Saturday, July 9, 2011

My mother, the saint

My mother should be a saint. Technically, she can't be canonized until years after she dies. There may be a few things against her case for sainthood. She was against the Vietnam War- and actively protested it. She left a parish because she couldn't take the tyrannical rule of the pastor. And she didn't try to reclaim some of her own children back to Catholicism once they found a better way for themselves.

These minor infractions would never tip the scales beyond favorable vote. This woman suffered. She was the first born daughter to a man who wished for a son. She spent a major part of her childhood proving her worth to him. She was the first in her family to attend college.

She married a loud, vivacious Italian from a ridiculously enormous family. She was chastised for birthing her first child seven months after she married. I don't believe a nine+ pound baby counts as premature. She had four more children in the the next five years.

Her fourth child contracted spinal meningitis while being treated in the hospital for a high fever. She watched her 10 month old baby go through blood transfusions and two spinal taps. She turned to her prayer circles many times in her life. Up until this time in her life, she never prayed as hard.

Until her husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Her youngest child was only four years old. She managed to keep her head together through all stages of her husband's decline. Miraculously, she didn't kill any of her self-absorbed children when they became teenagers, or as she taught each of them how to drive.

She found a way to afford catholic school tuition for all of us. We also got to participate in extra curricular activities. I have NO idea how she found the money. She sewed all of our prom dresses. She served on boards for clubs, churches, and her own civic interests.

She dragged us to church. She enjoyed going to early mass when we came home later than curfew; more than a little pickled. She'd bring us to work with her to see the patients. We volunteered at church with her, stuffing bulletins while she counted the offering.

She never gave up. She never had days when she just cashed in, or escaped into long naps or ran away. I only saw her cry in despair once.

I read stories of saints who's only record of good work was praying. Seriously?

If there is anyone who should be so honored, it's my mom. If not by her own life, she could be automatically beatified if one of her children is canonized.

Yeah, right.

#23 of 90in90 for #LUBlogTribe

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Working Mom

The life of a working mom is in constant motion. When things are going well, the schedule, tasks and hopes for the day are falling into place. These kinds of days occur as frequently as planetary alignment.

A working mom eventually learns to set her standards a little lower. She learns to tolerate the massive hair ball collections on the floor. She looks past the accumulated clutter on every horizontal surface of furniture. She learns to breathe through the clean laundry left unfolded. She learns to stay calm when the dishes have been left unrinsed in the sink. She tries to teach her children to not make more work for her.

On the days the working mom works from home, she's excited at the thought of waking up a little bit later than usual because she doesn't have to shower, or pull her children out of bed. The day begins with making coffee to encourage her husband out the door, walk the dog enough to let a few digestive functions out, and convert the dining room table into the work space. Energized by the caffeine, the walk and delighted the children are sleeping in - she eagerly reviews her schedule and tasks for the day. There is much to be done before the kids require breakfast.

Then there are the days that start out of whack when a child wakes up sick. Imagine waking up to this situation -->

The initial assessment leads to calling the pediatrician. The next step is to figure out how he got the obvious poison ivy/oak. Where did he play yesterday? Did is sister play there, too?

After a gentle interrogation the boy described playing hide and seek on the Greenway next to their school.

The working mom now has another task added to her plate. She calls the city forester to remove the poison oak her children discovered in the same location four years ago. She also knows that poison ivy has infiltrated the Sculpture Garden. Friends tell her that both poison oak and poison ivy grow up to 50 feet high along the Tow Path, and that poison sumac has started to return to the grassy areas around the SteelStacks.

She is keenly aware of restricted government budgets. She knows there won't be funds to cover paid manpower to remove all the offensive weeds. She also knows that she can't simply bring her own tools to the site and remove the plants on public property. While jail might be a nice break - she's got responsibilities.

The working mom is lucky enough to have some connections and initiative to organize people to actually work WITH the city to solve this problem. She just wonders when she's going to be able to start this new initiative while she barely addresses the things currently on her plate.

At the end of the day, the affected child has survived large doses of oral steroids. And the working mom cracks open another beer.

#22 of 90in90 for #LUBlogTribe

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Salad Days

I feel like describing part of the first years of my married life. Sit back, turn off the Twitter feed, silence your phone and come back with me to the mid 1990s.

Some of the other #LUBlogTribe participants would be thinking, "Hmmm. mid-1990's. Was I born yet?" To that I say, "Shut up, punks."

Steve and I moved to Rochester, NY in 1992, right after our honeymoon. We got to our near-Park Avenue, third floor / one bedroom apartment on his birthday. It was a sucky day - and I vowed to make it up to him.

Four days later, I started a doctoral program at the Eastman School of Music. The entire time I was attending the school, I would pinch myself with disbelief that I was there. I dreamt of this place for years. Every time I rehearsed in the Eastman Theatre, I was living. the. dream.

I took about a month for Steve to find work. He left his reasonably secure position at BGSU to take on a minimum wage retail job at the locally infamous House of Guitars. The work was hard, and often miserable. He hated Christmas. And Canadians. He developed some pretty bad habits of self abuse - staying up way too late but always arriving to work the next morning on time because that's the kind of reliable he is. And that is how much he loves me.

The owners of the H.O.G. were local celebrities. Their late night cable channel commercials were a riot. These spots shot after the store closed and a few cases of beer were consumed. Wanna see what I mean?

One of the owners fancied himself a Lou Reed kind of philosopher. He even recorded his own album, "Armand Schaubroeck:RatFa*cker" Listen to this and you can pretty much guess the culture. If you google his name, there's a huge online community around him full of urban legend and mystery. I found this dedication - and I shake my head in wonder. Whatever you imagine is probably not far off, if it's on the side of extreme. Most of the folks who worked at the store were insane fans of music; or in their own bands. My husband was definitely way over-qualified to work there. It wasn't too long before he found some opportunities to be creative. He ended up designing the recording studio in their store for "Mirror Records". It's no longer operational-  a real shame. That space was magic. Steve even got to record Ginger Baker there one night. If you're too young to know that name - look it up yourself.

If there was a notable rock star making the sales circuit as an instrument rep, after the work of the day, the owners would hire a limo and bar hop with all staff. I was frequently called at 9PM to doll up and go out with the gang. Most often, I was already in my PJs dutifully studying or making reeds. (A-hem) As soon as I'd get the call, I would turn off the TV, put the face back on (make-up), fluff the hair, and pushed the boobs back up for a night of entourage and free drinks. Since I have so much experience from the employee side of the bar, I am really good at spotting bar fights before they happen. Back then I was really good at flirting or engaging in conversation with anyone. Another skill from years of working for tips and easy drunks. I was the designated sober person.

One night, we skipped through some bars with Rick Neilsen. Yeah, the guitar player from Cheap Trick.
<-----This guy

It was a great night. I held my own; shielding Rick from opportunistic fans - making him laugh and being ridiculous. He taught me how to flick guitar picks across the room. At the end of the night, he signed my boob. I had to wash it off before going back to the high necked conservatory for another seminar session on medieval counterpoint.

One of the best job perks for Steve was getting back stage passes for top bands as they performed either in the Rochester War Memorial in downtown, or in one of the music clubs on East Avenue. We met some great musicians and their tech guys. Steve Tyler, Tony Levin, Bo Diddley, Paula Cole, I'm sure I'm forgetting some. Oh, and watching the final dress rehearsal for Peter Gabriel's "US" tour was a night I will never forget.

One of the best guys we met during this time was our friend, Andy Babiuk. He's one of the sweetest, hardest working guys we know. From playing lead guitar in the Chesterfield Kings, to writing books (Beatles Gear is Published. He's finishing his next book on the gear of the Rolling Stones) and running his own guitar boutique, this guy is one of our heroes. He does all this with no higher education. He just did it. Andy knows a lot of folks in the business, and a lot of people know him. He's always got great tour stories, or nailing high stakes interviews. He never lets his success get to his head. Because there's always more work to be done, and more music to share. He and his lovely wife Monica have home schooled their six children.

Steve also met a fair share of as*holes in the store, too. From our experiences in all genres of music, we can definitely say that there are a lot of great people in music - and a lot of jerks. Be careful about wanting to meet your heroes.

#21 of 90in90 for #LUBlogTribe. Hard to believe time in our lives was more than 20 years ago. So many of these memories seem like they could have happened last week.


There are many moments in parenting that we joyfully embrace; first smile, first tooth, first steps, solid food, successful potty training, first day of school, first play date, first dance recital, first musical recital, first tooth loss - you get the picture.

When the kids were born five weeks early, we had some developmental concerns. I poured by heart into making sure I provided stimulation, interaction and opportunities for all of their gross, fine, mental and social growth. I may have even gone overboard a bit.

At 9 months old they still weren't sitting up on their own. They'd topple over many times, often frustrated when they didn't know how to sit themselves back up.  I decided to use paint to have them experience cause and effect of large muscle movement in their legs. Dressed only in diapers, I sat them on floor pads with a line of yellow paint on one side of their legs, and red paint on the other side. As they swished their legs in an out, they would see the paint smear into orange. They could see that their leg movement was making a HUGE splash of color.

It wasn't a magic fix - but I we all had fun trying it out. Parenting is the most fun for me when I let them get messy.

Fast forward eight years. The next developmental milestone is independence. My daughter still reaches for my hand whenever we're walking. My son only takes my hand when I ask him - and it's usually because the "free" hand is taken by car keys, briefcase, mommy purse or dog leash. When I have both hands holding one of each child, I am balanced.

I'm not sure how I will feel when either kid tells me that they're too old to hold my hand. Until then, I will cherish every grab, cuddle and hug.


#20 of 90in90 for #LUBlogTribe

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Turning out

I've made it half way through a short experiment this summer. It's something I did in part to support my daughter while practicing what I preach in my work. The experiment is adult beginning ballet. I wrote about this on a recent post in a small display of self effacing humor. I'm not a little person. I'm overweight.

I love to cook and eat what I cook. I sit most of the day at a computer or in a car, or watching my kids do their thing. I walk my dog, but 45 minutes won't turn my body back into the high school athlete I once was.

I used to be a runner and a varsity volleyball player. I also danced - vigorously.

I resolved to embrace the body I have, and do something better with it. My legs are thick, my knees arthritic, and varicose veins are popping out so large that I if my right thigh was a map, I'd have the mighty Mississippi River twisting across the front and around to the back of my knee.

Yet once a week, I stuff my body into a very tight pair of tights and a leotard, wrap a long sheer black skirt that makes me look like a tent, and trudge into the studio with the rest of the ladies - none of them larger than a size 6. I'm a 14. If you do the math - I'm twice as big as any of them.

And I don't care.

My friends know that I'm  partial to Converse Chuck Taylor high top sneakers. I know Stacey London would be shocked to know that I wear them almost every day. And if anyone ever thought they should get me on the "What Not to Wear" show - I would tear Stacey's eyes out if she made me toss them. It's not because of a fashion statement. It's because they are the only affordable shoe that offers me the room to fit my orthopedic inserts and support my ankles. Some of my fashion minded girl friends shake their heads when they see my outfits.

And I don't care.

When I was five years old, my mom consulted with a pediatrician about the shoe inserts built into my Buster Browns. They made my shoes look like Frankenstein. I was forced to wear them all the time. Until I started to become self conscious. Then my mother gave up. As a licensed occupational therapist, she tried working with my feet. I used to have to pick up marbles with my toes as a way to raise my arch. My flat feet were caused by really weak ankles. When I stood barefoot, it looked like someone pressed down on my shoulders forcing my ankles to collapse.

I never got into heels. The highest heel I ever bought was 3 inches. I wore them to prom with a tuxedo. That was the year I was in charge of the event, and I knew I'd be running around. As soon as the pictures were taken, I enjoyed the rest of the night in bare feet. After I walked down the isle, my first order of business as a newly minted "Mrs" was to change into white sneakers.

And I didn't care.

In 1995 I had arthroscopic surgery on my left knee. The surgeon did a lateral release of my outside tendon to try to correct my knee caps. They float to the outside when knees are bent. Had I known that I should have done extensive physical therapy before the surgery, things may have gone a little better. A few years later and the knee cap was back to the wrong alignment.

It wasn't until I was 35 years old when I finally understood that the reason my knees were shot is because a lifetime of pronated feet which put my tibia higher than my fibula bones, scraping against the interior of my patella. Most, if not all of the cartilage is gone. I've tried all known treatments. Cortisone shots, synvisc injections, shark cartilage supplements, Advil (to near over dose), ice packs, knee braces.... I now take fish oil and glucosamine chondroitin triple strength. I'm too young for knee replacement surgery. It's still nice to be too young for something.

Inspired by some of my Twitter running friends, I went to a local running store and had a really smart salesperson find me the right shoe. I can even do the "Run Your Butt Off" program without causing debilitating pain.

But the real thing that I think is going to improve the situation is ballet. And I'm glad to say that I really felt it tonight.

Years of bad alignment have tightened my muscles so badly, that I can't turn out my feet wider than 45 degrees from parallel. Plies only go a little way down before knees and hips start grinding. I'm shaky, but I'm doing it.

Tonight, I had a small body awareness breakthrough when the ballet teacher touched the inner thigh muscle that is supposed to work the turnout. I have been working on that muscle with various leg lifts and other physical therapy - but no trainer ever got me to feel that muscle the way I felt it tonight. As soon as I engaged that muscle and concentrated on the tiny new movement, my knee stopped popping and I got a whole new sensational burn in my popo (that would be my derriere). The support from these newly found muscles actually got me up on my toes higher than I've been since I was maybe 3. And I was balanced.  I even managed a line of bourées across the room without toppling over. The last move of the class was without the barre. I was able to move through all of the positions with feet and arms in such a graceful way that I didn't want to stop. I felt strong. I felt graceful. I felt lovely.

And I cared.

#19 of 90in90 for #LUBlogTribe

Monday, July 4, 2011

A new kind of Catholic

It was a great visit in Detroit. Two days of hanging out at Nonna's; Steve working with his brother, kids playing with their cousins, and me trying to stay productive. Forgive the following rant - I'm struggling with the extraction of circulating thoughts.....

On our way to the visit, we read an email that told us to prepare our kids for a more progressed stage of Nonna. The kids haven't encountered death in any meaningful way - except to understand that Grandpa and Papa have already died, and many other relatives, our ancestors have also died. Oh, and I shouldn't forget the cat, Harley. He died when they were two. They don't really remember him, but there is evidence of his existence in photographs.

When we got to Rose's house, she was already asleep. It was also a new health care professional, and we were told that she's kind of cracky, so we snuck up to our room to claim the lumpy old mattress and patch of floor in our room. Next morning, we slowly got going; deciding on breakfast and trying to plan for manageable house hold tasks. We all ignored the potential trauma of engaging with Rose until later that afternoon.

The kids peaked into Nonna's room. They were looking hard for something that was a sign of her dying. She looked just like she did last time we visited. Her mouth was a little more slack, and it was a little more challenging to get her to respond. But all told, she didn't "look" like she is dying.

Alzheimer's is a terrible way to go. Hard on the family; hardest on those that are the primary caregivers. We wanted to prepare our kids for this possibly being the last time they would see Nonna alive. She's had pneumonia for a couple of weeks - and some of Steve's siblings are convinced she will pass this summer. But this waiting has been going on for a few years now. We've often made the car trip to Detroit for Nonna's last Thanksgiving, last Christmas, last Easter, at least for the last 3 years. It's the respect this woman deserves.

At the same time Nonna is reaching the end of her life, we have friends who are expecting their first child. Their curiosity at how babies grow inside the mommy were triggered when the expectant mother requested extra Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies. I told them that when they were inside me, they always asked for cake donuts, orange juice and bananas. I told them babies have a way of telling their mom what they want. I showed them all the pictures I had from the various ultrasounds. They see our friend's belly growing. I showed them with dolls how they were positioned inside. They see our friend react when the baby kicks. I tell them they learned how to wrestle before they were born.

They love the story of the day they were born. I've also told them that when they were ready to come into this world, they picked me to be their mommy. They share the responsibility of this relationship. I'm just glad they haven't yet asked how they got into my womb exactly yet. No doubt, that will come soon.

A while back my son had a good understanding of the cycle of life. "You're born. You live. Then you die. That's it." It was during a time we thought our cat was on her last life. Well she's still around too. Apparently, all she needed was a change in diet. She'll probably last another 5 years.

Last year, the kids had more discussion about death in their religion class. In second grade, their lessons were more about the details of the Catholic holy days and the parts of the mass. It was more about labels and definitions. One day, my son came home with a low score on a religion test because his answers didn't match exactly the correct answers. As I read the options, I could argue for his choices. That is when it hit me.

I am a Catholic. Raised with strong values in the faith of Catholicism, but not necessarily the dogma of the church doctrine, definitely not of the sanctity of the pope. I went through 12 years of Catholic school. I believe that staying in this environment protected me from myself during the toughest parts of being a teenager.

I had one priest take me under his wing after my dad died by bringing me to breakfast once a month. He's ask me about my boyfriend - but didn't pry too much. He'd ask me how I was practicing music, how my studies were going, if I was helping out at home. He really became a surrogate father. My senior year in high school, he was transferred to Marquette University, where he still teaches today. I really wished he had stayed at the high school during my senior year - when our religion class was focused on Death and Dying. I mean, I had already had enough of that my sophomore and junior year. Hell, I was the case study.

I spit back what I knew was expected to maintain my grades - but I didn't believe a word of it. "God only gives you what you can handle," was commonly said. Well I wasn't handling it. I was avoiding it. All the while my dad was sick, I thought, prayed and believed that he was going to get better. I was fooled. And pissed. Take those seven stages of grief and put them back in the library, than you very much, Elizabeth Küble- Ross. (damn if I knew that before checking on Google)

The one thing that drew me back to church was being paid to be there as a musician. I still couldn't hear the sermons. They were lies.

Until I moved to Rochester, NY and heard an amazing priest at the Corpus Christi church. I couldn't help but listen to his sermon during the high mass for which I volunteered my musical talents.This guy was a humanist. And he had an amazing female priest - yes, that's right a female - serving the people of the church along side him. Of course the church leaders eventually "fired him" and also requested she stop serving. They were both doing amazing work - and it was the closest kind of work to what I read in the Bible.

Once again, the church lied. I don't believe in non-married male priests. It simply doesn't make sense.

Fast forward ten years. I'm now sending my kids to a Catholic school.

It's not because of the doctrine. It's because of the people. I have a lot of unanswered questions. And if there is nothing that teaches a person critical thinking; it's their faith in structured religion.

I am not a lapsed Catholic, or a Chreaster Catholic (only goes to church on Christmas and Easter), I do go to mass occasionally, but I prefer going to church when there is no service. I'd rather sit in silence and have my own discussions with G-d. I'll go to mass with family - only to make my mom happy, or to show my kids that they'll meet others who share in SOME of their values. But as soon as the church starts ranting on politics - I'm out. There's even one line in the Apostle's Creed that I won't say. Because I simply don't believe in "one apostolic church."

The Catholic church is turning ever more conservative. Much of the dogma seems to negate the Golden Rule. I simply don't see how some Christians can distort the message - especially the literalists. They are such haters. I love talking with bible scholars who study the writings within a context of culture and history. That's when my faith is renewed in people who gave their lives to serve others.

I get a daily email from a service I like to call, "Catholics are us." It's the Saint of the Day. Some of the stories are inspiring. Some aren't as much. I love the Gnostic Gospels. I love the teachings of other religious leaders; Ghandi, HHDL, Buddha. I'm more inspired by the words of The Elders than I am of the Pope. I'm still pissed that the church hasn't really dealt with all of it's dirty secrets. Holy Wars, The Spanish Inquisition, the current scandals and pain they've cost thousands of people....

I'm sending my kids to Catholic school because I believe in the values and the principles of the environment. Religion is more of a cultural study. Faith is about relationships with people; alive, dead or myth. I'll never agree to testing scores on faith. But I believe there are good people in this community. The two nuns that run the school are as good as people get. And the priest of our parish is a gentle soul. They are all dedicated to loving the world they are given - they renew my faith in people.

I am a new kind of Catholic. I'm a questioning, argumentative and demanding Catholic. And I pray my children are able to make their own decisions because they value the principles of love, respect, and justice for humanity. Because if they embrace these values - they will find the support they need in death - and truly understand the miracle that is life.


#18 of 90in90 for #LUBlogTribe

Sunday, July 3, 2011

It's the little things

Two full days in a Detroit heat wave got me to thinking about how much I love my kids for teaching me about the little things.

Steve and his brother have been working on my mother-in-law's yard in 98degree temps. They work side by side, sometimes chatting about nothing. Steve is very close to his siblings, even though we live so far way. He is the youngest of seven children. Their mom and dad gave them all equal love and support. Cousins from the Raggio(M-I-L) side are plentiful and keep family circles together at more than weddings and funerals. I've met them all at some point, and when we see each other, it only takes a few general catch up bits of conversation until we talk about property in Italy, raising kids, and shared amazement at how our parents did it.

Steve's parents didn't take them to Disney World. But they each got sent to Italy for an extended stay on the property. Steve tells great stories of traveling in Europe after college. They never get old. He shares these stories with cousins, who then try to best his stories.

Whenever we come to Detroit, there is always a family meal gathering. 20 relatives today; a rather small group compared to Christmas. The food simply spectacular. We all pitch in, so there is no guilt to preparing, eating or cleaning up. It's as if we all try to be the most generous and happy. Even though Rose (that's my mother-in-law, and she deserves to be named) is too far gone to engage, we dutifully join hands to pray before we eat. My kids now know the prayers, so they chime in loudly. The rest of the family does this more out of respect for Rose than their own devotion. It starts with, "bless us, oh lord, for these, thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord. Amen." (Catholics love commas) Then someone starts an "Our Father." Then another wants to start a "Hail Mary" but is shut down by one speech giver who intercedes a note of gratitude for our being together, and "thanks to the chefs."

The children are dying to eat, and sneak a pickle or a chip while the grown ups argue over how long we pray. This really only lasts 2 minutes, but it's exactly what my dog feels when I make him hold position before gobbling up the left over scrambled eggs in his bowl set on the floor. I like to tease a drop of drool out of him before commanding, "go." I guess that's what we do to each other-it's always with a wink.

It's these gatherings that are so important for our kids. They were born away from the family nexus-but there's something genetic about wanting to play with their cousins. They tolerate 10-12 hour drives just for an epic water ballon battle and some Red Faygo pop.

There's a quote from JRR Tolkein's "The Lord of the Rings" when describing the life of Hobbits: "To live a simple life is no small thing."

Watching my kids play with their cousins and talk to the grown-ups presents this lesson every visit. Family comes first with us. As it should be.

#17 of 90in90 for #LUBlogTribe