Mary Lou St. Lucas is a former stay-at-home mom who has participated in custody and divorce-related support groups. She often speaks out through impassioned letters to local newspapers regarding issues affecting quality of life for children and families. She has experienced divorce, including the heartbreaking decision to give up daily contact with her two sons for what she believed was their best interest at that time, as well as the societal stigma attached to being a non-custodial mother. She emphasizes the importance of kids having BOTH parents in their lives on a regular basis, even if the parents cannot or will not be married anymore. She hopes other parents will see that there may be alternatives to the standard custody arrangements, depending on the individual situation. She writes from her perspective of today instead of revisiting and dwelling on the painful emotions of her past. She strives to live a full life in spite of a recent diagnosis of fibromyalgia, and believes a sense of humor is mandatory. mlstuff.blogspot.com/2007/08/male-bashing-t-shirts.html or E-Mail.

Being Fifty-Something
Blending Families with Pumpkin and Pecans
Empathy and the Scary Monster
February... a time to give up on those New Year's resolutions we make every year but don't keep
Fibromyalgia Awareness
Finding myself
Fish Guts and Snail Goo
Food for Thought
The Future Me
Half-price Chocolate and Other Joys
Have a Good Cry
Hidden Disabilites
Honey, we need to talk
How did it get so late so soon?
In Their Best Interest
Keeping Kids Safe
"Maybe tomorrow?"
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?
Mother's Day - 2008
Mother's Day - 2009
"Not now, I'm on the phone"
Our First Grandchild
Puzzled (1997)
A School Crisis
See, hear, touch, smell, taste...
Sticks and Stones
Striving for Wholeness
What's Your Name?

Blending Families with Pumpkin and Pecans

Once again the holidays are almost here. My family celebrates Thanksgiving and Christmas.

When my husband and I got together about a decade ago we each had two kids from our previous marriages, ranging from ages twelve to twenty. It's been somewhat challenging every year to figure a way each of us could spend the holidays with our own kids, while celebrating together as a couple. Sometimes it's been impossible.

Today our "kids" are all grown up, with significant others of their own. One of my sons lives out of town and returns home to visit twice a year. I cherish those brief visits. We also have a grandchild (on my husband's side of the family) who is old enough this year to really get into the whole celebration thing. There are former spouses living nearby who also wish to spend the day with family.

So... there's the possibility of rotating, being with one side of the family on Thanksgiving and the other on Christmas; and then switching the following year. But that's never worked out. Sometimes we are invited one place, or the other, or both. The closest thing to success has been inviting everyone to just stop by our home any time throughout the day.

It may get confusing, but I'm thankful to have my family with which to celebrate while so many people can't be with their loved ones for the holidays.

I have no room to complain about who eats pumpkin pie at which house. Besides, pecan is better according to my dog Angie who stole over half a pecan pie from the kitchen counter last year.

"Not now, I'm on the phone"

Is it just me, or is anyone else terribly annoyed with cell phones? Actually not the phones, but the use of them. Everywhere, people are talking or texting to someone. On the treadmills at the gym, the grocery store, in restaurants, and while driving (even though it's against the law).

Why not enjoy that workout time as your own? Or decide for yourself if you should buy brown or white rice? What freaks me out is knowing all these phones have cameras, especially when I'm changing clothes at the gym. You never know. What happened to the joy of solitude? Or being available to say hello to someone you meet in person, without a phone call in progress? People talking on phones don't say hi or make eye contact in person.

The phones themselves are pretty awesome. They do just about everything, including ghost hunting. It's just that it concerns me when people seem to be afraid to listen to the thoughts in their own head.

I like music and conversation; but I also enjoy quiet. When I drive, I listen for engine or tire sounds (first sign of trouble usually) or sirens, or cars honking or people cursing from their windows. When walking, I prefer to hear if a person or animal is walking up behind me. I'm not paranoid... just being aware of surroundings.

But back to cell phones. I have one, which I mostly use for emergency.

The other day my shopping cart was run into by another cart. The woman was on her phone and said "I can't talk while I'm 'driving' this thing" into her phone... yet didn't even look at me, much less say anything.

But the following experience just blew me away (and inspired me to write this):

It was Halloween, and I was handing out candy to the little monsters, movie stars and fairies. They would walk up to the porch and shout "trick or treat" and almost all of them said "thank you" when I gave them a handful of sweets. But there was one girl who walked up to the porch and held out her bag, while continuing to blab on her cell phone. Oh come on.. Get off the danged phone or don't come begging for candy. She never said "trick or treat" or "thank you". Just held open the bag without even making eye contact with me. Must have been a terribly important call... the red shoes or the black ones.. oh my God isn't that new boy at school cute... I got my nails done at Fifi's... blah.

Will kids visiting Santa this year ignore him while texting "I'm @ Santa" to a friend?

When people are talking or texting with someone else, or listening to earphones, it says to me, "I'm not really present so leave me alone."

Bye, got 2 go. C U L8R PPL U R Gr8 -----Sent from my iPhone-----

The Future Me

Why is it that the older I get, the faster time passes? It seems like I was just putting away Christmas stuff, and here it comes again in a few weeks.

I "just" bought my fishing license (in January) and now it's going to expire... and I only caught two fish all year!

Why do catfish swallow the hook? This was a baby catfish, so darned cute that it reminded me of Hello Kitty. I cried. I love Hello Kitty! I hope it survived, so I can catch it again some day when it's bigger and eat it.

So, if time goes by faster and faster all the time, am I gonna run into the Future Me eventually? If time were bent like a piece of paper, that might happen.

The Future Me can give me hindsight advice so I can.... wait... uhh.... if I did something differently, then Future Me's advice would have to be something else.

Or maybe I am already Future Me? I could talk with Past Me and tell her what's going to happen, if she'd promise not to change anything. Maybe that already happens, and it's why sometimes I know things before they occur but can't make anyone believe me, so it doesn't change.

Oh how time travel makes my brain hurt. Just keep those Morlocks away. They really creep me out.

Back to the present day, and speaking of presents...

I do most of my holiday gift shopping online, especially when there are free shipping specials.

It's so much simpler that way. Then a trip to the mall can be just to enjoy the decorations and watch people scurrying around in a panic trying to buy those perfect gifts for loved ones.

Squirming, sugar-infused children standing in line to sit on Fake Santa's lap and cry... while I sit back and sip my mocha latte and savor every moment...

Happy Holidays.

Have a Good Cry

"An onion can make people cry but there's never been a vegetable
that can make people laugh." -Will Rogers

I have to disagree with that one, having giggled at the sight of an occasional carrot or cucumber.

Should a parent tell a son to stop crying and be a man? That's telling him that men don't cry, or at least that they shouldn't. So, when emotions overtake him and he can't hold back the tears, he feels like something is wrong with him. I think he should be allowed to express his feelings.

I'm referring to genuine tears - not whining and manipulation. That's something else.

Crying is a natural response to grief, loss, pain and sometimes to frustration or fear.

Or onions.

Some people even cry when they're happy. It's a readily-available, drug-free release of emotion. And it's safer than punching a hole in the wall.

Nobody should have to feel ashamed of shedding a few tears when they feel sad. It's human.

Crying also is a way of expressing frustration. We women are great at this. When all else fails, I cry. It may not solve the problem directly, but it helps clear the mind. And a clear mind is more likely to be able to come up with a practical solution to the problem.

So there!

There are times when it's socially inappropriate to cry (like at work). I've felt the tears well up and had to slip away to the restroom. I would guess that if a man did this, he'd be less likely to have a fellow employee walk up and give him a hug than a woman would be. Again, I'm just guessing.

Crying can be so cathartic. Indulging in a good cry relieves stress. It's cleansing, and can make a person feel renewed. My dad used to tell me "The more you cry, the less you pee." Not sure if that's any real benefit or not. But since I was a girl, I was sort of given permission to cry.

For some reason, it seems less socially acceptable for males to weep. There's really nothing unmanly about it though.

Remember the shortest and possibly most stirring verse in the Bible: "Jesus wept."

Why not pull out that old VHS tape and watch "Old Yeller" again. Have a little cry with the kids. Let them know it's ok, and discuss what everybody is feeling.

Then go on to something happy. Laughing is even better.

Keeping Kids Safe

There's something so awesome about seeing one's kids grow up to be happy, successful adults.

Just thinking about it fills me with joy. Now I understand what my mom used to tell me.

It was scary raising kids twenty-some years ago. And it's maybe even more scary now. There were predators then, and predators now. But it's so much easier for them to reach the kids now. It's heartbreaking to see a story about a stranger luring a kid through a social networking site. Privacy settings aren't necessarily private - plenty of people know how to get around those.

Some parents have no idea what's going on when their kids are using the computer. Kids are constantly coming up with new ways to hide things, sharing secret codes between one another (like announcing that mom just entered the room so hide what you're doing), sending pictures they think nobody but the recipient will see, and I don't even know what else.

But who is really at the other end? Maybe a friend or classmate; but maybe not. Is it a 13 year old, or is it a 45 year old pretending to be a kid?

I remember my parents telling me about "kidnappers" as we called them back in the olden days when I grew up (the dinosaur days, when color tv was first born and a computer was a giant contraption that filled a whole room, with all sorts of flashing lights and spinning reels).

When my sons were very young, we weren't internet people yet so I pretty much taught them the same things my parents taught me about those kidnappers - don't trust a stranger, don't accept food or get in their car or help them find a lost puppy - that sort of thing.

But now, I don't think I would know what to tell kids. Even parents who assume they are on top of things, may not be at all.

Sometimes parents are unaware that they are putting their children at risk. Pictures of little Jimmy or Suzie are adorable. Of course we love to show off our kids and grandkids. And most of the time it's probably fine.

But it's not like taking a picture out of our wallet and showing the grocery store clerk.

When pictures are online all sorts of strangers can view them (even if set to private).

But where it REALLY gets risky is when a child's full name is displayed.

It's often not that difficult to find someone's location when you have a person's name and maybe a few names from friends' lists to cross-reference, where friends and relatives may give more information on their own locations.

Predators can be intelligent, slick, calculated, and patient. Why take the chance?

Kids deserve to be kept safe and have the chance to grow up happy, healthy and successful in whatever they choose to do.

Fibromyalgia Awareness

May is the month for fibromyalgia awareness. Many of us are aware of it all the rest of the time as well. It touches the lives of family, friends and co-workers. I share my experience in hopes of helping others who are affected in some way by fibromyalgia.

Imagine waking up in the morning after a short, restless sleep. Your body aches like the flu is coming on, yet there is no flu. You can't move your head without feeling stabbed in the neck, and your lower back aches when you roll over.

You get out of bed and take a pill for pain, have a little decaf, and wait to feel like a human being. In a couple of hours, you're already exhausted and need to rest. On top of that, you feel kind of useless and guilty for not accomplishing nearly as much as you feel you ought to, and this makes you feel sad. Welcome to a day in my life when fibromyalgia is in full bloom. It may vary from person to person, but one thing in common is pain.

I've always been tired, but figured it was from keeping house and chasing two little boys plus sometimes daycare kids around all day without a break. Eventually my fatigue was diagnosed and treated as depression. I couldn't keep up with the kids very well anymore, and was thankful that they were no longer needing me to do everything for them. I could take a nap once in awhile, or sit down while they played without having to jump up every couple minutes, as toddlers seem to require parents to do.

I think I was supermom, at least for awhile. But there were a couple of turning points that told me I was slipping. My youngest had lost a tooth and put it under the pillow for the tooth fairy. Both boys ALWAYS got a silver dollar for each tooth (we went broke when my oldest had to have 13 surgically removed all at once, as he had supernumerary teeth like a shark). But this time the tooth fairy messed up and didn't get up in the night. The next morning, the poor little guy checked under his pillow and my heart sank. I forgot. I failed.

A similar occurrence was when one son had an awards ceremony at school that I was to attend. I forgot, and he called me from his teacher's cell phone, almost crying. I threw on some clothes and rushed there in time to see him get his award.

I feel that I failed my sons in so many ways. When they were older and their dad and I were split up, it seems that so many of the times I tried to spend with them I was having pain... really horrendous pain in the belly. So I'd just sit with them and talk. I was so depressed and exhausted, I couldn't "parent" them the way I feel a parent should do. Anxiety.. guilt.. What was wrong with me? My sons were the most important thing in my life!

Fibromyalgia can cause depression and anxiety. I've been depressed on and off since I was a child, and had some strange pains in the ribcage. Those were diagnosed as "growing pains" when I was about ten years old. Sharp, stabbing, doubling over pains were for growing? I was an overachiever, a perfectionist... so maybe it was stress-induced. Through my teens and twenties, monthly cramps were incapacitating, causing dizziness and being unable to stand. The only relief was bed rest, massage and heat for about a day and a half. I got lectured at school over my absences, and how that's not a valid excuse to stay home. I was taken to the doctor when I passed out at school, and was told that I "passed out from pain" and released. At nineteen, my fatigue was diagnosed as "weakness illness" (whatever that is) and was inappropriately put on anti-depressants that made me sleep 14 hours at a time. I missed too much work. In my thirties I had migraines where I felt my head would explode. Some days I'd feel like there was hot acid rushing through my veins. Again, dismissed as depression.

Back in those days, it seems that fibromyalgia was not recognized at all. Thus, the patronizing and dismissive diagnoses of "growing pains" and "weakness illness" were made.

Today, fibromyalgia is what's left after they rule out everything else. I had just about every test imagineable.

There is no cure, just management of symptoms.

On a good day, I can get some things done. But if I do too much, I pay dearly the next day.

On bad days I have to ration my energy out to basics, and take naps. The dust will wait. Prioritizing is important, and things-to-do lists are mandatory but flexible. I find that I'm becoming more forgetful all the time, and that does scare me.

There are no miracle cures.

As far as I know, most fibromyalgia sufferers do not want pity. But we'd gladly accept some help with the housework, cooking, a shoulder massage, or just a friendly visit.

Family comes first, even if it's only a phone call or email. There's never too much pain to hear news like my son(s) buying a new car or getting a promotion at work, or to have time with my husband or sing with my grandson.

With parenting, love is not enough. But sometimes it's the best one can do.

Fibromyalgia Awareness Day - May 12, 2010

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and multiple tender points. It may cause sleep disturbances, morning stiffness, digestive disorders, anxiety, TMJ, cognitive or memory impairment, visual disturbance, and other symptoms. The cause is unknown.

Food For Thought

It seems that parents are always trying to get kids to learn to appreciate vegetables.
Remember the joke, "What's the difference between broccoli and boogers?"
And the answer, "Kids won't eat broccoli." Ewww!

I believe it's helpful to teach kids (and adults) that not only is it important WHAT you eat, but HOW you eat it.

I like to think of it as "mindful" eating. Using all the senses. Take time, eat slowly, take small bites and chew well.
You will get more benefits from the food than just nutrition. You feed your senses when you take time to appreciate the appearance of the food.
Savor the scent and flavor of the food, and take note of the textures and even the sounds (like crunching).
This will slow you down, and eating more slowly also gives your "I'm full" alarm a chance to speak up before you overeat.

With kids, you can make a game out of it. Of course, they enjoy foods that look fun... like smiley-faces or little animal-shaped things.
(Turtle pancakes, anyone?)
Have them close their eyes and smell the different foods and guess which is which.
Marvel at how you can't determine flavor very much if you hold your nose.
Which foods are crunchy, and which are squishy?

Make dinner a fun, social time and not a time to discuss Timmy's D in arithmetic or Suzy's dentist appointment tomorrow.
(When I was a kid, it seemed that dinner time was when most of the yelling happened. Not good for the digestion.)

Indulge in that small slice of double-chocolate cake even more slowly, to allow more pleasure-time for your senses.
Like some other activities, sometimes slowing down and making it last gives you more joy, and we all can use more joy.
In contrast, if you really dislike something but have to eat it, think about something else entirely and just get it over with. Yukky!

We may have been taught to not play with our food, but I disagree.
Now go eat those little broccoli trees, and don't use your spoon to flip peas at your brother.

"Maybe tomorrow?"

Later... sometime... maybe... i don't know... in the future... we'll see... hopefully...

Are these familiar?

If you're like me, you like to have a specific plan and a time frame rather than be left hanging and wondering when (or if).

Sometimes you can't just hope something will happen... you have to MAKE it happen.

I prefer "yes" or "no" or "next Tuesday" or "four o-clock" or "April first" or any such commitment instead of "sometime" or "eventually" or "we'll see". I like to have a plan.

Back in the day when I was an administrative assistant, if my boss brought me a job to do and I told him "I'll do it eventually" or "I hope to get it done soon" I would have been fired.

In our private lives we need to be as accountable to our family, friends and neighbors as we are at work.

They deserve that from us as much as an employer does... even more.

TODAY is a good time to start taking action, making plans and commitments. Be someone that others can really count on.

Or just sit around thinking "probably should" or "in the future"... sometime, maybe...

Leaving people wondering "if" and "when" is a way to control others by keeping them waiting on you.

Of course sometimes circumstances mean a plan has to be changed or a commitment delayed.

But it's better at least to have tried.

I thought sometime I'd write about this... maybe. I kept hoping it would get written, but nothing happened...sometime... eventually...

It was gonna be January... now it's a little late.


Make a goal, set a time line, make yourself accountable to others...


It makes life much less complicated for you and for everyone around you.

February... a time to give up on those New Year's resolutions we make every year but don't keep.

Every year I make the same ones, to drink more water every day and eat more fruits and vegetables.


But then the diet colas and coffee call out to me, as does all that candy. No, a carrot stick isn't the same kind of sweet as a candy bar. I won't fall for that. I love sugar.

I'm doing better about drinking water as long as I work out, it just becomes a natural craving after exercise. An apple before and banana after (or the other way around) seems to be satisfying, although not nearly so much as chocolate.

I've got one of those virtual trainer things with the balance board, where it's kind of like a game to work out.

It's an alternative to going to the gym on the days I don't feel like driving in traffic. I'd recommend it for almost anybody except maybe advanced bodybuilders and athletes who wouldn't find it a challenge at all. It's teaching me yoga. If only I could balance myself so I don't have to hold on to a chair, but that's improving a little.

Kids need more exercise than they usually get. Video games make it easy to sit around and exercise nothing but thumbs.

Now there are games that can get people out of the chair and up jumping around and swinging their arms. Get those for the kids! It might help burn off some of the calories from the colas, nachos and nutty-bars that are served for school lunches. I wish they had invented this when my kids were young. Today after lunges and knee-bends I tried a game where you crazily flap your wings to fly like a bird... just like in all those flying dreams! I'm sure it looked ridiculous. My dogs gave me some really strange looks.

Of course outdoor play is the best... but when that's not possible there's always virtual snowboarding in the living room.

Sticks and Stones

Yesterday while shopping in a large discount store I heard a small child scream. I turned around to see a woman, presumably the mother, roughly jerk her little boy by the arm and yell at him from about a foot away. As if this weren't upsetting enough already, the words she shouted turned my blood cold. "You're a piece of (insert crude word for excrement here)!"

The child couldn't have been older than two or three! Expecting it might become even more physical, I stood there staring at this woman. She saw me, and stormed away with the child still under her arm like a football.

I can't even imagine calling the driver who cuts me off in traffic what this woman called her little boy. Of course kids need to be disciplined, but yelling at them just reinforces bad behavior. Being called a horrible name like that by a loved-one is a destructive attack on the soul.

There are so many different views on how to discipline kids. It seems to change all the time. Doing a time out, taking away a privilege or treat, removing the child from the scene, all seem to be popular suggestions. There are different views on spanking. Discipline is up to the parents to agree upon ahead of time when they're not angry.

Hateful words leave no scars that we can see on the outside, but it's like cooking in a microwave. It works from the inside out.

When my sons were small and my patience wore thin, I learned to use my mom's method. She taught me this when it felt like I had no choice but to raise my voice to make my kids behave. She said the more you yell, the more they act up and don't listen.

The secret was to whisper. They see you saying something and can't hear it, so they calm down quietly to listen. Then you can regain some control over the situation.

It works. It really works!

During the holidays, stresses seem to increase. Kids get excited, stores get crowded and parents get tired. But that's no excuse to say horrible things to those we love.


So here it is, July. That's when we have fireworks and picnics and sunshine and all that summery stuff.

Put on your sunscreen.

If you have kids around, observe their joy.

Look at a tiny child's face, watching fireworks bursting overhead in sparkling colors of gold, pink and green that shimmer and float gently down and dissolve...

That kid's not thinking about when he tripped and skinned his knee earlier, or having to go to bed tonight... he's taking in the magical splendor of seeing mysterious and fantastic colors in the sky.


He jumps up and down when he hears the big "boom!" Aaaaahhhh.....

His eyes become enormous and round, and his pupils enlarge in the darkness between the fireworks.

The colors are reflected in his sparkling eyes. Oooh..

He smells the smoke in the air, and all that his senses are taking in create lots of cool little events happening in his brain.

He is fulfilled with joy and wonderment, and nothing else in the world matters to him at this moment.

Kids can teach us a whole lot about life that we forgot.

We get busy and worried and cluttered and forget to just live in the present for awhile.

This summer be aware of pleasant things

like the simple comfort of warm sunshine on your back and the salty smell of the ocean breeze if you're near the ocean.

Melt into the sweet icy cold sensation of a chocolate milk shake, or see how far you can spit a watermelon seed.

Listen to the birds' chirping mingled with the sound of kids laughing and playing in the park.

Get on your knees and look into the grass, at a child's eye level...or better yet, a turtle's eye level!

Observe the complex communities of insects doing whatever they do.

Far too exciting to miss... really!

Blow soap bubbles and watch them drift in the air in perfect spheres of swirling transparent rainbow colors.

What could be better than that!

Enjoy this moment.

And blow a bubble for me, too.


"Death is not the opposite of life.
Life has no opposite.
The opposite of death is birth.
Life is eternal."
-Eckhart Tolle

This year I won't be sending a card or flowers on Mother's Day. I lost my sweet mom in March, after many years of battling one medical condition after another. She was 84. Knowing she is at peace and that her pain has finally ended is a comforting thought. She will be missed.

I thank God that I had the opportunity to spend her final days and nights with her. It was a time to tell her how much she is loved, and mention some memories that created a trace of a smile on her face. She was at home where she wanted to be, and the hospice care was excellent. During the last two days she went unconscious and didn't move at all, but continued to breathe.

Late in the evening on the last day, I put my hand on her head and told her to go to the light and be with God. Her breathing ceased at that moment.

I now understand something about giving a person "permission" to die. Maybe some people just hang on until a loved one tells them it's ok to go.

My mother left me with some powerful lessons, both spoken and by example. She always emphasized that people are more important than things.

She taught me that love does not exist only in limited supply; but rather, love is infinite.

I remember one evening sitting on the couch with my mom while my 3-year old napped beside us. I was days away from giving birth to my second child. I began to cry.

I asked my mother how could I possibly have enough love to give to my second baby, when I already loved my first child with all my heart. How could that be divided in half?

My mom smiled and said the love will come. When this baby is born, the love will be there.

And she was right. Love is infinite.

I will miss her.

Hidden Disabilites

Why does an apparently able-bodied person park in a handicapped space? Why can't the person in front of you move faster? Why can't healthy people carry their groceries? Why does that employee need so many bathroom breaks? Why do people ask stupid questions?

People with hidden disabilities are everywhere, or at least those who are fortunate enough to be able to get out of the house. Hidden disabilities are physical or mental disabilities with no obvious symptoms, yet affecting the everyday lives of many people.

Those with hidden disabilities usually want to live the same as anyone else. They shouldn't have to explain their disability to everyone, or be judged for needing to ask for assistance, accommodation, or simply a little patience. It's important to preserve their dignity and respect. It seems that employers are not as accommodating to those with hidden disabilities.

Many of us judge people without knowing their personal circumstances. But without walking in another person's shoes, it's hard to understand how something we find to be simple and routine may be a major effort for a person with a hidden disability. Reacting with judgment, ridicule or impatience does not enhance the experiences of others or ourselves.

Sitting down with our kids and explaining both visible and invisible handicaps can help them to understand and learn to be patient with others who may be a little slower, look a little different, or need special attention or accommodation. Kids can be cruel (although I believe that adults often have them beat in that regard).

Next time you're waiting at a stop sign for a healthy-looking pedestrian to cross the street at a snail's pace, be patient. Keeping an open mind about people can add tremendous peace to our own lives, as well as allowing others to participate in and offer their own unique contribution to society.

Puzzled (1997)

Open the box..
The picture on the cover is complete and SO beautiful...
Will all the pieces REALLY fit together???
Are they ALL included, or could a few be missing?
Let's try... I LOVE a challenge...
Start with the frame, the edge pieces are easy..
Now find the four corners...
Here they are, now the rest should follow...
This will take some time, but it should work..
And I know it will be fun and rewarding,
Working towards the final outcome,
And finally inserting the last piece in triumph...
Even if some places might be a bit trying...
Please don't...if you remove those pieces I can't complete it!
Put them back, don't destroy them.. please..please........
Now they're gone...I'll try to put it together without those...
It will just have to be missing a spot, but it should still work...
Not going to give up that easily.....
No!! don't shake up the box!! I had them sorted out by color...
Why did you do that??? Why??Why????
Now I will have to start over... sorting...sorting...sorting......
This is NOT as enjoyable as it is supposed to be...
As a matter of fact, it is rather unpleasant now...
Please stop! Put down the box, please!!!
Now you have scattered the pieces all over!!!
It will be impossible to put the puzzle together now...
The wind is picking up, an icy chill surrounds me..
I am alone...isolated and cold...so cold...........
And darkness approaches rapidly...
So dim it is difficult to see now...
The darkness frightens me....and I am alone....
The pieces are blown in every direction
I desperately try to pick up the ones nearest me
Before they are lost completely...
Frantically reaching and grabbing as the fragments are slipping away...
Now they're scattered everywhere..
So many have disappeared...
I will NEVER put this together now...ever.....
Even if they WERE gathered up, too many were destroyed...
Bent, scratched, ripped...damaged...imperfect...ugly.......
What point is there in trying to complete a damaged puzzle???
No one can appreciate it...
It will never EVER be as beautiful and complete
as the picture on the box.......

What's Your Name?

""If you want to win friends, make it a point to remember them. If you remember my name, you pay me a subtle compliment; you indicate that I have made an impression on you. Remember my name and you add to my feeling of importance." -- Dale Carnegie

Dude, that is RIGHT ON!

I forget names quite often. If I'm not one-hundred percent certain that I recall someone's name correctly, I either don't address them by name until I know it for sure, or simply confess that I forgot it.

I was cursed (or maybe blessed?) with a double name. It's not that difficult to learn "Mary Lou"... or is it? Teachers, especially, had a hard time with it. So they called me "Mary" even though I insisted I was called by "Mary Lou". Funny that other kids always used the correct name. It was adults who didn't get it. Even my grandfather messed up and got the wrong name most of the time.

Later I found that bosses and coworkers had trouble with my name. Mary Ann, Mary Jean, Mary Jane, Mary Kay, Linda Sue, Betty Lou, Mary Jo, Joann, Luanne, why not just call me "whatever"? One boss who called me Mary Jean told me it was "close enough". It's almost embarrassing, like should I correct them every time or just respond? A local politician always greets my husband by name, then looks at me and says "hi, how are you doing?". I guess that's better than using the wrong name, but definitely didn't win MY vote!

You would think that with as many people who start singing "Hello Mary Lou Goodbye Heart" when I tell them my name, they'd remember it! Seriously though, associating the name with a song like that is a great memory tool, just don't sing it out loud... I try to associate names with specific facial features, while striving not to stare at that feature.

Addressing someone by an incorrect name doesn't do much in the way of cultivating a business relationship or a friendship. It says "you're not important to me."

I have a personal policy that whenever we are out traveling and souvenir-shopping, I will always purchase anything that has "Mary Lou" imprinted on it (as long as it's not too expensive). It's so rare to find, although there is plenty of "Mary Ann" stuff. The sight of "Mary" on something just doesn't spark that familiarity thing inside like seeing my real name.

Hearing my name, that's a most wonderful feeling. I rarely hear it, but will fall madly in love with whomever speaks it... Try me! (ok, well, kidding about the love thing, but it WILL get my attention and make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside)

So that's my experience. Hearing one's name spoken opens a sort of connection between human beings. Don't hesitate to ask when you forget a name. People don't usually bite.

If you want your son to grow up tough, name him Sue. (like the Johnny Cash song)

To challenge your daughter, name her Mary Lou.

See, hear, touch, smell, taste...

Do we take these abilities for granted? I often do. I have to remember to be thankful for these senses which give me pleasure, pain, warn me of danger or illness, let me know when the dinner is done (or more often in my case, OVERdone), and pretty much enable me to function in and interact with my world.

Imagine being born without one or more of the five basic senses.

Perhaps this is the case for you. It seems to me that it would be difficult to even know what that missing sense would have been like if we had never experienced it in the first place. How would you explain what the color royal blue is to someone who had never experienced vision? Or describe the warble of a songbird to someone who is not familiar with the concept of sound, much less the difference between a birds' song and a ringing telephone? How about describing the aroma or flavor of a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie to someone who has never experienced the delight of "sweet" or "chocolaty" or "buttery"? (now I'm hungry)

I often ponder the possibility that there are more senses beyond the standard five. I believe that all of us have additional senses, but few of us are willing to use and trust them. Intuitive abilities are used by animals all the time. Their survival depends on them. They often seem to "just know" things. They don't question how they know, or doubt it or think, "oh my goodness, I must be evil!" They simply use the abilities given to them.

I think that little baby people are also born with these intuitive abilities, but they learn to suppress them when they find no need to use them. Maybe parents and teachers even discourage it. Little Jimmy couldn't have seen a ghost, there's no such thing as ghosts...or is there? Eventually, these abilities go the way of the appendix or tonsil and just kinda hang around and make a nuisance of themselves once in awhile. Until, like the tonsils, it's discovered that just because we didn't understand it's purpose doesn't mean it was useless.

Some of us still have use of intuitions that we've managed not to suppress. We may feel ashamed, set aside or weird. Knowing negative future events before they happen can bring on a feeling of guilt for not having acted upon the knowledge or hunch... yet who would listen? Maybe there weren't enough details available about the event to affect it - like knowing a plane will crash but having no idea where. All aviation can't be grounded because some crazy lady had a vision! Or maybe in attempting to change it, the "future" would no longer be the "future"... and we're not supposed to mess with the future (are we?). It makes my brain tired to think like that. Stop it!

A difficult thing is describing what it is like to "sense" with an ability beyond the usual five senses. Sort of like explaining color to someone who has never seen or the bird's song to someone who has never heard, it's nearly impossible to explain the experience. It's really cool to meet another person with similar experiences.

Sometimes knowledge comes to me as a voice that blurts out of my mouth before I think about it (my husband might say I do that all the time, but I don't mean like that) and says something like "we're gonna have an earthquake". Or it may appear in my mind as a little floating thing like inside those "magic eight ball" toys. Once I "read" a future event, in my mind, as text printed in a newspaper headline. It might appear as a dream that's more vivid than usual. More often, information appears to me as mental images. Not recognizable images (trains, dogs, trees, etc.) but more like strange and unfamiliar pictures that aren't really pictures (again, hard to explain). It's like seeing, only without looking through the eyes. Sometimes it's a way of "reading" people, or sharing thoughts and knowing what they are going to say a few seconds before they say it. Actually hearing, only not with the ears.. or speaking without really speaking. Or just picking up on "vibes", like feelings... Sort of..

Dogs "sense" good people and bad people (unless they're fooled with a juicy steak). Mountain lions can "smell" fear. Wild birds know which berries are edible and which are poison. Ants seem psychically connected with one another. A flock of birds or school of fish are able to all turn at the exact same moment, without texting one another with "left turn in 20 seconds". I've discovered old dogs tend to be "talking dogs". They're just full of messages for us if we listen to them. I love old dogs...

It could be that having a usable sixth sense is genetic. My mom had it and one of my sons does as well. I think we could all tap into some of our unused senses once we turn off our logical, skeptical, and thinking minds (for a little while) and pay closer attention to how it could have been that we knew who was on the phone before we answered it. It's gotta be more than coincidence when we start singing a song and then turn on the radio and hear it playing... often. Or when we are sending an email to an old friend we haven't spoken with in a long time, and click "send" just to find an incoming email... from that old friend. Coincidences are probably very rare.

Empathy and the Scary Monster

How terrifying can it be to brush your teeth, even if you're only three years old and there's a dinosaur on your toothbrush and a fuzzy blue creature on the toothpaste tube? Oooh, here's a good way to get out of it - cry "scary monster!" and refuse to go into the bathroom... And if you pronounce it something more like "keddie mossa" and elaborate that it has "eyes, teeth" you're sure to get out of having to brush your teeth and face this demon!

Kids... the stuff they make up... but it's just possible that they aren't intentionally making it up. Perhaps they're just expressing themselves coming from a simpler, more innocent and open minded perspective. I mean, really... I had made-up friends that I played with as a kid... never monsters, but usually animals who talked to me. They seemed very real at the time. I won't get into my pet rubber band named Crabby Appleton, though.

My son went on with this "keddie mossa!" routine for months. He got really upset, and the terror on his little face was intense. When I turned on the bathroom light the monster always disappeared...temporarily, anyway.

Eventually I learned that it was easier to be sure the light was on before he came upstairs to the hall that opened onto that evil bathroom... with that scary monster lurking in the darkness. Still, it was kind of creepy. What the heck did he see that I didn't? Extremely creepy, actually, considering the consistency of this creature's nightly presence. I found myself scanning the room sometimes, too.

One evening when he stood in the hall fearfully staring into the bathroom at the Keddie Mossa, instead of picking him up I got down on the floor next to him so I could put my arm around him while he told me all about it yet again. With my eyes at the same level as his, I looked into the bathroom with him....


Yep. I saw it. Poor little guy, this WAS darned scary! A little bit of light shining into the dark bathroom from another room illuminated a metal ceiling vent fan which reflected back two shiny screws, slightly below which could be seen a line of vertical "teeth"... big long creepy SHARP teeth... which actually was a shiny part of the slotted cover of the vent. Two glowing EYES and a row of grinning TEETH, hovering just below the ceiling!

I hugged my little guy and apologized for not believing him, hugged some more and I probably cried. Poor kid. I turned the light on and off, held him up at different levels and then let him actually TOUCH the keddie mossa. It never returned to haunt us again.

This became a powerful lesson to me about empathy and exercising more patience with others and trying to see situations through their eyes, too. What might be just a metal ceiling vent cover from one viewpoint can be a nightmare from another perspective.

Imagine the GROWN-UP "monsters" that could be conquered with just a little more patience and empathy.

Our First Grandchild

"Becoming a grandmother is wonderful. One moment you're just a mother. The next you are all-wise and prehistoric." – Pam Brown

Those people... those people that constantly brag about their grandchildren, with bumper stickers, wallets full of pictures that pop out at the least mention of anything... Little Johnny makes a mudpie... Little Suzie ties her shoe... whoop-dee-doo!

How annoying, until now. Let me explain (briefly, I promise!).

I am now a step-grandmother, and really excited about it. Holding this sleepy little bundle, I could just imagine the wondrous mischief he's gonna get into some day. I'm sure I'll have a lot to say about him to every stranger I run into on the bus or in the grocery store in the future, but I'll try to restrain myself somewhat.

There are two "real" grandmothers. But unless we're discussing genetic stuff, "step" is irrelevant. So what will I be called? How do I refer to myself, say, on a card and gift to the child? "From Grandpa and his wife"? nawww..And I can't see my grandbaby calling me by my first name.

I play with the thought of being "Grammy" or "Nana" (don't like that one), or the too-long "Grandma Mary Lou"... "Granny" sounds too old... Perhaps the baby will come up with some ideas - Gaga-goo-goo comes to mind.

I think my own sons will be uncles of some sort. Not sure how that works. Blending families is an adventure... someday I guess I should describe my own experiences with that.

Perhaps I'll be "Cool Grandma"... (the one with lots of candy, and cartoon bandaids, stories about evil clowns, and the vintage nursery rhyme book with creepy pictures)

I had not held a new baby for 22 years. It was kind of scary. Yet TOTALLY cool...

"Prehistoric"??? Now wait a minute!!!!

Being Fifty-Something

"Women get psychic as they age. You never have to confess your sins to an older woman. They always know." - Andy Rooney

So true! Sometimes it almost feels like spying, except it's unintentional. If only I'd been able to do that when my kids were young...

Being a fifty-something woman today is so much different from the way it was for past generations. No short permed gray hair and granny clothes yet. I eat healthy food (well, and some junk food too), wear wonder bras, and get lots of water, sleep, and sex. Sunscreen is no longer an option. The glute and pec machines at the gym are special friends that I visit frequently. I like myself more. I don't ask if an outfit makes my butt look big, that's what mirrors (and gyms) are for.

And you know what's weird? I went to the doctor's office, and the doctor was a kid. And so was the pharmacist. Am I getting older, or are they letting kids practice medicine these days?

Now I have to share something that gave me such a chuckle... Just the other day one of the neighbor kids, who is about five or six, saw a Christmas card photo I made for my husband of me wearing a skimpy Santa's Helper suit, high heels and makeup. He asked "Who's that?" and I told him it's me. He said it must have been when I was much younger. I told him it was last Christmas. In the next priceless moment, his eyes went from the picture to me, and back to the picture then back to me. "Then why do you have all those 'winkles' now?" he questioned innocently. I briefly explained to him that the picture was taken in bright light and with makeup. I'm sure that went right over his head, and now he probably thinks I'm magic. I spared the details about light reflectors, creative posing, and the wonders of soft focus that miraculously flatter women of any age. By golly, the kid got his first experience with finding out that a lady in a picture doesn't really look the same in person. This knowledge may come in handy when he grows up and tries internet dating.

Later the same afternoon, I found myself trying to explain to a little neighbor girl why my pet snake laid an egg that is not going to hatch. I told her it is because there was no boy-snake around. She looked confused. So I explained that it is like when chickens lay eggs that don't turn into chickens, they are just "egg" inside and we eat it. She looked even more puzzled now. I reassured her that it doesn't have a chicken inside it, and that we are not going to eat the snake egg. I think cleared it up.

I'm gonna be a rockin' grandma someday, I just know it!

How did it get so late so soon?

"How did it get so late so soon?
It's night before it's afternoon.
December is here before it's June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?"
-Theodor Seuss Geisel

My youngest son has just graduated with two degrees from U. C. Berkeley. He worked hard and earned it. I think that at least some of what we divorced parents did must have been right. So was spending a couple of days with my husband, my brother and my former husband while the Graduate showed us around the Bay area. There was way too much to see in two days, and just hanging out with my son was awesome.

I loved San Francisco, being an old hippie and all that. Seeing my son's apartment for the first time was....well, let's just say... interesting. He moved away from home on his own just after turning 18. That was hard for the parents, but he learned so much about living as an adult and being on his own. Not being a party-guy, he chose to live off campus. He seemed to adapt well to apartment living (except for the iron burn on the carpet).

It was fortunate that all of us were able to get along well enough for this visit and celebration to go smoothly. All the more reason to cultivate a "burying the hatchet" relationship with an ex-spouse if at all possible. At a time like that, it's all about the kids. (and of course, the tie-dye, rock 'n roll and patchouli)

From the first day of kindergarten, to college graduation... Wow.

Just how DID it get so late so soon? (and I think I got someone else's mirror. I keep seeing some old lady in this one...)

Fish Guts and Snail Goo

June brings us Fathers' Day. For the mom's day it was flowers and brunches, for dad's it's cards with pictures of ducks or fish on them, macaroni mosaics, and maybe mow the lawn for him and cook some steaks. Well, that's the generic greeting-card version, anyway.

When the kids are little, it's kind of fun to take them shopping to pick out a gift for the other parent. This is where the dollar stores come in REAL handy, knowing that if they break something you're not gonna be out more than a buck. It's really special to kids to be able to buy a gift with their own money (that you just gave them for doing chores). When they get older, they're on their own.

But when parents have split up and the kids are young, I believe it's important to continue helping the kids with the gift-giving. We were fortunate in that regard. One year for mom's day the kids and their dad took me to Disneyland. The boys weren't yet old enough to drive or take me on their own, so I appreciated the thoughtfulness on their dad's part. On a dad's day one year I took one of the boys to an aviary to pick out a canary, something their dad had been wanting. It was rewarding to me to see my son's pleasure in giving that gift. I think the key here was that the kids were old enough to understand that we were no longer "together" even though we weren't fighting anymore. No romance-reminiscing, no sniping at each other, none of that stuff went on. So it worked for us.

I have two sons. I was relieved not to have had a daughter. I don't think I would have had any idea how to do all the "princess" stuff little girls seem to like.

Having been kind of a tomboy (is that the right word to use these days?), I didn't care for dolls or wearing lacy dresses. I wanted to BE Mighty Mouse, Popeye or a cowboy. I have memories of going fishing with my dad and watching with fascination as he cleaned fish in the kitchen sink, especially the process of cutting open the belly to see what sort of cool and colorful stuff our catch had consumed. We also played a delightfully-disgusting game in the yard at night with flashlights, called "Captain Crunch". Upon encountering a snail on the ground, one would shout "Captain!" and that would be followed by "Crrrrunch!" and necessary removal of shoes before entering the house. No father/daughter dances like the schools have nowadays. Icky.

Now in his 80's, my dad's dresser is still graced with the yarn-wrapped, styrofoam-headed, clothes-hanger dinosaur I gave him on Father's Day in 1963. Cool, Dad.


Mother's Day - 2008

Along with warmer weather and beautiful flowers, the month of May brings us Mother's Day.

Then next month there's Father's Day. I think there's even a Grandparents' Day.

I don't remember being a kid.... But I have fond memories of being Mom.

Of course, I'm still Mom. My kids are just way bigger than me.

A few years ago, I wrote this poem. The ending makes me cry even though I'm the one who wrote it. geeez!



A mother gives you birth...
A mom gives you love...

A mother fixes your wound...
A mom kisses your owie...

A mother makes a sandwich...
A mom puts a smiley-face on it...

A mother takes you for a stroll...
A mom takes you on a safari...

A mother reads a bedtime story...
A mom makes up a bedtime story..

A mother turns out the light...
A mom chases away the monsters...

A mother fills the bathtub...
A mom adds the bubbles...

A mother washes the windows...
A mom lets you finger-paint on it first...

A mother defrosts the freezer...
A mom lets you make a snowman...

A mother signs your report card...
A mom is proud you did your best...

A mother bakes cookies...
A mom lets you sneak the dough...

A mother gives you lunch money...
A mom gives you ice-cream-man money...

A mother plants the garden...
A mom plays mud-pies with you...

A mother folds the clean laundry...
A mom lets you play in it...

A mother vacuums the carpet...
A mom plays vacuum spaceship with you...

A mother holds you when you cry...
A mom feels your pain when you cry...

One day you may say good-bye to your mother...
But your mom will always be with you...

Because a mother may or may not live in your home...
But a mom always lives in your heart...

Mother's Day - 2009

"Death is not the opposite of life.
Life has no opposite.
The opposite of death is birth.
Life is eternal."
-Eckhart Tolle

This year I won't be sending a card or flowers on Mother's Day. I lost my sweet mom in March, after many years of battling one medical condition after another. She was 84. Knowing she is at peace and that her pain has finally ended is a comforting thought. She will be missed.

I thank God that I had the opportunity to spend her final days and nights with her. It was a time to tell her how much she is loved, and mention some memories that created a trace of a smile on her face. She was at home where she wanted to be, and the hospice care was excellent. During the last two days she went unconscious and didn't move at all, but continued to breathe.

Late in the evening on the last day, I put my hand on her head and told her to go to the light and be with God. Her breathing ceased at that moment.

I now understand something about giving a person "permission" to die. Maybe some people just hang on until a loved one tells them it's ok to go.

My mother left me with some powerful lessons, both spoken and by example. She always emphasized that people are more important than things.

She taught me that love does not exist only in limited supply; but rather, love is infinite.

I remember one evening sitting on the couch with my mom while my 3-year old napped beside us. I was days away from giving birth to my second child. I began to cry.

I asked my mother how could I possibly have enough love to give to my second baby, when I already loved my first child with all my heart. How could that be divided in half?

My mom smiled and said the love will come. When this baby is born, the love will be there.

And she was right. Love is infinite.

I will miss her.

Honey, we need to talk

"So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it." -Jiddu Krishnamurti

We may be listening... but are we actually HEARING?

Too often, we may find ourselves speaking to someone who is so busy thinking about what they are going to say next that they don't hear what's being said. Have our lives become so mentally cluttered that we don't have time to really hear? Or do we hear the words but miss the meaning because we are thinking about something else, or we assume we already know what that person is trying to tell us? How could we know what they haven't finished saying?

Let's pay attention to something our child, spouse or friend finds important to share with us. It's not difficult to set aside a few moments of undivided attention to open our mind and heart, take sincere interest, be fully present and HEAR what they have to say.

Body language and facial expression can add another dimension to what is being said. Becoming sort of "connected" with the speaker allows us to get a peek of what's behind their words, where truths reside. Then not only do you hear the words, but also whether or not they are sincerely spoken.

Not now... later... got more important things... not enough time.... too tired... too busy.... tv show is on...

If not now, WHEN???

I can remember times, as a teenager about a million years ago, when I wanted so badly to be heard...not told what I was supposed to think, but be given the opportunity to express my own unique views and feel valued as an individual. If parents aren't willing to listen to their kids, someone else will be...and not necessarily with good intentions. So I went out of my way to encourage my own kids to talk.

Listening can be one of the most valuable skills a person can learn. If face-to-face conversation is awkward at first, try turning off the television and play a board game together. It's amazing how much connecting and sharing can happen with your opponent while jumping checkers or sinking battleships... (beware of the Hungry Hippos, though, no human voice can be heard over those)

Cooking together is another good activity to open up communication. Then there's eating together, or fishing, walking, a ride in the car, working on art projects, weeding the garden, gazing at the stars, and a list that could go on and on of things that could be done together while encouraging discussion about anything and everything or nothing in particular.

So turn off your computer now and go challenge your kid (or spouse or parent or whomever) to a conversation-provoking game of scrabble...or build a birdhouse together... plan a trip... bake a batch of snickerdoodles... conduct a science experiment... plant a tree...go bug catching... But most importantly, LISTEN. You may learn a whole lot that you didn't know before.

What? Huh? Oh, sorry honey... I wasn't listening...

A School Crisis

"When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on." - Franklin D. Roosevelt

Most of us have been there at some point in our lives.

Sometimes it seems to take a scare, a disaster, or a "close call" situation to remind us of what really matters. Trying to sort out feelings of guilt, confusion and the heartbreak of a broken home is enough, without the addition of having earth-shaking events to stir things up even more.

I used to have frequent nightmares about my sons being in dangerous situations where I could not get to them. I'd wake up crying and drenched with sweat. Living in a separate household made it impossible to get that "reality check" of tiptoeing into their room to see and hear them peacefully snoring away. I couldn't call on the phone in the middle of the night to ask it they had survived the earthquake, fire, alien attack, sand storm, abduction and sale into slavery, spontaneous combustion, poisoning, choking, being MIA or DOA or whatever other darned thing I dreamed about. So I'd pray and try to go back to sleep.

March stirs up a particularly disturbing memory for me. I'll never take anything or anyone for granted, nor will I find security in rationalizing away fears with concepts of "odds". Relax, the chance of your kid being present in a school shooting situation is less than the chance of getting randomly struck by lightning.....

Well, we're having a storm today. I think I'll stay indoors.

That morning of March, 2001, I was getting ready for work when.... ZAP!! I turned on the tv and saw the news, and felt the same sickening terror I had felt in my dreams. It was only a 20-minute drive from my work and home to their house... yet on the day that the gates of Hell opened up and spewed gunfire through the busy courtyard at Santana High, everything seemed to be stuck in slow-motion. That 20-minute journey felt like an eternity, like one of those dreams where you're peddling a bike like crazy but barely inching long, or trying to run but you're stuck in some sort of thick goo. I eventually located my son who was a freshman at that school. He was physically unharmed, but obviously in shock as he explained how he had been only five feet from flying bullets. Thank God he was safe, and that I could be with him. My other son was at home that day, although he had gone to look for his brother. I could not reach their father until later in the day.

The following days were filled with memorials, tears, hugs, and emotions I can't even begin to explain with words. There was also a renewing of friendships and counting of blessings.. People cried together and prayed together, and united in mourning and fear. My family seemed re-bonded in ways that had previously begun to loosen.

We changed. Hundreds of families were affected by the violent murder of two children, physical injuring of 13, and the terrorizing of hundreds or more.

We wept at the site on which a young student's life was senselessly ended. My son showed me where he had been walking when he heard a "popping" sound (something totally unexpected that no student is prepared for) and we traced the path he had taken in his successful flee for safety. I just can't begin to imagine the horror he must have experienced during those minutes. Confusion and panic lingered like a thick fog in the air. I could feel terror etched into this space. Life was surreal, as if living out a Stephen King movie with the theater doors locked. Innocence, sense of safety and security, and the juvenile perception of immortality dissolved. There were no "extra lives" like you get in a Nintendo game....just one. Our loved-ones and friends could be taken away at any moment. How could life be so unfair... sometimes it just is. The time to live and love is now.

I couldn't help but feel I could have stopped this from happening if I had still lived with my kids and their dad - even though I realized that guilt wasn't rational. But nothing was rational at that time. From this nightmare, there was no waking up. There was only a very gradual and painstaking process of grieving and healing. It left deep scars. Sometimes things happen that we just can't understand or justify... We can only acknowledge that evil does indeed exist in this world.

Keeping in communication with schools and staying updated on school events is kind of a challenge for non-custodial parents. Schools tend to send out information to only the child's primary resident household and it's up to the parents to contact the school or to keep one another informed (kids don't remember to relay the same information twice, we're lucky if they remember to bring home their stinky gym clothes twice a year).

Even divorced parents need to remain close to their minor children, emotionally and geographically. I cannot stress that enough.

We can't wait until we reach the end of the rope before we tie that knot.

Half-price Chocolate and Other Joys

February always makes me think of Valentine's day. Half-price chocolates on the 15th come just in time after the post-Christmas half-price chocolates have been devoured. Those hold us over until Easter.

Valentine's day reminds me not only of romantic love, but also of the love of children. As a photo album preserves memories, so does a blank book in which to jot down a few accounts of the innocent inquisitiveness and pure joy found embedded within the words of the wee folk.

As soon as they learned to verbalize, my boys spoke often about life, food, finances and chickens. I treasure this priceless book of wisdom as much as our photo albums. Following are a few of my favorite gems:

When I grow up, I'll be a man..Mom, when you grow up you'll be a grandma.

It's hard to save up money 'cause it's fun to spend it to buy stuff.

If you smoke it makes you dead, but if somebody kills you it makes you dead faster.

I want to eat my apple off the cob.

My wife and I is gonna have six babies.. Mom, you can have three of them.

Water is good, it tastes like spit.

I want to marry Grandma so I can be Daddy's daddy.

Love feels like "warm".

This onion is 6 years old - I counted the rings.

Breasts aren't on people, they're on chickens.

Inside my skull is a brain and inside my brain is letters and stuff..

My drinking stomach and eating stomach are full, but I still have room in my dessert stomach.

I'm not allergic to the cat, if that means we have to get rid of it.

I like the way chickens' knees bend backwards.

Mom, if you find any money hangin' around on the ground, in cash, put it in my bank.

Did you know we're always losing our skin? So when you vacuum, there are piles of skin everywhere.

I got a new box of crayons..It has red, blue, green, black, and skin.

The cat must be magical because he can reach his head all the way back to his butt.

When you go on field trips, you always have to hold hands with the ugliest girl in the class.

Did you know there's a center for missing and exploded children?

Salami has little eyeballs in it.

Are people made of light meat and dark meat?

A mutt is a ton of dogs mixed together.

Women have 'aviaries' in their stomach to make eggs

You can really MAKE noodles? I thought they just picked them off trees.

I can't go back to sleep once I take the boogers outta my eyes.

It's better to receive than give...unless it's somethin' you don't like no more.

Why do all old men look like turtles?

I think "diorama" is the funniest word in the world - because it's almost like "diarrhea"

That would be cool if a bald person got dandruff.. it would all come off in one piece.

I don't wanna pay a sewage bill when I grow up. I just wanna take a dump in the yard to save money.

I am a man, 'cause I have hairy legs.

Fish sticks are made outta live fishes...but they're dead now.

Do bugs cough?

How to make pickles: They grind up apples and mush them up. Then flatten them and make them smooth...Then they are green pickles.

When is it gonna be tomorrow? Is it tomorrow today? Today is tomorrow from yesterday.

If I close my mouth I can think.

I have two grandmas...but one's an uncle.

Is Campbell's soup made from camels?

I don't want to eat the part of the chicken that lays eggs.

Snowmen can't play, 'cause they would get sweaty and melt.

We can buy a house if we don't eat dinners or buy stuff.

You can get lots of money if you buy lots of things all the time, 'cause they give you change.

If you eat a chicken heart then you have two hearts, but one's in your stomach.

If you were a skeleton and you ate something it would just fall right out.

Do deers eat round things, 'cause round things come out?

Your skin doesn't do anything except hold your blood in and your bones, and your brain does everything else.

When the cat closes his eyes, he looks Chinese.

What does the president do, anyway? Just sit around and write on papers?

Pineapples come from Hawaii pine trees.

A snake can't bite you if you step on its head.

Spaghetti is a whole bunch of rice stuck together.

This is a chicken breast, 'cause I think I got the nipple...it's chewy.

"Gay" means happy....or when a boy loves a boy.

Credit cards are infinite money.

That Queen (of England) is too old. Why don't they fire her after 4 years like we do the President?

Our nation's capital is not a state, and not IN a state...it's just floatin' around.

"Pops"...is that a kinda music, or a bunch of dads?

If Jesus had a kid, then God would be it's grandpa.

I just don't understand girls. They just don't make sense...

Finding myself

I don't understand that expression at all. Why do people need to run off to "find themselves" when they're right here? They always were right here. Isn't there some sort of song with "wherever you go, there you are" in the lyrics? It's true. I think that you have to either lose something or never have it in the first place in order to "find" it.

We live in various roles throughout our lives. Son, daughter, parent, sibling, spouse, worker, boss, etc. These are what we DO; but they really aren't who we ARE.

This became very apparent to me after having defined myself as super-mom for years. When that role became adjusted to non-custodial parent, it was as if my etch-a-sketch picture of my life had been turned upside-down and shaken.

Fast-forward to 50, so many things have changed in my life and in myself, I wouldn't know where to begin. So I sit back and smile. I've had such ups and downs, but I'm off that rollercoaster ride now. When I decided I'd had enough, I pulled the brake and got off the ride. And to think, I could have done that at ANY time but never thought to do something so simple; instead, I was looking for something so much more difficult and complicated.

Sort of like Dorothy running all over Hell and back trying to get out of Oz and go home. Turns out she could have done it any time. (We gals really do love shoes!)

When I surrendered to disability instead of fighting it, I was forced to stop everything I thought I was supposed to be doing and look inward towards spiritual abilities. When I did that everything fell into place. Everything i do now, seems one event leads to something else, and positive things seem to "happen" all around me, even in spite of negative things. Maybe they were there all the time. If I die tomorrow, I can honestly say I lived well. And everything was exactly as it was supposed to be.

Running around looking for ourselves somewhere on the outside seems kind of silly when we're already here on the inside.

A quote from Eckhart Tolle: "You cannot find yourself in the past or future. The only place where you can find yourself is in the Now." This, in my opinion, is pure brilliance.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

Kids, Baby Jesus, Santa Claus, Christmas trees, kids, baking goodies, decorating, kids, exchanging gifts, carolers, home-made cards, kids, eggnog, families together.... oh yeah, did i mention kids?

I remember those Christmases fondly, in spite of our problems. There were two bright-eyed little boys waking up before dawn to sneak downstairs to check out what we... err.. I mean Santa brought. There were sticky little fingers dipping into the cookie dough, and candy sprinkles everywhere. Hanging in the hall was the Christmas countdown calendar that refused to alter the passage of time no matter how hard those kids tried... it wasn't a time machine, guys, sorry. And that timeless Chipmunk song played while little plastic toys were dumped from stockings... and the glorious Dogs Barking Jingle Bells song... Those were some of life's finest moments.

Later came the visits to grandparents' houses where there were always too many presents and more sugary creations. A valuable lesson I learned was that fewer presents are better than a truckload. Hours and hours of "this is nice, next..." or "i have one of those already" or "ok now.. I'm hungry" or "he got more than me!" or "this isn't the right one"... or "his was more 'spensive than mine!"... or "it's already broken.." Come on, after five or six or nine or twelve in a row the magic tends to fade... Uh oh. "Batteries not included?" Everybody knows robots and remote-control cars aren't very amusing when they just sit there. "Wind up" toys? What the heck are those?

Now, for the hard part, and I will try to keep my keyboard dry. In December of 1997 I moved out a couple of weeks before Christmas. It was weirdly disorienting. That early in the separation there was understandably a tremendous amount of tension between my husband and me. Depressed, confused, broke, healing from surgery, anorexic and being kickstarted into early menopause left me feeling hopeless, guilt-ridden, and suicidal. There, I said that word. Then being laid off from my minimum-wage job the day before Christmas Eve didn't cheer me up much. (do i hear a violin playing?) I chose to spend that holiday alone, a huge mistake. Don't do that.

More than anything, I missed my sons. I ached to touch and smell them and watch them doing everyday stuff. I missed trying to kiss them goodnight even though they thought they were too old. I even missed their fighting with each other. Sometimes I drove to their home and sat in my car to be close to them. I wanted to be near and available all the time. They had schedules, activities, school and friends and were too old (11 and 14) to just hang out with mommy somewhere for hours. At first, I had tried to withdraw because the goodbyes were so agonizing that I didn't know how to handle my own emotions. That was wrong and I should have realized that. But you can "should" on yourself all day and it accomplishes nothing except burying you in a pile of "should." That sounds stinky.

Eventually, unscheduled open visitation was arranged, often while their dad was away or busy. I was respectful of their home and privacy and didn't barge in without calling. I didn't help myself to anything without asking, even though it still felt like "home" to me for several years. The kids occasionally came over to my place but they were so much more "themselves" at home where they weren't the visitors. In their earlier years, we had apartment-hopped repeatedly until we got into a real home. We felt it was important for them to maintain that sense of home, even if it was disrupted and rearranged.

So, being an absent parent on a holiday sucks. If old traditions are too painful to touch, then make NEW traditions. Devise a new plan, swallow resentments and be as pleasant and cordial as possible. It's ABOUT THE KIDS, not about the failed marriage. The parents can bicker and fight all they want some other time when the kids aren't around. Young people aren't stupid. They notice underhanded, snide little remarks, sarcasm and catty little digs towards ex-spouses or new significant-others. If everyone gets together it's important to be polite and friendly, yet without giving off false-reconciliation vibes. It's unfortunate when an ex-spouse won't cooperate and insists on either the negativity, or indulging in romantic reminiscing in front of the kids, who shouldn't be burdened with either.

This year I look forward to the holidays. I can see pictures from the past two Christmas gatherings in our home - of myself, my current husband, both my sons and their father... all of us standing together in front of a dazzlingly-decorated plastic Christmas tree topped by a color-changing fiber-optic angel – and all of us with genuine smiles on our faces (except for the angel who must have been uncomfortable, considering the location of the tree-top).

Ten years ago I had no idea it could be this way. Maybe it's not traditional, but it's my family.

I have referred to the politically-incorrect "Christmas" holiday, as that's what my family celebrates. My former husband and I still haven't split up the Christmas decorations in the attic. All those special ornaments with sentimental meanings.....maybe some year, maybe never, but not now...


Striving for Wholeness

"Then the king said, "Bring me a sword." So they brought a sword for the king. He then gave an order: "Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other." The woman whose son was alive was filled with compassion for her son and said to the king, "Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don't kill him!" (1 Kings 3:24)

Cutting children in half... doesn't sound too healthy. Kids need roots, stability, a sense of belonging...and of course, wholeness.

It must be difficult to be whole while feeling like a rope in the middle of a tug-of-war. My former husband and I decided not to bisect the kids' living situation. So while retaining joint legal custody, all physical custody was his.

I fired my lawyer who was pushing for the standard "change the locks and get a restraining order" with my taking everything possible, including the home and kids. No no no. We wrote our own divorce agreement, and set up a "visiting" schedule for me, the usual Wednesday nights and every other weekend. That schedule was just a formality and we didn't find need to stick to it. Our boys were teen and pre-teen at the time and had the usual erratic schedules anyway.

I moved out into a small apartment a few minutes away, not suitable for kids but it was what I could afford. It seemed more practical than trying to "split" the home (which we would have had to sell). I also saw fit to leave most of the assets in the home where my kids were living to make sure their basic needs could be met.

My former husband kept what he called an "open door" policy, meaning I had the key to the home and was, as he stated it, welcome at any time. This, I believe, was a huge part of maintaining some continuity for the kids. Sitting with my boys in the living room waiting for a pizza delivery, discussing school or new video games while i washed dishes... sometimes it almost seemed "normal" again, even if it wasn't officially my home anymore. It was difficult saying goodbye until next time, but then I don't claim that this was easy.

I admit that it became exhausting at times living almost a sort of double life along with a disability. Having held the role of "super-mom" for over a decade, I wanted to continue to actively parent as much as possible. Teenage boys can appreciate a pot of homemade chicken soup when they come down with a cold, or knowing mom's available to listen about having the cat put down or breaking up with a girlfriend. They need Dad. They need Mom.

My boys would joke about how they made out well by getting "double" the birthday and Christmas presents. For awhile, we had two of each celebration, which seems kind of standard following divorce. When I remarried, I also added two adult stepchildren (and their mother) to the family. Holidays became even more "interesting" then (the stuff movies are made of!). Although challenging, we managed to "consolidate" holiday celebrations somewhat. When ex-spouses can be civil with one another, and new spouses can tolerate (in small doses) former spouses, holidays are survivable.

Being open to the idea of enchiladas for Christmas dinner or Pizza on Thanksgiving helps. Buffet restaurants help, too. Traditions may have to change, but family and love are what matter most.

Confusing as our custody arrangement was at times, it worked. In spite of health, I managed to remain a strong presence in my sons' lives. They turned to me with certain needs, while to their dad for others. Sure, it's far from the ideal of a healthy mom-dad-kids household, but there were no alienated parents.

Nothing tears my heart out more than hearing of a parent (generally the father) being driven out of the child's life. I've seen the negative results of having an absentee parent carried well into adulthood. Divorce may dissolve a marriage but it shouldn't dissolve a parent

In Their Best Interest

"She must be selfish to give up her kids like that."

"Why doesn't she fight to keep them with her?"

"A mother will always get the kids unless she's a drug addict or abusive!"

"What kind of mother doesn't want her kids?"

"Why would a mother abandon her children?"

"She must be unfit if she didn't get custody."

"I wonder why she lost custody?"

"Dead-beat moms give up their children and walk away."

"Maybe she gave up custody because her boyfriend doesn't want her kids around."


Selfish...selfish ...SELFISH...

And if she happens to be a fit and loving mother and does not have custody, she must have lost it against her will after a court battle, out of some extraordinary set of circumstances. Of course she fought for it, as a fit and loving mother never abandons her babies............RIGHT????

These are common general assumptions about non-custodial mothers. Sometimes they're true.

Rarely, if ever, do we hear mention of the possibility that the circumstances warrant that maybe the father is more capable and has more resources to care for the children at the time.... and that maybe mom realizes this?

Could it be that the most loving thing for the mother to do might be to recognize and accept that the father is in a better position to meet the children's needs, and thus not stand in the way of the children being raised in the best possible environment to receive love, safety, nurturing and security (within the confines of a divorce situation, which of course will never be even remotely close to "ideal")? That just might happen to be under dad's roof, even if mom is a loving, caring mother who would give her own life to save her kids if it were necessary.

And oh my God, what a heart-wrenching decision that is to make. I know, because I was faced with that decision ten years ago.

I want to share my own, unique child-custody experience. It may or may not be applicable to another. I don't claim to be presenting the only way. ... just the way it was and is for me and my family. What worked for us may not be appropriate for another family. However, I feel that our present system does not adequately address the possibility of fathers retaining custody without non-custodial mothers commonly being reduced societally to the status of "unfit".

In spite of a lot of society-induced guilt, worry and - more than anything - just missing the daily contact with my kids, I chose to relinquish physical custody to my children's father. I still shudder while writing those words. Phantoms of those old loop tapes in my head still play faintly in the background: "selfish, unfit, abandoning..." But they're very, very faint these days. I know they are not true. And I can see, standing there in photo frames on the shelf next to me, two grown men who do not have reason to doubt the unending and limitless love pouring over them from both their father and their mother. They know mom and dad don't hate each other. And unlike many children of divorced parents, they KNOW both Mom and Dad.

I cannot, at this time, revisit the painful, soul-crushing feelings attached to the events surrounding my divorce and custody issues. During the worst times, I was life-threateningly ill, both mentally and physically, and even today I'm not sure that I am strong enough to dredge up those feelings and risk becoming engulfed in them. So i'll try to leave the touchy-feely stuff out of this.

Effective co-parenting after divorce is complicated and tricky, requires a lot of persistence, creativity, flexibility and tolerance in both parents as well as in any new significant-others who may enter the picture. It also requires a whole ton of restraint as far as keeping the resentments (that probably caused the divorce) under control and away from the kids. It requires a respectful interaction between the parents, which displays civility and mutual respect while not giving the children any false hopes that mom and dad are "getting back together." Above all, the kids can have continued regular contact with BOTH parents.

As parents, we brought these human beings into existence with our own flesh and blood. We owe it to them, to ourselves and to each other to fully give them our hearts to the best of our ability, even in spite of our mistakes and shortcomings in the marriage.

©2011, Mary Lou St. Lucas

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