There are two things which are eternal: Love and the Soul.
If the things we do in this temporal world do not nurture that which is eternal, then we are doing all people a terrible injustice.
There are two things which are eternal: Love and the Soul.
If the things we do in this temporal world do not nurture that which is eternal, then we are doing all people a terrible injustice.
It’s a grey day as I write this last post of the year. The branches are bare against the clouds and this time, unlike so many times before, I can see no sun peeking through them. Looks like 2019 will exit just as it entered – dreary and mild. And once again, my mood matches the weather.
My funks don’t last for long, but I have noticed them much more frequently this year and I really need to snap out of it. Perhaps it is the threat of the “empty nest” that looms closer and closer to our reality. If you asked me this year how my children are doing, somewhere in my reply you would hear me complain that I never see my daughter anymore. True, it feels like she is constantly on the go, what with school, her job and ever-present social life. So it surprised me as I looked through all the photos of this past year to see that they were predominantly of Victoria. There is not a single month of photos on my phone (save January) that is not dominated by “Vic pics.” Perhaps it was my subconscious storing up memories for when she, too, is away at college next year. Or perhaps it is only in my imagination that she is never home, and this is my reminder to be more present when she is. Either way, I am so very grateful for the remembrances this time of year brings and for its lessons.
Enough with the whining already, right? Let’s get on with our seventh annual pictorial year in review, or, as it’s known in my phone for 2019, The Victoria Show.
Once the Christmas season ends with Epiphany, we Loozianans drape everything in purple, gold and green and jump head-first into Mardi Gras. I got the baby in the first King Cake of the year. I posted it on FB and was censored for the porn. Oy.
Victoria fast-tracked her Confirmation at St. Elizabeth – the benefit of three extra years of religious ed at St. Mary’s. I was too in-the-moment to take pics during the Mass. I always feel awkward pulling out my phone during Mass anyway, so I politely waited until we were home. The ambience was not quite the same.
This is why only my tee shirts hang on the bottom rack of my closet. I love putting on a shirt to find the left sleeve covered entirely in dog hair.
Ahhh, April. The month of Prom.
During our vacation to the Big Easy, Stacey and Lee insisted it is tradition to pose on the Pontchartrain Bridge. Aaron and Vic were mortified that we stopped on the bridge, and then promptly wished they had grabbed sunglasses.
Marion C. Garretty is credited with saying, “A cousin is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost.” So it is for Lucas and Victoria, both Seniors and both chomping at the bit for life after high school.
After the July Fourth holiday, when I had traded out the patriotic pillows for the summer décor on the front porch, Max claimed my star-spangled pillow as his own. To date, he still has not relinquished it. And that look says I can fuhhgeddabout it.
Our first foray into sausage-making without Bishop Duca. I texted him photos of the sausage to let him know we miss him but are carrying on. He agreed that we didn’t do half-bad.
More proof that I did actually get to hang out with my daughter, even if she thought I was crazy for snapping odd-angle pics of her. We never see the beauty in ourselves when we are young.
Max is not allowed on this couch, but was apparently feeling all full of himself one evening. He kept eyeing us like he knew he was disobeying, and we just kept waiting for him to explain.
One. Happy. Family.
There’s always one text conversation that makes the end-of-year cut. Dom and I texted the same reply at the same time. The reference here is to Sixteen Candles. But surely you knew that already. Seriously. Tell me you KNEW that.
As this decade slips quietly into the shadows, I wish you every joy that the new year can bring. I pray that we all remember to live the moments and be truly present to those in our lives. Take the weird photos – maybe they will remind you, as they have reminded me, that we have so very many blessings. And when the sun comes out again, may it shine brightly on you (as long as you have sunglasses). 😉
Peace and love to you, my friends.
My latest project is recipe scrapbooks into which I am compiling recipes, photos and stories. As I scrolled through my vault of writings in search of holiday themed essays, I came across this one from 2010. I think it was written as a way for me to reconcile my Catholicism with my love for Christmas decorations. My kids, now on the brink of full-blown adulthood, are not as likely anymore to gather around the Advent wreath with me for prayers, or collect stars from the Advent calendar as we count down the days to Christmas Eve. But this narrative reminds me of all the joy that is still present in the season, even as my family scatters like dandelion seeds to fulfill the duties of our days. Happy Advent, everyone.
While the city is alive with Christmas decorations and as families are planning their gifts and activities and preparing their homes, we Catholics are reminded throughout the Advent season that it is not, in fact, Christmas just yet. Sometimes, I attend Mass only to leave feeling guilty for having already put up my Christmas tree. Obviously, I need to work through these feelings.
I love the Christmas season, whether it is celebrated liturgically or secularly. I love it for the lights and decorations, for the magic and mystery. I love the planning and preparing – both in my home and in my heart. I am generally cheery and positive, but let’s face it – I am waaaaay more joyous during December. I find that I smile more, I giggle more, and I am more generous with both my time and my treasure.
Every time I look at my office doorway and see the red stocking peeking in, I am reminded of the season’s magic. I love the signs of the season, and I want to display them as early as possible because I love the feeling that I have during the holidays.
I know the season is not all about presents, shopping and Santa. I know it is about celebrating the birth of Christ. I love the liturgical significance of Advent in that it tells us to “prepare.” I want my children to feel the Christmas spirit all year long, because the reason for Christmas is with us all year long. I also want them to understand the liturgical significance, so we have an Advent calendar and an Advent wreath. We say daily prayers during Advent, and we do our best to prepare room in our hearts and home for the Christ Child. Advent is a time to recollect and ready ourselves for Christ. I always thought that meant I had to chill on Christmas until December 24 and allow Advent in as a time to rest and wait. But that’s virtually impossible for me to do. I want Christmas, like all. the. time.
To me personally, Advent is about anticipation, not delaying. Preparing, not waiting. We should be busy now – preparation is not a passive thing. May each Advent – whether busy or restful – lead our hearts to the perfect Christmas.
I said some day I would write this down. Figure it all out. Make the story make sense. Because I am a figurer… and a planner… and a puzzle solver. It’s what I do. I may do it on a small scale, but I do it whole-heartedly. And often.
It was 2014 when I said to Dom, “What if I went back to school? What if I wanted a master’s degree? Would you be cool with that?”
I wasn’t asking permission to expand my horizons, mind you; Dom would never hold me back from what I felt called to do with my time. But we are a team, and I needed to know if he could sacrifice some dinners or pitch in with the housework while I studied for the next two years. I knew this would not be easy on any of us. I would publicly state two years later, “If I ever say that I want to go back to school for a third time, someone hit me in the head with a rock.” It was an adequate statement, and I sensed it before I even began.
So there I was, rocking along toward an MBA. Dinners were still relatively on schedule. Dom was becoming a laundry KING. I was stressed out and stretched too thin, but I was killing it, or so I thought. And then the bottom fell out.
October 2015. I’d been in school for a year. One down, one to go. Mid-way through Halloween decorations and smack in the middle of terms, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with Stage 3 pancreatic cancer. We live right next door to her, and of the six of us “kids” (her three sons and their wives) I had the most flexible work schedule. So I rose to the occasion. I managed to balance school and work and doctors’ appointments. Against all odds, Mom lived. Hell, she was outright cured. I fell to my knees in gratitude and when I rose I danced and cried and danced some more. I had plenty to be thankful for and I was ready to shout it from the rooftops.
Six months after the doctors looked at my mother-in-law in astonishment and I thanked God and every saint I could name, I finished that dang program and got my MBA. The trials were over; the dust had settled. There was light at the end of our tunnel.
I thought the achievement of the degree would satisfy me, but a desire to do more started murmuring in my head and wouldn’t shut up. What good was that degree if I wasn’t going to use it? What had all the struggle been for if nothing was going to change? Why did I pay that tuition if my family would never see some return on the investment?
So I said to Dom one morning, standing at our bathroom sinks, “Among those companies that your company works with, if you hear of any job opening that I might be good at, let me know, okay?”
I don’t know how much time passed between that statement and a certain phone call. “Hey, remember when you said for me to keep an ear open for jobs?” he asked. “OIB is looking for a credit analyst.”
Seriously. That’s how this journey unfolds. The next thing I knew, I had an interview. I’ll never forget it – March 30, 2017. My father-in-law had a doctor’s appointment that morning at the same time as my interview. After two years of my accompanying them to every appointment and my helpful ability to recall dates and details so that I was almost a walking medical file on my mother-in-law, Pop wanted me there at his appointment. “That’s alright,” I remember him saying. “They’re just going to look at my esophagus and figure out why I can’t swallow. It’s no big deal.” That wasn’t self-pitying sarcasm; he genuinely meant it and I believed him.
I had my interview and came back to my office at the Catholic Center to tell my co-workers, “Y’all, I bombed that thing! There is no way I’m getting that job.”
Within an hour my phone was ringing. Remember that light at the end of my tunnel? Turns out, it was another train. Dom told me that Pop’s appointment that morning had taken a morbid turn. Esophageal tumor. A biopsy had been scheduled, but it was most likely cancer. No. Just, no.
Sometime in the next three weeks, Pop’s diagnosis and treatment were confirmed, and I got the job. It was bittersweet, to say the least. In a new work environment with entry-level vacation time, there was no way I could attend all of Pop’s appointments as I had attended Mom’s. Everything felt upside down and I felt guilty for so many things – for being happy about new opportunity when those I loved were so distraught, and also for not being available to my extended family when they needed me.
I cannot imagine that I was much good those first six months of my employment at the bank. My family was going through some tough stuff – scary, and yet too familiar all at the same time – and I did not have my same confidantes and supporters in my day-to-day world. I had new people. Wonderful people, but not those onto whom I thought I could dump all my crazy and still keep my job. I held it in, for the most part. I only let out the little bits that I thought wouldn’t send my new coworkers running for the hills or searching for the nearest straightjacket. I know now that I did not give them nearly enough credit.
As 2017 drew to a close I experienced my first series of working holidays. Switching careers from the Catholic Church to banking is culture shock, to say the least. We work on Christmas Eve?? Are you kidding me?? Perhaps I would not have been as selfish with my holidays if I were not watching Pop dwindle in strength and spirit with each passing day. I managed to take some time off after Christmas that year, and I vividly recall taking a phone call from my new friend and supervisor as I stood in the backyard on a partly cloudy, cold December day. She was informing me that our community bank was being bought by a larger bank. Our merger would be complete in February.
I spent that last week of December mentally willing myself to see the silver lining in our merger. Maybe I would start to grow into my position and gain some confidence. I had not been with the community bank long enough to feel credibility in how I did my job; maybe that would change. I don’t know if I was tricking myself, but I managed to feel hopeful about the whole thing. Maybe this was why God led me into banking. Perhaps I would find my footing after all.
Three days into 2018 Pop succumbed to the cancer we could not beat. I don’t have to tell you how badly that hurt. I started comparing the timelines and sizing up his cancer journey and my OIB journey. Both began on the same day. Both ended within just a few weeks of each other. Both turned my world upside down. Both were beautiful and painful. Both would leave permanent marks on my heart.
The following month I spent my birthday in training for the new bank. My heart was still heavy, my body was still tired, and my head hurt with too much new information. While I had only six months of procedures to re-learn, my co-workers had years’ worth. I was quite surprised (and somewhat ashamed) at the relief I felt as more and more people joined me in my unsteady little boat of The Unknown. I finally felt like we were all on the same ground, rather than me being in a pit while everyone else stood far above me. To be fair, some days we were all above the pit, and some days we were all down in it, but at least we were together. Misery does indeed love company.
It was somewhat similar at home. Some days we were all smiles and some days we were just weepy messes. Oh, I could talk a good game – God’s plan for our lives, waiting patiently on the Lord, no need to worry about tomorrow, blah blah blah. I was saying it, but I wasn’t instantly buying into it even as the words were passing my lips. Okay, yes, my heart knew the truth. But it was like my brain had just been through a war-zone video game that it couldn’t shake even though the game was over. There were no winners in that game, by the way; it was all just destruction and shambles – programmed blood and pixelated gore that I couldn’t unsee. There was real loss that I couldn’t unfeel.
I recall one particular Spring day when I was feeling especially down and I was complaining to Dom that making new friends at work had not been easy, that I missed terribly the sisterhood I left behind at the Catholic Center, and that I didn’t know if I’d ever have that level of emotional camaraderie again. His response gutted me. “I know how you feel,” he said. “Think of who I hung out with, who I shared everything with when I wasn’t with you. Daddy was my best friend; we did everything together. If I wasn’t with you or at work, I was with him. I don’t have that anymore.”
The realization stung as it sunk in. I had been so laser-focused on what I was missing that I failed to see the innumerable layers to Dom’s loss. My selfishness had known no bounds.
I wasn’t willing to ignore our feelings at home, and fortunately neither was Dom. We began to set aside time every night just to be together and talk about our day with no distractions. We tried to make sense of where we were, both personally and professionally. Did we want what we had? Did we like who we were? Were we simply too scared to change? The answers varied, depending on the day’s events, but ultimately we realized that we had been changed by our experiences, not ruined by them. The question that remained was simply, “What now?”
In the midst of our grief-filled year, we had some pretty significant events – Aaron graduated from high school and we dropped him off at college. I managed to distract myself from the additional changes in our home by focusing on travel, crafts and holiday party plans. But December found me at my lowest point. For the first time in memory, my favorite season of all was not filled with hope and wonder and peace. I had no spare vacation time and was working through Christmas. I came home one night in tears and vowed to Dom, “I will not do this to another Christmas season. I have to have a different job before this time next year.”
As 2018 became dust and shadows I realized that we had been to Mass approximately four times during the year, not counting Pop’s funeral. How had I been such an idiot? No wonder the year had been so hard. I prayed still, but my prayers were more akin to venting sessions with the hopes of a magic eraser. They lacked gratitude. I began to see that as a general rule, I lacked gratitude. This had to change.
“We gotta go to Mass,” I finally told Dom after the year anniversary of Pop’s death. “We gotta get our butts back in a pew or we are never going to recover from this.”
He nodded. “I feel it too. We need a major change, though. Maybe a different church.”
I could be on board with this. I understood the sentiment. We needed a drastic enough change that we could see and feel a fresh, new start. “Okay,” I said. “But, can I ask one thing? When we change churches, can we still be Catholic?”
“I’m not gonna quit being Catholic!” he exclaimed, and then we both laughed – he with amusement and I with relief.
There were so many issues with changing churches that my stomach soured at the thought of addressing them all. Victoria was in the middle of her Confirmation year; I served on the church finance council; our church had a new pastor whom I deeply respected and whose feelings I did not want to hurt; we had grown to love so many of the congregation members, and all of those people had supported us and loved us through the highs and lows of the previous twelve years. There was no way leaving wasn’t going to be awkward.
I decided to start with the pastor of the church we would attend: the church where it all started – where I fell in love with Midnight Mass, where I became Catholic, where we were married, where our children first learned how to sit still in a pew. In other words, home. I called Father Tim, whom I know from my days at the Catholic Center, and said, “I need confession and consultation.” He came to my office and we talked about all my issues. There wasn’t a single problem I brought up for which he didn’t have a reassuring answer. It was not official, sacramental “confession,” though I did share with him all the ways I had gone wrong in the past year and my general state of discontent.
“You need to come back and work for the church,” he said. I laughed. He didn’t. “Why not?”
It was the question that would start the healing I needed. The next time I saw him, he outlined a job description for a new position he was creating. I didn’t tell him right away, but that description was exactly what I had decided I wanted to do – a little HR, a little insurance, budgeting, facility management – basically, managing a small business. I just never thought that business would be a church. But, if I’m qualified for anything, it’s a church job. We touched base with each other several times over the next two months while he fine-tuned the position and took applications and I prayed for direction.
“You still interested?” he’d ask.
“Yep.” I handed him my resume. “You still hiring?”
It became official on April 17, 2019, just a few weeks past the two-year anniversary of the kick-off of my journey. I got the job. I’m back in the fold. I’m going home.
In The Lord of the Rings epic, Tolkien wrote, “Not all those who wander are lost.” It feels like I have wandered for two solid years, and I frequently felt lost. Hindsight is 20/20, and only now I can look back and see that I may have lost myself but God never lost me. Even when I let go of his hand, he still had my back. He blessed me with new, dear friends and a bank “family” who consoled me in my loss and lifted me with their daily presence for two years. Perhaps he blessed me with a little darkness so that I could appreciate the light. And he blessed me with opportunity – to sacrifice, to grow and to love. My mental image is of me as a child, toddling away toward something shiny while God gently reaches out and holds a belt loop to keep me steady. The toddler, oblivious to everything in the periphery, is only aiming for what’s ahead, and what’s ahead is always going to be unknown to us. But we learn when we wander. We learn so much.
** Since this post contains Dom’s feelings as well as mine, I had him read it to be sure he was okay with my sharing and required no edits before this was published. He said he had only one edit from my original draft: that I share my mental image of God as Henry Blake from M*A*S*H. It’s true. From the time I was little, I envisioned God with Colonel Blake’s quirky hat and fishing vest, complete the the pinned lures. I have no idea why I made that association at such a young age, but there it is. Since Henry Blake was always smiling and happy, yet still Large-and-In-Charge, I suppose it’s fitting in its own way. I can definitely picture him corralling a toddler by the belt loop. And that’s good enough for me.
We all grieve. We grieve things, circumstances, pets, people. It’s a process. It’s long and it’s messy. I hate messy.
Sometimes during the process I realize all over again the finality of the situation. The bus just pulled away from the station without me. The person I love is on the bus. Gone. Just like that. Can’t call him. Can’t go visit. No more last minute Hey-would-you-mind or How’s-your-day-been. The imaginary line just buzzes, or worse, I get that upward ringing tri-tone and the voice that annoys me even though it’s pleasant. “We’re sorry. The person you are trying to reach…”
I know, I know. He’s gone. I get it.
For the last two nights I’ve dreamed about Pop. They’re perfectly normal days and circumstances in the dreams, except that I’m aware Pop is supposed to be dead. I’m glad he’s not, but I’m confused. He awakes from his chair, round faced and wide-eyed. “Hey!” he says as he gets up and walks outside. The family follows. He chats ‘em up. I hear him laughing. That laugh.
I’m staring dumbfounded after him. I turn to my sister-in-law. “They embalmed him,” I say. “How is he walking and talking?” She shrugs. And then she smiles.
“Where are the groceries?” Pop asks as he throws his arms around a grandson. Groceries are dinner. Pop’s ready to eat. What in the world is that doing in my dream? I don’t know, but there it is. I hear him laugh again.
I think of cooking, and suddenly remember that my food-prep knives are dull. Really dull. Pop always sharpened them for me. I’d send them next door and he would bring them back, five deadly weapons wrapped neatly in newspaper. “Wash those before you use them,” he would advise. Hey, maybe Pop can sharpen my knives while he’s here. I’ll ask him after dinner.
Pop moves to stand beside me and I examine his profile. His hair is not the white I expected. It’s black, peppered with a little grey, I notice. He’s younger than when I last saw him. How is that possible? I reach to touch him and he moves away. If he’s aware of my confusion, he doesn’t let on. I let it go. Food. Pop was hungry. I need to get food made. I turn toward a kitchen I do not recognize and wonder why my legs are bound. I can’t move as freely as I should. I look down into nothing.
My eyes open and I’m staring at my bedroom ceiling. My legs are bound by the sheets, comforter, and a Siberian Retriever. Move over, Max. I gotta go help fix dinner.
Except that I don’t. There’s no dinner to fix. No Pop to eat it. The realization brings back the heaviness. Ding, dinng, dinnng… “The person you are trying to reach…”
I was cleaning up my laptop files today and found this letter I had completely forgotten that I wrote back in 2015. I do not recall if I ever sent it, nor do I think I could even retrace my steps to find the person for whom it was originally written. But when I read it today, it struck a chord, as I’m sure the writings of the young girl for whom it was intended originally struck me. I still feel the sentiments expressed here quite powerfully, so they belong in this forum. I hope it helps somebody.
Hi there. Let me introduce myself by saying that I am a mom. I sing horribly, embarrass my kids with unbridled car-dancing, and say cliché things like, ‘I am old enough to be your mother,’ mostly because I am. I have two teenagers, and one has turned me on to the Gorillaz. So there I was, surfing around for the backstory on the characters so I could know more about why this real band had these interesting cartoon images, when I stumbled upon your blog. And for the life of me, I cannot get your personal comments out of my head. So, that is essentially why I’m writing to you…because I’ve read your blog, comments others have made and comments you have made back in reply. And they touched me.
Let me also say that I do not make a habit of getting in the business of other people’s families. I have never suffered from anxiety or depression or gender fluidity, so I am puzzled by my own need to reach out to you, for I know I have little to offer you in the way of support. Except that I am a Christian. I hope that confession does not instantly conjure negative images or emotions for you, because I believe that as a Christian it is my mission to love. And with that in mind, I want to give you hope.
I want to tell you that your life has value, that you ARE important and dignified and worthy of love beyond measure. I want to tell you to never, ever, ever give up on who you are, because you are an inspiration to people and can be even more of one if you just allow yourself the time and space to grow. What you have done with your blog, in my opinion, is given people a chance to let their thoughts be heard without judgment or repercussion. You have allowed people to be free to express themselves in a way that we stuffy adults don’t seem to understand.
Honestly, we do understand it. I think sometimes we’re so jealous of youth that we would rather hold it in oppression than let it blossom into something new and beautiful. I, for instance, still feel 25, newly initiated into adulthood, swinging the world on a string. I look in the mirror and that is not a vibrant 25-year old staring back at me. It’s a little unsettling sometimes. 😉
YOU are strong and brave and amazing for your honesty and strength of spirit. And I know that not every day is sunshine and roses, but I want you to recognize the days or even the moments that are, and believe that in your future those days and moments will become more numerous than they are now.
I am not the sort that goes around spewing scripture at people, and I am certainly not going to preach to you. In fact, the only people I want to hit over the head with a Bible are the ones who are using it to spread hate. But I heard a verse today and it made me think of you, so I want to share it, in the hope that it will give you some peace:
“Everyone will sit under their own vine, and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid…” (Now, why that is not grammatically correct is beyond me and it drives me crazy, but I digress.)
That made me think of you because I think that sitting under our own vine means we are each different, living our own ways of life, enjoying the customs and lifestyles that fit each of us. The part that I hope you find comfort in is the second part: ‘and no one will make them afraid.’
Some day, some day we will get it. Some day we will stop trying to change people because we disagree with them. Some day we will stop trying to control others because we want them to be just like us. Some day there will be no reason to worry or fear. That day, I know, has not yet come. But as long as you breathe you have hope within you. I will pray that sustains you in the hard times. Please, please remember that even when you think this party we call life is not worth the cover charge, there is a middle-aged lady in Louisiana who thinks you’re pretty cool.
Peace for your beautiful soul,
2017 started off pretty smoothly with no notable bumps or bruises. Remember New Year’s Eve when I almost cried into my keyboard over how grateful I was to have everyone safe and sound? That feeling got to hang around through the Spring time change. We got the wind knocked out of us again in April when Pop was diagnosed with lung and esophageal cancers. Mark my words: if I ever get my superhero powers activated, I’m kicking that disease’s stubborn ass.
Only a few of the photos below recount the truly memorable moments of 2017 which include not only Pop’s condition, but also saying goodbye to Lady-Bird, my career change, Victoria playing soccer for the first (real) time, becoming a three-car family because the kids are driving, becoming a two-car family again because I had a collision, and literally everything about Aaron’s senior year – right up to getting his college acceptance email. (So much for the frameable letter for my archives.) If I were to post only photos of the moments which years from now I will most likely recall from 2017, I would appear both incredibly proud and undeniably whiny. But as I have stated before – repeatedly, I think, because it’s not easily pounded through my own thick skull – this post is not where I recall the in-your-face moments of the year. Rather, it is where I acknowledge the sacredness of the ordinary minutes of our lives. The minutes that peer out through the emotional cobwebs to say, “Hey, remember how good this moment was? Be grateful.”
With gratitude in mind, and in accord with my end-of-year holiday custom, here is our pictorial year in review.
One thing I can’t get enough of: sunsets. Here’s a cold January day closing its eyes over our back yard. Not sure why I’m so attracted to bare trees backlit by the glow of the sun, but really…who can resist those colors?
As a family, I think we all realize how very fortunate we are, despite the trials of the past two years. On February 4th Bob and Charolette celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. That evening was the calm between the storms, and it was nothing short of blessed.
Okay, spoiled though he is, Max was unable to escape the inevitable neutering on his first birthday. As a retaliation technique, he spent the next four months eating items of great import to me and Dom. Here are destroyed DVDs of LOTR and (gasp!) The Ten Commandments. Hey, Max, can you wrap your head around “Thou Shalt Not…?”
I tried not to put anything sad in this year’s post, but some moments demand to be acknowledged. More paw prints forever on our hearts.
Apparently I married a funny, funny man.
Homecoming 2017. The kiddos were gracious enough to let me snap close to 200 pics of them before the dance. Here they are showing me their “Freeze with your hands up” pose. So if the cops pull them over, my daughter will be the one vogue-ing.
Christmas decorating our front yard at dusk by the light of the rising Super Moon. One of the last truly peaceful moments of 2017.
Well, there it is – 2017 in all its not-so-radiant glory. There are blessings in these ordinary days. I pray I remember that when I later reflect on this roller-coaster year. Just out of curiosity…is it permissible to pre-order an easier 2018? Perhaps I should just hold on to gratitude and hope for the best.
May each of you have a wonderful, prosperous new year, and may you be blessed beyond measure.
After two deliberate and self-imposed years of permit driving, my first-born, my only son, Aaron, took his driving test on Saturday, and passed, just as we all hoped and assured him he would. And for as much encouragement as I gave him, I had two solid nights of tumultuous driving nightmares. Oh, how I have prayed since then to Jesus, Mary, St. Michael and St. Christopher, that he be guarded by angels on these streets of Shreveport, that Jesus truly take the wheel and steer our son safely each day from and to our little home on the south side of town.
Aaron and I had plans to go to the DMV this morning – first rattle out of the box, as they say. We ran a tad late because, well, I had to dig for the documents I should have retrieved yesterday. We only ran ten minutes late picking up my nephew and driving Aaron’s (and Victoria’s – see, I didn’t forget you, baby girl!) week-old new-to-us car to school, where Aaron parked a hundred empty spaces away from civilization so that we could walk together into the school office for the last form we needed for the sacred DMV: the school enrollment verification. Twenty minutes later, we checked that off the list and headed to the “faster” DMV in Bossier.
Bear in mind, I could barely recall where this branch of the DMV was located. I grew up in Bossier, but I have been remiss in visiting (as my husband frequently reminds me) for the past two decades. After side-seat driving Aaron down the interstate (sorry for the claw marks in your dashboard, love!) we arrived at the hallowed DMV, where I am now certain they made a grand and most important announcement mere moments before our entry:
“Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for this inconvenience, but the State of Louisiana is updating the camera systems of the Department of Motor Vehicles state-wide. Our expected wait for those of you renewing or receiving your driver’s licenses is an hour and a half.”
It was over an hour and a half before they made a new/repeat announcement of the same caliber, only this time adding that the original time frame had now passed, and they had no idea how long it would take. By this point, we had been sitting for an hour, and the four-month old baby that was flirting from the seat next to me was almost cute enough to make up for it. Had we known of this delay going in… oh, who am I kidding? Aaron had been dreaming of this day for weeks, if not months (I’m sure I’ll never get him to admit to either). Was there any way in all of heaven that I would have looked him in the eye and said, “Sorry, sweetie. We’ll come back another time.” Yeahhhhh. Not this momma.
And so we sat.
I worried about the work time I was missing, two months into whatever probationary period I am still on at my new job. I kept looking at my son, who was fiddling with his phone, but who would look up and smile at me with that “I’m about to get the coolest adult item ever” look on his face. So we continued to wait.
Eventually, our stomachs were in a competition to see whose could growl the loudest, so we opted to leave for lunch and return in a few minutes. I double checked with the lady who had taken our application for the license, just to be sure our leaving would not jeopardize our place in line for the camera. She assured me it would not.
So we headed out to the parking lot, where I had directed Aaron to park a tad closer to the door than he did at the school, and we climbed in and drove off in search of food. It was at the first stop sign out of the parking lot that Aaron noticed the note on his windshield. “Mom,” he said, “there’s something on my windshield.”
“Throw the car in park, baby; I’ll grab it.” I jumped out, certain my SuperMom cape would catch the wind and signal to everyone that I had this completely under control. My fist thought was a ticket, but then I knew we had been in a legitimate parking spot, so my second and prevailing thought was “church flyer.” Sadly, it was neither.
It was, instead, a note and an insurance card. The note said that it was from the owner of the truck which was originally parked beside us. He had hit our car as he was backing out, and was incredibly sorry. Here was his phone number and his insurance card. Please call him.
Holy. Crap. This. Isn’t. Happening.
Aaron and I both got out to examine the damage. It’s truly not awful – despite a long and ragged dent, the back door still opens, as does the gas tank. But, OMG, he’s had this car a week! A WEEK!! He gets to drive it to school for the first time TOMORROW. And it’s already damaged. It’s kind of like opening your most asked-for toy at Christmas and finding out that it’s missing a wheel or the remote control. The fun sort of…fizzles.
We drove haphazardly through the old Swan Lake neighborhood to Cane’s on Airline Drive, mostly because I could not remember my freaking way around this end of town, and also because we were just a tad thrown off our game. I did recognize street signs, and knew that they were streets on which many of my high school friends had grown up. I thought of those people again, but it wasn’t like the last time I drove through this neighborhood. Today, it was shrouded in suck. I thought about how I wanted so badly to drive in high school, and of the people who rode in my car once I got my wheels – how happy I was and how much fun we had. I missed them momentarily, but my mind shot back to my son, who needed direction and encouragement to not let this get him down. I wasn’t very good at either for a while. He ate – I felt like hurling, so I abstained from lunch – and then we headed back to the DMV, this time with me behind the wheel so that I could get us back quickly without having to think two steps ahead out loud about where we were and what lane we needed to be in.
Twenty minutes after arriving back at the DMV, it appeared the camera was back online. But our customer service person was at lunch, and our application was stuck in a pile on her desk. “God, grant me patience,” I started to pray, and then quickly stopped. Have you ever noticed that when you pray for patience, things seem to move much slower? “I’m on to you, Lord!” I thought. “Okay, please just give me peace. Patience is a little far out of my reach now. Peace will do just fine.”
And He did. Just like that. DMV Lady showed up, called our name second from her stack, and Aaron was smiling for the camera in no time. I so desperately wanted to do what the mom in front of me did, and take an iPhone pic of my son getting his driver’s license photo taken, but I refrained. Someday he may thank me for that. Maybe not. Maybe this is why I’m not a photographer. I write to keep the memories. I just need someone to read them to me when I’m old and drooling in my jello, please.
Aaron drove me home under the authority of his brand new license. We spent a couple of minutes sun-gazing at the eclipse from our driveway, and then I went to work, having given Aaron permission to miss the last hour of the school day. True, I typically don’t allow my children to miss even the last day of school because it is a literal school day according to the calendar (yes, I’m that mom) but I figured he had pretty much been through the ringer, as I had, and so I relented just this once. Truthfully, this was also likely because I was glad to know he was home safe and I didn’t have to worry about him flying solo until tomorrow. I drove myself to work and realized that I had changed purses and left my desk keys in the other purse. At home. Phone call to Aaron: “Sweetie, can you bring my keys to me?”… “Hey, Carey, what’s our office address?”… “Aaron, can you get here safely? The address is…” He did get there safely. I gave him directions out of our parking lot, and then stood on the front porch of the bank and watched him leave. I felt like a stalker. He saw me. I waved, shrugged that mom’s-gotta-do-what-a-mom’s-gotta-do shrug, said a prayer, watched him make the left-hand turn across two lanes of traffic to get onto the main street, and I walked back inside. And then I GPS-tracked him all the way home.
I also called the guy who hit Aaron’s car at the DMV. He was kind enough to have already set up a claim under his own liability – those wheels are rolling more smoothly than I ever expected. I was very grateful to this man for the note he left. Just two weeks ago, I was instructing Aaron that if he ever hit a car whose driver was not available, he was to leave his name and contact information on the other car. “You don’t ever walk away from damage you cause,” I told him. I am ever so thankful to this man for showing my son the example he is to follow. These are the lessons we learn. This is what you do. This is how you act. And, as I confessed to a coworker as I almost cried in her doorway this afternoon, this is such a first world problem; I feel guilty for letting it get me down so.
Victoria called me after school to see if I wanted anything from Starbucks. “Are y’all going by yourselves?” I asked.
“Of course!” came her reply. “Aaron’s got his license; I told him to take me somewhere!”
Starbucks had been on our practice track enough that I didn’t worry so much on that one. I know my son needs those moments of independence, even though I want to hold his hand through each of them. It really wouldn’t be fair to him if I did. My mind flashed back to my high school days, tearing down Benton Road in my ’79 Buick Regal, wheels burning and spirt free.
I arrived home still in a funk tonight. Dom suggested I pour a glass of wine and take a bubble bath. “I don’t feel like a bath,” I said. I wasn’t sure what I felt like. Headbanging until my neck hurt? At this age, that would take about two beats.
“Okay,” he said, “I’m going to weed-eat.”
“Want me to mow?” I asked. Next thing I knew, I was on the mower, sailing through the backyard with 80’s pop and metal tunes blowing out my earbuds. I found Metallica’s One and added it to the playlist, seeing in my mind the boys from the band as they sat in front of the jukebox and headbanged every Friday night at Johnny’s Pizza on Benton Road. I thought of each of them, and of how they all came to my defense on the night I backed my car into another student’s car in the parking lot at Johnny’s. He (yes, he) wanted to physically fight me right there on restaurant property, but the guys got between me and him and basically said he’d have to go through them if he wanted to hurt me. My car and I both survived that night.
Thirty years later, that memory is still solid in my mind. Me… 17 years old with a license and a car, the future stretched out endlessly before me. And then I thought, for a moment, one of the final lines from one of my favorite books, “Ahhh…the wheel comes full circle…”
I have been writing this post for three solid weeks. Its publishing is planned for the exact moment that my employment at the Catholic Center ends, 4:30 p.m. on Friday, June 2nd. After two decades of laughter, busyness, craziness and fun this very good and beloved thing is coming to an end. As this post makes its way onto the internet I will leave the Catholic Center as an employee for the very last time. It is a bittersweet day.
I will have a week of vacation before I embark on a new career in banking. One week to “move the anchor” from what I knew and loved to what I hope to learn and love. As I found from leaving one house for another, I desperately need this time to ground myself and set my mind for what lay ahead while at the same time honoring where I’ve come from and what I have experienced so far. Part of being able to move forward is a healthy identification of what is being left behind – memories, experiences, and the comfort of the job I know so well.
I used to joke that I grew up in an animal hospital, and while that is quite literally pretty true, considering the summers of my formative years that I spent huddled up on top of the filing cabinets or exploring the kennels and treatment rooms of Bossier Animal Hospital, I did my most beneficial growing at the Catholic Center. It is the place I have called my second home for my entire adult life. I love the people I have worked with as if they were family. Who am I kidding? They are family. The friendships that I have come to treasure and rely on are what made the memories I’m sharing here, and why I am likely crying my eyes out as I drive away from the building today. (You know I’m a softie. Don’t judge.)
I remember the day I met Elaine. I witnessed co-workers talking negatively about another co-worker when they turned to Elaine for her agreement. She disappointed them by saying the person in question had always been pleasant to her, so she really had nothing to contribute to their discussion. The gossip came to a sputtering halt, and I knew instantly that I liked Elaine.
I remember standing next to Jill in the Line Avenue kitchen and her straight forward question: “When are you going to come work with us in the Business Office?” It would take another six years, but I would eventually get there. It is quite possible that I will leave a large piece of my heart in that department.
I remember the Director for Child Nutrition hysterically sharing with me that she had just been chewed out by a parent who was angry over the school lunch menu. “Chicken Tetrazini” had been mis-relayed by a child to her parent, and the mother was livid that the school would dare to serve “Chicken Tits and Weenies.”
I remember the day I turned quickly to enter Gary’s office with my arms full of files, caught my foot on a phone cord and fell flat on the floor in front of him, unable to catch myself or break my fall because I was unwilling to drop the files I was holding. I lay on the floor for only a second with my long skirt splayed about me in a most unladylike fashion, but I recall him looking down at me in surprise and asking, “Are you okay?” before he began to giggle.
I remember the phone ringing off the wall after one particular work day had ended. Wondering why the caller wouldn’t just leave a message and desperate to make the ringing stop, I answered it to learn that our friend and co-worker, Sheila, had died in a car wreck an hour earlier. Nearly twenty years later, I still tense when I hear the main phone ringing incessantly after 4:30.
I remember Bishop Friend’s jokes. And Doris’ jokes. And the jokes they would volley off of each other in the staff kitchen. They could go for days. I’m sure they are entertaining the saints together now.
I remember needing information on how to do part of my job, and I asked everyone within earshot for direction. No one in my building could help me, so I called the Vatican. After two transfers I finally got a kind, English-speaking priest who helped me immensely. I also remember our Business Administrator closing his eyes and shaking his head when I told him what to expect on the phone bill.
I remember worrying about Doris one morning when she didn’t report to work and none of us knew why. Concerned for her safety, I brought her absence to Sr. Margaret’s attention and asked if one of us should go to Doris’ home to check on her. Sr. Margaret snapped that Doris was a grown woman and didn’t need us mothering her and, by the way, Doris was at the dentist.
I remember the day my childhood dog died. I left work early that afternoon. When I came in the next morning, Christine had printed a poem about the love and loyalty of dogs and signed it from her own pups. I still have it in a scrapbook and I cry every time I read it.
I remember getting quite aggravated at a missing community staple remover and the resulting email I sent to the whole building questioning my fellow employees’ integrity and demanding the stolen item be returned. I also remember Elaine laughing so hard she was crying while she admonished me, “Don’t you ever, ever, EVAH send an email like that without running it by me first!!”
I remember the White Elephant/Dirty Santa gift exchanges at the early staff Christmas parties and how John Mark would encourage everyone to “display their gifts on high” so we could all see them and thus admire (or laugh at) them. Jim would often model his unwrapped gift ala Vanna White in hopes some other soul would steal it. I also remember one of the more eye-popping gifts – a metal silhouette lamp of two entwined bodies – and the laughter that almost threw me out of my chair when I found out my boss had brought it.
I remember moving to the building on Fairfield when I was halfway through my first pregnancy. I would pace the long hall outside my office to settle Aaron down on his especially active days. I also remember the day the air conditioning went out in July and I swore I was either going to die or go into labor. Neither happened, though it felt like both.
I remember that on the morning of September 11, 2001 we all crowded around the television in the staff lounge to console each other as we watched the horror of the day unfold.
I remember Doris’ strong enunciation when she answered the phones as she boldly proclaimed, “CATH-o-lic CEN-Ter.” She explained to me one day that she emphasized the “t” in Center because she didn’t want her greeting to sound like “Catholic sinner.”
I remember many days of trying to decide where to lunch with Elaine and Patricia. Elaine always – without fail – wanted Ming Garden. Most days before Elaine could even cast her vote, Patricia would give her the hand and state firmly, “No Ming!”
I remember an especially difficult day in the Superintendent’s Office when we felt defeated by circumstances beyond our control. At the end of our depressing conversation, Sr. Carol stood up and said, “Well, let’s get back to work.” I know there were a million questions written on my face, but she continued gently: “Keep in mind, no matter how bad things seem we still have a job to do.” I have heard those words echo in my thoughts over the years, and am grateful for the extra wind they always put in my sails.
I remember making Elaine go with me on an errand to Fairview House, the priest residences at the other end of our office building. Walking over there always creeped me out since I had heard of certain hauntings that I had no desire to verify personally. On the second floor of Fairview House, Elaine and I heard a definite sound behind us and we almost broke our own legs trying to scurry over each other to get the hell out of Dodge.
I remember how my toddler Victoria loved John Mark’s voice. She would hear him from across a room and seek him out. She did so at a staff Christmas party and spent the rest of the afternoon in his arms.
I remember meeting Jill at Schlotzky’s to discuss my move to the Business Office. I was almost too nervous to eat, but I learned on that day that Jill has a way of putting my fears at ease with her confident and honest nature. (Side note: I haven’t thought about Schlotzky’s in years. Now I’m hungry.)
I remember the eccentric phone calls we would get from the general public. Sometimes people just need someone to listen to them, but we began to notice that the more bizarre conversations were always in sync with the lunar cycle. My favorite was the repeated request from an elderly lady who wanted us to fly the Pope to her house for a private audience. Elaine and I would patiently listen to the various callers before hanging up and asking each other to look at a calendar. “Yep,” came the oft-heard reply. “It’s a full moon.”
I remember Jill pulling me and Elaine into her office, closing the door, and sitting down to retrieve something from her wallet. She smoothed a piece of paper and showed us the ultrasound picture. We were so happy, I think we all cried.
I remember an email Elaine sent to me and Patricia which accidentally got sent to Father Dave too. When I saw his name on the list, I panicked and raced to Patricia’s office to see if she could use her IT skills to stop the email from reaching him and save Elaine from eternal mortification. Sadly, it was too late, and mere mention of that email now can send us howling. Patricia later told Elaine, “Lori is white anyway, but she was REALLY white when she came running into my office!!” Needless to say, we don’t share embarrassing things in emails anymore.
I remember my 18-month stint out of the Business Office in another department and the day I learned that my old job in Business was open again. I called Jill from Bishop’s reception room. Her first words: “I hope you’re calling for the reason I think you’re calling.” My reply: “Can I come home?”
I remember planning Jessica’s first baby shower – Beatles themed – and all the intricate details I crafted that I wanted to be so perfect. I worked a literal hard day’s night making a cake decorated like a vinyl record, then I got sick and missed the whole darn party.
I remember – heck, I will ALWAYS remember – the Harry Potter Halloween. And I remember that afterward, as we tossed out ideas for the following year’s celebration, Father Dave’s eyes lit up at the mention of Lord of the Rings.
I remember Margie’s holiday headbands: glittery shamrock antennae, reindeer antlers, bunny ears… I also remember realizing that Margie has more Christmas decorations than the North Pole.
I remember Mickey’s sage advice about raising teenagers and the three things she could promise me: 1) all teenagers lie; 2) they really can’t help being stupid; and 3) you will like them again.
I remember that Msgr. Moore would call me on June 28th every year to remind me that his auto insurance was expiring in two days and he needed a new ID card from me. And every year I would sweetly assure him that I would get it to him in time, come hell or high water.
I remember decking our hallway each year for Christmas right after Thanksgiving, which infuriated the Advent purists at the other end of the building. I hung the stockings while Mike supplied the tree and décor. Blanca, Jessica and Mickey could always be counted on to help string lights and hang ornaments. Sometimes we’d hook up someone’s phone to speakers and play Christmas tunes while we decorated.
I remember trying to sneak into the building with a box of t-shirts we would all wear as a birthday surprise for Bishop Duca. My foot caught on the door facing and I was down for the count, certain I had just broken my arm. (Because once again, I didn’t want to let go of what I was carrying.) I lay on my back on the cement floor mentally assessing my damage as Mickey, who had been holding the door open for me, looked down in surprise at my prone form. She later commented that I fall very quietly. Dominic just happened to stop by my office that day. He saw me with an ice pack on my elbow and he and Jill together decided that my clumsy butt was going to the doctor. It was the only time my name was ever attached to a work comp injury, and I could not wait for that claim to roll off the insurance reports I had to download each month.
I remember Starbucks Fridays, where I would brave the morning crowd with a handful of co-workers’ gift cards so I could order each person’s favorite beverage. I can still name each of their go-to drinks.
I remember 8:00 a.m. Mass in the Catholic Center chapel before the seven stained glass windows were installed on the east wall. The morning sun would stream into the chapel though the clear glass panes, illuminating the pews in picturesque, if not blinding, rays of gold. If there’s a chapel in Heaven I believe it will look just like that.
I remember taking departmental pictures for staff features in The Catholic Connection. The Business Office did pose for one dignified, professional looking photo which was used in the publication, but we thought this picture suited us much better. It is still one of my all-time favorites.
I remember John Mark chastising me over my failure to keep my car washed. Hey, it’s clean on the inside.
I remember seeing Mike with a diet soda after I had spent several years sharing my ingredient research and enlightenment with those closest to me. I nearly yanked the bottle out of his hand before checking myself and admitting to him that true, it was none of my business what he drank, but I rather cared for his health and it would be great if he wouldn’t poison himself.
I remember a myriad of conversations with Jessica as we geeked out over books, characters and storylines. I’ll be forever grateful for her bringing me into the worlds of Neil Gaiman, Cassandra Clare and Deborah Harkness.
I remember coming back to the office from countless doctors’ appointments while Charolette was being treated for cancer. Mickey and Jill had declared our work area to be my safe space and they allowed me to cry and be comforted there each and every week.
I remember when Emily sent me this clipart picture. She said it made her think of me. I’m pretty sure everyone who knows me will agree.
I remember the day of my first job interview in 21 years. I came back to my office that afternoon to the news that Pop had a tumor that would later be diagnosed as cancer. Mickey, Margie and Jill rallied around me and let me sob all over again.
I remember telling Elaine that I had gotten the job I applied for. She was on vacation at the time. When she returned on Monday she called me and said, “I’m back, but I can’t look at you yet.”
Today is indeed bittersweet. Keeping these memories and friends close in my heart will help ease the bitter part of leaving. I thank my dear co-workers – each and every one – for sharing their lives with me and being not only good and decent friends but the sweetest part of my life at the Catholic Center. I love you all.
When I sat here last December to write the year’s final post, I had such high hopes that 2015 would be better than 2014. In the day-to-day mundane, I recognize that it has been, or at least that it was peaceful and we were happily present in the moments we were given within our own walls. But as for milestones and highlights, well, I have to say that we had more low points than I care for.
Most of our more memorable events of 2015 are, unfortunately, the kind of moments that knocked us to the ground, leaving us dizzy and confused, trying desperately to regain our equilibrium or at the very least, the air in our lungs. 2015 was good at sucker-punching us, if not much else. From the unexpected passing of our favorite priest ten days into the new year, to the loss of our diocese’s first bishop and first chancellor in the spring, to my uncle’s death from colon cancer at the end of the summer and the pancreatic cancer diagnosis my mother-in-law received in October, I was ready to wash my hands of this year before the first leaf hit the ground.
It has been a hard year, but it has also been beautiful. It is only so if we look at it through a lens of faith, which we are called to do in our home. Through that lens we can see peace in death, strength in illness, beauty in aging, and love manifested in the care and concern of family and friends who have come to our side as we mourn, cry and rage against things we cannot see.
These year-end posts are not about the moments that I will never be able to forget, no matter how tightly I shut my eyes. They are instead about the moments that I dare to recall during the tougher times – the simple, the peaceful, the ordinary – the very moments that construct security and belonging within my family, the moments that are so simple in their beauty, so brief in their existence, they threaten to vanish if I blink. So I memorialize the wonky and the haphazard, the simple and the prosaic, so that I may remember that these more modest days of our experience make life profoundly good.
Without further adieu, I give you the more pleasant moments of 2015. Drumroll, please…
February: Since the rest of the snowday pics already showed up in another post, this is – sadly – the best I have to share from the month of my birthday. This is Mabel’s reindeer, mooning the backyard. Said toy was strategically placed here by Mabel herself, probably for the benefit of the squirrels and cardinals that evade her attacks.
March: Both kids got sick at the same time, so here we sat in the pediatrician’s office. They each offered their middle finger for the blood sample so that they could proudly “show each other their bandaids” for the rest of the afternoon. Ugh.
April: Mabel gets and appreciates a lot of attention nowadays. Here she is in my bed. (Ahem!) On my pillow. And yes, she is just in the process of raising her paw and rolling so her belly can be rubbed. Sheesh!
May: Ahhhh, Mother’s Day breakfast in bed. They only made two pieces of toast, so there was no second “M.” But there was Starbucks, so all was forgiven.
June: Our river trip to Concan, Texas. Victoria has since announced that she plans to attend vet school at A&M, so I figured this was the most appropriate photo.
December: Though we are not really cowboy-hat sorta people, Dom and I have wanted black Stetsons for roughly ten years. Wish fulfilled.