Saturday, October 7, 2017

She Knew

This poem was written about my mother-in-law.  She treated me and my sister-in-law to a trip to the South of France after her cancer was in remission.

She Knew

In her cool Merino wool slacks
She knew

Buy it she smiled with glee
and so the gracious mahogany breakfront
sat before us

Lonely in the corner
dusty, its rounded glass doors peering at us
like eyes through sunglasses

She knew

Buy it she said,
and the translator we hired
to guide us through Arles
negotiated with the elegant owner
of the antique store on the River Rhone

Buy it she said
and she waved her hand
at all the ways I could think
why it was an impossible purchase,
fretting over the logistics of a France to USA shipment

Buy it she said
And I did.

And we toasted the acquisition
over rose wine in fine crystal

back at the home of the translator

Who understood.

Buy it she said
And she knew

That nine months later she would be gone
leaving us to celebrate life
dinner after dinner
year after year
generation after generation
with laughter and love
along with the


She knew.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Stories From A Vacation Rental.....

So I am renting a place in Naples from a Boston man I've never met for the next few weeks (no worries I have a house sitter at home). It looks like it's decorated from when it was built, mostly original, from the 70s or 80s. 
I knew this going in. But our agent said it was exquisitely spotless and had very good golf course access because the club was small with wonderful, tight-knit members. And great location. Sold.
I love this place exactly for the schmatlzy original features. For all the kitsch. The plastic flowers; the palm leaves from Palm Sunday draped behind family photos; the cross over our bed; the poem written to the matriarch on the occasion of her 80th to the tune of "Let it Snow" but "On the Go, On the Go, On the Go." Colin Powell, David Hallberstam and Sarah Palin's books together on the book shelf; an electric piano with the songbook open to "My Favorite Things." The mauve drapes and matching mauve flowered love-seats. A Hummel ashtray. 
You can tell a lot about the family by studying their design habits on the day of move-in 40 years ago. 
But I love the kitchen best of all. It is a small galley kitchen with the old dropped ceilings and uneven, sticky walnut cabinets; I feel like I'm in a ship's kitchen cooking here. The countertop is that Formica brand countertop that was made to look like wood (we had that!). The wall covering consists of a plaid yellow background with little white and blue tea saucers floating on it. Curtains are blue and white toile which used to be all the rage of sophistication at one time. (I personally don't see the design tie to the teacups.)
But even better are the original appliances. They are all spotless and work perfectly. Including the giant microwave built into the wall with a turn dial displaying numbers as opposed to digitals that slowly ticks down after initiating a countdown. I definitely stand away from THAT thing when using it.
It's incredible that the mother had seven Irish Catholic kids when using this small condo as a vacation spot because there is absolutely no wear and tear. How do I know she had seven kids?
The photos on the wall of bookshelves. At first I didn't want to even look at them because I felt it some sort violation of privacy but then I thought, well THEY left them. But also I did not want to look at them because of the state I am in -- one of loss and sadness. I did not need another constant reminder of perfect cohesive, accomplished families as they grew through the ages.
In the photos, each subject is more handsome and beautiful than the next, and many are shown receiving their diplomas from distinguished schools. And then the grandkids arrive on the scene, and you see the one shot we all have--- the entire extended family standing on the beach in khakis and collared shirts.. Also on the wall are two pencil drawings of what I believed (and later confirmed) to be their two homes in Waltham on the Cape and Beacon Hill. Oh and then there's the cute grandchildren art Gram Jean had framed.
So all week I have ignored their teasing grins and did again today as I passed them on the way to a conference call. My plan was to try to find the pool in time for the 1pm call but ended up literally racing to one lone bench hidden behind an outbuilding. As I grew nearer, I saw this bench was engraved with names of the father and daughter of the folks who owned our condo, as in memoriam. There are dozens if not hundreds of benches within this 300-acre development. Why would I walk to that one?
After my conference call, I suddenly decided I wanted to know more about this family who heretofore I had believed had not been touched by the hand of grief. I thought they all went on to live perfect, unblemished lives.
Google was my friend when I returned home to find cancer took the patriarch at 74 in 1996 and that he was head of cardiology for a Boston hospital. Nearly 10 years later, two of his daughters would be gone too, as well as a 10-year-old-grand child due to complications from the influenza B virus, his obituary with a close up of his dark brown eyes. Before I knew this, I remembered seeing young William's photo as a toddler on a stand by the kitchen, imagining him to be a lucky young adult member of this family by now. 
Yet the "On the Go" grandmother lives. Not here anymore, which is why her family is renting it. But as I sit here at night alone in this tiny galley kitchen and screened in porch, I feel a connectedness to her. I imagine how many dark nights of worry she faced as her two daughters succumbed to serious illness. I can picture her scrubbing down the tiles to stop from crying after her breadwinning husband died. And then her daughter and little grandson. 
This place is a metaphorical life lesson for me. Though I would never wish anyone grief and loss, until I realized that this imagined perfect family from all the photos was not immune, I had a difficult time settling down here.
You see, these photos remind me to live today like it's your last, no matter the heavy burdens on your mind about yesterday and tomorrow. Grief is universal; grab what joy you can. They are all staring at me with their big beautiful smiles as I type, nudging me like good Catholic kids do.
Some of them are still in this realm; some have passed on. For some reason, I had used my own hurts to justify that their generous smiles could not coexist. It's time to join the hurting, grieving, joyful living.

Friday, October 28, 2016

No More Mrs. Nice Lady Therapy

Do you ever look back at your life and see things so differently through the eyes of a mature lens filled with life experience?
The year was 1991. Despite having a great job and good friends, I was in my sixth year of a relationship that was every kind of dysfunctional. I was 27 and in complete denial.
I was seeing this female therapist (I will call her Dr. H), who was about the age I am now. Each week, I would speak lovingly of this guy who was literally cheating on me. I would read his letters of apology aloud to her. I would recount how my days would be consumed with his every action. From my clear 52-year-old eyes in the rear view mirror, I can see now that she saw I had so much more to offer as I sat there week after week in my career-ready Casual Corner suits, taut runner's body, carefully-applied makeup and 1990s groomed hair. The outside was perfect. The inside was a mess. 
Yet there she sat in her chair across from me, gently trying to lead me to the conclusion to break free. But it wasn't happening. I was losing myself. And fast.
One day, she had a new plan. Why don't I bring this guy into therapy so perhaps she could work with both of us? I asked him to come, and he agreed, with the condescending "of course I will be there for you because you are the one who is damaged goods."
We walked into her office together, and there she sat stiffly upright like an authoritarian Judge Judy, nothing like the warm compassionate demeanor with which I was familiar. "You sit there," she said, "motioning to me. "And you," she said, nodding to my partner. "You sit over there across the room."
She wasted no time. "You two are breaking up today," she announced matter of factly. "Do you have any shared items like apartment keys, CDs or books that need to be returned? (Like a divorce proceeding, she made us each list in detail what we possessed.) "I don't want any excuses for you to 'conveniently' see each other again."
Then she made us set a time for the next morning when we would bring the items to her office to exchange. We were like shell-shocked robots. We both knew it was the right thing to do. No, scratch that. It was the only thing to do. And so we did it. And never really looked back. 
I was recounting this story to a friend the other day and I thought, "What a total sisterhood badass move." I can't imagine it was a usual tactic in therapy, a place where patients are supposed to come to their own conclusions. But she literally just could not bear witness one minute longer where I was concerned. There would be no more Mrs. Nice Lady Therapy. No more soothing talk about co-dependence and familial wounds of the past.

She transcended the role of traditional therapist, took a huge leap of faith, and became a badass sister who could not abide losing weak-willed me under the spell of a man who had nothing to offer me. And I was ready to be lost. Heck. I had an engagement ring and a house under construction that we were to occupy.
My life trajectory would have been wildly different from this safe, loved spot where I sit today. Like a whole 'nother planet different. 
So Dr. H., I don't know where you are now. But this 52-year-old former patient who is now the age you were at your best for me thanks you. 
I see now that we were partners in arms. We had more in common than I'd thought. Because I'd do the same badass thing to a young vulnerable woman today. Paying it forward. 
Thanks for saving the sisterhood. Thanks for saving me.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

America, 1989: Of Pies and People

I used to hear them on their phones outside my office door.

Their names were Marge and Eileen, and they represented the customer service department of the clothing manufacturing company for which I handled marketing and public relations.

"How’s that grandchild of yours?” Marge would say, in her 40s at the time, heavyset and full of emotion with no children or husband of her own. “Did you like the brisket recipe I gave you? It was my grandmother’s Passover version.”

Eileen, divorced and living with her mother, had a sarcastic wit, “Are you ordering two dozen more today?” she’d shout into the phone. “I thought I told you last week that one dozen wasn’t going to be enough. And by the way, someday I will get to Connecticut and visit you. I have never really left Ohio.”

It was the late 1980s, and this was the second job of my career. The company was family-owned, and, in fact, the founder would still wander around outside my office door. Frederick DiCiccio founded the company in the early 1940s. Actually, he didn’t really even start the company  -- it was given to him.

A tiny man of few words in his 80s when I began, Frederick stowed away from Italy at the age of 16, hidden in the ship’s cargo deck. He landed in America with no knowledge of the language and somehow found a job sewing coats in a factory in Cleveland Ohio owned by an elderly female. Frederick soon became her best and hardest worker, and when she retired, she offered him the business in lieu of all the back pay she owed him from his never having missed one day of work or taken a vacation.

The war came, and with it, rations and specific government assistance to pregnant mothers and manufacturers of related items – including nursing and maternity bras. Frederick borrowed train ticket collector punches and used them and college students to make holes in the then-corseted bras. Soon, he had a completely different business model.

Frederick tells of the day he took a bus to New York to show his samples to a Macy’s lingerie buyer-- a story I actually videotaped once. “I sat in the lobby all day, and she walked past me," Frederick says to the camera. "I never said a word, and spent the night on the couch. The next day, she told me to come into her office, (he motions in the video with his hand) and I gave her six samples," he says with the gleam still in his eye.

He reenacts her movements and says, “She studied each one just like this.  And then she put three in her lap. Those three were the first ever products I sold to a big department store!” and his eyes widen on the video as if this were still fresh news.

By the time I arrived, this company was the largest niche manufacturer of these items and many more SKUs to the maternity and breastfeeding markets. Our customer base was thousands of small maternity stores, maternity store chains,  and also mid-sized and other major department stores across the United States.  We sold through an independent sales rep team of old timers with names like Seymour and Al, who spent their careers in the garment district of New York and other areas of the country, peddling woman’s lingerie. I loved these old-timers. They knew all the buyers by name for generations. They could draw flow charts from memory of all of them. They had large personalities and even larger stories to go with them. Of course they did, for their people skills was their currency.  

And we made the items in America, in mostly two brand new manufacturing facilities in rural South Central Illinois.

One of my first duties was to organize the first company-wide sales meeting near these manufacturing facilities. And I remember swooping in over the cornfields in a tiny plane, renting a car and checking into the Thelma Keller Convention Center in Effingham, Illinois (which was really just a Ramada Inn with a fancy name.)

Thelma, too, had a story, and it began with a one-pump gas station she and her husband Lolami owned and from which she served the best barbecue sandwiches in the region. From there, came a gas distribution business and this convention center, inspired by Thelma’s passion for cooking and treating each guest as special as the next. 

At that time, there were dozens if not hundreds of manufacturing facilities in the area. And the convention center, though not fancy but just right, served many of them with lodging and sales meetings. The grand dame was probably in her 80s at that time, and she was actually at the front desk when I checked in late in the evening a few days in advance of our meeting. She was a whisp of a thing who never stopped moving, with a big smile and auburn hair piled on top of her head in a beehive. And when I came down for breakfast early the next morning, there she was again at the hostess stand.

But Thelma wasn’t the only kind and gracious hard worker around. The area was teeming with them, which I soon found out when I visited our factories. From the plant managers, to assistants to the maintenance man sweeping a broom, I was greeted with hugs and offers of pie the very first time I visited those facilities and during the times I would visit them in the years to come. 

These people were not just paycheck-collecting robots. They were real people in real rural America, and since I was raised in the suburbs of larger US cities, this was a completely new experience for me. I loved visiting those plants. There’d always be homemade food in the lunchroom someone had brought in to share.  There were stories of babies, and parades, and rotary meetings. There were dinners at people’s homes I’d be invited to as guest, sitting around their family dinner table. There were town diners with some of the best food I’d ever eaten then or since.

These facilities didn’t just produce garments, they housed mini-communities of their own, filled with fellowship and humanity.

The sales meeting came and went -- my first project a resounding success -- but more importantly, a perfect way to immerse myself into what would be the next six years of my life. And as I look back at the six years I spent with that company, I consider it a microcosm of American manufacturing then versus now.

Because a year or two after I started, Wal-Mart, Target and the big mass merchandising chains came calling as they in many ways were just in their infancies on the big retail stage of America. And how could we say no?  Someone else was going to get the business, and we had people to employ.

I remember all 26 years of me telling the owner that I believed we’d see a drastic shift in our customers. And it happened. By the time I left, our top few accounts made up 80 percent of our business, Wal-Mart was calling us collect, and recommending overseas manufacturers to keep prices down.

And Marge and Eileen had fewer and fewer people to talk to outside my office door. For Wal-Mart and Target placed orders using technology and not people.

I think back to that time often, for I believe I witnessed both the glory days and the beginning of the downfall of American manufacturing in those six short years.  I remember the people. I remember their hearts. I remember Seymour Klein with his distinct New York accent, disheveled oversized suit, worn suitcase full of bra samples he’d schlep around New York whenever I came to visit during market week. I remember his kind eyes, easy laugh, shock of grey hair and his attempt to ease his young daughter into his business near the end, not realizing that the end was something much bigger than his own retirement. 

I remember the silencing of the phones outside my office, as mom and pop retailers closed up shop, no match for Wal-Mart and Target (who sold our wares as private label, leaving me less to promote and weakening the brand name our proud founder once scratched out on a note pad.)

Frederick died, too, during the time I was employed there. He was a humble man, whose life was his work, evidenced by the funeral guests consisting exclusively of family and employees including factory workers. Yes, many travelled to Cleveland to attend this man’s funeral – a man they never met. But they respected him because his grit and determination as a 16-year-old off the boat from Italy with no knowledge of the English language is exactly why they could feed their families.

Will we ever have a period like this in America again? When people talked to each other while doing business instead of hitting “send” from their computer screens? When whole communities were employed at a few manufacturing facilities owned by actual Americans, and not some Brazilian conglomerate?  Where not only could you trace back that product you were assembling to a person, but you had the humanity and grace to travel 600 miles to attend his funeral?

I don’t think we will. But I feel honored and humbled that I was there. Because it formed me, too. I was a few years out of college, and a year into my employment when I broke up with my controlling fiancĂ©. And for the first time in my life, I supported myself exclusively and found an apartment of my own.

The apartment where an office mate would help me sew curtains and sponge paint my living room walls a deep shade of coral. When another quiet colleague who on the day of my move-in placed a bottle of wine on my desk, giving me hope for new beginnings. When the founder’s son took me aside and gave me a raise that day too, just because he knew that moving into my own place came with a greater financial burden.

How lucky I was to land in the lap of that family- owned business at that point in history! Where humanity, resilience and community modeled for me all that was right in this world. If even for just a few short years.

*** Names have been changed to protect privacy.  But the Thelma Keller Conference Center remains.  For more about Thelma:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Reele Family Christmas Letter

Dear Friends:

First of all, let me just apologize off the bat for calling this a “Christmas” letter.  If you are offended by my labeling this letter based on how we celebrate this season, feel free to scan this and shame us all on social media.

Whew!  Where do I begin!  What has been happening in the Reele Household since we last communicated via texts and emails and the occasional tag?

Well, some of you may have seen my Facebook postings making vague mention (I believe that’s called vaguebooking) of the trials and tribulations of raising teenagers.  You may be happy to know that we have turned that corner a bit, and Johnny Jr. managed to secure a job long enough to earn money to replace the two tires he blew out in the week after getting his license.  It took a bit of cajoling easing him out of bed on weekends to pack groceries, but he did it!  Go Johnny!!  And it looks like the “circumstances” which caused the tire damage will only be a temporary mark on his criminal record.  We are so proud of the resiliency Johnny has developed during this experience.  We know that not only will this help him in life, but we are certain he will put this life skill to use competing on the varsity squad in our quest to have him gain a scholarship playing on an ivy league Ultimate Frisbee team someday.

Hannah is really working on trying not to roll her eyes every waking minute of the day. Oh, she tries so hard!  We have a little family “sign” when she begins to look upwards, and so far I think it’s working!  When she’s not pseudo-shopping online at places we can’t afford, Hannah likes to spend her time monitoring social media on the lookout for all the events and get-togethers that did not include her.  I am so blessed to be here so she can avail herself to me, so I may absorb all her teenage angst and lay awake at night contemplating how this will affect her uncertain future.  Hey!  Ain’t nobody binge watches “The Good Wife” in the wee hours of the morning like the mother of a 14-year-old girl who enjoys using her mother as a trash container for all her emotional mishegas!  (Please don’t be offended by my usage of a Yiddish word during the week before Christmas.)

Guess what?  John Sr. has been replaced by a robot at work!  It seems that all his fine skills he learned at Purdue’s School of Engineering and then honed on the job these past 25 years can now be done by a robot!  Fascinating , huh?  His company was purchased by a conglomerate in Bhutan that had its origins in the distribution of self-help Buddhism-based materials to the Western World.  In any event, the new owner (a former monk) offered John a lesser position that would entail him watching the robots that are now doing his job, but John felt that his area of expertise, “Eddy Current Signal Response Using  COMSOL Multiphysics,” would not be best put to use sipping Artisan coffee and watching robots.  Onward!  So far, he’s put out some feelers and the only thing that’s turned up is a greeter at the local Apple Superstore.  They offered him an additional role as Manager of Year-Old Recycled iPhone Collections, but he’s persevering. We look forward to all the support you will tweet and text us in the coming year.  We are nothing without the social media support of all our friends.

Finally, there’s me.  In this world full of sin, evil and micro-aggression, I try to look through my own personal lens of FWP.  What is FWP, you ask?  Well, I put my bellyaching to the First World Problem test (well aware that my husband’s company was acquired by a developing country conglomerate.)  We have clear running water to wash the endless mountains of laundry and scrub the filthy toilets.  We have a roof over our heads to contain all the mindless clutter formed by years of going to Target for “just paper towels.”  We are blessed to live in the United States, home of, well, just home.

Is there a robot to replace me?

Yours in solidarity,

Ima Reele

Saturday, October 17, 2015

My Year of the Crazies

There I was at the conclusion of an industry conference, running to the gate still wearing the clothes from the night before, after partying until the wee hours at Orlando’s Pleasure Island with my new friend Wayne who was desperately unhappy with obligations in a life that wasn’t his own. His family owned a diaper-cleaning business in Roanoke.  “Business is shitty,” he told me, and I laughed over my Long Island iced tea.

Hangover still blaring, I was looking forward to laying sideways on the empty two seats next to me that the airline employee, taking pity on me, managed to secure.  As I boarded the plane, I noticed a guy in first class look up.

Within minutes, there he was before me as I settled in my seat.  “Are these two seats occupied?”  And the rest of the flight had him eating off my plate and telling me about his ex-wife’s accusation of child molestation, only interrupted by the times I politely announced ”excuse me” when, overcome by nausea, I ran to the bathroom.

Diaper cleaner Wayne and my airline passenger were many characters I came across during what I like to call my “Year of the Crazies.”

I had just ended a long term relationship with my fiancé, a man I met the last month of college. It lasted through most of my 20s, and by the time it was over, I had forgotten who I was.

So in they marched, one by one, to keep me company.

A new friend who cheerfully told me one night during drinks that she drove her car through her ex-boyfriend home’s front window six months earlier.   The attendees at the sex and love addicts' meeting that my hairdresser –my “therapist” at the time -- suggested I attend with him.  A few minutes after I arrived, it became apparent I was the only woman (love addict, perhaps?) in a group of 12 men (sex addicts) who went around the table describing their deviant acts of the day.

(And what does a female wear to a male sex addict gathering anyway? I settled on baggy clothes sans makeup.  For added measure, I didn’t bother to comb my hair.  Frankly, if you ask me, love and sex addicts don’t belong together in any sort of therapeutic setting.  It’s like holding AA meetings in a bar.)

Then there was a first date with whom I was fixed up.  He didn’t bother to tell me he was newly separated, but I found that out very quickly as his wife tailed us down the boulevard, yelling, “He has VD!” while she repeatedly bashed her car into ours after we had pulled over.  “Um.  I am not a threat to you,” I replied calmly after I exited the car and surveyed the damage. 

(I did manage to have a longer term relationship during that time, but he had a habit of sobbing loudly during lovemaking and telling me he didn’t really care for my inherent body odor, whether newly showered or not.  When we ended our relationship, he ran out of my apartment and barfed in the bushes.)

I would joke with my work colleagues, “I seem to attract all the crazy people!” And they’d listen to all my stories and reply, “Yes, Julie. You most certainly do.”

But nobody bothered to point out that I was very potentially one of the crazies. That the common denominator in all these stories was me.

We all go off the rails sometimes.  Weak broken people attract weak broken people.  Boundaries fall away, and it seems the damaged people of the world set off a sensor that is perceptible only to each other.

As the man on the plane reached for my scrambled eggs with his fork and casually told me his ex-wife had accused him of molesting his children, I suddenly realized that I had a hand in what was happening.  I had arrived at the airport that morning, spending the evening with a man I had no business being with, so far removed from any version of Julie I had ever been in my life.  My broken wing sensors were emitting emergency signals.  And I had allowed a fellow crazy to sit next to me when I had specifically asked for a row of empty seats.

Not too long after returning home, I set out on a course of extreme self-care, seeking therapy, moving apartments, reconnecting with old friends, and nurturing myself with hot soups I would concoct on lazy weekends.

I often think back with fondness on the cast of characters I met during my Year of the Crazies.  I hope their clipped wings have been restored.  That Wayne’s night on Pleasure Island made him return to Roanoke family obligations and take stock of his life to change it. That my friend with the violent boyfriend troubles realized she was better than that. That all the men who were so brave in seeking help for their sexual issues were able to forge a path of healthy sexual behavior.  That my arranged date had an epiphany at the auto body shop that he and his wife had to sort things out more peacefully moving forward.  That my sobbing lover eventually found someone who would not make him cry.

I would be lying if I said my present situation was void of any sort of craziness, for “crazy” is actually a factory setting as part of human production.  We just have to work to make sure it’s not set on cruise control, and some of us have biological conditions that make that task more difficult.  I certainly don’t mean to minimize that in the least here.

And yet, in some ways, I still attract the crazies.  In fact, you really can’t be my friend if you don’t allow your authentic craziness to be revealed.  I like my friends a little messy.  But not so much violent, immoral and unhinged.

With age and experience comes the ability to recognize when boundaries need reinforcement, that your life has reached a point where you don’t recognize yourself and certainly the people you have allowed within your sacred walls. Sometimes, other addictions are added into this mix. Which is precisely when the Universe swoops in and practically forces you to make a move, to rebuild your walls. 

All you have to do is listen and be ready with the proper construction materials. And be thankful you were able to read the signs.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Consider Backstories Before Giving Advice

This essay was published in Your Teen magazine, May 2013 as a rebuttal to a childless woman giving parenting advice. It's linked here:

I was that lady. My kids were going to be different. I was going to parent using my full DNA arsenal of structure and organization, producing perfectly polite people.

In fact, I clearly remember standing in a grocery store line behind a sticky-fingered child who wanted me to make goo-goo eyes at him. He was clutching his lollipop, screaming for more candy, while his weakling of a mom fed him gummie bears like dog treats. That will never be me, I silently resolved to my nine-month pregnant self.

And then the baby came out.

Those childless few who judge have their hearts in the right place. We moms, however, have to contend with a traveling mom heart that flits from person to person like a butterfly in a garden.

The unruly food court kid may have just discovered his parents were divorcing -- or he was teased about his girth in front of his main squeeze. That micro-short wearing pre-teen girl is stumbling toward adulthood and trying on a few identities along the way.

Those of us with children find it easier to insert their own kid into a misbehaving one and imagine backstories. Just as it’s also easier to insert ourselves into the place of a struggling mom at a restaurant while her toddler throws spaghetti. We have walked that path ourselves. Unlike my childless days, I refuse to judge parents and children on these snapshot moments.

All of us come with backstories — adults and kids alike. Kids, however, are dealing with brains that are still cooking, right up until their early 20s. And I make it a habit not to expect perfection from things that are still developing. Like fine wine. And symphonies.

Backstories, people. Backstories.

Another mind trick I quickly discarded after giving birth was measuring today’s standards against our youth, a.k.a. the ‘’in my day” stories. Parents today are playing on a completely different field than yesterday, and expecting the same is akin to asking LeBron James to make a layup on AstoTurf.

Oh, how I often wish for the neighborhoods of our youth, when times were simpler and less chaotic. I wish our kids’ real need for independence could be met at many more places that didn’t occasionally include shopping. (Which they quickly outgrew, by the way.)

Although statistically safer than we have ever been, I wish we didn’t have to parent around 24/7 media and the Internet which make too many people too anxious. And I wish my teens would sometimes want to be my movie date, instead of exercising their age-appropriate needs as they grow up and away, eventually becoming contributing members of society to satisfy even the childless among us.

Mostly, I wish those who judge would pull up a chair the next time they see a group of loud, frozen-yogurt consuming teens and learn their backstories. Or visit a school. Most teens today are nothing short of magnificent and it gives me great hope for the future when I spend more than a few hours with several. They are kind and good and creative, using not only traditional artistic mediums, but those that involve crayons being replaced with computers.

Once upon a time, a man sat passively on a subway train while his unruly kids ran rampant. Strangers rolled their eyes at each other until one finally approached the man and reprimanded him. “I’m sorry,” he answered. “We’re coming from the hospital and their mother just passed away. I’m doing the best I can.”


I wish those who decide on solutions for strangers would consider that solutions are best crafted by gathering information, minus assumptions. This requires empathy. And empathy is best cultivated when you’ve lived the experience yourself.

I was that lady. But my awesome, exasperating, kind, imperfect children gave me a traveling mom heart and made me soft.

I wouldn't have it any other way.