Guest Post: A Child’s Pain, A Mother’s Pain

Last Sunday, America celebrated Mother’s Day. It’s a holiday filled with sentimentality, cleverly wrapped in flowers, brunch, and Hallmark cards. But in recent years, we’ve become aware that Mother’s Day can be a painful day for many women: Those who have never known their mothers. Those who have never borne a child. Those who have laid a child to rest. Those whose best efforts have not been enough to protect a child from pain.

I believe that every mom wants to protect her child from pain. The best efforts, though, sometimes aren’t enough. California writer Tracey Yorkas shares her own experience on this particular Mother’s Day. 

This Mother’s Day I don’t have a mom and I can’t be a mom.

Three weeks after my mother’s sudden death last summer, my 13 year-old daughter was diagnosed with depression.

Fast forward to today. My daughter sits in a residential treatment center struggling with self-harm.

She will spend her Sunday playing cards, going on a brief outing, and attending therapy groups.

I will speak with her for ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes at dinnertime.  I will look at the Post-It notes she wrote in Sharpie for me last year: “HAPPY MOM’S DAY LOVE YOU MORE THAN ANYTHING!”

Unless she remembers it is Mother’s Day, I won’t remind her. She feels bad enough already about events of the last several months.

My wish for you this Mother’s Day season is that you never understand the pain of knowing your child copes by slicing her skin open with a razor blade, or of finding blood on her clothes, or of having someone tell you it would be better if she didn’t live with you for a while. That she is safer elsewhere.

Hearing the words “We think your daughter needs to go to residential treatment” can buckle your knees.

But the truth is that self-harm is a real problem.  Our kids are in trouble.  Keep your eyes open. Does your child refuse to wear shorts or t-shirts?  Does he have unexplained scratches, some more healed than others without explanation?  Has your previously out-going child become withdrawn?  These are warning signs that your child might have turned to self-harm or “cutting.”  (S)he might not need residential treatment, but it is a cry for help.

You can’t pretend it will go away.

In school we educate our children about the dangers of illegal drugs and unprotected sex.  Let’s tell them they don’t have to suffer alone or in silence and that a razor blade is not their best friend.

Posted in Body Image, Family, Holidays, Parents and children | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Rest Well, Old Girl


I woke up early today, and pulled on my black yoga pants and a plain t shirt. I barely combed my hair. No need to look in the mirror; It was not a morning for makeup. I’d shower after a while. 

I watched Holly stagger out the back door.  She didn’t go far, but her legs looked a little steadier today. She returned to the house and walked past her food bowl without a glance; she quit eating on Wednesday.

I glanced at the clock. It was time to go. I clipped the blue leash onto her collar, and hesitated. I bent down and wrapped my arms around her broad neck, nuzzling the top of her head. “Good girl, “ I whispered, as if she could hear me. “Let’s go, Doodlebug.”

We stepped out into the cloudy Florida morning. The air was warmer than it looked from inside.

When we got to the car in the driveway, Holly didn’t hesitate. She’s always been a good traveller. I lifted her tenderly, and placed her hind legs up on the seat.

From behind the wheel, I rolled the rear window down all the way. She might as well have her head out the window this morning. But she laid on the seat, head down. I knew then that she had surrendered.

The Golden Gate Animal Clinic sits in a low 1950’s style building, a block off the main road. You wouldn’t know it was there, unless you went looking for it. It’s not in a fancy part of town. But a friend told me that Dr. Lanier was a kind and gentle man. And he had a great way with Holly. He saw her four times last week.

Walking toward the door, I almost detected a little bounce in Holly’s step. Hope flickered for a moment. Maybe she felt  a remnant of her normal curiosity about this trip. Maybe she felt happy to be out on a journey. She sniffed the grass off to the right, like always.

Just before the door into the office, the concrete sidewalk ends. Emerald green indoor/outdoor carpeting covers the entry step. Holly’s back legs gave out before we reached the edge of the carpet. I reached under her belly to catch her before she fell, and held the door open with one foot so I could help her in. I was glad that in Florida, entry doors open outward.

The receptionist had the papers waiting. I checked the boxes and signed my name. She ushered us to the exam room.

Holly leaned her weight against my legs for a moment and held her head low. She laid down then, full out on her side. Her head rested on the beige tile floor. She didn’t move when another dog got rowdy in the hallway outside. She didn’t move when Dr. Lanier entered the room.

He would give her a tranquilizer, he explained. It would relax her. It was time. She had gone downhill. He gave her the injection in her shoulder; she didn’t flinch.

I bent forward and laid my hand on her side. I watched her belly rise slowly, slowly with each breath. I wanted her to feel my touch. I wanted her to know she was not alone. She couldn’t stand to be alone. It was her greatest fear. I heard the snuffly, snoring noise that a boxer makes when it breathes. I realized that her coat was almost completely silver grey.

The doctor came back with his assistant. He held a brown leather muzzle. Because the tumor was in her brain, he said, it can cause behavior that we wouldn’t expect. He would muzzle her while he started the tiny IV line in her front leg.  Just in case. The technician held Holly’s head. I kept my hand on her side. The doctor knelt and swabbed her leg with alcohol. We formed a kind of trinity, kneeling around this innocent dog who always fancied herself the center of attention.

She didn’t move as the medication flowed up the plastic line and into her tired body. Her chest went still. My hand lingered on her short fawn coat, still feeling her warmth. The room was silent until Dr. Lanier whispered, “She’s already gone.”

Photo: Holly at her Pennsylvania home, after an exciting trip to the mailbox. 2011. 

Posted in Animals, Domesticity, Family, Memoir, Transitions | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

What Does Polyester Have To Do With Playing Monopoly?



Aunt Effie was the trendsetter in our family. She and Uncle Orlie built a tidy brick ranch house on what would become the good side of town. She was the first to have a dishwasher, a family room with a fireplace, and an aluminum Christmas tree with a rotating color wheel. Aunt Effie took her housekeeping seriously and proclaimed the virtues of kitchen carpeting before any of her three sisters. She was the first to step into the world of Italian cooking, with her homemade meatballs and sauce. I still have a handwritten copy of her recipe.

And so, on a particular Sunday afternoon visit to Aunt Effie’s house, no one argued or asked why when she commanded us to sit on the rose beige sofa and just wait.

“I have something to show you,” she announced. We sat silently, obediently, as she disappeared into a bedroom and emerged a minute or two later with a piece of navy blue fabric over her arm – I would guess about 2 yards. She held it in front of us and announced, “Just feel this!”

And then, with a flourish, “This….is….polyester!”

We stroked the thick double knit finish in awe.

And that was the beginning of the end.

Not of the world of course, but of the chore that consumed most Sunday afternoons at our house: ironing.

I learned to iron when I was eight or so; I’d watched my mom and older sister tackle the task for years, and loved the smell of fresh laundry and hot steam. When the day finally arrived that I could be trusted with the black and silver GE iron, it was a rite of passage. I started on flat items: dad’s white handkerchiefs. Pillowcases. Later, I graduated to white crew neck undershirts. (Yes, we even ironed undershirts.)

Mom was always good at simplifying her ironing, though. My dad’s heavy green work pants hung on the basement clothesline with metal pants stretchers in each leg to form the crease. Other pieces hung on the backyard line in the summer. Cotton percale sheets grew stiff in the sun, but smelled like fresh air even after they were folded and placed in the linen closet.

My brother’s dress shirts defied all shortcuts though. In the mid-1960’s, Mike was in the heyday of his teenage years. His preteen chubbiness was gone; he grew to a handsome six-footer who never lacked for friends hovering nearby. It was the era of the British Invasion, and style dictated that “all the guys” wore tapered black pants and white dress shirts. Every day. It was the only thing Mike would wear to school, despite mom’s plaintive questioning, “White?”

I know now what she was thinking. A white shirt can’t be worn twice. More laundry. And more ironing. Eventually, I learned her system for ironing a shirt properly: collar, cuffs and button placket first. Then the shoulders and back yoke. Sleeves next. Finish with the body. Have a hanger ready.

I don’t iron much these days, and I know a lot of people who don’t iron at all. Still, I felt a pang of nostalgia this week when Hasbro retired the iron game token from 21st century Monopoly boards. The game piece was described as an anathema – it was an old flatiron that had to be warmed on the hearth or wood stove. A cat will replace the trusty iron, to make life interesting for the Scottie dog I guess. The boot, race car, top hat, battleship, wheelbarrow and thimble remain, but I have to wonder if very many kids today know what a thimble is when they select their tokens and begin to learn the game.


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Off The Radar: Reflecting On The Common Cold


The first twinge came on Monday – a trace of dryness in my eyes. Maybe nothing. Maybe the lighting at work, or a little eye strain. But I knew better. It was the first sign.

On Tuesday, it escalated to what I called “sniffles.” I kept a fistful of kleenex in my pocket hoping that no one at work would notice when I slipped out of sight to blow my nose. Chugged mint tea on my breaks. Told myself I was fine, really. I would go to bed early and sleep it off.

By Wednesday, my head felt like a stuffed cabbage. I stepped it up to Day Quill, with a backup supply of tissues in the car. By the end of the day I was glassy and worn out. I was grateful for light traffic driving home, and rounded the corner onto my street with relief. Hopefully I could catch a short nap before heading into an evening with some kids from church (which involved feeding about 20 people at my house, but that’s another story.)

I pulled into the driveway, and noticed that the tree on my left seemed out of place; it’s my reference point to be sure I am pulled up close enough to the garage door. The numbers on the front of the house seemed off kilter somehow, but inertia kept me moving forward. I climbed out of the car and gathered my keys, phone, and bag. As I rounded the corner of the house near the front door, I finally stopped. This was all wrong. My sidewalk goes into a courtyard; this one was out in the open. I retraced my steps and realized I had pulled into the neighbor’s driveway, not my own.

But I still couldn’t admit I was really, truly sick. I took that nap, changed clothes, and (really, truly) enjoyed baked ziti with a houseful of teenaged girls.

The next morning, the signals were clear. Just enough of a fever to give my skin that creepy crawly don’t touch me feeling. Overwhelming fatigue. I dared not be more than an arm’s length from the Kleenex box. This was it. The common cold, as it’s called, took charge, and I was down and out for the day.

I don’t get sick often, but if a bug is  bad enough to keep me at home, it’s bad enough to keep me in bed. I wrapped up in quilts and slept most of the day. The TV stayed on – a rarity for me. Certain shows have a tone and cadence that can lull me to sleep; this time, I dozed through episode after episode of Frasier. I only managed to stay awake for only one all the way through, though. (House Full of Heroes, if you’re curious.)

Friday morning dawned with a chill in south Florida. I added a down comforter to the bed, and pulled the duvet over into a double layer on my side. The wastebasket overflowed with used tissues by now, and I was on my second box of Day Quill. I gave up on plans for lunch with an old friend and reached for the remote. More Frasier reruns awaited; even with a fever, I loved the scenes with David Hyde Pierce. I dared not laugh though. It would most likely launch a fit of coughing.

I searched for signs that the cold was abating. Could I get out of bed for longer than 12 minutes at a time? Read the newspaper? Did I care that the water heater had shorted out and a plumber was on the way? Or that the same plumber peeked under the kitchen sink just long enough to confirm that we need a new faucet? I’d intended to work out on this Friday off. No way was that happening. Maybe check Facebook? Nope. I was off the radar for a second day.

Saturday, I realized that my solid food for the last few days had consisted mostly of navel oranges. I opened the pantry to survey my options but nothing looked good. I closed the door and made toast. By nightfall I was back to the pantry, this time for saltines and a bowl of cereal. More carbs than I usually like to eat, but I figured my nutritional balance was shot for the day anyway. Besides, those oranges had to count for something good, right?

It’s Sunday morning now, and it looks like the kind of day that makes people want to come to Florida for the winter. I’m sipping ginger tea and thinking about shaving my legs. I must feel better today.

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And Now, A Word From The Teacher In Me

Another viral video crossed my desk last week, accompanied by a lot of “Awwww….so cute!” comments. This one features Dixie, a puppy heading down a flight of stairs for the first time, with a little help from a friend – a Golden Retriever named Simon.

If you haven’t seen it, here’s a link:

Yes, Dixie is indeed a cuddly pup, and Simon took on the role of adorable big brother as he helped Dixie figure out how to make it to the bottom in one piece.

But I can’t help drawing the analogy to my teaching life when I watch that video (and I’ve watched it now, about twenty times.)

To that puppy, a half-flight of stairs compares to an adult leaping head first off an 80 foot cliff. Ditto the fourth grader coming nose to nose with dividing fractions…the eighth grader  grappling with a long chapter of American History….the high school Sophomore about to open the pages of The Odyssey….the college Freshman walking into an organic chemistry lab…the law student prepping her first brief.

The unknown is scary stuff. Testing your ability to master new learning is scary, too. It seems, of course, that everyone else is so…so smart! So accomplished!

Every one of us has asked, at some point, “What if I fail?”

I’ve known great and accomplished teachers, from the time I was a small child right on through my professional years.

And I’ve studied teaching and learning. A lot.

Whether the lesson is one for a new puppy on her first journey down the stairs, or one for that law student, there are a few things that great and accomplished teachers do every day. There are a few things those great and accomplished teachers know for sure.

In college, it’s called instructional pedagogy. Good pedagogy gets good results; kids learn well from teachers who do it right. In fact, it’s what a lot of education reformers fuss about much of the time. We can learn it from professors and textbooks, of course, but today we’ll take our lesson from Simon and Dixie.

Here’s what Simon – and those great teachers – know:

  • Some students will learn quickly. Some won’t. Be patient.
  • Having a little experience makes things easier. Draw on your students’ background experience when you can. Share a bit of your own.
  • Learning is an act of courage. Respect the courage of your students as they try. Respect them even more if they try and fail and come back to try again.
  •  It helps to have a good example. It helps even more when that good example -the teacher, mentor, coach, or tutor – doesn’t give up but keeps on coming back around to help again and again….and again.
  • Peer-to-peer teaching is powerful, on both sides of the equation.
  • “Show” – don’t “tell.” Work with me until I can get it on my own.
  • Give lots of chances for practice. Build confidence to take the next step.
  •  No student is hopeless, even if they sit down and dig in their heels for a moment.
  • Sometimes, when we are right at the edge of success, it can all seem like too much. Pace activities to move students forward, even when they want to retreat.
  •  Celebrate success! Celebrate learning! Don’t just “test” it, “evaluate” it, and “score” it. You’ve given that student (or even a puppy) a skill she can build on and draw on forever. It’s those “tail wagging” moments that we remember.

Look back on your own life and learning. Pull up a memory of a great big lesson you learned. Enjoy that memory today, for a minute or two.

Video Credit: Tim Doucette

Posted in Learning, Mindfulness, Parents and children, Schools, Teachers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A New Year, A Clear Mind






I was reading an advice column the other day, and someone asked about the proper cutoff date for wishing someone a Happy New Year.

The answer? Oh, about the time that most people have given up on their resolutions. Mid-January or so. About now, in fact.

Which brings me to the topic of resolutions for 2013. Last year, I wrote a blog devoted to resolutions that never made it to the virtual page. It wasn’t quite perfect, I thought. It needed some tweaks. Now it looks just fine; it touched on spirituality, kindness, and flossing my teeth. Writing, of course, and exercise.

Looking back, I haven’t done too badly at some of those resolutions. They were good ones – so good in fact that most of them carry right into 2013. I guess that’s allowed, right? After all, it’s not as if I have perfected them.

At work a few days ago, we talked a bit about “words for the year” as opposed to resolutions. A few people chimed in, offering up words such as “light,” “awareness,” and “domination.” I stayed quiet, but knew that my words for 2013 were simple: A Clear Mind.

Make decisions from a clear mind.

Set priorities with a clear mind.

Keep – and hold tight to – a clear mind.

Steer clear of frustration, of desperation, of overwhelmed-ness. If I can’t avoid them, recognize them. Stay calm when they roll around. Live in confidence that they will pass, as they have before, and don’t give them much credence. Learn from them when I can.

I do my best work in the space that I call my Clear Mind. And my best work is the best I can do, where any of those resolutions are concerned.

My dear friend The Reverend Lady Donna was raised on a small island in the Caribbean. She often speaks of the “island women” in her village, and related the prayer that she heard so often growing up:  Thank you, Lord, that I woke this day in my right mind.

Many people, she quietly points out, do not.

And so, as we look down the road at this year called 2013, I realize that a clear mind is an end unto itself. A clear mind is a gift. It doesn’t come without effort, without risk. But in the end, it’s a place with a fantastic view.

Let me catch my breath and look around.

Photo: The Whimsical Workshop Studio, Chandler, AZ.


Posted in Balance, Clarity, Decisions, Holidays, Mindfulness, Obsessions, Overwhelmed | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Now, About Those Resolutions



This post was originally written – but not posted – in January 2012. Now, a full year later, it is fun to look at last year’s musings on the topic of New Year’s Resolutions. And a little insightful, too. 

January’s end is upon us, and I haven’t quite finished my list of resolutions yet. Not written ones anyway. And truthfully, isn’t this the point in the year when most of us forget our resolutions anyway?

After all, I found a parking space at the gym yesterday without too much trouble. And my friend who Facebooked every day about her progress reading the entire Bible in six weeks has gone strangely silent. At Costco the other day, I didn’t see that big Nutrisystem display that stood so prominent a month or so ago; it looks like Valentine candy is in full swing at my local CVS, with Cadbury eggs not far behind.

I have plenty of excuses for skimming over the tradition of “resolving” much for 2012. I have lived most of my life on a school-year schedule, and for me the new year always begins in September, not January. It is the time when I get a fresh 18 month calendar and neatly write in birthdays and special occasions. I organize the closets. Those old habits die hard – I guess I am still performing my own rituals of getting school supplies and school clothes, even now.

Still, the notion of resolution-making catches my attention. This past January 1, I couldn’t help but notice the many tips for making and keeping “good” resolutions for 2012 sprinkled through my daily paper and regular stops on the web. Some columnists vowed that they were making “anti-resolutions” and that the ritual of resolving was little more than setting ourselves up for failure. Others took advantage of the opening to educate us on SMART goal setting, or filled us in on the Dalai Lama’s advice for attaining contentment.  At the other end of the spectrum, I clipped out the article that recommended 2,012 resolutions for the year. This equates to fulfilling 5.5 resolutions per day, even accounting for Leap Year. I admit that I smiled when I saw the single resolution: Be Awesome.

If I wrote them down this year, my list of resolutions would probably look a lot like some of yours. Eat healthy food. Exercise more. Live my dream – which means time at the keyboard cannot wait until everything else is done and the house is clean and organized to perfection. Figure out a way to make enough money to support a writing life. Be kinder, more spiritual, more patient, more conscientious…be kind of awesome, in my own way.

Does that list set me up for failure?

Can I accomplish those resolutions in a year? Or by the beginning of September?

It’s doubtful if I can accomplish them in the same way that I could put a check mark next to “flossed teeth” or “folded laundry fresh from the dryer.” Some of them do indeed fall into my daily “to do” list – choose the salad instead of the sandwich at lunch, hit the gym, that type of thing. Others? Not so easy to quantify (and thus not qualifying as SMART goals, by the way.) How  do I quantify patience, or spirituality, or kindness? Can’t be done, can it?

But it’s almost February, and I haven’t given up on those “not smart” resolutions yet. I keep at it, putting one foot in front of the other. A year from now, I probably won’t even remember what those resolutions were….but I can live out 2012 in hopes of making each day just a bit more awesome.


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It Started Like Any Other Day At School

Connecticut School Shooting

The summer before the Columbine shootings, I worked at a middle school. Our French teacher was taking a leave of absence, and we scheduled a full day of interviews. Positions for French teachers were scarce, so we had lots of applicants.

Two stand out, even today.

One because she didn’t really speak French. She did, however, affect a decent French accent when we asked her about her own proficiency with the language.

The other, more promising, asked an odd question as we wrapped things up. She asked where her classroom would be if she were hired. Of course we couldn’t give an answer as clear as “Oh you will spend your entire teaching career in room 100.” But she persisted. We talked a bit longer, until the real question came out. She wondered how close her room would be to an exterior door. Her husband was a violent man. They were separating. She was worried. Back then we didn’t lock all the doors the way we do now. But that woman’s story raised the hairs in the back of my neck. We couldn’t hire her. We couldn’t put our school at risk, no matter how fine a teacher she may have been.

Over the years crisis planning became a science. FBI agents taught us (and the police) how to spot those whose behavior might pose a risk. Psychiatrists and psychologists warned us to watch the loners, the ones preoccupied with violence, the ones who might be bullied. We learned what a crisis team ought to do, assembled plans, and practiced lock downs and evacuations.

Those lock down drills always gave me the creeps. It was my job to walk the building during the drill and be sure that no child could be seen or heard from the hallways. The same hallways that, on any other day, would be buzzing with activity. The silence during those drills was very different from the silence when I worked late at night, alone.

But when we really faced those crisis moments, it was scary. At that same school, a long-time teacher once asked me if I ever thought of wearing a bulletproof vest. Another day, I learned that my name topped a hit list drawn up by a tragically troubled child…a child who took his own life at a young, young age. I sat with parents who feared violence at the hands of their own children. I sat with parents and police, when we knew that the parents had done horrible things. I met fathers freshly released from prison. I calmed hysterical mothers, at the end of their rope. I stood face to face with rage.

All the grad school in the world didn’t teach me to handle those situations.

But hear this. Hear it plain and loud and clear: My experience is not unique.

At each and every school in America, teachers and principals face a microcosm of our culture every day. It is hopeful and horrifying all at once. Today, little children in Newtown, Connecticut woke up with joy and went into classrooms with teachers who loved them. At this very moment, their parents are surely shaking in horror and grief as officials piece together what on earth has happened.

Yesterday those same parents were probably at Target, finishing up Christmas and Hanukkah shopping. They hurried to wrap presents and hide them under the bed. They bundled up the kids for the evening concert at Sandy Hook Elementary.

This afternoon, our President spoke with a catch in his voice. Many voices call for gun control. There will surely be some outcry about the state of education in general, and who knows what else. Some parents will debate whether to home school. Others may succumb to the temptation to politicize this tragedy, and to somehow fit it into “us vs. them.” I hope not, but I fear it will happen.

Instead, let’s say a prayer for the innocent lives lost, for families everywhere that are doing the best they can, and for the folks in the school down the street from where you live.

Posted in Issues, Memoir, Opinion, Parents and children, Schools, Teachers | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Parade Day


The first Sunday in December is a big day in my home town. Main Street closes down by 10 in the morning; traffic is diverted a mile or so west, and everyone knew that there will be a few spots in town that are pretty much out of reach till after the annual Christmas parade breaks up.

Winter comes early in Michigan, so when I was growing up, Parade Day meant bundling up in snow pants and parkas, with mittens stuffed into pockets. We loaded into the car right after lunch. I’m sure that Mom was more concerned about finding a decent parking spot than finding the perfect vantage point to watch. In the 1960’s and 70’s, stores were closed on Sunday, so there was no thought of combining the parade with lunch out, or even a cup of steaming cup of coffee for the adults in the crowd.

We huddled near the curb as the sound of marching bands approached. West Jr. High wore red. Central Jr. High, where I would attend one day, wore royal blue. We listened, captivated, to eighth graders’ renditions of Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls. When we spotted the big Rochester High School band, we knew that Santa was almost here. Eventually, when a second high school opened on the other side of town, Rochester High still held on to Jingle Bell Rock as its signature parade song.

There were floats of course, built by Rotarians and Jaycees. Clowns tossed candy into the crowd. The Chevy dealer provided Corvette convertibles for the day, so that the mayor could wave to his public and we could all get a glimpse of Miss Rochester. The year I was nine, the Girl Scouts from all over town dressed as Christmas packages and marched in the parade; we poked our heads through holes cut out in gift wrapped moving boxes and practiced our cadence. Left. Left. Left, Right, Left. My knee socks slid down past my heels and bunched up inside my snow boots before we had gone very far.

The VFW marched silent and dignified behind their banner. Everyone recognized that these guys knew what they were doing when they marched.

The grand finale was, of course, Santa high atop his sleigh. Parents took hold of their children’s shoulders and turned their little bodies to be sure they didn’t miss seeing St. Nick’s arrival. “There he is!” the adults shouted. Mittened hands waved, the cold suddenly forgotten. Every child breathed a sigh of relief. Santa was back in town. Christmas itself couldn’t be far behind.

Photo: The Big Bright Light Show, Rochester, MI

<Postscript: Over the years, our little town grew, and so did the parade. Bands from schools in other towns appeared. Newscasters from Detroit showed up to provide parade commentary, just like the hosts on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day event. Every business in town joined in in one way or another. The grain elevator (a throwback to Rochester’s agricultural days that now sells a lot of snowblowers) donated a truck for my son’s Cub Scout pack. They won first prize in the Youth Division.  I don’t think there were any prizes at all when I was growing up. There certainly wasn’t any news coverage – not even a PA system to announce the participants. We just knew: we knew who the police chief was, and who directed those marching bands. We knew the scout leaders, the firemen, and the guy who drove the local tow truck. This post is dedicated to those who share the joys of growing up in a small town, putting down roots, and calling it “home.”>



Posted in Holidays, Memoir, Rochester | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment


The kids were toddlers, and money was tight. The TV ad promised hours of holiday fun with the “Disney Christmas” LP; I must have seen the ad a dozen times before I dared to give it much thought. With shipping, that album was going to come in at about $17. I had to think twice about spending that much, and Christmas was still months away. Finally, on a September afternoon, I picked up the phone and dialed the 800 number.


The package arrived just before Halloween.


Starting that year, I resolved that my children would learn the Christmas carols that I loved. They would learn all the words to all the verses of all the songs. The best way to accomplish that goal was to play Christmas music – and only Christmas music – from Halloween right through the big day.


“Disney Christmas” got us started, with 30 songs sung in familiar cartoon character voices. For back-up, I had Bing Crosby and The Ray Conniff Singers.


And so we listened and we sang. Jingle Bells. Up On The Housetop. Away In A Manger. From the time that my children could speak, they learned to sing the songs of Christmas.


“Christmas music only” became a post-Halloween tradition in our house. I never really told anyone, never announced it at the dinner table, never made it a decree. But my collection of Christmas music expanded to include medieval chants, Percy Faith instrumentals, and Fat Bob The Singing Plumber. On November 1, those albums took a place of honor next to the turntable and the rest of our music collection was tucked away until January. Eric Clapton, Carly Simon, and The Who took a break, so to speak.


The collection of LPs gave way to cassettes, then to CDs. Hallmark rolled out a collection of Christmas music, and Julie Andrews and Harry Belafonte joined our lineup. I pushed the “play” button as soon as we got home every afternoon; somehow, Christmas songs weren’t a distraction as the kids grew and we tackled homework after dinner. We sang in the car on the way to the grocery store, the mall, or a doctor’s appointment. We knew all Twelve Days of Christmas and never ever confused the pipers piping with the lords a leaping.


My children did, indeed, learn all the words. Granted, it’s probably not the most important lesson they learned by virtue of being mine. But I believe to this day that they could pull up the second verse of “Silent Night” or the chorus of “Do You Hear What I Hear” almost instinctively.


There’s a certain satisfaction in that, and more than a little sentimentality too.


Posted in Holidays, Learning, Memoir, Obsessions, Parents and children, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment