Sunday, June 25, 2017

No Place like Pittsburgh

I went back to the Rocky Mountains for the first time in over a decade this past week when I had to go to Meridian, Idaho for work.  Of course, it's not quite a fair assessment to say I went to the mountains - I saw them in the distance as they framed this booming metropolis that was once a sleepy little farm community immediately outside Boise.  And there was no time to explore why this once sleepy town is now booming - business trips, as many of you know, are up pre-dawn, work all day, come back to the hotel and answer emails or handle fires all evening.  I might like leaving home better if I actually left it for something other than work, but it's speculative at best for now.

Anyway, what I did see of Meridian I admired.  It's a tremendously clean place, laid out in a grid type fashion that made navigating it a breeze.  And one forgets how genuinely nice people from the northwest are.  There just is no guile in their open manner.  I have a theory that I've had since I was a child and noticed it with Bozemanites - there's just so few of us, and we often knew one another, at least by name, that we just learned we all better get along.  And as the cities have grown larger, it just hasn't yet changed.  It unfortunately probably will, but for now, the sparkle I saw in people's eyes was for real.

Meridian from
Regardless, I couldn't wait to get out of there.  I was practically giddy to pack it up Thursday evening so I could get up at 2:30 Friday morning.  When we finally began the descent into Pittsburgh, low hanging rain clouds obscured the view coming in, and rain greeted us as we landed.  It took nearly two hours to get home from the airport because between construction and wrecks due to the weather, the roads were a disaster.  My poor driver took me on a circuitous route through parts of the city I'd actually never seen.  He was frustrated by the time we finally made it all the way to my door, but I had a great time looking at new views of this city I call home.  This badly laid out, impossible to navigate disaster of a place to commute.  The absolute antithesis of the place I left - dirty, old, with grand homes standing right next to houses in complete disrepair, which are dotted with shops and commercial buildings, all smashed together with no real thought to zoning along winding, hilly roads.  
We rolled into my driveway to discover that the landscapers hadn't come yet again, and the place looks like a jungle.  Not really their fault this time - it had been raining most of the week, I learned.  It rains here a lot.  The humidity will cover you like a wet blanket in the heat of the summer and make you feel ten pounds heavier.

Yet I love it here completely and find all of it simply glorious and endearing.  This place fits me like a glove (there's an O.J. Simpson joke in there - feel free to make it).  Just like Meridian fits many of its inhabitants.  As Philly does the same, and New York and LA and Bozeman.  Those of us lucky enough to have found our unique version of Paradise should realize just how lucky we are.  

But, and I know I've touched on this theme before, we make our own bed to a large degree.  And we accept it or reject it within ourselves.  In other words, we accept and embrace our surroundings because we choose to.  We can learn to revel in the place that houses our family and love it for that fact alone.  But, for me, this glorious hot mess of a place sure made that a lot easier to embrace.

Every place has something to commend it.  And it has things to condemn it.  I choose to concentrate on what is great and wonderful about my home - which starts with the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates, but hardly ends there.  All the craziness and lack of planning in how it grew and developed makes it charming to me.  It's organic. And real.  It reflects its people - gritty and hard working.

I am not blind to its faults, however.  It just makes me love it more and want to help cure them and make it even better.  And it was a true test of that belief to tempt me with the mountain range that I dreamed of longingly every day I lived in Texas.  If it was a test, then Pittsburgh and I just passed it with flying Black and Gold colors.

I realize I would have been a lot happier had I come to this realization 30 years ago in Austin: that any place can learn to be loved.  But, hey, I'm loving that I know it now.  I am a proud Yinzer.  Who has to get on a flight out to Denver tomorrow morning before the sun comes up, so I better get packing.

Courtesy of

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Proceed with Caution

I'm trying to take a quiet few moments after what was a brutal week in every way a week can be: physically taxing, professionally draining, emotionally daunting and just flat out exhausting, but Harrison's Baby Daddy is shattering my calm.  He's not trying to, mind you - he's just making conversation out on the porch, but sometimes after a hard few days, one just needs a little quiet reset time.

Why am I so easily irritated?  I'll tell you.  I talk a big game about work-life balance, but haven't been living it lately.  I knocked off "early" last night at about 10:30 so I could do housework and start laundry because I take off Monday morning at 4:40 AM for the first of back-to-back business trips that will keep me gone through the end of the month.  I will be working with a group out west on the dreaded June 20th.  Some people thrive on that kind of schedule.  Once upon a time I would have been one of them, but, of course, the reason June 20th will forever be a dreaded day on the calendar is one reason I don't any longer.

Mine is a cautionary tale that I've been very willing to share in the past because that's all I can do now - hope that others don't make the same mistakes I do as a parent and maybe their children won't suffer the same fate as mine.  My remaining daughter is paying attention.  Her dedication to her son is astounding.  I hope he appreciates it when he's older.  Of course, there will be rocky times ahead, but you have to start somewhere laying the foundation that's solid so they can get through their teens, if not unscathed, at least mostly intact.

So, at this point, my job is to support her in every way possible as she works to raise her son.  And I realize therein lies the rub - how do you work hard so you're financially supporting your family and your company finds you valuable, versus being present for your family, versus just having the time to vacuum dog hair off the rug, versus grabbing some moments for self care because recharging one's batteries is important too.

After Kelsey died, it all seemed so clear:  I put the emphasis in all the wrong places.  Maybe my intentions were good, but you know the saying about the road to hell and all...

Now, faced with not a similar scenario really, but one with some familiar aspects, I realize how I fell into that well intentioned trap.  You work to support your family, but if you let it, the job will devour you because the people you work with and the clients you serve don't know or care to know about your life away from the office.  I am the same way as a client and team member, so it's not a judgement, merely a fact.  So it's up to you to control it and say when enough is enough.  Well, that's not easy.  Not as easy as it sounds anyway.  I was frantic earlier in the week when someone wasn't getting back to me.  I'm the first one to remind others who work in my field that these are not 40 hour a week jobs.  I can't complain and expect people to be dedicated if I'm not also, right?  So where is the balance?

Trying to answer that question over the past few weeks has been really stressing me out.  You realize there is just not enough hours in the day.  I feel incredibly guilty just sitting here doing this when I should be tending to laundry, cleaning bathrooms and blah blah blah - the list goes on.  I could do like my mother and just more or less thrown in the towel on housework at some point (if you think that's unkind - you're probably right, but it's also true).  I could do like some of the people I've worked with over the years and just flame out in a ball of fire that you take your reputation down with you - my husband was out of town himself this past week picking up the pieces of one such casualty.  Or you could do like I chose to do when the kids were young: decide my job was to provide and the rest was secondary.  None of those answers is right.

But, the right answer is hard to find.

So here's what I'm thinking:  for those of us lucky enough to have a support system in friends or family, it's a team effort.  When you need help, ask for it.  Politely, but ask.  Don't be hard on yourself if the rug has some hair on it.  Don't let Baby Daddy's disparaging comments about it bother you.  No one dies from a little dog hair on the carpet (unless they're allergic, but no one here is).  And at some point, it's unreasonable for people who are emailing you to expect a same day response.  Part of my issue the past week is that clients were emailing well past 10:00 my time.  Okay, stop answering them, you idiot.  My thought was if I wait until the next day, that's just more work I have to contend with.  In point of fact, I was just teaching them that they can email me that late and expect an answer.  As someone reminded me more than once recently, echoing back words I said to my own staff years ago, we're not putting men on the moon - it can wait.  Be responsive.  Don't be a fanatic about it.  And at some point:  shut the damn thing down.  If you're that overwhelmed by work, the whole "ask for help" thing applies there too.

And by "you" of course you've figured out I mean me.  But the lessons are universal.  If you see yourself in any of this - stop the madness.  Because only you can.

Remember above all, your family needs you.  Not your money, not your dedication to your profession.  Not your legacy.  You.

The perfect stress reliever - a trip to the zoo

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Year on Ice

Tomorrow the Penguins square off in Nashville for a chance to be the first team in the salary cap era to win a Stanley Cup two years running.  While I want that for them (and me), the results of that game will not diminish the thrill of the ride they've taken me on the last twelve months.  I moved here - drug my family, the pets, and a whole lot of stuff to a strange place, left friends behind and spent thousands - to be close to the Black and Gold of Pittsburgh sports.  I've not been disappointed.  But no where in my wildest dreams did I dare to expect this wild ride.  So how do I thank a team, a city, the friends and family who got me in to see a game from amazing vantage points that I've so grown to love?  I don't know that I fully can, but I can tell them all what it has meant.

It's no secret that hockey was the benison that got me through the toughest of times.  But there was always the hole in my heart that I missed out on celebrating their 2009 Stanley Cup.  That was filled on June 12, 2016 when Kris Letang scored what would end up being the winning goal of the series at 7:46 in the second period.  It would be a couple more hours before I could take that deep breath and relax, but history would record that moment as the winning moment.  From there, it's been a whirlwind of parades, celebrations, a successful follow-up season, all potentially culminating in the chance to do it again.  It won't be Kris this time - he's been hurt the entire postseason, but that's the beauty of a championship caliper team - the Next Man Up holds true.

I thank the Penguins for all of that.  They didn't do it for me.  They didn't do it for the millions of fans that span the globe.  Maybe they're happy for us - I think that they are, but they did it for themselves, for one another, for the organization and for their legacies, but nonetheless I'm grateful.  But it pales in comparison to the other things Pittsburgh hockey has given me.  I have a close friend I never would have met had I not been wearing a Penguins shirt in a tiny airport in Melbourne, FL coming home from a business trip.  Not only did that cause us to strike up a conversation, but a friendship that resulted in the partnership we have for tickets.  I saw a cousin and her son when they were gracious enough to invite me to Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals.  I hadn't seen her since the late 90's.  The very generous woman who hosted us gave me a once in a lifetime experience - if you watched the game, that was me under the stars holding up the massive flag during the anthem.  Yes, folks, that meant we were at center ice. There just isn't enough gratitude for that night, let me tell you.

But it's the little conversations you have with people - that instant connection in airports, in hotel elevators halfway across the country, waiting at the checkout line here at home.  People see you wearing your Steelers, Penguins or Pirates stuff and there's an instant brotherhood (sisterhood, I suppose).  For someone like me who's naturally shy, being a Pittsburgh sports fan has opened doors I could not have opened otherwise.  I can talk to you all day long about this town and those teams, even if I've never laid eyes on you before.  Even if it's just a nod as two fans pass or maybe a quick "Wazup?" you've shared a momentary connection.

I think this is true with all the things we're passionate about in life.  If you're passionate about gardening or bird watching, then you'll find an instant connection with others who share that interest, but sports has the advantage of allowing us to "label" ourselves outwardedly by wearing shirts, jerseys or caps.

One thing I miss about the "old days" was the requirement to stand in line for tickets to really big shows.  I got that same sense of camaraderie waiting for hours for Rush or U2 tickets.  Comparing the shows we've seen, our favorite songs, how long we've been fans - that was the same sort of experience.  Technology has taken some of that away, and it's a shame really, odd as maybe that is to say.  And look at how most of us make our friends:  through work.  But even that's harder for someone like me who works remotely.  I know people through online meetings, email and phone.  I never see them, let alone go to lunch with them or have a raucous happy hour every now and again.  Sports has replaced all of that for me.  It gets me out of the house, makes me confident enough to talk to people, and opens up experiences I could never imagine otherwise.

So no matter what happens tomorrow,  I am eternally grateful to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a whole lot more than hockey.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Life. In Perspective.

Today promises to be a challenge.  Whatever subtle change in weather we're experiencing knocked me down with a migraine.  It's not unusual - anytime the weather changes, I get one.  The weather in Pittsburgh, unfortunately, changes a lot.  But I have a lot to accomplish today, having frittered away yesterday at the Three Rivers Art Festival with the idea of doing some early holiday shopping.  I came home with a couple of things for the baby, a limited edition sketch of Sidney Crosby hoisting the Cup for my office, a huge bag of kettle corn and a sunburn.  Not a single Christmas gift off my list.  In the meantime, my daughter is struggling with little sleep because the baby kept her up all night.  My husband doesn't feel well either, but here we go again:  no matter what our aches and pains are, there's an infant in the house needing constant care, so we have to buck it up.  No rest for the weary, you might say.  Oh, and the Penguins lost last night, so that just sort of adds to the general malaise and unhappiness everyone is feeling.

Therefore as I was trying to figure out how I was going to conquer my to-do list and really wishing I could just tend to my aching head, my maternal grandfather came to mind.  Not sure why or how - I barely knew him.  He died when I was just four, and I was growing up 1,500 miles away from him, so I only saw him during brief visits.  I remember him as a kind man, whom the family referred to as Papap, and from everything my cousins have said since, that memory is valid (as opposed to my grandmother, known as Ade, who was a good deal fiercer).  He had false teeth that he would leave in a glass next to the kitchen sink at night.  I also remember that, since to a young child, that's almost like seeing a body part - it was definitely shocking, even after my mother explained what they were.  What I didn't know about him until later was how hard he had worked all his life to try and raise his six children during the Depression, including mining coal.  He died of Black Lung Disease in the end.   Anyway, suffice it to say, this kind, loving man toiled at hard manual labor all his life to care for his family, and here I was looking out the window in my big open kitchen feeling sorry for myself.  I was suitably ashamed.

And then of course,  I could keep piling on the guilt if I wanted to:  my father went to war, not once, but twice, and spent years not knowing each and every day if it might be his last.  And of course, there was Mother at home, wondering every day if she might get that knock on the door, telling her his fears had come true.  And there are sons and daughters of my peers now deployed all over the world trying to guard against enemies harder to see and find than the uniformed foes my father faced.

My generation probably had it pretty easy in comparison, I realized.  We came along too late for Vietnam, too early - many of us - for Iraqi Freedom.  So we grew up in peace.  We had food in our bellies and roofs over our heads.  I realize people my age do live in poverty, but I have always had a pillow for my head personally.  I complain a lot about my lot in life.  Sometimes I have to stop and realize that, really, I don't have that much to complain about.

None of this to say that today will not be a colossal challenge, because it will be.  Migraines are not easily set aside, even with a "can-do" attitude.  But, I think I need to remember my grandfather down in the mines, breathing in the coal dust that would finally be his undoing when I go back to work tomorrow and feel sorry for myself because of the amount of work I have to face.  And I need to keep in perspective that I am pretty lucky I've seen two playoff games this season when the Pens come home Thursday night and I'm not there because a $800 standing room only ticket is outside my price range.  And I need to remember that, while my house, is hardly Downton Abbey, it's pretty nice.  And it's all we need.

I think again, and this is a recurring theme of mine you'll note, we were brought up to strive.  And strive for everything.  We were supposed to always want more.  We believed the Greed is Good speech from Wall Street I think a little more than we were supposed to.

But it's made us - me at least - forget all too often what we have while we're busy focusing on what we don't have and trying to keep up with our neighbors.  Instead of feeling so sorry for myself today, I'm going to go another way with it:  I'm happy I have what I have.  I'll struggle through today because it'll help me appreciate that all the more tomorrow.

Sunday, May 28, 2017


Somewhere in the small hours of Saturday morning Kelsey entered my dream.  It was a complicated affair that had plucked parts of Cloverfield along with some of the Mockingjay Part 2 and probably World War Z to mix altogether into one complex plot, and then amidst all that chaos my long lost daughter walked into my house and asked me if I had any cake mix she could borrow, explaining she and her boyfriend wanted to bake a cake.  She was wearing a pink dress as a tunic that I remember her having (it was in point of fact the dress she wore in her kindergarten photo grown to adult size because that's how dreams work - zombies, aliens and dead daughters all mixed together with perfect logic and without the slightest hint of irony).  She looked tall and healthy, but maybe still a bit thin.  I tried not to let my shock show so as not to frighten her off or create a scene.  I tried to act as though I'd only seen her yesterday, but even in my dream, I knew she'd been gone without a word for years.  It turns out I did have cake mix and pulled it out of the pantry and placed it in a plastic bag for her - the oddity of dreams and the odd details that your mind fills in, and asked her to please be careful because I'd heard there were aliens right outside the "walls".  She said she knew, but we were fine inside here.  She looked at me with some combination of pity and sympathy, but didn't move to hug me, nor I her - too afraid again that this fragile encounter would implode if I moved to touch her.  She thanked me and promised to be back soon and we'd talk.  I so badly wanted to know where she'd been and how she'd been, but was afraid to push it.  She got into the passenger seat of a truck and "they" drove away.  I never saw the driver.  She leaned out of the window and waved.  I woke up to the pale dawn and a headache.

I rarely dream of my lost daughter - of the three of us, I dream of her the least I would guess.  At least to where I carry it into waking memory.  I think it's because I won't allow myself to.  After she died, I dreamt of her often of course, but they were nightmares riddled with guilt.  But one thing all our dreams seem to have in common - then and now - is that she's out there somewhere.  Alive.  I knew I'd left myself open to that kind of imagining because I refused to see the corpse.  The funeral home asked me if I wanted to.  I declined.  To the best of my knowledge, none of us saw her.  Just speaking for me personally, I didn't want that to be the image I carried in my head to my dying day.  Sometimes early on I regretted it because those dreams of her coming "back" and being angry because we had given her up for dead haunted my sleep, and my days were racked with a surreal disbelief that might not have been so pungent had I seen the evidence.  But, in the long run, I think I made the right decision for my long term peace of mind.  That wasn't my daughter anymore.  I hope my daughter had moved on to somewhere safe.  Someplace without zombies, aliens or eating disorders.

And so, over time I've moved on and the dreams are less frequent and certainly less threatening, but always share the theme:  in she walks.  Alive.  Most of the time well.  So the question to ask, on this, the day that would have been her 31st birthday, is what do the dreams mean?

I think this latest one meant to tell me a couple of things, one of which you have definitely heard me say before:  no matter what - zombies, armed guards at the gate, alien invasions or estrangement - you'd rather have your child alive somewhere than not.  But also I think my mind was trying to tell me as the dream daughter drove off, that at some point in an adult child's life, you don't have much control.  You have to let go and let them live.  Make their own choices.  Drive off toward apocalyptic horizons if that's what they elect to do.  You can only be there for them if and when they decide to return.  Kelsey decided not to return in reality.

Over the last eight years, I've held parents of children with eating disorders to a high standard.  It's an insidious disease that can impact entire families and takes a lot of dedication and vigilance to defeat.   It's hard in every way something can be hard: financially, emotionally, physically taxing.  And it's like worming one's way through a complex maze where danger lurks at every turn, but you have to try to do it because, as I can attest to, the stakes are so high.  Not just for the son or daughter with ED, but your other children as well who can be victims of fallout.  I wasn't there in the correct way at first for Kelsey and Marissa, and we lost valuable ground that I don't think we ever recovered.  I blame myself.  I blame my husband.  We were wrong.  We got to where we needed to be, but it took way too long.  And then we made mistakes along the way once we got there.  That I'm more forgiving about - we're human, and it was a brutal nine year battle.  But at some point, it was up to Kelsey to pick up the banner and want to win the war for herself maybe too.  And I think that's what my subconscious was finally trying to let me off the hook for.  A little release from agonizing over that last bout that took her all the way down.  Maybe I wasn't the one who could have stopped The Beast that time.  Maybe she had to be the one.  She wanted free of it, and she was just too tired, I think.  She chose a path that released her, but not in the way of course we would have wanted.  She just couldn't see there was any possible way to exorcise herself from it.  And maybe there was just nothing I could have done or said that changed that.

I don't know if that quite feels right, but what I do know is this:  it's done now, and I can't change it.  She will not be walking into my house unannounced today or any other day.  She lives, but only within our hearts and our memories.  And I can move on with that knowledge because I have to.  I have people I love here and now that depend on me being able to do it.  I suspect May 28th will never be an easy day.  But we're going to live our lives and go about our business on this day because we've got a grandson now that deserves us to be whole and present.  Kelsey's little sister deserves it too.  I think that'd be okay with Kelsey.  That at least does feel right.

Happy Birthday, my beautiful daughter, wherever you are.  May it be zombie, alien and eating disorder free.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Home Sweet Home (or the Secret of Flower Power)


...and now
I met this house for the first time a year ago this past weekend.   Like we had done back in Texas when we bought our last house there, we narrowed the search down to three prime candidates.  And like the house in Texas, I had an order in which I thought of them, and while I would be happy with any of them, there was one I was in love with more than the others, and this house was second on the list.  And like the house in Texas, this one was occupied by two labs, had saltillo tile and a large yard.  And it even has the same dining room chandelier as the house in Texas, which I didn't really let register until the day we moved in when it hit me like a bolt.  And like the home in Texas, the layout allows for voices to carry up or down, so it's very hard to keep a secret or have a conversation in confidence.

Sometimes the similarities are haunting.  Sometimes I realize that we have a "type" that appeals to us, and there's nothing more going on here than that.  But it also meets the qualifications I'm more consciously aware of wanting in my abode:  a home with some history to it, a big covered front porch, a formal dining room, a large sunny kitchen, and the coveted laundry chute.  I wasn't as tuned in to the things that were hauntingly similar to our home in Texas because they were masked by those other, more Pittsburghy things.  And at one point last summer I sat out front and watched cars turning down a side street lined with pine trees and quiet, well maintained homes that wind up into a tree covered hill, and was reminded of the rural subdivision I grew up in back in Bozeman.  And I thought to myself, "Well there you have it, all of my past lives intersecting together in this one house, isn't that interesting?"

Yet our lives here have been far from idyllic.  And that bottle of cheap champagne I've been saving until everything gets fixed is still sitting in the cabinet.   The emotional roller coaster ride we've been on since we moved here has been a wild one.  There have been some incredible highs (a healthy and happy baby for one), but some crushing lows.  But, high or low, there's been little time to just settle in and get comfortable.  A creature of extreme routine, I was struggling to find one, and it made me feel a bit like we were squatters here.  All through football season, all through the holidays, all through hockey season.  Until suddenly I realized it was spring and this house I and have known one another for a full year!  Time to settle in once and for all.  Time to really walk around it and appreciate all the landscaping someone else (certainly not me, I am to plants like Ramsay Bolton is to everything) strategically placed all around, including the peonies heavy with blossoms right now that my mother would have loved.  Time to sit out on that coveted front porch and watch the sunset.  Time to take the baby out to play in the soft grass in the backyard.

And as I've given myself those little stolen moments to just get to know the place that shelters me, I've found the "home" part that's been missing.  You realize in those moments, it was never about the house and what it is or isn't, or if it's got a laundry chute or not (I do love that laundry chute), it's about you and your state of mind.  Obvious?  Yeah, probably.  But we often have others point out the obvious to us because we get caught up in our own bullshit so easily.

That's why authors like Miguel Don Ruiz make a living.  I was assigned his The Four Agreements as part of the family work we had to do along the way during the girls' horrible teenage years.  It was the most amazing book I should never have had to read: be impeccable with your word, don't take things personally, don't make assumptions, always do you best.  Well, yeah...duh...but, it seriously did take a book like that to have that aha moment.  I actually need to stop and think about the lessons in that book again, actually, especially, the part about not taking things personally.

But, in this case, it wasn't a book, but looking at all the flowers in bloom one morning that gave me that aha moment.  This is my home not because of all the stuff it has in it or even any of these lovely blossoms lovingly planted long ago by someone I'll never know, but because of the people who live in it with me now and fill it with the one thing, cliche as this is about to sound, any home needs:  love.

And I realized that, wow, stop to smell the roses (or in my case: peonies) is actually amazing advice!

For me the moral to my story is:  we spend a lot of time wanting more.  We spend a lot of time wanting perfection.  My home is far from perfect.  It really needs a new door frame leading into the garage for one thing and a new roof is in my near future, and I seriously need to rip our storage room apart and start over - it's a hot mess down there.  And I can't ever seem to get everything completely dusted in a single weekend.  And on and on like that.  But, it doesn't matter in the end.  This is my home because of the family we're working to raise within it.  Pretty perfect, I do say.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Redemption: A Mother's Tale

So if I had written this week's post at a different time, it would have been titled Day of the Damned.  I've been in a bit of an Anne Rice mood this week, I think.  Actually, I'm remembering that The Witching Hour was the first book I read after Kelsey's death.  Her sense of the macabre matched my mood.  She had a daughter die of cancer at the age of five, so there was also that kindred spirit sort of a thing that I associated with as I tried to wrestle with what had happened.  Both Greg and I clutched on to that sense of relation early on - I think he still does - that "oh, then you get it because we're in the same club" sort of a feeling.

Since that time, I've not read another Anne Rice book, even though I have an entire shelf of them downstairs waiting.  I turned away from the dark, sensual foreboding that she paints her worlds with and tried to look in a different direction.  I think it was art imitating life.  I needed to look for brighter tales to pull me along because there were two things I was sure of:  I had people I had to hang on for, and I was determined not to be someone who is forever wallowing in their mourning.  I wasn't going to be defined by it.  (So, I think one of the first books I read after that was a graphic novel about the Holocaust, so there is a flaw in that theory...but...the point still exists that I was intent on moving forward.)

Maybe I've told this story before, but if I have, it was some time ago, so I'll risk repeating it:  when I was just 21 and starting out as an assistant at a high rise condominium in Austin, there was a woman who had lost a daughter many years before who lived there.  We were doing a descaling of the pipes in the older structure, and the project required us to go into each unit to check for leaks (of which there were many), and it was time to go into hers.  I was cautioned about her situation and told to be careful what I said around her because she was very sensitive.  She was a serious woman of few words I knew, but I knew very little else about her, and this was the one and only time I saw inside her unit.  She had a photo of her daughter on her bedroom dresser, and I was a little shocked to see it was black and white with the hairstyle clearly in the early 60's flip that was all the rage before Haight-Ashbury and Woodstock made the more natural look popular.  I realized that if that was one of the last photos taken of the daughter, which I assumed it was, she had been gone by that time almost two decades.  To my young mind, that was a lifetime to have held onto one's grief so deeply.

Over the last almost eight years now I've thought of that woman often.  I was determined not to go through life worrying that people caution new acquaintances or co-workers in a whispering tone, looking to make sure I'm not in earshot, to be careful around me because I've lost a daughter.  I thought at the time, naive as I was, that this poor, unhappy woman allowed herself and the rest of her life to be defined by her loss.  I have never wanted to be that way.

Yet, every not-so-merry-month-of-May, I am confronted with first Mother's Day and then Kelsey's birthday.  These are not easy days, and I do tend to be thin skinned and easily driven to extreme emotion - sometimes sad, sometimes enraged at something small or maybe nothing at all, or sometimes a deep depression that Anne Rice would have a fitting description for.  My daughter has always been careful to do what she can to distract me from that, for which I am forever grateful.  But there's a little guilt in there too - I was hardly the mother I should have been, so her attention is hardly warranted.  That's not a self pitying comment looking for a "oh, sure you were" retort.  I'm well aware of what I was and wasn't.  I wasn't the worst mother - maybe not even the worst one on the block.  But I was far from the mother I needed to be.  And there's really no denying it.

And there's no going back.

So you move on and forward.

And you have to ask yourself, well, okay, what do you want your legacy to be?  What do you want people to say about you?

I'm open about my loss because I want people to ask what happened, what went wrong.  I'm happy to tell you what I know so you don't make the same mistakes.  I want people to say that about me.  That I was willing to share my story to help prevent others just like it.

I want people to say that I recovered sufficiently to be a grand grandmother, helpful, supportive and - above all - present in his life whenever he needed me.

I want people to feel comfortable around me.  Or at least not treat me like I was made from jagged glass.

There was a brief few hours on the night I found out Marissa was pregnant when I reveled in the fact that I could have another chance.  By the end of the night I had talked myself down and realized that the (then) future grandchild was not mine and not Kelsey reborn.  But I do have a second shot now at being a good parent to my surviving daughter by supporting her as she travels on the journey that is motherhood - with all its many, many twists, turns and potholes to fall in to.  I plan on taking that shot, and we'll see what I do with it.  Perhaps a measure of redemption can be gained.  We will have to see.  But at least I want to be open enough to life to try.

So I'll shake off the shroud that tends to surround me on this day and celebrate my daughter's very first Mother's Day, and be happy with that.