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We The Jury ~ And Then There Were Six Part III

July 19, 2015 4 comments

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Opening Statements on Tuesday took the entire day. The Plaintiffs’ attorney spoke first on behalf of his clients, a man and his wife. The couple had five children and had been married for nearly 40-years. Basically, the attorney outlined their case, telling us a tragic story about how a seemingly healthy, happy, successful man in his late 50s went to the hospital on a cold winter’s day in January six years ago with chest pain. The man was given an electrocardiogram (EKG) an essential, initial evaluation of a patient suspected to have heart problems. It’s a non-invasive procedure whereby 12 small, sticky electrodes are placed on various parts of your chest. The electrodes monitor the electrical activity of your heart and transfer the information to an EKG machine which prints the heart’s activity out in wavy lines on special graph paper. After having the EKG, it was determined that the man should be transferred to a local hospital that had a Catheritization-Laboratory (Cath-Lab). This is a special room that has diagnostic equipment that allows a doctor to view and treat arteries of the heart.

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In the Cath-Lab, a stent (small expandable metal tube) was placed in the man’s left anterior descending artery otherwise known as the widow maker. A stent holds the artery open while allowing blood to flow freely. Unfortunately, the stenting process resulted in a jailed artery. This happens when plaque is inadvertently moved by the stent or metal from the newly placed stent blocks a side artery or branch during the procedure. The heart surgeon attempted to re-open the side branch unsuccessfully and to avoid further risk to the patient, made the decision to close off or jail the side artery. The Plaintiff was sent to the Cardio-Thoracic Step Down Unit (a recovery floor that is one step below an intensive care unit and one step above a general surgery unit). Here, the attorney alleged, due to negligent care, the man suffered a third heart attack, resulting in subsequent operations and procedures including having to wear a heart vest (much like a wearable defibrillator), having a Dor procedure, having a battery operated left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implanted under his skin and ultimately a heart transplant followed by several open heart surgeries because due to infection. Needless to say the man’s ability to work and function as a husband and father was changed for the rest of his life.

So began the trial and a journey among strangers that would ask us to settle what we would deem a perfect storm. What happens when a group of people spend the majority of their waking hours together, often confined to a room for long periods of time, every day for what would turn out to be several weeks in a row, each being exposed to the same experience yet undoubtedly processing it differently? You get to know people in a way that you don’t get to know even your co-workers whom you might see daily when you are in a situation like this. All of the superficial, ritual fluff that comes with the process of getting to know someone is immediately shed exposing the core of them, their struggles and strengths, their values and beliefs rather quickly. There’s no time or space for anything less.

Life is a series of stories and each of us has our own to tell.

Juror #1, Gloria
First on the daily sign in sheet, first on line to enter the courtroom, Gloria sat in the first row, first seat closest to the witness stand in the jury box. A retired caretaker in a rehabilitation center, she’s a woman in her 60s, of medium height with short, silvery hair parted to the side and curled around the edges. She’s a smoker with a slightly weathered exterior. Gloria was a solid woman; very smart and of humble beginnings who had mothered four children who were now grown. She had a terrible condition that often caused her to cough uncontrollably at random times during court, causing the Judge to sometimes pause the proceedings and offer her water, to which she said, “only made it worse.” After about two weeks into the trial, a witness, who was a nurse, tried to offer her assistance from the witness stand. The judge gently admonished the witness. No communication of any kind is allowed with the jury, at any time. Gloria was relieved as a juror shortly after that. I was never sure if it was because of her condition, the interaction with the witness or both but she told us she was glad to leave, saying she didn’t think she would have been able to make a decision in the end. I was sad to see her go.

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Photo Credit: Juror #2, John, who took this picture while flying his helicopter over the courthouse one weekend during the trial.

Juror #2, John
John is 60. Second in line, second seat in the jury box. A white-haired retired detective who also flew helicopters for the police department and coast guard in earlier days. Nowadays, he flies for a private company that services very wealthy people and celebrities including Bon Jovi, Jerry Seinfeld and President Clinton. After the first day or two, John suggested we go around the jury room and tell everyone a little bit about ourselves. It was the starting point of getting to know one another in a meaningful way. His presence had a stabilizing effect on the dynamic of our group. John’s story like so many others includes a tragic, heartbreaking event. We learned that he lost his 17-year old son in a fatal car crash. Ironically, as I learned about John’s son, my own 16-year old son was taking his road test for his driver’s license. I couldn’t bear to think about John’s loss and I truly marveled at his pleasant demeanor and even-temperament. John came to the jury room with a new joke every day.

A cat and mouse went to heaven. When up there, the mouse met up with St. Peter who asked the cat what he thought of heaven. “I like it lot,” he said. “Although, it’s just very big and hard to get around sometimes. If I had a pair of roller skates, that would helpful.” St. Peter quickly granted his request, and off the mouse went. A few days later St. Peter bumped into the cat. “How are you finding heaven?” he asked the cat. “Well, at first I thought it was, eh, okay,” the cat said, “but when I realized you had a Meals on Wheels program, I thought it was great!”

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Juror #3, Dolores
I can’t explain why but from day 1, I felt very connected and drawn to Dolores. She is a very attractive African American woman in her late 70s. Her facial features are pointed, small and clearly defined. She wore just enough rouge to highlight her petite cheekbones and smooth, glowing brown skin. A tall, thin woman, her hair is the color of a cultured pearl, arranged in soft, short, dangling cornrow braids that cover her whole head although don’t fall too far below her ears. It was so beautiful. I wanted to ask her if she did her hair herself but Delores is a private, proud person and I didn’t want to be intrusive. She kept many of her opinions to herself except when it came to voicing her opinions on politics. She has strong views, as most of us do. The mother of three children, two boys and a girl, one of her sons was killed in a motorcycle accident when he was in his twenties. Dolores’ husband suffered a stroke and she was his caretaker for 28 years before he passed. She worked for Planned Parenthood for over 30 years and was now retired. There is a quiet, self –assured-ness about Dolores that exudes wisdom. I saw a rock-solid, inner strength in her and an inner peace that I aspire to have one day.

I was Juror #4
Fourth in line, fourth seat in the first row of the jury box. Although I was not seated in the middle of the jury box, I was seated in the middle of “the well”, the space between the Judge’s bench and the attorneys’ tables. The podium used by the Defense attorneys stood right in front of me. The court reporter sat slightly to my right in front of the Judge’s bench. I could read on her laptop screen what she typed on her stenotype machine. I had a perfect view of the courtroom. I felt honored to be a part of this process and recognized that so many other things, so much bigger than what I could see around me at the time, were happening.

Juror#5, Christina
Christina was the fifth and last person seated in the first row of the jury box. She is twenty-one and goes to college in Tennessee. She studies Intercultural Studies and Business for Non-Profits. Home for the summer, she’s the oldest of three siblings and the youngest among the jurors. She was also, the most quiet. Although when she spoke, she was articulate and thoughtful with her words. It was clear she had been paying attention to every word that was said around her. Like myself, she brought a book every day. Occasionally we would read during down time. She started and finished The Hobbit during our time in the jury room. I started and finished Legend, the first in a series of three books written by Marie Lu and recommended by my daughter. Christina radiates the promise of youth. Her presence was like a breath of fresh air. She’s genuine, sweet and honest and I have a feeling she will do great things in life.

Jurors #1 through #5 sat in the first of two rows. Jurors #6 through #10 sat in a raised row behind the first row.

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Juror #6, Debbie
Debbie was the sixth person in line and the first person to sit in the second row of the jury box behind Gloria. She does not like to be called Deborah and I felt bad, having made the mistake a few times before I was able to catch myself. In grammar school, catholic school, the nuns called her De-bor-ah and she hated that. Debbie wore a string of pearls with each outfit, everyday. She emits professionalism. Until of course she laughs, which she does a lot, then, she’s just a regular gal like the rest of us. An IBM Executive, IT Project Manager, Debbie oversees 29 people in her division. None of who live in the United States. In fact, she’d just received her new crew the Friday we were called to jury duty. She tried to make a case when she was chosen as a juror to be excused but the lawyers would not want to let her go. Debbie was usually the first to arrive every morning. She, like the rest of us often felt frustrated by the amount of idle time we had to pass. She had lots of ideas about efficiency. It’s no wonder she has the job she does, we half expected her to send the Judge a report at the end of the trial on what she should or could do to improve juror conditions and move a case along faster. Debbie is going to win the lottery. She told us so. In fact, she told us every day, three times a day. It’s part of her mantra to make it happen and one day, it will happen. Divorced with two grown children, it was Debbie that I felt I had the most in common with. I could relate to where some of her struggles have brought her too. She’s a competent, capable woman, deeply influenced by strong moral beliefs and I have much respect for her. Debbie has a big, beautiful heart and I’m honored to call her my friend.

As a means of helping us pass time in the jury room, Debbie brought in Table Topics, a game that uses a series of cards to ask engaging questions that inspire conversation. She would pick a card, read the question and we would go around the room and answer or not answer it, if we didn’t want to.

Some of the questions and answers that linger in my memory:

Who has inspired or acted as a mentor to you?
Juror #3 Dolores: Maya Angelou and Mahatma Gandhi.

What is your astrological sign?
Juror #2, John: Aquarius
Juror #5, Christina: Capricorn
Juror #6, Debbie: Virgo
Juror #9, Joe: Taurus

What is a goal you have?
Juror #5, Christina: to write a book.

What is the most important quality you look for in a friend?
The majority of us had the same answer, integrity and honesty.

Describe a life experience that has helped make you a stronger person.
This is the question that exposed of core of many of us.

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Juror #7, Michelle
Michelle was seventh in line and sat in the second seat in the second row of the jury box. From day one, we each claimed a seat around the conference table in the jury room and kept it, except for Michelle. Michelle chose not to sit at the table. Usually she sat closest to the door in one of the chairs that lined the wall but she never sat at the table with us during the trial. She also stood a lot in the room during breaks. Many of us did. After sitting for hours at a time in the courtroom, standing was a welcome relief. A single woman in her mid-forties, Michelle is tall and athletic, caring and sensitive. She teaches Social Studies and English to 6th graders in a nearby public school. During the summer months she works in a pro shop at a golf course. It’s evident that she loves her jobs and her Irish heritage. When she speaks about her mom who (just like my mom) is an immigrant from Ireland, she can’t help but talk in a perfect Irish brogue. It’s endearing, as is Michelle.

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Michelle has dual citizenship in the US and Ireland. She’s guided by her deeply rooted, Irish-Catholic beliefs and is a Pioneer, an Irish person who made a promise at her confirmation not to take a drink. Ever. At 44, she has never had alcohol. I never knew what a Pioneer was until Michelle told me. After the trial, when I asked my mom about it she said, “Oh yeah, your grandmother was a Pioneer as well”. This was news to me. My mom was actually in possession of my grandmother’s Pioneer Pin and gave it to me after I asked her about it. When I was seven I went to Ireland with my mom and younger brother. That was the only time I’d ever met my grandmother. She gave me a Claddagh ring, a traditional Irish ring representing love, loyalty and friendship. The ring was eventually stolen, so to have her Pioneer Pin now was extremely sentimental and meaningful to me, and I have Michelle to thank for that.

Juror #8, Cameron
Cameron was the eighth person in line. She sat behind me in the jury box. I liked Cameron a lot. She’s a soft-spoken, level headed, kind, woman; a college counselor at a local private high school. Cameron is a thinker. A week into the trial, she received word that her father-in-law who was in Hospice care was near the end and requested to be excused. Her request was granted.

Within the first two weeks our Jury of 10 had become a Jury of 8. Now only two of us would be alternates.

Juror #9, Joe
Joe is the fourth person to sit in the second row. He’s a middle-aged, bald man in his early 50s who works at Home Depot. Every day he wore either a navy blue Ralph Lauren baseball cap with yellow stitching or a black Tommy Hilfiger cap. You’re not allowed to wear a cap in the courtroom so he’d leave his in the jury room. He also had an earring hole in his left ear but never wore an earring. Joe’s a friendly guy. He’s not married and has no kids but lives with his partner. He likes to cook. He usually came in with a cup of coffee in the morning and like many of us, brought one back after the lunch hour. Joe played solitaire with Julie (Juror #10) every day. On the last day of the trial when Closing Statements were made, he finally won. Joe’s a deep thinker. You could tell he gave careful consideration to his answers when we played Table Topics. He took being a juror seriously. We all did. In fact, we all talked about the responsibility that came with being a juror and how important that was.

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Juror #10, Julie
Julie is a woman also in her 50s. Her brownish hair has an eggplant colored hue to it. She works at JC Penney and has two grown children who live in another state that she doesn’t get to see much. She’s also a smoker. I would see her and Juror #1, Gloria (before she left) sitting outside having a smoke at lunch when I’d go across the street to get a cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts. It’s been close to 14 years since I’ve had a cigarette and sometimes I enjoy a second hand waft. Sometimes during a break, Julie would head downstairs for a quick smoke. Because the door was locked from the outside, anyone entering the jury room other than the court officer who had a key, would have to knock. Michelle who was usually closest to the door would answer but not before jokingly asking for the “password” which was Helicopter and a nod to John’s profession.
adimeJulie has common sense and some street smarts behind her. There is something quite compelling about her. She described a difficult childhood to us and I wondered how her life may have differed if she had more opportunity growing up. Julie works at JC Penney and brought us all coupons one day. She also shared an interesting story with us about James Cash Penney, the founder of JC Penney, who hated Franklin D Roosevelt and his policies so much that he refused to carry dimes in the cash registers in the stores because they are imprinted with Roosevelt’s picture. The only dimes in the cash register at a JC Penney (to this day) are those circulated by customers. The stores never order them from the bank.

These were the ten of us, who became eight within the first two weeks. Two of us were alternates yet we had no idea who. As the days and weeks began to pass this would loom above each us. Who would ultimately stay and deliberate? Who would not? How and when would we know? While the process of selection fascinated me, who we were individually was equally if not more intriguing.

It didn’t take long for me to realize there was nothing arbitrary about who had been chosen for this specific case. As different as we learned we were, together we were a balance and there was (thankfully) a very strong, common trait that we all shared, one that presented itself loudly and clearly:

Each of us had a deep desire to do the right thing.

Note: If you would like to read And Then There Were Six Part I, you can find it here.

Part II, The Jury Assembled can be read here.

George

April 14, 2013 9 comments

Barbershop

In the new storefront a man stood in front of the huge glass window watching people, including us, walk by his establishment. My eyes met his as we passed and then I couldn’t help but notice the two, large, empty chairs that sat in front of mirrors behind him. There was a quiet look of discontent on his face. I felt bad for him. This poor man I thought, wondering how he could have chosen this location.

Doesn’t he know?

We had an appointment two doors down from the empty store where there was a bustle of activity. It was busy here and even though we had called in advance, there were three people ahead of us, waiting patiently, for his time. He glanced up stopping what he was doing, only for a moment as we entered and offered a substitute, as he usually does.

As usual, we thanked him and respectfully declined.

It will be a while, he said.

It’s Okay. We’ll wait. 

You can’t be in a rush when you come to see this man. You don’t want to be in a rush.

Finally, he beckoned us over. I took my place, off to the side. Shortly after, the discussions began. I listened intently, chiming in occasionally as they spoke of worldly things like the flu epidemic and how dangerous it can be for sick people to be in the hospital. Margaret Thatcher’s passing was brought up and he talked about her great personal achievements and the contributions she made to the advancement of women and our political world.

Then his thoughts turned to North Korea. 

What do you think of this guy, Kim Jong Un? Do you think he’s being influenced by the men that used to rule with his father? How do you think the US will respond if he fires a nuclear missile?

He was genuinely interested in my son’s response and in the 30-minutes that the job took, there was a lively exchange of meaningful topics. Solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems were flirted. It’s always interesting to hear his views but fascinating to watch this man’s skill, as all the while, he continues laboring, never missing a beat, meticulously working his craft like the artist that he is, coming back several times to the same spot until it looks or feels just right. He’s consistent and a constant. He’s reliable; a friend and the only person we’ve ever trusted with this task. And despite the seriousness of his work and the broadness of the topics he covers, it always begins with the same question, prompting the same response.

April 2013

April 2013

What number will it be today, Noah?…

…is the question.

Number two….

…is the answer.

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April 2013

At least it has been, for the last 14 years.

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Noah’s first haircut with George ~ December 1999

Photo Credit #1 Google Images

Photo Credit #2 -#3 Karen Szczuka Teich & Takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

A Walk In The Woods

January 20, 2013 14 comments

What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Cold Spring, NY ~ January 2013

Cold Spring, NY ~ January 2013

For many, many moons now I’ve had the great fortune of a “standing“, weekly walk in the woods with a friend.  Last week, she suggested we tread a new path.

Cold Spring, NY ~ January 2013

Cold Spring, NY ~ January 2013

So, we did. We saw some interesting new sights…..

Cold Spring, NY ~ January 2013

Cold Spring, NY ~ January 2013

…and met a few new friends along the way. Standing still and strong and beautiful were two deer watching us, curiously and cautiously as we passed.

Cold Spring, NY ~ January 2013

Cold Spring, NY ~ January 2013

Be true to your work, your word and your friend. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Mostly we lost sight of the path and got lost in the hour’s chatter like we always do. We talk about everything and nothing, all of which encompass the important happenings of our lives. We exchange intimate details that are meant to be freely shared with someone who will keep them safely to themselves. Trust. This ritual helps me stay centered within, ever reminding me to be grateful for the peace and beauty in the people and places that surround me and the ability to see them, touch them and be with them, giving me all I need to go forth.

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined.  ~ Henry David Thoreau

Wappingers, NY ~ January 2013

Wappingers, NY ~ January 2013

For me, this is…

living life to the fullest, while fully awake. ~ Henry David Thoreau

What do you do to center yourself?

Photo Credits #1-4: Karen Szczuka Teich & Takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

Resting My Foot On Your Head

May 20, 2012 15 comments

In January my horoscope for 2012 advised me to ‘go forth in the way I intend to be.’ Taking that to heart, I’ve been very committed to being open to all kinds of possibilities while keeping it simple and spending my free time, well.

Storm King Art Center

After you pull up to the entry booth and dole out a $12 fee per person, a security guard will approach the driver’s window and give you parking options as well as the vitally important low down on where the porta-pottys and the onereal-restroom can be found on the over 500-acres of these magnificently manicured and cultivated grounds. Storm King Art Center featuring large-scale sculptures, in New York’s HudsonValley, is massive and totally worth the trip across the river, up from Westchester or down from Albany.

If you prefer a more docile adventure, you can hop the free tram that hugs the perimeter of the park and enjoy the ride along with the views. If you come with a friend to spend some time, give yourself plenty! You can walk and talk for hours. Trust me, my companion for the day was able to relay the entire storyline of the latest book he’s reading, and then some. His endless supply of words was equally met by endless intertwining walkways. Both of which, I enjoyed thoroughly.

If you’re looking for a more aggressive exercise-art experience, you can rent a bicycle for $20 and bike along the pathways.

A photographer’s heaven, you don’t have to be a lover of modern art to appreciate the pristine landscape and natural beauty that in a few cases actually is and in all cases surrounds, the art sculptors that reside along the footpaths.

After spending one day a week for the past five weeks exploring some great places in my own backyard, like the Walkway Over the Hudson, The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, The DIA: Beacon and most recently, The Storm King Art Center; I realize, that although I didn’t plan it this way, this is just what I needed to help me put myself back on a more even-keel for living. In keeping with my resolution, I remain open and continue to move forward with the intention of not letting life pass me by but living it, meeting it and enjoying it, any way I can. I’m blessed with many beautiful friends but this one is different. And in these consecutive and consistent meetings, I’ve let myself get lost in thought and talk and walk, with someone who doesn’t really know me all that well; an impartial friend. It’s been refreshing to spend time away from the details of the past two years of my life.

I’ve allowed myself to leave myself and in doing so, I’ve come closer to myself.

Sometimes, The Universe knows what you need better than you do and provides it for you, whether you’re looking for it or not. You end up getting what you need and what you didn’t even know you wanted at the same time. 

Sometimes.

Yep. Recently, I’ve spent time resting my foot on this head and it’s been time, well spent.

Where have you been resting your feet and how have you been spending your time lately?

Related Post: Birthday Wishes

Photo Credits #1-9 Karen Szczuka Teich & http://www.takingtheworldonwithasmile.com/All rights reserved.

The Child Whisperer

March 11, 2012 25 comments

The flip-side of last week’s post thankfully, is that there are many amazing teachers that devote their whole lives to educating children. These people influence who we are in the most positive of ways, for life. Children do not forget who they are. They too are remembered and cherished forever.

In the Spring of 2001, curiosity got the better of me. My quest to find the right preschool for my overly active, precocious, almost 3-year-old son, finally provided the opportunity for me to see what was really going on in the mysterious looking Victorian house that sits majestically upon a hill overlooking the busy-ness of Route 9D. Little did I know as I walked into the hallway that echoed with song and laughter, that in-between the walls of this house that was a school, magic happened.

We were met by the cheerful smile of a woman who greeted us in the same friendly way you might be greeted by a favorite aunt. She introduced herself as Diane. We later found out that she was actually the Head Teacher of the Downstairs Program and an Administrator. The Downstairs portion of the house belongs to the 3, 4 and 5-year old learners. Immediately after introducing herself, she turned her attention to her real interest; the fidgety, inquisitive, little person clutching my leg with one hand and squeezing my arm with the other. She positioned herself on bended-knee to meet my boy; to see him, face-to-face, and as soon as I witnessed this act of immense respect from an adult educator to a 3-year-old child, I knew we had just walked into a very, very special place.

There is something about looking a person in the eye when you speak to them that makes them feel like you are sincerely interested in who they are and what they have to say and she was. He could tell.

You can’t fool children. Instinctively, they know sincerity.

My Noah, thrilled to be standing on the back of a hay truck during a visit to the farm with Diane. Preschool 2001

Diane wasn’t my son’s group teacher until two years later, but being the head of the Downstairs team, her influences and interactions were intertwined with all of the children. In his second year there, at age 4, having no trouble expressing himself verbally or physically among his peers, Diane “shadowed” Noah on the playground. Being the Child Whisperer* that she is, she followed him in his play, gently helping him choose kinder words and actions when he mingled with his friends.

Friends. That’s what Diane calls all of her students.

Okay, friends, it’s time to clean up the block room or Okay friends, we are going to get ready for lunchtime circle now.  

Diane and Hannah playing with the play-dough she brought to our house.

Part of the school’s tradition was for the Downstairs’ teachers to make home visits to the children in their groups before school began in September. Twice we’ve been thrilled to welcome Diane into our home; once when my son was in her kindergarten group and again, before the start of my daughter’s first year at the Randolph School. Diane was her preschool teacher. She came bearing soft, freshly made play-dough to an unbelievably excited three-year-old fairy.

      Talk about leaving a lasting impression!

This amazing teacher does not limit her generous nature to the children in her group. My daughter was struggling with writing in the second grade while in the Upstairs portion of this glorious house that is a school and where the older kids, first through fifth graders claim their domain. After asking me how Hannah was doing one day, I mentioned this to Diane who then took it upon herself to become her pen-pal that summer. Each envelope that arrived in our mailbox contained a hand written note and then some. Sparkly-feathery, sticker-y, lovely, glittery things would come pouring out before the letter.

The smallest act of kindness has the power to leave a very big, positive impact on a person’s life.

When my son was in kindergarten and told Diane he was playing the lottery for the first time, she told him to call her at home that night to let her know if he won. Had he won, no doubt, his reaction would have paled in comparison to the excitement he was overcome with when it came time to call Diane at her house and tell her he didn’t win.

Another time my son was scheduled to be in After-school but was the only child enrolled that afternoon. After bringing that to my attention the After-school teacher asked me if it would be okay to cancel. Since I only put him in because he wanted to stay at school, I agreed. This news was a huge disappointment to my little first grader and he through a massive fit on the porch of the school. That evening after speaking with him and hearing how much he was looking forward to being in After-school, I realized I had made a grave mistake by so willingly accepting the cancellation, simply because he was the only child enrolled. The next day, I sought Diane out and explained what happened. I asked her what the school’s policy was if there was only one child enrolled in the After-school program. Her response was swift and clear.

If one child wants to come to After-school, we have After-school.  Now, she said, there’s one thing left for us to do.

With that, she called over the After-school teacher. The two of them went Upstairs, retrieved my son from class, apologized to him, hugged him and invited him to stay in After-school that day.

Truly extraordinary.

Diane seining in the Hudson River with another amazing teacher and their preschoolers. Noah, first in line, is like a sponge, soaking up everything they do and say.

Whether it’s a tender heart that needs mending, a river that begs seining or a rocket that needs launching, Diane has been soothing little souls, helping them to feel capable and confident in who they are, what they can do and who they might become since 1978 at the Randolph School.

 Don’t get your liver in a quiver she’ll tell them when they begin to fret.

5-year-old Hannah launching her rocket with Diane.

A person who can consistently touch the lives of the people she comes in contact with, both big and small and make each one of them, myself included, feel special nearly every time she interacts with them has an EXTRAORDINARY gift. Truly.

That is Diane.

My children are better people for having been taught by Diane. I’m a better person for knowing her and having the honor of “over-hearing” how she speaks with and teaches children for the past six years while I quietly work across the hall from the Great Room where she spends much of her time with her friends.

A few months ago Diane announced that this will be her last year teaching in the big house that is a school and as inevitable as it was, the news has surely saddened many. No matter where Diane goes however, her influence, kindness and ability to make everyone she meets feel special will live on in our hearts, always. She is the teacher, the colleague, the friend that changes your life in the most positive of ways.

It is befitting that this weekend, Diane is presenting a workshop with a former student, who is now her young colleague and who is also bursting with similar magical qualities, at a conference in New York City entitled, In Defense of Childhood: Keeping the Joy of Learning Alive!

She’s been doing exactly that for nearly 34-years.

As my soon to be 11-year-old fairy who’s been receiving birthday and Christmas surprises from this teacher every year for almost as long as she’s been at this school would say so matter-of-factly…

 “Mom. She’s Diane!”

Is there a Diane that has positively impacted your life?

Photo Credit #1 The Randolph School

Photo Credit #2-6 Karen Szczuka Teich & http://www.takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

Title Credit: *Child Whisperer Thank you, Nicole for letting me borrow this description of Diane from you!

Close Encounters of the Boy-Girl Kind

February 12, 2012 11 comments

“There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colors are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again.” Elizabeth Lawrence

I love the ease that comes with the close encounters of a playdate-kind. The ones that are shared between boys and girls, say… before the age of twelve, before things start to get weird between the sexes. There’s something magical about the way they interact; without judgment or concern, self-consciousness or worry. They’re simply honest and fun-loving with each another.

"Xbox Dance!"

I heard the laughter coming from the basement. It was a deep, it was loud. It was the kind that makes you run toward it because you want to be a part of whatever is causing such joy. My ten-year-old daughter’s happiest days seem to be when she’s having a play-mate over. She loves her gal-pals with all her heart but there’s something very special about spending time with the boy– friend who’ll explore the woods with her, go the distance in an Xbox dance-off or eagerly engage her in a round of laser tag. It allows for friendship which is what boys and girls share when they’re not trying to impress one another. It’s not like a brother or sister relationship either, there’s no jealousy or rivalry to taint the waters. It’s a bond that’s made to be cherished well into adulthood. It’s not forgotten.

My friend’s name was Walter. He gave me the most beautiful multi-colored, flowered-dress for my 10th birthday. One time his parents took me and him sleigh-riding Upstate. His mom brought hot-cocoa in a thermos for us. My love for Walter is genuine. It holds a forever-place in my heart and it has nothing to do with romance. In fact, it never really occurred to me that Walter was a boy. His gender was never on my radar and didn’t seem important when we played games, went sleigh-riding or explored the woods together. He was my friend and having been fortunate enough to have shared a friendship like that, it’s easy to recognize it now as an adult, when I see it.

There’s something very lovely about observing a friendship your child shares with a member of the opposite sex, especially at a time in their lives when they are exploring and experimenting with independence but are still young and naive enough to really enjoy one another’s company. It’s pure. As a parent, you do your best to encourage it, foster it, allow it to grow and hope that when those weird years arrive and they do arrive, somewhere in the back of their heads and hearts they’ll both remember, they’re just boys or just girls. Behind their new-found bravado and all the pretending not to care that comes with it, we they all really want the same things, boys and girls that is: to be loved, to be respected and to be-befriended.

Do you have a friend of the opposite sex that you remember fondly from your childhood?

Photo Credits #1-4:  Karen Szczuka Teich & http://www.takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

Not Just Another Day Trip

December 5, 2011 11 comments

There is work to be done at FIL, the largest Spanish language book fair in the world, held each year at the end of November in Guadalajara, Mexico. Fortunately, I don’t have to do any of that work and just get to tag along with my children and enjoy this beautiful, warm, rich with culture city, soaking up all it has to offer.

Guadalajara; birthplace to the Mariachi band, the beautiful, Poinsettia plant and a very dear friend.

The Guadalajara Zoo 2003

Our first trek to Guadalajara was when my daughter was two. My son had just turned five. The English-speaking Mexican gentleman who was sent to the airport to pick us up by the hotel we were staying at, was named Ernesto. A day or two after our arrival, we ventured out, taking a cab to and from city sights, by nameless drivers who spoke no English and left us feeling, well, less than comfortable to be honest.

Ernesto and my children at the Guadalajara Zoo 2003

We decided to call Ernesto back after that and ever since.

Over the years, nine in fact, we’ve come to know about Ernesto and his family through his easy-going manner, his protective nature toward my children, dinners we’ve insisted he join us at and long conversations during the 5-hour drive we take to Puerto Vallarta half-way through our trip. His information on history and historical sites is endless. He insists on teaching my children new Spanish words each time he sees them. He has a medical degree and has even prescribed medicine for my son and daughter when we needed it. He raced Hannah and I to a private hospital when Hannah fell off a monkey-bar two-years ago and fractured her wrist, comforting me with the knowledge that this is where he would take his children.

Last year, for the first time,we met Ernesto’s entire family.The idea of our children meeting and hoping they would make the important connection of just how unique this friendship is, despite the language  barrier was heartwarming to say the least. It was the highlight of my trip, a real treat to put the names to the faces of those people we had heard so much of. I could tell it meant a lot to Ernesto too.

Ernesto with his children and mine. November 2010

We’ve been to many places with Ernesto, our guide and our friend; the zoo, the Children’s museum (Trompo Mágico), horse back riding in Ajijic, visiting Lake Chapala and the Guachimontones Pyramids to name a few.

Ernesto helping my son, sign-in at the Guachimontones Pyramids 2008.

One of the many mummies of Guanajuato.

This year Ernesto proposed a day trip.

Not just any day trip but a 3-hour drive to Guanajuato, a colonial mining town rich in silver and gold. This historical city is known for its architecture and naturally mummified bodies. The mummies were discovered between 1865 and 1958, when the law required relatives to pay a tax in order to keep the bodies in the cemetery. If the relatives could not pay this tax, they would lose the right to the burial-place, and the dead bodies were disinterred. Ernesto’s proposal, also included his family. Delighted, we accepted and last Sunday Ernesto rented a large white van and we all set out to explore the city of Guanajuato, together.

Most of the thoroughfares lie beneath the city’s narrow cobble-stone passage ways amidst an elaborate labyrinth of underground road tunnels. Thankfully, for us, Ernesto is an extremely skilled driver who knows exactly where he’s going!

Guanajuato is also the home to the Festival Internacional Cervantino, which invites artists and performers from all over the world as well as Mexico. Luckily for us, the annual Madonnari side-walk, chalk festival was fully under-way when we got there and we were able to see some awesome drawings…..

Modannari 2011 - The Afghan Mona Lisa -

No, this was not just another day trip and while my children may not remember everything they saw in Guanajuato last week, they will never forget that we went with Ernesto and his family.

Ernesto holding Raul. Hannah standing next to Augusto.

Dinner with Ernesto's family & an amazing view of Guanajuato! December 2011

Priscilla - 5

Augusto

Raul

It was a special day that is now a treasured memory. You can’t put a value really on the feeling of safety or trust or friendship and while it’s true we are all diamonds in the rough in our own way, some of us sparkle just a little bit brighter than others….

Thank you, Ernesto!

Photo Credit #1-5: Karen Szczuka Teich & http://www.takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

Photo Credit #6: Mummies of Guanajuato

Photo Credit #7-14: Karen Szczuka Teich & http://www.takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

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