A Snack-Sized Lesson Learned

9/19/2019

In my critical thinking class, part of the assignment each unit is to write a blog post. For me, that’s like throwing a candy bar at a chocaholic. Woohoo! This is my first post. We studied how critical thinking could be used to help overcome cognitive biases. The professor took it easy on us for our first assignment. The paper we were assigned to write had to include three types of cognitive biases, and three real-world examples of them. The paper had to be written in a formal and scholarly tone, strict APA style, etc. So imagine me trying to tell personal stories in a formal and scholarly tone – pure torture, haha. Anyway, our blog posts are a way for us to de-brief, share our thoughts about the unit, etc. Thank goodness we can drop the scholarly tone… Here is my Psy501 Unit 1 Blog Post:

While writing for the assignment in this unit, I found myself struggling to keep a formal, scholarly tone. I was writing about personal stories to illustrate the cognitive biases, and as many of us do when re-telling stories, I naturally wrote with humor – the memories were funny because of how ridiculous they seemed. How could these people not see their biases affecting their behavior and decisions? After writing at least 15 pages (there were lots of details – and I talk/write too much), I realized I had to go back and edit the curse words, my descriptions, and the overall tone of the paper (e.g. I actually Googled “scholarly term for bum butt rear-end. It’s “buttocks” in case you ever need that for a research paper, haha). I ended up having to chop off large chunks of the paper, but I’m glad I honed the stories down to the important points. I was embarrassed to notice, in the process of editing, that my tone in the stories was very judgmental. “Oh, look at me, noticing how many people in my life are so ignorant to their own biases.” Thinking about ways to rewrite the stories in a more formal way made me slow down to examine my own behavior during the events that took place in the stories. It’s almost as if the delete button and the rewriting process caused me to re-process the events. I found myself questioning my past actions and wondering what I could have done or said to help remedy those situations.

One of the cognitive biases I wrote about was the bandwagon effect. The short version: In the early 2000s, while my oldest daughter was in high school, low-rise jeans became all the rage. Women everywhere wanted to be like the emaciated celebrities they saw in the magazines and walk around with their thongs in view and their butts hanging out. The thing is unless you had no backside and no bodyfat, they were so unflattering. Muffin tops – that’s where I first started hearing that term. Watching women waddle around, hitching up their pants every few yards in vain attempts to keep the pants from falling down only came second to the scary sight of healthy women with backsides sitting down. Plumbers had nuthin’ on them. So, these pants were uncomfortable and unflattering, but for some curious reason, teenage girls THRONGED to stores to buy them. My daughter was one of those teens who wanted desperately to wear low-rise jeans. Moms out there might be able to imagine my reaction. No. Way. She ended up getting around me not buying them for her, by saving up her babysitting money and buying them for herself. Then she spent two years waddling, tugging up her pants, and exposing WAY too much when she sat down. Today, she’s 27 and we laugh about it. She wonders what she was thinking. Whenever I ask her exactly what she WAS thinking, she can only come up with saying that everyone else was doing it…Bandwagon effect at its best.

So, it took me quite a while to re-write a decent version of the story that I could submit in the paper. I had a header titled “solutions” where I wrote how my daughter could have written a list, perhaps, with one side showing all the reasons she thought it was a good idea to have the pants, and on the other side, an equal number of carefully thought-out reasons opposing the idea. I wrote that it’s possible that the time it would take her to do that might slow down her thinking and cause her to re-examine her decision through reflection. I did NOT have her do that back then. I remember I just put my foot down and said there was no way she would wear them, telling her all the things I mentioned above. Many arguments, much crying, bad feelings all around.  While I wrote the “solution” section in my paper, it hit me: I should have done the very same thing I was proposing. I should have slowed MY thinking, used critical thinking skills, and made a similar list of my own. Only, my list should have included a section listing all the possible group decisions that my daughter could have made in lieu of bad fashion choices. I mean, in retrospect, having a teen who wants to jump on the bandwagon of poor fashion choices is harmless.  The bandwagon effect’s pull is strong –especially in teens. She could very well have chosen to join harmful group activities, like smoking, underage drinking, or drugs. Heck, there was a daycare at her high school, and it was a very Hawaiian thing for families to just take in the babies while the teens continued their activities without using birth control. So many things. So many possible scary bandwagons. Instead, back then, I went with my gut, using intuition, jumping to the decision to fight her on this harmless decision.

This unit has taught me a lot. I had previously learned about cognitive bias and thought I was self-aware and was good about avoiding most of the influences, but I had never taken the time to examine myself carefully and thoughtfully, using a different perspective. I’m not comfortable doing it, but now I’m going to do my best to slow down in the heat of the moment and step out of myself to re-examine what I’m thinking. Always growing, always learning.

See what I mean about talking too much? J

Not a Fairy Tale

Marriage is not a fairy tale. You start out full of hope – he makes you laugh. You think your love will conquer all, that love is all you need, and you’ll live happily ever after. You are wrong.

Within your first year he still makes you laugh, but you realize those little things you found annoying but bearable, like dirty underwear on the floor or the toilet seat up when you sit down to pee, are not so bearable while your bum is falling into the ice-cold toilet bowl in the middle of the night. By the seventh year, your young children are pulling you both in all directions and demanding your time; and while you have joy and laughter, you’re both sleep-deprived and short-tempered at times. By the 10th year, most of the time you two spend in bed involves less sex, less laughter, and more arguing and snoring. One of you might begin thinking it would be much easier to start a new life, away from the sight of dirty dishes and piles of laundry, the sound of nagging, and the feeling that the love has weakened and perhaps this is how it will be for the rest of your life…maybe you should leave. If you’re lucky, you’ll hesitate for a day. If you’re luckier, you’ll remember the laughter and hold off for a few weeks. If you’re luckiest, you’ll decide to work through the hard times and seek out professional help to repair and rebuild. There will be tears. There will be arguments. The children will hear you raise your voices and will see you cry. You might wonder if things will ever go back to the way they were. They won’t.

But accepting that things will never be the same may become the beginning of something new. One night, out on a date assigned by the marriage counselor, instead of realizing that you’re looking across the table at a stranger and getting a sinking feeling in your heart, you might realize you’re sitting across the table from a stranger and feel a quickening in your heart – who is this person and what are they thinking? What are their interests and what do they dream about? Do your interests and dreams align? You’ll find new things to make you smile and eventually laugh. Since this person is new to you, you’ll search for novel ways to entertain him. He will do the same. Because you’re both strangers, you’ll be polite. You’ll speak carefully and try to be considerate of his feelings. Sometimes you’ll remember sad times or past anger and it will boil over into confrontation, but you’ll both want to hold on to the new pleasure in your new lives, so you will start over. A year will pass and the new you will feel more secure. Your children will see you holding hands and having conversations. They will see you supporting each other and working to keep the family healthy.

By the 15th year, just when things are going great, your marital issues might take a back burner to the emerging teenager issues in your children. After butting heads with teenaged fury, you might turn to each other and find strength and solidarity. More importantly, he still finds ways to make you laugh and you hope that this stage will eventually pass. You both realize that you must take great care to nurture your relationship so you can both see this through and come out on the other side still holding hands.

Three months before your 18th wedding anniversary, you might find a lump in your breast. Suddenly you’re faced with losing everything. You look back and recognize that every moment you spent with him, even the painful ones, were precious. You feel desperate to live so you can have more of those moments. So, you fight. You fight crippling fear. And he is there next to you, holding your hand, making you laugh, helping you fight through the pain. He is with you as you both fight for your life. And when you have no more strength or hope, he gives you his. Each surgery becomes less fearful. Each time you wake up in a hospital, he is there with a cool cloth for your forehead and kisses for the rest of you. He reassures you that you’re beautiful inside and out, no matter what happens to your body. And he can’t help himself – he makes you laugh. You laugh until your stitches hurt, you laugh through your tears, and you laugh until you are healed.

In the second decade of your marriage, you could find yourself embarking on a new journey. You’ve given half of your life to your children and it’s time to take care of yourself. Your dream is big, and you know there will be sacrifices. You go back to school. You begin to feel a sense of déjà vu as dinners fall by the wayside and laundry starts piling up. The arguing begins and you wonder if maybe this time around things may not end well. You remember his unhappiness earlier in the marriage, when times were tough and he wanted to escape, and you’re filled with dread. What you don’t remember is that he’s not the same man you married. Time has changed him into a man who wants what’s best for you and the decades have forged in him a strength of character that would make sure your dreams come true. To your delight, he rolls up his sleeves and folds the laundry. Every time you turn around there are fresh flowers in a vase on your desk and handwritten loving post-its stuck on your computer. To your amazement, he’s a fantastic chef and he brings you your dinner while you are studying at your desk, many times accompanied by glasses of champagne. And to your astonishment, he considers it reasonable to contemplate a time in the near future when you will attend graduate school in a different town when you might have to drive several hours just to steal a weekend with each other. His exciting plans to sneak away from the house and race through the night have you giggling like you’ve just started dating.

Marriage is not a fairy tale. You start out full of hope – he makes you laugh. You think your love will conquer all, that love is all you need, and you’ll live happily ever after. You’re wrong. The prince doesn’t wake the princess with a simple kiss, he shakes her awake and she’s grumpy and she might have bad breath and she doesn’t know his name and they have to take time to get to know each other and maybe just maybe they have a chance to truly fall into genuine love. Even then, they don’t immediately go riding off into the sunset without a care in the world. First, they must fight through a wall of thorns, side-by-side, bleeding and crying. Love doesn’t fight thorns. Willpower, grit, and patience get you through that. There might be dragons to slay and fire to fight. Love doesn’t help you fight dragons, courage does. What love does is fuel all of that willpower, grit, patience, and courage. Love is not the How, it’s the Why. Only after all of that, scarred and older, do the prince and princess have a chance for a ride into the sunset and a happy ending. Marriage isn’t a simple fairy tale, it’s an epic legend.

Happy 23rd Anniversary, Markus. I love you!

Just a Spoonful of Sugar

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to sit down and write. What better time than when procrastinating the night before a midterm?

The dreaded Shitty Anniversary has come and gone, of Valentine’s day in 2014 when I discovered a lump in my right breast. It’s a private scary anniversary that I usually don’t share with anyone else because it was just my lump (remember we named it Barnard? HA) and me in the shower alone, that morning, and there really isn’t anything to celebrate. I mean, I guess I could buy myself some chocolates, or better yet, cheese to mark the occasion…

Funny thing, though, this year I actually forgot. Do you know how buzzingly amazing that feels, to realize that I accidentally sailed through the day without a dark thought in my head? In fact, I was just coming off an all-nighter, heading to bed at 5am after working on a research proposal for one of my classes, when I bumped into my furry man who had an armful of red roses and a sweet arts and craft project he had made with his own hands (and his hands bore proof of his battle with the glue-gun – just covered in dried strings of glue). I was woozy from sleep-deprivation and so bowled over with love that I didn’t take the usual moment to link Valentine’s Day with Doomsday 2014. And for the rest of the day, I was either sleeping or running around for my night class; just too busy to think about anything else.fullsizeoutput_76fe Maybe because we decided to celebrate our romantic dinner that weekend due to work and school or maybe because life seems so full and busy now that I don’t have the time to ruminate…whatever the reason, I never connected my bad memory to my new reality this year. That is, I didn’t connect them until tonight.

I’m taking a health psychology class and every week we cover health issues that have some kind of psychosocial aspect to the preventative, treatment, and post-treatment sides of care. Last week we studied substance abuse and addiction and I didn’t really feel a connection, even though I was a child of two chain-smoking parents for 18 years. Cigarette smoking makes me angry and being a hostage to second-hand smoke didn’t do much to contribute constructively to my discussion that week. This week we are studying cancer and other chronic life-threatening illnesses. My assignment tonight? I posted it below. It’s an informal assignment posted to our discussion board online, so we are free to personalize. The page numbers in parentheses are references to our text, please excuse them. Writing this little post for class brought back some bad memories that brought a lump to my throat. The difference this year is that the bad memories feel so far away as to be almost blurred by time. I’m so glad I took the time to record what I was feeling as I lived through that journey – it’s good for me to re-read it sometimes to remind myself that I’ve still got that strength within me. GANBARU, Friends. And I give thanks for the sweet return of the true meaning of Valentine’s day.

 

Chapter 11, Question 3: Use what you have learned in this chapter to write a checklist about positive ways in which people have learned how to cope with cancer. This checklist could be a valuable resource for someone you know (or even for yourself) one day.

  • Be your own best advocate and strengthen yourself with knowledge. Read about your specific cancer, making sure to use your critical thinking and using .gov, .org, reputable websites for information. Www.cancer.org  (Links to an external site.)and www.cancer.gov  (Links to an external site.)are both excellent sources of information and have links to support groups and forums where you can meet others in similar situations. As a supplement to your local support system, this can be a great way to pass the time when you are up all night worrying about what’s next (p.340).
  • Be informed about your treatment options and don’t be afraid to ask your doctors and nurses to explain anything you don’t understand. If you learn as much as you can before doctor visits, discussing treatment plans won’t feel as overwhelming and you will feel less helpless and more in control (p. 339). Cancer might have control of part of you, but you have control of choosing many different ways to kick its ass.
  • If you have many friends and members of your family offering their “thoughts and prayers” and asking you what they can do to help, swallow your pride and honestly tell them what you need, even if it’s help picking up the kids from school or lugging heavy baskets of laundry in your house. If you’re lucky, your social support will include genuine people who just need you to tell them what you need – sometimes that is simply the comfort of having them come with you to your doctor appointments. If you have a significant other, include that person from the very beginning of your journey – be honest about how you feel while remembering they may be as, if not more, scared as you are. You’ll be stronger if you can lean on each other (p.340).
  • If your cancer treatments do not include mental health therapy, ask for referrals to a therapist who is experienced with helping recently diagnosed patients with traumatic diseases. Your emotional intelligence is a major factor in your survival (p. 336). If you aren’t already self-aware and able to regulate your emotions in a healthy manner, it is important that you find an expert who can help you learn. If they offer guided imagery and mindfulness-based stress-reduction strategies, take them up on their offer – they can go a long way towards improving your quality of life (p. 341).
  • Don’t forget to eat well and to be as physically active as you are able. Your body is fighting its biggest battle and it needs the fuel and the strength to win. The protein, fruits, and vegetables will help you heal after surgery and the exercise will keep your heart strong while helping to combat depression and anxiety (p. 178). But remember, as well, that your body also needs rest to fight and heal. Don’t be embarrassed to admit you might need to nap or that you are tired and would like to just sit and do what makes you happy.
  • There are going to be many times when you will feel overwhelmed and anxious. The American Cancer Society has a hotline open 24/7, manned with supportive people who can find resources for you and help you cope. 1-800-227-2345
  • Not everyone has friends and family who live close by. It can be some of the more tiring parts of dealing with cancer, trying to field all the well-wishing phone calls and emails asking for updates on your progress. I kept in touch with mine by blogging my journey (suelinhess.com (Links to an external site.)). As I faced the unknown,  fought through the ugly realities of several surgeries, and even when I passed the danger and found good health, my writing helped me. It can be cathartic, pouring out fear or grief (p.342). After a short time, I began to find things to laugh about on the journey, and my stories became lighter and more hopeful. In the end, seven of my friends reached out to me separately, to let me know that through reading my story they were compelled to go in for their own mammograms. Four of them found very early stage breast cancer or DCIS (early stage growth that can possibly develop into carcinoma) and only had to have minimally invasive treatments to beat their cancer. Helping myself ended up spreading awareness and helping others – it made me feel stronger and encouraged me to continue pushing forward. This kept my attitude positive and may have helped me increase my post-traumatic growth (p. 338).

Birthday Assassin

 

October 18, 2018

0-20 in the blink of an eye. This year’s birthday theme has to be Friends and Family; the Assassin has learned so much about both during her adventures over the past 365 days.

Previously, we saw our hero as a tiny baby with a shock of thick black hair that stood straight up like a troll doll. It was a message from the Universe that we cluelessly ignored – the message was, “Look out, World! You think her hair stands out? Wait until you meet her personality!” I have vivid memories of a fierce little toddler, making mud pies in the back of her Cozy Coupe, while chatting with her imaginary friends Bigaloo and Tigaloo. If one were so stupid as to brush off her friends with impunity, such as forget to set places for them at the dinner table, Hanna would roar and demand that they be included. One summer while we were visiting family in Germany, Opa made a terrible mistake. He found 2-year-old Hanna playing in the cellar, chattering away, opening cupboard doors and peeking inside them. He tut-tutted, shut the doors of the cupboard, and was about to shoo Hanna upstairs when the siren went off.  Hanna’s howling brought me running downstairs, only to discover Hanna stomping her feet, gesturing wildly, and exclaiming to Opa, “Bigaloo and Tigaloo are stuck inside! Open the doors, OPEN THE DOORS!” That day, Opa learned that nobody messes with Hanna’s friends, NOBODY, hoo boy!

Today, that wild child is a member of the Alpha Phi sorority at UW. Her sorority sisters are her best friends; they are her Bigaloos and Tigaloos. Their friendship gave her the courage in her Freshman year, to face the other 47,391 students at her giant school, even though she was a small-town girl who had mostly attended schools with populations of just a few hundred students. She and her circle of friends have not only survived into their Junior year of college, they have CONQUORED those years. And unlike imaginary friends, these friends are there for Hanna when she needs them.  When she thought she could swing from the rafters in their vacation home this March and found out she was wrong and ended up with a dislocated, broken shoulder 6 hours from home in Oregon, it was a sorority sister who drove her the several hours to the airport so she could fly home for her surgery. After her surgery, when she was laid up on the couch in pain, her sorority sisters drove out from the city to cheer her up and give her a care package full of chocolate. During the following 6 weeks Hanna had to attend classes with an immobilized right arm. She was miserable because not only could she not write with her dominant hand, she also couldn’t use it to do basic things like wash up or put on makeup; she felt helpless and embarrassed. Once again, her sorority sisters pulled through, helping her with everything; even drawing on her eyeliner.

Throughout Hanna’s life, we in the family found that she required a certain amount of time to herself; she didn’t really enjoy all the squishing hugs and kisses we throw around in our house. She played with us to a point, then she would need to chill out on her own. We knew she loved us, but we had to respect her independence and her differences. This year, however, has been a year of glorious affection from Hanna. She has come out of her shell and jumped right into the Treppenhauer way of PDA. She chats with Emily more now than she has in all previous years combined, showing us that she understands the big difference between sister and SISTER, and when all three kids are together, the house is filled with laughter from morning to night. The year has been filled with family vacations, a Father/Daughter trip to San Francisco, and more time at home than the previous two years combined. Perhaps it is a sign of her advancing age, perhaps it was the pain and urgency of her broken shoulder; whatever the reason, I am over the moon to have the extra hugs and kisses and the frequent visits from school.

This year has been a crash course in Living for the Assassin. She learned that school can be really difficult, but if she works hard and has flexible coping strategies she can excel. She learned that rafters are not for gymnastic stunts if one is not a gymnast. She learned that friendship is not only about having fun during the good times, that it is also about being there for each other during the bad times. And somewhere along the way, she learned that her family is her rock; that we are Love and Friendship and everything in-between.

And Hanna isn’t the only one getting schooled this year. In this busy house (all five of us are attending college!) we have learned that while school and work might dominate our lives, our family is precious and worth the difficulty of having to squeeze time together out of our hectic schedules.  I always thought I would see less of my children when they went away to school; it used to make me feel a little bit sad and lonely.  Tonight, we will have all five members of our family under one roof, for the first time all together on Hanna’s birthday since 2011. Tonight, we celebrate 20 years with Johanna Charlotte Treppenhauer – This year is not only the Chinese Year of the Dog, it is also the Year of the Assassin! Happy Birthday, Hanna, we love you and are so proud of you!

 

 

Nature is 17

September 9, 2017

Today is one of the 3 days in the year when all bad thoughts leave me.  In almost 50 years of living, I have naturally accumulated a fair amount of bitterness and regret, but on this day I am always awash with joy.  On this day, I get to enjoy the fruits of my labor; literally.  Our not-so-little boy turns 17 today, and celebrating birthdays is one of my favorite parts of this job. It’s the time of year that gives me the fuel to zoom through the year ahead.

You hear it all the time, “Parenting is a thankless job.”  When they are young, you will follow one kid to pick up the mess, and have another kid following you, making even more of a mess behind you. When they are potty training, you find yourself asking every 15 minutes “Do you need to pee? How about now? How about now?  Ah shit, you already peed in your pants, eh?” And you wash the wet sheets, pants, undies, chair, carseat, etc., over and over and over… When they start Kindergarten, you let them go with your heart in your throat, frantically wondering if they will remember what you taught them; to listen to the teacher, to play nicely with others, and to try not to pee in their pants. You pick them up after school, and then you begin the many years of Homework Hell.  “Do you have homework?” “Don’t forget to do your homework.”  “Do your homework before you go out with your friends.” “I don’t care what time it is now; you need to finish your homework!” “You say you forgot your homework on the kitchen table?  I’ll bring it to school for you…*sigh*” And there will never be enough food in the world to fill their bottomless stomachs. The Hungry Caterpillar ain’t got nuthin’ on growing children.  At least the caterpillar couldn’t whine, “I’m HUNNGGRRRYYYY!” all day long. In between meals, there are life lessons you try to teach every day; you try to teach them about honesty, integrity, loyalty; you encourage them to do their best, to be creative, to have fun, to not give up. You hope these things stick, but you don’t have x-ray vision, so you don’t know.

Then, seemingly overnight, they spin a Teenage Chrysalis, waking up with dark moods and melancholy, filtering the world through the walls of their hormone-filled cocoon.  There are times when no amount of logic will penetrate, everything you do is wrong, and it seems as if all the love you offer is unwanted. You look in the mirror and wonder why you chose to stay at home to endlessly cook and clean for kids who seem not to care. You feel like you are talking to zombies when you do your best to teach them how to make good choices, how to be responsible, and how to be kind.  Even after you send them off to college, you occasionally hear news of crazy times and behavior that makes you cringe and wonder if they ever listened to you at all.

As a full-time Stay-at-Home Mom, there are still many days when I hiss to myself, “And I do this to myself…FOR FREEEEE?!” Where are our paychecks? Where is my 401K and who will match it for me?  Every two weeks, most of you get some cold hard cash for your efforts in the workplace. Over the past 24 years, I have been given pee on the floor, vomit in my hands, chunks of self-cut hair, bubblegum stuck under tables, and dried boogers stuck on walls.  Try buying a nice pair of shoes with that.

But this job does have great benefits.  When they were young and I threw up my hands, fed up with the never-ending need for cleaning, only then did I notice that the kids were playing together, laughing great big belly laughs that made me grin. When little Simon was potty training, he ran around naked all day, stuttering and lisping, “NO C-C-C-C-CLOTHETH!  I AM NATURE! Nature d-dd-doethn’t need no clotheth!”  And when I woke up in the middle of every night to carry him to the bathroom so his little bladder wouldn’t wet the sheets, his head would lay heavily on my shoulder and he would sleepily whisper, “I luh-yoo Mama.” In Kindergarten, I had extra fear and anxiety – would the other kids tease him about his special (Ectrodactyly) hand? Would he be sad because he could never swing on the monkey bars like the other kids?  Instead, ever-sunny Simon came home and crowed, “BEST FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL EVER!” And Homework Hell?  Ok, I admit it –  I’m still suffering in it.  Nobody is perfect, eh? But this year, he seems to have a new resolve to try harder and hasn’t repeated his usual lines from the last year (“school is boring – what am I going to need the memorized Table of Elements for in my real life?!”). He is still my Hungry Caterpillar – never NOT hungry – very Hobbit-like with his second breakfasts, and suppers following dinners. He keeps track of his macronutrients and avoids trans fats and sugar like a mature adult, but his weakness for Nutella betrays the little kid inside. He is a body-building machine, but isn’t such a fanatic that he would say no to a spam musubi. Simon couldn’t avoid spinning and living in the dreaded Teen Chrysalis for the past couple of years, with its dark package of moodiness and short temper; but he wouldn’t be human otherwise. It’s part of his differentiating and it is the actual Pain in Growing Pains. Having survived 2 other teens, we know the light at the end of the tunnel is fast approaching so we will indulge him every now and then. Even now, he is already more thoughtful and self-reflective…quicker to apologize and slower to anger.

We’ve tried to teach him everything he needs to become what we have always wished for our children: to be a kind person who stands up for those who cannot do for themselves, and a thoughtful person who tries his best to contribute Good to the world.  Lofty goals for a little boy. I still don’t have x-ray vision, so I still don’t know if all of our lessons truly stuck.  But when he came home to tell us about a bully hitting another boy last year, and how he pulled that bully off of the boy and stuck up for the boy, I thought, “Loyalty-CHECK. Kindness-CHECK” When we spent this summer trying to tempt him to come away and vacation in fun places with us, and he responded with, “Aw, I wish, but I don’t want to let the coaches down. They want us to go to workouts every day – I can’t be a slacker” I thought, “Honesty-CHECK. Integrity-CHECK. Trying his best-CHECK.” When Simon loves, he loves big.  He loves being a linebacker, he loves throwing the javelin, he loves anything that makes him laugh, he loves his friends, and he loves his family.  He’s a hulking 6 feet tall and never hesitates to stoop down and give his short little parents hugs and kisses, no matter where we are.  His voice is an octave lower now, but he is still not afraid to holler, “I LOVE YOU!” even if he’s on a busy street or surrounded by other kids at school.

So there you have it. The pay sucks, there’s no health insurance, and the last of the benefits is 2 years away from heading off to college. Sniff.  Today, however, the fruit of my labor woke up with a big smile on his face from helping his team win the varsity football game last night.  He will sit at the Birthday Breakfast Table, inhale his requested Eggs Benedict breakfast, and be thankful to open his birthday gifts. Since it is just the 2 of us for this birthday this year, he will be sad without the rest of the family to celebrate with him; but because he is my sunny Simon, he will make the best of it and try to make me laugh.  Did I actually complain about no paycheck in this career of mine?  PAYcheck?!  I don’t need no stinkin’ Paycheck! I also don’t really need x-ray vision – I have 3 loving, grown children, who are living proof that I did my job well.  Happy 17thBirthday, Nature!  And don’t forget that I luh-yoo too, Simon.

 

Emmy’s Glue

December 13, 2018

You know Elmer’s Glue? We have Emmy’s Glue. When our family gets fractured, when we struggle to like each other, Emily reminds us that we are one. She is the only person I know who truly loves unconditionally.  If you have a heart, she has room in her heart for you.

Most kids grow up and escape to college, relieved to have the freedom that comes with living away from home. Emily left home with great reluctance, so terribly homesick. Maybe it was because the five of us had to pick up and move every few years of our lives, but the kids grew up best friends. Even though Emily is six years older than Hanna and eight years older than Simon, they are bound fast together. Emily wished so desperately for a sister and brothers when she was in preschool. She would beg every day, telling us that she met her two brothers and one sister as they all stood in line up in Heaven, waiting to come down to become our family.  She would tell us, “Hurry up, they’ve been waiting a long time!” When we finally had Hanna and Simon, it was like Christmas had come early for her. They couldn’t have asked for a better big sister. I like to think that even though we may have had children without the nudging of our cute little kindergartener, they may not have been these particular ones. After all, these ones were hand-picked by Emily up in Heaven. We didn’t know we needed it, but she gave our family new life.

Life has been tough at times, teaching Emmy strength while she struggled. She has had her heart broken by a boy, she has lost pieces of her heart when good friends have died, and she has had to tackle things in her twenties that most people won’t face until their sixties. How many of you got a call in the summer of your 22ndyear, telling you to drop your job and leave your boyfriend behind, so you could move home and help your mom recover from cancer? How many of you, facing the first Easter with your little brother and sister alone, worrying about your mom having surgery, managed to arrange the most amazing Easter egg hunt ever? Before the kids woke up, she had tied an end of yarn to each of them and they had to follow their lengths of yarn allllll over the house and garden to finally come upon their Easter baskets. They all described it to me later in the week, and I can just picture the spiderweb of colored yarn, crisscrossing through the house. She kept them busy and entertained, so there was no time to worry about me – pure genius.

When Emily went back to school that Fall, she realized that she really had enjoyed living at home.  Unfortunately, we moved to the Seattle area shortly after that, leaving her to finish university in Canada. We tried to fly her home or go out to visit her as often as we could, but goodbyes just got harder for her. Her birthday mornings boiled down to Facetime calls from us, singing Happy Birthday to her, and gifts and flowers sent via Amazon.com. When it was time for our birthdays, we would Facetime her into our breakfast celebrations and she would look on with longing. Whenever she visited, I could see that every moment was precious to her. Things as simple as walking the dog or having a family dinner were special events for her that she experienced and stored in her heart to remember on a lonely day in Calgary. When she was home, we all laughed more, loved more, and were reminded of how we shouldn’t take each other for granted. Every time we brought her to the airport to fly back to Calgary, she melted into tears to have to say goodbye again. We started telling her to stay.

Finally, when the flights home started becoming a monthly appointment, we started nagging her to move to Seattle the way she nagged us to have babies…” You’re gonna LOVE it!” “I promise to help!” “This is going to be so much FUN!” She finally gave in, transferred to Gonzaga University graduate school, and Markus drove her home to us with her two cats in tow on September 29th. She found a full-time job using her compassion and communication skills at the family-owned funeral home across the street and is acing her master’s program at Gonzaga. She walks home every day for lunch, and I love hearing her cheerful voice sing out, “I’m home!” when she walks in the door.

This morning, our whole family woke her up by singing Happy Birthday in-person. We brought her down to the breakfast celebration table and she ate homemade carrot cake decorated by Hanna. She unwrapped all her presents, ate Germany eggs, and drank lots of coffee to try to wake up. Then, she had to run to work. It was a hard day at work because she helped to conduct a viewing for a local boy who was Hanna’s age. Her compassion and empathy provide comfort to many, and the one thing that keeps her strong is her knowledge that she has us. She can afford to give away love, because she knows she will come home and be replenished.

Her Master’s thesis is shaping up to be something along the lines of the extent our society denies death and subsequently fears death. She believes death is a normal part of our journey and that it should be approached with peace, not fear. Using proper communication and leaning away from the sensationalized images of death from the media, we should be able to lift the stigma of death and change its taboo status. At the end of every work day, she comes into my office to sit down and share stories of what she experienced. Seeing dead people in-person is a shock and takes time to adjust to. She is doing an admirable job. It is such a pleasure to have lovely long conversations with this well-spoken, thoughtful young woman.

Finally, tonight, we all sat down to a delicious fondue feast prepared by Hanna and Markus and listened to Simon’s shocking work story. Forget dead people. He works at Gold’s Gym and today he helped thwart a robbery by a small group of young guys who have been committing a string of robberies at other Gold’s Gyms in the surrounding area. As we all exclaimed our shock and we broke out into chatter about how brave Simon was, I looked around and was struck by how brave we all are. There was a threat of a school shooting in our neighborhood just yesterday. There was an emailed threat at Hanna’s university today. There was a young man in a casket at Emily’s work, who died from fentanyl-laced drugs, leaving his family to grieve forever.

The world is fracturing. While we aren’t paying attention, we are growing more distant, it is becoming easier to say harsh things to one-another without empathy, and groups of people are shutting out others just because they are different. We all could use some Emmy’s Glue. Smile at a stranger, say hello when you walk into a room, hug the people you love and tell them you love them before you say goodbye.

Happy Birthday to our sweet Emily – we thank you for keeping our family stuck together. I’m so sorry I’m a few hours late. I l-o-v-e-y-o-u, my E-m-i-l-y!

 

Emily’s 25th Birthday

Every year on each person’s birthday other than my own, I write an essay of thoughts from my heart. I thought I would start posting them here so I don’t forget and also so you can have a little peek at who I love.  Emily is my oldest. I wrote this in 2017 when she turned 25.

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She’s my precious Guinea pig; she bore the brunt of my parenting growing pains. At the tender age of 25 when I gave birth to her, I had only just finished raising myself with little to no guidance in my own childhood. Slightly terrified, I worried that I would harm her because I grew up in a home full of verbal and physical violence and I thought the chain would continue through me.  How was I supposed to know what to say to a baby- how to treat a baby, when my own father told us that all children were cabbages until able to carry on an intelligent conversation?  I obviously had no lullabies sung to me; no bedtime stories; no “I love you, sweet dreams.” What was I to do?  Well, I formed a plan: for every parenting dilemma, I would ask myself, “what would my parents do?” and I would then proceed to do the opposite. As crazy as it sounded, it worked most of the time. Before she was even born, we spoke to her. From birth, I read hundreds and hundreds of nursery rhymes and bedtime stories, gave thousands upon thousands of kisses and hugs, and even made up an entire lullaby just for her. We could both sing it to you today, in an instant. We slept nose-to-nose and I love her like I was never able to love any another before her. Today my Emily turns 25 herself.  Evidently, my fears were unfounded. She is gentle, loving, patient, and wise.  Even though we chose not to hammer her with ambitious career goals and ungodly academic pressures, she blossomed in university and came to love learning. She possesses none of the fears I had at her age. She is secure in knowing she is smart, funny, and good-hearted.  This year, Emily finally found the love of her life, and because all of her actions have always been borne of love, she is completely surrounded by friends and family who feel blessed to have her in their lives.  The 25 years since her birth were years well spent with memories I will always cherish. The world is truly a better place with Emily in it. You are welcome, World.  Happy Birthday Emily Pemily!  I l-o-v-e y-o-u, my E-m-i-l-y.

What is This Day?

Fourth of July 2018. I am having a difficult time finding a reason to celebrate on this day. I am having a difficult time celebrating the malformation of this once great country, fueled by the hatred in the White House and the bigotry in the hearts of so many of its citizens. I am ashamed of what we are saying and doing to other countries, I am ashamed of what we are doing to the people in our own country, and I am ashamed of my own naiveté. I never thought we needed to “make America great again” because I thought it was great all along.  Until now.

When I first learned to say the Pledge of Allegiance in 1stgrade, facing the American flag in the front of the classroom, with my right hand over my heart, I said it with gusto.  After all, I was part of the “republic, for which it stands,” part of the “one nation,” and I believed in “liberty and justice for all.” My friends thought nothing about their status as Americans, but I never took my citizenship for granted because my mother would tell us stories about how she earned her citizenship after marrying my father.  She earnedit.  She had to pass an extensive written test in English (not her native language) to qualify for her citizenship. When I was a child, the prospect of a simple spelling test would strike fear in my heart; my young mind boggled at imagining having to learn everything I could about the history and laws of this country, for the privilege of living here. That Pledge of Allegiance?  I bought that thing, hook, line, and sinker. My chest puffed with pride, and when I sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” tears sprang to my eyes; I sang it over and over at home so I could memorize every word. “The Star-Spangled Banner” chokes me up every time, even today. They touch me because I am keenly aware of the meaning of the words. We really were “the land of the free, and the home of the brave” because our ancestors fought for their independence, and then they turned around and paid it forward, allowing more of our ancestors to immigrate here. I was a child of the Seventies and an American diplomat’s daughter, living in Moscow during the Cold War.  You can’t even imagine what the Bicentennial meant to us in 1976.  Our country’s 200thbirthday! We could not have been prouder. I grew up with my parents constantly scolding us to behave properly in public because while we were living in foreign countries, we represented all American children.  If we were rude or behaved poorly, the citizens of those countries would think allAmerican children were rude or behaved poorly.  I learned the term “Ugly American” when I was seven years old: an American citizen abroad who makes an ass of himself and the country he represents, by throwing his privilege and entitlement around while belittling those in his host country.  I would never have predicted that this great country of ours would stoop to actually electing an Ugly American to be President.

The thing that bothers me more than the Ugly American in Office (our Constitutional checks and balances shouldn’t allow for any President to have a disproportionate amount of power), is my dawning realization that our country is populated by many more racists than I ever could have imagined.  I am not entirely naïve – I understand that racism will never go away completely because there will always be fear and ignorance to some extent in the world. But I really felt things were improving when we elected President Obama – it really felt like great changes were taking place.  Today, I have a sneaking suspicion that all of our forward progress didn’t actually eradicate any racism, it just forced the bigotry underground.  They were shamed into hiding over the years, as racism was publicly renounced. Now that we have an Ugly American in the White House, it is suddenly trendy to raise that particular freak flag, in the name of Nationalism. Wait. Doesn’t that sound familiar?  I seem to hear history screaming…and repeating itself. All the bitter resentment in the hearts of people who were so quick to blame other races for their problems, those embers of anger secretly kept smoldering under cover, fanned to a roaring fire, and fueled by the brazenly racist actions of the current leader…are we sure this isn’t July 4, 1942?

Are you one of the secretly racist? Do you get nervous if anyone with darker skin than yours walks by you on a sidewalk or sits next to you on a bus? Do you blame others for your economic problems? Do you resent having to share the rich resources of your country with others because you feel they should stay in their countries of origin? Check yourself. Chances are, a few of your ancestors left their countries to pursue happiness in the New World. Chances are a few of your ancestors may have murdered some of this country’s original residents just so they could get their hands on a few acres of land. Chances are a few of your ancestors then reached out and brought a few more of your ancestors over to join them in this country. Did you know that the very first arrivals on Ellis Island, back in the 1800s, were three unaccompanied children from Ireland? They travelled here to join their parents in America. Don’t you find it tragically ironic that we have done the opposite with our latest would-be immigrants, separating children from their parents? You may comfort yourself by pointing fingers at ICE and blaming them for these horrendous acts, but if you are U.S. citizens like myself, then you need to accept this responsibility.  This is our country. You did this. I did this.  We did this. Other countries of the world are shocked by this country’s callous attitude towards basic human rights and we should all hang our heads in shame. Not enough of us voted for the right things in November 2016. Too many of us were so caught up in voting against candidates we hated that we neglected to pay attention to voting for the right issues. In our division, we allowed the unthinkable to happen, and now we are living with the consequences. We made this mess, so it is on us to clean it up. In four months we have great chances to vote for people that can represent us and help us with this chore. Your citizenship is not just about the right to speak or the right to pursue happiness; it is also a responsibility to keep this country honest and noble. We have new opportunities every two years, to do such things, but right now we have to take our heads out of the sand and see that we have failed.

So, what exactly are we celebrating today? Surely, you can’t be celebrating the “national pride” that led to the election of a bigot. Surely, you can’t be proud of an Ugly American representing you, giving the impression to formerly friendly foreign countries that all Americans are racist, greedy, and selfish. Surely you can’t be hiding your head in the sand and throwing “hopes and prayers” at these problems like our country tends to do following the never-ending mass shooting murders of school children? Pride in this nation today is unwarranted. Americans who celebrated July 4, 1945 – now they really had something to celebrate – they actually stood up and fought against hateful oppression and won; and they fought that war not only for us, but also on behalf of people in foreign countries. Today, we cannot even protect people in our own country. Independence Day?  Are we celebrating an independence from rational thinking and compassion? I look around and see lots of flags waving, I hear about burgers and beer, and my poor dog experiences the fear of fireworks exploding. This is what this holiday has been reduced to.  It has been relegated to the shallow celebrations of those days of the year that we mark as special while not really knowing why. July 4, 2018. Happy Halloween, America.

i love you

When I was 5 years old, I used to say to myself in the mirror, “I love you SueSue,” just so I could hear the words out loud, addressed to me. I had just started kindergarten and noticed that all the other parents said, “I love you” to their kids as they dropped them off for school. When our teacher read us books about families, the parents said “I love you” as if it was the most natural thing in the world. My classmates gave me little valentines cards on February 14th…the world seemed chock full of love. In my house, my parents told each other a secret codeword, “Most” whenever they said goodbye to each other, which I knew meant they loved each other, but I never heard the words “I love you.” When I said it to myself, I liked it very much. I imagined someone else telling me they loved me, and my heart swelled with longing.

I grew up knowing that love is important because I saw it in other kids’ families and I read it in my secret world of books. All of my favorite books were filled with love.  A Wrinkle in Time?  ALL about love; love kept the universe from collapsing. The Chronicles of Narnia? Love; spiritual love that warmed worlds. Lord of the Rings? Love. Love of friends that become family; love so fierce it can overcome evil. Little House on the Prairie? The unicorn of love; the love of family that kept strong through thick and thin. Secret Garden? Love; love that makes hearts bloom and heal. Outlander? Love; love that transcends time. I stubbornly held on to my belief, evenwhen scoffed at by my parents. I remember being in 2nd grade when my parents first asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I promptly replied, “A MOMMY!” The scorn on their faces told me I’d given them the wrong answer.  My mom told me, “You’re just like your father.  You will be a diplomat. You should be the first female president.” Lofty goals for a girl who was never even taught how to brush her teeth.

Don’t get me wrong; they may have left me to figure out toothbrushing on my own, but I was taught plenty of lessons.  #1- don’t get distracted when delivering lit cigarettes from Daddy to Mommy…you may be tempted to burn holes in the Mexican blankets hanging in the doorways…and when those holes are discovered, Daddy will take his lit cigarette and burn the tip of each of your fingers, slowly but surely, while your tiny 7-year-old body shakes and you hold your breath from screaming because that would earn you a beating.  #2 – never make the mistake of explaining the bruised strap marks on the backs of your legs to your kindergarten teacher…the principal will call your parents into his office, they will feed him a line of shit, and when you get home you will have another beating to teach you about keeping family secrets.  I will spare you the rest of the list.

With no rescue in sight, and no love on the horizon, I looked to the stars. Every night, I found a way to look up to the stars and focus on the first one I could see.  “Star Light, Star Bright, First Star I See Tonight. I wish I May, I Wish I Might, Have the Wish I Wish Tonight.  Please Please Please give me a family that will love me as I love them. Amen.” Between age 10 and age 25, I must have made that wish thousands and thousands of times. Then my Emily was born.  The first person to truly love me. Wish granted, and my heart glowed.

Then I met Markus. He taught me that we have an infinite capacity for love. He is my Calvin O’Keefe, my Aslan, he is my Samwise Gamgee, he is Pa Ingalls, he is my Dickon Sowerby, and he is my Jamie. The family we have built together is spun with the threads of love that bind us to each other. After 9/11, 9-year-old Emily insisted we each learn to say, “I love you” whenever we have to say goodbye, just in case it is the last goodbye. You would think a teenaged Assassin would resist, 10 years later, but Hanna never stopped loving us, and says it more than ever, now that she is almost 20. And our hulking 6-foot Simon is never ever afraid to yell it as he hops out of the car at school and I’m driving away.

Markus and I were married 22 years ago, today. We climbed a sandy dune to get to the beach, thinking the 3 of us would exchange our vows with our friend Colette officiating. Instead, our friend JJ gathered 20 of our friends from work, our friend Maureen finagled a photographer, our friend Rachel made our floral arrangements, and our friendly boss tossed in a cooler of champagne. It was my first taste of friends becoming family – I did not think my heart could bear it.

Yesterday I had a hard day.  To my friends scattered around the world, I shared my sadness, and before bedtime I asked Markus if we could not celebrate the next day, but instead save our anniversary for another day in the future, because I had an unexpected reason to visit my oncologist this morning.  He said, “Sure” and gave me a kiss goodnight.  This morning, I woke to find dozens of loving messages from my friends, a dozen roses in the bathroom, and a dozen roses with a dozen cookies on my desk. When I got to my doctor’s office, Markus was waiting, with a fruit tart in his hands and kisses for my lips, telling me “I love you. We can do this.” And while we stood in the fresh air, I realized that I hear “I love you, SueSueBee” from this man every day and every night – dozens of times a day. I hear it in the morning before I open my eyes, and I hear it at night, before I close my eyes. I may have begun my life with nothing, but I am brimming with love now. Thank my lucky stars. This is a wedding anniversary to celebrate all the LURVE in my life and all the LOVE I am going to keep paying forward. Happy Anniversary to us all.

 

I have found the paradox,

That if you love until it hurts,

There can be no more hurt

Only more love

-Mother Teresa

First to Fly

The world just got a little luckier, today; a little brighter. My oldest daughter, Emily, graduated from Mount Royal University this morning; her beautiful face beaming with joy. With this degree, she adds one more First to her list; one of many. She was the First person in my life that I ever worried about. I was told she had Intrauterine Growth Retardation when I was just 16 weeks along in my pregnancy; she just stopped growing. My OB/GYN told me there were only 2 possible outcomes: she would survive and be a midget (no joke), or she would not survive; my placenta was only working at 50% capacity and she wasn’t getting the nutrients she needed. He told me that we could induce labor when I had reached my 23rd week, and hope to give her the care she needed to thrive; but I had to at least get my pregnancy past 23 weeks because the state of Texas would not allow medical intervention for preemies born before that mark. With that goal in mind, I was put on total bedrest so she could have the full attention of my body and all the oxygen and nutrients that I otherwise would have used if I were up and running around. We played music on my tummy, I wrote and painted in my journal while talking to her, we read her poems, and I read books to her that I checked out of the library by the shelfful; all murder mysteries (I’m so thankful they had no negative effect on her). We watched every episode of Murder She Wrote and The Scarecrow and Mrs. King, from beginning to end. And I ate cheese; so much cheese. We can thank the Women, Infants, Children program (WIC) for all the blessed cheese, milk, and Life Cereal I could possibly consume. It worked. Every week, I had an ultrasound to check on her, and they gave me a sugary drink to get her to kick. I was told, if I could count 10 kicks in the span of one hour every day, she was doing ok. We had a C-section scheduled for the end of my 36th week, but days before the scheduled time, Emmy decided to jump out on her own; she was my First big surprise! She was my First child, and when I looked into her eyes, I realized that she was my First love as well.
My doctor laughed when he reported her weighing in at 6lbs 14oz; he said it was good she was a preemie, because if she had gone full term, she would have been a 10lb baby…all that cheese! It turned out that Emily was his First baby patient to bounce back so perfectly from IUGR; one more for her brand new list of Firsts.FullSizeRender

As Emmy grew, I followed the advice in all my baby books, preparing for every step. Well. Most babies start babbling “mama/dada” by 6 months and 2-3 word sentences between 18months and 2 years. They also typically begin walking around 9months. My baby? She started with the “mama/dada” and moved straight into full sentences. By her yearly exam, she hadn’t begun to walk, however, and I worried. The doctor looked me in the eye and reminded me, “Emily asks for anything she wants – she can clearly communicate to you…what motivation does she have to actually get up and walk to something she would like? She asks politely for the toy from her bedroom, and you run off to bring it to her. Stop. She won’t like it, but she will eventually learn that she needs to get what she wants by walking to what she wants. All will be well.”

FullSizeRenderShe learned her First little lesson in life; sometimes you have to get what you want by rising to your feet and pursuing it on your own.

Then we moved to California and I needed to work, so poor Emily had to go to Daycare for the First time, crying all the way; crying every morning. We eventually fell into a routine and a morning ritual that would calm her down by the time we arrived at the Daycare Center. Every day we would drive from our tiny apartment in Seaside, to the Daycare Center at the Defense Language Institute. Along the way, to distract her from her sadness, we would say, “Look, Emmy! There is the big tree! And as we passed it, we said, “Hi tree! Bye-bye tree!” “Look Emily, there’s the ocean! Hi Ocean! Bye-bye Ocean!” And our favorite was, “LOOK! The Car Tunnel!” As we drove through it (the last thing before entering DLI), we would call out to the lights in the tunnel, “Hi lights! Bye lights!” She learned that those things would remain there while she was in Daycare, and we could do the reverse routine on our way home. To this day, I’m not sure whether Emily does this or not, but I still whisper under my breath when driving through any tunnel, “Hi lights!, Bye lights!” Unfortunately, one of the worst Firsts she had to put on her list was that we worked such horrible hours in the hotel industry, and she was always the First to be dropped off at Daycare and last to be picked up. Through it all, though, she managed to keep her sunny smile and we enjoyed our days off together.

I was a bit overprotective of Emily. I remember when we met my husband, Markus, for the First time; he was shocked that I wouldn’t even let her climb the slides at the park. He proceeded, over the years, to teach her how to climb trees and how to ride a bicycle, She had her First adventures because he entered our lives. My girlie girl in the ruffled dresses suddenly became rough and tumble and trailed after him like a puppy. He became her First idol.IMG_5059

Eventually, after dating for a year, we flew to Markus’ hometown in Bavaria to meet his family. We were so nervous. The only advice his parents gave him before going to America, was “Whatever you do, don’t fall in love with an American Woman!” They’d had bad impressions from another American Woman through a different member of their family, and wanted to make sure Markus didn’t make a similar mistake. Well whaddayaknow, not only did he fall in love with an American Woman, but she was a Divorced American Woman…with a Child from her Previous Marriage. Oh the scandal! Needless to say, I was incredibly stressed, ready to jump down anyone’s throat who dared to say anything unkind to my baby. I shouldn’t have worried so. Emily worked her First magic spell that day at the Munich airport. One look at her, and Markus’ mother fell to her knees and exclaimed, “Call me Oma!” Emmy celebrated her 3rd birthday during that enchanting visit, returning home having wrapped each family member around her little fingers.FullSizeRender

Emily’s First time at a wedding was when we all got married. I say “we” to include her, because we recited our wedding vows to her, promising to love her always and to be a family together for the rest of our lives. I don’t know if she fully understood the solemnity of our promises; she spent most of the time swinging from our joined hands; about all that can be expected from a 3yr old.1935903_1236780639152_630307_n

Oh, let me not forget to mention another First…On the morning of our wedding, I went to get my hair done, and on the way home suddenly fell ill. I may or may not have pulled over into the parking lot of a 7Eleven and, being too embarrassed to get sick on the pavement of a parking lot, I barfed all over the inside of my car. I made it home, a smelly mess; shaky and feverish. Markus cleaned up the car, cleaned up his bride-to-be, dressed Emmy, fixed up her hair, and whisked us away to Monastery Beach, in Carmel, to be married by our good friend Colette. At the wedding dinner at Il Fornio (fancy for the 3 of us), I sat, white as a sheet, while Emily and Markus tucked in and devoured their meals. All of a sudden, Emily sat up and picked up the barf baton, and she ran with it; right there in the restaurant dining room. Markus made it almost to bedtime before he succumbed. I
think we had only one day off before returning to work, and we spent it taking care of each other; in sickness and in health, indeed. I could say that was Emmy’s First family drama, but I decided to pass that over, and instead chose: First Time Learning What Not to Say. That weekend, I brought my car to the car wash and asked them to detail it. I was in the middle of pointing out the gunk in the gaps between the gear shift and the seats, when little Emily popped her head in the door and squealed, “YAH! We gotta clean that UP! Mama barfed ALL over the place – it was SO GROSS!” I wish I could say that was the First and last time Emily has made me want to laugh (or cry!) and the last time I’ve wanted to pretend she was someone else’s child because of her “oversharing.” We’ll not reminisce about the pitchers of “Painkiller” potion that we imbibed in the Caribbean, after snorkeling last year, and the cute young man that enchanted her…and how she thought she was whispering her admiration of him to us, as we trailed behind him back to the ship, but she forgot to turn down the volume…ahhh, good times.

 

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More relevantly, Emily’s First day of school was epic. Markus and she walked to the elementary school just a couple of blocks from our house, a few days before school started, just to get the lay of the land. She was hopping up and down from excitement. One of the classroom doors was open, with a teacher working inside, and Markus told Em, “This is a kindergarten classroom – this might even be YOUR classroom! Doesn’t it look fun?” Emily, jumping up and down, “oh yes! OH YES!” The teacher came to the door, smiled at Emily, and asked her, “What is your name?” And Emily, in classic Sound of Music style, marched one step forward, said, “Emily!” and marched one step back, grinning her front-teeth-missing goofy grin. The teacher, Ms. Wendy Tuffli, fell in love with our silly girl, and after they went home, she did her own marching into the school office and told them, “That girl? Emily Something? I want her.” They transferred Emmy into her class, and Ms. Tuffli became Emily’s First teacher. You should have seen the glorious look on Emmy’s face on the first day of school, when she found out who her teacher was. Ms. Tuffli was Emily’s First inspiration (and Goddess to be worshipped). She was not only someone Emily adored; but she was, and still is, the ideal teaching model for Emily to aspire to be. I hope that one day in the future, a few days before school starts, when Emily is getting her own classroom ready, she gets a knock on the door from Ms. Tuffli.  That would make another perfect First day of school for Emily.

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Emily’s First time becoming a big sister happened while she was in kindergarten. She adored her baby sister, Hanna. But again, another unfortunate First came along. Emily caught the chicken pox and passed it on to 2 week old Hanna. Emmy had head-to-toe itchy scabs, but Hanna only got one giant pock mark on her jaundiced forehead; it made us giggle to see them together.

Emily met her First lifelong friend, Natalie, while we lived in California. They met at the swimming pool and it was friendship at First sight. We actually moved to Pacific Grove because of that little lady. They both went to Forest Grove Elementary School together, and celebrated their First Communion together. Last year Emily flew out to Arizona to cheer her on as Natalie graduated from university. First Besties are the best Besties.FullSizeRender

Before we moved to Pacific Grove, we also have to note that Emily had her First, and only, Around the Corner Friend. My friend, JJ, lived around the corner from our house, and Emily and her daughter, Emma, played together almost daily. We called them Em&Em. JJ introduced us to the Friendship Sandwich, and the girls shared their First friendship sandwich together; a very cool thing. You take a giant loaf of French bread, like a baguette, cut it open and load on everything you could ever dream of in a sandwich. Then, the 2 friends chow down on their respective ends of the sandwich until they meet in the middle. It was a big hit in our house.

This might be the best First of all. From the time we married and I changed my name, Emily was the only one left in the house with the surname Pierce. For a time, her birth father permitted us to hyphenate her last name, after she became sensitive to the family name differences while learning how to write in Kindergarten. But instead of making things better for Emily, things became harder for her. Hanna was born…Johanna Treppenhauer. Then Simon was born…Simon Treppenhauer. She grew sadder and sadder. Back in preschool, one day, one of the preschool teachers insisted that Emily needed to refer to Markus as her “Stepdad,” instead of “Papa Markus.” Emily argued that  she had 2 Papas: Papa Scott and Papa Markus; and what was a Stepdad anyway? After the complicated list of all the proper labels for different members of families of divorce was explained to her, and after being told that, according to her stupid stupid stupid preschool teacher, Papa Markus was not actually blood-related to her, she came home a sobbing mess. Why wasn’t she blood-related to Papa? What WAS blood-related, anyway?! Was Papa not her Papa because he was a Stepdad instead? That was Emily’s First heartbreak. I can’t say I reacted well. There was much inner-cursing of the preschool teacher, much outer crying for the loss of happy innocence. We tried to tell her that labels were not needed in our family, and that Papa was Papa because of the love in our hearts, but she could not be consoled. Sudden I remembered my father, when I was little, swearing himself as Blood Brother with a close friend, and the ceremony that was involved. I jumped to my feet and cried, “QUICK Emmy! Peel your knee scab! Markus, peel that scab on your arm!” And I grabbed their limbs and squished them together, scab to scab. Gross, but effective. I now pronounce you Blood-Related. And that alone could have been the best of all. But there is more. When Emmy was in kindergarten, things began to develop into a very difficult and messy situation with her birth father. She began to have nightmares after a couple of years. When we could not find a way around things, we took legal action to protect her. In the end, her birth father gave us permission for Markus to adopt her. She was turning 10 at that time. She spoke to her birth father and thanked him for giving her the greatest birthday gift she could ever have asked for; to be able to share the same last name as her brother and sister, and to finally feel 100% part of the family. Emily’s First day as a Treppenhauer was a great day.FullSizeRender

Years passed, our family grew, and we moved to Hawaii. The Big Island was the First place we ever lived where Emily blended in – she had a wonderful 5 years there, living like an island girl, making friends and loving the sun. I think she may have left a large part of her heart back there.

When she was halfway through 10th grade, we moved to Banff. Her First time in a foreign country; her First time learning the importance of being diplomatic (“Whaddaya mean I can’t loudly argue with my social studies class about America? We’re GREAT!”). And another not so great First. For the First time, Emily struggled with school. She struggled so hard that she started to hate it. It took just one inept teacher, and the damage was so bad we worried she wouldn’t make it to university. Not surprisingly, Emily decided to take a gap year before going on to college. She felt so awful about school. I may have thrown a few tantrums about her decision. In hindsight, it was good for her to take that break. She worked in town and tried to save for college, all while growing bored and looking forward to the changes university would make for her life. Then, Markus was transferred to Jasper. All of a sudden, Emmy would have to live on her own for the First time. This was also the First time our family had to move to a new town, leaving one of us behind. Broken-hearted, we still urged her to stay where she was and to see it as practice for living at university in the Fall. She was brave. She was braver than I have ever known her to be.

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And she did it! All of a sudden, it was Fall and her First day of school all over again. I drove down from Jasper to help her move into her dorm. Car packed to the ceiling, we made that journey together. I thought I couldn’t possibly be prouder of her than I was that day.MqfU7WEHRwybSiJSyEVl9g_thumb_48b3

I’ve never been more wrong. Today, I look back at her life and think, “she’s accomplished so much! How can she ever top this?” But she already has. Through Emily’s shining example of perseverance in the pursuit of a higher education, I have been taking my prerequisite classes for nursing school, with a goal to start next year. Markus is going to enroll in university this Fall, to work towards his MBA. Hanna is finishing up her first year at the University of Washington. And Simon will begin his Junior year in high school this Fall, with an aim to start university in 2019. There is going to be a brief moment over the span of the next two years when all of our lives will align, and every single member of this family will be enrolled in a university at the same time. Emily is my First inspiration. I know this seems like a lot just to say, “Happy Graduation,” but there is so much more I didn’t even have time to include. One day, I want the opportunity and time to sit down and write out all the bright details of her wonderful life. From her giant gap toothed smile on the first day of kindergarten, to this, her beautiful, serene smile on her last day of school; what a transformation. Whenever that time comes, I just know there will be a mountain of new adventures to share with the world. Emily will be off to her Master’s program at the University of Calgary in the Fall; one more First day of school. Please join me in my cheering: BRAVO EMILY!!!

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