Let Me Tell You About Jan

The year was 1988. The place was a hospital in Alabama. And the department in which I worked was called Patient Representatives. My boss Trisha, probably the best Patient Rep to ever walk the face of the earth, had just concluded an interview with a candidate for a part time position, and she was glowing. She raved about this person’s experience, competence, and vivacious personality. She was convinced this highly qualified woman would be perfect for our department and she wanted to bring her on board. After interviewing her myself, I agreed.

Jan (see: perfect lipstick!) and me

This person’s name was, you guessed it, Jan.

From the moment I met her, I too, felt her all-encompassing presence. An enormous bow held back her glossy dark hair, her lipstick was always perfect, her eyes twinkled with mischief. And did I mention her personality? She didn’t enter a room, she filled it; she didn’t talk, she influenced; she didn’t just do her job, she made a difference. She was an extrovert among extroverts whose big, warm presence made you glad you were alive.

In addition to all these wonderful traits, she was loads of fun to be around. Around  Christmas time at the hospital, our volunteers would bring the most delicious cookies and candy to our office. Who could say no to a tin of homemade goodies? I’ll never forget Jan’s tiny voice floating into my quiet office from next door. “I just ate my third piece of chocolate.” Or sometimes it would be a voice message on my phone, “My fourth piece of chocolate!”

Trisha (far left), Jan, and me, surrounded by our sweet volunteers

Although Jan was a little older than me and a lot wiser, as fate would have it, I became her boss. I knew exactly how backward that scenario was, and I’m sure she did too, but nonetheless, she did her job without complaint, always cheerful and pleasant to be around, always respectful.

So that was Jan, nearly thirty years ago: fun, fabulous, and full of life.

And this is Jan now.

Jan is sick. Jan is struggling. But Jan has hope.

Let me explain.

About a year ago, not long after I’d reconnected with her on social media, and right around her sixtieth birthday, Jan shared that she’d been diagnosed with cancer. And it was not just any old cancer, it was stage four liver cancer. Whoa. I’m no doctor, but even I knew that wasn’t good. In fact, it sounded quite bleak. Stage four of any type of cancer is not the news you want to hear, ever. But that was the news she’d received, and with the help of her husband, a physician himself, and the support of her children, extended family, and many, many friends, she began her medical plan of action: a plan for healing and hope and faith. A plan for her future.

Jan and her family

One of the most endearing things I remember from my short time working with Jan was her openness. She was one of those people that appeared to have it all together, but at the same time, she didn’t pretend that everything was perfect. She knew how to laugh at herself while living a full life, focused on loving her Jesus and everyone around her.

This last statement brings me to my purpose in writing this post. Like most people, I struggle with the quandary of why terrible things happen to wonderful people. Ah, that age old dilemma that draws some people closer to God, while pushing others away. I won’t try to answer an unanswerable question, but like I’ve always told my children, if you choose to believe in God, then wouldn’t it make sense to acknowledge that He is on a higher level than us, intellectually and emotionally, and that as a result, we won’t always understand why He allows certain things to happen? And wouldn’t it also make sense that everything He allows to happen, good or bad, might be intended to bring us closer to Him? But I’ll admit that although I understand that God’s plans are often too complex for my comprehension, it still disgusts me to think about pain and suffering and illness, especially cancer. And clearly this stage four liver cancer is a very bad thing happening to a good person. But somehow, Jan’s open and honest fight against this horrid disease sheds light on the way God provides strength when we are at our weakest.

The best way to explain what I’m talking about is to follow Jan through her past year. She’s articulated the highs and lows in her own words, her hoping, fighting, believing words. It’s sad and funny and conflicted. It’s raw. It’s at its core, a Christian wrestling with her beloved Christ.

Take a look for yourself. If you’re like me, you’ll be enlightened.

The following excerpts are taken with Jan’s permission from: https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/jancarter2/journal

June 2016 Life can change in an instant…I have stage four adenocarcinoma of the liver. It has taken my breath away, my family and friends’ breath away as well…In all of this darkness, can I just tell you what an incredibly amazing God I have? He loves me, He is my light, He is holding me and my family.

July 2016 God knows in my heart, He made me to give life and hope to others. You gain life…when you give your life away.

Don’t miss the blessings He has for you…I will never be the same and I desperately want this for all of you.

What the devil intended for evil, God will use for His glory.

IN MY WEAKNESS HE IS STRONG. I can’t lose, it’s a win-win for me and for you if you are a believer.

The answer to my situation and yours is the same. It’s JESUS.

August 2016 Having cancer will shake the very core of your being.

Faith is believing when there is not one thing that makes sense.

I’ve gone into unexplored areas of itching and it’s making me do weird stuff.

I feel I’m in the crucible and He’s taking me to another level in my walk with him.

September 2016 I fully believe what Satan has meant to crush me, God will use for His glory.

I’ve just finished my new children’s book God is Near*. I wrote it to honor my mother…but I know now, it wasn’t just for Mom, it was for me.

The long chemo this week knocked me for a loop…nausea, pain and fatigue like I’ve never experienced before. Even the itching has returned.

I just finished praying for each of you, and it warmed my heart.

October 2016 I have had nothing, and I have had everything…I don’t know what’s ahead and I don’t have to know.

I may respond well to a phase three drug that doesn’t have a name yet, only designated as AG-120.

The large tumor appears to be dying from the inside out, and the smaller ones are melting away.

Jan is a stage 2B.

November 2016 What God requires of His people, He always provides.

Tis the season to be stressed, Thanksgiving and Christmas…but some things that mattered so much to me just don’t matter anymore.

I’m sporting my new, fine wig.

December 2016 The cancer has not spread and the tumors have not changed in size.

It’s the eve of my 60th birthday.

God will make a way when there seems to be no way.

…six long months.

January 2017 I was looking at today with dread. Chemo wipes me out, makes me tired and hurt.

So, the plan now is chemo is every third week, and then we WAIT…for the AG 120 pill.

I can’t say that I’ve ever been in a harder place…I’m not sure I can do this cancer thing.

February 2017 I was approved and enrolled in the AG-120 trial. I need this pill soon.

We are getting good at beating on the doors of heaven.

Victrix Patientia Duris: You will have victory if you have patience during crisis.

THE CANCER HAS NOT SPREAD!!!!!!

I’m going wig shopping again.

I look pregnant and have a tight tummy. I NEED THE PILL.

I’ve lost 40 pounds…thank God for my fat ass! May end up saving my life!

I NEED to NOT receive the placebo.

March 2017 I’ve never been more tired, felt totally out of control of my body, a very bloated stomach…rash and itching back and thrush down my tongue making eating not a desire.

I wanna jump ship but I can’t.

The long awaited PILL is now in my body.

April 2017 My fluid buildup is now the size of twins, maybe triplets. I get the WORST ATTITUDE AWARD.

They drained four liters of fluid off my tummy. But low and behold…I now have a weenie hanging off my side! My boobies and bottom are no more, but I couldn’t care less. My HEART is bursting with so much LOVE.

What a difficult week. It hurts and it sucks, sorry.

I can’t go this alone and I’m so glad God has my “special army” interceding to the Father for me.

May 2017 The cancer has not spread!

Satan knows how much I love Jesus.

June 2017 I had a breast reduction three years ago, now to only see pancakes on my chest.

He’s not finished yet with me.

And Jan’s most recent entry: Don’t stop praying. Because of you, and a mighty God, I’m still here!

Jan and Jack

I will leave you with a final thought about this special person that has touched so many lives, in sickness and in health. In Hebrew, the name Jan means “Gift from God.” I don’t know much at all, but I do know that Jan Carter is a true gift from our God, to me, to her friends and family, and to so many others. Thank you, Jan, for sharing yourself with the rest of us, and may God bless you, your family, and your oh-so-precious life.

___________________________________________________

*This is Jan’s precious children’s story/coloring book entitled God is Near. It is available for purchase on Amazon.

 

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Reads

When a friend recently asked me to compile a list of my favorite books, I’m sure she had no idea the list would be so long. And neither did I. I thought I’d come up with 10-15 books, maybe 20 that could be considered my tops. But oh, was I wrong. I got out pen and paper (yes, some of us still use yellow legal pads) and started brainstorming. I recorded every book that I remembered loving as an adult, for one reason or another. I wrote and wrote and wrote and before I knew it, there was no blank space left on the page.

As I looked back over my list, I saw a little bit of almost everything. Some of the books that I’d recorded were considered literary masterpieces while others were not. They ran the gamut from young adult to memoir to fantasy to classics. There was humor and horror and romance. Some were contemporary, others historical. Some made me feel happy while others made me sad. Some just made me feel weird. But the common thread that ran through all the books I loved was that each one made me feel something very deeply. In short, they made an impact on me.

Naturally, if you compiled your own list, it would look very different from mine. Yours might be filled with non-fiction, mine is not. Yours might include Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Proust. Mine does not. Yours would reflect your own personality and be unique to you. And so is mine. So take this list for what it is: one person’s opinion about a number of fabulous books that have enriched my life and might, in some way, enrich yours.

By the way, one of the books on this list is the book that is solely responsible for turning me into a reader. If you can guess which one, I’ll have Amazon mail you a free book of your choice (May I suggest an enthralling family drama, The Weight of Lies, by my sister Emily Carpenter, coming out June 6, 2017.  The Weight of Lies: A Novel ). But I’m pretty sure you’ll never figure it out.

So, here’s my current list of favorites, beginning with the most recently published. I do reserve the right to make amendments going forward, because the minute I press publish, I’m certain I’ll think of five books I’ve left out. And if you are a reader or a wannabe reader, please download the free and fabulous Goodreads App on your phone and use it to determine which books are right for you. I hope this gives you some intriguing ideas, and will inspire you to, as they say, #keepreading.

 

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart 2014

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell 2013

Daphne du Maurier

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes 2012

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple 2012

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green 2012

The Help by Kathryn Stockett 2009

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins 2008

Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See 2005

Still Alice by Lisa Genova 2005

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer 2005

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls 2005

C.S. Lewis

the curious case of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon 2004

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini 2003

Dry by Augusten Burroughs 2003

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory 2001

Life of Pi by Yann Martel 2001

The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff 2000

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver 1998

1000 White Women by Jim Fergus 1998

Margaret Mitchell

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant 1997

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden 1997

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling 1997

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding 1996

The Giver by Lois Lowry 1993

A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers 1993

A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving 1989

Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody 1987

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card 1985

Oscar Wilde

Carrie by Stephen King 1974

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom 1971

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson 1962

The Bad Seed by William March 1954

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway 1952

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis 1950

Anthem by Ayn Rand 1938

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier 1938

1984 by George Orwell 1937

Charlotte Bronte

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck 1937

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell 1936

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 1925

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde1890

The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne 1850

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte 1847

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas 1844

Candide by Voltaire 1759

Revelation by John c. 95

Genesis by Moses c. 1446 B.C.

They Need Me, They Need Me Not: Parenting Adult Children

lovesmenot I watched my youngest son drive away, his car packed for college. I was sad and empty and raw. I was lost.

“Well, I guess you’re not a mother anymore,” said the tall, usually very wonderful person standing beside me.

Grabbing the nearest butter knife, I pointed it at him and growled, “Take it back.” That, I must admit, was one of the lowest points in my 25 years of motherhood.

But days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, and I’m proud to say I grew more rational and less emotional. My husband and I began settling into our quiet, empty nest and I started thinking about what he had said. I had to admit: I did have a number of questions about my new role, or lack of one, as a mother of three. Yes, of course I was still their mother, but how involved in their lives should I now be? Should I still offer my opinions and provide guidance? Should I speak up if something bothered me? Was it still my responsibility to fill those Easter baskets and Christmas stockings? As I rolled these questions around and searched for an answer, I found it necessary to consider several more.

When is a child an adult? The answer to this question, like most that involve parenting, is subjective. At 16, a person can legally travel alone. At 17, they can legally go to an R-rated movie. At 18, they can vote, register for the draft, and enter into a legally binding contract. At 21, they can drink and smoke pot and gamble, legally. But most states in the U.S. consider a person an adult at age 18, which is tied to the voting age, which is tied to the Vietnam War. But while this is what our government has decreed, I would beg to differ. I think we would all agree that becoming an adult is a process that doesn’t conclude on one’s 18th birthday. So the question remains—when should a parent consider their child an adult? My thought is that when a person is able to take care of him or herself completely, including and especially financially, they’ve arrived at adulthood. Clearly, the age will be different for every person, and there are always exceptions to any rule, but in general, when a person becomes self-sufficient, childhood is over.

Now that my child is an adult, what is my role? After getting the answer to this question wrong a (high) number of times in recent months, I think I may have found an acceptable answer—let the adult children define and decide what their parents’ role should be. Too one-sided? Maybe. But I think in order to rip that Band Aid of control off, we parents have to take an enormous step back from our adult children’s lives, at least in the area of decision making. Will our children make bad decisions? Yes, and so did we. Will they screw up financially from time to time? Yes, and so did we. Will they have regrets? Yes, and so do we. But that, my friends, is called life. And thankfully, we humans do learn from our mistakes and that learning leads to something wonderful. It’s called wisdom.

zipper-mouth_face_emojiBut what about my adult child’s decisions that oppose mine morally, politically or religiously? Okay, this is a tough one. We’ve all raised our children according to our belief system or lack of one. But what if we’ve brought up our son to be an open-minded liberal and the next thing you know, he’s joined the Young Republicans? Or what if we’ve raised our daughter to believe in conservative values and as an adult, she takes a hard left and refers to herself as a nasty woman? What if our children choose the very things we’ve taught them were unacceptable? Then too bad. For us, not for them. It’s their life now, not ours, and it’s not acceptable to judge them or shake our heads while clicking our tongues. How they live their life is suddenly, drum roll please, their decision. So while we don’t have to agree with all their choices (and we’ll never agree with all their choices—I guarantee our parents didn’t/don’t agree with all of ours either), we are still responsible for loving them unconditionally and making sure they are confident of that love.

What if they want guidance/advice/direction? Then by all means, give it! Just wait to be asked. And if you’re not asked, zip it, Grandma Gilmore. If your daughter wants to talk to you three times a day, then bully for you. But if she only wants to talk to you occasionally, then you’ll have to make the most of that very important occasion. I’m quite sure that the more we support and love our kids, the more conversations they’ll want to have with us.

la-que-siempre-esta

So, if you’re joining the ranks of mothers-of-adults, put down the butter knife, rip off the Band Aid, and calmly enter this new and fascinating phase. Remember—bad decisions, screw-ups, and regrets will turn our children into lovely, mature adults. And how beautiful it is to watch these new adults create for themselves the most wonderful kind of lives: lives of their own.

This post was previously published on  http://www.scarymommy.com/letting-go-hardest-thing-done-parent/

Five Books That Will Make You Feel Better-Worth The Read three

In light of the past months (year) of political turmoil, I recently began looking for something to read that would provide a distraction and make me feel better. I needed to fill that social media shaped hole I’d created several weeks ago by stepping away from all things negative. In the past, I’ve been more of a novel reader, but in hopes of lightening my mood, I decided to turn toward nonfiction, specifically memoir. Since I was going for humor, I sought out books written by women comedians, because comedians are funny, right? The one word answer to that question, I discovered, is sometimes. Sometimes, but not always. Although all comedians are funny in one way or another, not all of them are successful in writing humorous books, and after reading one-too-many of these unfunny books that had been mistakenly assigned to the humor section, I was forced to expand my search. I stayed with memoir, but explored those that had been written by female actors in addition to comedians. And what do you know; I found what I was looking for.

So if you, too, are in need of a pick-me-up because your side lost and you feel battered, or because your side won and you feel battered, or because of the impending and inevitable recount–Good Grief, here are some books that are interesting and funny and uplifting. Go ahead. Escape for a moment to the lighter side of life. You’ll be glad you did.

Note: Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking makes my list as well, but I read it so long ago, I didn’t feel I could write an accurate recommendation. And I’m eagerly awaiting Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Melissa McCarthy to get busy writing, but so far—nyet. Oh, and Lauren Graham’s Talking As Fast As I Can comes out today, so there’s that nugget for all us Lorelai fans to add to our Christmas list. Let me know if you’ve read a worthwhile memoir I haven’t mentioned. I’m hoping there are many.

 

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Scrappy Little Nobody

Anna Kendrick

Touchstone 2016

 

What a delight this book was! Anna Kendrick (not to be confused with Kate Mara) is pleasantly entertaining and fun to read in this well-ordered collection of stories about her life. She opens with a retelling of her first performance in front of a live audience as a five-year-old, when she forgot the words halfway through her rendition of Shirley Temple’s On The Good Ship Lollipop. I won’t tell you what happened, but three pages later I was still laughing. She went on to perform in a Broadway show at the age of twelve and later, opting out of college, she moved to New York before ending up in LA.  As young Hollywood does, Kendrick reveals a plethora of information about her sexual experiences, but unlike some of the others, she doesn’t seem angry or entitled or out to prove anything to anyone but herself. She takes the reader on a fascinating backstage tour through her experiences as an actor. From her on-set work, to dealing with the press, to the inner workings of awards shows, she covers it all. Kendrick’s talent has landed her roles in Pitch Perfect, Twilight, Up in the Air with George Clooney, and the recently released The Accountant with Ben Affleck. She works hard, doesn’t take her success for granted, and seems wise beyond her thirty-one years. She’s a fresh voice, the kind of person you wish success, and her book will leave you entertained, uplifted, and hopeful for the younger Hollywood generation. Brava Anna!

 

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Why Not Me

Mindy Kaling

Penguin Random House 2016

 

Like many of you, I first met Mindy Kaling in one of my favorite shows of all time The Office. She played the needy but optimistic Kelly Kapoor who was nothing if not relentless in her persistent pursuit of poor Ryan Howard. I loved her in that show, and I love her even more now that I know she wrote twenty-four of its episodes and was nominated for an Emmy in the process. The woman is brilliant, but in an unassuming, unimposing way. As proof of her intelligence, she attended Dartmouth, and she didn’t get in because she was a star, she got in before she was a star. Yes, she probably could have been the doctor she now plays on TV in The Mindy Project if she’d wanted (her mother was an OB/GYN), but she chose the entertainment industry instead. Opening with Maybe you accidentally bought this thinking it was the Malala book, she sold me from page one. She writes, she creates, she produces, she acts. She laughs at herself and believes in herself. She deals with her non-traditional looks and non-skinny body in a business that loves skin and bones. And she succeeds. She works long hours every single day, frequents McDonald’s, and hopes to find true love along the way. The last chapter of her book addresses confidence. And here’s the simple but wise insight: work hard, know your stuff, show your stuff, and then feel entitled. Only listen to the two smartest and kindest adults you know, and that doesn’t always mean your parents. It’s simple but sage advice, and it’s certainly working for her.

 

yes-please

Yes Please

Amy Poehler

HarperCollins 2014

 

I chose this book because I wasn’t sure why Amy Poehler had become so wildly popular in recent years. Sure, I’d seen her on Saturday Night Live, and yes, I’d caught snippets of her sitcom Parks and Rec because my boys love that show and for some reason, it’s always on, but I’d never really stopped to give her a chance. Then she went and wrote a book, so suddenly I had motivation to find out what made her tick. After reading her book, I understood the draw. In it, Poehler introduces us to the world of improvisational comedy, which is foreign to most people (me). Improv is all my biggest fears rolled into one: public speaking, thinking on your feet, and a bright spotlight bathing you in vulnerability. But to comedians, it’s heaven. And also a lot of work. But what I learned about Poehler was that she is soft and strong and insecure and confident and most of all wildly passionate about most everything in her life. From her wonderful family (her mom: you’re the prettiest and the best), to her co-workers (they always wind up being her best friends), to her drive to succeed (this woman has worked and worked and worked her way tirelessly up the ladder), and her head-over-heels love for her two boys (Archie and Abel-how cute are those names); Amy Poehler is a down-to-earth superstar who deserves every ounce of success she gets.

 

tina-fey-cover

Bossypants

Tina Fey

Reagan Arthur Books 2011

 

It’s been awhile since I read this book, but I remember that it made me not only laugh out loud more than any of the others, but it made me like and respect Tina Fey even more than I already did. She opens with a story about how she responded the first time some jerk catcalled her. I won’t ruin it for you, but I’m sitting here laughing as I type. Fey is whip-smart, she’s powerful, she’s ferociously feminist, she’s sarcastic, and she’s hilarious. She was head writer on Saturday Night Live for six years and has since gone on to successfully create, produce, write, and act. She’s won Emmys, SAGs, Golden Globes, and Writer’s Guild awards. And she can toss out a zinger like no other. She explains the scar on her face only by saying that she was slashed by a stranger in an alley when she was in kindergarten–how horrific–but Fey doesn’t dwell on obstacles, she thrives on them. She seems determined, relatable, and likable and her book is both intriguing and hilarious. Enjoy.

 

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Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty

Diane Keaton

Random House 2014

 

I fell in love with Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Diane Keaton while watching her years ago in Something’s Gotta Give. She stole my heart with her hilarious, heartbreaking portrayal of an aging playwright who reluctantly opens her heart to her daughter’s ex-boyfriend (Jack Nicholson) and proceeds to have it predictably and thoroughly stomped. Ah—my kind of movie, part comedy, part tragedy—what more does one need? To me, she was perfect. When someone asks the question: if you could choose anyone in the world, past or present, you’d like to have dinner with, who would it be? I would not say Mother Teresa or Maya Angelou or Amelia Earhart, no. I’d say, you guessed it, Diane Keaton. So, I’ll admit, I’d pretty much decided I loved this book before I read it. But then I read it, and I really did love it. Keaton is one of the most beautifully neurotic people I’ve ever read and she’s not ashamed. She’s talented and endearing and humble and strong and just trying to make it through another day like most women. She’s quirky and unique and her own brand of superstar. She wears her Annie Hall style clothes to hide her body, and wide-brimmed hats to hide her self-proclaimed disappearing hair. But somehow it always works on her, and she never fails to portray a picture of lovely elegance. Why? Because, as she explains, beauty is more than your face in the mirror, it is a combination of your flaws, your ineptness, and mostly, finding whatever works for you to get out the door every day. Preach.

Five Things That Surprised Me About Public School

Back-to-school-e1409684957982 It’s that time of year again. Time to buy new pens and pencils, time to wake up early, and time to get that brain back in gear. It’s time to start school.

For me, as a mom, this year’s start of school meant picking up a six-pack of new socks for one of my sons. Honestly, that was the extent of my back-to-school preparations. How things have changed now that I have two in college and one already out. It seems like just yesterday I was busy worrying about my boys as they embarked on new adventures. Oh wait, that was yesterday. But new clothes and books and backpacks aside, it’s also that time of year for us parents to place trust in our children’s schools to provide them with an excellent education.

Nearly twenty-five years ago my husband and I became parents for the first time. It’s hard to remember exactly what that day felt like after all these years, but the words exhilarating, overwhelming and one-of-the-four-happiest-days-of-my-life come to mind. It was a day I’d been dreaming of and longing for and it was truly heaven. But after the Sheer Bliss wore off and the all-encompassing Fatigue and Worry set in, it was time to start pondering our new baby’s life. What would he do? Where would he go? Who would he be? And more importantly, what on God’s green earth were we supposed to do to get him there?

baby drakeOne of the biggest decisions we make as parents involves our children’s education, and these days there are many, many options. Deciding between public school and private is probably the first and easiest choice most people make. But for my husband and me, it was complicated. You see growing up I spent most of my years educated in private school and he spent all of his years educated in public. And while we had very different school backgrounds, both were excellent. We each look back on high school as a great experience that neither of us would change. So you can imagine our dilemma. Should we head down that public school road my husband had traveled or that private school road of mine? And so the discussion began, and continued, and stretched on and on and on. Round and round we went. Finally, after much debate, we decided to compromise. We would start our boys in private school and later move them to public. It seemed to be the perfect solution, or at least the perfect solution for us.

Having attended fourth through twelfth grades in private school, I pretty much knew what to expect, so those early years were easy. However, I didn’t know what to expect from the public schools. I’d heard rumors and stories and example after example of the horrors that fill our public school system. They force your kids to watch R-rated movies, they pack the classrooms like sardines, they hand out condoms like candy. The voices were constant, loud, and terrifying. It would surely prove an epic nightmare where my children would be required to take untold numbers of grueling standardized tests, no one would care about them, and they would be nothing but a number. I couldn’t wait.

But as you might have already guessed, none of the aforementioned rumors turned out to be true, and I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised by our children’s public school experience. Let me pause for a moment and be clear, I’m not trying to convince anyone to choose public school over private or vice versa. Every child is different and each has his or her own set of needs. In my opinion, there really is no right or wrong decision. I just want to share a few things that surprised me, in a good way, about our public school system.

Drake, bottom left and his friend Coach Brown, top right
Drake, bottom left and his friend Coach B., top right

1. The Teachers. The teachers, most of who held master’s degrees and some doctorates, were wonderful people who enjoyed their jobs and their students. And while there were a few bad apples, there were only a few. Each of my three children had teachers who took a special interest in them during high school. My youngest son had such a great experience with his French teacher, he decided to minor in French. C’est fantastique! My oldest son had such an amazing chemistry teacher, he came out of high school wanting to major in chemistry. Now that’s something. My middle son had such a fondness for and camaraderie with his basketball coach that I think he would have preferred to consider him a friend rather than a teacher.

2. The Students. We were lucky on this front. Our public school system is diverse: racially, religiously, and economically. If you walked into the school, you would get a fairly accurate cross section of our country right there under one roof. All of the students were exposed to others who looked nothing like them on the outside, but were very much like them on the inside. The result was a wonderful lack of misunderstanding, judgment and fear that can sometimes result from limited exposure to people with different backgrounds.

3. The Education. Aside from the politics and the sharp parental opinions, which are always present at every school (and which I tried to stay far away from), the education my children received was top-notch. Their school had more options for core curriculum classes than the students could ever need, more Advanced Placement and college classes than they could possibly take, and more electives than they had time for. The high number of students led to a high number of choices. Excellent.first-day-2014_whitney-update-900x697

4. The Overall Experience. As far as extracurricular opportunities, there was something for everyone. It didn’t matter if the students were athletic, artistic, academic, or none of the above or all of the above. There was a club, team, or some kind of group where they could fit in. If they were willing to put out a little effort, they could find their place and be a part of something bigger. It never felt too large or too impersonal for my boys to feel like they belonged.

5. The Result. Now that my oldest and his public school friends are out in the real world, I’m happy to report they are all (yes all) finding jobs with great success. They are business people, engineers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, and maybe most importantly teachers. In addition, many are involved in charity work and religious groups. These public school kids have turned into fine young adults and I’m having fun watching them live fulfilling lives.

YoungPro1-1507Over time, I’ve heard a lot of negative chatter about public school, so I wanted to give a shout out, a thumbs up, and kudos to all those involved in the system. After experiencing our boys’ twenty-seven combined years in six public schools, I can say this: while ever changing and hopefully always improving, public school has provided an excellent educational foundation for our children. For everyone whose child is headed down this road, I hope you’ll sit back, take a breath, and rest assured that although his or her experience will never be perfect, it may not only meet your expectations, but it may soar above and beyond them. It certainly did mine.

It’s Been a Year and I Need to Apologize

It’s been a year since it happened.
And it’s taken a year for me to apologize.

It was the beginning of last summer, Memorial Day weekend, and I was at Lake Martin, near Auburn, Alabama, probably my favorite place on earth. This is where my family goes to slow down, catch up, and put a flame to that green egg. We’ve been lake people for fifteen years and it feels like home. But one year ago, something curious happened while we were there.

Leelee got sick.

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Allow me to back up. Ten years ago, my youngest son asked for a dog. I was not surprised, all little boys want a puppy, don’t they? No worries, I thought, I knew how to handle this. He was my third son and I was an expert on boys. We’d get a fish or a turtle or a hermit crab and all would be well. I was strong. I could say no, or so I thought. But I thought wrong. I couldn’t resist this time, and I couldn’t resist this son. He was convinced, he was persistent, and he was perfectly relentless—he still is, by the way–and he wore me down like an old tire.  He won.

Enter Leelee.

Let me tell you about Leelee. She was a nine-year-old (my husband says she was eight, but that’s not important) miniature schnauzer. At eleven pounds, eight inches tall, she wasn’t the cutest dog ever (yes, schnauzers are the ones with the beard/mustache combo), or the smartest dog ever (sit and shake-yes, rollover-not on your life), but we thought she was the best dog ever. She was a tiny, black ball of soft, furry love.

Leelee was a survivor.

She lived in five different houses with us-we’ve moved an awful lot-and somehow survived the doggy perils that came with each. She survived the ground-shaking wrestling matches of three small boys and one large dad. She survived falling off a Sea-Doo before she could swim. She survived Dobermans and German Shepherds and a Rottweiler. She survived a face-to-face confrontation with a snake, thanks to my uncle in Mobile. She survived the ALLIGATORS IN DOG RIVER (also in Mobile), and most recently, she survived the COYOTES THAT LURK AROUND THE CHATTAHOOCHEE. And her good fortune was not because I was a good doggy mom. I probably was not. But I always made sure my cellphone number was attached to her person in case of emergency. That’s something, right? So you see, Leelee was a survivor. She was a soft bundle of needy love who somehow, for nine years (eight?) trotted away from danger unconcerned and unscathed. All she required was food, a round bed, and love. And that was what she got.

But then Leelee got sick.

To be clear, it was not unusual for Leelee, to get sick. From the moment she joined our family, she would get car sick, she would eat things out of the yard and get sick, and she would especially get sick if we fed her off the table. So when Leelee became sick at the lake last May, I thought nothing of it. Just put her on the hardwoods if she starts to throw up, I constantly reminded my family. Cleanup is much easier that way, am I right? But one day of sick stretched into several and I was concerned. We came back to Atlanta and I took her to the vet where they performed test after test after expensive test, none of which showed any IMG_0523type of problem. She was perfectly healthy. There was nothing wrong and no explanation for her illness. Long, painful story short, less than a week later she died. Just like that, she was gone. And I was a wreck. Talk about an ugly cry. I’d watched her suffer, unable to help her, unable to fix her, and it crushed me. It was, in a word, excruciating. For Leelee, and for me.

Fast-forward a full year, and here’s where the apology comes in. I had no idea that losing a pet was so painful. That’s crazy, right? Definitely. I’ve actually wondered in the past how someone could get so upset over a dog passing away. It’s just an animal, not a person, correct? Incorrect, and as I now know, completely and totally wrong. I know that precious pup is a living, breathing creature that becomes part of your family and your life, and that has intelligence and emotion and can love and be loved. I didn’t before, but I realize all of this now. So, I’m sorry I didn’t understand the importance of a beloved pet, and I’m sorry I didn’t get the pain of losing one. Believe me, I get it now. And to all you dog lovers out there, I get you now. And I love that you love your dogs. And mostly I love that you are brave and optimistic enough to adopt another dog after the former one is gone. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m working on it.

What really happened to Leelee?

Here’s my best I’m-no-veterinarian guess: I believe she swallowed a shard of glass that tasted good to her and that didn’t show on the x-rays or scans, and it perforated her esophagus/trachea. At first she couldn’t eat, then she couldn’t drink, and finally she couldn’t breathe. It was pitiful, brutally so and it still hurts to revisit what she went through. But thankfully, time does heal, at least with the loss of a dog, and after twelve months I feel better.cardinal-perched-on-branch-pc-wallpaper

Now, exactly one year later, I sit watching a bright red cardinal outside my window and I have to wonder if the legend is true, the one that says this striking bird represents the spirit of a lost loved one. Who really knows, but if nothing else, it’s a lovely coincidence that makes me smile. So today, I send respect out to all you dog lovers, and I hope you’re enjoying those sand-papery or slobbery licks to the face, because as I now understand, dogs are loved ones too.

Worth the Read two

If you love to read, or want to love to read, this recurring section of my blog is for you.

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Here’s how it works:  I’ll recommend five books that contain something unique, interesting, or worthwhile.  In short, each book was worth the time it took to read.  Then you decide which ones interest you.  In a read it forward kind of way, I’m hoping you’ll benefit, as I have, from one or more of these suggestions.

So prop up your feet and enjoy this spring pollen weather.  But more importantly, pick up a book, open your mind to something new, and enjoy.

 

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STILL ALICE by Lisa Genova

Gallery Books 2007

Contemporary fiction

It is no secret that Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. This is a fact we all know. But in STILL ALICE, Lisa Genova depicts the disease from the inside, from the patient’s perspective. Genova, a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard, unfolds a beautiful yet haunting story about a psychology professor who discovers, at age fifty, that she has early-onset Alzheimer’s. Alice’s discovery is jolting and the creeping progression of the disease is heartbreaking. Books don’t typically make my cry, but this one, because the disease is so cruel and so slow and so much a possibility for all of us, this one made me weep. If I could, I would require everyone I know to read this eye-opening novel before turning thirty. We would all do well to gain a greater understanding and empathy for the victim’s of this brutal disease to which there is currently no prevention or cure. And no matter how much spinach or how many blueberries we eat, every one of us is still at risk. This is not a lighthearted beach read by any means, but it is fascinating, enjoyable, and important in an inspirational sort of way.

 

 

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DRY by Augusten Burroughs

St. Martin’s Press 2003

Memoir

With a name like Augusten Burroughs, I knew this writer had to be interesting. And I was correct. Burroughs is not only interesting, but he is hilarious, magnetic and extremely entertaining. And his story is powerful; I’m talking how is he still alive powerful. Burroughs (RUNNING WITH SCISSORS) is a master of memoir and storytelling extraordinaire and he wastes no time drawing the reader into the world of a downward spiraling alcoholic. Coupling raw, honest writing with a fascinating, horrifying story of his ten-year road to sobriety, the result is a memoir that is as engaging as any I’ve ever read. In the words of Burrough’s agent (and husband) Christopher Schelling after he read the first draft, “It’s funny and sad and effed-up and crazy and completely riveting.” What he said, and more. If you are of the opinion that alcoholism is a personality flaw that can be fixed with a little self-control, I urge you to read this memoir, reconsider your position, and see me after class. The CDC defines alcoholism as a chronic disease, and health professionals agree that alcoholics may require a lifetime of ongoing treatment. This one is not for the kids, but if you are looking to be fully enveloped in a book while gaining insight on a very real and debilitating disease, DRY is well worth the read.

 

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BURYING THE HONEYSUCKLE GIRLS by Emily Carpenter

Lake Union Publishing, 2016

Psychological thriller, Southern Gothic suspense

Buckle up, buttercup, and hang on tight because this story is going to take you on a ride like you’ve never experienced. From page one, the plot twists and turns are surprising at least, jarring and haunting at most. Carpenter pulls the reader toward questions surrounding her main character Althea’s ominous 30th birthday, but the more answers Althea gets, the more questions she has. This multi-generational mystery races around the state of Alabama toward a weighty resolution that will leave you both exhausted and relieved. But don’t think you’ll be able to guess the ending; you won’t even be able to predict what’s going to happen on the next page. This treasure hunt for the truth has a GONE GIRL type of urgency sprinkled with a ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST kind of crazy. Carpenter’s debut novel couples a fresh, smart voice with a unique, multi-layered story and the result is nothing less than startling. Something tells me we’ll be hearing more from this inventive author and her gloriously wild imagination in the future.

 

 

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UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN by Jon Krakauer

Anchor Books, 2004

Nonfiction

When a friend of my husband’s, a lawyer and former district attorney, recommended this book to me, I should have known. I should’ve known it would be literary, I should’ve known it would be historical, and I should’ve known it would be a book that would require me to put on my proverbial thinking cap and pull it down tight. And it was. In his wildly popular memoir turned movie, INTO THIN AIR, Krakauer writes about extreme physical adventure, but in UTBOH, he turns to the extreme religious practices of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the book’s heart is a double murder carried out by two members of the FLDS church who claim that God has instructed them to kill. And kill they do. Krakauer uses the murders as a thread which weaves its way through his study of the history of the FLDS church. And let me tell you, his revelations ain’t pretty. From sexual and emotional abuse to murderous violence to a special strain of religious crazy, this book reveals atrocities you’ll wish you’d never known had taken place anywhere, much less in the US of A. That said, the church of LDS’s response to this book is, as you might imagine, harsh. It includes phrases like full-frontal assault on the veracity of the modern church, poor command of the subject matter, and a disservice to his readers. So it would be appropriate to consider the church’s response when deciding about the accuracy of the information presented. But if you are interested in learning one author’s fascinating take on America’s fastest growing religion–albeit a challenge–this one is worth the read.

 

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1984 by George Orwell

Secker and Warburg, 1949

Dystopian fiction, political fiction

I am uncomfortably aware how very late I am to the Big Brother party, but at least I made it. I finally picked up this novel because my good friend told me it was her son’s favorite book, EVER. And from what I gather, her twenty-something year old son is of Zuckerberg-level intelligence. So that was it, the gauntlet was laid. I was forced to read this once futuristic, modern classic that somehow I had managed to avoid. And what I found was surprising. The premise is simple, the characters and dystopian setting are intriguing, and the end is wonderfully creepy. The themes of control, manipulation, and governmental totalitarianism are ingeniously addressed in Orwell’s fast-moving story. Some might even feel his ideas translate to today’s world–I won’t be commenting on that. But I will say, if you’ve missed this one, read it for yourself and draw parallels if you dare. Either way, it’s quick, significant, and worth the read.