Love and Loss

In just the past week, a friend in Mobile and my brother both lost their beloved pets…and when I say “lost,” I mean the dogs passed away. If you’ve never had a pet, you likely think “beloved” before the word “pet” is odd. But if you’ve had pets, you get it.

Growing up, we always had pets…mostly dogs. We had a cat once, but it was a stray that stayed outside. I was too young to remember its arrival, but my mother told me we named it Valentine, because it showed up on Valentine’s Day. We had lots of dogs along the way, and no matter what breed they were or how much of a mutt they were, we loved them all. After I got married, we got an Airedale Terrier and named her Annie, even though I wanted to name her Fannie, after a college roommate. My husband wouldn’t go along with the name “Fannie,” but later, he said he wished we had named her Fannie. I was crazy over that dog.

Annie helped me get through morning sickness (or all the time sickness) in the first trimester of pregnancy. She was a big dog (about 80 pounds), but when I would lie in bed with nausea, she would get in bed next to me and put her warm back against me. She was the only dog I had as an adult who I knew would put her life on the line for me. And I knew she would. She was not aggressive, but she was very protective, and I was grateful for that, especially when my husband was out of town.

My brother didn’t call me and tell me about his dog’s passing. His dog, a beautiful Weimeraner named Amos, was his sidekick. I woke up yesterday to a text message from a family friend, Jane, who told me, “Amos is gone.” I must have gasped audibly, because my husband asked me what was wrong. I called Jane immediately, and she told me Amos’s health had declined rapidly, and he had passed away during the night. We sat on the phone and cried together, and after we hung up, I texted my brother. I couldn’t call him, because I couldn’t stop crying. He didn’t need to listen to me blubber.

My friend in Mobile who lost her dog called me a few days before my brother’s dog died, crying hysterically, after her dog was hit by a car. She lives on a busy road, and the dog had jumped the backyard fence. She had fostered the dog after she found him wandering somewhere. We always laugh that she’s a “bleeding heart.” After her dog passed, she said to me, “I just love too hard!” She said she had resolved she wouldn’t do that again, because it hurts so much when she loses a pet, but she can’t help herself.

I remembered something Dr. Seuss said about love, “A life with love will have some thorns, but a life without love will have no roses. To the world you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world.” Isn’t that the truth? My brother was certainly the world to his dog, as my friend in Mobile was to hers.

Here’s the thing…yes, it hurts to lose those pets we love so much, but the joy they bring us outweighs that pain. I cried for a month when we lost Annie, but now, six years after her death, I mostly remember the good stuff: her fighting off the scary snowman, her happiness when I came home, how she drooled like crazy when she saw me get out the peanut butter jar, her floating on the pool lounge, and her unconditional love.

And sometimes I have to remind myself  the same applies to people. Yes. It’s totally worth it to put yourself out there. I’m 52. I’ve loved friends along the way. No, I’m not talking about boyfriends, but yes, I had boyfriends when I was young. Do I regret loving any of those people along the way? No. Most of those folks are still my friends, but some are no longer my friends, and I certainly don’t have any boyfriends. Even though a few friends are no longer in my life for whatever reason…their fault, my fault, or no one’s fault…I’m glad I loved them. I’m even glad I trusted them. Here’s why: if they were my friends, there were some “roses” along the way. Sure, there were thorns, but I know we had some “roses” along the way. And no matter what, I learned something from every relationship…sometimes learning more form the thorns than the roses. And don’t get me wrong…sometimes I presented the thorns, no doubt. All my relationships, the great ones and the failures, have contributed to my life. In fact, because of that, I don’t hold grudges. I wish all those people well.

So right now, during this coronavirus, I’m making a point to reach out to some folks I haven’t talked to in a while. Because, yes, there will be some thorns, but the roses are glorious!

 

I Never Wanted to Homeschool

I never wanted to homeschool.

Seriously…never. It never, ever crossed my mind in a serious way. There were times I thought, “If we homeschool, we can go on vacation all the time! We can educate our daughter on the road!” And I know that works for some folks. But for me? Nope, nope, nope. I love my daughter, but we don’t need to be together 24/7.

Yet here we are, in the middle of a pandemic, and homeschooling is the only way. I’m not officially homeschooling, because she is still signing in to her school website and having remote video “class” and conferences with teachers. Thank God. We just returned from “spring break,” during which our trip was actually canceled, but we had a break nonetheless. And now school is starting back.

Lucky for us, our daughter is 16 and a sophomore in high school. She is old enough to figure it out herself. In fact, I have been receiving emails from her teachers about remote learning, and every time I see one, I think, “Really? Don’t y’all tell us to be ‘hands off’ when they get to high school?” Why do they suddenly want us to be hands on?!? I know the students are home, but my daughter needs to drive this bus herself. I never know what her homework is, just like my mother never knew what my homework was in the 80s. That is entirely her responsibility.

When my daughter was in third grade, another mom approached me at school one day and asked, “Is your daughter ready for the Bunnicula test?” I must have looked at her like she had three heads, because I responded, “What the heck is a Bunnicula?” Apparently, it was a book they had read, and they were having a test on it that day. For a brief moment, I wondered how the other mom knew they were having a test! I had no idea, because even when she was in third grade, I didn’t help with homework. I didn’t help her get or stay organized. I didn’t help her with her homework at all. It was all up to her. That was her job…just like it is now. I know…I know…some of you will say that was a little too hands off. Trust me, I am a very present parent in every other way, but I have always believed she needed to learn how to do her schoolwork the same way I did…without any help from parents. I remember when she was in sixth grade, I sat down with her and taught her my secret method for studying for tests, and she has thanked me a million times since. I’ll offer guidance. But helping with daily homework? I’ve never done it.

She knows she can come to me for guidance when she needs it. I will always provide support and guidance. As recently as this morning, I reminded her that she needs to stay in close touch with her teachers. She needs to email or conference with them pretty regularly, even if she doesn’t feel like she needs help. She needs to keep the lines of communication open. That’s my advice for the day. That’s how I help her with her education.

Many times I’ve told her about a calculus class I had in college. I had a low A going into the final, but I had been meeting with the teacher two or three times a week to keep that A. And then I bombed the final…I don’t mean I made a C.  I bombed it. Back then, to see our exam grades before we left school at the end of the semester, we had to go see where they were posted outside the teacher/professor’s office door. After I saw my terrible grade, I entered his office, he said, “Oh, Kelly, you did not do well on the final.” I said, “I saw that!” I then asked him what grade I would get for the semester (the final was supposed to have a lot of weight). Instead of answering me, he asked, “What grade do you think you deserve?” I would have said a C. But seeing an opening, I returned the question, “What do you think I deserve?” He looked at me, very kindly, and said, “I give you B. You do good in long journey.” He was from another country…I don’t remember where…so he spoke in broken English, but he had the sweetest way of expressing his wisdom, and he was a very compassionate man. I thanked him profusely, and I was on my way. I have remembered his kindness for all these years…and when someone in our family works hard and meets a goal or accomplishment, I say, “You do good in long journey.”

That’s my long way of saying I worked hard to try to get a good grade in that class, and my teacher recognized that. That’s what I am encouraging my daughter to do right now. She has heard that story a million times, and as a teenager, she might not fully hear it, but one day, something will happen, and she will know I’m right.

So, while I’m sure her teachers and school are simply making sure I’m informed with those emails they’re sending me, I’m not getting into the fray. If she were younger, I might have to jump in with both feet, but in 10th grade? Nah. She can do this, and she’ll appreciate it a lot more if she does it on her own.

Homeschooling? It’s still not for me. That’s one thing I know for sure. I’ll be team mom. I was a homeroom mom many times when she was in elementary school. I volunteer all over the place. But I’m not planning to take the reins on this homeschooling.

She’s got this. She will “do good in long journey.”

 

A Picture Tells a Story

A picture tells a story.

At the end of every year since I got an Instagram account, I go back through all the photos I posted for that year. Recently I went back through my Instagram photos for 2019, and I truly realized that some of the pictures really tell stories.

My first post for 2019 was a photo at the Charlotte airport…not much of a story except that we were starting vacation…meeting friends from Ohio in LA. But the next picture, a photo of me and my friend from Ohio, Jenn, tells a real story.

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Sure, looking at the photo above, all you see is two friends on a chilly day with the Pacific Ocean in the background. But what I see is love. Having just survived the first anniversary of my mother’s death (she died December 30, 2017), I was still reeling. I was feeling lost. And then we arrived in Los Angeles, and Jenn and her daughter arrived. After telling her what a terrible day that first anniversary on December 30 had been (there were additional factors at play)…and crying…Jenn made me feel better. Jenn, the perpetual ray of sunshine, hugged me, listened to me, and made me feel loved. So every time I come across that one single photo that looks completely nondescript and meaningless to everyone else in the world, I remember how much better she made me feel. I can look at my face in that picture and see the pain melting away. I see the relief in my eyes and in my face. That picture reminds me that good friends are hard to find. And that picture reminds me that when we find good friends like Jenn, we need to keep them.

There are other photos from 2019 that stand out for me. In fact, any photos I post on Instagram, I share for a reason…maybe I think they’re funny or cute…maybe I want to share something cool…or maybe there’s another meaning behind the picture. Of course, when I posted the picture of me and Jenn, I had no idea how powerful the picture was for me. It was only when I was looking through pictures a few months later that I saw it again, and the meaning behind it floored me. Instagram photos certainly tell stories…maybe not to the casual observer, but to the originator of the post. Most of my photos tell stories of family, friendship, and love. And then there are some that tell different stories…like this photo of me and my daughter in front of Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The story? In 2015, I took a crazy road trip with my friend, Mary Ann, and our kids. We spent a few nights in Chicago, and while we were there, I had hoped to get the kids up to Wisconsin…just so they could add another state to their list of “states visited.” There was a Six Flags amusement park we could have visited just over the line, but that would have taken too much time, so instead, I suggested Mars Cheese Castle, a giant cheese store shaped like…you guessed it…a castle. We never made it in 2015, and I regretted it. So in 2019, when I was in Chicago with my daughter and one of her friends, we made a quick trip up to Kenosha to visit Mars Cheese Castle. You can see how happy I was!

Those are just a couple of examples of how pictures tell stories, but I can look at every picture on my Instagram account and remember stories and conversations behind them. Right now, though, I keep going back to that picture of me and Jenn. I need to call her and thank her for being a good friend.

 

Take Ten Seconds

A friend just shared on Facebook a video of Mr. Rogers accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmy Awards in 1997. In his acceptance speech, the beloved Mr. Rogers asks if everyone will take “just 10 seconds to think about the people who have helped you become who you are…the ones who cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life.” And he silently keeps time on his watch…just ten seconds to think of the people who helped you become who you are. You can see a clip here.

I loved Mr. Rogers. It’s no secret. My friends have known that for years. In Pittsburgh a few years ago, I forced everyone in my party to visit the Heinz History Center to see the Mr. Rogers exhibit…some of the pieces from his television show. I was happy. I looked at all of it and thought how much my little girl self would have loved to see it all in person back in the 1970s. Mr. Rogers was a part of my childhood. If you are close to my age, he was likely a part of your childhood too. You likely know the theme song for his show. You likely remember some of the characters from The Neighborhood of Make Believe. Sure, we sometimes made fun of Mr. Rogers and his cardigans and practical shoes, but we all learned something from him.

And as it turns out, Mr. Rogers, in his acceptance speech, was still affecting people. In fact, he’s still affecting us today. That very video made me stop and think about something I hadn’t thought about before…the people who helped me become who I am.

For me, there are many…my parents, my family, some of my teachers, my college friends, other friends…you know, the usual. I won’t name any names, but there are other people who helped me become who I am, and some of them did not do it intentionally. You know who really helped me become who I am? People with whom I had a disagreement of some sort. Seriously. Think about that. When you have a disagreement with someone, it changes who you are…hopefully for the better. And I truly believe that, when I’ve had disagreements with folks, I have been introspective afterward…thinking about where I might have been right and where I might have been wrong. There are also people with whom I had a chance encounter…maybe they helped me carry my groceries; maybe they blessed my day; maybe they stopped me from doing something stupid; or maybe they encouraged me to take a risk I wouldn’t normally have taken. The list is long.

But the list of people who have cared about me along the way? I have a small family, so that list is not particularly long. I have some great friends with whom I will be friends till I die. And I’ve had other friends who aren’t still around, but they cared about me at some point, and I cared about them…and deep down inside, I truly care about anyone who was my friend at one time. Truth. And even if they don’t care about me, they still shaped me in some way.

I’m a firm believer that everyone we encounter affects us and shapes us in some way…maybe it’s a positive and maybe it’s a negative.

So stop and think about the people who have made you who you are. Sure, some of them cared about you. Some of them just affected you in a chance encounter. Be restrospective and introspective. And then, get out and go see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. Just seeing the movie trailer makes me cry, so when I go see it, I’ll have lots of tissues. I plan to see it within the next few days.