Long Way Home

I have made two road trips in the last five days. Both were for family events, one happy, and one very sad.

My nephew (my mother’s youngest grandchild) had his First Communion on Sunday. It was a lovely occasion and a good reason to take my aging mother on a road trip. It means so much to her to spend time with her grandchildren, and some are farther away than others so we work to make that happen. Mom still drives at age 84 and does pretty well with it. She drives around her own town, and easily makes the half hour trip to my home. But anything more than an hour behind the wheel has started to make her a little nervous. So she looks for a designated driver and often that’s me.

I have no problem driving my mother places. It’s the least I can do for her. She raised five children and we ought to be good for something, right? So we help her out with a few things here and there, and I seem to be the one behind the wheel most often.

My nephew’s First Communion was about 175 miles away: about 2½ hours all on Interstate highways and pretty easy driving for me. Then, just a day before we were prepared to make that trip, my aunt passed away. She lived 250 miles away, almost five hours in the car through forest land and over a lot of mountains. So I said to my mother, “We can make both trips, but are you sure that you’re up to it?” Again, she is 84. But she was certain that she wanted to make both trips. So we did.

We had a nice time with my sister’s family, helping to celebrate her son’s big step in his religious upbringing. Then we drove home where we spent one night, before I picked her up the next morning for the longer trip to see my uncle and cousins and pay our final respects to my aunt. That trip was definitely more emotional, as it is always hard to say goodbye. My aunt was a vibrant woman with a huge heart, a sly smile, and a lilting laugh. She was my father’s only sister, and my mother’s only sister-in-law, so we were all there: my mother, my sisters, and my brother and sister-in-law. It was important to us to be there to say goodbye to our much-adored aunt, and to remind her remaining family that we will always feel connected to them even without her physical presence.

The trip home was not as easy. We took a much longer route in order to avoid torrential rains and extreme flooding in parts of central Pennsylvania. Taking this longer route left me thinking about a lot of things; mainly about how our life journeys are all different but generally lead to the same end.

The family, at Christmas 1963.  My aunt is at the front left.

The family, at Christmas 1963. My aunt is at the front left.

Most of us take the long road in life. We grow up and grow older before we even know it has happened, yet the look back sometimes feels like a long one. We sat around with my cousins after the funeral, reflecting on our times together as children and our shared experiences. My mom and my uncle chimed in here and there, recalling some details from time to time and reminding us of events we hadn’t considered.

My aunt had suffered from cancer for over a dozen years. She fought that wretched illness very hard, unwilling to leave her family any earlier than she had to. She lived to see her eldest granddaughter marry, and to see the arrival of two great grandchildren. She lived her life to the fullest, traveling and spending time with family as much as she could. She took the long way home.

My mom is doing the same thing. She wants to be with her family during this leg of her journey. For now, I am her sometimes chauffeur. And while her backseat driving really pushes my buttons, I bite my tongue and try to ignore it, because she is an octogenarian and getting closer to finding her way home. We hope it will be a long way off, but we never really know for sure.

These back to back trips were important for our family, and the events themselves are analogous to our life journeys: from beginning to end we follow our own path. And if we’re lucky, we take the long way home.

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Bigotry Online is Still Bigotry

I read a lot, including books, newspapers, magazines, and blog posts. And I read a lot of Facebook posts from people I know. Some of them enlighten me. Some of them amaze me. Some of them disgust me.

I am a great fan of social media. I am on Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Goodreads, and Twitter (and I may have left a few out.) I feel fortunate to have been able to reconnect with a number of people from my past through social media. Some of them are people I used to work with in one setting or another, and some were long-ago friends or classmates. But here’s the thing about social media: not only do you connect with people, you often learn a lot about what they believe by watching their posts. Are they liberal or conservative? Are they avid fans of certain TV shows? Are they parents or grandparents? What are their hobbies or interests? Do they travel a lot?

Here’s the other thing about being actively engaged in social media: you will not always like everything you read. Some of what I have learned about my online friends is that they have strong beliefs that may be diametrically opposed to my own.

Everyone has a right to their own beliefs. I will repeat that for emphasis and because I very strongly believe it: Everyone has a right to their own beliefs. I will respect your right to believe what you believe, and I expect the same level of respect in return.

Believing what you want to is not the same as bashing others just because you have a platform to do so. It does not mean you should engage in name-calling online just because it feels more anonymous. It does not mean you should post links or comments that will purposely hurt others or that are meant to degrade some segments of the population. Bigotry is bigotry, bullying is bullying, and hate is hate; no matter what your platform is or whether you try to couch it in your religious or political affiliations.

We do not have the right to judge one another for our beliefs. We can, however, choose to associate with or not associate with people whose behavior we don’t like. In all of my years online, I have “unfriended” just one person, and that was not because our beliefs didn’t match up. It is because their social media posts were so consistently negative that I simply couldn’t stand it anymore. Most of us have enough negativity in our real lives that we don’t need to be bombarded with everyone else’s all the time, too.

So here’s my choice – if your online behavior is bigoted or bullying, I will unfriend you. Online, I don’t always think it’s healthy to get into a written dispute, so I may not always choose to call you out on these behaviors when I see them. In other words, I will not engage in a written argument by responding to your posts. But if we were face to face, not only do I think you would be less likely to say these things, but I would be very likely to begin a verbal spar with you. I would not put up with what I see as bad behavior either in person or online.

In case you’re wondering what prompted me to write this today, here it is. You say you don’t have to “tolerate” the “sin” of gay people, but do you even know who they are? In a room full of people can you tell who is gay and who is straight? Maybe sometimes you can, but not always. In fact, I’m going to bet that in many cases you can’t. And even if you could tell, what difference does it make? They are people, with real feelings and real relationships and real families, and they didn’t choose to be gay or to live a gay “lifestyle” any more than they chose to have brown or blue eyes, and your judgement simply does not count for anything.

And even while I am involved in a lot of social interaction online, I also make a point of living in the real world. So if your virtual behavior is bigoted we won’t be hanging out for real either. Inclusion and kindness count with me.

Motherhood

It is Mother’s Day weekend and I am missing my girls.

I miss the eldest playing the piano in the living room. I miss the constant swirl of activity when she is here and the slam of the door when she leaves the house. I miss the musician, photographer, and cribbage player extraordinaire. I miss how she is slightly awkward in the kitchen and how she tries on every dress in the store during a shopping trip. I miss her social insights and gentle nature.

I miss the youngest hanging out in her pajamas all day. I miss my best ever movie and popcorn date. I miss the cuddle buddy and the deep thinker. I miss her sharp elbows, sharp wit, and sharp tongue. I miss her constant reaching to learn new things, whether it’s a clarinet piece, a dance move, or a foreign language. I miss her amazing chocolate chip cookies. I miss how she is both fiercely competitive and spiritually contemplative.

Both daughters are smart and savvy. They go after what they want, and no one, not even their parents, gets in their way.

This is Mother’s Day without my girls at home. While I love the freedom to set my own schedule, I still miss the concerts, piano recitals, dance recitals, tennis matches, and soccer games. I miss the giggle girls together and the occasionally (but thankfully not often) bickering sisters. I miss their witty repartee across the table over dinner, and the way they annoy each other by putting their feet up on each other’s chairs.

Spring 1994

Spring 1994

In my 23 years as a mother, my daughters have taught me far more than any wisdom I was able to impart to them. I have never been a patient person, but am more so because of them. I am more tolerant, more introspective, and at the same time more outgoing. Because of them I care more about sunscreen and less about whether my house is perfectly clean. Their mere presence led me to be a more careful driver, and a better daughter to my own mother.

Because of them I work to keep myself healthier, so that I can be around to see how more of their adult lives unfold. I want to be here to watch as they form deep, lasting, and meaningful relationships with significant others. I want to be present for more graduations, birthdays, and weddings to come. I want to see how their careers unfold and where in the world they choose to live. If they want to someday, I would love to see them tackle this most important job of motherhood.

I would not trade one brief moment of being their mom for any other role. I would not take back the sleepless nights, perpetually crying baby, precocious preschoolers, homework beyond my ability to help, stress of teaching parallel parking and clutch use, or joy of listening to their beautiful voices raised in song and conversation. I love the way “Mommy” has morphed into “Mams” or “Maaj.”

Because I am so proud of the young women they have become, Mother’s Day is a very sweet celebration. They aren’t home for this observance because they are pursuing their own wonderful lives. And I’m good with that even though I miss them. When you embark on the journey of parenthood you know that you want something better for your kids than what you had, and that is just what they are doing – creating their something better. Happy Mother’s Day!

Friendship

The first person that I ever called “friend” lives just half an hour away from me now. When we first knew each other we lived right next door with a sidewalk that separated our houses by about five feet. We could literally open our bedroom windows and talk to each other, and we did. Our second and third grade selves swooned over Davy Jones and chilled out to The Beatles. We hung out with the neighborhood kids until dark on summer nights, doing a whole lot of nothing. It was a great life.

That's me on the left, with my friend.  We are standing in front of her house.  My house is in the background, so you can see how close our houses were.

That’s me on the left, with my friend, probably about 1967. We are standing in front of her house. My house is in the background, so you can see how close our houses were.

Then my family moved away, and I eventually lost touch with my very first friend. But there are some very good reasons to love social media and this is one of them: we reconnected on Facebook, and that’s how I know she still lives in our old hometown. She somehow unearthed this photo of the two of us and posted it, and we really MUST find a time to get together. Even though it’s just half an hour away, it sometimes seems daunting because life gets far too busy. But it shouldn’t. Not for friends.

When I pause to count blessings, I am overwhelmed by the truly wonderful women I am lucky to have as friends. Some are people I grew up with and we have been friends for over four decades. These people know more about me than some members of my own family. Sometimes, I think they know more about me than I even know myself. But they are not telling, because friends keep each others secrets. Since one member of our little group lives pretty far away now, I will drop everything to spend just a little time with her when she is in the area. Luckily, one of those times is coming up!

I am fortunate to have friends whose children have grown up with my children, friends I have worked with, and friends I have met through other friends. The past couple of weekends I paused from my otherwise intense spring home and yard chores to have coffee with friends: two separate occasions with two separate friends. One lives locally and we see each other occasionally, but it was really special to have some one-on-one time. The other lives in the area, but we really don’t get much time together since she moved an hour and a half away, so it was great to catch up. These opportunities to catch up on our kids, our interests, or our jobs are just cathartic. These shared moments are nothing special, and everything special, all at the same time.

I could spend a lot of time analyzing the key ingredients for friendship, but honestly that’s just a waste of time. The older I get, the more I realize that the really important thing is to just be together once in a while. There is no need to analyze everything. We can just let friendship be what it is.

So….to my very first friend…watch your Facebook message box. I’m throwing some dates out to you. We can have lunch, or coffee, or just take a walk. But we WILL reconnect in person. Soon.