Thursday, February 14, 2013

Guest Blog: Theatre Love!

My wonderful friends at Hennepin Theatre Trust asked me to write a guest blog about my experience as a Trust donor during the past two years. This is the first time a donor has written a blog for them and I am appropriately humbled by the opportunity to tell my story (and of course, Sam’s story) as it relates to getting back to enjoying the performing arts. I owe special thanks to Helen Kouba, the Trusts’ Development Coordinator, for asking me to participate, and all the folks in the Public Relations and Marketing Departments for their great editing of the piece.

For any of you in the Mini-Apple area (yuk,yuk), I can’t say enough about what a great deal this is: culture-wise, supporting-the-arts-wise, and getting-great-seats-as-a-donor-wise. As a testament to this, Sam and I are seeing The Book of Mormon this Saturday with great seats and even greater expectations for this sold-out show. Here’s the link:

Sunday, February 10, 2013

talking in elevators

For those of you who just can't get enough of me, I have started a new blog at WordPress: talking in

My dear friend, "Joe" (yes, his real name), will understand the genesis of this title since it is a joke between us. I tend to be an elevator talker and Joe is not. However, when we worked in the same building that never stopped me from trying to chatter at his rather solid (stolid?) Lutheran self with all number of personal remarks and asides. I think poor Joe was even forced to exit the elevator several floors prior to his destination just to get away from me, although he would deny that.

For me, I guess it's a New York Italian thing. And for Joe, he claims it's a Minnesota Lutheran thing. In either case, I hope the chatter in talking in elevators will be the beginning of something which is why I am writing it in chapters (which is a definite conceit on my part). But you have to start somewhere. I hope that what I write about in talking in elevators will be as honest as I can be as a writer and still have friends and remain employed. Honesty comes naturally to me, but honest writing is sometimes more of a challenge. So maybe that is part of this journey. I just hope that at the end of the day, when the elevator doors close, I am writing from the heart. And not driving too many people to dash out at the next floor.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Just Between Worlds

LAST WEEK...I got an email from a dear friend. I don't say that lightly. She is someone I work with who was instrumental in getting me through breast cancer. Day-by-day, chemo appointment by chemo appointment, she was there for me. She made me laugh, laughed at my bad jokes and helped me make up new ones. Her specialty was the irreverent kind: the ones that you know are so bad that no one should really laugh but you do anyway.

I JUMPED UP...Her email said that she had gone for an annual physical which had morphed into a mammogram and from there, into a biopsy. She was now waiting for the results. I read the email and didn't even think to respond back. I jumped up from my desk and headed to her office because seeing her in person was the only reasonable way I could think to digest the situation.

AND GAVE HER A HUG...The first thing I did was give her a hug. I hugged her for a long time and I am not the kind of person who hugs and doesn't let go. I told her that she would be O.K. no matter what happened. It was nice to be able to say that and know it's true because you have personal experience in the matter.

A BIG HUG AND TEARS...After our big, long hug, I looked at her. She had tears in her eyes. This kind of surprised me because we are talking about a very, very strong person here. Someone with a family and kids a big job and the weight of the world on her shoulders. She does not ruffle easily which is why we are friends. (Opposites attract. I fall apart when I get a hangnail).

SHE HAS MY MAGIC WAND...The second thing (after the big hug) was to give her my one and only magic wand. I have this battery operated magic wand that I keep at my desk. You never know when you might need one. (Now it's on her desk.)

AND HELD MY HAND...We talked and cried and we held hands way longer than two women who are not partners should hold hands. When we finally let go, between the crying and the hand holding, we joked that people were going to think we broke up or something.

BECAUSE SHE WOULD BE O.K....And one of the sweetest things she said to me, in the middle of what I can only describe as a look of terror in her eyes, was that she had hope because I was O.K. "I keep thinking it's going to be OK because Denine went through this and she's O.K." That really touched me. I guess I had never thought of my experience like that. I have been so involved in my own recovery for so long that it never occurred to me that I could be a poster child for hope.

WHICHEVER WORLD SHE LANDED IN...The other thing I told her -- something I wish I had known at the time -- was that this time she was going through right now was the worst time because you don't know which world you belong to. The two worlds are so different -- the world of having cancer and not having cancer -- that the worst part is not knowing where you fit. Once you know, you can move. Take action, DO something constructive. But until then, you are just caught in the soft, cottony clouds of Nowheresville, waiting for a phone call that you know will change your life, no matter what the news. 

LIKE SOME OTHER WORLDS YOU LAND IN...It's not unlike having your child evaluated to see if they have autism. You wait, you wonder, you bargain with whatever devil or deity you believe in and you agonize until you know. Once you know, you can prepare: you make phone calls, get smart, search the internet, buy vitamins, ask questions and take control. But until you know, you are caught between planets, spinning between what may be and what might be and what you wish could be if somehow you could just have another chance. 

BUT NOW WE HAVE REAL STORIES...When I left her, I have to say that I was worried for her. Even with my experience in both worlds, I kept thinking that to go from an exam to a mammogram to a biopsy within the space of a few hours was worrisome. So when she emailed me again later that day to tell me that the magic wand worked because she got the all clear, I was ecstatic for her. And all I could think of was that now she would be a different kind of breast cancer poster child for someone else. And for anyone who goes through this, we now have a few stories that are real stories -- not urban myths -- about breast cancer. Hopeful stories about women who have survived and hopeful stories about women who really thought the diagnosis was imminent but they were O.K. Either way, maybe it will give each of us a little more peace of mind when we pick up the phone to schedule our annual mammogram.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sammy Goes to College. Well, Sort of...

I spent Tuesday evening sitting on the one front step of Sam's group home crying. I was crying for a lot of reasons, but mainly, I was crying because my conversation with Chad, one of the staff at Sam's group home, had hit several of the emotional soft spots that I owned. Here is a list of my soft spots: Sam; when I had cancer: men I have loved and lost; my status as a "good Mom" or "bad Mom"; and, 'do these pants make me look fat?'. Yup, all soft spots.
Sam and Kate in CT a couple of years ago. :-)
The conversation started as a result of the sweet Katie-did, Sam's new puppy. I was worried that the group home director was pissed at me because I kinda broke the rules for bringing Katie home on Sam's weekends. I was so eager to make Katie a part of the family (can you believe I can be a little pig-headed about getting my way with things?), that I had practically kidnapped her while she was still recuperating from surgery and kennel cough. But that's not why I was crying. (And, I later learned, she wasn't even pissed at me. She was just having a bad day.)

There was a larger issue afoot. As Chad said, "I know you love Sam and I know you enjoy being with him, but we've got a 22-year old man who's still calling you and Ben "'Mommy' and 'Daddy'", (a habit they had been trying to break him of with little success). "You're holding him back."

That's why I was crying.

I always thought Sam's use of the term "Mommy" and "Daddy" was cute. A sweet, innocuous and endearing habit. It was based on 22-years of precedent from my only son. I didn't really see it as a symptom of a parent or parents who didn't want to let go. That's one of the reasons I was crying. It was being suggested to me that the every-other-weekends and Tuesday night dinners were too much. You're holding him back.

All I could think of was all the fun we'd been having the past few years. We could go to a store, go out to dinner -- for God sakes, we could drive to Duluth and spend three days in a hotel and the worst thing that would happen is that Sam would try to take 47 sausage patties at the free breakfast buffet and I would have to remind him of social rules. Not like the old days when most trips out of the house involved a level of military precision and planning just to get him to a doctor's appointment: social stories, photos, hand-drawn maps of the doctor's offices and a full complement of back-up staff just to make sure we could go safely and come home safely. No meltdowns, no calls to 911.

I sat on the steps trying to deny the thoughtfulness of what Chad was telling me. Like a small child with their hand caught in the cookie jar, I said, "Sam was taken from me when he was 11. I want those years back. I'm trying to get them back by spending time with him when I don't need to be his warden." Chad was so patient and so understanding. Clearly, he had skills in dealing with people -- Moms included -- with special needs. He just listened but he kept repeating the truth: "He needs more time here."

As the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This was true for both me and Chad. Chad's intention was to be honest, even though it upset me; and my intention was to be a loving super-Mom, but I was suddenly getting in the way of all the things I wanted for Sam. Chad is someone Ben and I both trust, and I knew he was speaking the truth for Sammy and doing what he should be doing: advocating when parental love and devotion starts to resemble a straitjacket to the natural order to things.

It was getting late, so I gave Chad an uncharacteristic hug, wiped the mascara off my chin and drove home. I didn't sleep very well. This was not the first time the staff had tried to have this conversation with me and Sam's Dad. But I realized as I finally drifted off to sleep, it would probably be the last time.

The next day, with full agreement from Ben, I went back to the group home and proposed a new schedule: instead of the current weekend schedule which has put Sam either at my house or Dad's house every weekend for the past nine years (Mom-Dad-Mom-Dad...), we would now add in a weekend at the group home. It would be more like: Mom-Dad-Group Home; Mom-Dad-Group Home...). This would give Sam more time to develop new friendships, have dates, practice cooking, shopping and doing his laundry. Normal. daily, routine things that are appropriate for a 22-year old to be doing. As I remarked to his Dad, "It kind of blows my mind because it will be such a change. But if Sam was a typical 22-year old, he would have left for college a long time ago."

We are lucky. He isn't leaving for college or going far away. But he's gaining the same kind of independence from us and having the same kind of opportunity to grow as a person. Things that everyone on his team feels he can do and so much more. It's funny that when I think of this in a logical way, it makes so much sense. I guess I just didn't see it in my role as parent. Ben also made the point that -- not to be too dark about all this, but -- neither of us are getting any younger. We need to put some routines in place that build Sam's independence and don't rely on us both being around for every weekend until 2065. Just not realistic.

As I was leaving the group home, Sam came over to hug me. "Bye Mommy," he said. And for the first time, I actually corrected him: "'Mom', Sam. Remember to say 'Mom'."

As for me, I'm going to search the Internet for a new weekend hobby. Maybe I could buy a motorcycle, some leathers and start spending my free time in Sturgis. Or maybe I could do so much volunteer work that I will become the new Mother Theresa of MN. But most likely, I will just do what most parents do: enjoy the free time and be there for him when he needs me. Like tonight: Sam called me out of the blue and was asking me about where he would be the weekend after Labor Day. (Labor Day weekend is a Mom weekend). It made me smile because I know this is Sam's way of incorporating new information and trying to process a new routine. And he seems perfectly comfortable with the new schedule. I will have to be sure to ask him how he managed such acceptance because I know I am planning to have my own set of growing pains. I may even need a long weekend ride to Sturgis.

PS - Sam would never be the wonderful young man he is without the constant love, support and acceptance from Big Sister Kate (even when he insists on referring to her as "hot".) Her birthday is tomorrow. Happy Birthday, Kate! We love you so much!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Life on the Dark Side: Patent Leather

As I was driving in to work today, I saw a young woman in the parking ramp who was wearing a black dress with great patent leather heels. (Also, black.) I wanted to shout -- but didn't -- "You go, Gurl! Way to carry the torch for patent leather!" It made me so happy. As if the younger generation of women were just confirming what I've always known: patent leather is cool.

I love patent leather. Perhaps I spent one too many years in parochial school, graduating from Mary Janes into low heeled pumps. It seems there were quite a few years when I didn't wear patent leather. (Maybe it was the 70's?) But I can recall patent leather being one of my go-to choices when the 80's came roaring in. Anyone remember the 80's? I was working in New York at The Times at the time. We liked our shoulder pads big, our furs endangered and our heels elegant. Oh, and we never forgot the pearls. (Did Barbara Bush have anything to do with this?)

But I am getting off the point which happens to me all the time.

I started to wonder about how long patent leather had been around and found some amazing articles in The Times dating back to 1918 about "...the great crying need [for] patent leather oxfords." LOVE IT. Skip forward a few years (1953) and patent leather is still in the news, with the added innovation of matching shoes and handbags.

Just to make sure that I wasn't stuck in my own time warp (or Times warp) I checked again for more recent fashion statements on patent leather. Too good to be true: I struck gold (patent?) with these Valentino Noir Capsule flats made from pythons, crocodiles, patents and ruthenium spikes for the bargain price of $895.

Aren't these cute? I think they're adorable. What's more, I think they'd look amazing if we could bring them back to the 1970's and pair them with an Our Lady of Lourdes plaid skirt. They're practically a reinvention of the Mary Jane with a lot more style, personality and potential for danger. Like Mary Jane's bad sister, Marilyn. I bet these babies would scare the heck out of the hall monitor and get the wearer detention for a week.

Like I said: cool.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Puppy Dogs and Hottie Flashes

I haven't written in weeks. Can't really explain why except that I've kinda sorta been enjoying my life. What a concept. I mean, I haven't been vacationing in France or anything. It's been more like, spending time with My Lake up in Duluth with Sam...getting him a new dog (Katie) that lives at the group home with him...and working on my own personal, indescribable but vastly mobile mojo. Don't ask. It's all just working pretty well right now. I try not to question.

So anyway. Hottie flashes. Let me explain.

It all started one morning at work when all the writer gals -- you know who you are --ended up at my desk. The subject of hot flashes came up. Not your garden variety hot flashes, but medication-induced ones. (Fun!) You see, I have to take this medication for five years so that my cancer doesn't come back and so that both me and the doctors feel like they are doing something. I mean, they couldn't just dose me up with chemo for 20 weeks, let my hair fall out, put me through four-and-a-half surgeries and then say, "See ya. We're Audi." No, no. They have to DO something. So what they did is put me on this crazy stuff that gives me hot flashes. Then they put me on this other stuff to alleviate the hot flashes.

Are you gettin' all this?

So anyway, one morning I have this realization that my body is acting like a garden sprinkler. Normally, I wouldn't have noticed because when I'm at my desk, I just spend all day turning the fan on. And turning the fan off. Fan on. Fan off. Get it? But then I was helping my friend, Eeen with this project she had which required me to be away from my desk. And the fan. For hours. And that's when I realized that I am practically a sideshow attraction. Bummer.

So, I did my best to help Eeen with her project in the stuffy room. And after days and hours of working on this project, and -- remembering the conversation I'd had with the gals that morning -- the day was coming to a conclusion. And suddenly I thought, "Oh shit, I'm having a hottie flash." I told Eeen this. I also said that I must have a pretty high opinion of myself to be calling myself a hottie. She laughed, shook her head, waited a moment, and then said, "That's hilarious. And if you don't write about that, you're crazy." And then she said some very nice things about my ability to put words and sentences and syllables together. And in the middle of all this, I remembered one day when she read something I had written for her project. She got tears in her eyes and said I was such a beautiful writer and that she could always tell when she was reading my stuff. Omg.

I'll never forget that. (Thank you, Eeen.) And that is why I am trying to write about hottie flashes and puppy dogs and trying to get back to dumping the thoughts of my crazy brain into my blog. Again.