Sometimes you meet someone and they just stick.
Six years ago I sat in College Algebra class next to a young girl with big brown eyes. My seatmate was twelve years my junior but she had a vibrant and mature energy. Over the next four months, we sat next to each other twice a week and scratched our heads over binomial theorem and the laws of exponents.
Christina was cool. I liked her. We worked together to figure out stuff we’d never use again and made College Algebra fun. At the end of the semester we hugged and exchanged phone numbers and good-luck wishes.
Life happened and we lost touch. I was a busy mom and Christina was finishing college.
Fast forward six years.
In August, while perusing Face Book I saw Christina’s name on my friend’s wall. Hey! I know her! Christina works with our mutual friend and I thought about the smallness of the world and stuff.
Then my heart stopped.
Christina. A young mother. Stage 3 breast cancer.
I began following Christina on Face Book. I emailed her, “Do you remember me? I’m praying for you,” and she replied back and asked me about my kids.
Christina began chemotherapy and despite how bad she felt, she managed to keep everyone updated. I check on her every day, if only virtually and I’m so humbled by her resilience.
Two nights ago, Christina posted a picture of herself, with her newly shaven head. She is beautiful and strong and she moved me to tears.
I sat in silence for a long time staring at her beautiful picture. I thought of what she is going through and how I couldn’t possibly know how hard it is. She is a mother to a beautiful little boy and she’s fighting for her life. Yet in her face I could see the determination of a survivor.
I thought about the guts it took to shave her head. Of the pure awesomesauce ballsiness she has to give cancer the big middle finger and hold her beautiful bald head high.
I looked up from her picture and said to my boyfriend, “I can grow my hair right now. She can’t. It’s not fair and I have to do something.”
So I made an appointment with my favorite hairdresser, Valerie at the Mitchell Wade Salon in Oviedo.
And this, Christina, is for you.
Christina, you are strong and loved and you are not alone. You got this. Go kick cancer’s butt ASS!
My kids tried to kill each other last night. In the shower.
Sam and Max are like most boys. Two years apart in age, they play with the same toys and the same friends. They conspire together and wrestle in the family room. They get mad at one another and scream, “You’re so mean!” on a regular basis. They turn selfish and refuse to share toys and elbow each other when I’m not looking.
They’ve never hurt one another, though. That is, until last night.
They were in the shower (yes, they’re still young enough to shower together) and I was in the other room. I heard them laughing and screeching (yes, they’re still young enough to screech). Sam’s laughter morphed into a cry and my Mom ears knew it was a cry of pain.
I ran into the bathroom, pulled the shower curtain back, a la Psycho, and saw watery blood running down Sam’s chest. He had a scratch from his collarbone to his stomach. He was screaming that his face hurt – It burns! It burns! His face? I hadn’t noticed his face. All I could do was stare in disbelief at his chest and at Max, who stared in disbelief at Sam too.
“Did you do this?!” I yelled?
“Did you DO this?!” Again.
“Yes, but he scratched me first!”
Boys out of shower. Inspect Sam. Clean scratches. Clean up dog pee because during all this mayhem Emma peed in the kitchen. Yell. Threaten severe punishment. Yell some more.
Hold back tears.
Sam had two raised scratches down both cheeks, like streaks of tears that wouldn’t go away. Max broke the skin over Sam’s eye, starting at the inside the corner down to his cheek. Did he scratch Sam’s cornea? God, I hope not.
What was I supposed to do now? Never had my kids hurt each other. Never had they drawn blood. I couldn’t believe that Max, the happiest kid on Earth could do this to his big brother. Sam is the one with the temper. But Max? No way. Couldn’t be.
Was I making a bigger deal of this than necessary? I mean, they’re boys for God’s sake. They’re bound to fight. Right?
I’d been in some pretty bad scuffles with my brother as a kid. Once, he smacked my head so hard he knocked me out of my chair. I threw the 7-pound cordless phone at him. Another time he pissed me off so I chucked a pencil at. His. Face. The lead embedded in his skin under his eye and I’m pretty sure if you look closely you can still see it. I was a thrower, apparently.
But this was new territory for me. I’d never dealt with this as a Mom.
The boys dressed in their pajamas, hiccuping sobs as I lectured them. I made them hug each and not let go. When they started to pull away, I said, “Keep hugging.” I made them look at each other the whole time and say, “You are my big brother and I’m sorry for hurting you.” “You are my little brother and I’m sorry for hurting you.”
Max felt terrible. He was wailing alone in his room. I told him to get in bed and that I would not sing to him. He cried harder.
Twenty minutes passed and I checked on both boys. Sam was awake, but quiet. Max looked like he was asleep. I closed his door behind me and his wailing and incomprehensible talking started again. I opened his door and asked, “Max, what are you saying?”
He ran into my arms. “I just want a hug and a kiss. I can’t sleep unless I get a hug and a kiss.”
I lifted my son into my arms and held him. He clung to me like a baby chimp.
Before they fell asleep, I talked with each of my boys.
“Don’t ever do anything like this again. Even though I’m very upset with you, I love you more than anything in this world.” They both cried and hugged me.
I’m not raising Drama Queens, I swear. I’m enough Drama Queen for both of them. Though, I’m surprised at how emotional I feel about this. My kids hurt each other. This is a complete Momination.
They’re both grounded. I’ve banned them from playing with friends and each other. I want them to know what it feels like to not have each other around, to feel lonely and bored without each other’s company.
How do you handle it when you’re kids physically hurt one another?
Dear Lakeside Teachers,
Five years ago, I drove down the street with a two-year old fussing in his car seat and a baby squirming in my belly. I was tired. I was two months away from the birth of my second son, Max and his in-utero energy foretold busier days ahead. I had been driving all day, scouting preschools for Sam. I had to find The. Perfect. One. Yes, I was that mom.
Five preschool tours and as many disappointments later, I drove home in a daze. My head flopped on the headrest and my ears desperately tried to shut out the sounds of my over-tired son. A few miles from home, a banner caught my eye, “We offer preschool and Kindergarten – Ages 2 and up.” Two and up? I swerved my big-brick SUV into the parking lot and promised Sam this would be our last stop. I met Ms. Marti that day and she gave me a tour. Lakeside was perfect. I was sold.
A week later Sam had his first day at Lakeside Fellowship Preschool. My aching hips and expanding waist welcomed the break, but my heart shattered into a million pieces as I walked my son to class.
It had taken me more than a month to acclimate Sam to child care at the gym, so I was prepared for a full-on meltdown as he entered his classroom for the first time. His teacher knelt and smiled warmly at Sam and soon he was sitting at a table building a 2-year old masterpiece with Play-Doh. No tears, no fits, no hesitation. At least not from Sam.
For the next five years, I took my boys to school convinced that I was sharing the privilege of their company with the teachers and staff at Lakeside. I was sacrificing precious hours with my sons to send them to school for socializing and some nifty crafts. Sure, they would learn the alphabet and burn some energy on the playground, but could these educators understand the gift I was giving them? Did they know how truly special my children are and the love they have to offer? After five years of sharing my kids with this group of amazing women, I learned that the privilege is all mine. They are more than educators – they are family.
How do I say thank you? How do I sum up five years of love and caring in one short letter? How do I convey my gratitude? My appreciation?
Thank you for loving my children. Thank you for giving them a foundation from which they will build their entire education. Thank you for being so incredibly dedicated to the kids you teach and for being profoundly good at what you do. Thank you for your support and making us feel like we belong, even as our family dynamic changed. Thank you for touching our family in ways you’ll never truly know and for sharing the love of God with us all.
Our experience at Lakeside has shaped us as a family. It’s made me a better parent and made Sam and Max better kids. I am forever grateful for what you’ve taught us. I will miss you all and I will never forget you.
I’m a jerk. An opinionated asshole. I say what I think and offend others easily. I enjoy a good debate and often elicit arguments for the fun of it. I take pleasure in discussing an idea, batting for both hemispheres. Left-brained, right-brained – good dialogue is indifferent.
I want others to call me on my bullshit and offer the same to those who have the displeasure of my company. I find it impossible to keep my mouth shut when someone tells me something. I am unable to dispense with a smile and nod (“Oh, that’s nice!”) when presented with an idea I disagree with. I find that practice to be condescending and think my honest opinion, however unpopular, is far more agreeable than cloaking myself in a veil of duplicity.
I claim that I am non-judgmental only after I’ve assaulted you with what I think, but honestly it doesn’t matter to me which path you choose as long as we can have a friendly debate and think around the entire matter before agreeing to disagree.
I believe in full disclosure. I’m an information whore. I want your opinion and to hear what I’ve done wrong so I can amend my ways or defend why I’m right.
I take perverse pleasure in conversation; I am a glutton of gab. Do not mistake me for a gossip for I will shut that shit down with silent artifice, flinging my disapproval like a shot-put, heavy and solid in its landing. I will then lash you with the Lady of Grantham glare.
I am known by many and liked by few. I know this and yet I cannot change. Restraining my tongue is a skill I do not have. F-bombs fly from my lips with feral ribaldry, although vulgarity is no substitute for wit. I do not claim wittiness, but honesty.
I like to think my brashness is the writer in me, that my predilection for controversy makes me interesting, but I think I’m just a jerk.
A contentious stand-alone.
I put the “ass” in assertive.
Surely, I mean no harm. I value the differences in people and what others can teach me from their point of view. My opinion on a matter has no bearing on my fondness for you. I like you even if you don’t agree with my choices and I think our disparities help us grow. You can do a thing and I can disagree and we can still be friends. Go ahead, try me. I double-dog dare you.
So if you find you’re put off by me, please know that I am not trying to offend you. I leave you with this:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
- Puck, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
What the hell is this world coming to? A gunman entered an elementary school in Connecticut this morning, killing 27 people, eighteen of whom were children. Children. Children, ages five to ten were gunned down at their school. This event is so horrific, so sickening I had a visceral reaction when I heard the news. I can still feel the dull pain in my chest.
Who does this? How can a person kill another, particularly an innocent child? A small child who is trusting and naïve and too young to even know to run or how to hide from a psychopath who is trying to hurt them?
I haven’t stopped shaking my head in anger and confusion since I read this horrible news on the internet. This tragedy defies understanding. My mind’s been circling around the thought of the scene, around the horror the children must have felt and the unbelievablity of receiving a phone call telling you your grade-school child has been shot at school. I shake my head as the thoughts swirl, out of grief, denial and with the feeble attempt to rid my mind of the horror that occurred this day.
The shooter is dead, found with a bulletproof vest and four weapons. How immensely unsatisfying. How WRONG that that person was able to choose when and how they died. How unfair that the shooter is no longer living so that they may suffer the way they so deserve! I wish that person were still alive so that the parents of the slain children could beat them to a bloody, pulpy mess. I wish the shooter could be brought from the edges of death, and made to suffer the pains they imposed on so many others, only to have to suffer all over again at the hands of the next set of grieving parents. Maybe this makes me a bad person, to wish this on another human being, but I believe that some things are beyond absolution. Some things are unforgivable.
ARGH!!! I want to scream and cry (more) for those innocent kids. I am so angry and so sickened. I am so sad.
God be with all those affected today.
Emma was diagnosed with congestive heart failure about a year and a half ago. She is on Lasix, a diuretic for her heart. When she was diagnosed, it was mild but it is a progressive disease and causes enlargement of the heart and fluid retention. She is still an active girl, and I can’t keep her out of the pool when the kids are swimming.
This weekend, she was acting really weird. She was holding her head at a funny angle, she had a strange look on her doggie face and her breath was horrid. She was being extra cuddly, too. On Saturday night, while she was eating, Sam noticed blood; she was bleeding from her mouth. We took her to the emergency vet and she was given antibiotics for a dental infection.
I followed up with her regular vet yesterday. I was so thankful that it was “only” a tooth infection that was illin’ her. The vet gave me bad news, however.
She has advanced dental disease, despite her teeth being cleaned a year and a half ago. The infection from her gums has gotten into her blood stream and she is too high-risk to undergo general anesthesia for a dental cleaning. Her heart condition has progressed and the anesthesia could kill her. She is 15 years old, with a heart condition.
The vet didn’t have any good options for me. She is continuing her antibiotics for her dental infection, but he is hesitant about surgically cleaning the infection. He took an X-ray of her heart and it showed increased enlargement. We’re waiting for her blood test results to make a final decision.
If we can’t do the dental, our only other option is to treat the infection and any other infections that come up due to her bad teeth. New infections are inevitable without cleaning under her gums, so she’ll have to stay on antibiotics until she dies. The vet said there are things we can do to keep her as comfortable as possible. He said she doesn’t have much time left.
I know my dog is fifteen years old, but hearing that she is dying is not easy. That seems like a “no duh” statement, but you think I’d be somewhat prepared for her to go. I’m just not.
I’ve had her since I was 22 years old. She has seen me through several moves, two marriages and the birth of two babies. She is the longest relationship I’ve had outside of my immediate family. She IS my family and it hurts like hell to think she won’t be with me much longer. When I think back over my adult life, she has always been my one constant. When I brought her home, she was three pounds. She was so tiny! She is my constant companion and I am her person. I am so very sad.
I am however SO grateful that I have this time to be with her before she goes to doggie heaven. She has definitely perked up since the weekend, and I think the antibiotics are helping her. She is *very* happy with her new soft food and if I didn’t tell you she was sick you wouldn’t know it. She is small, but mighty.
I’m keeping her by my side every minute, and giving her extra love. She is the sweetest thing and I believe it is true that dogs can sense their human’s feelings. It is as though she is comforting me.
My brother’s dog, Jackson, died a few months ago from cancer. He was a beautiful golden retriever. My brother and his family had to put him down because the cancer had ravaged his insides. His illness happened so quickly. One week he seemed fine, and the next week he was gone. He and I talked about a dog’s resilience to pain and how warning signs are there when we’re able to look back and see them. When Jack died, my brother told his kids, “Jack gave us ten years of happiness, and one day of sadness. I’ll take it.” I try to keep that foremost in my mind when the thought of losing Emma becomes too much to bear.
I have had a decade and a half with this special creature. I am so lucky I had Emma raise me.
Autumn is my favorite time of the year. I love when the weather starts to change and fallen acorns crunch under my shoes. I love my fall decorations bursting colors of orange, red and yellow. The crispness in the air helps me shake loose the mental stagnation that the humid summer brings. I love the smell of pumpkin spice and cinnamon.
I love that the whole world turns pink for Breast Cancer Awareness month – when pro football players don pink shoes to support the boobs in their life. It is the time when women discuss with candid openness the health of their breasts and how real and how HERE breast cancer is. Everywhere you look, people are wearing pink ribbons or pink shirts. You can’t NOT think about cancer this month, and the collective awareness it brings is changing how we think.
This month I’ve thought often of my dear friend Nancy. She didn’t die of breast cancer, but lung cancer. It has been almost five years since she passed and I miss her every day. A year and a half she fought the hard battle with Chemo and Radiation leading the charge. I found an email I wrote to her a year before she died:
November 22, 2006
I just finished setting the dining room table for tomorrow’s big feast. I have the turkey thawing on the counter and I’ve written my fifth list of things to do so I don’t forget anything in my holiday haste. Tomorrow is my Mom’s birthday too. I have to remember to make her a card.
Stop. Breathe. I remember something more important. You.
I am so thankful for you. You are such a shining star in my life and you have made me a better person just by being my friend. I am thankful for the kindness that you’ve taught me through the selfless acts you have shown to others. I am thankful for your positive attitude even when faced with the greatest adversity. I am thankful for your realism and your fearlessness for being YOU, no matter what anyone else thinks. I’m thankful for your simplicity and for making life seem so grand when you have a good book, Pete and some paints. I’m thankful for your sense of humor and the way you can laugh at yourself, especially when the kitchen light gets the best of you. I’m thankful for the love you have shown to me and I’m positive I must have done something pretty damn good in my life to deserve you in it. I’m thankful for your hugs and your warmth. I’m thankful that you no longer have a tumor in your brain. I’m thankful for your life. I’m thankful for your doctors that are making you better. I’m so very thankful for that wonderful man you have by your side, walking with you and holding you up through this shit storm called cancer. I am thankful for the love I have for you because it fills me up and renews my faith in the world that there still are good people. I’m thankful for your strength. You are so very strong.
I love you so much, Nancy. I pray for you every day. I wanted to tell you how very much you mean to me. You are my heart. Happy Thanksgiving.
Love your friend,
Before my friend passed away, I purchased a cross-stitch pattern for her. I worked every free minute so I could frame it and mail to Nancy. I threaded my needle with focus and worked with the determination of someone about to lose a friend. I sewed frantically.
She died before I finished.
After that phone call, I picked myself up and with a tear-stained face I walked to my bedroom. My hands tenderly folded the unfinished piece of fabric and tucked it into my nightstand drawer where it stayed for the next five years.
This month I was rooting through my closet when out of a box fell this old cross-stitch hoop. The hoop was pink and a smile crept up the corners of my mouth.
I put the box away, one cross-stitch pattern lighter and I went to work. I needed to finish this for my friend. And so I did.
This is for you, Nancy.
And this is for my ex-father-in-law, who was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer and kicked it’s ass after six months of intensive chemo. He is in remission. Thank you, God.
This is for Aunt Madeline who lost her life to ovarian cancer.
This is for my friend Matt who had melanoma removed from his back and goes to the dermatologist regularly so he can be the best father and husband for his girls.
This is for my grandmother I never met because she lost her life to lung cancer when my Mom was only thirteen.
This is for my grandfather who also lost his life to lung cancer when I was seven.
This is for my friend, Nicole who takes care of her husband who is battling cancer. Her strength is so incredibly admirable.
This is for Stephanie’s mom, Sharon, who lost her life to breast cancer. She used to French braid my hair when I was a kid and she had a beautiful smile.
This is for Ernesto’s mom, Maria, who died of lung cancer last year. She was such an important part of my life, teaching me lessons with her Spanglish and tender eyes.
This is for my brother’s dog, Jackson who died of cancer a few months ago.
This is for my friend, Adam who had surgery for cancer over a year ago. He is cured!
This is for Steve, who died from kidney cancer at age 35. He is missed dearly by his wife and three children.
This is for the mom at my son’s pre-school who last year had no hair because of chemo. This is for the little fist pump I do when I see her hair growing back and her color returning.
This is for Kelly’s dad, who is gone now but sends cardinals every now and again to say hi.
This is for my childhood friend, Scott, who died in his early twenties from metastatic melanoma. We miss you, truly.
This is for Ted, the bartender at a local restaurant, who has been fighting cancer for the last year and is kicking ass and taking names.
This is for Aunt G, who caught her breast cancer so early she was able to eradicate it with a few rounds of radiation. We’re so thankful for your diligent doctors.
This is for Dennis who just had a melanoma removed. No freckle goes unchecked!
This is for Uncle Greg who is in remission from lymphoma.
This is for Holly and Jim who battled cancer with their daughter and won! (Although it is probably inappropriate for a little girl, the sentiment is still the same. )
This is for everyone I know who has cancer or someone affected by cancer. This is for the people who take care of their sick loved ones, a job that is often overlooked yet harder than hell.
And finally, this is for Nancy’s son who was diagnosed with cancer last year. Henry, you have a part of your mom in you and that is better than any drug or treatment. May you look at this and know how loved you and your mom are. You are going to get through this.
Want to give cancer the big F-U for someone in your life? Feel free to keep it going.
Sam had to write a story today about a golden coin. Together we sat and brainstormed using the mind-mapping technique. He finished his story, complete with a compelling arc and compassionate ending, and I returned to my writing roots, teaching my son the creative process the way I learned it.
Thank you, Life for giving me the opportunity to do what I love most with whom I love most.
Each night my kids come home from school with their planners that I have to review and initial. And each night, I sign “SS” in my scrolling handwriting, and it looks all loopy and pretty and shit.
Last night I decided to spice things up a bit, because oooh burn! That’s how I roll and I’m loco-crazy! I wrote:
I, Shannon Shenanigan, hereby declare I reviewed Max’s folder and proclaim this writing as proof of such.
Today at pick up, Max’s teacher plucked his folder out of the bin, pulled me aside and whispered, “Is everything ok?” She pointed to my proclamation from the night before.
I stared at her, looking confused. What else is new?
“I was just wondering if this is something, ya know, legal you had to put in the planner because of, well, you know.” Pre-School teachers apparently are not allowed to say the word “divorce.”
“Oh! That! No, I was just being a smart ass.” Failure.
“Okay, I was wondering! Whew! I asked two of the other teachers and they thought maybe you were being funny, but I wasn’t sure.” Maybe? Like, perhaps, on some planet without any other funny people anywhere.
“Oh, well, that was just me. Trying to be funny!” Next time I’ll include a recording of a rimshot (http://instantrimshot.com/).
“Yes, I know you’re a writer. I appreciate the creativity.” Gold star.
Tomorrow I’m going to sign the planner: “Shannon Sina.. OH MY GOD THE BUGS! GET THEM OFF GET THEM OFF GET THEM OFF!” We’ll see if she meets me at the door with the paramedics and a straight jacket.
I am feeling pretty down today, mostly because I have not been able to spend my son’s birthday weekend with him. I went out in the yard and sweat out some of my frustrations yet I came inside feeling unsatisfied.
I sat down to my computer and stared at my reflection in the glare of the monitor. Out of the blue, I typed into the URL line, www.divorcesucks.com.
If this domain doesn’t exist, them I’m going to buy it.
The site loaded and on a white page, this is what I found:
Thank you, Random, Brilliant Person.
This is just what I needed today.