Category Archives: life lessons

The Last of the Firsts

My first birthday

For me, May 18 is the last of the firsts. It is my birthday. Twelve days from now, it will be May 30, the first anniversary of the death of my father. It is my first birthday without my Dad.

This is a milestone all of my other family members have already reached — including my husband, whose first birthday without my Dad after my Dad’s death was the day before his funeral. While my birthday is a happy day, it — just like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter all before this day — will feel a little hollow this year.

Thirty-five years ago, my Daddy became a dad.

Through personal experience, I realize Moms become Moms over the course of their pregnancy, more so than actually birthing the baby: you realize your additional responsibility to eat healthfully, exercise and reduce stress; you feel the flutterings and movements and hiccups and rib-shots which cause you to already appreciate the life you are growing (and shaping and molding, to eventually set free). You already worry about baby’s future, you over-research and over-analyze every decision: from BPA-free bottles, to crib mattresses to car seats. Becoming a mother is a gradual, but definite, process. The birth is “just” the curtain-call, if you will.

This isn’t to say expectant Dads don’t have concerns or worries, or that they don’t plan for the future and try (as best one can, as an expectant parent) to realize what the future entails. They do. It is just to say that becoming a parent, from my perspective, is more active for the pregnant mama than it is for the “pregnant” daddy.

Even though expectant Dads can feel the baby’s kicks by touching their partner’s swollen belly, or see baby’s foot move across Mom’s belly in response to Dad’s voice … Dads don’t really “become” Dads until the baby arrives. Until the baby looks like him. After Dad cuts the cord, holds the baby, changes the first diaper, spends his first sleepless night, and then drives home from the hospital with his baby and his wife sitting in the backseat, that is when the reality of becoming a father hits.

I have heard my Mom’s side of my birth story many, many times. I would love to hear my Dad’s side of my birth story, or “when he knew” he was a Dad just one more time. (Who am I kidding? Thousands of times.) Though I know his rendition would probably be shorter than the paragraph I just typed.

I was a C-section, and I know in the 70s, Dads weren’t allowed in the OR. Even my Dad (she says possessively and proudly) as an EMT and firefighter, had to wait for the news second-hand. (I remember thinking at a young age: That is ridiculous!)

I wonder what he was thinking, 35 years ago today. Was he worried? Did he secretly yearn for a boy, an heir to his name? Did he ruminate about “being ready” to be a Daddy? Did he hope I’d follow in the family tradition and join the fire department? Was he excited to one day teach me to sail? What were his dreams for me? His hopes? His fears?

My first boat ride?

In truth, he was probably quietly and calmly waiting: smoking his Salem regulars, drinking a few Pepsi-colas. Maybe the Reds were playing. Maybe not.

In the end, I am certain I lived up to some of his expectations. I am quite certain I surpassed others, those he couldn’t possibly have foreseen. (By that, I mean the tattoo, the piercings, and taking nearly a dozen years to earn my bachelor’s degree. Sorry, Dad!)

My Dad didn’t offer unsolicited advice. He didn’t scold, lecture, or try to talk you (me) out of doing something stupid. Perhaps because he grew up with four sisters, three daughters (and later, three grand-daughters) he knew not to engage in a losing battle.

But he was a quiet, calming force. His praise was infrequent, but solid. His sense of humor was predictable, yet alarming. His hugs were awkward, but … they are sorely missed.

I have tried (and failed) to live this year without regretting the past. I miss him more than I ever thought possible. Losing him at such a young age, and to such a ferocious disease, has forced me to look hard at the decisions I make and how they impact my family, particularly my husband and our daughters.

Matt and I met almost by chance. He didn’t have to move to Cincinnati. I didn’t have to introduce myself at the company Red’s game. Considering we had never met during the previous four months of working for the same company, it’s unusual that the very next morning, we (almost literally) ran into each other walking into work. (He swears he didn’t plan it. I know I didn’t — I am far from punctual.)

But my Dad died of cancer almost certainly by choice. Or, rather, a series of choices.

I have spent many of the last 353 days talking to our daughters about making smart decisions. It seems that’s the only ability we have: to make informed, smart decisions about the things we can control. And then leave the rest to chance.

If you knew my Dad and you have a few moments, my birthday wish is for you to share a happy memory you have of him. And my wish for you, is that you live your life understanding your decisions impact those who love you most.

I’ll start. In my parents’ room hangs a cross-stitch, that says something like this:

Any man can be a father; It takes someone special to be a Daddy.

I never doubted that my sisters and I were some of the lucky ones. And I don’t doubt it for my children, either.

I love you, Daddy. Happy Becoming-a-Daddy-Day.

And Mom — none of this is to discredit you or the amazing job you have done. Thank you for everything, from morning sickness, to C-section and beyond. Happy Becoming-a-Mommy-Day, too. I love you.

“Daddy and his girls” — though the subjects differed as time went on.

Daddy’s Girls: We were pretty darned cute, if I do say so, myself.


Laughing over Spilled Milk on St. Paddy’s Day

You’ve probably seen the comedy sketches featuring some clueless soul who is about to unintentionally hurt themselves or make a huge mess; though everyone else can see what’s about to happen, but not in enough time to prevent it. Let’s “say” that person follows the directions on every container — such as, Shake Well Before Use — especially of some particularly difficult-to-clean liquid, NOT REMEMBERING SHE HAD ALREADY OPENED IT, only to spill the contents all over themselves, the walls, and everyone/thing around them?


If you’ve spent any time with me, you’ve probably witnessed me doing it.

I don’t consider myself too much of a space-cadet, except when it comes to shaking already open containers and spilling their contents all over the floor. Seriously, I can think of at least a half dozen occasions in which I’ve accomplished this. But yesterday, I crossed the line. I enlisted a 3-year-old accomplice.

The first time it happened was the biggest and the best. It was St. Patrick’s Day weekend many, many years ago. (Actually, hmm … perhaps I’ve unlocked a clue… It might just be this holiday which prompts my insanity! I did have a half a beer the night before…) It was seven years ago, I think. Because my dog was one year old. And the precursor to said occasion was that my dog was locked in a bathroom of a friend’s rented apartment the night before. And bored while her owner was at the bar down the street with her two best friends, who were celebrating St. Paddy’s Day. Clearly, I should have brought the crate instead.

So my dog — a very smart and much-loved (despite the massive amounts of shedding) Siberian Husky — figured out if she jumped up on the door and hit the doorknob the right way, she could manage to either jar the door (or actually twist the knob?) open, because when we returned from the bar, she was at the front door to greet us. (Guess I was lucky she didn’t figure out that door, as well.) Clearly, persistence was her friend, because based on the gouges in the door frame and the lack of paint on the frame and bathroom door, she made many attempts at this before she was successful.

I don’t remember at which point the three of us swore ourselves to secrecy — when we discovered the damage, or when I created more, the following day. Did I mention all of our husbands/fiances/boyfriends (whatever they were, at the time) were out of town together for the weekend? And that the husband who was also renting the apartment surely would be pretty upset to discover the damage created by my dog?

For our girls’ weekend, we had planned on following up our big night out with running errands together and then watching movies the following day. So, we simply added “buy paint” to the list of errands, and considered ourselves fortunate, for as we were shopping for table decorations for one of our weddings, we found little cans of paint (a pint? a quart? not sure) for sale in the adjacent shop. Paint for furniture, we assumed, so we grabbed the best color match and a couple of other necessities and ran back to my friend’s place.

After some debate, we chose to paint first, and then watch movies. Later, we were very, very glad of that decision.

I’ve already given away the ending (something no good writer does!) but I will still spell out the details. We were standing in a very large kitchen, down the hall from the bathroom in question. We were all chatting. I can’t remember if I opened the can of paint myself, or if one of my friends did … but some time passed while we finished a story, and then I grandly announced I was off to work, picked up the can of paint on which the lid gently rested, and as I turned to walk down the hall (out of habit? thinking I’d better shake it just a little more so the contents hadn’t settled? I don’t know why!) I started shaking the can again. Not just a little wrist wiggle, mind you; a full-arm shake, from my belly out with my arm fully extended.

I didn’t even see it. I felt the paint sliding down my hand and arm, and saw the looks of horror on my friends’ faces as I then noticed the paint spilling in a rainbow arc splatter at least 10 feet in front of me, and then back again. I know I was still completing the motion even though I realized what was happening. Paint landed all over the garbage can, my friends, my own clothes and shoes and face and hair, and who knows what else. At least half the can of paint. So much that I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to get one coat of paint on all the necessary spots, much less finish the job. But that wasn’t my first reaction.

Fortunately, my friends started laughing. Because I can only imagine the look on my face … it must have mirrored the look I see on Ava’s face when she’s just beginning to recognize the pain she just inflicted upon herself, as her mouth turns down and her bottom lip quivers and the tears spill over before she even realizes she is crying. I’m fairly certain I did cry (again, if you know me…) but I definitely remember laughing. Though, it was something I had to choose. I wanted to curse and stomp my feet and rewind time and run away all at the same time (and I might have done just about all of those things still) but I CHOSE to laugh.

The spill wasn’t easy to clean up; one of us finally looked at that blasted can and read the label for the first time. Oil-based. The paint was oil-based.

This was a whole different level of clean-up, now. Off to Home Depot we went, buying turpentine, rags, a new garbage can. I can only imagine what the sales guy said to his coworkers after we left, since I was covered in oil-based paint as we listened to his very safety-based tirade about the dangerous chemical we were about to use. We listened and carried out his directions as best we could. And I painted that damn door. And we cleaned that darn mess.

Much — much — later that night, we finally watched Good Night and Good Luck. Well, the first five minutes of it, anyway. (So there’s another coincidence, with George Clooney in the news this weekend.)

For the record, they got their deposit back when they moved out, years later. And the story wasn’t nearly as funny or surprising to the boys, as we thought it might be.

But now, back to the three-year-old, whose almond milk I was helping her get today while her mama was busy with one of the other five children in her house. Because, as three-year-olds are wont to do, S- was exerting her independence a little; so I, as mamas are wont to do, distracted her by asking if she wanted to shake the milk while I fetched a glass. I thought I checked the pop-up lid to be sure it was secure, but perhaps in checking it, I loosened it by mistake? Since little S- was by my side as I reached into the cabinet, again I didn’t see it happen. But I heard her shake it, and I heard the milk splatter onto the floor, and I heard her stop.

When I turned to see her face, she had the most perfectly shaped open mouth, jaw dropped, with equally wide eyes pleading with my own. “I’m in big trouble, aren’t I?” her expression seemed to say.

I crouched down to her level, just in time to give her the gift my friends gave me. I laughed. And I hugged her. And she laughed, too. As she dashed upstairs to change her clothes, I wiped up the mess (considerably easier clean-up than oil-based paint, just in case there was any speculation about that).

And since, as conversations at play-dates with six kiddos go, there was no opportunity to share this story then, I wrote it out now.

Thank you, S-, for reminding me of the importance of laughing over Spilled Anything.

Happy St. Paddy’s Day, everyone!

When Irish eyes are smiling,
Tis like a morn in spring.
With a lilt of Irish laughter
You can hear the angels sing
When Irish hearts are happy
All the world is bright and gay
When Irish eyes are smiling
Sure, they steal your heart away.