We should read to give our souls a chance to luxuriate.
Moms need social outlets. My favorite is book club. Once a month, my literary friends gather for intelligent conversation and homemade coffee cake while our children play in another room under the watchful eye of a babysitter. I look forward to it for weeks. But one morning, when the club was slated to discuss a popular new biography, my two-year-old woke with a fever. So, of course, we stayed home.
“What are we going to do today, beanie?” I crouched to my toddler’s level and smoothed her wispy hair with my fingertips.
“Read books.” Her eyes twinkled. Then she coughed in my face.
“Okay, bring me three books.” And a box of Airborne.
“Three books to start.” I grabbed a tissue and wiped her nose. “Then when we’re done reading, you can help me put some laundry in the wash.” Might as well take advantage of our quarantine and catch up on the housework, right?
“Okay, Momma!” She ran to her room and returned with — yep — five books. We snuggled into the sofa cushions and started reading. When we finished one stack of favorite stories, she retrieved another from the book bin. Then another, and another.
Before I knew it, our three-book limit blew to nearly an hour of quality time huddled together under a blanket. Then we set the books aside and turned on a movie. My daughter cradled a sippy cup in the crook of her elbow and pressed her head against my chest.
Stillness. Such a strange feeling. I listened to my daughter breathe and sniffle. Cough and sneeze. Munch crackers and giggle at the television screen.
Laundry? Forget it. I had more important things to do.
Sometimes I trick myself into thinking busy is better. That a fulfilling and productive lifestyle requires being with people — working, volunteering, scheduling playdates and coffee breaks, dissecting the meaning of life with friends while holding steaming lattes in our hands.
But when I’m forced to sit in the quiet, slow moments, I begin to see how loud and rushed my life has become. Social commitments. Deadlines. Chores. Routines. They can pack the calendar and crowd out my peace. Then a sick day punches my pause button, and I have no choice but to rest.
Funny, isn’t it? All this time I thought social outlets were my “break.” Maybe not.
As I sat on the sofa that day with my arms around my daughter and studied her delicate eyelashes, her red-rimmed nose and plump cheeks, it dawned on me — I was not stuck home alone. I was spending precious downtime with one of the people I love best.
That was not a bummer. It was beautiful.
So from that day on, I started scheduling “sick days.” They’re blank squares on the calendar, purposely left open to enjoy the company of family with no particular agenda or to-do list. Sometimes we eat popcorn for breakfast and stay in our pajamas until noon. Sometimes the kids watch a video while I speed-read the next book club pick. And when one of my children actually does come down with an illness, I’m less likely to grieve over the sudden change in plans and more likely to say something like this: “Awww, sweetie, you have a fever. Bonus free day! Let’s pick five storybooks. Better yet — make that ten. Today we’re having our own little book club.”
Approach with a positive attitude, from the front, with a smile. Address the person with the disease by name.
Breathe. Take a deep breath before the visit/encounter. The person will read your essence and body language before he or she can comprehend what you are saying.
Cue the person. Instead of asking “Do you want to put on your sweater?” put yours on and offer to help.
Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, diagnosed 60-80 percent of the time.
Every day is a new day. A bad day yesterday does not mean a bad day today. Take it one day at a time.
Follow the lead. If the person with dementia wants to tell the same story or wash the same dish over and over again, let them.
Give the person a purpose. Ask for advice or give him/her a task. Even if it is done wrong, the person will feel worthy and useful.
Honor who the person is now — and who he or she was before the disease.
Investigate. If the person is agitated, he or she may not be able to tell you why. Is she hungry or thirsty? Tired? Does he have to go to the bathroom?
Joy. Revel in the joyful moments. Let those moments fill you up.
Keep eye contact. It establishes trust and helps you make a connection.
Love. Give a lot of love. It makes the person feel safe and cared for.
Mistakes. You will make them. You will say and do the wrong things. Forgive yourself — caregiving is a very hard job.
Never argue with the person with dementia. It causes agitation for both of you and makes everything harder.
Oxygen. Like on an airplane, take your oxygen first. Care for yourself. If you are not a strong, healthy caregiver, you cannot be strong for the person with the disease.
Practice patience. It can take someone with dementia longer to understand your question and come up with an answer.
Quiet. TV, radio, and several conversations at once make it hard for the person to concentrate. Go to a quiet place to visit or connect.
Redirect. If the person is frustrated or upset, try changing the topic or environment. Suggest a favorite activity, or offer some tea or ice cream.
Simple. Keep sentences simple to facilitate communication.
Talk about things from the past. Recent memories will fade more quickly.
Use fiblets. “I have to pick up my daughter from school!” says the eighty-year-old. “Your daughter called, she is staying late to play soccer. Let’s go in here and listen to some music…” Tell a little “fib” and then redirect the conversation.
Validate feelings and thoughts. “Yes, it is Tuesday (even if it’s Friday) but today we are going to do a Friday activity.” Do not tell the person that he or she is wrong.
Walk in the person’s shoes. He or she is frustrated by this disease, too.
eXercise. Go for a walk with the person or do chair exercises. Staying active is good for everyone.
You are not alone. The Alzheimer’s Association has many resources to help, including a 24/7 Helpline (800-272-3900), support groups and caregiving courses. Reach out.
Zzzz’s. Let the person rest. This disease is exhausting. For both of you. You rest too.
A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.
The desk has been shoved into a corner, its chair removed. The regular bed no longer reigns in the middle of the room, but has been reduced to a less important position closer to the window, a hospital bed serving as its companion. A recliner with giant arms competes for space. This piece, designed half as a sleeper and half as an ejector seat to help propel its occupant forward, is covered with sheets and a blanket.
The recliner plays a central role in the new dynamic here, alerting visitors to the troubles within these walls.
My mom is resting in it as I enter the room. Her eyes are closed, and she seems neither awake nor quite asleep. It is a condition that has become all too familiar. This room, this state of half being, is the place she inhabits with increasing frequency.
“Madam, your son Rob is here.” My mom half opens her eyes.
“Robert. I’m right here, Mom.” I put my hand in hers and squeeze. She is surprisingly warm, and she squeezes back with a strength that acknowledges not only my presence, but also the depth of her feelings for me.
I try to talk with her, to keep her awake. It is only 5 p.m., but this has become her new bedtime. She has exchanged night for day, and sleep now comes at all the wrong hours. One of my roles is to keep her up just a bit longer, as we try to reset her clock, little by little.
I chronicle my day, and then a few seconds later I do it again. I make the smallest of small talk, trying anything that will keep her mind occupied. It is often a losing battle, and she drifts away.
In the background, there is the unmistakable voice of the 1940s. The boy from Hoboken is crooning in those gentle soothing tones, telling stories of love and tenderness. Suddenly, my mom raises an arm, acting as conductor to the band accompanying Sinatra. Then she begins to sing, in a clear voice. She recalls perfectly each syllable, each note. After several minutes, she grows quiet.
“Mom, did you ever see Sinatra perform?”
“Oh yes,” she says. She is now more fully awake.
“It was really quite a few years ago.” For a person who has lost any concept of her age, or where events occurred on a time line, this is an aberration.
“Do you remember who went with you to hear him? Where was it?” I know when her eyes move up and to the corner that she is searching her memory bank for clues. She tries to recall specifics but they’re gone.
She begins to sing again, and I accompany her. I remember some of the words from the days I stood next to my dad, at the piano, reading over his shoulder as he played Sinatra in our living room. I squeeze my mom’s hand to tell her how nice this is, and she reciprocates.
In a bit, she is silent. But I can sense how much she is enjoying the music. She conducts again in perfect rhythm. I stop trying to intercede and just let her have this time to herself, with Frank.
There is a man in my mom’s bedroom, filling her mind and giving her comfort. She and Sinatra are in harmony. She is happy. And so am I.
Humor is just another defense against the universe.
I have been blessed by having had a wonderfully loving and generous mother-in-law, Fran. Fran has always loved people, cooking and partying, but has always disliked cats.
One day, when we had taken Fran back to her mobile home, she opened the door and a small cat darted from under the front steps and ran inside. Fran began chasing and screaming at the cat, frightening the poor thing half to death! I was finally able to convince Fran to shut herself into the bedroom at the other end of the home while I coaxed the cat out of hiding and got it outside.
Several years later, after Fran had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, I had a shock when I brought Fran to visit a friend of mine one afternoon. I knew my friend had a cat, but the cat generally hid when company came over, so I didn’t worry too much about it. While we were sitting in the living room, the cat, a large Maine coon, came out of the bedroom and walked directly over to Fran, rubbing itself against Fran’s legs.
I held my breath, waiting for her to scream. Instead, Fran bent over, patted the cat and said, “What a nice dog.” That day, Alzheimer’s was Fran’s friend, saving her from what might have been a very unpleasant visit.
Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.
The thing that stood out about my family was the fighting. My mother was a fierce, volatile, and determined woman who insisted on being right. When I was five, she left my father in Hong Kong and brought me to the U.S. to start a new life. My stepfather was so emotionally wounded as a child that he lied about his age to join the Navy in order to escape his family. He dealt with his pain by plunging himself into a sea of alcohol. While growing up, I witnessed these two in knockdown, drag-outs that made the Ali/Frazier bouts seem like polite tea parties.
I learned from my family that I shouldn’t have kids; I didn’t have a clue how to be a parent. My mother and stepfather showed me the devastation two people could inflict on each other, and the thought of doing that to my children scared the hell out of me. Besides, who needed that kind of responsibility? So I bailed on the whole concept of being a parent. Deep down, I was afraid I’d be a miserable failure in the most important role anyone could undertake — raising a child.
My wife, Quyen, and I dated two years before getting married. Throughout the course of our relationship, I told her I didn’t want to be a father, and she never tried to change my mind. Still, I understood her desire to be a mother. She came from Vietnam and lived through the horror of the Vietnam War. In the aftermath, her family lost their home, the restaurant business that supported them, and all their possessions to the Communist government. All they had left was each other.
Quyen grew up in a family of eight children and helped take care of her siblings. She cherished the role. Her dream in coming to America was to start a family so she could raise her own kids, yet she still married me knowing my stand on being a parent. This thought always leaves me humbled beyond words.
I remember the day my life changed. Quyen and I attended a friend’s party. Among the guests happened to be a couple with a baby boy. When my wife caught sight of him, she lit up like the angel atop a Christmas tree. She asked to hold the infant and gently cradled him, her expression of unadulterated joy readily apparent at the bundle of life gurgling in her arms.
Quyen stayed with the baby as his parents mingled, and I marveled at how he gazed into her eyes while she sang lullabies. She dabbed dribble from his mouth with a Kleenex. When he cried, she retrieved a bottle from his mom, fed him, and patted his back until he burped. My wife was utterly enraptured. I watched her slowly rock the baby to sleep, his head nestled upon her shoulder like a kitten on its mother’s belly.
I made a decision that night; I would be a father. I still didn’t trust myself to do it right, but I knew Quyen would more than make up for my shortcomings. When we arrived home after the party, I conveyed this to Quyen, and let’s just say a child’s first glimpse of Disneyland wouldn’t have held a candle to the radiance bursting forth from my wife. She pulled me to her and cried the kind of deep, sobbing tears that well up from the core of your being when you experience something that truly matters.
After a time, Quyen clasped my hands as if to impart meaning through her touch. Then she looked at me with an unwavering smile. The sureness in her eyes communicated to me before she spoke. “You’re going to be a great father,” she said.
Today, we are blessed to have ten-year-old Kevin and seven-year-old Kristie in our lives. We named our son after Kevin Costner because Quyen and I loved Dances with Wolves. Kristi Yamaguchi’s grace and artistry on the ice gave us the inspiration for our daughter’s name.
Kevin can spend hours on his Nintendo DS Lite, Wii, or anything video game related. Quyen and I have to set strict guidelines or he’d be playing 24/7. He’s a chatterbox who can’t get enough company. His favorite food is Kirkland macaroni and cheese. He is so sensitive that his eyes tear up when his cousin from Hawaii departs after staying with us for a week.
Once, Quyen and I were discussing our ideal careers at the dinner table and I asked Kevin what he wanted to be when he grows up. My son thought for a moment before proclaiming in complete earnestness, “I want to be a free man. That way I can stay home and play games with my kids all the time.”
Kristie snuggles next to me as I read her children’s books. She unleashes a lilting medley of exasperation if I don’t tell her a bedtime story every night. She teases me by pretending to fall asleep in the car whenever we are driving home from Costco. Her favorite food is microwaved chicken nuggets. When I’m feeling down, she somehow senses it and spends time with me. My funk immediately disappears.
Kristie asked me a question last week. “Daddy, there’s a Father’s Day and a Mother’s Day. How come we don’t have a Kid’s Day?”
To say my children mean the universe to me is an understatement. Put simply, they give my life a purpose and I thank the heavens each and every day for the two most precious gifts a father could ever receive.
Our family fell in love with the tiny ginger kitten the minute we saw him. His pointy ears and short legs earned him the name Yoda, after the Star Wars character. Sheba, our young German Shepherd, and Candy, our elderly Maltese Poodle, soon adopted the young cat as part of the family pack. Wherever the dogs were, there was Yoda. Call the dogs, and Yoda came too.
He had grown into a beautiful ginger tom when my husband Rob and I were moving from our home in Krugersdorp, South Africa to Grabouw, a small town 900 miles away. Because we were towing a travel trailer, we planned for it to take three days. For several weeks before we left, we held regular training sessions in the back yard. The two dogs had to learn to go to the bathroom on command, since we couldn’t stop at every tree along the way, and Yoda had to learn to walk on a leash, so we could take him out of the trailer in the evenings. His small head slid out of every collar we tried, so we put him in a body harness, which he initially detested, but grew to accept.
Our plans were simple. The dogs were to travel with us in the car, and Yoda would be in the trailer, inside a comfortable carpeted wooden crate with wire-netting sides. Lastly, our other pet, a canary named Pedro, would be in his cage. The vet gave us sedatives for the dogs and cat just in case.
The night before our departure, we locked the animals in the otherwise empty house while we slept in the trailer. We planned to leave at seven o’clock the next morning. In the rush to get on the road, we inadvertently let Yoda escape from the house and spent the next four hours searching for him. When he eventually strolled out of a thick bush at the end of the yard, we scolded him, cuddled him, and gave him the sedative from the vet. After securing him in his cat box, we closed the door of the trailer.
I had intended to sit with him until he went to sleep, but we were now four hours behind schedule. We opened the car door, and the dogs jumped in happily, and we eased the car and heavily laden trailer into the street.
After twenty minutes we arrived at the neighboring small town of Randfontein. We drove slowly through the main street, and we noticed people turning to stare at the trailer hitched to the back of our car.
“What’s wrong?” I said in alarm.
“I don’t know, but I can’t stop here.” Rob braked at the only set of traffic lights, and then we heard it, the sound of a baby screaming.
“Oh no. That’s Yoda,” I said. “Why isn’t he asleep?”
Sheba sat erect on the back seat, ears twitching. Her normally beautiful brown eyes glared at us. Candy lay in her favorite spot on the ledge underneath the back window. Her doleful eyes stared out at the trailer. Each time I turned to look back, she looked at me with tear-rimmed eyes.
As soon as it was safe to stop, Rob pulled over the rig, and I rushed to the trailer.
“Yoda, it’s okay,” I said. But it wasn’t okay. Yoda lay on his side, clawing wildly at the wire netting, tearing at the wire with his teeth, blood leaking from his gums.
I lifted the frantic animal from the confines of his box and Rob snapped on his leash. I cradled the cat on my shoulder, trying to soothe him. He nestled into my neck, crying like a newborn infant.
“What can we do?” My tears soaked into his ginger fur. “We can’t leave the door open. He’ll tear up the van. Besides, we can’t let him near Pedro.” I glanced across to where our yellow canary sat in his cage, merrily chirping as he swung to and fro on his swing. At least the bird was enjoying the trip.
“Let’s try him in the car,” Rob said. “Once he calms down, maybe the sedative will take effect. Then we can move him back here.” As we put him onto the back seat, both dogs gave him a rousing welcome. Sheba washed his face while Candy sniffed him all over, checking for injury. Yoda meowed and grumbled, obviously complaining of the way we had treated him.
As soon as the car moved, Candy jumped back onto the window ledge and went straight to sleep. Sheba sprawled on the seat, sighed, and closed her eyes. Yoda found a cool spot under the driver’s seat, yawned, and allowed the medication to do its job. Within moments, all three were asleep.
Each time we stopped for a break, the two dogs leaped to their feet and Yoda scrambled from his hidey-hole. We received many strange looks as we walked all three on their leashes across the grass, the excited German Shepherd, the sedate Maltese, and the triumphant Yoda. He had fought a fierce fight and won. As a member of the family, he belonged in the car with the rest of us.
Three days later, we pulled up outside the new house. The couple who came to meet us stared in amazement at the back window. Three heads crammed out of the small space, taking their first look at their new home. Inside the trailer, Pedro trilled his song of joy. Yoda and family had arrived, ready to start their new life — together.
Mirth is God’s medicine. Everybody ought to bathe in it.
~Henry Ward Beecher
Hospital stays are never easy, but they are even more difficult for someone with Alzheimer’s. My dad spent two weeks in the hospital recuperating from surgery. Attempts at physical rehab were not going well because he was unable to understand instructions, let alone follow them. The nurses had to guess at his pain management, because he was not reliably able to communicate how he was feeling. He remained bedridden, sleeping most of the time. His appetite was poor, despite my mom’s best attempts at coaxing him to eat.
One morning, a surly worker from the hospital kitchen shuffled into my dad’s room. He clearly was not happy about his job, his life, or both.
“Scrambled eggs and bacon, oatmeal with fruit, or French toast.” The hospital staffer sighed and waited to check the box by the meal option Dad selected. Dad remained mute and Mom thought she was going to have to make a selection for him.
Suddenly Dad perked up. He had an important question.
“Does the French toast speak French?”
The hospital worker broke into a wide grin that seemed to brighten the whole room. He shot my mom a mischievous look.
“It sure does.”
So Dad ordered the French toast, while my mom laughed with the hospital employee, who was no longer surly.
One of the last lucid things my dad told me before he sank deep into the grips of Alzheimer’s was that you need to keep your sense of humor.
True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.
Today it is quiet in the house. The rain taps a busy staccato outside while inside there are only the hums of the appliances to break the heavy silence.
I am not sure I like all this quiet, even though I am usually the one who is asking for it: “Could you turn it down?” “Please, shut your door!” “Who’s making all the noise out there?”
Quiet. This usually only happens for an hour or two. It’s something I have only when my children go off to visit friends, or when my husband is out doing errands. To have the house to myself for a whole day is both delightful and perplexing. I find myself torn between doing something sensible, like scrubbing out cabinets, or doing something wicked, like looking for stashes of sweets.
I should use the time to get caught up on the housework, maybe plan a month’s worth of meals, or even re-wallpaper the kitchen. I should do something constructive, something for the family. And yet, I find myself drawn to doing “me” things, like taking a nap, and it’s not even the afternoon yet. I would like to read a book from cover to cover. Then there are those dresses hanging in my closet, the ones that have been waiting patiently for those seven pounds to drop off. Trying them on requires privacy. Or maybe I will do something radical to my hair, beyond just touching up the streaks of gray coming in.
I don’t do any of those “me” things. Instead I organize the kitchen drawers.
My mother tells me of the time when she enrolled me in preschool. “I’m going to use these few quiet hours and finally paint that dresser,” she had sighed to another mother. The other mother exclaimed, “Are you crazy? I’m going home to take a long soak in a bubble bath.” It hadn’t occurred to my mother that she could have done the same. She still ended up painting the dresser.
When I find myself surrounded by the family, I get things done. Laundry gets folded, toilets are scrubbed, the garden is weeded, bills are paid, and ironing is conquered. All this is done amid solving sibling conflicts, fielding questions, and finding stuff. Now that it is quiet, I don’t feel as productive. Do I only function best with noise surrounding me?
When the youngest finally entered first grade, I realized that amazing possibilities lay ahead. I could paint the bathroom. Lounge in my pajamas. Take up the harmonica. Abandon common sense and binge on cheesecake. I did none of those things. I filled the hours with a part-time job. I confess — I couldn’t face all that quiet at home.
I wonder if my attempts to fill up these momentary gifts of empty hours with meaningful busyness are because I am not used to being by myself anymore. After all, for more than fourteen years I have had at least one child to account for and my husband to keep track of. It’s going to take me awhile to reprogram myself to make decisions in solitude, while accomplishing something without the pressure of others demanding my attention. I need to get used to having peace in my quiet.
And so, in my quiet house, I am reminded of the maxim, “Be careful what you wish for — you just might get it.”
Today I have the quiet I so often longed for, and yes it is pleasant. On the other hand, I realize that laughter, voices and the noise of my family fill up the empty corners of the house, making it a home. They are the sounds of love, the sounds that complete my peace.
I realize it’s just a piece of quiet I long for, more than peace and quiet.
Happy birthday, dear Rhea, happy birthday to you....” Silence penetrated the room.
“Make a wish,” my mom said in a sweet, half-whisper. Her eyes glittered above the white cake. Was she crying? It tore at my heart that she still looked so sad, now that everything was over. I looked around the room filled with my friends, cousins, uncles and aunties, and then finally my mom and dad standing right next to me. I couldn’t help but smile.
The December morning breeze brushed my long, black hair as I stepped towards the large russet doors of Hagenberg High. It was my first day of school. There were students all over, trotting around with heavy backpacks, slamming lockers and running to catch up with old friends. I wondered who my friends would be. I was a bit anxious because I was starting school two-and-a-half months late.
In first period English, Mrs. Farley immediately put me on the spot.
“We have a new student.” Heart pounding wildly in my chest, I managed a weak smile.
“So, what school are you from?” Mrs. Farley asked, tilting her head.
“A... school in the Philippines,” I replied softly, my voice rising slightly as if I were asking if that was the right answer. Only two weeks ago, my parents and I migrated to America, hoping for a bright new life. At that awkward moment in class though, I silently prayed that I would snap out of the bad dream I was in and wake up to the sounds of the sea back home.
“How long ago did you move here?”
“Uh... two... two weeks ago.” I had never stuttered before, but there I was, sounding as if I learned English only last week.
“Welcome to America... Ree-ya?”
“Ra-ya.” Mrs. Farley made herself a little note on the roll sheet. Why hadn’t my parents just named me Ashley? Or Mary? All I wanted was to be normal. I wanted to be somebody.
At home, my parents spoke to me in Tagalog, and I didn’t have any friends yet who spoke to me in English. But what was I worrying for anyway? In the Philippines, I had many friends, all the teachers knew me, and I had been getting excellent grades.
Walking through the locker-lined hallways, my dreams shattered like broken glass around me. I was alone, roaming the halls like a lost little kid. I unknowingly avoided interacting with anyone because I was afraid they’d laugh in my face. When my English was better, I decided, I would finally come up to people and maybe manage to say, “Whussup?”
Finally in gym class, a friendly brown face. She almost looked like me, only happier. Her name was Caroline. At lunchtime we found ourselves enjoying the bland cafeteria food. She wanted me to meet her friends. “Don’t worry Ate Rhea,” she assured me, calling me “sister” in Tagalog. “You’ll fit right in.”
And I did. It was as if some foreign soul entered my body and made me do things against my will. I found myself drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and skipping school. I didn’t even like the taste of beer. The moment it touched my tongue I felt like I had to spit it back out. But I didn’t. I couldn’t afford to look bad and lose my new “friends.” I began to miss at least one day of school a week to hang out with them. Then I missed two, three, even four days in a row.
But while I was out having fun with my “friends,” inside I was full of conflict, unhappiness and regret. I stopped practicing my English sentences in front of the mirror and instead practiced, “I don’t know why the school called, mom. It was probably a glitch in the system because I did not miss school today.”
One day the school counselor called my mom at the house while I was already at school, and the truth came out. I pushed open the heavy doors of the counselor’s stuffy office, dreading the situation I had to face. When my mom lifted her tearful eyes and saw me, I knew I failed her.
“Why, anak ko?” she cried. Why, my child? I stood there, swallowing the lump in my throat, but I had nothing to say. I wished she would yell at me, embarrass me or tell me what a bad kid I was. But she didn’t. She cried like her only daughter was lost and had run away. My dad flashed me an accusing glare. I looked down — I couldn’t bear the hurt in their eyes.
I was so depressed that night — I was sure I had lost my parents’ trust and love. But when I was at my lowest point, my parents came through for me, and I realized just how much they loved me, no matter what. My mom was just worried... so worried in fact that she looked older, as if the years of raising me had drawn lines on her lovely face.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry...” I cried. I wanted to say I was sorry for the failing grades, for all the arguments... for all the lies. But a feeble “I’m sorry” was all I could muster.
“It’s okay, honey. Everything will be okay,” my mom whispered. My dad ran his fingers tenderly through my hair. Nothing else mattered at that moment. Not the laughing jokes at school, not my friends... not even the familiar teenage longing to be somebody. I was somebody in my parents’ eyes.
My parents didn’t change how they viewed me, despite everything I had done. They still loved me as their daughter, and I welcomed the forgiveness, understanding and unconditional love in their warm embrace. And now, staring at the yellow candles on my birthday cake, I only have one wish: That someday, somehow, I can repay my parents for raising me the way they did and for loving me no matter what.
My mom’s voice roused me from my thoughts. “Have you made your birthday wish yet, sweetie?”
I looked at her, and then at my dad, tears of love and gratitude brimming in my eyes. “Yes, mom.”
Then I hugged them both very, very tightly.
~Rhea Liezl C. Florendo
Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul: The Real Deal School
We met the day I drove my family two hours north to look at their house. We were planning on moving the next summer and this house had just shown up “For Sale by Owner.” It was a few days before Christmas, and Marion and her family were about to decorate their tree. With enthusiasm like the Energizer Bunny, Marion buzzed around setting all our kids up with a game. She was great with my shy children, and her two girls were friendly and kind.
The old Vermont Cape was awesome, but Marion was even more awesome. We stayed and visited as if we were old friends and my kids even helped decorate the tree. Even though the house was beautiful, it wasn’t right for us. But that’s not why I was disappointed. I was sad that Marion and her family were moving away to another state. I was so comfortable with her that I just came right out and said, “Hey, why do you have to move anyway?”
In her Marion way she smacked me on my arm (my first smack from Marion!) and said, “Oh, you goof.”
By the time we found a house and moved, Marion’s family had long since left. So imagine my surprise when I saw Marion and her children swimming at the local pond that summer. She told me that they were moving again, this time back to Vermont, but still hours away. And even though we barely knew each other, we chatted like old friends.
Over the next couple of years, Marion would show up here and there as her family came back to visit. I ran into her at a few parties and she always gave me that same quirky smile, and the now famous smack on the arm. One time we met at a mutual friend’s house for an all-women’s clothing swap. The dining room table was piled high with our clothes to trade, and we tried on all kinds of treasures. Everyone ooohed and ahhhhed when I showed off a skin-tight black suede skirt. “It’s so you!” they said. “You look great!” I wasn’t so sure. “It’s kinda tight,” I said, but my words were quickly covered up with, “No it’s not! It’s perfect! It’s you!” I searched the crowded room until I met Marion’s eyes. With the slightest, tiniest movement she shook her head and gave me The Look. I could almost hear her saying, “It’s not you, it’s not perfect, you look like a sausage in that thing. Take it off right now.” Later she tossed me a skirt that was perfect. When I tried it on and showed her she smacked me on the arm and said, “You goof, listen to me from now on.”
When her family decided to move back to the area, I was thrilled; Marion and I could finally have a real friendship. Never did I realize how strong this friendship would be. My twelve-year-old daughter had gotten very sick and the recovery was extremely difficult. On her own, Marion thought of something that she could do to help. With a pixie-like twinkle in her eye, she showed up at our house one Saturday with a gallon of paint and a handful of wallpaper scrapers. Painting has never been my thing, and I had not even noticed that my daughter’s walls were covered with wallpaper more suited for a nursing home than a preteen. But Marion noticed, and she knew that for my daughter’s recovery, a purple room was going to make a difference. And it did.
It took many Saturdays to peel off the layers of wallpaper; the bottom one must have been there since the 1800s, when the house was built! Through the weeks, Marion and I peeled and painted and laughed, our children played together, and the color returned to my daughter’s cheeks. As her room took on new life, so did she, reemerging healthy and beautiful.
Even through our laughter and joking, Marion knew how much I had been hurting during my daughter’s illness. She listened to me when I needed to talk, and held me when I needed to cry. But she’s not one to let sadness rule. She always had a funny story to tell, usually about her own childhood — talk about a wacky family!
Even now when I try to thank her, and tell her how much it means to me that she was there during such a difficult period, she just gives me her quirky smile, smacks me on the arm and says, “Oh, you goof.”