Moments Matter

Me & Marilyn

She strolled down the street holding a black studded leash in step with a gracefully trotting peacock. She was dressed in full rock star “KISS” costume and makeup. Her sparkling silver platform shoes catching rays of sunlight like a dangling crystal.

Eyeballs followed her down the sidewalk through the crowds of the small downtown farmer’s market. There was an occasional gasp when the peacock would display its magnificent fan of feathers.

You had the distinct impression she loved the drama and attention of it all.

And no, it wasn’t Halloween. Her name was Marilyn, one of the many eclectic houseguests who migrated in and out of our commune hippie farm during the 1970s.

The Fearless Actress
Marilyn was a true actress who loved to get into character. As my mom was a hairdresser, she dyed Marilyn’s hair in a rainbow of colors – but usually striking purples and shades of red.

My mom would dye her hair outside in our acre-plus backyard. One day with our peacocks running amuck and her recent dye job complete, Marilyn turned and asked in a sultry voice, “What do you think? You like?”

I thought Marilyn was the coolest person ever. She seemed fearless. I remember holding her silver platform shoes and trying to walk in them – wishing I was grown up enough to wear them.

No Words Required
Marilyn hung around the drama crowds during the 1970s. Around the age of six, I remember attending one of her drama meetings. Legs crossed, the group would sit on the ground and discuss dramatic techniques – how to channel their inner character.

In 1977 at the age of six, on my way to my first (and only) clown parade with Marilyn the “Fearless Actress” (and yes, that’s her real hair).

There would sometimes be a puff of smoke floating amongst the circle. It was the 1970s.

I could grasp neither the dramatic conversation, nor the billows of smoke.

Marilyn also took me to my first pane mime performance. At the end, I recall thinking of how amazing it is that people could express themselves in so many different ways.

Without words.

They could share their thoughts using their body movements and expressions.

I learned how to pane mime the “wall” and the “rope.” Looking back, maybe that was a sign that I could sometimes put up walls, but often times I needed a rope.

Be A Clown
As part of the acting community, she was invited to participate in local events, such as parades. She asked if I’d like to be her clown sidekick at an upcoming parade. I jumped at the chance.

She painted my face with the traditional white clown makeup, exaggerated red-shaped lips and black-tear lines. I wore a blue shag wig with a green floppy hat that adorned a giant artificial flower and blue and white striped overalls.

I remember walking with the other clowns while waving to all the parade onlookers. I was part of the parade of clown entertainers, including my favorite, the stilt-walking man.

Lessons from Marilyn
This summer, while my two daughters sat criss-cross in our family room, I taught them how to pane mime the “wall” and the “rope” (no smoky clouds).

I felt like I was sharing a piece of Marilyn the “Fearless Actress” with my own children.

I told them the stories of our dramatic escapades – the sparkling silver platform shoes, the peacock on a leash, the pane mime performance – and my one time stint as a clown. I’m not sure if they understood why she had such a positive influence in my life, but they did love the pane miming.

Each Halloween – the one day we pretend to be someone else, I remember the many lessons Marilyn taught me…

She taught me a certain level of fearlessness and confidence.

She taught me how body language can say more than a single spoken, or written word.

She taught me about illusions.

Most importantly, she taught me it’s okay to build a wall, or ask for a rope when you need it.

Do you build walls, or ask for a rope when you need it? If so, why? As a parent, do you share stories with your children about someone who taught you confidence or fearlessness?

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Wind Beneath My Wings

I burned my tiny finger on the heat lamp as my mom carefully and slowly fed the trembling baby chick with a dropper. This was just par for the course when living on a farm as a child – the constant caring and nurturing of small baby animals.

These were the animals who were the runts of the bunch, or sometimes abandoned by their parents for one reason or another – left alone to fend for themselves. Under her wings, my mom took on the role of surrogate mother hen for these helpless, frail creatures – nursing them back to health.

I enjoyed helping my mother care for these newborn animals. Naturally, I also wanted to adopt them as my own pets. One day, I decided to come to the aid of one of the struggling newborn chicks by placing it in my pretend oven.

Here’s my dad working hard building my first playhouse on our farm in the 1970s.

The oven was located in the second-story of my hand-made, wooden playhouse my dad built in a large acre of land next to my swing set. I put my baby chick in the oven and then I continued to play – checking on it every once in awhile – as a good mom should.

Before dinner my mom asked where the baby chick had gone. I proudly responded that I was “keeping her warm” in my oven. My mom let out a short gasp and quickly went outside, climbing the ladder of my miniature playhouse. A few minutes later she brought the cold, limp baby chick in the house.

She had a sadness to her I hadn’t seen before.

Even though the baby chick incident ended badly, at age five, I was at the beginning stages of building life-forming traits of love, compassion and empathy for others.

The Forgotten and Abandoned
I recall as a teenager, my mom managed our city’s local soup kitchen for the homeless. As a journalist for my high school newspaper, I decided the issue of homelessness needed some exposure to my young audience. I went directly to the source – those injured, mentally ill, abandoned and forgotten.

I interviewed a woman named Trish who was standing in the soup kitchen line – emaciated, toothless with brown, matted hair. She told me what it was like to not have a home, and how this would be her only meal for the week.

I remember the look of fear in her darting eyes.

Once again, there was my mom on the frontlines to help someone in need – much like our baby chicks. I felt proud to write the story. I hoped it would inspire and inform my fellow students about the faces behind poverty and homelessness. I was just doing what my mom had done for all those years – but in my own way.

A few months ago, I experienced a true heartfelt need for a teenage boy who had no parents. My older sister decided to take him into her home as a foster child, and she had mentioned that he only had one pair of pants and shoes.

Thinking of this boy reminded me of how blessed we are – plenty of health, food, shelter and clothes. Throughout the week, thoughts of him tugged at my heart. What could I do? Over the course of the week, through generous donations, I put together a care package of donations.

Though, it won’t ease his pain, I wanted him to know that people do care, and he is not one of the forgotten or abandoned. Following the loss of his parents, he asked my sister if she would ever let him be homeless. She responded emphatically, “never.”

He needed to know that she would not leave him. She, too, is caring her own baby chick.

Kiss the Boo-Boos
Now as a mom, these comforting traits are an integral part of my daily life – the band-aid on a skinned knee, or a kiss on a boo-boo for my own chicks.

Occasionally, I’ll listen in when my daughters are playing in their rooms alone with their dolls. They wrap their doll’s pretend hurt foot in toilet paper, and sing their doll a lullaby.

It makes me glow inside to see they are growing into caring, compassionate human beings.

And as my mom is my hero – the wind beneath my wings – I hope that someday my children will take their own baby chicks under their wings.

Perhaps I could even have the honor to be the wind beneath their wings.

Adopt-a-Family
For those in Orange County, South County Outreach, is holding its 15th annual Adopt-a-Family Program (closes October 31) to help provide families in need with a wonderful holiday. To learn more visit, OC Family.

Did you have a role model that demonstrated compassion (who was the wind beneath your wings) while growing up? If so, how did this person inspire you? Have you ever felt the need to help a stranger? What happened? 

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Signing Off: ‘I Love You’

A few months ago, I posted “Mommy Killed the Fish” – about my daughters getting one of their first pets – a male Beta fish named Carson. It is with a sad heart that I announce that Carson the fish has kicked the bucket (made his way to fish heaven). Little did I know that little sucker was a jumper. The irony of the post title is a bit haunting.

Nevertheless, after some investigating, I learned that he made his way into the garbage disposal while I was cleaning his fish bowl. I had no idea Beta fishes are inherently “puddle jumpers” as my babysitter informed me.

Who would have known? I suspected suicide, but since we were unable to perform an autopsy, or interview any of his fish friends or family, we’ve had to file it as a “suspicious death” at this point. My girls were sad for about a day, and we talked about how death doesn’t wait for anyone – even Carson the fish.

Of course, this brought to mind mortality. I thought of an unpublished post I had been holding onto for the last few months. Like most people, death is detrimental to my heart. I don’t handle death well. I guess, who really does?

Here goes…

Her bent fingers held my soft little hand. She laughed out loud as we slurped our chocolate shakes at the counter of the bowling alley. I asked her if she wanted to bowl with me.

“Oh, I’m too old for that, dear,” she said.

R.I.P. Carson the Fish. Goodbye, lil’ fella.

I could see her wistfully looking at the bowling lanes. We finally made our way back to the home and snuck in through the side door. No alarms sounding. The coast was clear.

Meet my first best friend, Ruth. I was five and she was 85.

The Coolest Job, Ever
As a child, my mother, a hairdresser by trade worked inside a convalescent home (one of her many jobs). When she could not afford, or find a babysitter, I was her little helper at work.

I would sweep up hair on the shop floor, clean brushes and rollers, and often act as a runner wheeling older ladies from their rooms to my mom’s beauty shop, which was located inside the home. I, of course, thought this was the coolest job ever.

Most of the ladies thought I was cute as a button. One woman in particular, Ruth, would sneak me candy bars and treats. We would also take secret trips together (AKA: Jail break from the home) to the bowling alley for pie, hot fudge sundaes or shakes. Ruth seemed to love life, and I loved her. She became my first official best friend.

Something Went Wrong
One day, my mom sent me to pick her up for the weekly beauty appointment. I came in her room, and she was still lying in bed. I went over and shook her arm and called her name, but she was still sleeping.

I knew something was wrong.

I ran back to my mom’s beauty shop as fast as my legs would take me. I pulled on my mom’s skirt while yelling that something was wrong with Ruth and she wouldn’t wake up.

My mom dropped her comb on the ground.

My best friend was gone just like that. I never forged another friendship at the convalescent home again. So, I learned at the tender age of five that death is no respecter of persons.

It even takes best friends.

The Sign-Off
Now as my parents are in their 70s, my heart stops when the phone rings in the early morning or late at night. I think to myself this is “the” call.

Selfishly, I am dreading the day when my parents leave this life for the next. As they live far away, when we speak on the phone, we always sign off with “I love you.”

I never got to tell Ruth “I love you” or even “goodbye.”

Lessons in Mortality
I have learned that I can’t control death, but I can make the most of the moments I have with my loved ones in this life.

I am also hoping that my children will role model the “I love you” sign off when they are parents – as we do with them each and every day.

And, I am confident that Ruth can’t wait to share a slice of pie, or throw a strike down the lane with me at the most amazing bowling alley ever.

Most importantly, I will finally get to tell my best friend the sign-off I’ve been holding onto for all these years: “I love you.”

What was your first memory of death? How did it affect you? Are you taking advantage of those precious moments? Do you have a “sign off” that you perform with loved ones before you say goodbye?

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The Grateful Trap

I wheeled the heavy cart filled with toilet paper, towels, sheets, bedding, cleaning supplies and a vacuum towards my first room of the day.

The early morning sun peeked. Yawning, I slowly cracked open the door of the motel room.

The stuffy room smelled of body sweat. The brown plywood furniture was crammed against the cream-colored walls. A painted picture of miniature gondoliers in bluish, white water hung crookedly on the wall above the bed.

Enter maid (that would be me).

I cranked up my Sony Walkman (AKA: popular 1980s portable cassette player). I was hoping to be somewhere else…

I poured sweat while cleaning – scrubbing counters, toilets and showers, dusting, vacuuming, stripping and making the bed.

Oh, the bed…each sheet corner had to be perfectly triangularly folded and not a lump or bump in sight. That only took ten-billion-times to perfect.

I finished off with a spritz of room deodorizing spray.

Of course, this was just my first room. Only 29 more to go…

We’ll Leave the Light On, Sucker
Yes, I was a maid at the cheap motel chain, Motel 6, during one summer as a teen. You may be familiar with the motel’s popular ad campaign featuring Tom Bodett, “We’ll leave the light on.”

The whole idea of getting a cleaning job was my older sister’s idea. I remember her persuasive hook: “I’ll do it with you. Don’t you want to earn some easy extra cash?”

At the age of 14, I bit…hook, line and sinker.

You can imagine the types of things I witnessed as a maid at Motel 6. I still won’t sit on top of a motel/hotel comforter – ever.

Really, I ‘d rather not remember all the gory details, but I do know that my experience as a motel room cleaner gave me invaluable gifts.

You’re thinking, seriously?

The intangible gifts of raw humility and gratefulness far outweighed the job duties as a maid.

After a day of back-breaking work at the motel, I was exhausted to say the least.

No Entitlement, Here
Fast forward 20 years. Enter mom and wife (that’s me).

I still feel the same sense of appreciation. Now, as a work-at-home-mom and wife with a wonderful husband and two beautiful children, I feel so blessed.

Another one of those blessings is that we have housekeepers who clean our house on occasion. Sometimes my daughters complain that the cleaners put their stuffed animal in a wrong spot, or their rug is not in its proper place.

Not only was it ironic that I had been on the other side as a cleaner myself, but most importantly, there was a sense of entitlement in their words.

Entitlement is the belief that one is deserving of, or entitled to certain privileges.

Coincidentally, I am reading the book “The Entitlement Trap” by Richard and Linda Eyre. The book discusses the issues and solutions for creating independent, self-sufficient children.

“It (entitlement) is fostered by our demanding, narcissistic society where wants are confused with needs and where everyone seems focused on the notion that he (or she) deserves what everyone else has,” the authors so eloquently explain.

According to the Eyres, the more we indulge our children we are robbing them of 1) joy; and 2) work.

With that in mind, I explained to my daughters that it is a big help to mommy and a privilege to have someone help clean our home.

I also told them that if they don’t like the way the housekeepers are cleaning their rooms they can do it themselves.

Beating the Entitlement Trap
After our conversation, my daughters’ complaints of the house cleaners not performing up to their standards ceased. Rather, they would come into their freshly vacuumed rooms and say, “Wow, mom, this is like a new room!”

I had also decided to formalize chores for both our girls so they had an increased level of gratitude.

Beating the entitlement trap one day at a time.

For me, I will never forget my roots of humility. I will also never forget those who believed in me throughout my education and career.

Most importantly, I will always leave the light on for my daughters when it comes to teaching them the joys of appreciation and hard work.

I’m hoping to set up the grateful trap – hook, line and sinker.

For those in Southern California, Authors Richard and Linda Eyre will be speaking about “The Entitlement Trap” at St. Mary’s & All Angels School on Thursday, November 8. For details, visit http://www.smaa.org.

Did you have a job as a teenager or young adult that taught you the meaning of hard work and appreciation? Are you indulging your child, or setting firm boundaries or limitations?

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Poetic Moments

“Mom, what is a poem?” my daughter asked.

Trying to think quickly on me feet, I blurted out, “A poem is a song without music, honey.”

I could see her processing my response as she shook her head up and down. Even though this conversation was short, it was profound. I thought about poetry in my life, and how it helped me in so many ways. And still does…

Growing Pains Healed
You may be thinking: poetry? You might even flash back to writing haikus or sonnets back in your high school English class, and think…boring. As I loved creative writing in high school, it was only natural that I also enjoyed poetry.

The other day while looking through some old files, I stumbled upon my poetry from high school. I cracked open the folder with the faded notebook paper tinged yellow, and frankly, was impressed by the deep emotion and dark tones of my poetry. Yes, some of it was super corny. There were high school break-up poems, poems from old boyfriends and friends, poems I had copied off walls in bathrooms and city streets.

Here’s a few lines from a poem written by my high school boyfriend at the beginning of our courtship (which I later changed the author’s name to “unknown.”)

You are my shining star in a world engulfed in darkness.
You are the energy that keeps me going when the essence is drained.

You are the life force that glows at the center of the blackest hole.
Blah, blah, blah, blah…(Are you sensing some latent, lingering bitterness, here?)

I can remember when one of my boyfriends broke up with me, I wrote poetry while crying on the floor of my room listening to Depeche Mode and The Smiths blaring from my tape player.

Here’s a poem I wrote entitled “Throw Me Away.”

I reach for his hand
He pulls away like a bold of rejection
I don’t think I can stand
I throw a scent of my love
He smells the fragrance
But ignores my taboo scent
Like a rose my heart shrivels
I am thrown upon the ground like
Dead leaves fall in autumn
I sink to the bottom and sputter
I am not dead, I am moving
Barely

As a fairly typical teenager who was facing the emotional and physical roller coaster of growing up, poetry was an outlet of expression. I could vent frustration and anger about my parents, heartache, or hurt.

Making Our Own Poetry
The other day my daughter wrote a song, and asked if she could sing it to me. As she sat on her bed and sang the song in a soft voice from her notebook, I beamed (while trying to hold back my tears of joy). She wrote her own song – her own form of poetry. I love it that she is formulating her self expression – making her own beauty.

While she sang, I began to think of those poetic moments in my life – the healthy cries of my infant daughters in the delivery room, or the way my Grandpa Tucker could belt out “I Love You Truly” in baritone, or the tears my husband wiped from his eyes as I walked down the best and biggest aisle of my life…

So, flip on your favorite song, open a greeting card, or admire the puffy white clouds in the sky – and you’ll experience a poetic moment. There is beauty in poetry all around us.

Her Secret
I leave you with one last poem from high school, which was written by a dear classmate, who passed away suddenly at the young age of 37. Trisha Hogan was stereotyped as an outcast nerd in high school, but she shared a side of herself with me that many did not know – her love of poetry. I found this poem “Secrets” tucked away in that old poetry folder.

I’m confident Trish is writing poetry in heaven now, while beaming with pride at the beautiful daughter she left behind. I am honored to have known her.

Trisha (Hogan) Masen

Secrets
His sigh fills my lungs
he does not know
I awoke this morning
my legs across his
my face on his chest
breathing his scent
I cannot tell him

This feeling I want so badly
is elusive possibly too much so
he thinks of me as something
to find in his bed
Why
He strokes my arm across his chest
with the fingers that explored caverns
I have to tell him
He will disbelieve
His face feels soft, babyish under my roughed exterior
pricks his skin
He nuzzles my fingertips
What he does not know will not hurt him

I cannot fool myself
I disentangle myself to move to the bathroom
morning sickness

-Trisha L. Hogan

Did you have a flare for poetry in high school? Do you find beauty in poetic moments in life? I’d love to hear your top five poetic life moments.

 

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