the king of bad decisions…

I just read an article about how someones dad, when laid off from work in the 70’s, turned himself into a landscaper.  Got me to thinking about my  dad, the king of bad decisions.

My dad started out, the child of a bootlegger and a drinker — the little brother of a beautiful blond haired beauty, my aunt Nita.  Stories of their youth sound a bit horrifying to me — taking care of each other while pop made night runs and mom sat at a speakeasy drinking.  Not the stuff Holiday cards are made of. But they survived.  She ran off and married a handsome soldier in the mid 40’s — dad and pop drove out west and dragged her home, twice I think, before pop finally relented.  Pop  never was crazy about Uncle Eddie, and his “polish” family ways, but that is another story.  They spent everyday of their life together, raising three children, until Aunt Nita passed.  Then Uncle Eddie stayed in their little brick house until he joined his beloved Juanita in Heaven.

Dad dropped out of school shortly after 8th grade ( can you say, bad decision) and joined the navy as soon as he could convince them he was old enough.  Served during wwII, lots of pictures remain of him drinking in Puerto Rico, manning his gun on his ship, hanging with friends and sailors…We also have several pictures of his boat, the tops of onion skin paper letters that he wrote my grandmother…only a few words written in his beautiful tight script left on the 2 inch letterhead that he eventually cut off the letters.  I have no idea why the letters werent savable, the words I can read speak of beautiful islands, longing for home and assurances that he would be okay.

When he returned he ran ragged for a while ( bad decision) drinking, wrecking cars and raising hell.  One particularly bad night resulted in the death of a friend in a car accident that may or may not have been dad’s fault.  He spoke of that infrequently, but always with sorrow and regret.  There were women — many of them and fights and beer.  Somewhere in there he reacquainted himself with the woman that would become his true love, my mom, Betty Ann.  They had known each other when she was 10 and he was 16, and if you believe my dads story, one day he and pop were riding through Dover, shortly after he returned from the Navy and she was walking down the street, no more than 14 years old.  He said “pop, Im gonna marry that girl some day”.  And so he did.  A month after she turned 16 — took her to her grandmother who had raised her and said ” Im gonna marry Betty Ann this weekend, ok?”  And that was that.  ( one of the good decisions!)  They didnt have, as my mom would say, a “pot to piss in” for many many years.   They moved a lot, ran shoe stores ( bad decision leaving that field, apparently dad was a great salesman and mom and he worked well together) , were caretakers at a lodge ( Big brother pushed bigger brother off the dock one day, ran like hell back to the house to hide), sold freezers….and then dad landed the job of his life:  on the line at General Motors.

Their life changed then and dad began a lifetime of bad decisions that led them to a point,when for all intent and purposes they should have been sitting pretty,  where he said “Im worth more to your mother dead than alive” as he bemoaned the fact that when he turned 65 the value of his life insurance was cut by 3/4 .  Dad knew how to spend money, but not how to save it.  His pride and the fact that my mother had become pretty much a “hood ornament” a beautiful woman that he liked to show off and have host parties, kept her from working much and his job at GM , where he eventually made it into supervision
(imagine that, without even a high school diploma) paid well, but not well enough to warrant the lifestyle he loved.  I never, never heard that man tell me I couldnt have something.  My first car was a 190 sl mercedes.  My brothers had matching corvairs in the late 60’s, their own band that dad drove to gigs in Atlantic City.  When I couldnt learn to drive the stick shift that the mercedes had, dad bought me a cougar:  the mascot of my school, and in school colors.  He gambled and drank, spent every penny he earned in that cycle of poverty that people who grew up with no money often do, and when at age 54 he had triple bypass surgery and was retired immediately ( 1979 ) he had no savings.  Did that daunt dad?  Hell no, he had his retirement, which in the late 70’s was good, he had GM (“Dont worry honey, people will always need cars, GM will always be on top ….bad decision)  and he had the belief that since his dad had died at 62, and he had his heart attack at 54, he wasnt going to live long.  Hence the term life insurance that in his head would keep mom, along with 1/2 of his retirement pay, in her current lifestyle  ( I have lost count of the number of bad decisions there) . Over the next 13 years they lived the life.  Bought a travel camper, drove up and down the east coast ( mom was afraid of flying), hit Disney world, Cape Hatteras, kept a place in Cape May for years.  Bought cars — on their credit card, no lie, selflessly gave my children gifts and trips and experiences that shaped their lives, but still no saving, no thinking about the future.  When my grandmothers died, there wasnt enough money to buy tombstones.  In 1992, dad sold their house, he couldnt keep up with it anymore and they needed cash.  They had close to 100000 in equity line on a house they had paid 13000 for in 1962 — and bought a modular home.  From this modular home they  lived like they were at the beach,  they loved that place.  Until the first tornado watch was issued.  They were scared.  I talked them into coming here for the weekend, tried to get them to come here permanently.  Dad went through the depression that follows a second heart surgery, the loss of his insurance, General Motors cutting benefits.  He suffered from the lack of a formal education, and the man who would do anything for anyone, the man who could fix anything and whose hands could hold the weight of the world, became confused and scared.  He bought ridiculous things from telemarketers.  He bought hundreds, HUNDREDS of those state coins and stashed them, later to use them for common purchases. He gave my son his little s10 truck because he liked it, and bought yet another car.

The bad choices of his youth and mid years caught up with him.  Dad lasted 82 years.  It was a hell of a ride.  He had alot of fun, in the end his financial decisions about his retirement check  have allowed mom to live a good life.  He taught us all lessons about love and giving and enjoying the day.  He was, and continues to be my favorite person in the world.   I miss him more than I can say, and when the strokes and dementia stole him from me I hung on to him, pulling out moments of lucid conversation and joy.  My husband would roll him down the halls of the nursing home, telling tales, listening to dads stories, searching for the “little people that had rolled” him across the lawn the night before.  I convinced my mom to let me bring him here about a month before he passed.  It only lasted a week, she couldnt handle the fear being alone with him brought her when I was at work, but one moment in that week will always be etched in my mind as the essence of dad and my’s relationship.  He was asleep in the living room, where we had set up a temporary hospital: complete with special bed, medicines, equipment and 24 hour nursing.  I was spread out on the couch, in case he woke up.  In the quiet, he lifted his head and looked at me.  I said “Knitting”, he nodded and said “Napping”.  And that was it.  lay his head down and went back to sleep.  That was all it ever took.  A word or two.  Dad and I knew that we were there for each other, always.  Bad decisions, mistakes and regrets aside, he was the best, and while he never made it big, he always made me, and the others around him, feel they had it all.

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Event? I don’t think so.

Today my oldest grandson and I, Ryan ( who is all of 4 years old) went on a little date.  We got all gussied up and went to Toys R Us for the “Star Wars Lego Event”.  This event, which I received an email invitation to….turned out to be nothing more then standing in a line ( we were maybe 12th.) and receiving, unceremoniously, a free lego building toy ( Star Wars tiny little ship) a poster advertising the new 2015 sets in the Star Wars Series and…and nothing.  That was it.  Two women, sitting at a table draped with a Toys R Us cloth, handing out legos in baggies.  Now, Ryan, the ultimate Star Wars fan and super shopper, was unfazed.  We sat down on the floor, dumped the pieces and attempted to build the ship.  Now, Im a quilter, I should be able to think in little pieces that make big shapes, but, no, I can’t. We made our own little event, fiddled with it for about 15 minutes and declared it a “mommy” job, put the pieces back in the baggie and moved on the the poster.  AH! The poster, advertisement extraordinaire !  All the little star wars figures posed on one side, the new series sets on the other.  lots of oohhhing and aaahhing….then we made our way to the legos aisle where this precious child, who I’m pretty sure had been prepped by his parents to not ask for a toy, spent almost an hour examining every set of Legos….when I finally said, “so, which is it gonna be?”  his little eyes lit up and he said, “what?  Can I get a set?”  which resulted in another fifteen minutes or so of deciding — (the Cantina set won) and the triumphant walk to the cashier, armed with the Cantina, a pumpkin bucket, a witches cauldron, 3 spinning m&m toys and a small set of strange little monsters that pull apart and are stored in a pretend soda can.  Ryan declared it a “great day” me the “best grammy in the world” and we traveled to McDonalds (Grammy, I havent been to McDonalds in like 10 days!) for lunch. All in all a wonderful afternoon for sure.  Full of those unpracticed full face smiles that make this boy so real.

But, I have to say the marketers at Toys R Us deserve a talking to.  This email touted a Star Wars event, a Lego build — where the kids would leave with something they built.  This grammy thought this sounded awesome, got a little sad when the other grandkids couldnt make it….talked it up to Ryan.  Can you say disappointment? There was no one building except my  grandson and me, sprawled out on the floor oblivious to the crowd around us. I found myself having to maneuver Ryan away from at least three families that  obviously had no idea what a toy store visit meant to a child.  Cussing and swearing, threatening kids with “going home’ if they moved in the cart,pushing buttons on their phone calculator, yelling about money.  One mom walking up to her husband and 2 kids, complaining, too loudly and with too many inappropriate words that they had wandered away from her.  When Ryan and I approached the table , he smiled, said thank you, took the gift in his own hands and told the lady he loved Star Wars. In comparison, the two kids in front of us, threatened with expulsion if they so much as moved in the cart, just sat with dull looks on their faces as mom stretched out her hand, barely looking at the ladies working the table. No thank you came from her lips, no smile, just ” I need two, I have two kids”.  Ridiculous.  Is a free $5.00 toy so critical that you have to go grab it, even if it gives you or your kids no joy?  Is it so hard to make a trip to a toy store fun? Was there really such a hurry that none of these people except Ryan and I and one other mom and her kids could sit   down and actually built something?  Is it worth pushing and swearing and groaning?  I don’t get it.  None of those kids in that line could read the paper or the email.  None of them would have known of that event if mom or dad hadn’t put them in the car and brought them to the store.  And why?  Why would you even bring your kid if you didn’t have the time or inclination to have some  fun?  I just don’t get it.

So, again tonight, I realize how blessed I am, with a wonderful set of grandchildren who make me smile, with kids who recognize that kids deserve a good time, fun and  laughter, and make it happen — and who have the good sense to skip the event if its drudgery.  May the force forever be with them. WP_20141011_003

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September vacations…who knew?

One of the busts about teaching is you have to live on their schedule.  “Them” being the districts that set the school year….there are no vacation days in teaching…except for the ones built in, and when you have vacation, be it Spring break or Summer vacation or Christmas break, the WHOLE NATION of children are on break and everything is crowded and noisy…and you know, full of kids.  Which, being a teacher for 25 years, I can tell you, is NOT how teachers want to spend their vacations — with a whole load of kids who don’t listen to them…but I digress…

So, now that I am retired and restarted, in another wonderful career…..I can take a vacation in September.  Holy God, why didnt someone tell me it would be this awesome????  September, glorious september. cool in the evening, warm during the day, uncrowded beach.  Oh my, how did I not know about this sooner?  Oh, thats right, I was in school…WP_20140928_009 WP_20140928_034 WP_20140929_006

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So, he did it.

Our son married yesterday.  Enough said.  well, almost.  His bride hates us, all of us, me, my daughters, their husbands…she tolerates my husband because he is very good at hiding his disgust.  But, he married her.  and besides the fact that there was much gnawing and gnashing of teeth — we all behaved ourselves.

And are now waiting patiently to hear all the compleaints the bride will make about how we behaved…

Ah well….

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The problem is me….

There have been many times, as I stumbled down this almost 35 year  road that has been motherhood, that I had no idea what I was doing.  I have a degree in Early Childhood, have spent my life researching, working with and teaching about children, family dynamics, development.   And Im good, damn good.  When I am directing others…..but, when it is my own life, my own family, I falter.  I KNOW what research says, I know what I would encourage someone else to do, but I am not certain of the path I should  take.   Why?  Is my family so “special”?  So different?  No, truth of the matter is we are just like every other family, complex, intertwined, separate and dependent.  The issue is me.  

As a mom I always prided myself on putting my children first.  FIRST.  My husband and I had a rocky marriage, we are two very different souls, and although I never imagined doing it without him would be a good idea, we did battle — but we always said “well, the one thing we’ve done right is our kids”.  Who knew?

We doted on them, we did every family thing we could afford, opting for relaxing vacations at the beach, where we fished, crabbed, boated, swam, walked the shore, you get the drift….over flashy places like Disney or Mexico.  We wanted them to find their fun and entertainment in their souls, in each other, in nature.  And it worked.  They grew up closer than I could have ever dreamed.  They shared everything, with a minimum of sibling rivalry or competition for attention.They supported each other.  Kept secrets from me and their dad, coached each other through life’s messy moments.    They each, we believed, were secure enough in the love of the family, including extended family, that they were okay with each other getting more attention when needed.  

But I digress.  As I said, the problem is me.  My son is preparing to marry a woman who has said, on many occasions, that she does not care about how her actions  affect his family.  She pulled our daughters out of the wedding BY TEXT message and has spoken to me in a way that belies lack of respect or emotion.  My son is set, in a week, to stand at the alter without his sisters, his nephews and nieces, his brothers in law , at his side because it is “her” wedding.  I could list the litany of offenses this woman has dumped on this family, but it doesn’t matter.  She doesn’t like us, doesn’t want us to be a part of the wedding, has told me to attend “as a guest” and, oh yeah, took $5000. of my money to pay for things her parents refused to cover.  And then yesterday, she texted me directing me to “alter” the dress I had made for our granddaughter, my son’s daughter who he has raised since she was 6 months old, to make it more “in sync” with the bridesmaids.  And, my son, the man I raised to be compassionate and loving, feels that all of these behaviors are OK.  That his sisters should apologize to the “bride’ for hurting her feelings, that he has been ignored in this and that we are more worried about his sisters than him.


As I said, the problem is me.  I have raised a spineless, uncaring, lazy man.  And my heart is breaking.

So, now the decision is, can I even attend this wedding?  Never could I have imagined a situation where I would have contemplated missing my child’s wedding, but I am genuinely concerned about my ability to make it through this day.  I have a week to figure out if I can surround myself with people who have been critical and nasty to my daughters ( the bridesmaids dresses we paid for will lay unused) , who have told my husband to F— off, who have directed snarky hurtful remarks at me — or do I just stay home.  And how do I let my other children attend that mess without me?  And my husband?  Oh lord, his answer is to smile and let it roll….

The problem is  me. 


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I know I am repeating myself, but mornings really are my favorite time of the day.  Late at night is good too, but I get a little spooked at night, the back yard is so dark through the Florida Room windows, I worry about lurkers….Not that I’ve ever had a lurker here, but you know….

At any rate, mornings are my time. promise of light through the dark.  Today the crickets are in full swing.  One brave little soul has camped out in the Florida Room, little sissy stops every time I walk out there and then hits it in high gear when I go up the  step  to head back into the  family room.  Sing on buddy, no way I’m going cricket hunting at 5:15 in the morning.

And, the coffee tastes better.  Nothing like a warm mug of coffee on a cool summer morning.  No rush, just drink and smile.

And the quiet.  for just a little bit there is no phone, no tv, no demands.  Wonderful quiet.  

I don’t know what it is.  But I do love me some morning time. 

( In the sense of full disclosure, I must admit, the TV is on, its just muted.  Haven’t been able to break my TV addiction yet, I need a program….)

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Where’s my Cake?

I used to teach at a school that had a fairly active, and competitive “sunshine club”.  They sent me 4 bouquets and at least 10 cards when I was out for 3 months with knee surgery….It had a birthday component.  Some complicated sort of rotation that had us making or baking cakes for people’s birthdays.  You didnt bake enough for the whole school, just for your little “clique”.  So, way back several years ago it was my turn to bake for our phys. ed teacher, Sue. I’m pretty sure it was peanut butter and chocolate, but that memory may be wrong. The rest of it though is clear as yesterday.

The halls were electric.  Noise, kids, parents, admin. on the intercom.  Everyone was heading the same direction, towards the front door, but in little bursts.   I was up by the nurses office, monitoring who was leaving, who needed to pick up their meds, who was having an asthma attack.  Sue was about 30 feet down the hall — dressed up.  In that dress that she always wore on Parent night, or special days — like her birthday.  Over the hum of “its ok, it’ll be ok. We are ok.”  I heard — loudly– “Hey Cindy?  Wheres my Cake?”

It was noon on 9/11/01 and my girl Sue was looking for that birthday cake.  


I read this morning that she had died.  62 years old.  Alzheimers.  And the first thing that came to my mind was her in that hall, looking for that damn cake.  And I smiled.  Because, for all her human imperfections, Sue knew that life would go on.  She knew that there would be a tomorrow and that you had to keep your head about you and move forward.  And, you damn well better eat cake while you had the chance.  Rest well Sue.

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