(Mostly) Leaving the Minivan Life Behind

As my family of five, plus my husband’s parents, pile into our 2010 minivan to rumble down the Washington, D.C. Beltway to watch my youngest child graduate from high school, I can’t help but think of all the travels that this van and I have gone on together. So much of our lives are lived in our vehicles and in many ways what we drive reflects our current stage of life. I still remember how excited I was to trade in our original van for this one. Van #1 was the van we bought when our car couldn’t fit three car seats across the back seat. I loved the luxury of the van’s spaciousness (the kids’ seats didn’t have to touch!) and looked forward to the adventures of the baby and toddler years. Despite my attempts to keep it “nice,” van #1 was eventually the victim of child snack accidents, car sickness, melted crayons and the general mayhem of three kids in five years. I have no doubt that at some point its next owners found smashed french fries and cracker crumbs lurking in its crevices.

So when van #2 entered our lives, I was delighted and enthralled to usher in the high school years with a shiny new van. 2010 was the year my oldest began high school and I stuck on his new high school’s window sticker with pride and anticipation. This was the van that would witness high school: football games, concerts, and dances! Bring it on! And for the next eight years, it did.

My two youngest eventually attended the same high school and the ensuing years were full of carpools, concerts, plays, clubs, practices, games, back-to-school nights and parent-teacher conferences. This van saw it all, and heard it, too. Parents of teens will tell you that drives alone with your kids are when some of your best conversations happen and simply listening to the kids talking in the backseat of your car will tell you more about their daily life than any direct questions and answers. The van carried us through high school triumphs and frustrations, both big and small, and before I knew it, our trusty van was now carrying us to college visits and commencement ceremonies. The van was stuffed to the brink on my oldest child’s college move-in day and yet impossibly managed to hold even more cargo on move-out day. Two college logo stickers are now sharing space with the fraying high school sticker on the back window, bringing us to today’s final high school celebration.

Celebration it is of course, but bittersweet. In addition to my children’s passing childhood, this van also carried me through very sad moments of my life. While one of the first family trips in the new van in 2010 was my annual summer trip up to my parents with the kids, by 2013 my mother was gone and then by 2014, my father was gone too and my childhood home was a place to visit in memory only. At this time of year, I still feel the pull to load the kids in the van and hit the road to my parents’ house in Pennsylvania, with nearby Hersheypark and my father’s favorite local strawberry-picking fields.


my new ride

Family vacations, trips with our two dogs, and transporting kids to/from college keep our van in use but not on a daily basis. As my two oldest went off to college, I got a new small black SUV for my daily driving. With only one kid at home, a seven-passenger minivan was overkill. After 17 years of driving a minivan, I love my car and feel like it represents the new stage of my life just as my van represented my child-rearing years. I love the ease of driving a sporty car with the thrill of the sky-roof open and my choice of music playing. I envision empty-nest dinner dates and getaway trips with my husband. I see myself emerging from my car dressed professionally and pursuing new career ambitions. In short, I see myself as an individual ready for a new chapter in life. As Mazda used to say “zoom zoom!”

The van, however, remains in the driveway, gassed up and ready to go whenever it is called into service. My SUV may be fun to drive but it can’t fit all five of us into its interior and it doesn’t stand a chance of being able to contain the contents of a college apartment. Like parenting young adults, the van may not be needed on a daily basis but it is still very important for the long haul. Eight years brought lots of mileage, journeys both happy and sad, and some dents that can never be fully repaired. But my van and I are still ready, willing and able to support the dreams of three kids, now young adults, by transporting them wherever their hearts and lives take them. So thank you, van, for getting my family wherever we needed to go for the last eight years. And thank you, most of all, for the memories contained in your doors


Looking for the Light

I am not known for having a green thumb. Many a houseplant has met an early demise in my care. Seriously, I have raised three children but I can’t keep a cactus alive?

But I passed this little shamrock plant at Trader Joe’s and impulsively plopped it on top of my cart. Maybe now that my nest is emptying I am looking for new ways to nurture and I am always willing to buy anything remotely Irish during the month of March. In any case, the cashier placed the shamrock carefully in my bag, making sure it was cushioned by the other groceries.

So, I was dismayed when I got home and took it out of the bag. At Trader Joe’s, it looked full and blooming. At home, my little shamrock looked sad and wilted. Did it not survive a 20 minute drive home? Did I kill it already? I placed in under my kitchen window and gave it a little water.

Lo and behold, the next morning my little plant was open and full again, just as I had originally found it. During the day, it actively turns its tender branches towards the sun and its tiny white flowers blossom. If I turn it around, I’ll come back later and it will have turned to the sun again. At night, it seems to close in on itself a little, as if it needs to rest from the brightness of the day. But I feel it greets me now each morning as I make the coffee. My shamrock is ready to welcome the morning’s light and is open to what the day will bring☘

#happystpatricks #shamrock #irish #emptynest #traderjoes

Hey, Do I Know That Mom?


University of Maryland, College Park

Navigating through the jam-packed food court at the student union desperately trying to secure a table to sit down at with my high school son, I couldn’t help but look around at the faces of several women I passed in the chaos and asked myself silently and my son out loud “Hey, do I know that mom?” They all looked familiar. I felt as though I could know them since we were at our state university but in reality I did not. I feel the same type of familiarity whenever I look at college photos from the 80s. I may not know the girls in the pictures but with their big, permed hair and denim jackets and stirrup pants, I feel as if I know them. They could be me and my friends and I look extra closely at the photo just to make sure there is no one I really do know in it.


My son responds to my “Hey, do I know that mom?” with “No, but you probably think you do because you’re all dressed alike.” I look around and take stock of my own appearance and that of my fellow moms. We are all here today as part of an accepted student open house at a large state university. I notice that the visiting students are all dressed differently, from casual sweatpants and joggers to nice jeans and boots to a few dressed-to-impress kids clad in khakis. But my son was right. There was something universal in the way we moms were dressed. We were wearing good jeans, cute sweaters, boots and in my son’s words “that mom scarf”, the ubiquitous infinity scarf to tie it all together. I think we all want to look better than we do (at least better than I do) running errands or grocery shopping but not look as though we are trying too hard to make a good impression. Our kids, after all, have been accepted into the college at this point thus securing our approval by association.


Still, this is an accepted student visit not orientation. For some students and parents, this is a happy visit to reaffirm the commitment their students have already made to the college. For others, it is an exciting but uneasy visit, a tentative glimpse into what might be their college home, a day spent in one of their possible futures but maybe not their actual future. They are not yet sure and decision day is looming.


I can spot the moms of enrolled students. They look more relaxed as they move from event to event and are more likely to be seen in the university bookstore buying their College Mom swag and stocking up on items for their kids.They know this place they are touring is going to be their kid’s new home and they are ready to welcome it into their family life.


Those of us with not as yet enrolled students are a little more stressed. This place may be our child’s future home, too, but we can’t be sure. We think we can see him or her hanging out at the food court, walking on the mall to the library, but neither our kid nor us is willing to start buying out the bookstore just yet. Our presence here today is a little more tenuous. We are excited but still mentally making a pro and con list. All of our questions have an “if” quality to them whereas the enrolled students ask “when”.


It is great for our students to have choices but choosing between all good options is never easy. It is a good problem to have we are told. It is what our kids have been working toward with us supporting them. All of this is true. It is exciting but it is also nerve racking. After all of these years, from infancy to kindergarten to high school, it all leads to this. Our not quite grown-up kid is leaving in August and the next few weeks will tell us where.

That’s why I sense something so familiar about the other moms I am here with today. We have much more in common with each other than our infinity scarves. We are all on the cusp of parting with our children, sending them off into this world we are visiting today or another one soon to be chosen. Either way, our children we loved and nurtured for 18 years are about to embark on their own brand new adventure. We are happy, excited, proud, and nervous for them.


So, yes, I do know that mom. I am that mom.

Philly Special


Logan Square, Philadelphia, February 8, 2018

I was struck by many things yesterday as I attended the Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl Victory Parade in the City of Brotherly Love. Chief among them is the power of sports to unite so many people from disparate backgrounds into a palpable presence of love. I have to admit I had my own preconceptions about the city and its fans as I came to the parade as part insider but part outsider, too.


My husband grew up in the Philly suburbs and has always been a devoted Eagles fan, despite our residing in Washington Redskins territory for the past 28 years. Sometimes a local team slowly works its way into a fan’s heart, but my husband’s loyalty to the Eagles has never wavered. I knew that there was no way that he would miss returning to Philadelphia for this historic moment.


I, however, grew up in a small south central Pennsylvania town with no clear team loyalties. There was definitely support for Philadelphia’s sports teams but the local fandom also stretched west to Pittsburgh and south to Baltimore and Washington, D.C. I would spy Ravens banners and Redskins flags as well as Eagles and Steelers gear upon visits to my hometown. So, although I have supported the Eagles, I must admit to not having the true passion of a die hard Eagles fan (like this guy in search of a great view of the parade).


With that in mind, I felt some trepidation about venturing into center city Philadelphia along with the projected two million other people descending on Broad Street. It would be cold. It would be crowded. There would be porta potties but maybe not enough of them. The crowd might be raucous, dangerous even. Don’t tell epic Eagles speech-giver Jason Kelce but I was told to bring my health insurance card with me in the event I got hurt by the vicious Eagles fans and the denizens of Philadelphia. Visions of terrorist attacks in Boston and New York lingered in the back of my mind. All of that left me feeling that I may be safer sitting this one out.


20180208_110053.jpgFortunately, my sense of adventure kicked back in and off on a sold-out Amtrak train from BWI to PHL we went. I had to settle for wearing my collegiate Penn State gear (awfully close to the vanquished Patriots team colors) because I don’t own any Eagles garb. I learned the lyrics to Fly, Eagles, Fly on the train on the way up because I didn’t want to be the only one standing in a sea of green who couldn’t even sing the fight song.


The moment we stepped out of 30th Street Station we were hit with our first of many E A G L E S  EAGLES cheers! It was an awesome start to a day I will always remember. Yes, it was cold but the sun hitting the steps of The Franklin Institute kept us warm. Yes, it was crowded but in a fun way. Logan Square was like one gigantic block party. The crowd was spirited but in no way destructive. There were young people dancing and throwing footballs in the blocked off street. There were little girls dressed in green tutus playing on the steps. There were babies and toddlers wearing Eagles clothes. Dogs on leashes were looking for errant treats. Planes flew above us writing “PHILLY PHILLY DILLY DILLY” in the clear blue sky. There was music blasting on the loudspeakers while the jumbo screen on the square projected scenes from the parade. There were classic songs that I knew the lyrics to and songs that everyone under 30 knew every single word to that I have never heard.


There were people of all ethnic and religious and social backgrounds, all shapes and sizes. I’m sure there were Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives and everyone in between. Whatever their background, it didn’t matter one bit when a random person started with E  A – the whole crowd stopped what they were doing and finished the cheer.


I genuinely felt love in that city yesterday. People were kind and friendly. Hard-working cops and sanitation workers were smiling and answering questions and giving directions, even as the day turned into night. We met a grandmother in from Delaware by herself and a grad student who flew in from the University of Wyoming to attend the celebration. We even witnessed a marriage proposal in front of the crowd and heard about a fan traveling to the parade to spread their loved one’s ashes at the event.


Love, in all its glorious and messy forms, was truly on display in Philadelphia yesterday and the thing that brought the city together was sports in general, Eagles football in particular. Say what you want about football, about its scandals and the legitimate health risks to its players, I haven’t witnessed anything else close to what I experienced yesterday in terms of unifying a city.  The National Anthem controversy may have taken a toll on the NFL’s popularity but there wasn’t a dry eye as most of the city of Philadelphia belted out Fly, Eagles, Fly together.


Yes, maybe we should be able to unite for something more “serious” than football and lots of people do, but right now I am so grateful to have soaked up that love and joy yesterday. It is something we all need more of in our society. As we boarded our train home last night with one last slightly hoarse EAGLES cheer, my hope is that the city of Philadelphia and all of us who experienced her brotherly love yesterday can take that spirit back home with us and share it wherever we are. It may be “only football” but I for one am glad to take it. Thank you, Philly, you are special.

New Year, New Czechoslovakian Me


As January 1 came and went and the Chinese New Year approaches, I struggle with the whole “New Year, New Me” idea. At this point in my life, I don’t see how I can reinvent myself, either physically or emotionally. Appearance wise, I have been thin and not-so-thin. I have had straight hair, curly hair, long hair, short hair, brown hair, red hair (with dyed eyebrows to match) blonde hair, and for my 50th birthday trip to Vegas…pink hair. If I was in one of those spy thriller movies where the female character has to drastically change her look, I would have to practically shave my head to do something I haven’t already done.



But change isn’t just about looks, is it? There is all of that emotional growth one gains upon stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. And step outside is what I did most of the last decade. I started with my martial arts journey from watching my kids at karate to training in kickboxing, karate, jiu jitsu, boxing and a little Krav Maga thrown in for good measure. I honestly did surprise myself and a few sparring partners to find out I am a natural “brawler” as my Golden Gloves boxing coach told me (one of my proudest moments).

I also explored my more soulful side with yoga and my more expressive side with zumba. I ziplined over treetops and ran through obstacles and crawled Army-style under barbed wire through mud pits for fun. In short, I tested my boundaries and was exhilarated each time I passed one. 



For most of my 40s, each year produced an ever more daring “new me.”

That change all came to a crashing halt when both of my parents passed away as I was turning 50. The air left my balloon and I was left feeling suddenly much older than my true age. I lost my fighting spirit and turned to my husband and children for love and healing. I spent more time reading and thinking about faith and love and what the rest of my life might look like. I also spent hours looking through boxes and more boxes of photos from my parents’ lives. I became curious about family roots in a way that I think only people feeling bereft of family truly do. I submitted a DNA sample to Ancestry.com and my results gave me a new little spark in life.

I am part Czechoslovakian! For some reason, this changed my internal view of myself. For not only do we want to project a “new me” to the world, we want to feel new inside, which gets harder as we get older. My family lore had led me to believe I was 50% Irish, 25% Polish, and 25% Lithuanian so I always knew I had roots in Eastern Europe. Despite this knowledge, I related more to my mother’s Irish ancestry. Aside from a few ethnic dishes, including the stuffed cabbage dish of halupkies, most of my self-indication was Irish. My mother sang Toora Toora Looral to me as a child and I, in turn, sang the Irish lullaby to my own babies. I also grew up around my mother’s five siblings who epitomized Irish good looks and charm. I remember meeting great aunts and second cousins on my mother’s side of the family, which I got to know better than my father’s side.

So I was surprised that according to Ancestry, my Eastern European background is 51% of my DNA with 40% coming from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Census information would have me believe that both my paternal grandparents’ families were from Czechoslovakia, which was never mentioned once to me.

It may simply be the result of shifting borders in Eastern Europe but the fact that my grandfather was listed as being born in Czechoslovakia makes me want to learn more about my neglected Eastern European heritage. Sometimes, the best way to feel new is to explore the old.

Christmas Grief, Christmas Gifts


photo credit WAA-Indiantown Gap National Cemetery

As the holiday shopping season kicks into its final frenzy, I feel both anticipation and sadness; anticipation for buying gifts for my immediate family and sadness that my mother and father are no longer here to be a physical part of the celebrations. My mother loved to shop but unfortunately or fortunately depending on your view, I did not. My childhood memories include shopping at our local department store with me begging “when are we going to leave?!” and my mom desperately trying to get whatever it was she needed.


What I wouldn’t give today to be able to spend an afternoon aimlessly shopping with my mom and treating ourselves to a cup of coffee and something sweet to eat after our purchases were complete. Part of the irony of middle age is that I now have the time and more money to spend on people I cherish but they are no longer here.


Christmas shopping outside of buying for my young children used to be somewhat of a burden to me, an item I had to check off of my holiday to-do list. I wanted to give my parents special gifts but I didn’t have a large budget and it was difficult to find what I thought was the right gift. My father was notorious for returning gifts because he didn’t “need” them or didn’t want his children spending money on him. He grew up during the Depression and never had a great need for material things so I usually settled on food items that I knew he would eat or at least could not return. Poppy seed nut rolls like my grandmother used to bake and nut and cheese platters were an annual staple.


Buying gifts for my mom was both easier and harder. It was easier because my mother was a very feminine woman who loved perfume, and soft and pretty things.It was also harder because as I grew into motherhood myself I felt my gifts were an inadequate expression of my love and appreciation. Some years, I hit the right note. The year my husband and I gave her an electronic photo album loaded with photos of her and my father with my kids was a hit. But other years found me wandering the mall (pre-Amazon) looking at scarves, sweaters, slippers and ultimately giving her something a little too practical and generic.


The last Christmas my mother was alive was spent at a nursing home in my hometown. She was recovering from a broken leg and was doing well with her rehabilitation. She loved our golden retriever but we couldn’t bring him in to see her in person so my husband brought him to the window so that she could at least see him playing outside. Our gifts that year included a nativity that my older son purchased from a charity at his school and a thick red shawl that I hoped would both keep her warm and feel like a hug from us even after we had left to return to our home a state away.


My mother passed away the following summer of 2013 and my father passed away from cancer December 28, 2014, three days after Christmas. He had recently moved into an assisted living home and was living his final days peacefully in hospice care. The home was decorated beautifully for Christmas and the festive holiday atmosphere should have clashed with the sadness of his impending passing but somehow it did not. My last Christmas gift to my father was an automatic electronic candle surrounded by a fragrant wreath of fresh greens. I placed it in his window overlooking the chapel in the courtyard where the light of the candle reflected in the stained glass window.


Remembrance is all I have now but it turns out that it is enough to fill my heart with joy. I have many wonderful memories of baking, decorating, and yes, even shopping with my mom. I can still picture my dad sitting in his favorite recliner cracking walnuts while my young children watched in fascination. The only gift I can give to them now is to make sure the grave they share at the national military cemetery where they are laid to rest is covered with a wreath through Wreaths Across America. The site of thousands of wreaths in neat rows across the snow is a sight to behold and gives me comfort.


I no longer feel guilty, either, for some of my lackluster gifts throughout the years. As an almost empty-nester myself, I now realize that the many times my husband and I loaded the kids and dogs in the van and hit the highway was the best gift I could have given to my parents. The love and memories that they gave me throughout my life was the best gift they could have given to me.


So when my grown children start bringing gifts of nuts and scarves, I will understand. I will tell them that it does not matter what presents they bring. Their presence will always be the  greatest gift.

The Cove Atlantis: Not Your Kids’ Atlantis

I’ve got to admit waking up to this view from the eighth floor of The Cove Atlantis was something I could easily get used to. It was cold and wet back home in Maryland but here in the beautiful Bahamas, it was sunny with a light breeze and I was delighted to be back at Atlantis. Only this time it was without the kids.

My family of five have been to Atlantis several times, starting with a one-day cruise excursion, moving to a Beach Tower stay then to a Coral Towers bungalow right off the beach.  Each trip was amazing. We love everything about Atlantis: the Leap of Faith, the Rapid River (the Current), snorkeling in the Lagoon and the special Snorkel the Ruins experience (my personal favorite). We also enjoy the food, from snacks by one of the many  pools to fish and chips to the restaurants at the Marina. And we always make at least one trip to nearby Anthony’s. There is so much to do at Atlantis.

So, when my husband and I starting thinking about a getaway weekend for our 25th anniversary we decided we wanted to go someplace relatively close with a direct flight, warm, and very relaxing. We were coming off of a crazy fall and just wanted to bask in the sun. I wanted to be in a lounge chair on the beach with a drink in one hand and a good book in the other.


Pina Colada anyone?

The Cove was absolutely perfect! Even though we were familiar with Atlantis, The Cove was a completely different experience. It was everything social media claimed it would be. From the stunning open-air lobby to our luxurious room with a magnificent view of the Reef Pool and the beach, the Cove was a wonderful splurge for our anniversary.

Don’t get me wrong, my kids would love The Cove too! And soon they will all be over 18 years-old and able to enjoy the 18 and over only Cove guests Pool complete with DJ, delicious drinks and food at the new Sip Sip, and a small gaming area. This pool is gorgeous, although slightly shady and windy. It is definitely the pool with a young “scene” although we felt perfectly comfortable there too. I imagine this place is lit (as the kids say) at a busier time but in November it was easy to get a lounge chair with a prime view of the pool and the beach beyond.

20171113_143857 (1)

Relaxing at The Cove Pool

We finished off our arduous daily schedule of beach, pool, drinks with delicious dinners. Two were old favorites; Anthony’s and Bimini Road. Two were special occasion treats; Luciano’s of Chicago and the exquisite Cafe Martinique. We ventured off of Atlantis for Luciano’s, which a quick cab trip away. Luciano’s has a wonderful view of Atlantis across the water which makes for a romantic setting and the food was fresh and delicious and our server, Ronnie, was very friendly and told us about the history of the building housing Luciano’s. It is definitely a restaurant my part Italian family would enjoy.

As romance and indulgence goes though, there is no better place to celebrate a special occasion than Cafe Martinique in the Marina Village. We had the only bad weather of our trip on our walk to Cafe Martinique so we arrived at the restaurant slightly soggy from the rain but no matter, we were seated at the corner window table facing the Royal Towers and overlooking other Marina visitors trying to escape the downpour.

FB_IMG_1511910684795We toasted  with a bottle of champagne, enjoyed the most tender steak au poivre, and were treated with a celebratory dessert. It was a magical end to a magical anniversary trip. And after twenty-five years of marriage through richer and poorer, in sickness and in health,  in times of joy and sorrow, and raising three kids, it was special to get back to my husband and I as a couple and there couldn’t have been a better place to do it. It really is better in the Bahamas.





Thanks, Atlantis, see you for our 30th?

WWFD? When your life is like an episode of “The Middle”

WWFD? What would Frankie, Frankie Heck of “The Middle” that is, do? That’s the question I found myself asking these past few days that left me longing for my own stashed can of whipped icing. Last Thursday, I had grand plans to shake it at zumba, clean my house, and search for some freelance writing jobs. Instead, I whisked my 17 year-old son with a bad stomachache from the pediatrician’s office to our local hospital emergency room. There, in the pediatric ward, lay my 6 foot 6 inch son on a way-too-short hospital bed wearing an also way-too-short hospital gown. Hashtag #tallpeopleproblems. The surgeon confirmed the pediatrician’s preliminary diagnosis of appendicitis and my son had surgery late that night. After my son was finally resting in a Dilaudid induced sleep and I was uncomfortably ensconced in the chair/bed for the remainder of the night, my husband returned home only to find the dogs’ room covered in diarrhea and vomit. Not knowing if our senior golden retriever or our young boxer was the sick pup, my husband cleaned up and we all tried our best to call it a day.

The next morning I woke to the insistent beeping of the intravenous alarm and the nurse quizzing me about my son’s ability or inability to pee during the night. All of this mind you, BEFORE COFFEE. My family will tell you that I am a walking, talking personification of the “But first coffee” meme so this was a rather incoherent and cranky exchange on my part. A muffin and a latte later, I was feeling much better and my son had met his two goals on the whiteboard: urinate and perambulate. Yay! I left the hospital to check on our dogs and found that it was indeed our golden, Lucky, who was obviously feeling very unlucky. I cleaned up, grabbed clean clothes for my son, and headed back to the hospital to meet with the surgeon to find out when my son would be coming home.

Fortunately, recovery was going well and we headed home late Friday night, exhausted and ready for a good night’s sleep…which was not to be because my daughter at college texted at  2 am that she was at the hospital near campus, she was okay, just there to help a friend. So relieved that she was fine, but no more sleeping for me. I begin the first of many pots of coffee. She later decides to come home to rest for the weekend because she was beginning to feel sick and then my husband actually got sick after going to get her and bringing home dinner and suddenly I was that most dreaded of all family members: the last well one standing. The healthy one, the one caring for drainage tubes and incisions, administering pain meds and antibiotics, making tea, serving jello and pudding, boiling chicken and rice for the dogs, and pasta for my daughter to take back to college. In short, I wanted my own mom, whom I miss very much every day but especially on days like this one. Instead, I said a few Hail Mary’s and was comforted by my mother’s favorite adage of “This, too, shall pass.”

And I sat down to watch the new episode of “The Middle” and reflected that this week was a reminder of just how fast life can change and how I had been feeling a little down and unneeded (careful what you wish for) just a few days ago. This time next year, I will be an official emptynester and the Heck family’s future will be resolved by the series finale. I will miss the Hecks. I never had their financial worries but I grew up in a small town in rural Pennsylvania, not unlike Orson, Indiana. My own children are different from Axl, Sue, and Brick and my husband shares Mike’s good qualities without having his blue collar profession but I still feel an affinity for their family. I have three kids also; boy, girl, boy of similar ages and stages. My oldest two are both away at college like Axl and Sue with my younger son at home like Brick. And on a scale of Frankie Heck to Nancy Donahue, I definitely skew to Frankie Heck. So while I am sad to see them go I am happy to spend this last season with them. The Hecks are one of the truest representations of family life on television. They go through their tough times, but persevere with love, faith, and humor, exactly the things that got me through this week (with an assist from my dear friend coffee). We could all use a little more Heck in our lives. And just wondering…did Brick ever have his appendix out? It could make a great story line……



Mother of Dogs


Who wouldn’t want to be Daenerys Targaryen, beautiful Mother of Dragons, soaring on the back of an incredible creature capable of annihilating enemies with one whisper of “dracarys”? I, for one, would. I think humans have always had a longing to forge close connections with wild animals. We seek their companionship and are enthralled by those who are able to seemingly be one with their wild creature. It is not just that Daenerys’ dragons obey her; they trust her and have an emotional bond with her. They are her children and she is their mother.

I would like to think I have this same connection with my dogs. I am the dog mother to an eleven-year-old golden retriever and a ten-month-old boxer puppy. While I am a devoted dog mother and try my best to raise good canine citizens, I would be deluding myself if I thought I could be as regal and commanding as Daenerys  with her “children”.

I occasionally get this omnipotent feeling in the two minutes of our daily walk when my dogs are walking calmly side-by-side and I am feeling dignified and in control. Invariably, this comes to a miserable end when one decides it’s time to do his business, the other wants to chase a squirrel, I am bending to pick up the poop, and we inevitably become entangled. This is usually the moment when some other dog mom comes towards us, nicely dressed, easily walking a 15 pound dog, and looking slightly superior and somewhat disapproving of my current situation. “Where were you two minutes ago I think?!” as I try to disentangle myself without stepping in poop. Today, I actually got a sympathetic “you look like you have a lot to handle there” remark from a very nice woman.


It’s true. Sometimes my dogs are a bit too much for me, but they have brought me much joy and comfort during some of my most painful times. My boxer, in particular, is both my grief dog and my almost-empty-nest dog. Having lost both of my parents in recent years, I was feeling blue. I was also afraid of losing Lucky, my golden, just as my real children were heading off to college. Enter Rory (as in Rory Gilmore). I wasn’t planning on a puppy but she fell into our laps and lives shortly after Christmas. Other family members already had adopted her brother and knew Rory needed a home. It was an impulsive move but one I do not regret. Rory starts each and every day with boundless enthusiasm, which has rubbed off on Lucky and me. It is impossible to be in anything but a good mood with an adorable pup licking your face.


So, if we are an unwieldy trio coming your way on a neighborhood path, please don’t judge us too harshly or feel too sorry for me. I love my wild beasts and we will get better at this. My fortune cookie last night aptly stated “you have a lively family”. Dogs to me are family and yes, they are quite lively, but I would not have it any other way. I am sure Daenerys would agree.




My Last First Day

Untitled drawingToday is my last first day of being a school parent. Yes, I have two older college students but being a college parent is not the same as being the parent of a child still at home. Since my oldest child’s entry into kindergarten, I have sent at least one child off to school for the first day of classes. It began with walking our oldest child with younger siblings in tow to the kindergarten bus stop, then walking all three of my children to our neighborhood elementary school, to occasional runs to middle school bus stops, and finally, carpools and drives to their private high school. As I sat in line at the school entrance today, I felt like a visitor to a familiar yet strange land.


I have been driving to this school for the past seven years. It should feel like second nature and in some ways it does but knowing that this year is my last as a school parent made it feel different. I thought back to my first year as a parent there and how new and exciting it was. It was my family’s first experience with private school and uniforms and carpools. Everything was in front of my children and our high school was the center of our lives and schedules. With my youngest, it is the end of our experience here. With two children already in college, our world has expanded. We live in different places now with our own separate schedules.


Friends in the thick of raising children have remarked that today is a sad milestone for me but to me it is not. As much as I love my children and have enjoyed being a part of their school community, I look forward to this next stage of life. I will enjoy all the “last firsts” of senior year and I will feel happy and proud to see my younger son walk across the altar at graduation mass in May. Maybe next year at this time, I will feel sentimental about not having to make sure a tired teen is up, uniforms are clean, school supplies are bought, and summer math packets have been completed. Or, maybe not. Maybe I will be smiling at my friends and family members’ photos of their children’s first day back and thinking it is now my own new first day.