returning Home

In a recent post, I mentioned I had taken a trip back home to the east coast. Home for me is MA. I grew up in the small, colonial, yet suburban town of Swansea, MA.

My sojourn to the east encompassed many purposes. My son was on spring break and very overdue for a visit with his eastern residing family members. Additionally, my grandmother had suffered a stroke at Christmas, my former father-in-law was undergoing chemo for colon cancer, my aunt had been going through severe set-backs from her advanced arthritis, my son’s great grandfather was diagnosed with throat cancer, and I longed to see and be with everybody. Interestingly enough, my father was also on the east coast during my visit, which made getting together with everyone, that much more enjoyable.

I spent the first two days of my visit with my former-in-laws, Lon and Sandy. Despite being divorced, we have all remained close and continue to intersect nicely in each others’ lives. They are amazing grandparents to my son and were delighted to have some special grandson time. In spite of having undergone several chemo sessions, Lon looked fairly well, and made an effort to remain in good spirits during my son’s visit. Sandy was the doting grandmother, tending to all of Stephen’s needs -- Dunkin Donuts, chocolate, grilled cheese sandwiches, chocolate, ice cream, chocolate, visits with Great Grandma and Pa Poofatah (an affectionate nickname), lots of games, fun activities and, did I mention chocolate! Our visit was restful, enjoyable, and, as always, too short.

The last few days of my visit were spent with my father’s side of the family. Both my father and mother grew up in Fall River, MA. Most would say the city’s claim to fame is the Lizzie Borden trial. I beg to differ. There is a rich, old world history about the city. Many call Fall River, Little Portugal, as the occupants are predominately Portuguese. My family and I are no exception. An outsider driving through Fall River would probably consider the city run down and depressed. When I drive through Fall River, I see my past and a culture rich in family, friends, and faith. A culture I had the good fortune to grow up in. There’s a special reminiscence that comes over me whenever I return to the city.

One of the special highlights of my visit was the delicious clam bake my Aunt Maureen put on. Disregarding the pain she was in, due to her arthritis, she worked tirelessly to ensure we all had a wonderful time. During dinner, old stories were brought to the surface again, jokes were exchanged, we caught each other up on the current events in our respective lives, and Uncle Brooksie ate… A LOT. Uncle Brooksie is almost 90 years-old, smart as a whip and could rival any established comedian. My grandmother, also nearly 90, busied herself with cooking, cleaning and making sure everyone was eating seconds and thirds. My brother David was able to join us, and I was thrilled to see him. It’s hard to believe he’s going to be 40 this year. I remember pushing him around in his mini fire truck during his third birthday and now we’re making grimaces at the thought of us both being in our forties.

As I looked around the table at the sight of my gathered family, I was filled with magnificent warmth. I was beyond thankful for each member present. This moment alone was worth the 3,000 mile flight across the country. I was in the moment and I loved every second of it. It’s a mental snapshot that will stay with me forever. Family, enjoying each other’s company, filled with love, fellowship, and a genuine care for each other. The conversations flowed and I hung on every word. Despite having heard some of the same stories a hundred times, I learned something new because I listened not only with my ears, but with my heart as well. We’ve gathered around the table as family so many times in the past, but for some reason, today was special. I don’t know if it’s because I’m now at a point in my life where I know that time is short and we need to truly seize the day or if I’m just becoming another sentimental, old fool. Either way, I walked away from my trip to the east coast transformed. When I hugged everyone goodbye, I embraced a little longer. I held dear the faces of my aunt and grandmother as they waved goodbye. I treasured my brother’s giant bear hug and tender words “I love you, sis”. I’ll never forget the smile on Uncle Brooksie’s face when I said goodbye and he squeezed my cheek and said, “Stay beautiful”.

As my father drove my son and me through the streets of Fall River that night, my heart was content and yet, ached at the same time. I wanted the day to last forever. I didn’t want to say goodbye. I’m hoping that despite the age and health of some, we’ll gather together again and share in the collective joy of each other; of family. Until then, I have my memories of that day, which I’ve reflected on often since my trip. There’s a gentle smile that instantly comes across my face when it crosses my mind. Even now as I write this post :)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

I had the opportunity to catch a special screening of The Da Vinci Code this morning. The film started 8:30 a.m. (on a Saturday, mind you). Thank God, for venti vanilla lattes. My friend's Colleen and Geoff invited me as part of a fund raiser for their church. After the film their pastor moderated questions regarding the movie.

Having read the book a few years ago, I was anxious to see Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s best selling novel. I have to admit, I found a lot of the pre-movie hype interesting. Any movie that has overtones of attacking a specific denomination is guaranteed to undergo public repercussion. The Da Vinci Code is no exception.

Despite lackluster reviews, I quite enjoyed the movie. I found it captivating, enlightening, and rather true to the book. For a two and a half hour movie, it held my attention to the end. I applaud both the movie, and the book, for the hard to miss undercurrent of celebrating the TRUE impact of women on history. The Da Vinci Code’s theories are filled with murder, mystery, sabotage, treasure hunts, (sounds like your last family reunion for some of you readers), history lessons, and in the end, gives the reader the choice to take literally what they’ve read or applaud Dan Brown for such an intriguing novel.

The after movie discussion was like a spectator sport for me. I love how people who have nothing of substance to say will use any forum possible to ramble on, pontificate, or shamelessly promote their cause. There was everything from insightful commentary, to one woman trying to endorse the role of lesbianism in the Catholic Church. The overall question of the morning was, Did Jesus have a relationship with Mary Magdalene? The debate that unfolded was rich material for a doctoral sociologist’s thesis. What struck me was how factual everyone was taking this movie.

I was about to stand up and speak my mind on what I had observed. Unfortunately, we had run out of time… Dang!!! Had I stood up, my comments would have been something to the following… We need to keep in mind that this book was written by Dan Brown, not God. Just because the book has a religious connotation to it doesn’t mean it should be taken as bible. Granted it’s good to see so much discussion around biblical history, but we need to ensure our discussions are productive. Throughout history, religion has been tested and defended. This will continue to the end of time. The important thing to remember is that when all is said and done, we shouldn’t consume ourselves with the question of Did Jesus have a romantic relationship with Mary Magdalene, but rather, Do I have a personal relationship with Jesus?

For what it’s worth, I’ve been a Christian for over 30 years. I’m a Bible College graduate and have studied the bible from cover to cover several times. Despite having said this, I was able to read The Da Vinci Code, see the movie, and not take it literally or feel as if I had to defend my faith or beliefs. What I walked away with, both from the book and the movie, is that the essential intent behind The Da Vinci code is to drop you off at the crossroad of faith and legend. Whether you believe Dan Brown’s theories or not is up to the individual reader and/or movie goer. For me, it was a great book. That’s all.

Let’s face it, after reading Harry Potter, no one truly believed that there’s an actual Hogwart’s Castle, flying broomsticks and an evil wizard named Voldermort -- now, do they?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Batter Up!

My father sent me the following email with regard to my writing. He knows how much I enjoy my craft and that I'd love to do nothing more then to continue to broaden and sharpen my skills, and just saturate myself in writing all day long. I printed out his email and taped it to my wall as a reminder to stay in the game, and, that someone very special is cheering me on. Thanks, Dad!

Remember, the game is never over until the last out is made. As long as you can continue to step up to the plate you have a chance of scoring a home run. Kick the dust off your shoes and take another swing.

I have season tickets, so I'll always be at the game.

Hugs and Kisses

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

How to Deal With a Bully!

For the past academic year my son, Stephen, has been tolerating the hostile antics of the class bully. In an effort not to publicly out the child in question, I'll refer to him as "Bully Boy". For the most part, my son has ignored or walked away from Bully Boy when targeted for torment. On a handful of occasions, when the bullying became serious, Stephen was diligent enough to alert me to the situation; at which point I would speak with Bully Boy's parents, come to an agreeable resolution, and for a week or so afterward, the bullying would stop. After my second attempt at positive conflict-resolution, it became apparently clear that there was a deeper issue then bullying at hand. Despite the fact that my son was the target of Bully Boy's actions, I had empathy toward the child, and resolved myself to use compassion in dealing with him; no matter how furious I became over his actions. Interestingly enough, this was the same route my son chose to take as well. It's a well know fact that children who demonstrate such hostile behavior are clearly dealing with serious deep rooted personal problems.

Our first order of business was to extend the hand of friendship. We invited Bully Boy to our home for a play date. My thought was that this would allow both boys to play in a safe, but controlled, environment. Additionally, I could witness firsthand Bully Boy's social skills with my son. The first play date went fairly well. Bully Boy was slightly controlling, but given most of the children at my son's school are born leaders and academically off the charts, I can understand the whole alpha male dance. Several other play dates, including sleep-over's took place. The boys seemed to play well; however, Bully Boy's control issues became stronger. Additionally, my son became increasingly disturbed at how disrespectful Bully Boy was to his parents. On one particular occasion, Stephen witnessed Bully Boy telling his mother to go to hell. I was starting to understand Bully Boy's behavior. Not only was he trying to control my son, but he was also controlling and manipulating his parents. Inappropriate behavior was going unpunished. On at least three occasions, I had to stop Bully Boy from yelling at, or aggressively belittling Stephen. The more these incidents took place, the more my son was concerned about spending time with Bully Boy. Oddly enough, despite the weekend play dates, Bully Boy would still taunt Stephen in school.

After several weeks of attempting to extend the hand of friendship, only to have Bully Boy still going after Stephen in school, I decided a new course of action was necessary. I contacted Bully Boy's mother to discuss several of the issues that were taking place in an effort to bring them to her attention, with the hope she would take action. On one particular call I suggested getting the boys together, with the parents, in an effort to resolve the tension. I was taken aback when Bully Boy's mother informed me that Bully Boy had elected to pass on such a meeting. I'm sorry, but who's the parent here? God gives children parents to guide them and correct them in situations like this; not to have the child direct the parents on how to handle to circumstance. After I picked myself up off the floor, I had two options. Call in the marines or devise, yet, another plan.

Unfortunately, the situation was getting worse. My son came home in tears two weeks ago, indicating that Bully Boy had made a death threat toward him. He also told Stephen that because his father was an attorney, he had the capability to call the police and have him arrested and taken away in the middle of the night to juvenile hall. And, because his father is an attorney, he apparently doesn't need to give the police a reason to have him arrested. Apparently, it's a perk that comes with the job. Having dated several attorney's myself; I know this is clearly not part of the bonus package. At this point, I had reached an all time high on my frustration scale. I marched into my son's school and demanded serious action be taken. The school was reluctant to expel Bully Boy for his antagonistic behavior and death threats (which the details involved using a gun). Stephen's father and I were furious at what we perceived to be a passive attitude on the school's behalf. In their defense, this was due to a lack of knowledge on their part, from not having the adequate misbehavior history on Bully Boy. The school conducted interviews with various students, teachers, and parents, and came to the conclusion that indeed Bully Boy was causing an upset among the school community. A school community that prides itself on a warm, loving and gentle culture. However, despite being armed with their new data on Bully Boy, the school was reluctant to expel him. The approach they took was to put Bully Boy on serious probation. Basically, if the child antagonizes any other child, he's lost his privilege to attend this particular school. Bully Boy's parents were firmly informed of the school's position as well.

Despite all of the torment my son went through, name calling, belittling, nightmares about being murdered at school, etc., he still had empathy toward Bully Boy. So much so, that during his prayers one night, all he did was ask God to help Bully Boy behave and learn about being a friend. When my son prayed that night, I was moved and humbled at the same time. His heart and intentions were pure and genuine. Here I was taking all of the tactical steps I thought were necessary, and my son showed me that all that was needed was a simple act of kindness.... he prayed for Bully Boy. Of course! That was the answer. I was embarrassed to realize that I hadn't once stopped to pray for Bully Boy? God has handled bullies before. How could I have been so blind to not see the obvious solution? I'm a firm believer that God uses children to drive home grown-up lessons to adults, and this was no exception.

It's been two weeks since my son, and subsequently I, prayed for Bully Boy, and have done so every night since. I'm proud to say that Bully Boy has been kind, non-threatening, is playing fairly, and making strides toward building positive friendships. I recently approached Bully Boy and praised him for his efforts. His face lit up as he eked out a faint "Thank you. I'm really trying hard". Maybe Bully Boy just needed some praise and to know someone cares. At the moment, I'm pleased with the outcome. An outcome that dervied from the genuine, sincere heart and prayers of a true friend. My son showed me, through his example of compassion, how to truly deal with a bully.

Monday, May 08, 2006

We're having a baby today!

The phone rang at 7:16 a.m. on Saturday morning. Before I checked the caller ID, I could have bet an entire year's salary that it was my notorious early rising, mother on the other end. It doesn't matter if it's the weekend, holiday or vacation, my mother is up at 6:00 a.m. and firmly believes the rest of the world should follow suit. I answered the phone, annoyed that my dream of strolling down the Malibu beaches hand in hand with George Clooney came to an abrupt end. Through the cobwebs in my throat I managed to eek out a faint "hello". To which my mother enthusiastically responded, "We're having a baby today". I went from zero to one hundred in 2.6 seconds. "Oh my God," I exclaimed. "Alba's in labor?" I inquired. Alba is my sister-in-law. "Yep. Her water broke at 5:00 this morning. Your father and I are on our way to the hospital," explained my mother. I told my mom I needed to get a few things in order and that I'd be at the hospital as quickly as possible. I live two hours away, so it would be around noon before I met up with everyone.

After a quick shower, packing toothbrushes, getting the dog boarded and filling up the car with gas (which required a meeting with my loan officer to fund), my son and I were Palm Springs bound to meet the newest member of our family. With bagels, coffee and a DVD for my son to watch on the way, I sped through the 210, 15 and 10 freeways making it to the hospital in a record hour and a half. My father was beaming as he met my son and me at the front of the hospital. The excitement of the day was just beginning. Despite my parents having three other grandchildren, this was the first grandchild where they would actually be at the hospital for the birth. The other grandchildren were born either too quickly or on the opposite coast for my parents to attend. This birth would be different.

When I arrived at my sister-in-law's birthing suite, she looked in great spirits. No stress, no pain and radiating. She just turned 40 and this was her first child. She had a wonderful pregnancy and we could only hope and pray that the birth would be the same. After having endured a 34 hour labor myself, only to end up having a c-section, I wanted nothing but the best experience for Alba. She is one of the sweetest sister-in-law's you could ask for. She adores my brother, loves and respects my parents, is bright, sweet, hard working, and always putting other's first. When she and my brother got married, I told my brother that we loved Alba so much that if things didn't work out between them, we were keep her and getting rid of him. They are such soul mates that I'm certain they'll be together for all time.

As Alba's contractions increased in time and heightened in pain, she pleaded with me to find the anesthesiologist and have him quickly administer an epidural. (Or, as the nurses called it "The Special Cocktail".) If there's one thing I've learned in life, it's to follow through on the firm directive of a mother in labor. The nurses quickly produced the anesthesiologist who served up the much needed special cocktail. Alba was now in drug heaven. Life was good again and pain was non-existent.

Labor endured throughout the late afternoon and early evening. Finally around 7:00 p.m. the nurses announced she was fully effaced and dilated. It was time to push. Now here's where it becomes funny. Alba thought maybe six good pushes would get the baby out. My mom and I thought perhaps nine. We were only off by two hours and about 40 pushes.

Alba asked my mom and me to be with her during the delivery. I was touched and honored that she wanted us there. Here we were, the three girls, bonded together in the greatest experience ever; watching a new life come into the world. With each push, we pushed with her. With each deep breath, we breathed with her. With each exciting turn, we experienced them together, hand in hand. Women, brought together by family, now on the ultimate journey. Finally, after all of the waiting, Alba's amazing efforts throughout her delivery, and the work of a stellar medical team, Loren Craig took his first breath of life. He weighed in at a whopping 8 lbs. 6 oz., and stretched out to 20 inches long. The collective amount of joy at the sight of this new, beautiful, precious soul was boundless. Tears, hugs, and admiration filled the room. The moment was transcending. I've never felt closer to the women in my family as I did at that moment.

When the nurses put Loren in his mother's waiting arms, I was filled with so much emotion. This was the first time he had opened his eyes. His first sight was his mother's smiling face. He recognized her. He was listening to her soft sweet voice. The immediate bond taking place was priceless and moving. I was reminded of the moment my son was first place in my arms. There was this instantaneous warmth that covered me. A liquid love, if you will. I was filled with a love so fierce and so empowering. This beautiful baby I had longed for was now here. He was healthy and adorable. He was mine. And, thus began an unbreakable bond.

I will never forget watching my nephew come into the world. I'll forever be thankful to my sister-in-law for the giving me the gift of watching a new life begin. This is that will be forever etched in my memory (and heart). This was a day we had a baby!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Can someone please tell where the month of April went?

I was speaking with my good friend, Bill, last night when he nudged me about why he hasn't seen any new blogs lately. He's absolutely right, I'm way overdue in making an entry in my blog. I've been like a mad canine running around the dog park chasing his tail. Between my son's school commitments, work, family, church, working out, taking care of my home and a recent visit to the East Coast, I've been extended beyond belief. Having said this, let me share with you a few highlights of this past month.

The beginning of April brought a wonderful yellow sheet of paper home from my son's school, informing parents that the students had been exposed to head lice. I don't know how many of you have encountered these nasty little buggers, but they have the power to bring a well decorated soldier to his/her knees. For something smaller than a sesame seed, they can produce a colossal amount of frustration. Thankfully, we were able to get my son's lice under control with the help of my good friend Kathy, who purchased an arsenal of lice ridding products from The Hair Fairies in Los Angeles. Apparently, they are the Mecca for head lice obliteration. After countless treatments and hours of literal nit picking, I'm proud to say, we have conquer the little vermin.

The middle of April took my son and me to the East Coast for some much needed time with our extended families. I'll share more detail regarding my visit in another blog; however, I will say that this particular visit was wonderful on so many levels. Of course, I nearly put my son and me on the government's watch list when I inadvertently took the wrong flight back to California. We were technically stow away's enjoying a free flight to Las Vegas, all the while, savoring the lovely inflight fare of peanuts, warm soft drinks, and an odd form of cheesy cracker bites. Are crackers supposed to be neon orange? We eventually got to our destination after being rerouted through Orange County, having to pick up our luggage in San Bernadino County, and finally making it back home, three hours after the fact, to LA County.

The end of April brought my 41st birthday. My friend Christine sent me a birthday email saying "Now you're really sexy". I love how women my age embrace our bodies, our sexuality, and own who we are. She's right, I am really sexy now. I've come into my own and am very excited about what the next 41 years of my life (and then some) have to hold. I think the most special moment of my birthday was hearing a voice message from my mother singing happy birthday to me. That was sweeter than any gift I could have wished for.

May is already turning out to be an interesting month and we're only three days into it. I promise to kick up the anti on my blog entries. It's good to know there are those of you out there who care and enjoying reading my posts