Saturday, December 21, 2013

Happily Ever After (Published to Plymouth Patch May 16, 2012)

A constitutional amendment to take away people's rights - not the America I believe in. ~ Carol O’Brennan

What the hell is wrong with people?
Seriously? That’s not a rhetorical question. Okay, maybe it is a little.
Did a certain portion of this country sleep through the last forty years? Have they learned nothing from history? Back then we were fighting over color instead of gender. Guess what? Nothing they predicted has happened. Nothing. The world did not go spinning off its axis, hurtling toward the sun, to punish the sinners and miscegenators. God did not smite anyone. People of all colors and nationalities have been getting happily married and the world did not end.
Just as nothing will happen when same-sex couples are allowed to marry.
Listen, hate anyone you want but do it quietly, in your own home. Do not bring it to the public square for if you do, you will be held up and reviled as the bigot you are. Do not hide your hate behind your religion; it’s cowardly. Do not wrap yourself up in righteousness and argue that intolerance is a family value. It’s not.
Love is a family value and it should be encouraged and nurtured whenever possible. Celebrated. If we loved more and judged less, the world would be a much better place. Seriously, maybe you should try it.
Marriage has evolved over time. If you did not, then too bad for you. You don't get to hold the rest of us back. For most, marriage is no longer about rival clans settling a dispute or an attempt to negotiate a merger or prevent a war. It’s not about gaining an extra pair of hands to work the farm or to acquire land or wealth.
Modern marriage is about love and making a life with a partner you choose.
Every marriage is unique. It has its own goals, its own hopes and dreams. I have been married for close to two decades and my marriage has matured and changed over that time. It has experienced happiness and sadness, regret and remorse. It has been both suffocating and liberating. It has been hard work but it has been totally worth it.
When I think about my life and my marriage and the joy and the balance that it brings me, I can’t imagine denying it to anyone and certainly not because they love someone with the same parts. Preventing people from achieving personal happiness is a much greater transgression than any sin you can manufacture to repudiate it. I feel a little sorry for those who can’t see that.
By refusing to recognize marriage as a right for all, we are, in essence telling every bully, bigot and would-be thug that it's ok to single people out if they're different from you or if they deviate from your cultural norm. That there exists in America, in the 21st century, a lesser class of American; Americans that can be denied the basic human dignity of deciding whom they want to make a life with; who to love.
I’m going to say this once and I’m going to say it slowly: Every single consenting adult has the absolute right to love the person of their choosing. They have the right to live their lives without interference from bullies and bigots.
They have the right to get married. Not civil unioned. Not gay married. Not same-sex married. Just married.
As in Happily Ever After married.
Just like me.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Are You Going To Die? (Published to Plymouth Patch March 2, 2011)

The truth is always better than what can be imagined in its place

My then 13-year-old son, Dylan, asked me that question. It was March 15, 2009 and we were gathered in my room at Jordan Hospital. Me sitting up in bed – connected to various tubes and wires, the kids sat at the end of the bed, expectantly. Pat paced behind them. By this point, I had been in the hospital four days and we had been limiting the information that we gave the kids until we knew more.
I was really sick, I told them. What we thought was pneumonia wasn’t. I have an illness that affects my heart. It’s something many people have. Grammy (my mom) has it. It is something the doctors understand, and medications and treatments exist to help manage it.
I had congestive heart failure stemming from a viral infection in my heart. I know! Who knew that could happen! 
Nothing really prepares you for caring for a child when you are sick. When your future is uncertain. I had thought about what would happen to my family if I weren’t around. Or how I would parent if something happened to Pat. But never about what would happen if I were disabled or debilitated. The prospect of parenting through a major health crisis or problem had never crossed my mind. I learned. The hard way, the way I am destined to learn everything.
“I have no intention of dying." I told them. "I need to have some more tests done and learn as much as I can. It’s going to be hard but we’ll face this together. No matter what happens we’ll deal with it.”
They were still young, but at 13 and 10, old enough to catch on that something significant was going on.
When I got home – no matter how scared, tired, or upset – I got out of bed. Every day I was there when they left for school and again most afternoons. They needed me. Maybe more than ever. With so much uncertainty surrounding my health, I was determined that this would not define us. If this was to be our life, then it was going to bend to my rules.
We planned menus and took walks. We learned new ways of cooking. We learned how to shop. We read labels and calculated percentages. The kids pitched in around the house. Carrying laundry. Learning how to vacuum. Stacking the dishwasher. We created an air of normalcy as we met this challenge together – as a family.
There was no future, no planning. There was just the now. Managing day to day. I would tell myself, after the next appointment we’ll have answers. A plan. Something. Anything.
I’m sure you’ve surmised that I’m not dead. Two years later. I’m better. A medical miracle by one doctor’s assessment.
Being sick taught me so much. I learned I’m stronger than I ever imagined; that Pat is the most amazing man in the universe; that my kids – my incredible kids – can rise to any challenge. What could have devastated us made us stronger. We survived. We persevered. We thrived. We did it with honesty, stubbornness and a whole lot of laughter.
Trust your children with the truth. They get it. Let them impress you. Mine did.

Chronic Understanding - (Published to Plymouth Patch July 27, 2011)

Life is short but there is always time for courtesy. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I got amazing news recently, I have been “reversed”. That means that the Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) that I was diagnosed with over two years ago has been reversed. As in, I’m as close to cured as it gets for this disease. I’m a miracle. But ya’ll already know that, right?
One of the many things that I learned during my walk on the chronic illness side of life, patience. Chronic illness is funny. You can’t always tell that someone has a chronic illness just by looking at them. If you had seen me at my sickest, you’d probably just think I was a little slow-witted and out of shape. You’d never know that I was a second away from a heart transplant. I was able to work and I was able to take my kids to activities but I paid for it in private. Weekends spent in bed or on the couch because I pushed myself too hard. Excess swelling and nights of vomiting when the fluid built up too fast. Getting dizzy and light-headed when my blood pressure would plummet. Fun times. No really, fun fun fun.
We walk among you but you don’t see us. Not really. You get annoyed because we walk slow in the heat and humidity. We stop, a lot, sometimes suddenly and you’re forced around us. We ask you to repeat things since some of us have tricky memories due to medication and low blood pressure and circulation.
I joined a Facebook page dedicated to living with CHF and I have met so many amazing people. Most have it a lot tougher than I ever did. They inspire me. The determination they have to not let illness define them, the courage they wield as they face life with as much vigor as can be mustered, they carve out lives that have meaning and consequence. We laugh at ourselves and each other. There is no question off limits. Seriously, everything from where in the world we live, to how much sex we have, and how soon we started having it post diagnoses. It’s a remarkable community and I feel like I have friends for life.
It’s not all sunshine and ponies there. It’s also a place to yell and vent. To scream “why me.” What you find in return is understanding and honesty, solace without pity. Big, wide, shoulders to cry on and a hell of a pep talk.
It’s not just cardiac patients that hide in plain sight.
Arthritis, Crohn’s Disease, Depression, Diabetes, Fibromyalga, Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, and so many more.
All of them debilitating and all almost completely hidden. Chronic illness inhabits your whole life. It will take over, if you let it. Each, of course, comes with it’s own problems and peculiarities but it all boils down to the same. Something’s wrong. Your reactions are different. Your mental processes are different. Your emotional reactions are different. You are different. You may fight that difference but the illness will not be ignored.
Do me a favor, next time you feel your impatience rising because of the slow poke in front of you; or you’re on the phone with the guy who can’t seem to decide what he needs; or the woman at work who doesn’t remember what she told you, I want you to stop.
Then I want you to reach out.
With a smile.
With patience.
With understanding.

Read more of my journey here

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Teach Them Well (Published to Plymouth Patch on March 22, 2011)

And let them lead the way
If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn't want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher's job.  ~ Donald D. Quinn
That there sums up exactly why I am not a teacher. Me, I’d be the lady on the news; the one who duct tapes kids to chairs. Yeah, not so good with the patience. I envy those that have the skill and desire to teach children. The people that can look into young faces and see the potential; the ones that can coax creativity and passion from our kids.
My experience in school was defined by strife and budget cuts, massive teacher layoffs and over-crowding. I went to public school in Boston during busing and the passage of Prop 2-1/2. Yeah, not a fun time to be trying to get an education.
Contrast that with the experience my children are having in Plymouth. It is worlds apart. By pure chance, we bought a house in the Cold Spring Elementary School district. An amazing school that housed about 200 students. Ideal. Half way through Dylan’s first year we knew the principal by name and almost all the teachers as well. I had the honor of serving on the school council and the PTO. I volunteered in the school and raised money for extras. It was really a tremendous place and my children benefited by being a part of it. I believe that the teachers at Cold Spring prepared both of my children for middle school and beyond.
The majority of teachers work hard. Really they do. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. I’ve had it benefit both of my kids. More than once. What I don’t understand is the constant attack on the profession of teaching and the near constant character attacks on those who teach. Seriously. I’d be duct taping some grown-ups to chairs if I were a teacher. Keep calling me lazy and unproductive. Yeah, that’s going be a problem.
Spend some time in a class room. Reading, volunteering, observing. Call your  local school and ask for a tour. Actually read the curriculum and see how much has to be taught because of our obsession with measurability. How do you measure knowledge? How do you measure creative thinking? How do you measure self-esteem?
What has happened to us, as a nation, that we find it acceptable to blame the middle-class for all our problems? How come every time I turn on the news, teachers are under attack? These are our neighbors, our friends, our families. The ones we entrust our children too. Are all our budget and fiscal problems really caused by teachers and other public employees? I find that hard to believe. No, wait, I refuse to believe that. Not with what I’ve seen and experienced.
Know what I think? I think we should give them more leeway and creativity in the classroom. I think they should teach children to think critically. Know what else I think? I think we should pay teachers more not less.
Anyone out there that believes that their taxes will be permanently reduced by dismantling the collective bargaining power of teachers and other unionized public employees – call me. I have a bridge for sale, cheap!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Toddlers and Teens (published to Plymouth Patch on February 21, 2011)

Like déjà vu all over again

Parenting, a definition: "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go..."  ~ Dr. Seuss
When I was a new parent, I received loads of advice and words of wisdom from well-meaning friends and family. Occasionally, I would get a look that practically screamed: “Why? Why did you do it? You have no idea what lies ahead!” These poor embattled souls, I thought, what type of hell ruled their lives? The answer: teenagers. Every single person that gave me that look had teenagers.
I have teenagers now. One literal and one figurative. And they are doing their best to stymie even my most advanced parenting moves. Quite frankly, I’ve been outwitted. By teenagers. Ya’ll should revoke my mommy card. Seriously.
My parenting had completely devolved into yelling, pointing, and the occasional random profanity. (Emma's note: occasional is not the correct word, try all the time.) My days started with shouts and threats; it ended the same way. I was losing sleep and sanity.
It hit me one day. The one piece of advice that I had kept in the back of my mind. The one bit that made me go "hmmm." It was from a guy I worked with years ago, his name lost to me. He had teenagers, I had toddlers. He told me that they are not all that different. Both toddler and teenager go through massive physical and emotional changes in a small amount of time. As I thought more about that, I realized that he was right. They are both awkward and clumsy. They don’t have real control over their physical beings or their emotions. Almost everyone finds toddlers adorable and amusing but almost no one thinks the same of teenagers.
I started looking for the amazing in teenagers. It’s not easy. They are stubborn critters but I’m nothing if not persistent, and I love a challenge. I started small. Assessing the positives: smart, caring, funny. I can work with that! What are the immediate challenges: school, socializing, sports. Manageable issues. Now comes the hard part. Reining me in. Reminding myself that I need more restraint and self-control. I need to model the behavior I wish them to emulate. You know, practice what you preach, live what you mean.
Teens, when you sweep away all the angst and agony, are special. They bring such an amazing point-of-view to the world. They are far more creative than destructive. They are, for all its cliché-ness, the future. They are fearless. We are responsible for them; we are their guides. They need us to help them keep their wonder at the same time trying to anchor them to reality. It’s hard. Harder than I thought.
I expect that my days of yelling, random pointing, and sporadic profanity are not over. Not even close. They are teenagers after all, the most vexing of all creatures. And I don’t always have the patience, really, that parenting requires. Know what the weak link in all this is? Me. Not them. They’ll be adults someday. Whether I parent them effectively or not, only time will tell. I like to say that I started with great kids and I’m trying my best not to mess them up.
Wish me luck!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Are You Kidding Me?

I started the "Are You Kidding Me?" columns in February of 2011 when I started writing for Plymouth Patch. Since Patch will be taking some of their sites off-line I wanted a "safe" place to archive all that work.