Soundtrack of Our Lives

Farewell, old friend

Farewell, old friend

I always wanted a shiny, black grand piano. Not that I play or anything, though I have thought of taking lessons from time to time. I just liked the idea of having such a strikingly elegant object in my home, I guess. When we moved into our second house, I saw a perfect spot for one: the nook next to the fireplace in our great room. My husband had the same thought, but it was something we only talked about in passing. We had other, more pressing expenses. Maybe someday, we said.

And then someday came. Well, sort of. A guy on the trading floor mentioned to my husband that he was selling a piano, and a few days later our great room became home to a used, mahogany-stained Story & Clark baby grand with a broken foot pedal and keys that stick. While I viewed it as a charming antique to occupy a vacant spot in a room, my husband, the musician, had other ideas. He found a piano teacher and signed up our children, ages 7 and 9, for lessons. If it’s going to be in our house, he said, someone needs to learn how to play it. I agreed, recalling having read somewhere about the scholastic benefits of playing piano. Plus, I never learned to play any musical instruments as a child and loved the idea of giving my own kids the opportunity.

Little did either of us realize the impact that old baby grand would have on our lives. Our children’s experiences learning to play it were as different as the two of them are from each other. My son took to it easily and naturally; my daughter did not. For him, the piano was a confidante to whom he could pour out his artistic passion, an unconditional friend he would never let go. For her, it was an acquaintance whose company she grudgingly tolerated and eventually abandoned. But for both, the piano unlocked what I hope will be a lifelong love of music.

A few months ago, we stumbled upon a sleek, black Yamaha baby grand for sale. It was in mint condition, and it was the perfect step up for a pianist of the caliber of our now teenage son — or at least that was what his teacher had been politely but firmly suggesting for several years. It was also a lot closer to the pristine black piano I had envisioned in our great room so long ago. We snapped it up immediately, our son was thrilled, and we were finally off the hook with his teacher.

The Story & Clark, meanwhile, sat sad and untouched in the other corner of the nook. It reminded me of “The Giving Tree,” patiently waiting for its boy to return. I thought of all the times I heard my son play “Für Elise” on it. I remembered him rushing immediately to the piano like a long-lost friend after his week away at band camp. I recalled all the times I welcomed the distraction of his beautiful playing as I worked next-door in my office, enjoying the entertainment too much to remind him to do his homework. On that piano, for a good six years, the soundtrack of our life had played.

Today, movers came to take our Story & Clark to a new home. A local family with five young children bought it, and the mother seemed excited about her kids learning to play. It made me happy to know our first piano has another family to enjoy it, and I am sure I will come to love our shiny, new one. Still, I was sorry to see the old one go. When I look back years from now, the house I will remember most vividly is the tiny bungalow in Chicago where we brought home our newborn babies from the hospital. And the piano I will recall most fondly is that Story & Clark with the broken foot pedal and keys that stick. Both were where some of my favorite family memories were made.

Surviving Milestones: Reflections on the First Day of School

Sam baby smiles

My little boy, age six months

It’s never easy, watching him walk out the door on the first day of school. Every first day takes him one step closer to adulthood and further away from me. He grew and changed so much during his freshman year of high school. I am so proud of the young man I see before me, but I ache for the little boy who wanted nothing more than to hold my hand.

That little boy is now several inches taller than me and wears the same size shoes as his father. This morning when I asked to take his photo, he politely indulged me. He let me give him a hug before he left, and I even managed to plant a good-bye kiss on his cheek. I teased him about how tough it must be to have a mom who loves him so much and makes a big deal out of everything. But even though I know it annoys him sometimes, I won’t stop. In just three years, he will start college. The time is going to zip by, and I plan to savor and make the most of it. I will grasp firmly to each of the little moments. I will photograph them and tuck them away in my mind. I can only imagine how much I am going to need them later.

No one tells you before you have children what it feels like to watch them grow up, how your heart aches with every milestone. Even if someone does try to prepare you, I don’t think it’s something you can understand until you experience it. The first day of preschool, when the teacher has to practically peel your child out of the back seat, wrecks you, but it could not possibly compare to putting him on the bus for kindergarten the first time. Eighth-grade graduation, when you see your kid in a cap and gown accepting a diploma, blows your mind a little, but it’s got nothing on the first day of high school. The big moments don’t get any easier because with each one you realize your child needs you a little less.

It’s never easy, watching him walk out the door on the first day of school. I cried a little this morning. I always do. I know that the biggest milestones, high school graduation and the first day of college, are right around the corner. I know he will be ready. He is a bright, confident young man, but I still see in him that little boy who wanted nothing more than to hold my hand. I’m not ready to let him go. I don’t know if I ever will be.

My sophomore

My sophomore, age 15


Marathon Update: I’m 65% There

17 miles: done

17 miles: done

It was a big day for this running mama. I ran 17 miles, my longest training run ever despite the fact that I have one marathon under my belt. I both dreaded and anxiously anticipated this long run because it represented a huge not only physical but psychological hurdle for me, one I wasn’t entirely sure I had the strength or stamina to cross.

Here’s the back story in case you are new here: When I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2011, I never made it past 16 miles in training due to an injury. I managed to finish the race despite my lack of adequate training (it’s incredible what adrenaline and crowd support can help you achieve), but I wasn’t particularly pleased with my time. Running the Portland Marathon in October, for me, is about seeing what I can do in a healthy, injury-free state (I’m frantically knocking on my particle-board desk as I type those words).

With that in mind, I have approached training entirely differently this time around. I feel as if I have found a good groove in terms of balancing running with cross training, stretching, yoga, resting, etc. I’m running much faster than I was in 2011, thanks to finally giving up smoking (duh!). I feel as if I’m starting fresh this time and have a second chance to prove myself. Each long run brings me a step closer to knowing what I will be capable of on race day.

I am proud to say that not only did I finish today’s 17-miler, I rocked it. My average pace was just a few seconds shy of my goal for Portland. I owe much of the credit to a fabulous — and really fast — new running buddy who inspired me to keep pushing forward today. Training without my hubby, who was supposed to run Portland but suffered an injury, has been tough. I am so thankful to the local ladies running this year’s Chicago Marathon who have welcomed me into their training fold. Let’s face it: Long runs kind of suck when you do them alone — at least they sure do for me. I want and need that kick in the butt from someone else to keep moving. I was extra grateful to have it today.

Reaching the 17-mile mark felt like a major victory. It means I’m 65% there. If I can run 17, what’s another mile next week or even an extra 9.2 (gulp) on Oct. 5? I made it past the milestone that scared me most, and I am reveling in my runner’s high right now.

I could also really use a nap.

Happy Friday, peeps! And cheers to the running community at large. What an awesome group of positive, supportive and inspiring people! I am lucky and proud to be a part of it.

Goin’ Home

“Can’t Find My Way Home” by Blind Faith played in heavy rotation on my Ford Escort’s cassette deck during my twenties, when I lived in Michigan.

Come down off your throne and leave your body alone.
Somebody must change.
You are the reason I’ve been waiting so long.
Somebody holds the key.
But I’m near the end and I just ain’t got the time.
And I’m wasted and I can’t find my way home.

I was a different person back then, sad, lonely, disconnected. Instead of figuring out who I was and what would make me happy, I hid from my true self in a bad relationship, trying to fix someone who did not care enough about himself — or me — to let me. When he finally ended things, I was lost. I realized the person I needed to stop avoiding and fix was me, and I knew I couldn’t do it in Michigan, surrounded and haunted by the memories of my many mistakes. I moved to Chicago in search of the key, to find my way home.

These were my thoughts as I sat drinking a Centennial IPA at Founders Brewery in Grand Rapids, Michigan, two days ago. My husband and I stopped there for lunch on our way back to Chicago from a weekend of camping, hiking and canoeing with friends in Wellston, Michigan. When he left the table to use the restroom, I noticed the Rolling Stones song playing in the background.

Spending too much time away.
I can’t stand another day.
Maybe you think I’ve seen the world.
But I’d rather see my girl.
I’m goin’ home, I’m goin’ home, back home.

I laughed to myself, thinking that “goin’ home” for me used to mean returning to Michigan, but now I couldn’t wait to get back to “my girl” (and boy — i.e., our children) in Chicago. Two years had passed since our last visit to my home state, when we attended my aunt’s memorial. This time, our trip took us nowhere near the Detroit area where I used to live, but the drive Up North was a familiar one. I took it often as a child with my aunt and uncle who raised me and later as a young adult with friends. Driving those roads now, after 20 years have passed, made me remember the figurative journey I took, trying to escape my Michigan self and start a new life.

Change is never a quick, easy trip, even against a new backdrop. Your problems follow you until you acknowledge and resolve them. When I met my future husband a few months after moving to Chicago, I knew immediately that he was a good man, the kind you marry and raise children with. I had never felt more comfortable or at home with anyone in my life, and it terrified me. It took a long time for me to see myself as worthy and let go of my fears of abandonment. But no matter how many conscious or unconscious attempts I made to sabotage our relationship, he kept coming back. It’s almost funny to think about what we considered argument-worthy in the early days, compared with what we have experienced during almost 18 years of marriage. I guess learning to sort out the little problems in the beginning of a relationship helps prepare you to deal with the real ones later.

Watching my husband walk back to the table, I thought about the Blind Faith song again. During my younger days in Michigan, I didn’t realize I was the one holding the key. I kept searching for it in relationships, jobs and other experiences, always looking for the next best thing. The key, it seems, was inside me the whole time. Marriage and motherhood led me toward happiness, but only I could unlock the door and walk through it to find peace.

The photo below is of my husband and me enjoying a Michigan sunset long ago. I don’t think we were even married yet. It’s the only copy I have, and it’s covered in fingerprints. I think one of our kids ripped it at some point. It hangs on the bulletin board in my office, reminding me how far we have come, together, finding our way home. Cheers to the man who never gave up on me.


With or Without You

I started going without him a month or so ago. The first few times, the guilt outweighed the pleasure. I would think of him and wonder if he was upset that I had left him behind. I tried not to talk about it afterward, even though he knew full well where I had been. He never appeared sad, disappointed or jealous. In fact, he encouraged me to go.

Before you start speculating about the state of my marriage, let me clarify that I am not hitting the singles bar with my girlfriends; I am training for a marathon without my husband. It might sound crazy, but I feel as if I am cheating on him every time I lace up my Sauconys. I know how much he misses running, and heading to the trail without him seems like a selfish, insensitive betrayal. I remember how bittersweet it was for me two years ago when both of us signed up for our second Chicago Marathon, but only one of us crossed the finish line. As happy as I was to be there to support him, I envied him and all the other runners as I watched from the sidelines. I also know firsthand what a frustrating letdown it is to get injured while training for a marathon, which is what happened to my husband this time around.

Although I feel guilty running without him, this next race means a lot to me. I hurt my foot 11 weeks into training for my first marathon back in 2011. I ran it anyway, but my time was nowhere near what I had anticipated because I missed so many of the long training runs. Since then, I have quit smoking and gotten smarter about incorporating strength training and yoga into my workout schedule to prevent injury. I am healthier, stronger and faster. And I am ready to prove it at the Portland Marathon, or at least I will be when race day gets here in October.

As much as I want to run this race, I offered to skip it when my husband learned that he won’t be able to join me. It will be a big expense for us to travel from Chicago to Portland, and we are trying to be (at least somewhat) more budget conscious with college just three years away for our oldest child. Plus, it is not my nature to spend a large amount of money on something that will benefit only me. A family trip to Europe? A must. A weekend in Portland for me to run a race? An extravagance.

I am happy to say that my husband did not see it that way. When I mentioned us canceling the trip, he insisted we go. “You are running for both of us,” he said. And that is my plan. I remember how happy I was when he finished his second Chicago Marathon and set a new personal record. It may not have been my year, but I was thrilled that it was his.

I am sure I will feel a little sad when I enter the start corral without my running buddy on race morning, but I also know how much he wants me to finish and do well. Yesterday, when we were planning dinners for the week, he offered to make a meal with pasta on Thursday, the night I usually rest and carb load in anticipation of a long run Friday morning. We may not be able to run together for a while, but I appreciate how lucky I am to have his love and support as I head out the door on my own. It makes what I initially perceived as cheating feel a whole lot more like winning.

My running buddy and me in Sedona this spring

My running buddy and me during a trail run in Sedona this spring

A Letter to My Soon-to-Be 15-Year-Old

Dear son,

In two days you will be 15, which is a pivotal age. You get your driver’s permit, which is huge. But what has me even more concerned is that you will find yourself in increasingly challenging social situations. Only you can determine how you behave in them. Will you be a leader or a follower? My guess is a leader. But I know that, as all kids your age do, you are struggling to figure out this whole life thing. I don’t expect you to be perfect. I just want you to consider the consequences of your actions. You, and only you, are responsible for every choice you make, good or bad.

One of the most difficult things about parenting is the knowledge that your children will make mistakes and that you have no choice but to let them and hold them accountable. It’s especially hard, kiddo, because I remember vividly some of the downright stupid decisions I made when I was 15. Unlike you, I was a clueless mess with zero self-awareness. I was unhappy at home, unpopular at school. I made some poor choices because I wanted more than anything to be noticed, to belong. The more mistakes I made, the emptier and lonelier I felt. Each wrong step I took made my inner voice harder to hear.

I like to think that at almost 15 you are already too wise to repeat my teenage mistakes, too confident, too responsible. Unlike me, you have always known who you are. You have never cared about fitting in or being cool. And, at least I hope, you feel loved and supported at home. These three factors, I pray, will help you stay on the right path and remain true to yourself. Listen to that inner voice, kid. It speaks the truth.

The problem is that peer pressure becomes more complicated in high school, where even smart kids (like your dear old mom) make dumb decisions. You’re a sophomore now, and a lot of your friends are older than you. You may see people you admire and respect do things you know are wrong, even dangerous. Not only will you have to choose whether to join them, you will also have to decide if maintaining relationships with them is worth jeopardizing your own future. You don’t have to be the one doing the bad thing to get busted. Being there is enough.

I could preach to you right now. I could say, “Don’t make the same mistakes I made, son.” But I won’t. Your mistakes are yours to make, just as mine were when I was your age. There is nothing I can do to stop you. I just hope you will tell me about them when they happen. I hope mine will be the number you call if you find yourself in a situation you don’t know how to navigate. I hope mine will be the door you knock on if you get into trouble and need help. I may not have all the answers, but I will always be there for you. I will always listen. And I promise never to judge. I can’t, kiddo. I was 15 once too.

Love always,


My sweet boy on the morning of his baptism. I still remember the joy I felt seeing that smile on his face.

My sweet boy on the morning of his baptism. I still remember the joy I felt seeing that smile on his face.


Guardian Angel, Part 2

My brother and me circa 1983

My brother and me circa 1983

I never noticed the “other” tab on my Facebook message page until this morning when I was deleting some old messages from my inbox. When I clicked on it, I found messages dating back to 2012 from a handful of people I don’t know. One was from a Jack C., whose name I recognized from a friend request I had long since deleted. Curious, I opened it and discovered he is the grandson of my estranged brother’s ex-wife. He included her phone number and asked that I please call her. That was all he said. The message was dated June 24, 2013.

I knew I had to call, but I sat in my office paralyzed with fear. As much as I wanted to know if my brother was all right, I dreaded even more learning that he was not. I had not seen or spoken to him in the eight years since our father’s funeral, at which point he was clearly still battling addiction. What news did his ex-wife have to share? Did I want to hear it?

Shortly before Christmas, my cousin told me my brother and his ex-wife were back together, and I thought about contacting him then. My cousin gave me their address, but I never sent a card. I considered it again in March, around the time of our deceased mother’s birthday, wondering if he was remembering and missing her too (I wrote about that here). This week he was on my mind once more. Monday and Tuesday marked our father’s birthday and the anniversary of his death, respectively. In my mind, it was no coincidence that I stumbled upon Jack’s Facebook message just two days later. My dad is telling me to make the call, I thought, so I did.

After she recovered from the shock of hearing my voice, my former sister-in-law happily chatted with me, and we took a few moments to catch up. I was glad to hear she was doing well, but what I really wanted, of course, was news about my brother. All of it was good. She said he has been clean and sober and working steadily for more than five years. I burst into tears of relief and joy, feeling the weight of worrying and wondering about him lift. It would have been one thing for my brother to tell me he was off drugs, but hearing it from a woman I respect, trust and know is not a user made me sure it was true.

I asked how she found her way back to him; they were divorced after all, and he had hurt and disappointed her as much if not more than he had everyone else in the family. It turns out that our aunt, who raised me after our mother died and always supported my brother even at his worst, played a big part. Before she died, my aunt begged my former sister-in-law to give my brother another chance. After he went into rehab, she did, and without her love and compassion I doubt he would be where he is today. My brother doesn’t just have two parents as guardian angels. Our aunt is watching over him too. She sent his ex-wife back to him. I truly believe that.

Before we ended the call, we talked about getting together. She mentioned that they had seen pictures of my children on Facebook via 11-year-old Jack, whom she called an Internet whiz. She said my brother was afraid they would not hear from me because so much time had passed since I got the message, but she told him to “keep praying on it.” They have never met my two teenagers. By the end of our conversation, I felt as if that were a possibility.

I called my husband next, for courage and support, and then dialed my brother’s number. The sound of his voice had me in tears all over again. He was laidback and casual, stoic like our father, but that didn’t stop me from saying all the things I have wanted and needed to tell him for so long. I apologized for staying away, explaining that I was protecting my family. I asked if he understood, and he said he did. I told him I never stopped loving or thinking about him and that I never will. I said those things even though I knew they might embarrass him or make him uncomfortable. I said them because I had to. If I have learned one lesson through all the loss I have experienced, it is that the hardest words to say are the ones that matter most. You are never sorry to have said them, but you always regret no longer having the opportunity.

I hope to have more chances to become reacquainted with my brother after our talk today, but I know I need to proceed cautiously. Addiction still shadows his life. It always will. Today on the phone, though, I heard the big brother I remember. I can choose to believe in his recovery, and I do. I can choose to allow him back into my life, and I really want to. I owe thanks for that opportunity to 11-year-old Jack for sending the best Facebook message I almost never got. I am also grateful to my brother’s and my guardian angels — our mom, dad and aunt — who I believe helped me find it.

Just Run

My sixth half marathon: done

13.1: done

I am still beaming about Sunday’s Chicago Spring Half Marathon, which I ran in 2:08:15, setting a new personal record by almost six minutes. I maintained a consistent pace, and I have never felt stronger or more confident during a race.

This was a special one for me. Last year, I ran it to honor my deceased father on his birthday, and it was my first race after quitting smoking. It was also my fifth half marathon, and I finally beat my time from my first in 2011. This year, I was 15 months’ smoke-free when I crossed the finish line. My lungs were a year stronger and healthier, and I was diligent about staying on track with my training. The pressure, all of it self-imposed, was high to do even better this time. And I did — despite the niggling voice in my head that told me I couldn’t.

Even though I knew I was well-prepared, the voice managed to flame my self-doubt, especially during the final weeks of training. Your pace has been too slow on your long runs, it said. You’ll never be able to beat your PR from last year, it said. It’s not possible to get faster as you get older, it said. Get ready to be disappointed, it said.

By the week before the race, the voice was all I could hear. But then something happened that helped me quiet it. On Mother’s Day, my husband and daughter hung a bulletin board in my home office displaying bibs and photographs from the races I have run and put up two rows of hooks for my medals. Atop the bulletin board, they placed black capital letters that spell out “JUST RUN.” If you are a runner, you know that is often easier said than done. But the words, which were my 13-year-old daughter’s idea, are as brilliant as they are simple. They told me to ignore the voice in my head and focus on my feet hitting the pavement. During the week that followed, that is exactly what I did.

I only had three short, easy runs remaining before the race. Looking over my 12-week training log, I was proud to see that I had only skipped one three-mile run, despite countless available excuses, including two weeks of traveling. I knew I was ready in terms of mileage logged, but, as the voice relentlessly reminded me, my pace was not where I wanted it to be. Even though I was supposed to be tapering and resting, I needed to push myself after those disappointingly slow long runs. I saw the racing bibs and medals on my office wall, I realized how far I had come during the four years since my first 8K, and I heeded the advice above the bulletin board. My pace was strong for all three runs, and it was exactly the confidence boost I needed.

My Mother's Day gift could not have been more perfect in its message and its timing.

My Mother’s Day gift could not have been more perfect in its message or its timing.

When race morning came, the voice inside my head remained surprisingly quiet. Maybe it was the inspirational wall my family made for me. Maybe it was the distraction of my husband and a close friend running the race too. Maybe it was the awesome 2:10 pace group I ran the majority of the race with. Maybe it was all three. But for the first time probably ever during a race, I believed in myself the whole way. When I reached mile 10, I wasn’t just sure I could finish. I knew I would PR. I had no doubts. It was the best I have ever felt during a race because I stopped thinking. I just ran.

When our two rockstar pacers slowed down around mile 11 to ensure the 2:10 finishing time, several of the women who had been running with the group pushed ahead. At first I was unsure about leaving the group behind, but I felt strong and wanted to maintain the 9:45 pace. I knew I could do it, and I did. In fact, I sprinted across the finish line, simultaneously laughing and crying. One of the volunteers stopped me. I think she thought I was hyperventilating. “I’m OK,” I assured her. “I’m just happy.” Happy doesn’t even begin to explain how I felt.

For me, the best part of a race — besides crossing the finish line, of course — is finding my husband afterward. He is always proud of me. He always believes in me, even when I don’t believe in myself. When I told him I PRed, he said he knew I could do it. The difference was this time I knew it too.

Yep, still beaming.

My awesome friend Stacie, me and my husband: PRs for each of us. What an amazing race!

My awesome friend Stacie, me and my husband: PRs for all three of us. What a perfect day for a race!

The Martyr Mom

What's that you say? I can have a life of my own?

What’s that you say? I can have a life of my own?

She is so busy doing everything for everyone that she leaves no time for herself. Maybe she works. Maybe she doesn’t. Either way, she tells herself her schedule is far too full to allow an hour or so of “me time” here and there. Maybe her mama guilt convinces her it is selfish, or maybe she has lost sight of who she was before children and no longer knows what makes her happy. Either way, she has no life outside her family. She is secretly — sometimes openly — angry and resentful, and she is unwilling to acknowledge that she created her situation or at least enabled it to fester through inaction. She is the martyr mom, and I know her well. I used to be her.

When my children were 1 and 3, we moved from Chicago to the South Suburbs, where we knew only a handful of people. My husband traveled constantly for work, and I stayed home to care for the kids. Despite his packed schedule, he still found time to form a band with his buddies, to practice with them once a week and to book gigs in the city. While he played music, I played the martyr at home. I resented the time he spent away from the family, leaving me to deal with the kids on my own in the evening after an already long day with them. I was envious. Not because of the hours he spent with his friends, but because he entitled himself to pursue something he loved.

What about my “me time”? Well, I worked out regularly, but only at home and while the kids were napping. To me, that didn’t count. I was managing my health, not following a passion. I didn’t even know what my personal interests were anymore because I had immersed myself so fully in motherhood. Instead of trying to rediscover them, I obsessively micromanaged my kids’ activities and daily lives so I wouldn’t have to think about my own lack thereof. I begrudged my husband for having a life of his own, but I was too afraid and complacent to create one for myself. It was easier to hide behind my role as caregiver than to confront my personal dissatisfaction.

I don’t blame my husband for that period of our life together. He hated the stress of long hours at work and constant travel, and finding time to pursue his hobbies and interests brought him a sense of peace and balance. He didn’t ask me to wait at home while he was out having fun. He encouraged me to come along to the band’s gigs, which I gladly did. He also pushed me to get out and do things for myself, which I did not. At least not at first.

I’m not going to manufacture a quick and easy happy ending here. It took time for me to emerge from my mommy martyrdom. When my son started preschool shortly after we moved, I made some mom friends. I began picking up freelance writing assignments. I went out with other moms. I planned dates with my husband and dinners with other couples. The busier I became socially and professionally, the happier I grew and the more I realized what a disservice I had been doing to myself, my husband and our kids by putting my own life on a shelf to accommodate theirs.

What martyr moms can’t or won’t see is that the hobbies, classes and other activities we think we can’t possibly squeeze into our crazy schedules actually make us better mothers and role models for our children. Not only do they help relieve our stress and bring us joy, but they also show our kids that it is normal and healthy for moms (and dads too) to be something other than parents. I don’t want my daughter (or son) to grow up sacrificing her interests because she thinks all her time should be devoted to her family. I want her to be a happy, well-rounded woman who knows how to tell her mama guilt to shut the hell up once in a while.

Now that my kids are teenagers, it’s much easier for me to carve out a few hours here and there to do the things I love. The irony is that as my “me time” grows, what I want more than anything is time with them. The older they get, the more important every little thing seems, every school band concert, every track meet. I don’t want to miss any of the moments with them because soon enough I will have nothing but time to myself. What then? Maybe I can convince my husband to book a world tour for his band or, better yet, a summer in Europe for the two of us. Martyr mom would definitely not approve. It’s a good thing she doesn’t live here anymore.

I Just Wanted You to Know

Dear Mom,

I have been thinking of you a lot this week, I guess because Mother’s Day is tomorrow. I even got out that photo album you made. Do you remember the one I mean? It’s filled with shots of you and Dad from before you got married, on your wedding day and during your honeymoon. There are lots of photos of friends I never met and family members I barely remember. There are pictures from when you modeled in New York and when you worked at Michigan Bell. What was your job there again? Dad told me once, but I can’t remember. I love all the photos of you and him goofing around on your honeymoon. Where did you go on that trip? I think Dad said it was Niagara Falls, although I can’t tell from the pictures. It’s fun to see that you had a silly side. You both look so happy and in love.

I left the album on the couch the other day, and Isabel found it. She said I look like you, but I think she resembles you more. It is strange, but somehow comforting, to see myself and my daughter in photos of someone I don’t remember and she never knew. I wonder if she thought the same thing. I was overwhelmed with emotion looking at the album with her, knowing that you had thoughtfully placed all the photographs on the pages, adding funny captions, telling your life’s story. It was as if you were there beside us. I felt you, Mom.

Afterward, I hugged Isabel and told her how proud you would have been of her. I told her what a sweet, loving person she is. I told her how happy she makes people. I try to say things like that to her whenever I think of them, Mom. I say them because they are true, but also because you never had the chance to say them to me. I know you would have.

I just wanted you to know, Mom, that even though I was too young when you died to have any real memories of you, you have always been a presence in my life. I have the photographs of you and, even better, I have the stories Dad and others told me. I share them with Isabel and Sam from time to time because I don’t want you to be just a picture on the wall to them. I want them to know what a strong and talented woman their Grandmother Jeanne was. That is so important to me.

Aunt Thelma, my undeniably amazing second mother, used to say “life is for the living,” and I think that is true. We should focus on the loved ones who are still with us. But I also believe we should never forget those whom we have lost.

I just wanted you to know I am thinking of you, Mom, as I often do. And I wanted to tell you how much I love being a mother. It brings me peace, Mom, to be able to give my children the love, the comfort, the support you weren’t able to give me. It makes me happier than I ever imagined I could be.

I just wanted you to know.



 she never knew.