Tag Archives: Relationships

April 20 – Perfectly Imperfect

by Debra Dolan

For 18 years I have been in a relationship with Mike. Our anniversary is marked by spring and a natural renewal of what is possible after a long dark winter. In 2002, we were both wandering in the same west coast city and at the same expansive workplace, mending broken hearts. That April we came together as friends, sharing stories and emotions, over long walks and bottles of wine. We were both patient and kind, vowing to always be supportive. Ours was a slow blossoming romance yet, I am pleased to write, the fires continue to burn. There is no one that I would rather isolate myself in companionship during these precarious times of COVID-19 than my darling, Frizelli.

Although we have core compatibility, most markedly valuing leisure and solitude, we view the world related to politics, finances, art, décor and Netflix offerings mostly in singular ways. The ‘glue’ that keeps us together is love, pure and simple, as well as a shared respect not to turn the other into a female or male version of oneself. We both cringe each time we wear the same colour of socks or have matching coats. Complimentary is OK; identical is not.

During the entirety of our experience, we have maintained separate homes in different parts of our city; free to go back-and-forth. Additionally, prior to 2017, we had nothing intertwined – property, money, children – that would give us sober reflection after a terrible battle upon retreating to our distinct abodes to lick wounds. Now, there are grandchildren. While Mike was co-raising a daughter, I spent my time reading, writing, walking to my heart’s content, traveling. I did what I pleased. I knew not what I was missing; deep pure love for a child. During the past three years, Mabel, Henry, and Fletcher have often been “Pop’s” get-out-of-jail card. Other than a brief six-week period we have come together each day for the sheer joy of sharing life with one another.

We fight almost every day. This can often cause conflict among our family and friends as we face squarely our intrapersonal differences wherever we may be or with whom. Both Mike and I are fiercely independent, opinionated, self-regarding individuals, now in our sixties. We both exhibit many good character traits, too! He has never officially lived with anyone in his adulthood and I only did briefly in a short marriage in my late-twenties. We used to joke, “that we liked each other too much to get married,” and our mantra is, “we are two flawed individuals who won’t ever give up on one another.” Truer words never were spoken. So true, in fact, we even posted them on our joint 2018 holiday season greetings.

As we share space now, I recognize with gratitude that my fondest memories include Mike. It is getting harder to recognize a past without him in it. I love him more now than yesterday and I expect an even bigger love tomorrow and the day after that.

Debra Dolan lives on the west coast of Canada, is a long time (45+ years) private journal writer, and an avid reader of women’s memoir. She has been a member of the Story Circle Network since 2009.

February 10 – Sweetie Pig

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Grammy’s cookie jar holds special memories for me. It was a rather big pig, a Shawnee Pottery Smiley Pig that she named Sweetie-Pig. I was with her that Valentine’s Day when she purchased it at Titche’s Department Store in downtown Dallas. She brought it home, and together we filled its belly with homemade heart-shaped sugar cookies with red sprinkles on top. Afterward, Grammy sat Sweetie-Pig in a corner cabinet, a bit out of my reach so I’d have to ask for a cookie. When she wasn’t looking I tried sneaking into her kitchen to nab a cookie. But the lid was heavy and cumbersome and clanked when I picked it up.

She’d show up like black lightning. “No! No! Too much sugar isn’t good for you. It’ll spoil your dinner.”

I’d put on my best pouty face hoping to guilt her into giving me a cookie, but she was unwavering in her commitment to controlling my sugar consumption and my weight.

But whenever I visited Grammy, I always knew that inside Sweetie Pig’s belly were generous sugar cookies with sparkly sprinkles of sugar on top, soft and moist; precious gifts that didn’t even have a handwritten recipe, made straight from her heart. Grammy was the same way, no printed directions with her. What you saw was what you got, with those special touches like sugar cookie sprinkles on top; she used to add to everything from family gatherings to fresh homemade bread with melty butter and cinnamon sugar on top to teaching me how to appreciate classical music and admire Monet paintings. Those memories are inside that cookie jar today sitting in a safe spot in my home.

Nowadays, it seems indulgent and impractical to give over precious countertop space to a chubby piece of crockery when a sealable plastic bag will do the job better. But I can’t imagine my adulthood without the promise of the mist-shrouded Cookies of Yesteryear; and when I get the urge, I lift Sweetie-Pig’s faded and aged lid taking in all the wonderful memories of long ago, those sweet smiles of my Grammy and her homemade sugar cookies.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. 

Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

June 10 – Human Connections

by Ariela Zucker

I stir my morning coffee and while the milk swirls and changes the color from dark brown to tan I reflect on a sentence that I read on the front page of Yahoo.

“Human connections are important. Try to encompass at least ten of them every day.”

I wonder if I can accomplish this challenge without leaving my home on this dreary rainy day.
1.  The first thing I do is look at my cellphone: David from 7 cups is looking for me.
2.  I log into the site that connects volunteer listeners and members who need a captive listening ear. David and I have a short conversation about his aspirations to take on the world. He says he likes to talk to me, and this time he ends the conversation by himself. I joke about “David and Goliath;” he gets it and sends a smiley.
3.  I check my online writing group, no one responded to my last post, so I move on.
4.  I send the daily Hebrew word to Sara. Later she will send me a letter composed of these words. Today’s word: The eye of the storm. She texts me a thumbs-up.
5.  An email from Beth. She just found in her DNA test that we are third cousins twice removed and is overcome with excitement. I suggest a few possible surnames for her to check. “None fits,” she writes back, adding an icon of a sad face.
6.  An unknown caller from Honolulu. A formal, somewhat scary male voice announces that I should call back in the next 10 minutes; otherwise, the police will intervene. I know it is a prank call, but for a brief moment, it stops my breathing, what if it is true?
Fifty-five minutes passed, and I scored six interactions, I am pleased and reward myself with another cup of coffee and a donut.
7. In my Facebook, I find two birthday announcements and a picture from two years ago of my dog the day we got him. I send birthday wishes and marvel at how small he was only a short time ago.
8.  I sit down to write a long-delayed letter to my pen pal in Scotland. We’ve been corresponding for over twenty years. We’re doing it in the good old-fashioned way; paper, envelope, stamp then a long wait.
9.  My daughter calls to ask for a recipe. I pull out my cookbook that is held together with will power and sticky fingers and read the ingredients to her. This is an old recipe my mother used to make. I am happy to pass it on and keep the generational food connection alive.
10. Outside on my bird-feeder, yellow Goldfinch shares the grains with a small red squirrel. Above them, on a bent branch, a blazing red Cardinal performs its warning metallic chip. Patches of bright colors against the gray backdrop. I snap a quick picture. Later I will post it on Facebook.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

May 13 – That “Baby Stuff”

by Kalí Rourke

The day had arrived that every Mom inevitably faces.

All summer long, we had been swimming in the neighborhood pool nearly every day and I just dumped both of my little girls in the shower with me to get the chlorine out of their hair and mine.

Inevitably, my older daughter (about 7 at the time) noticed the differences in our bodies and asked about them.

I was prepared. I didn’t whip out an anatomically correct flip chart or flash cards, or anything like that, (after all, we were in the shower) but I answered her questions in medical terms with no cutesy nicknames for any body parts.  She took this in and finally cocked her curly blonde head to the side and said, “Where do babies come from?”

Wham! Drop the mic because there it was.

Now, was delivering a “birds and bees” monologue in my birthday suit my dream situation? Not so much. But, I had made a point of being direct and truthful with our daughters whenever they asked the hard questions and saw no reason to change that strategy, so we dove into that “baby stuff.”

As I dried them off and sent my younger daughter to get dressed, my older daughter and I sat in matching towels on the edge of the tub and I explained reproduction to her in fairly clinical terms. She listened in attentive silence, her big blue eyes widening every once in a while.

Finally, she asked, “Do you have to?”

“Do you have to have a baby? No, of course not! That is a big commitment that people who love each other very much decide together and you never HAVE to have babies,” I said, assuming that her concern was similar to the concerns I had even in adulthood.

Nope. That wasn’t it at all.

“No, Mom!” She shook her head emphatically. “I mean, do you have to do that sex stuff. It sounds gross and I would just rather have them put me to sleep and wake up with a baby!”

Ahh…I couldn’t help it. I giggled helplessly and finally gasped out, “Well, sweetie, you may change your mind about that someday, but it isn’t anything to worry about right now.”

She tossed her curls and danced off to her room to get dressed and spent the rest of her blissful summer day playing with her beloved plastic horses. I sat there alone with so much love in my heart for the funny, smart and sassy woman she was becoming.

Happy Mother’s Day to you all, whether you are celebrating being a Mom or having a Mom!

Kalí Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, and active volunteer. She is a Seedling Mentor and a champion for children’s literacy with BookSpring. Kalí is a philanthropist with Impact Austin and serves as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance.

She blogs at Kalí’s Musings and at A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

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March 25 – Mortality Musings

by Kalí Rourke

Mom Rourke was declining at 92 years old. The scalpel sharp intellect and memory we had enjoyed for years was slowly but inevitably eroding, and for a while, Mom railed in anger and frustration at her loss of control.

We learned so much as my husband’s older sister cared for Mom during this hard and challenging time, and it changed our view of aging forever.

Traveling along her journey, we discovered this fascinating book that I highly recommend, no matter what stage of life you are in. “Being Mortal,” by Dr. Atul Gawande, opened my eyes and my mind to the realities of aging and dying in America.

Dr. Gawande tells a series of important stories that illustrate how mortality has changed in our country just as aging has. We rarely die “at home” any longer and more often our last moments of life are in the hands of professional medical personnel and in the grip of the “machinery of last resort;” treatments that can leave us feeling cold, isolated and perhaps a bit like a cyborg.

Consider reading the book and having conversations with your family that may be hard.

Don’t wait until death is in the next room, tying tongues with fear, guilt or sorrow. Open that door now so that it is more possible to open it again when the time arrives to put into action the preferences and directives you only talked about before.

There are critical questions that should be at the forefront of all aging or end of life conversations: “What is important to you? What is most important to try to keep in your life until the end? What is most important to try to include or avoid in your death?” We were grateful we were able to ask these questions of Mom Rourke before it was too late. They were not huge requests and were very achievable!

You may think you know how your loved ones would answer, but often we don’t unless we ask. They may surprise us! Listen to them and ask again as the terrain of aging changes them. Don’t wait until senility sets in and confusion or memory loss make it difficult to express what is most important to them. If you wait too long, you may miss your chance.

Dr. Gawande has changed how I look at aging, terminal illness, hospice care, and most importantly, death. It takes conversations to facilitate a “good death” for your loved ones rather than to say goodbye with regret or guilt over a “bad death.”

America doesn’t like to talk about mortality, and you and I are the only ones who can change that, so consider doing it. Think of it as the first step down a road we build together that leads to people who are as in control of their aging and deaths as possible.

My husband and I are both now thinking about how aging and death can be made better for everyone. Stay tuned.

Kalí Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, and active volunteer. She is a Seedling Mentor and a champion for children’s literacy with BookSpring. Kalí works in philanthropy and as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance.

She blogs at Kalí’s Musings where a longer version of this post appears, and at A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

February 11 – Growing Pains of Grandparenthood

by Ariela Zucker

My daughter asks if my husband and I can babysit for her for a few hours while she and her husband participate in a class for parents who have behavioral issues with their toddlers.

In the past I would say;

“Why do you need a class, an outsider, to give you a piece of advice when here, in front of you stand two people who raised you and your three sisters with decent results.”

In the past, I would offer my opinion.  As a savvy educator, and a parent I would give a detailed lecture on what will work and what will not; accompanied by true-life examples;

“Remember how your youngest sister used to cry all the time?”

“And how your older sister never went to bed without resisting it for hours?”

“And how your gramma, my mother, got me to stay in bed on Saturday mornings by leaving sweet surprises?” this one she remembers but nods her head in disagreement.

Wiser with the years I know better. I just smile and say, “Sure, no problem, whatever you need.”

From the corner of my eye, I can see how my husband looks at me and winks. We finally got it, he says without words. If we want to stay part of our grandchildren lives it will not be in the role of a sage, but that of the sitter.

The readers may raise an eyebrow with surprise or perhaps disagreement. Grandparenthood so I learned on the know-it-all net is nothing but a bundle of joy. It is life fulfilling, it’s a unique, sweet connection, it is everything we were not as parents. In other words, it is a second chance to do it ‘right,’ now that we are older and wiser and have a lot of free time.

When I reflect on my frequent conversations with my friends most of whom grandparents themselves, I realize that here again, I am witnessing a marketing ploy of a product that is not real, a bit like the golden haze around the final stage of life – the golden years of our retirement.

I have no qualms about my years as a full-time parent. In fact, I am still a parent only now my children are adults who are themselves, parents. They matured into ‘know it all’ contemporary, Facebook-style parents. This change makes me almost overnight – a relic.

It took me some time to understand that what I once considered true and trusted ways of parenthood are looked upon as old and useless, even though the proof of their success is standing right in front of me holding their own children.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

January 1 – A Gift I Couldn’t Have Imagined

by Sara Etgen-BakerWhen I was a small child, I rose on my tiptoes and stared out our living room window, watching and waiting until Father arrived home from work. “Mama,” I hollered as soon as I saw his pickup truck ’round the corner, “Daddy’s home!” Then I raced to the front door to greet him. Although he was weary, he often picked me up and twirled me around until I said, “Daddy, daddy, stop! Pleeeease!” He eased me down; and we giggled together, walking hand-in-hand towards the kitchen where I sat on his lap while he drank a cup of steaming coffee and talked with Mother about his day.

Now and then Father stood at the front door with his hands behind his back. “Pick a hand,” he’d say. His words touched me like an electric current, for I knew hidden behind Father and buried in the folds of one of his hands was a surprise meant just for me.

“This one,” I shouted, pointing wildly. He whisked out his hand and slowly, too slowly, uncurled his fingers. Finally, there it was: a gift I couldn’t have imagined; a prize from his box of Cracker Jacks, a package of M&Ms, a silver nickel, or a feather for my hair.

And I hadn’t thought of it until now, but it seems Father’s surprises had a curious way of coming on the days when I needed them most. The days when I fell off my bicycle, broke something irreplaceable in the house or went to the doctor with a sore throat. I suppose Mother told him. Somehow he knew I needed to be surprised with a gift of love that would help bind up my broken day.

His gifts of love taught me that no matter how devastating my struggles, disappointments, and troubles were, they were only temporary. A lifetime has passed since my childhood when I stood at the living room window eagerly awaiting Father’s arrival. Yet at the end of many days, I often stare out my office window and find myself thinking about Father and his special gifts for me. Even now, I can hear the voice of Father’s love whispering in my life.

I am reminded that the deepest need of the human heart is to be loved. To be loved utterly and completely just as we are, no matter what. We respond to our need for love in a lot of different ways. Sometimes we try to be perfect in order to earn love. Or we repress our need until all that remains is a vague restlessness and yearning. But one is loved because one is loved. Love is always bestowed as a gift, freely, willingly, and without expectation. No reason is needed for loving. And there is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

October 26 – Memories and Ghosts

by Sara Etgen-Baker

In the two days since my arrival, Granddad and I exchanged only a few predictable, cursory words.

“Here’s your cereal; no milk, right?”

“Right, Granddad. Thanks.”

“You sleep okay?”

Although his silent house had kept me awake, I respectfully replied, “Yes sir. I did,” followed by, “How ‘bout you?”

Granddad Stainbrook

“I’m old: I never sleep well,” he grumbled.  “Just too many memories and ghosts.”The house became still as we struggled with what to say to one another. So we ate breakfast in silence; a silence so thick I could feel it drape around me like an old shawl. I pulled it against me as I plopped down into my grandmother’s chair suddenly aware of something else in the house, something different; a faint rustling, a soft presence of some sort. I didn’t know what it was.

Perhaps it was the lilt of Granny’s lavender perfume that lingered in the rich tapestry fabric, stirring memories of when I sat in her lap reading a book or sharing hot cocoa. Perhaps it was Granny herself. I closed my eyes and remembered that the house was full of noise and laughter when Granny was alive.

Now, though, the house seemed empty, lifeless, and unnervingly silent. I was young and impatient and needed to shatter the silence and to understand why Mother had sent me to visit my grandfather. I just couldn’t make any sense out of her cryptic parting words: “Remember, this visit isn’t about you.”

Granddad glanced up from reading his morning newspaper. “Your grandmother loved sitting in that chair and watching her grandchildren.”

“I loved sitting in Granny’s lap when she sat in this chair.” I watched his face. “It still smells like her.”

“Yes, it does.” He adjusted his glasses. “Her memory keeps me awake at night.”

“The silence at night frightens me and keeps me awake.” I choked back the tears.

He slowly raised one eyebrow and fumbled for words. “Why…uh…uh…why are you afraid of the silence?”

“Because the silence just makes me miss her more.”

Granny Helen Morain Stainbrook

“I miss her too.” He peered over his glasses. “In the silence, I hear her voice and feel her spirit rustling through the house. In that silence, I don’t miss her as much.” His chin trembled and his voice cracked. “I’m terribly afraid I’ll lose her forever if I don’t keep the house silent.” After another moment’s silence he mumbled, “Like memories and ghosts, she quietly lives in the silent shadows of both of our lives.”

“You’re right, Granddad,” were the only words I could muster.

We hugged one another; Granddad shuffled off to his bedroom. Nothing more need be said.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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September 9 – Catching Lightning Bugs

by Sara Etgen-Baker

When I was a little girl, Granddad and I spent many summer evenings together sipping lemonade and swinging back and forth on his metal porch glider. On one such evening, I sat with him; and we watched the sun sink lower in the Missouri sky, slowly draining away the light of day. The trees gradually became silhouettes against a newly silver sky, its blue hue all but gone until dawn. Their branches gently swayed in the wind, and the first sound of the nocturnal creatures came; chirping crickets, buzzing mosquitoes, a hooting owl, and a skittering rabbit taking cover in the hedgerow. Soon it grew dark, and a closeness and silence enveloped us.

Out of nowhere, a mysterious yellow twinkling appeared in the night, quick flickers and crackles of incandescent light too fast for the naked eye. The soft warm glow of lightning bugs sliced through the darkness, dipping beneath the black walnut trees. I was enchanted and imagined Granddad and I had discovered the lair of a great magician.

“Want to catch lightning bugs?” Granddad asked, a smile spreading over his face.

“Capture that magic?” My voice quivered with excitement. “Can it be done?”

Granddad looked at my face; jumped out of the swing; and fetched a Mason jar from his work shed, its lid pierced with holes. We walked barefoot into the darkness, following the flickering lights. I ran toward them hoping to capture them, but in my eagerness, they escaped. Granddad cupped his hands and lunged.

“Look!” he said, making a peephole into his hand. With my face pressed against his thumbs, I caught my first close-up glimpse of a firefly.

The jar grew full; and when Granddad tucked me in that night, he placed it beside my bed. The glow of the lightning bugs mesmerized me; and long after everyone else was asleep, I was still wide awake watching the golden lights flare in the darkness.

Now, so many years later, I’ve forgotten most of my childhood dolls and toys. But the night Granddad and I caught lightning bugs and made them into a nightlight is forever imprinted in me. And I’m reminded that there’s so much ordinary magic dancing around the backyard.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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June 12 – Talking Through the Night

By Debra Dolan

A soft beautiful breeze washed over me for eleven hours this week as I was visited by a beloved niece I had not seen in eight years. It was a last-minute sojourn as she made a stopover on the west coast en route to summer employment in Japan. Instantaneous, unconditional big-big love for this precious sweet human being so full of joy, contradiction, and sorrow. Tears and extended arms of happiness as we greeted one another. Such a special night sharing life’s present-day events; first, in the local neighbourhood pub as she nourished her body and, later, in the quiet intimacy of my home as we fed our souls, surrounded by flowers, books, and candles, sleepy by the late hour.

Our journeys since 2010 have had parallels and divergence; not surprising given the nearly 40 years apart in age. Lina was conceived while I traveled in my brother’s new homeland attending the Nagano Olympics and I last saw her when the Nishibori-Dolans were in town for the Vancouver Olympics. Now she attends university in eastern Canada with the same confidence and vitality I have always observed while I, after decades of employment and intense social interaction, feel displaced and exhausted coping with a prolonged head injury.

Spending time together was an enormous gift. Sharing our personal bliss and challenges was the best restorative antidote for the myriad of topics exposing raw emotions with a thunderous force. It was unbelievably refreshing and energizing to be in the company of someone bursting into adulthood so full of exuberance for the future while struggling to shed childhood angst, uncertainty, and unhappiness. A great honour was bestowed on this dear-old-aunt when she revealed the truth of her recent experiences with openness, insight and a longing to understand.  She exhibited a strength of character, complete with integrity and forthrightness, which is rare at any age. I am immensely proud of the woman she is becoming and I am enormously grateful I was in a position to offer her refuge, comfort, and a listening presence.

It was one of those treasured spontaneous opportunities to ‘pay forward’ the kindness, solace and care that so many have gifted yours truly. I eagerly await her return visit in August.

Debra Dolan lives on the west coast of Canada, is a long time (45+ years) private journal writer, and an avid reader of women’s memoir. She has been a member of Story Circle Network since 2009.