воскресенье, 30 мая 2010 г.

Learning to Relinquish Control

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Women

BY: Jacqueline M. Gaston

God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
James 4:6

When I learned I was expecting twins, I was bound and determined to have everything under control. I had the schedules; I had the color-coded clipboards to implement those schedules; I had all the parenting books to refer to; and, I had the baby gear. I was going to be one of those mothers who did it all.

I would work fulltime as well as be a fulltime mother and manager of the household. I was going to maintain my friendships, keep a clean house, cook nutritious meals that everyone would eat without fuss, organize play dates, and take the kids on community outings. Through all of this, I would keep my sanity and look fantastic!

Truthfully, I had a meltdown on the second day back to work. I was balancing the aspects over which I had perceived control in the safe environment of my home, but I did not have that luxury at work.

It became apparent rather quickly that maintaining the household and my career were impossible at the level that I had set for myself. I could not be the teacher and employee that I was before my twins arrived while continuing to be the mother that I had become. Since staying at home was not a financial option for our family, I had to succumb to letting go of my professional aspirations for my familial responsibilities. Initially, I perceived this as failure, but I later learned it was a lesson in humility.

Doing it all perfectly is no longer my priority; just doing what is right for my family is. Now that the twins are exploring the preschool years, I am reminded daily that control is an illusion. The house is never as clean as I had imagined, and meals are chaotic at best. Temper tantrums, public outings, and illnesses remind me that I could not possibly be as clairvoyant as I had planned. But now I'm okay with not having total control. As we get through each day, I realize who really has control over everything.


Dear God,
thank you for bringing me to the realization
that perfection in all areas of my life
is not my goal.
I relinquish my need for control
to your care.
I know that you will always give me
the strength to do my best
for my family and my career.



суббота, 29 мая 2010 г.

A New Mom in Town

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

BY: Al Serradell

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.
~Jane Howard

Our family doesn't label relatives as "step-this" or "half-that." Not since my father's remarriage to a Southern Belle, that is.

Truth is, the biological issue doesn't really matter. What's important is how you're connected inside; and once you're in, you're in. Period.

Our "extended family" began about a year after my father lost his beloved spouse of thirty-odd years to cancer. To say Dad was devastated by Mom's death would be an understatement. For more than three decades -- and most of Dad's adult life -- my mother represented everything to him, from partner to daily organizer. Mom was truly his rock, and once she was gone, my father seemed to become lost and alienated from life. Although the family tried to distract him from his depression and grief, Dad refused to take interest in any sort of activity, preferring to stay at home and watch TV.

Then Dad was introduced to Becky through my aunt. This wasn't a matchmaking scheme; it was simply an opportunity to help my father make new friends and to start socializing again. But whatever the motive, that casual meeting changed all of our lives -- especially Dad's and Becky's. Within moments, they found themselves drawn to each other, thrilled that they shared many of the same hobbies: traveling, gardening, family gatherings, even raising dogs.

The blossoming romance shocked the entire family, especially since Dad had been extremely vocal about not wanting to tie the knot again. Nor, as it turned out, was Becky looking for another Mr. Right after her painful divorce. Having raised five children more or less on her own, she was beginning to settle into independence and liked being single.

Until she met Dad.

Sometimes people don't realize how lonely they are until they are given the opportunity to meet someone special and discover what they've been missing.

To our family, Dad's return to the land of the living was nothing short of a miracle. How we'd missed his smiles and laughter! We even teased him -- lovingly, of course -- about his newfound habit of waiting by the phone.
No one was surprised when, a few months later, Dad proposed to Becky. But before she accepted, she talked to my siblings and me.

"I'm not asking to be your mother," she told us. "I wouldn't dream of taking her place. I just want to be your friend."

Turned out, Becky feared we wouldn't accept her, an anxiety that was unfounded. Sure, there was a learning-to-accept-one-another process. After all, both sets of families loved their biological parents very much, and even as adult children, needed a bit of assurance that a new spouse wouldn't threaten that love.

Silly, isn't it?

Of course, Becky was wise, and respectful, in considering our feelings. After one huge family gathering in Alabama, the matter was put to rest. My siblings and I accepted our new mother, and Becky's children took to Dad. In fact, they quickly nicknamed him "Papa Chief" due to his Hispanic and Indian heritage.

But there were more miracles to come, since the marriage seemed to pull two lonely, fragmented families together. The bonding process was like something in a TV sitcom, only without commercials. Mom and Dad's new home in Alabama became the heart and the center of the family gatherings, especially during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. A slave to tradition, Becky was the epitome of southern hospitality when it came to my siblings and me. Not once did we ever feel like the second-string family at her and Dad's new home. She welcomed us as if we were royalty, lavishing us with feasts and the best accommodations.

Two families had become one.

Still, my biggest debt toward my new mother was how well she took care of Dad when his health began to decline a few years later.

She called me regularly, day or night, and kept me updated on Dad's doctor appointments and medical conditions. From minor procedures to the more serious ones, she made me aware of each doctor's diagnosis (sugar-coating nothing), and helped arrange for me to travel from Oklahoma to Alabama whenever possible.

There were countless nights she would stay at the hospital, at Dad's side, until the doctor released him to go home. Throughout these vigils, not once did she consider her own health. Even family members knew better than to ask her to take a break from caring for Dad. That wasn't happening under her watch!

Looking back, I believe it was her love and willpower that helped him survive a series of strokes and a cancer diagnosis, which, thankfully, proved to be an error. Whenever Dad's health declines, I feel positive that Becky will somehow help him pull through, that her devotion to him exemplifies the bond between husband and wife.

Who could ask more of a mother, whether a biological one or not?


Mea Culpa, Riviera

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Golf Book

BY: Tony Mohr

What other people may find in poetry or art museums, I find in the flight of a good drive.
~Arnold Palmer

If any veteran member of the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California, is reading this, mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. I'm the reason all those golf balls mysteriously appeared on your fairways lo those many years ago.

Please understand. There was no better place to practice than my parents' lawn. Bordering your club from the top of a hundred-foot cliff, Mom and Dad's backyard offered a sweeping view of Hogan's Alley and the Santa Monica Mountains beyond. With a perch like that for teeing ground, how could a youngster resist? It was one of the most gorgeous spots in Los Angeles's corner of the golfing world.

It also was one of the most challenging. Between my roost and your course lay a slope full of chaparral and, beyond that, five eucalyptus trees that rose well beyond a hundred feet -- four to my right and one to the left. Just to get through to the rough of your fine course, I had to thread the ball through that 30-yard gap. Once I perfected my aim, I could choose between your par-5 1st hole and the par-4 12th. Those were the two holes that started not far beyond the fence that divided us.

I'd place my bucket at our yard's edge, just before the earth precipitously dropped, then sight between the trees and swing. More often than not the first ball would flop into the bush. Then the next few might ricochet against the aforementioned eucalyptus goalposts. But usually after a while I'd find my driving groove. Most days I would be hitting directly into the sea breeze, as that was the prevailing wind. On other days warm Santa Ana winds caressed my back, and that's when I could swear I had struck the balls so hard that they soared over Riviera and landed somewhere near the beach. Of course, they probably dropped onto your course, bounced a few times and then nestled to a stop on the kikuyu grass of your fairways. Or at least that's how I imagined it.

When my friends came over, we launched golf balls in salvo. My buddies played much better than I. It would have been cruel not to let them use my yard as a driving range. I'm sure you understand. And you have to admit we were considerate. After all, we held our fire during the L.A. Open and the PGA Championship tournaments that you hosted during our salad days. We waited for you to play through before taking our shots. We never hopped the fence to attempt a game at sunrise. (All right, that's because I'm not a morning person.) And you got to keep all my golf balls.

After thirty-five years, I must confess: you got your revenge. Spending all those days with my driver left precious little time to practice anything else. Now I can't chip, can't pitch, and I'm so clumsy with irons that I'm embarrassed to play. I content myself with driving ranges and miniature golf courses -- my comeuppance for years of whacking golf balls from the commanding heights.


воскресенье, 23 мая 2010 г.


Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Women

BY: Janis Bonnie

Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from Him.
Psalm 127:3

My husband and I tried for about a year and a half to get pregnant. We went through one round of in vitro fertilization and got pregnant, but lost it at about three weeks. We talked about domestic adoption, but feared falling in love with a child and then having the birth parents change their minds.

One day, my father-in-law took me to an agency that specializes in international adoption, and we were shown videos of some children who were up for adoption. The first video I saw was of a little boy from Russia who was 8-10 months old. I fell in love with him!

I took the video, two pictures, and an application home and showed them to my husband. Looking at the little boy in the picture, my husband said, "He's got Grandpa's ears!" He was referring to my grandfather, who had recently passed away. Needless to say, we filled out the application and started our journey toward adopting our son.

As the process went along, there seemed to be so many coincidences, or signs of destiny, as I called them. My son's birth mother's birthday was the same day as my mother's. The information provided about the child was done on my birthday. We kept asking for an update on his weight and height, etc., and finally received it on my mother-in-law's birthday. We went to court in Russia on my husband's birthday. But to me, the biggest confirmation of all occurred on the day before we left for Russia. We finally received the rocking chair we had been waiting for from my grandfather (the one who recently passed away).

I always tell my son he was my destiny. I found a photo album that I use as his scrapbook, and the word DESTINY is written on it, along with the saying, "If I could sit across the porch from God, I'd thank Him for lending me you."

All children are God's gift to us, no matter how they become part of our lives. Three short years later, God blessed us with another gift -- our daughter, also from Russia. Although there weren't as many signs of destiny there, I truly believe she was meant to be our daughter, too.


thank you for the gifts
that you bestow on us each day.
Help us to understand that our prayers
are always heard by you,
and answers to them are forthcoming.
Even when we are unsure of the outcome,
please help my faith in you to never waver.



Bring Me Back a Rock

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales

BY: Adrienne C. Reynolds

Man is harder than rock and more fragile than an egg.
~Yugoslav Proverb

Seven years have gone by now, yet in my mind's eye I can still vividly recall every detail as if it happened yesterday. Your small round face, never quite clean enough, stringy blond bangs hanging over sad brown eyes. Clothes always wrinkled and too small on your bony shoulders, and sockless feet inside worn-out sneakers with no shoelaces. You maintained an almost invisible identity, always fearful of others who whispered as you walked by and nicknamed you "rag muffin."

Having a daughter your exact age made my heart ache for you even more. What if I couldn't afford the things for my little girl that your parents couldn't provide for you and your five brothers and sisters? I wanted to do something to help but I didn't know how or what I could do. Besides, I was just your teacher. And then from out of nowhere it hit me -- that's what I can do. Along with teaching you reading and math and spelling, I'll teach you some everyday skills that might improve the quality of your life and other people's perception of you.

First I had to reverse your self-induced disappearing act and make you visible again. Others needed to see the real you, a seven-year-old boy who didn't always behave himself but who always said he was sorry when he didn't. I brought to school a grooming bag complete with soap, towel, comb, toothbrush and toothpaste and discretely sent you to the boys' room every morning to get cleaned up. I appealed to my friends who had little boys to give me their hand-me-down clothes and shoes. Sneaking crackers into your backpack for snack time and secretly paying for you to have "doubles" in the school cafeteria became everyday rituals.

Our classroom became your home away from home, your safe haven, a place where you could escape and be a child, at least for a little while. Then at 3:00 PM the dismissal bell would ring. And like the midnight gong that interrupted Cinderella's dance at the ball, I gave you a goodbye hug and smile and sent you back to your world. The world where, hopefully unlike what happened to Cinderella, I prayed you wouldn't change back into a ragamuffin.

I worried about you all the time, even on the weekends. I remember one cool, crisp North Carolina Saturday morning, right before the weather turned cold; my daughter and I went out shopping for her new winter coat. This was an annual battle we had engaged in since she was four years old. For me the perfect winter coat had to be long and wool and thick enough to shield her from the winds that got bitter cold from the months of December to March. An attached hood would also be nice, since leaving home wearing a cap didn't necessarily mean she'd come home with it.

In her eyes, the perfect winter coat had only requirement. It had to be pink. After many hours and hundreds of try-ons we finally found a coat we could both agree on. It was long, thick, hooded, and yes, it was pink.

Filled with a sense of accomplishment, all I wanted to do was pay for the coat and hurry home to curl up on the couch with a good girly movie or book. Instead, for reasons beyond my understanding, I grabbed the pink coat in one hand and my daughter's hand in the other and said, "Now we have to go to the boys department and buy a coat for Johnnie."

That's what life was like for us during the two years I was your teacher. But it was worth it. Things were definitely looking up for you. You gained weight, you smiled more and you even began to risk raising your hand in class to answer questions. You trusted me enough to know I would always lead you to the correct answer. But your trust in others was still a little shaky and it was time to fix that, especially since you would be promoted to the next grade and you weren't going to be my student next year.

I began to plan partner projects and group activities that required you to communicate with your classmates and work as a team. At first, you refused to work with anyone else but me and you even got mad at me when I insisted you work with someone else. But with a lot of time and a lot of coaxing you eventually started to relax and have trust in your peers.

That is until one cool breezy fall day in November, the last school day before the Thanksgiving holiday. The classroom buzzed with the electricity of children hardly able to contain their excitement. All they could think about were the intriguing adventures awaiting them over the holiday. By afternoon, with only one more hour of school, no one was in the mood for learning. So I ditched the video of The First Thanksgiving, which they had seen every November since kindergarten, and instead decided to have a sharing time where everyone got a chance to tell about their plans for the upcoming holiday.

You sat in your usual place, right next to me, and listened while your peers told about cruises to the Bahamas, trips to Disneyland and visits to Grandma in New York and other faraway places. With no one else left to share, I turned to you and asked, "Johnnie, would you like to tell us what you're doing over the Thanksgiving holiday?"

"Yes," you said proudly. "I'm going to Kernersville to visit my aunt." The words were barely out of your mouth when the class erupted with laughter. Everyone knew Kernersville, about twenty minutes outside of Winston-Salem, was nowhere special to go. You froze in embarrassment and began to retreat back inside yourself.

I rushed to your rescue, "REALLY!" I yelled out over the laughter. "Would you bring me back a-a-a rock," I stuttered. "I could really use a nice rock." The room became perfectly still with an uncomfortable silence as you silently nodded, "Yes, Mrs. Reynolds."

Thanksgiving break, like all vacations, ended much too soon. Children returned to school with stories, pictures and items to share, each child trying to outdo the other with tall tales and embellished stories. This time I knew better than to put the spotlight on you and ask you to share, but without warning you stood up and began to slowly walk to the front of the room. The shock and fear I felt for you made me hold my breath so hard, I believe my heart actually skipped a beat. For a moment you just stood there looking down at your feet and then without saying a word, you reached into your coat pocket and pulled out a rock. A rock washed and polished until it shined like a new penny, a rock just small enough for two tiny trembling hands to hold. A rock that neither you nor I could possibly know would change our hearts forever.

The entire class silently awaited my reaction. They were obviously confused and taking their cues from me on how to react. "WOW!" I said, reaching out with the kind of hands used to hold a newborn infant or something priceless and delicate. "It's absolutely perfect. This is exactly the kind of rock I was hoping for. Please tell us all about it."

Hesitantly, you began to tell about the rock -- where you found it -- why you chose it. With every word, your voice grew stronger and your stance grew taller. At long last, all eyes and ears belonged to you. At the conclusion of your share, classmates applauded with enthusiasm and someone yelled out, "Johnnie, YOU ROCK." I watched you like a proud mother bird watches her baby bird take flight for the very first time. I knew it was time to let you go.

Finally, you had found your wings and it was time for you to soar.

Needless to say I received many rocks that year. So many that we began a classroom rock collection. Some rocks came from volcanic mountains and underground canyons. Other rocks came from local restaurants or a relative's backyard. Every rock had a story and earned another pushpin on the map. By the end of the school year the class had collected nearly fifty rocks and had learned more about the world and themselves than any number of books could have ever taught them. Students from other classrooms came to know us as the rock experts and you, Johnnie, you were the rock master.

As fate would have it, your family moved away that summer and left no forwarding address. So I never got to see you again or say goodbye. But the rock tradition continues. Every year I tell the story of "bring me back a rock" to my new class of students. I tell them that all rocks from previous class collections are boxed up and put away except for the rock inside this clear plastic cube. This rock has a permanent place on my desk and in my heart. As I hold up the rock I explain that it may look ordinary and insignificant but it's by far the most precious rock of them all. This rock represents love, courage and acceptance of others. It is the very rock that started it all and it was given to me by someone who will always be near and dear to my heart.

Thanks Johnnie, and wherever you are, "bring me back a rock."


пятница, 21 мая 2010 г.

A Full House

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family
BY: By Sarah Hamaker

Open your heart -- open it wide; someone is standing outside.
~Mary Engelbreit,
Believe: A Christmas Treasury

Like most families, mine is, well, a bit unusual. True, I have a father and a mother, who have been married for more than fifty years. But I have had more than forty siblings.

When I was child, I had two sisters and a brother who were many years older than me -- fifteen, thirteen, and eleven years older, to be exact. So, in grade school, I was an only child of sorts, who had older siblings drop by once in a while.

Soon after my twelfth birthday, my parents decided to fill our great big house with more children in a rather unconventional way: as foster parents. Through the years, my mom and dad showed love to many children of all ages, whom they treated as part of the family. As for me, I gained numerous brothers and sisters -- both older and younger.

There was Hope, who joined our family as a sixteen-year-old and ended up staying for two years. A few years after she left our house, she asked my father to walk her down the aisle at her wedding, a testimony to the special relationship she developed with my parents. Sandy, an eight-year-old with emotional problems, attached herself to me and sometimes would refuse to go to court-ordered counseling sessions unless I accompanied her.

There were newborn babies, like Mark and Stephen, whose smiles and coos are some of my happiest memories of those days. Then there were the twins, a brother and sister who were five months old when they arrived. They, like many foster children before them, ended up staying with us for more than two years and then becoming eligible for adoption. By this time, my parents had already raised four children and were grandparents, but they ended up adopting Jenny and James.

Much has been said about the importance -- and necessity -- of foster parenting, but being a sibling to foster brothers and sisters brought its own rewards. I reveled in being a big sister to countless children. However, it wasn't always laughter and lightness. I had to share "my" things and "my" parents with other children, many of whom had no concept of family life.

Yes, there were times when I hated having strange kids in my house, playing with my toys and interrupting my schedule. But my parents taught me that these relatively small sacrifices made a big difference in the lives of these neglected and abused kids. I had a real chance to make a difference, to show sisterly love and affection to children whose own families had not shown much love. With my parents' encouragement, I could play a small role in helping to ease their pain and to show them that someone cared about them.

I also knew the love that my parents showered on these children in no way took away from their love and care for me. I never felt neglected or overlooked, no matter how packed the house became or how often I had to sacrifice my wants to their needs.

My parents raised foster children for three decades. Amazingly, many of those foster children who passed through our house -- whether for a few months or a few years -- kept in contact with my parents after they left. Some send annual Christmas cards, some call my parents regularly, and a few occasionally even visit -- all a testimony to the love and impact my parents had on their lives.

Today, as I raise four young children of my own, I look forward to a time when my husband and I might reach out to other children in need of a temporary haven. I hope one day that I can pass along some of the things learned by watching my parents foster children and teach them about love and life.


I Have a Step Wife

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Divorce and Recovery

BY: By Christa B. Allan

Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
Kindness in another's trouble,
Courage in your own.
~Adam Lindsay Gordon

I simultaneously became and acquired a step-wife the day my ex-husband married again. Even though this event occurred over a decade after our own divorce, and quite some time after my own remarriage, we soon discovered its potential for disaster.

Ultimately, the best communication between my step-wife and me was no communication, except through the one person we had in common: my ex, her present husband. At times, I felt sure Jerry Springer or Dr. Phil would call and beg us to appear on their shows. Other days, I prayed eHarmony would consider developing dimensions of compatibility for step-wives and step-husbands.

For a few years, our unspoken agreement to remain politely civil at family occasions that required our mutual attendance served us well. For the sake of the children, we'd continue to maintain this acquired grace in one another's presence for as long as necessary -- or until one of us moved to Mars.
I could not have predicted two uninvited, unyielding, and entirely unexpected females who would alter the course of our lives. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita not only changed physical landscapes, but relational ones as well.

My husband, Ken, my twenty-four-year-old daughter with Down syndrome, Sarah, and I left our home five days after Hurricane Katrina struck. Although our home was relatively undamaged, the business that employed my husband was barely recognizable. In the weeks that followed, my ex and my step-wife offered us financial help, rearranged their schedules so that they could help with Sarah, and blessed us with the assurance that they would take her for as long as it took us to resettle. During one of the times my step-wife and I were meeting for a Sarah drop-off, my step-wife slipped money into my hand, refusing to take it back. Her kindness humbled and overwhelmed me.

By September, we had decided to move to Lake Charles, three hours away from our former home. Because my husband was still roving to find jobs and I was living with friends, Sarah stayed in Texas with her father. The day I was to report to my new job, Ken and I woke to the news that Hurricane Rita was on her way.

Not only did we have to evacuate, so did the cities where my ex-husband, my step-wife, Sarah, my son and daughter-in-law, and my four-month-old granddaughter lived. At the time, it looked as though Rita was heading straight for them. Evacuations, now with heightened seriousness because of Katrina, meant that traffic clogged streets faster than cheesecake clogs arteries. A typical three-hour drive home -- now ironically a safe place for us to go -- ended almost seven hours later.

I was safe, but the rest of my family was not. In Texas, my son and his family spent three hours to reach my ex, his dad, who lived less than an hour away. They all had to reach safety, but how? During the long hours we were being pummeled by Katrina, I prayed and begged God to forgive my stupidity for having stayed. Before Rita made landfall, I once again begged God, but this time to protect my family in Texas who might not be able to find a way out.

Step-wife to the rescue. One of her clients sent his private plane to pick up my family and fly them to safety. My gratitude for her, once again, overwhelmed me. Even two years later, I feel my throat tighten when I recall how they were protected, as if God had sent angels to scoop them up.

Katrina and Rita were devastating forces whose aftermath is still evident today. For all their physical brutality, however, they destroyed an emotional wall that needed to be razed to the ground. I learned, from those two powerful females, that two other equally strong women could survive.

I learned that being and having a step-wife can result in miracles.


A Dream of Green Grass

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

BY: By Moraima Garcia

The only thing that overcomes hard luck is hard work.
~Harry Golden

I was born in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Caracas, Venezuela. My dad was a truck driver and my mom was working in a mayonnaise factory when they met. Both had moved from the countryside looking for better opportunities, and in a way they found them. At least they had electricity in their new house.

Neither Mom nor Dad went to school, but Dad was an avid reader and encouraged us to be like him, and they went to great lengths to make sure we did what they could not. I studied hard to make them proud. I was always number one in my class, teachers loved me and I loved learning new things every day.

By the time I was fifteen, we had discussed what I wanted to do when I grew up. Dad dreamed of me being a lawyer, but he was afraid corruption was too powerful in our country so he never insisted. He supported me when I decided to become a journalist.

Mom was very excited about my future too. One day she came home with a brochure from one of the most prestigious colleges in the country, which happened to be located fairly close to our neighborhood. She was so happy -- they had a journalism school and the tests were just a few months away. We had to get ready!

I looked at her dumbfounded. She couldn't be serious. That was one of the most expensive colleges in the country, and sometimes we barely had money to take the bus. I didn't say so though; I just told her I didn't want to study with some snobbish kids who surely had no idea what real life was like. I wanted to go to a state college, where the people were more like me.

The only problem with that option was that the constant riots and strikes made it almost impossible to finish a degree there. People would study eight years instead of the five it was supposed to take because of all the time they lost during the never-ending political protests. We knew I needed to graduate quickly, so I could find a job and help out financially at home.

I tried to tell her it was impossible for me to be accepted. True, I had great grades, but journalism was the most sought-after degree, and there were thousands of people fighting for each place.

Mom said there was only one way to find out: by taking the admissions test. I fell back on my last argument -- money. I explained what had been obvious to me since the beginning of the conversation. We could not afford it. At that point she smiled triumphantly and opened the brochure she had been holding.

Among the descriptions of the courses and facilities and other information was a very small paragraph indicating that there was a scholarship program. I decided to let her dream a little bit longer, and I agreed to submit my application. I didn't pay attention to the subject until the day of the admittance test. I have to confess I took the exam to humor my mom.

The first surprise came when I saw my name on the list. I was accepted! Only one other kid from my high school was accepted that year.

My dad, who is usually the most pessimistic person in the universe, was terrified. How were we going to pay the tuition? My mom used one of her typical answers, "I don't know, but we will. Even if we have to work day and night, our daughter is going to that college." Her determination was so strong we didn't dare say anything. It wasn't only my dad, though -- my whole family thought we were just plain crazy. It was a college for rich people -- how did we even think it was possible?

By this time, I was allowing myself to get excited by the idea. I knew a degree from that college would open doors that I never dreamed of, but I was still too afraid to get my hopes up. We filed the papers for the scholarship and for weeks we waited, wavering between eagerness and panic about what the answer might mean to us.

Finally I received the news. I got a scholarship that would cover eighty-five percent of the tuition for three years, and if I earned good grades they would give me a soft loan for the remaining two years that I could pay back once I got a job. What had seemed impossible only a couple of months ago was really happening. I was going to attend one of the most exclusive colleges in Venezuela.

I won't say college was easy. I did feel out of place most of the time. I had to borrow material and books because we could barely find the money to pay the fifteen percent the scholarship didn't cover, much less for other things like books or photocopies. I had only one pair of jeans and two tops.

I did not go on vacation to Miami or Europe, but I still got good grades and met the best friends I could ever imagine. We would sit on the grass, which was always so green and fresh, and talk and laugh and study.

The day I graduated, I gave my mom the medal. We walked by the campus, with everyone smiling at us, my mom beaming. She was so proud. I remember telling her that if it weren't for her, I would have never even tried. In her characteristic nonchalant way she said, "Don't worry about it, baby. Even before you were born I would pass in front of this university every day on my way to work at the factory. And from the window of the bus I would see the mowed lawns and the students lying on the grass, and I would think: one day a daughter of mine is going to study there. You see? I just knew you would. I dreamed of this green grass too many times; it had to come true."

I found a good job after college, paid off my loan, and won another scholarship for a master's degree. I now work for an international company. I've traveled around the world. I'm moving to New York, and the time when I didn't have money for the bus seems really far away. But I never forget that it was my mom's dream that made me do what everyone thought was impossible.


The Gentlemen Caller Cat

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Cat

BY: By Nancy Sullivan

The cat is the only animal which accepts the comforts but rejects the bondage of domesticity.
~Georges Louis Leclerc de Buffon

In 1998, I moved into my first home. It was an incredibly exciting day despite the relentless summer heat and the long string of crazy snafus that are typical of moving days. When I purchased the house nestled on a quiet cul-de-sac, I thought I would be the only tenant, save for the three felines I called friends. The move was not even finished when I discovered that was definitely not the case.

Taking a break, I collapsed on the stairs of the small deck that served as my new front porch and gulped water. To my surprise, a thick-chested tomcat sauntered out from under the deck. Looking at my sweat-drenched form, he announced quite loudly that watching me haul all of those boxes had made him hungry. When could he expect dinner to be served? I already had three furry mouths to feed; a fourth was not on the agenda.

He pled his case while eyeing me warily and keeping his distance. This brown tabby tomcat clearly meant business. I acquiesced, but when I stood to do his bidding, he scrambled under the deck with the breathtaking quickness displayed by ferals who do not grow up around people.

When I reappeared on the deck with a bowl of dry food and started down the stairs, the tomcat hissed at me, then growled. He moved back under the deck and cried at me until I set the bowl down on the front walk beside the deck and backed away. Studying me like a cop sizing up a suspect, my visitor edged over and began munching cautiously. His eyes never wavered from me more than a few seconds. I kept my distance and, after setting out a bowl of water, left him to his meal.

We quickly fell into a pattern of him squawking at me most mornings until I proffered a bit of food. Our relationship was tenuous. We were fine when I was quietly sitting or far enough away to pose no threat. When in close proximity, we were both cautious of each other's next move. I named my boarder Toby and we continued the dance of uncertain friendship for a bit.

Then one day, he was gone and I dearly missed him. A couple of months later he sauntered back into my life. My home became Toby's bed and breakfast; he occupied his "room" beneath the deck when not away on adventures.

During his visits, we continued the odd dance. I slowly positioned his food bowl closer and closer to the front door until, after a couple of years, he was eating on the edge of the deck. It took nearly five years before we'd grown to trust each other enough for him to approach my outstretched fingers. After sniffing them, he lurched forward, causing me to quickly withdraw my hand, my heart thumping a million miles an hour.

Toby gave me a quizzical look like he thought I was nuts. After repeating this scenario several times, I realized he was not being aggressive, he was head-butting my hand -- a sign of affection, albeit an odd one.

When a fire burned my home, I was away from the place for nearly six months while it was rebuilt. A few weeks after I returned, I was greeted one morning by Toby's familiar guttural greeting. If you have ever encountered an old friend after a long time apart and within a few minutes joked and laughed just like you were never parted, then you know what our reunion was like. Toby and I slipped back into that familiar pattern of a meal every morning when he summoned me to the front porch.

One afternoon, I returned from work, and Toby greeted me with a loud and persistent request for dinner. I reminded Toby that he ate in the morning. He objected and we argued for awhile -- suffice it to say he wore me down. When I set the plate down and backed away, Toby swaggered over to the dish, sniffed it, then ambled to a spot about a foot and a half away and settled down.

"I don't get it," I chided my old friend. "You asked me for food and when I give it to you, you just sniff it and go sit down? You're getting awfully picky in your old age, aren't you?" While Toby meowed me a lengthy explanation, I could not figure out why he would do such a thing unless he just had no appreciation for my menu selection.

That's when I spotted a tiny gray-whiskered nose skittishly nearing the plate of food. Silently I watched. Another tiny muzzle appeared, then another and another. Stunned I watched as a mother and five kittens scarfed up the food, and then scampered back under the deck for safety.

"Well, well, well." I was enthralled. Mama was a striking bicolor shorthair cat -- deep Russian blue coloring contrasting with a dramatic white tummy, feet and a blaze up her nose. The kittens were even more dazzling. Their fur was long and silky and their coloring unique in its patterns. With vivid blue eyes that crossed in varying degrees, the kittens clearly had some Siamese in their lineage. I would come to discover they were Snowshoe kittens, each more beautiful than the next.

My relationship with Toby changed that day, perhaps because of my newfound respect for this husky tomcat, who begged for food to feed a mother and her kittens, then settled nearby to protect them while they ate. Our friendship grew until I was finally able to pet his forehead with the tips of my fingers. One morning not too long after his rescue of the kittens, I went out on the deck and called for the tomcat. Toby didn't respond for a bit.

When I finally heard that grumbling meow, I spotted him limping through the ivy. He was covered in blood and appeared to be in terrible pain. I was not at all sure Toby would let me tend to him. That day I promised the old guy that if he would let me take him to the vet, he could retire to a life of luxury in the house. Battle-scarred and one-eyed now, he lives mostly in a bedroom suite where he even allows me to stroke the soft white fur on his belly when he's in the right mood -- a feat that took nearly a decade to achieve. Though he no longer comes and goes as he once did, my gentleman caller Toby dotes on his kittens who cuddle around him. He remains a quirky and protective friend.

Developing a friendship with Toby over such a long time taught me that trust is a precious and tenuous thing. Trust, or the lack thereof, defines the relationships that we have, whether they are positive, uplifting connections or filled with uncertainty and pain. Toby taught me that trust is something that takes time to grow, but it is truly worth the effort.


A Class Act

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family

BY: By Beth Levine

Insanity is hereditary -- you get it from your kids.
~Sam Levenson

There are certain hard truths you must face as you get older. You will never be a movie star, for example. You are not as nice or as smart as you would like to think. That pear-shaped lump following you around is actually your tush. Here is the hard truth I have had to face recently: My family will never be a class act. I had always expected that my family would be elegant, charming, and witty. Somehow, I had this idea that my child would be wise and knowing and mature, and that we'd have lovely, quiet evenings playing cribbage or discussing foreign films. It has occurred to me that I have landed in a different country altogether.

This fact was brought home to me during a trip that my husband, son, and I took a while ago to Washington, D.C. with my sister and her family. I envisioned inspiring visits to museums and government buildings, enlightening discussions during which the face of my precious son, Levi, then five years old, would light up with the excitement of discovery. Yeah, yeah, I know -- what was I thinking?

At our first stop, the Capitol, we run into an old friend. Her son is well-scrubbed, polite, and funny. He eats a chocolate ice-cream cone without getting a drop on him. His shirt stays tucked in. He does not yell loudly. In contrast, my son and his six-year-old cousin Dave are rolling all over each other like bear cubs, yelling, "Penis! Wiener!" They grab each other's faces and squeeze in a move they call "oozying." "OOZY! OOZY! OOZY!" reverberates all over the Capitol's rotunda. All attempts to restrain them just bring on louder echoes of words unknown to our Founding Fathers.

We quickly move on to a chi-chi bakery in DuPont Circle, where my son devours a chocolate-chip cookie. He then announces, "My stomach feels all confoozled." I know what that means and immediately shove his head into a nearby garbage can, where he proceeds to vomit noisily. In between heaves, he happily announces the color and texture. A genteel couple next to us who have been leisurely enjoying lattes hurriedly pick up their coats and leave. I am so used to this routine that I don't even stop eating. I have one hand on my son's head, and the other is still shoveling pastry into my mouth. In between bites -- okay, even during bites -- I do make sympathetic "there, there" noises.

Cribbage? Backgammon? I'd be happy just to spend a day in which I'm not dealing with body fluids. I'd be happy to have a conversation that actually made sensible progress from one thought to another. Instead, our conversations have that disjointed quality usually associated with bad cell-phone connections. "Levi, you are reading so beautifully. Can you take that fork out of your ear?"

Back at the hotel room, both boys are given apples to eat in a vain attempt to keep them away from the minibar. They grasp their apples in ice tongs that the hotel has thoughtfully provided and then try to eat the apples from the tongs while marching across the beds. Levi's apple ends up under a bed. Dave's apple somehow falls into the toilet. The apple in the toilet isn't discovered, of course, until someone desperately needs a fruitless bowl. Returning home on the train, my sister and I agree, "This trip was a disaster."

"This trip was the best trip EVER," Levi and Dave announce.

"It was?" I ask, astounded. We had made it to one museum and spent the rest of the time looking for bathrooms and places to eat. My sister and I look at each other. At the same time, we both conjure up the looks on the faces of that classy couple in the bakery as they bid a hasty retreat from Levi's explosion, and of my husband as he hopped on one foot while attempts were made to defruit the facilities.

"Yeah, I guess it was," I admit. I know these images will enter the family lore and become embellished and exaggerated and retold. They will never fail to make me laugh.

It hits me that my family will never be what I expected because what I expected is not what I want. I don't play cribbage because I don't want to play cribbage. When I let myself admit it, I realize I'd much rather spend the day having a good "oozy." I pictured control and elegance, but I've found that what gives life its juice is the gracelessness of the unexpected: the wrestling bear cubs, the bobbing for apples, the non sequiturs, the insanity. You see, down here among the classless is where life really rocks and rolls.


For a Lifetime

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Divorce and Recovery

BY: By T'Mara Goodsell

If I had to sum up friendship in one word, it would be comfort.
~Adabella Radici

One of the loneliest feelings in the world is the knowledge that the relationship that I had counted on to last a lifetime... didn't. It's during these moments -- during the bleakest days of dragging through a divorce -- that I find myself aching for a miracle.

Curiously, it's just these times when a friend seems to appear.

Sometimes it's a phone call from my oldest friend, Nancy. I've known her longer than anyone, and she has a talent for getting right to the heart of a matter. She always understands the very deepest part of me. When I hang up the phone, I always feel younger than the day I first met her.

Other times, I'm lucky enough to hear from Pam. I've known her for thirty years now, and I can tell her anything. It's amazing to me what comfort there is in that. And sometimes, what fun there is in that. Our conversations are often unusual, but they always leave me smiling.

Then there is Bea, a relatively new friend who understands a lot more about what I am going through than I ever would have guessed. She knows what to say and what not to say. She sends cards that make me laugh when I need it most. When it's often all I can do to get through the day, her positive attitude and infectious giggle never fail to act as a tonic, leaving me feeling uplifted and revived.

Fran is my old friend and jogging buddy who knows to pick up the pace on days when I need to run off the extra anger, and to stroll on days I just need to talk. She has a talent for finding cards that capture just the right sentiment so that I can have a reminder when she isn't around.

Nina never fails to offer wisdom, insight, and guidance when I need them the most.

Patsy has a talent for distractions and resources.

Jane sends e-mails that make me think. Margie sends e-mails that touch me deeply. Deb sends e-mail jokes that make me laugh until my stomach hurts.

At a time in my life when I feel stranded and alone, some friends make a point of "checking in" to see how I'm doing, and some make sure the children and I always have plans for the holidays.

There are the friends who know how to be there, and the friends who know how to listen. There are those who offer perspective and ones who know how to be silly. There are the ones who -- bless their hearts! -- are willing to rearrange their schedules in order to make precious time for me, all because they know just how valuable a real friend is.

Most amazing of all are the friends who teach me (usually by example, like the gentlest and wisest of teachers) how to forgive.

Every single one of them teaches me that even in the darkest of days, I can always make out the shapes of happiness if I strain enough to see. They teach me that not every relationship lasts a lifetime -- but that we will always have a lifetime of relationships.

If anyone were to ask me what helps most in a divorce, I would tell them: friends. Good friends. They teach me that when I ask for a miracle to help me through the rough spots, I get friends who help me through the rough spots instead. And that makes them the miracle I needed all along.


Lost Dog

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog

BY: By Elaine L. Bridge

People who are homeless are not social inadequates. They are people without homes.
~Sheila McKechnie

He looked like a little lost sheep. I saw him down the road as I pulled into my driveway. Seen from a distance his funny gait caused me to wonder just what kind of animal he was. I figured he had to be a stray dog -- one I hadn't seen in the neighborhood before.

I saw him again an hour or so later when I stepped into the garage -- he was eating our kitty's dinner, much to her obvious annoyance. He didn't even hear me approach, testifying to his advanced age. His dirty, grizzled fur of uneven length, cloudy eyes and arthritic limbs all seemed to confirm my belief that he'd traveled a long time on this earth and didn't have many miles to go before reaching his journey's end. Because of a bad leg he hopped a little with each step, causing his ears to flop and making me think of a lamb -- that and his facial markings -- a black snout surrounded by a white mask.

A broken fastener attached to his collar indicated that he'd belonged to someone at some time. Sadly, there was no identification tag. How I'd have loved to relay the message to someone that their dog had been found! I wondered how he'd come to be wandering, my imaginative mind picturing him swept away from his familiar surroundings in the recent flash flooding.

I'm not normally drawn to stray animals -- especially dogs. I fear disease, dog bites... even possible adoption and another mouth to feed. Our house is already home to more animals than humans. I didn't want to appear too friendly.

But for some reason, his pitiful appearance broke my heart. Maybe it was the way he cowered when I reached to check his collar -- I wondered what abuse he'd been subjected to in recent days. He didn't seem to be the kind of animal most homeowners would welcome around their yards and garages. Maybe it was his limp that caused me to pity him, wondering if those shaky legs would ever carry him back to the life he once knew. Or maybe it was the loss of our own old soldier just months ago -- a wound just barely healed that was reopened at the sight of a brother in similar straits -- one sure to soon walk the path our old friend had so recently trod. Even as he sniffed around the yard I couldn't get past the notion that he was looking for a place to lie down and die. He reminded me of a traveling hobo, looking for nothing more than a meal and a place to spend the night. Surely I could offer him that much.

Sometimes people are treated as poorly as the stray animals among us. I wonder how many of the homeless out on our streets have found the same reception as had this old dog. Many once had fine homes and families that loved them. But somehow they came to be lost, swept away by circumstances over which they had no control. Many of them still carry wounds of one type or another from the storms that washed them away from the lives they once knew. And now their appearances often scare away any who might be able to help. Too often these aren't the type of people we want around our homes, our lives... our churches. We fear disease. We're afraid of being hurt. We don't want to risk involvement and any possible future dependence on us that our overtures of assistance might create. And so we keep our distance, when all these fellow travelers are looking for is a meal, a place to spend the night... and maybe some direction as to how to find their way Home.

Maybe God has them cross our paths in the hope that the welcome they find in our hearts will cause them to see that which has always existed in His. After all, to Him they look a lot like little lost sheep....


Sean Stephenson

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Extraordinary Teens

BY: Motivational Expert and Author of Get Off Your But

It's never too late, or too soon, to get off your "BUT" and stand.

Quick Facts:

  • Born with a rare condition called, osteogenesis imperfecta, a.k.a. brittle bones disorder
  • Authored 3 books by age 21
  • Has traveled to 47 states and 6 countries to speak to audiences since 1996
  • Has appeared on WGN News, CBS News, CNN News, C-SPAN, the Discovery Health Channel, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Oprah Winfrey Show and many more
  • Sean graduated with High Honors from DePaul University
  • Board certified therapist
  • The youngest individual to ever be invited on the Board of Directors of The National Association for Self-Esteem

When I was born the doctors told my parents that I had about twenty-four hours to live. I was diagnosed with a rare condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, otherwise known as brittle bone disorder. At birth, almost every bone in my body was broken and the medical complications that accompanied such a condition were daunting. The prognosis was grim and it was very unlikely that I would survive... but that was thirty years ago! I'm happy to say that I've come a long way since then.

I've authored four books, I've traveled to and given talks in forty-seven states and six different countries; I've spoken at the U.S. Senate, hospitals, universities, prisons and Fortune 500 companies; and I've been invited on numerous television shows. Quite frankly, I didn't even know all of this was possible! But all of this "success" has been the result of a gradual evolutionary process for me. You just don't get on big shows and do big things at the age of five! I've had a lot of different challenges to deal with.

For me, this ongoing physical pain, these circumstances, are all I know and have known -- it's not like I got into a devastating motorcycle accident at age eighteen! From a very young age I had to choose to be alive and choose to be positive. I somehow learned to say to myself, "Hey, I get to be on this planet." This life is a fragile gift -- literally! Even by doing something as simple as putting on a pair of pants, I could break a leg, or when something as simple as sneeze comes along I could fracture a rib.

By the time I was in the fourth grade, I already had 200 fractures. I realized that there were certain things I could not do. Activities like playing dodge ball were out of the question because they would cause terrible injuries. Fortunately, my parents did an awesome job of raising me, and they did a lot for me when they said, "Yes, there's a lot you can't do on this planet, but there's a MILLION things that you can do."

I'm willing and able to do a million other things that many other, more able-bodied, people could do, but don't, because they are too lazy or they simply doubt they can even accomplish their dreams. When I was in grade school I had suffered from a serious fractured leg and I was going to have to recover on the living room floor for four to six weeks. To make it worse, this was during Halloween. I was so mad that I was going to miss out on all the candy and parties.

As I was letting my frustrations be known, my mother came over to me and asked a very pivotal question. She said, (after calming me down) "Sean, is this going to be a gift or is it going to be a burden?" At that moment, so many feelings rushed through my mind and I realized that maybe I was put into this body of mine for a reason.

I LOVE my life! And I like being alive, even when there's the possibility of being in excruciating pain at any moment. Every single person alive deals with pain, problems, and distractions. But there is so much that can be accomplished in one's life if they can just focus their attention. Controlling our attention is what ultimately creates the emotions we feel, and thus the actions we take. And we need to recognize that everyone is at different stages in the process of living and I'm the kind of person who likes to know exactly where they're at. That being said, I can pretty much guarantee that people are where they are because of the choices they've made.

Once people take responsibility and ownership (not blame or complain) for their choices and their current position in life, they can then take positive steps forward. I like the statement, Energy flows where attention goes. I found that if I focused on what stinks in my life, then I would always get more of what stinks. And if I focused on what I could do and wanted to do, then my personal world would begin to change in a positive direction. Good things show up in the lives of those who focus on what is good in life. Believe me, this isn't a woo-woo-crazy concept. It works! But remember, once you're in the right place mentally, you must take action -- you actually have to do something.

One of my favorite statements is, "It's time to stand!" Basically, this means that people need to get off their "BUT" and activate themselves -- that's the only way to get to the next level of performance. We all have "buts" in our lives in the form of our fears. For example: "But what if I fail?" "But there's not enough time!" "But I'm not pretty or smart enough." We all deal with these "buts" (or fears) and the longer we talk about them and think about them, the more comfortable we become with doing nothing.

So how do you get off the buts? Well first you have to be clear about what you want. If you have small goals, you're going to have a small amount of inspiration. You have to say it like you mean it and show up like you want it. The first thing I had to do was get clear about what I wanted so I could determine whether or not I was on or off track. I mean, how can you take a stand if you don't know what you stand for? And we can all do this at any age -- in fact, the earlier the better!

I tell people you need to have a high G.P.A. In other words, you first need a "goal" that defines what you want on this planet. Second, you need to have a "purpose" as in, "Why do you want it? Finally, you'll need a plan of "action" or a to-do list. The next action steps (or the "how") will practically show up on your doorstep once you've secured the goals and the purpose.

Then you must put yourself in an environment that helps you succeed. So many people put themselves in poor environments either physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally and then wonder why they feel confused, frustrated, and depressed. My life changed dramatically once I spent more time around people who got me excited about life and my goals. I'm not saying it's easy, sometimes we need to make tough decisions about our friends.
But this is really important because you become your environment. And don't think that your own willpower can always overcome the social influence, because long term it cannot. In your weakest moment, if you turn to a peer group who wallow on their "buts," they're going to be the first ones to celebrate your low state. For example, they'll be the ones who hand you a cigarette and then with time, you'll become a smoker.

I came up with a simple strategy that helped me a lot. I recognized there were three groups of people: The "A" friends, "B" friends, and "C" friends.

The "A" friends are those you want to be with as much as possible. You can count on them and they will always do what is best for you. These friends are the hard-to-find kind but they can be found in perhaps a neighbor, a teacher, a parent, or even in a book written by a famous person who has long since passed away.

Skipping ahead, the "C" friends are those you want to say, "C YOU LATER" to because they work tirelessly to try and knock you down. They're the types who will say mean things and suck the energy right out of you. Around these people you will feel so drained, and they'll manipulate you into taking physical, emotional, and spiritual risks. Basically, the quality of your life takes a nosedive.

And finally, the "B" group is made up of those you want to Beeeeeeee careful of. These people constitute the largest group of the three, because they are those that haven't made up their minds about whether they are an A or C friend.

I'm not telling you to open up your cell phone and start labeling everyone you know. Simply try to avoid anyone or anything in your life that detracts from your internal drive to persevere. Will you have weak moments? Yes. Will you have times when you're not at the top of your game? Sure! We all have bad days. When I was young and having a pity party for myself, my mom would set a timer and tell me I had fifteen minutes to "get over it." Looking back, it was a really effective technique. It's okay to feel bad, but set a time limit and then get on with your life.

We have a choice to look at situations in our life as a gift or a burden. Two people can go through exactly the same experience and come out feeling completely different. It's all about your interpretation.

Always focus on what you can do and create opportunities that allow your talents to flourish.
My purpose here on earth, I believe, is that I have to show others how to have the kind of love for life that I have. I want others to know that anything is possible. I work daily to help people realize their heartfelt dreams... and that has made a life worth STANDING for.


Lessons from My Cat

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Cat

BY: By Jane M. Choate

Cats seem to go on the principle that it never does any harm to ask for what you want.
~Joseph Wood Krutch

Our housecat, a pretty calico, has a sweet nature. Patient with our human foibles, she nonetheless lets us know what she wants.

Hers is not a demanding nature. However, when we fail to attend to her needs in a timely manner, she gently steers us in the proper direction.

One of her favorite activities is to look out the patio doors. Blinds incased between double-paned doors prevent her from simply pushing them aside. Instead, she scratches at the doors to inform me of her wishes.

I take my cue and open the blinds.

When I've neglected to fill her water bowl early in the morning, she nips at my leg, then nudges me in the direction of her bowl.

She doesn't pout or sulk; rather, she states her wishes in the best way she can. Rarely do I misunderstand what she is telling me.

One day I found myself envying her simple, uncomplicated existence.

How many times had I expected my husband or my children to anticipate my wants without my ever giving voice to them? How many times had I been disappointed that they couldn't understand when I needed a hug, a compliment, a chocolate bar?

After a pleasant afternoon with my husband, I wanted to stop somewhere nice (translation: somewhere where crayons weren't served alongside the meal) and have dinner.

He ignored my hints.

"Couldn't you see that I wanted to go out to dinner?" I asked when he pulled into our driveway.

To my horror, I noticed a whiny note had crept into my voice.

"Why didn't you say so? I can't read your mind," he answered in exasperation.

His admonition gave me pause. Had I expected him to read my mind? Why hadn't I expressed my desire more clearly? I realized I had fallen into the female trap of "If you loved me, you could read my mind."

Now, I emulate my feline friend. No longer do I "pussyfoot" around my needs. I state them with clarity and directness.
I look at my cat and know she approves.


Quality Time

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family

BY: By Betsy S. Franz

The cure for anything is salt water--sweat, tears, or the sea.
~Isak Dinesen

I had just been through a rough day at work, and all I really wanted to do was stop by the beach on my way home and spend a few relaxing minutes trying to unwind.

When I got there, it seemed like I had made the perfect choice. The sun and the tide were both low, providing a perfect expanse of hard, moist sand that was out of the intense heat that had plagued most of the day. A cool, light breeze had begun to blow, and the beach was quiet and pleasantly deserted.

I set up a chair on the sand and lowered my work-weary body with a tired sigh, mustering up just enough energy to push off my shoes.

I took a deep breath, filling my lungs with the clean, damp ocean air. And as I exhaled, my eyes slowly closing, all the cares and troubles of my day seemed to float out and get carried away into the sea.

With my eyes closed, the sounds of the sea seemed to grow louder, surrounding me, caressing me, and whispering to me with the smooth, slow-motion rush, crash and murmur of the low summer tide. It was such a peaceful sound, almost hypnotizing. What had I been so tense about only moments before? I couldn't remember. I couldn't think of anything but the sound of the waves.

I realized I was almost dozing when a sound to my left broke my reverie. It was the high-pitched sound of seagulls. And then, mingled with the cries of the gulls, I heard the laughter of a small child.
Who was this coming to disturb the first peaceful moments I'd had all day? I lazily opened my eyes and turned toward the sounds.

Down the beach, a man and a young boy stood, laughing playfully as a dozen or so seagulls hovered above them. They appeared to be feeding the birds something from a paper bag, and all of them--the birds, the boy and the man--seemed to be enjoying it immensely. Man and boy would each thrust his hand deep into the bag, bring out their clinched fists, and fling the contents high into the air. And with each fistful, they would look at the birds, then at each other, and laugh with genuine delight as the birds swooped and called and rose again into the air, hovering there, anxiously waiting for the laughter to stop and the food to start flying again.

A father and child sharing some quality time, no doubt, I thought to myself sarcastically, and then I felt a little depressed by my reaction. Such pleasant father/child scenes always made me a little sad, a little jealous, for what I never had as a child. But I sure didn't need these thoughts now, not after the day I'd had. I closed my eyes tightly again and turned back toward the sea.

But it was too late. Bits and pieces of unhappy childhood memories were already pushing their way into my mind, forming into the mental motion picture that I knew all too well--my mind's well-worn saga of a childhood with an alcoholic father. First came the scene of my father passed out drunk in front of the TV, nearly setting his chair on fire with the lit cigarette in his dangling hand. Then the scenes of angry outbursts, played over and over, sometimes accentuated with slammed doors, knocked-over furniture or squealing tires as he sped away, hurrying to find refuge in some dark , inviting bar.

And then, the grand finale: the time he came home so drunk that he didn't even know that he had just been in a car accident, although blood was running down his face in tiny rivulets. I locked myself in my room that day, afraid of the man with the unknowing stare who was stumbling around in our house. That was the last straw, apparently, for my mother. My father was asked to pack his bags and leave our family, to find another home. It was for the good of us kids, she said. And not long afterward, my father died, alone and hundreds of miles away from us. No, "quality time" was not something I had much of as a child.

I shook my head sharply and opened my eyes, trying to stop this melodrama in my mind. My breathing began to relax as I focused on the sights around me. There were the waves, still crashing. There was the sand, still damp beneath my feet. And down the beach, there was the boy and the man.
The boy was still looking skyward, though the bag was apparently empty now, hanging limply at his side. The seagulls were breaking up, some flying toward the sea, while others landed cautiously nearby. Just as the boy seemed to be losing his interest in the birds, the man began running and flapping his arms, chasing the few brave gulls that had landed on the beach. Squeals of laughter rang out as the boy excitedly followed, laughing and squawking and flapping after the birds.

I laughed to myself now and let my eyes drift shut once more. The child's laughter carried on the wind and drifted into my mind, echoing there, growing louder and louder until it seemed to fill my whole head. Such laughter! Such pure and simple joy.

Slowly, a new image began to form in my mind: a young girl propped up in bed, her pixie haircut framing a face lit up with joy and laughter. The image began to gain clarity, as if being focused by a giant mental lens. I could see a familiar pink bedroom trimmed in lace, stuffed toys long ago forgotten, and a plump, freckled face that I knew had to be mine. The laughter echoed again, and the image drifted back to include a dark-haired, handsome man sitting at the foot of the bed, telling a wonderful made-up bedtime story of friendly creatures, and a prince and princess who lived in a far-off and exciting kingdom. And as the story ended, the child realized that she was the princess and threw her arms around the man's neck and squealed, "And you were my prince, right, Daddy?"

Other memories came flooding back to me now as the man and the boy on the beach continued to run, laugh, and chase crabs and waves. It was as if the boy's laughter was pushing into the farthest reaches of my mind, discovering memories that had long since been buried.

Very clearly now I could remember my father working for hours in our basement, meticulously setting up tunnels and mountains and trees on a room-sized train set as my brothers and I waited eagerly for the first running of the train.

I remembered the pride in my father's eyes as he taught the teenage me to drive a stick shift. And though I stalled and stripped and tortured his car, he never got mad at me. He never yelled or got impatient. He had that same loving smile that I saw on the face of the father on the beach. It was a smile that beamed with love and joy and fatherly pride.

The tide was coming in now, but I sat motionless as I saw it catch my shoes and inch them up the sand. I couldn't move. I felt drained from the intensity of the emotions I was feeling.

He was a good father once. I could remember that now. What had happened to him to make him want to escape into a bottle? I stared out into the sea and thought of the things that had sometimes driven me to drink in my adult years. Had he felt the same feelings of loneliness and inadequacy that I sometimes felt? How could I know the challenges he faced, the loneliness he felt from a loveless marriage, the fears he must have felt when he lost his job with a family still to support? I couldn't have known. I was too young to know because he had died many years ago when all I felt for him was resentment and shame and embarrassment. I was still too young to understand his pain and frailties.

On the beach, the man and the boy were nearing me now, their feet splish-splashing in the waves as the setting sun cast their shadows out upon the sea. They were quiet now, holding hands, gently swinging their arms, dragging their feet through ankle-deep water. The fading sunlight seemed to outline them against the sea, and I thought I could almost read their minds--the cluttered, tense, worried adult thoughts of the man and the playful, carefree innocence of the child. And just then, as they passed in front of me, I heard the child's quiet voice as he said, "I love you, Daddy."

I smiled as a feeling of warmth and peace began to grow inside of me--a peace I hadn't felt for many years. And as I closed my eyes once more, I saw my father and me walking hand-in-hand down the beach, swinging our arms and splashing through waves.

"I love you, Daddy," I whispered aloud. And somewhere, carried on the wind and only slightly muffled by the sound of the surf, I'm sure I heard his reply.