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I’m Out-ing My Book Club

March 27, 2011 9 comments

Maybe I shouldn’t do this but I’m about to OUT my Book Club.

Like most other Book Clubs (I suppose) we meet once a month. We just read Just Kids by Patti Smith. It was an inspirational book about an artist’s quest to be true to herself.

This month there were six of us. There could be anywhere from two to twelve of us. Sometimes our lives don’t afford the leisure time needed to read a whole book in one month, so it’s okay when one of us doesn’t have the mindset for whatever reason, to have finished the book. We are still invited to come and we often do. We meet at one of our houses and everyone brings something really good to eat.

We are a diverse group of women ranging in age from our early thirties to our mid forties. We have a lot going on in our lives and while we do discuss each book, inevitably, one of us strays “off topic” and we find ourselves talking about other things. Last Monday, it started with our pets; the dog that licked the furry inside of a pair of UGG moccasins, the chickens that come up to the porch every day and “call” for their food, the cat that carries the toy kitty in its mouth like a baby all through the house.

I’m sure every Club has its unique qualities, ours however, is very special. Okay, here is where I start the OUT-ing.


One of the six of us recently plunged back into “commute-mode”, making the hour-and-a-half train trek that it takes to get into the City, each day. She just took an editor’s position at a well known comic book company. She talked about how her family life is being affected by this new venture, how she gets home late and has less time to spend with her kids now.

We do what we have to do, yes. Some of us do it better than others. She, is showing us how to “do it” with grace.

Another one of us took on the daunting task of home-schooling her two children this year. She spoke of the struggles and triumphs she experiences while teaching her children, herself. She inspires awe. She is also the same wise, young mom who reminded me a few years ago that you need to set a good example for your “daughters” by showing them that as a woman, being a mom is awesome but that doesn’t mean you have to give up being an individual who pursues her own interests, hobbies and friendships. The travel writer in our group is on her way to Ghana this week. She has been collecting money for toilets to be built at a school there that doesn’t have any. She is a giving soul whose generous nature and fearless spirit is an example to us all.

Our musician has gone back to school for nursing. She is kind and caring and seems to be able to juggle her music, her part-time job, being a mom and being a student, all while her musician husband is away on tour in Europe, with mind-blowing ease. There is now the adventurer who came for the first time this month. She bought but didn’t read the book. She actually went to Spain and saw Patti Smith perform last month. She shared that fantastic experience with us, along with the tale of riding an airport bus the day after the concert with the cellist who was hired to play for Patti. This woman is unwavering in her dedication as an educator and her commitment to learning for all children. And then there was the one of us whose life is not where she expected it to be right now. She is exploring all of her new, scary, exciting options and drawing strength from each of these women who reassure her efforts and gently point her in directions they think will help her secure the independence she’s seeking.

This month, Book Club began with Patti Smith’s incredible life adventure. From there we went to pets, to jobs, then math, travels, astrological charts and finally, to one of our daughter’s who’s recently been bullied at school. This topic in particular infuriated all of us as we offered empathy and suggestions to our friend.

Hell hath no fury like a mom whose kid is being “messed” with — let alone six of us.

Book Club met this past Monday. It was a round table of support, advice, laughter, good food and good friends.

And although it’s our love for books that brought us together, it’s the encouragement that we continue to receive from each other as we journey on our own quests, to be true to ourselves and the love that we have for one another, that keeps us coming back, month after month, whether we’ve read the book or not.

There. It’s done. We’re OUT-ed.

Tell me, are you in a Book Club and do you love yours as much as I love mine?

1-9-1-4

March 20, 2011 3 comments

Did you know that dialing any combination of 9-1-1 connects you to a 911 operator? It’s true.

For instance, if, let’s say, you are a nine year-old kid and your mom has a cell phone that has a 914 area code and you live in an 845 area code, when calling her from your home phone, you have to dial 1 (for long distance) 9-1-4… to reach her. At nine years-old, you may not be too land-line savvy. You might be a little slow on the dialing or you don’t always remember the “4” fast enough because you have to remember the 1 at the beginning. If there is any hesitation in getting to the 4, just dialing the 1-9-1 combination connects you to 911. And if you’re nine, no matter how many times this happens, you just think the call isn’t going through so you hang up and try again. While you’re trying again, the 911 operator is calling you back to make sure everything is “Okay” but you’re not answering the second line because you are calling your mom again on the first line, remember?

Did you also know, that when you don’t answer a 911 operator’s call back, in New York at least, they automatically send law enforcement to your house. And when they come to your house, in addition to making sure everything is “Okay“, they request to see and speak with the 911 caller.

How do I know this?

They’ve been coming to my house for years. It used to be once or twice a year since the time my son was a toddler and would find his way into our basement office and “play” with the fax machine. I never heard the return call on the fax machine from the 911 operator so, a police officer would be dispatched to our house. It took three visits before we figured out it was the toddler and the fax machine. I used to think it was only local police that responded to 911 calls but lately, it’s been a NYS Trooper. And over the past several months, the Troopers have come to our home so often, that last month when the Trooper pulled up in front of our house and my son saw him from the bay window in our living room, he simply called out:

“Hannah! Someone’s here to see you!”

Yes, it’s my nine year-old Hannah, who is responsible for our more recent meet and greets. It seems that nearly every time she tries to call my 9-1-4 cell phone, a NYS Trooper ends up at our door. No kidding!

And as of this month, it’s not just our door either!

A few weeks ago, when I went to pick up Hannah at school, I noticed a State Trooper pulling out of the parking lot as I was pulling in. I’d say that would raise a curious eye brow for any parent picking up their kid but it was me who the “porch” teacher met at my car. He came bearing the news that after trying to call me from the school phone unsuccessfully, 911 was accidentally called by my daughter. Hence the State Trooper, who apparently had a “nice little chat” with Hannah. This, was so not surprising. And it’s probably a really good thing that I work there three days a week.

I think it’s important to nurture a sense of independence in children. I think they should feel they can be trusted and shown that you have confidence in them. And it’s only in the past several months that we’ve felt comfortable enough to resume moving forward in this effort. So, I was pleased when Hannah opted to stay home alone for the 6 minutes it would take me to drive my son to his tennis lessons and come back, about a week ago.

Ah, I should have known. I hadn’t even shut the door behind me after returning when I glanced over my shoulder and saw the all too familiar, navy blue vehicle with yellow lettering pull up onto my front lawn.

“Hannah?”, I called inside the door, “Any idea why the State Troopers would be coming to our house?”

“Oh, um, yeah” she said, “that could be me.”

Between the tennis run last Friday and a quick jaunt to the post office a little later this week, the Troopers were at my house, twice. Yes, that’s twice in one week’s time.

I wonder if calls from our house are somewhat expected now or have become part of the training program for the new guys? A different Trooper comes every time. The last fellow that came was awfully, young. I suspect it’s also possible that our address has been “red flagged” for other reasons. Either way, it is always a State Trooper and, they come fast!

I never get rattled though, when I see a Trooper pull up to my house. In fact, I don’t think it’s the worst thing for my neighbors to see the company I keep. Besides, I find things like a 6ft cardboard cut-out of a vampire and NYS Troopers at my front door, comforting these days.

I also happen to be a bit partial to NYS Troopers and to one in particular, whom I will forever be indebted.

To all the other Troopers that are perhaps, taking turns coming to my house, meeting and speaking to my Hannah, I thank you for your service to our community and most especially, to my family.

Life’s Terms – Not Mine

March 13, 2011 39 comments

I was at work when my cell phone rang and I could see from my contact list that it was “Parole Officer – Diane” calling. Diane had been assigned to our case last Spring and had interviewed me for several hours. She was the only person that I encountered within the judicial system, in the five months that passed from arrest to sentencing, who actually took the time to listen, really listen to what happened to my family and understand how much it effected us. During the sentencing in June, she stood in between me and the assistant district attorney prosecuting our case. To my right was the defense attorney, next to him, his client; the offender. We were standing before the judge’s bench when Diane reached up and touched my arm because my right hand had begun to tremble uncontrollably when I started to speak.

It’s not like I’ve never spoken in public before, I have, many times but this was different, very different. It was personal. I was talking about my children. The gentle reminder of Diane’s presence calmed me, enabling me to continue to read aloud the 3-page, typed statement I’d prepared. The court calls it a Victim’s Impact Statement. For me, it was a bearing of my soul, exposing my innermost feelings and fears, in public. Difficult. Painful. But as any parent can relate, when it comes to your children and in particular, their safety, your own comfort is inconsequential. You do what you have to, for them. You do ANYTHING. Diane gave me strength that day to do what I needed to do, so when I answered her call and she asked if I would speak on a Victim’s Impact Panel, I said, “Yes”.

This would be the second time a panel of this kind was held in our county and the second time I would speak on it.

This past Thursday, the panel gathered in a small room off to the side of the community room at our city’s police station. We met with a victims advocate who is also a psychiatrist. She gave us breathing techniques and other ideas on what to do if we got anxious while speaking. We introduced ourselves to each other and briefly mentioned the type of crime that had effected our lives. The woman next to me was one of three of us from the first panel. It was oddly comforting to see her again. Hers is a powerful story. She and her husband were attacked by her daughter’s ex-boyfriend. He had machetes hidden in his jacket when he entered their home and cut them both, badly. Her husband lost a thumb. He was a carpenter. He turned to alcohol. They’re separated now.

Shortly after the introductions, we took our seats at the front of the community room and watched the parolees shuffle in, one by one, sitting three at a table. There were ten, maybe fifteen tables. Questionnaires had been placed in front of each seat and they were instructed to fill them out at the end in order to receive “credit” for being there. Five officers were strategically placed throughout the room.

Like the last time, Diane introduced me first and rather abruptly, the room went from chatty and busy to silent while all eyes settled on me. I took a deep breath and began to recount what happened to my family and how it has effected our lives. After a while, even though I could still hear myself talking, a part of me seemed to detach from the speaker and I also became the looker, the watcher, the observer; scrutinizing the bodies that sat before me. I found myself noting what they were wearing, how they sat; their demeanor. There were men and women of various ages, although the majority of them were young. They were dressed in every fashion, whether it was proper attire, or not. Although, they were told to remove their hats before we started. They were black, white, Spanish, Asian and other. It was a mixed crowd and unless you knew what brought this diverse group of people together, you couldn’t guess what they had in common. I didn’t have to. Other than the fact that they were all here by court order, mandated to sit for the next 2 hours and listen to our stories, I knew that each one of these people was a convicted felon, having committed such crimes as aggravated assault, battery, arson, fraud, attempted murder, burglary, illegal drug use or sales.

Like the last time, I found the audience to be quiet and respectful. And again, I was honestly taken by how attentive everyone was. Really. You can’t fake eye contact and most of the people there seemed genuinely interested in what we had to say. For many of these offenders, it was the first time they came “face to face” with real consequences of their actions.

After revisiting the life-changing event that brought us to this room, we were escorted back into the smaller room to “debrief” and discuss our experience with the psychiatrist and other law enforcement agents that were there. About ten minutes later, Diane came in holding the questionnaires that the parolees were required to fill out and handed them to us to look at. It was interesting to learn what crimes these people actually committed and fascinating to learn what, if anything about our stories had an impact on them. I was curious to see what they would say to their victims if they had the opportunity, “I’m sorry”, was the most popular response.

Just like last time, it was the effect the crime had on my children that made the biggest impression on the offenders that were impacted by my story. Perhaps it was the fact that I was too distraught to put up a Christmas tree for my kids or that my 9-year old daughter was having nightmares and wetting her bed. Maybe it was hearing that my son (who had just turned 11) was a primary suspect and upon learning that, I instinctively refused to sign the complaint statement that would allow the detectives to pursue their investigation, leaving us effectively, on our own. Or, it could have been me telling them, that for most of November, December and January, my boy would sit outside our house, in the cold, for over an hour after school, waiting for me to come home from work, rather than go inside by himself because he was too afraid, that struck a chord with some.

One man who commented on my story said he felt “helpless” while listening to me talk about what happened.

So did I — at the time.

And just like last time, I remained unemotional and composed, throughout– until I got into my car to go home.

I realize, you can’t let an event in your life define who you are. It’s not what happens to you but what you do when something happens that becomes part of your character. It’s recognizing what you would do differently and what you did well. It’s about trusting your instincts and finding the strength to do what you know in your heart is right, even when the person closest to you is trying to dissuade you.

Ultimately, it’s what you learn from the event that helps shape who you are.

I’m not quite finished dealing with the aftermath of this event. It’s opened up a Pandora’s Box in my life. It’s put me onto a path I never expected to be on. But I’m Okay with where I am today and even though it’s not a very comfortable place to be, I believe I’m where I’m supposed to be. I think that’s true for the rest of my family, too.

When I ask myself if it was a good thing for me to speak and tell my story, again and when I wonder if it made a difference or mattered to anyone, I can honestly say, “Yes, it did”, to me anyway. It helped me put things in perspective and reminded me that I am living life on life’s terms, not mine and of how far I’ve come from feeling helpless and not being able to put up a Christmas tree.

Posts related to this topic by this author:  Unsolicited Journey, My Edward, Impact

I Heard the Plunk of Hope This Week!

February 19, 2011 Leave a comment

I love living in New York. I enjoy the seasons and like to feel the weather change. Variety is a friend to me. I’m not real big on extremes. It’s all about balance. So, after we were hit by our eighth snowstorm this Winter, I started to get a little wary. Actually, (like so many other moms, I’m sure) between the shoveling and baking on our already too many school days off, I’ve just about had it! But thankfully, it’s February and February, is like Wednesday. It’s the hump month of Winter. Get through February and Spring is like Friday, you can see the end in sight. It’s right around the corner! February is also fickle. It’s weather often provides a teaser to what lies ahead; Spring plays a game of peek-a-boo. That’s fine. I’ll take it because I am ready.

Like a snake that sheds it’s skin, I’m ready to rid myself of this winter’s dread, trying not to let it bog me down or suffocate me like I know it wants to. It’s hard not to just succumb. I need encouragement from the environment to hang in there! For me, Spring is a time of renewal and I have a lot of renewing to do! My life requires a complete overhaul and I want to get to it. In general, I’m not a procrastinator, so when the doldrums of Winter seem to be hanging on, putting Spring on the back burner, I tend to get a little antsy. Like everyone else, I’m eager to go outside with out the fear of freezing. I want to literally smell the roses again. Okay, I realize I  may have to wait until May for that but there’s no harm in thinking ahead, is there?

Thankfully, this week I heard the plunk, plunk, plunking sound of sap dripping its way into those aluminum buckets hanging on the maple trees at the school I work in. It’s truly a sure sign of proof that Spring is indeed hovering in the air. It is the environment, clearly and loudly telling me,”Hang in there! We’re at the front door of brighter days!” After all, the sap only flows right before Spring, when the nights are cold and the days are warm.

Yes, I heard the plunking sound of sap this week! Oh, the sweet sound of the plunk! Now, I have hope.

After a few days of hope, gratitude will seep in and with gratitude, all things can be accomplished.

Categories: Comfort, Life Tags:

My Edward

January 23, 2011 17 comments

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”  ~ Martin Luther King

You may not know where forward is going to lead you but you do know when you have to do something to help you move in that direction.

He came upon a winter’s night in late February, 2010. Actually, it was a winter’s day but the sentiment is the same. It was out of the blue. Unexpected. Fate. Meant to be. Sometimes, you don’t know what you need until you see it. And when I saw him standing there, as silly as it may sound, I knew I needed to have him. Love at first sight, if you will. Tall, dark and handsome yes, but more than that, he was CREEPY looking; an answer, albeit a slightly disturbing one, to a prayer I didn’t even realize I had. I also knew there were several other younger, prettier girls who were just as determined as I was (if not more-so) to have him. But honestly, somehow I just knew he would be coming home with me that day and he did.

My husband was appalled that I brought him into our home. But after what we had all just been through, I wasn’t concerned about his reaction. Frankly, I didn’t care. Edward was staying. My 12-year old son was embarrassed, “Oh, come on, Mom! Are you kidding me?!” he said, even though I knew he too, was oddly comforted by Edward’s presence in the same twisted way that I was.  My 9-year old daughter was amused. A little creeped out but mostly amused. I know he’s raised more than an eyebrow or two in the neighborhood. That was after all, my intention. Although, not one person has actually had the nerve to ask me about him. Not that I would feel compelled or obligated to explain him if they did.

For nearly a year now, he has stood in the long, thin window at a side entrance to our house overseeing our driveway. Without moving, he looks in the direction of our neighbor’s house to our immediate left. The ones who we have lived next door to for 18-years. The neighbors who we share grass with and whose family room I can see right into from our kitchen window. The same ones whose 21-year old son terrorized my family for at least 6 months (that we know of) last year and who the court issued a 5-year Order of Potection against, for each member of my family, including my two children, but that’s another story for another day– maybe.

This, is about Edward. My Edward. My 6ft tall, cardboard cut-out of Edward Cullen; the teenage vampire from the Twilight series. I won him in a raffle at a local high school during intermission at a performance of Bye Bye Birdie. He was the prize all the young girls wanted but it was me who had the winning number and I knew it would be.

Edward serves a purpose for me; an irrational one perhaps, but a purpose none the less. He “keeps an eye” on the house next door and the menacing boy who lives there. You can’t come in or out of my neighbor’s driveway (which is adjacent to ours) without seeing Edward in our window or more importantly, without him seeing you. He looks very real. Like the movie character, my cardboard cut-out has deep, dark, smoldering eyes; the kind that make you feel uneasy as though he is looking through you and not at you; like he’s judging you. The kind that say, ‘That’s right, I’m watching you, now — punk.’ He’s perfect. And he’s not going anywhere; not at least until I do.

He brings me comfort in a way that’s difficult to adequately verbalize. I don’t really expect people to understand. His presence helped me take those first few steps forward that I needed to take last February and since then, we’ve even managed to take Edward out and have a little fun with him from time to time.

You never know what life is going to bring you. Living life on life’s terms is not always easy and we all need to be comforted every once in a while, for whatever reason. Some people turn inward or to a friend or a pet. Others find solace in a bottle or in food. Me, I found a little bit of peace of mind in a cardboard cut-out with dark, smoldering, piercing eyes.

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