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Connecting Through Color

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I’ve been coloring pages in a children’s coloring book for the past two hours.  Pictures of Cookie Monster skateboarding, a dolphin in mid-air performing at Sea World for Big Bird, Oscar and Cookie Monster, and Grover sporting an inner tube at the beach. I’m enjoying mixing and choosing the different crayons as I take in their familiar scent and chuckle to myself at the irony of it all.IMG_3438

Why am I doing this? Why would a sixty-something-year-old be coloring kid pictures? Because I miss my grandsons. Today I sit here by myself, lonely as hell, coloring because it makes me feel connected to them.  I haven’t seen them in awhile because this invisible enemy – Covid-19 – has invaded our earth, and life as we know it has changed drastically. We are practicing social distancing. But what I want to do most is just hug my grandsons and be with them – coloring or cookie baking – riding bikes or playing soccer. I wish we could just snuggle on the couch and watch a movie. Instead, this virus has stolen these moments from me and them and everyone else in the world. I don’t know where it came from; I don’t know where it’s going or when. I just want it to vanish because it is a thief and a destructor of all things good.

IMG_3437Later I’ll mail these pictures off to the boys so they can put them on their refrigerator like I put their drawings on mine.  I’ll enclose a card with a printed note that tells them how much I love them. I know it will make them smile, and they’ll know I am holding them close in my heart. Then I’ll call them, or they’ll call me, or FaceTime, and they will be silly and giggle and run around and act like crazy boys as I chuckle. I’ll fight back the tears until I hang up.

I’m hoping they’ll look at the pictures every now and again and smile in their remembering of their Mimi and look forward to all the fun we’ll have again when this horror fades away and life returns to some sense of normalcy – whatever that will look like. I’m thankful that the boys are too young to understand the magnitude of what’s going on in the world. I have faith that before too long we’ll be, once again, snuggling on the couch as we watch a funny movie and laugh. Then we’ll go to the table and color pages – Ethan telling me which crayon to use on what, as Carter furiously scribbles a kaleidoscope of psychedelic renderings.

These are the things I’ll never take for granted again.

HOLY MAUNDY THURSDAY

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Do you remember the last time you gathered with your family and friends to have dinner?  Mine was on March 1. It was my daughter Megan’s birthday. I made lasagna and meatballs and baked a Funfetti cake, which is her favorite. We had a lot of fun celebrating, laughing and enjoying the food along with each other’s company.  I got to hug and play games and color with my grandsons. It was loud and crazy and amazing. We didn’t know that that would be the last time we would all be together for quite some time.

Today is Holy (Maundy) Thursday. The word “maundy” means washing the feet of the poor. The Catholic Church commemorates this day as the last time Jesus and His disciples gathered for dinner, or the Last Supper. On that night He washed the feet of these twelve men, which was an act of humble love. It was the night that gave birth to Holy Communion as Jesus blessed and broke the bread and wine and gave it to His apostles saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.” I imagine they must have questioned at the time what that meant. It was the night we received the new commandment to “Love one another.”  It was the last time they would all be together. They didn’t know, but Jesus did.

This group of friends were just enjoying an evening of being together on that Holy Thursday evening. They did not have any clue as to what was going to happen in the days ahead. My family was just enjoying an evening of being together on March 1. We didn’t know what was going to happen in the days ahead. The disciples weren’t prepared. We weren’t prepared. As Catholic history progresses with the arrest of Jesus, these disciples, his friends, became scared. As more and more people in our country got sick and started dying with COVID-19, we became scared.

So here we are in real time reflecting on the events of Holy Maundy Thursday like we do each year during this Easter season.  Only this year, it is different.  This year I am sure we can actually feel the love and comradery the disciples felt that evening in the company of Jesus, and then the terror of what happened later that night in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed, was betrayed and then arrested. The disciples were afraid, isolating themselves in hiding.  One minute we, too, were enjoying dinner in the company of our loved ones, and in an instant, we became afraid of the invisible virus that was so ferociously sickening and killing so many. We now isolate ourselves.

History has proven that life as we know it can change in an instant. But we also know that faith always wins out over fear, as proven by those brave men and how they moved forward growing our faith throughout the world.

Be brave in the days ahead. Be faithful. We don’t know what will happen, but Jesus does.

And until you can hug your families and friends again, hold them close in your heart.

BELLA

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I sit in front of a blank screen wondering where to begin to describe the story of my dear Bella and how much I loved her. “Oh, come on” some people who don’t understand would say, “she was just a dog.” But that’s not true.  She was my faithful companion, comical sidekick, a full-of-love bunny who spent most of her 12 years keeping me company and moving me forward during a time of transitioning from a full, happy family household to a divorced empty nester living on a shoestring budget of nothing. She gave me purpose, kept me well-exercised and chased the crushing blows of loneliness away with her steadfast companionship and funny antics. To know she was there and needed me, too, made all the difference in the world to me because with her I never felt alone.

Bella came to me as a rambunctious, border-line wild, 14-week-old Labrador retriever puppy.  I adopted her from a family who claimed they became “allergic” to her and had to get rid of her. When I went to pick her up, she was literally bouncing off the walls from one end of the room to the other.  Her name at the time, “Lightening,” was telling. She chewed the furniture, ripped up kitchen linoleum, broke baby gates, and generally drove me to the point of exhaustion. She wasn’t a cuddly dog, but I was never out of her sight, and when I was upset, she would sit by my side and look up at me as she leaned on my legs.

A definite water dog, if I said, “bath” she ran and jumped in the tub. She loved presents at Christmas and her birthday. She loved kids and dogs and cats and snow and swimming. She didn’t mind getting dressed up on Halloween. And she LOVED to eat.  A refrigerator door couldn’t open or a wrapper crinkle without her coming running. She moved with me twice and transitioned from a great big fenced in yard to having to walk down the street to do her business. I had always hoped to own another home with a yard for Bella, but that wasn’t to be the case after all.

In her later years, as she developed diabetes along with diminishing eyesight and then arthritis, she never lost her spirit. She was always willing to go wherever I wanted, and of course, was always by my side. Quick with a kiss. A foodie extraordinaire.

The house is eerily quiet now, and Lucy, my cat, looks for her constantly. They were an odd couple. Sometimes I awake in the middle of the night and listen for her breathing, which was heavy towards the end. I wake up in the morning and for a split second think I must get up and walk Bella.  Then I remember. No, life is not the same without her. No sharing my lunch and dinner.  No daily walks to the park. No sweet company to chase away the blues. Twelve years is a good, long life for a dog, but it wasn’t long enough for me.

I know in time I’ll get stronger, and sorry this is so sad.  But paying homage to the pets I have loved is closure for me. She is missed like crazy, not only by me but all my family and friends who knew her well since she traveled everywhere with me.  Everybody loved sweet Bella.

So, see you in heaven, Belly Jelly (kiss a felly). Have fun with all of our puppies and kitties up there. I love you with all of my heart. Thank you for loving me.

 

BELLA   September 26, 2007 – November 5, 2019

Five Little Apple Seeds

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Ethan, my five-year-old grandson, was eating an apple and was intent on saving the five little seeds from the middle.  He said he wanted to plant them and grow apple trees of his own. He carefully picked out the seeds, laid them on a napkin, and asked me to write, “Do Not Throw Away.  Save for Ethan to plant.”

Early the next day, we decided to do the chore of planting his little seeds.  We walked around the yard with Ethan’s twin brother Carter following on his bike and observing.  I asked Carter if he wanted to help plant the seeds, to which he replied, “No.” “Why?” I asked. He said he wanted to ride his bike instead. So Ethan and I found a perfect spot between Ethan’s two favorite trees.  Carter followed us back and forth to the shed as we got a shovel. “Carter, would you like to help us dig the holes?” “No,” was his reply. Ethan and I dug two holes – one to plant three seeds and one to plant the other two.  “Carter, do you want to help us plant the seeds?”  “No,” he replied as he twirled his bike around the trees. We placed the seeds gently inside the holes.  We covered the seeds with dirt and went to fetch some water.  Ethan filled up a bucket, and together, he and I carried the bucket to water the seeds with Carter riding close beside us on his bike. Ethan started watering the seeds.  “Carter, would you like to help water.”  “No.”

We went back to the shed to get some peat moss to put on top of the mounds where the seeds were buried. “Won’t it be fun to pick your own apples from your own trees? I asked.  Ethan nodded his head smiling and working diligently to shovel the peat moss onto the mounds as Carter watched.

“Carter, did you ever hear the story of the “Little Red Hen?” I asked.  Again, “No.” Well, I explained, the little red hen found some wheat and asked for help from the other farmyard animals to plant it, but they refused.  When it had grown, the hen asked for help to harvest it and they said no.  Then she made it into flour by herself and asked for help mixing the dough and baking it into bread and each time they said no. Carter looked at me pensively.  “Well, I continued, “when that yummy bread was baked and cooling and the aroma started traveling out the window, all those farmyard animals who wouldn’t help came and wanted a piece of the delicious bread, and guess what?  The little red hen said “no” since none of them had helped her with the hard work.  Carter looks at me and says, “I don’t like apples anyway,” and rode around the tree.

The final phase of the apple seeds planting involved gathering some stones and two sticks to mark where they were planted.  Ethan eagerly looked around for the stones.  Carter looked at me, and I asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to help us gather the stones?”  He says, “OK,” and rides his bike back and forth from where the stones were, giving us handfuls to mark the plantings. Ethan put a stick on one mound, and Carter gets off of his bike and put a stick on the other.

“We sure are going to enjoy some yummy apples when these trees grow,” I comment.  Ethan smiles broadly and nods and so does Carter. Then Ethan and I hopped on our bikes and enjoyed a ride with Carter several times around the yard.

I sure do hope those seeds grow.

 

Just a Target Run

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Let me preface this by saying this is not an advertisement for Target.  I do, however, love browsing around for some pretty incredible finds as was the case this morning when I went to “get a few things” and ended up with a cart full.

This is how I found myself in the middle of a moms/dads/first-time college students shop fest.  There were many – all over the store wherever I went. What a throw back in time remembering those days when I took my kids shopping for their first away-from-home supplies.  I was riddled with anxiety at the thought that they wouldn’t be home anymore and doing only heaven knows what in college.  Part of me was so excited and happy since I never had the opportunity, but a sadness loomed in the depths of how life would change in an empty nest. So, everything they asked for they pretty much got. Yes, yes, yes – put it in the shopping cart. Hundreds and hundreds of dollars later from shopping sprees that not only included Target but Bed, Bath and Beyond and Sam’s Club as well, I sat with my feet up pondering how long it would take to pay this stuff off.  Didn’t matter.  They would go off to school stocked with everything they needed to succeed.  And that’s exactly what I witnessed these moms and dads doing.  Yes, you can have this; yes, you can have that! Computers, TV’s, plastic drawer sets, bedding, food.  I even overheard an awkward conversation between a mom and son where he emphatically told her he did not need vitamins that would enhance his libido. This is the truth, by the way, you can’t make this stuff up. There they were – moms waving things in the kids’ faces – here, you’ll need this and that. On and on it went no matter which way I turned. Moms and dads wistfully gazing upon and already missing their little darlings.

I know I don’t have to tell you how quickly time flies.  It’s been quite a few years since my kids went off to those crazy college days, but it seems like yesterday. I can still feel the worry and the pride. I can still remember the elation at the thought they were returning for Thanksgiving or Christmas or spring break and how the house would come alive and how even the pets would get excited.  And I can still remember the angst when they left again and the utter silence in the house and the solitude. I’m sure these parents were thinking the same things as they spoiled their kids with whatever they needed or wanted.

I didn’t plan on taking a sentimental journey back in time when I drove off to Target this morning.  Nonetheless, there it was on the excited faces of the students and the confused and despairing look of the parents as they loaded their carts with the college wares. Students probably thinking about the parties they would go to and the people they would meet. Parents gazing wistfully at their grown children taking a giant step into their future – hoping and praying that they make it through in one piece and graduate!

And, by the way, mine did!!! #thankyouJesus

 

 

Meow-Meow

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I first noticed Meow-Meow nibbling at some bread crumbs I had thrown out for the birds. I felt sorry for her.  When she saw me, the petite calico cat was quick to greet me with her pretty little face looking up at me. I was allergic to cats, so never much cared for them and had dogs instead for most of my life. But when I grabbed some gloves to put on to pet her and she let me, she stole my heart. Shortly thereafter I starting buying cat food to feed her.  We lived in a rural area with neighbors few and far between, and I asked around but nobody claimed her.  From then on she lived outside our house under the deck and meandered around the yard.  She was content.

I finally decided I should get her spayed and neutered if she were going to stay.  The day I had the appointment I couldn’t catch her.  The next morning I found her – along with her newly born kittens- all males. They were in a sheltered place and safe, so life went on.  Once I bought the kittens some little toys that looked like mice.  The next morning I found a real mouse (dead) lying in front of them.  Meow apparently was trying to outdo me!

My brother unwittingly adopted two kittens, and I just kept the other two.  They were all neutered and spayed and given shots. Time passed, and the cats eventually moved inside the house.  My allergies somehow subsided, and the gang came along with me through two moves.

Meow-Meow was smart and serious and pretty and ruled the roost.  She kept everyone in their place – even the dogs. She watched over me quietly and was attuned to all my moods, sitting with me and comforting me when I was sad or sick or unhappy. Vocally meowing when she wanted my attention – never really demanding much except love and affection.

She outlived all of her sons and just left this world at the age of 16.

So today my heart is aching, and the tears fall for this precious little girl who came into my life and stayed with me through some pretty tough times. Who sat in my chair snuggling with me as I read, wrote and watched TV.  Who cuddled up with me on my bed nightly, even feebly on her last night. I never really felt alone with her since she was always, ever so quietly, present with me.

People say you shouldn’t feed stray cats. But if a cat finds its way into your life, isn’t it something you should do?  Because if not you, then who? And if the worst thing people can say about me when I die is that I took in stray animals and cared for them, then that’s something I am proud of.

I’m one of those people who believes that I’ll be with Meow-Meow again in heaven one day – running around and batting her sons with her paws in a lush green garden. Until then I’ll think of her with fondness until the day she sits quietly by my side again, warming my heart with her gentle purring.

 

 

Jake

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As retirement loomed in the not-so-distant future, I was doubting what I had ended up doing with the past ten years of my life and wondering with trepidation what would come next. The job hadn’t paid well, my savings were nil, and I was worried about my future. Then Jake slipped his hand into mine.

Jake is a very shy, non-verbal, multiply-disabled, five year old boy in the other classroom. He’s very tall for his age, almost reaching my shoulders and has thick, curly black hair pulled back into a pony tail.  He covers his big, dark eyes with his hands when he gets off the bus or when a lot of people are around. I don’t see Jake often because I usually have lunch during their recess, but I’ve observed him on and off in the playground always by himself, wandering aimlessly around.

To be honest, I didn’t really choose this job with these children on purpose. Through a friend I was hired in a school as a one-on-one aide to a severely autistic child after I had lost my job, relocated and was having trouble finding employment. There was an instant connection with the child, and I found it rewarding to be able to help her navigate through her daily activities.  I remained with her for two years until the family moved out of district.  Then I was assigned to the multiple-disability classroom where I remained for another two years. It was a tough job, but I loved it.  The last three years I’ve been working in the preschool classroom. The children are not impaired except for a few behavior problems, which is not as gratifying as the special ed students. I became disenchanted. Health problems ensued, along with age, and retirement became imminent.

But that morning, Jake was walking with another aide who stopped to talk. I said hi to Jake and commented on his cool dinosaur t-shirt. He smiled slightly. That afternoon he came up to me and took my hand.  He pointed to his dinosaur t-shirt and smiled. I remarked again how much I liked the shirt, and he was pleased. We strolled around the yard – me talking; him listening, sometimes smiling, but happy to just be walking with me. My heart ached, and in that moment I realized that the past ten years were not in vain. I connected with these children in a positive way, and that’s more than enough for me.