Am I Still Thankful?


Mom and me on a Girl’s Day Out. October 2015

Last week I flew to Atlanta to celebrate my mother’s 75th birthday with her. Although we’re all still glad to have her with us, the celebration was a subdued one. My youngest sister and her family, along with my mother and my father and me, went to Olive Garden. Mom was having a good day, with no unwanted visitors in her head. She ate her birthday cheesecake with gusto, diabetes be damned.

On my left, dad was quietly downing a glass of wine. On my right, mom opened her birthday gifts. I was glad to be able to sit between my parents; this terrible, awful, no good, very bad disease that has taken my mother’s mind has stolen their marriage as well. They love like porcupines: from a distance, gingerly.

And yet a small part of me cannot help but be thankful for what my relationship with my mother has become. I am, at long last, her golden child. She is unabashedly delighted to see me every time I visit. Her letters no longer contain the critical, dissatisfied undercurrents that once characterized her missives (like a bomb squad on the alert, I was never sure which one would detonate). For the first time in my life, I have the mother of my dreams . . . while my dad and my other sisters grapple with a much harsher reality. And even as I offer up prayers for them (especially my father, who is alone at home battling pneumonia instead of traveling to his sister’s house to spend Thanksgiving), I can’t help but give thanks, even now, for the gift of a few happy days with mom.

And for a husband who encourages me to leave him with the children, and to avail myself of the joy.

And for a new boss, who understands the needs of elderly parents.

And for friends with whom we can celebrate it all.

This year, it would be easy to look over my life and find cause for worry and regret. Even so, I am thankful.

Are you?




Finding a Quiet Space

hiding boy If you’ve been following along the past week or so, we’ve been on a road trip this week, traveling from Philadelphia to Atlanta (where my parents live) to West Palm Beach (Craig’s mom’s house) with one husband, two kids, an Aussie shepherd, and our German nanny.

About twelve hours into the trip, I looked up from my laptop and discovered everyone on the right side of the van had found their own private space: Christopher had his “Think Geek” Dr. Who “snuggly” over his head, playing DS. Sarah had her bright red one over her head, coloring. And Michi had a jacket over her head, napping.

Now, they didn’t stay this way the whole ride. After about an hour, everyone popped out of their little “hole” and we played another rousing “Alphabet Game” (by far Q and Z are the hardest letters to find on billboards). But watching them enjoy their time “under cover,” I was reminded again why the road trip is such an apt metaphor for parenting. Sometimes, you just have to get away and find a private moment, no matter what it takes … or how silly it looks.

How do you create a little space for yourself when you need a break from family life?”

Weekend Ponderings: “How Firm a Foundation”

Last weekend I drove to Atlanta to visit my parents for Mother’s Day — my husband’s gift to me was three days of precious time, so I could see for myself just how my parents are doing.

Part of my Mother’s Day gift to my Mom was to go to church with her and Dad. Normally we have the kids with us, and we go to Mass at the little Catholic church across the field from where my parents go. This practice does not thrill my parents, who say they cannot understand why going to a Catholic parish with the kids is so important. The important thing is that the family should worship together.

I understand why they feel this way. But I don’t agree. As a parent, I can’t tell my kids it doesn’t make a difference where we worship. It does matter, very much. I want my children to be a part of the Church founded by Christ, saturated in the sacraments and grounded in more than two thousand years of authoritative teaching. Anything else is a distant second best.

This weekend, however, it didn’t seem prudent to fight this particular battle again. And so I went with my parents to their church. (Yes, I could have made arrangements to go to Mass before or after, but this time I didn’t.)

Seated next to my father, I lose count of how many people stopped and offered the same question, “So, how are you?” with the same empathetic tilt of the head. “Radiation starts Thursday,” he’d say. (Later, we came up with pithier responses that he can trot out for variation … “At night I can pee down the driveway, and follow the trail home.” “Absolutely radiant … or is that ‘radiating’?” “Well, pretty good … but I’m growing a spare ____.”)

Lord, speak to me. I knew I was not in a good bargaining position. At that very moment, I could be across the field, participating in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Given the number of intentions on my heart, that probably would have been the wiser course. But like a child, I threw myself at my Father’s mercy, and hoped He would meet me there. I got my answer in the closing hymn, “How Firm a Foundation”:

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

John Rippon (c. 1787)

The waters are flowing deep right now. A couple of times, down and back, I could barely see the road through my tears. Life is like that sometimes … the woe comes in waves, threatening to overwhelm.

But they shall not overflow. He has promised to guide our boat safely to “that desired haven.”