Tag Archives: daughters

Presents/Presence

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I made it through another birthday.

I am still here.

The longer I live, the more it seems death is all around me.

All of my grandparents are gone, though their stories still guide me. Both of my parents are gone; I seem stubbornly unable to get used to that fact, and still enjoy their influence in many aspects of my life. Of eleven brothers and sisters, there are only six left. I miss the ones that have died, and cherish the ones still here. That’s all I can do.

At my class reunion in July, it was noted that a full ten percent of our graduating class had passed on. Another member died this week. In every case, I think, “Oh, so young!” I am, of course, remembering them as they were in high school.

I guess I’m not “so young” anymore. That is made clear every time a friend, acquaintance or family member dies. It’s always too soon and I am never prepared. It may even, age-wise, be a bit below the average life-expectancy…but, clearly, I am now in that age where loss of contemporaries is a big part of life.

It seems the only thing to do, while I’m still here, is to truly be present in this world, in my life.

Early birthday celebrations with my family and friends brought good wishes and cards and gifts: books, bags and bath salts, bottles of wine and a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Creme. Later, an annual birthday dinner with my cousins provided much laughter and good cheer, and more thoughtful presents. There were cards in the mail and hand-delivered cards and messages. A complete birthday meal, fully prepared, wrapped and delivered by my friend, Pam, to be reheated at dinnertime. Over one hundred birthday greetings on Facebook. Telephone calls from each of my daughters and from one grandson, each one a treasured gift.

There have been unexpected presents. I was invited to attend a benefit dinner, held at a stately old island home. We dined on lobster and steak under a beautiful evening sky. I received a big bouquet of gladiolus from two nice ladies who accepted a ride to the grocery store with me. A big, flowered bag was hanging on my doorknob the other day, filled with treats and treasures and a thank-you note. It was from my neighbors, who have a rustic cabin in the woods, and – with my blessing – draw water from my well when they are on the island. None of the gift-givers knew it was my birthday week!

There are other gifts:

  • My little dog, who wakes me with kisses, and greets me at the end of the day with a wildly wagging tail, who entertains me, keeps me company and makes me laugh every single day.
  • A doe and her twin fawns, who I often see at the end of the Fox Lake Road.
  • The wild blackberries ripening in the fields around my house.
  • Fox Lake, a short drive from my home, where the dog loves the smells, and I love the view.
  • My aunt, who struggles with health issues but is still able to share stories, opinions and memories from her long life.
  • A job that supports me, and gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I would never have predicted that I would be capable of tasks like cutting and threading pipe, making keys and mixing paint, and that I would get such satisfaction from the ability to do them.
  • Other jobs that enrich me: artist, baker, cook, gardener, writer.
  • My big, blessed family.
  • My friends, far and near.
  • My home, shelter in this world.
  • The moon, last night, in that deep blue sky.
  • The big owl that nests nearby, perches on my fence post, and spreads his wings to fly when I come home after dark (and who, thank God, leaves my little dog alone!).
  • The sunrise every morning and the sunset every night.
  • This beautiful island in the middle of Lake Michigan.
  • The beach all around, with stunning views all year.

These are the gifts that I tend to take for granted, that go too often unnoticed or unappreciated.

It seems the best thing to do, while I’m still here, is to truly be present in this world, in my life.

My Week Away…and Other Distractions

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The sun was shining yesterday, when I made my way home down the Fox Lake Road after a week away.

Today, it’s raining.

That’s fine with me, as I have work inside. I’m finding plenty of things to lead me away from the writing and other desk work I have to do; I can live without the further distractions of yard and garden.

After a day’s delay in leaving the island, several hours of waiting for the fog to clear for the flight to the mainland and a great deal of traffic and road work to make the drive a nerve-wracking one, I had a good time down-state. My sister,  Brenda, included me in her twice-a-week water aerobics class. Another sister, Cheryl, arranged for all of the sisters  – along with our friend, Joel – to play Pub Trivia one night. Another evening, we played Scrabble. I had good visits with each of my daughters. I received a beautiful hand-forged gift from Kate’s husband, my son-in-law, Jeremy. I had the opportunity to become better acquainted with Jennifer’s friend, Jamey. I met my two little great-granddaughters for the first time, and managed to get hugs and smiles from each of them. I spent a wonderful afternoon with Madeline and Tommy, wandering in and out of the galleries, bookstores and specialty shops that – along with a few good restaurants – have come to define downtown Lapeer, Michigan. I met the newest member of our family, my grand-niece Hannah, just ten days old. I had a nice visit with my brother, Ted. My brother-in-law, Keith, presented me with a pair of cowboy boots that he found for a price he couldn’t pass up. They fit me perfectly! The week was filled with walking and shopping, and lots of catching-up. There were meals out and meals in, all wonderful, and even better for the companionship and lively conversation. .It was a good week!

Now, it’s time to get back to work.

I made a pot of coffee and turned the computer on first thing, ready to get at it.

And yet…

The little dog reminds me frequently that – after a week alone in the kennel – she needs attention. Rosa Parks is a very social animal, and this was her first trip to the boarders without Clover to share her space. Dropping her off alone was traumatic for me (I saw none of the usual tail-wagging when we got there) and I’m thinking it seemed like a long, lonely week for her. When she wants attention, I indulge her; I was lonesome for her, too.

I have made several trips to the laundry room, to keep things moving there.

I’ve paused more than once to page through new reading material – books and magazines – that came home with me.

I called to check balances on each of my credit cards, to assess my spending habits while away.

I threw out a bouquet of long-dead tulips and watered my houseplants.

I went through a stack of mail, made a grocery list, answered a few Emails and returned a couple telephone calls.

I balanced my checkbook.

Then, it seemed of absolute necessity to report here, on my trip.

That’s it…I’m done! It’s time to get down to work…just as soon as I put those clothes in the dryer.

The Grandmother I’ve Become

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This has nothing to do with the grandmother I am.

I’ve been a grandmother for more than twenty-one years.

As evident in this photograph of myself with my daughters and my first grandchild, Michael, I was a young grandmother, just as I had been a young mother.

Not only young, but modern in thought and actions.

When preparing for my first daughter’s arrival, I painted her bassinet bright orange. No mind-numbing pastels for my child!

I was the mother who was also bohemian, defender of good causes, feminist, forward-thinker, hippie, raising children like no others…do you see how young I was??

As a grandmother, I was the woods-walker, snake catcher, story-teller, beach-lover, dune-climber who offered all the wonders of Beaver Island to my grandchildren.

When Mikey was a baby,  I kept chickens. One glorious morning, with baby on my hip, we found our first two eggs in the chicken house. By the time his mother woke up, Michael and I had composed an entire bluesy song about it! When he and Brandon were youngsters, I’d pack a book, fruit and snacks and a thermos in the morning, and we’d go to the beach. I’d read and drink coffee while they built amazing structures in the sand. Madeline, Tommy and Patrick have had their share, too, of exploring the woods and fields and sand dunes.

For evenings, there were other activities. I hold firm to the idea that children like foods they help to make, so mealtime has always been a joint project. Like my own Grandma Florence, I taught them how to play “King’s in the Corner.” As a nod to my father-in-law, Jack, I taught them how to play poker (complete with his wonderful repartee: “pair of deuces…pair of tens…pair – a – goric”). I kept an art case, for entertainment on rainy days, just as my mother always had.

The “grandmother” I’m referring to is the stereotypical grandmother…you know, the one “I would never become.”

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I’m referring to the grandmother who has rows of holy cards (from funerals, no less!) lining a mirror…

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who  has too many little vignettes featuring photos of children and grandchildren…

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and doilies…

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religious icons…

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little collections of succulents…

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and a fat little dog, sleeping wherever she chooses on a loud-patterned piece of furniture (should I say davenport?).

(SIGH)

This, alas, is the grandmother I’ve become.

Another Spring

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The seagulls moved inland the year Bill Wagner planted corn on my Grandpa’s island farm.

They left the harbor where their gliding watch decorated the landscape and dirtied the docks. They abandoned, temporarily, the fishing boats where they lazily waited to claim the discarded remains of each day’s catch.

For the novel taste of earthworms and slugs, they came inland to follow the slow, gray tractor as it muddled over and plodded through the tough, overgrown fields, left fallow for thirty years.

My Dad noticed them first. “Get my gun,” he shouted to my daughters, “here’s dinner!” They remembered his similar suggestions at holidays, that Santa’s reindeer might make a good venison stew, or that the Easter Bunny might be good to eat. They knew he was teasing. Still, both responded with the squeals, looks of horror and groans he expected, and that made him grin.

Seeming more like one large, feathery organism than several hundred birds, the seagulls followed the tractor closely. Seagulls hovered overhead, flapped alongside and marched behind, like white rag ribbons bouncing along with the humming machine.

Bill led the parade daily, tilting over the broken soil with the birds, like bouquets of kite tails, in close attendance. They gave him the comic appearance of a balloon man.

The seagulls stayed when Bill went home at night, keeping watch over the tractor and the plow.

Impatient to get started each morning, the birds were already fluttering busily, vying for position, as the farmer made his early trek across the field to begin his work day.

Dragging the plow behind, the tractor slowly transformed the field. The first pass lifted the earth in clumps, pulled out the juniper, tossed up a few rocks. The second time over, the lurching machine turned the brittle grass under, exposed the roots and left a finer texture. With the disc attached the tractor made waves in the freshly turned, dark earth. Fertilizer next, then the planter left crooked rows of yellow kernels as the small machine moved grudgingly over the stony field. Another swipe covered the seeds, and a deposit of weed killer completed the job.

The work took nine days from start to finish.

Bill plowed one long day in the rain, and allowed the rain to keep him home the next.

The seagulls had perfect attendance.

We watched the progress from the house and yard.

Aunt Katie drank her morning coffee on the kitchen porch, to enjoy the smell of freshly plowed soil with the morning sun. After dinner she and Dad took their beers outside. Leaning back in their lawn chairs, they followed the tractor’s path with their eyes as their voices and laughter filled the evenings with sound.

My daughters protested the change.

“Nothing’s going to be the same!” they told me day after day.

“Now he’s ruined our fort!”

“There goes the rock pile!”

“That was my favorite little tree!”

Every report was a sad one.

Each pronouncement, they thought, was the one that would finally raise me up and drive me out of the house, to throw myself in front of the tractor, if necessary, to stop Bill’s wild destruction.

I understood their feelings.

I remembered, too.

In my own childhood, we made paths, piled stones, made forts and “hide-outs” in the tall grass. We found wildflowers and berries and caught fireflies as we roamed the fields morning and evening.

“Wait,” I told my young daughters, “you’ll have great fun playing in the tall corn.”

“Watch the birds,” I said, “They’re so funny!”

“Watch your Grandpa,” I told them.

That’s what I was doing.

Every day Dad walked the field.

His long stride covered the rough ground easily. He seemed to be measuring with his steady pace.

He moved quickly, as if he had a specific destination, then stopped suddenly, and without plan, to study the changes around him.

Feet planted firmly in the soil, his legs formed a triangle with the ground. His broad shoulders rounded,  back swayed and arms akimbo with thumbs hooked into his belt loops, hands resting on his hips.

He would stand for so long, surveying the daily progress, that his solid form could have looked like a statue.

Except for his head, nodding his grinning approval at everything he saw.

Now, that field has been planted nearly every year for more than twenty five years.

My cousin, Bob, has it planted this year with alfalfa and kale, in anticipation of pasturing his lambs there.

Aunt Katie still lives in Grandpa’s farmhouse there, as she has since she retired. Though she’s older and more frail, she still enjoys having a beer outside in the evening, to watch the activity on the farm.

Bill Wagner died many years ago; he’s still remembered and respected as a good man and a hard worker.

My daughters are long grown and gone from home, with children that wander the fields when they come here.

My Dad, so hard to believe, passed away close to fifteen years ago.

Many things have changed, with the passage of time, but the memories flutter, like those long ago seagulls, so close and so vividly that I can almost hear the laughter.

What Voices Do You Listen To?

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My friend, Kathy, writes a wonderful blog as Lake Superior Spirit.

She had posted recently about a mental dialogue, where her “inner voice” was being a bit of a harp, providing her with thoughts of how she should and should not spend her morning. The “universe” gave her the go-ahead to do what she wanted, and what she felt was right.

I know exactly what she means by “universe” though she says the word sometimes sends the wrong message.

I think we all know that deep, resonating, to-the-heart feeling that lets us know we are on the right track…that hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck-raising feeling that assures us we have just heard a profound truth…that blessed calm that comes from the alignment of our world. If we’re smart, we pay attention when those feeling occur.

Still, I am skeptical. I wonder, for instance, if youth in Hitler’s Germany felt the hairs on the back of their necks rise up when they heard him speak, and thought – because of it – that they were chosen. I think of the “Son of Sam” killer, and what he did because he thought God told him to. Mass murderers and despots aside, I have given myself some indescribably horrible haircuts when moved by feelings that it was the absolute right thing to do. How could something that felt so right go so very wrong? I don’t know.

In any case, I told Kathy that her “inner voice” sounded a lot like my [trying to be a better person] self and her “universe” much like my [slacker] self. She said they usually had opposite roles, and that she’s learned what to pay attention to. It made me think about what voices I hear, and what I listen to.

There are, of course, many voices running through my head (and I hope I’m not alone as I just realized that, if I don’t have company in this, I have just made myself sound pretty crazy!). Some are hold-overs from my childhood; others come from places of fear or insecurity that I have left mostly behind; some are playful, cynical, judgmental and more.

They fall predominantly into three categories.

Freud called them id, ego and super-ego, I think. Mine may be different in scope than his. To avoid any misunderstanding, or possible lawsuit, I’m calling mine Boss Voice, Adult Voice and Child Voice.

Boss Voice is the one that reasons “because I said so” or “because that’s the way it has always been done”. Boss Voice is rigid; it does not challenge the status quo. Listening to that voice – when it matters – feels like the opposite of listening to the universe. It feels sour and cowardly, bitter and wrong.

Boss Voice rarely affects my life anymore. I challenged rules when I was growing up. I continued questioning as an adult. My daughters challenged me further. Nothing is credible only because it’s always been so. Every idea needs to prove its merit to stand.

My daughters would argue. They would say I am very rigid. They would note that I will not embarrass myself by singing in public. I refuse to be thrown into Lake Michigan or even splashed with its icy cold waters; I insist on taking a full hour and a half to get wet to my navel, if need be. They would cite my clothes-folding techniques as absolute proof of my inflexibility. I can picture them nodding vehemently at this statement.

They are wrong.

I am undoubtedly very particular about how I fold clothes. It is only because, after trial and error, I have learned what works. I don’t like to iron, and it can usually be avoided with proper folding. I also take into consideration the size of the drawer, shelf or cupboard that the items need to fit into. My bath towel folding has evolved over the years from “twice in half from the length, then into thirds with the binding out” to “twice in half from the length, then twice in half from the width, with the binding out” to – presently – “once in half from the length, then into thirds from the width, then in half again lengthwise, binding out”…because that is how they best fit on the shelf. That is not blindly following a rule! That is evolving with necessity and the times! That is Adult!

Adult Voice is the one that knows what needs to be done, and harps incessantly at me until I do it. It wakes me in the middle of the night reminding me of impending deadlines or neglected obligations. It haunts me when I sit down at the computer, or pick up a book or magazine to read. It makes me feel guilty when I choose a leisurely bath over a quick shower, a nap over a brisk walk. It is the scourge of my days…and it is my salvation. I would be lost without it. I would quickly devolve into the slothful, disorganized, scatter-brained 12-year-old that is still a huge part of my personality. Evident, always, in Child Voice.

Petulant, silly, sarcastic and playful, the child in me is at the heart of my creativity, joy and hopefulness. The Child Voice is the one singing loudly to distract me from all the “should”s and “shouldn’t”s in my life. It is saying “what if you don’t?” to everything I think I need to do. It is also the voice that encourages me to ignore the pattern, experiment with the recipe, forget what has already been done and forge my own path. It is both a curse and a blessing.

Sometimes, I look around and know, from the clutter and disorder, that I’ve listened too much to Child Voice. Other times I know, from my sense of despondency, that I have been living too much in only the Adult world. Most times, all of it works. Adult gets me up and cleaning house; Child turns it into a game. Child makes wild messes in the studio; Adult organizes it into art. Adult keeps me on top of my obligations. Child makes obligations fun!

What voices do you listen to?

Age Sneaks Up…

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My daughter, Jen, took this photo when she was about ten years old.

That means I would have been about thirty years old, and that this was about thirty years ago.

I still fully expect this woman to be looking back at me when I look in the mirror. I am always surprised when she’s not. “Oh…”, I think. “It’s you.” I forgot.

Again.

Someone said, and I believe it to be true, that we are always the same age inside.

Inside, I’m about thirty-five.

Outside is a different story.

I’m a small person with a decent smile and big eyes. Those traits gave me two advantages for much of my life: I looked young for my age, and I was cute.

I didn’t appreciate either, for a long time. As a teenager, there is no advantage – at least none apparent to that teenager – to looking like a twelve-year-old. As a young mother in her twenties and thirties, no advantage to looking like a teenager. The cute factor kept me from being taken seriously, I thought. I was a serious thinker back then.

I didn’t realize I actually used these traits to my advantage, until they no longer worked.

It takes you by surprise, age.

I prepared to enter a bar, I.D. card out and ready, only to be waved past without a glance. Oh. When did that change?

I smiled nicely up at a police officer when he stopped me for a tail light out, and got only a gruff, “Get ‘er fixed Ma’am” in response. Oh.

The time when, as a waitress, I approached a table, smiled, and in a we’re-all-in-this-together tone said, “Okay, have you decided what you’d like to order?” The looks they exchanged as they scrambled to make choices told me clearly we were not “all in this together” but rather that they saw me as a parent or a teacher who was demanding a decision. Oh.

The time when a car full of young boys approached me as I was walking down the road: my hair was long and didn’t show the gray in back; I am small and narrow-hipped; their tone and comments told me they clearly thought I was their age. As they drove up and stopped, I set my face in a mild smile, prepared to  kindly say, “I’m old enough to be your mother.” They took a quick look. Their grins turned to looks of horror and disgust as they judged, I’m guessing, that I was old enough to be their grandmother. The boy in the center leaned toward the driver and said, “RUN!” The driver gave a little nod and floored it. The car zoomed away. Oh-oh.

I get it. I’m surprised, too.

Last week, a young waiter offered me the senior menu. I feigned shock and insult, but thought I was good-humored in letting him know I was not old enough for the senior menu. Two days later, trying to impress me with his memory, he said, “So, you prefer to not be offered the senior menu, right?”

Yesterday, a man came into the store where I work. He’s my age or a bit older. He doesn’t live here on Beaver Island year around, but has a cabin here, and spends a good deal of time here in warm weather. I’ve known him for thirty years. When I was the morning waitress at the Shamrock, he was a regular customer. I’ve run into him in the shops and stores, or at the beach. I’ve waited on him when he’s come into the hardware. It’s nice to see familiar faces, and I gave him a friendly greeting, which he returned, with a smile.

“How’s your daughter?”, he then asked.

I have two daughters.

“Which one?”

“Oh…you know, the one who used to work at the Shamrock…Cindy!

Cindy. That would be me.

Ooooh.

I’ve just aged into the mother of my younger self.

Mom’s Old TypeWriter

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I don’t know when Mom got the old Royal Typewriter. It was new – or nearly new – in my earliest memories of it. Perhaps it had belonged to her mother, and came into our home around the time Grandma Thelma died. Maybe Mom invested in it – as she did the large set of encyclopedias – to enhance the scholastic ability of her children. I don’t think Mom knew how to type, but I guess I don’t know that for sure, either. I think it originally had a hard case that fit over the top and fastened on the bottom, to protect the keys and keep it dust-free. The typewriter was an important, revered object in our house.

As I think about it, very few objects in our chaotic household were treated as important. Mom raised nine children of her own, and always had many more around. She fully expected that “kids will be kids.” That meant, to her, that dishes will get broken, toys will be destroyed, clothes will get stained and furniture will take a beating. Expect it, and learn to live with it. Except for those things that Mom set aside as precious, that were to be handled more cautiously, and treated with love.

Mom’s list was not long: the cedar chest that she’d received from her parents at the occasion of her high school graduation…along with the treasures and memories she kept inside it; books in general, and especially the encyclopedias, which had to be handled carefully, dusted regularly, and always kept in alphabetical order; the good china, which was never used, and the frosted iced tea glasses that had belonged to her mother; the nativity set that was put out at Christmastime and handled so carefully that the straw was still intact on top of the stable and the music box still worked for her great-grandchildren to hear; and the typewriter.

When we came home from school with a “really big research assignment”, we could use the typewriter for the final draft. If we had an important letter to write, the typewriter could be brought to the desk. If we had absolutely run out of options for keeping small children entertained, we could sometimes pull out the typewriter to show them the “magic” of their names appearing on the paper, the sound of the bell alerting them that it was time for their job: using the silver arm to push the carriage back over to the left. Always, the typewriter eraser was close at hand. By the time we got to high school and actually took typing classes, the biggest problem was forgetting the “hunt and peck” method of typing we’d grown so familiar with.

My mother gave me the typewriter when I was a graduate student at Michigan State University. By that time – the late ’80’s – her children were all adults, and the machine sat idle. Though a manual typewriter seemed pretty archaic, it was a godsend to me! The only word processor available  for my use – for the multitude of papers that had to be typed – was at the library, a mile from our apartment, with – often – a long list of students in line to use it. I was a single mother with a full load of classes, and no car. Having the typewriter allowed me to be at home with my daughters in the evenings. Many nights they fell asleep to the sound of me pounding on the typewriter keys, cursing as I reached for the White-Out. I still have several papers written during that time, with the characteristic shading from many corrections.

I made cookbooks for my daughters one Christmas many years ago. The opening page says “so that Jenny and Katey can have the food they grew up with, even when ‘Home’ is far from their Mom’s kitchen”. My methods were ancient by today’s standards. I gathered photographs and had them enlarged and/or cropped as needed. I used rub on Chartpak letters to make the chapter pages. I typed all the recipes on Mom’s old Royal Typewriter. A dozen hours over the course of several days and a couple hundred dollars at Kinko’s,and I was done. That was the last big job for the typewriter.

The machine sat unused after that. Over the years, I moved it from the shelf to the attic to the storage unit. I almost forgot about it. Then things changed:

First, my mother died. Which caused me to reassess everything. Caused me to look with new eyes at everyone and everything she loved. Caused me to cherish everything she had cared about, and everything she had given me.

Next, I saw a lovely room in an art magazine where a typewriter was used for making gift tags, and had a place of honor on the desk.Then I saw a piece on a news program about a typewriter repair person who is enjoying a resurgence of interest in the old machines. Last, I reorganized shelves and books to accommodate a new drawer unit, and ended up with one empty shelf.

Now, Mom’s old typewriter sits with dignity on my kitchen shelf.

Jennifer

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Forty years ago, it was all about me. That was when my oldest daughter was born.

Every woman that has ever given birth has vivid memories of all occurrences surrounding that event. We each have our own stories; I won’t trouble you with mine, beyond these few reminiscences.

We were nineteen, naive and frightened, trying hard to be grown-up with little idea of what that entailed.

My husband started out driving too fast to the hospital. I told him it wasn’t necessary to speed. He checked it back and stayed within the speed limit while, jaws clenched, he drove through every single stop sign and red light without stopping, all the way to the hospital.

We had agreed that this would be our time, that we’d make calls to family and friends after our baby was born. As soon as he got me checked into a room, my husband called his parents and mine, begging them all to come right away. I think he may have called an uncle and a couple cousins, too.

At one point my mother came and sat at my bedside. I was in hard labor. “Oh, Mom, this really hurts,” I said. “Oh for heaven’s sake, Cindy, don’t you think I know that?!?” was her quick reply. I should have known better than to try to garner sympathy from someone who had given birth eleven times!

At three o’clock in the morning, Sunday, January 23rd, the nurse put my baby girl in my arms. I opened the blankets…counted fingers and toes…ran a finger along her tiny cheek… a palm over her small head…and fell madly in love with my new daughter.

It was all about me that night. Today, it’s all about her.

Happy Birthday, Jennifer!