I write a humorous weekly newspaper column called "Raising Mommy" in papers throughout southern California. It began in 2004 after my first son was born. I'm a proud member of a large Irish Catholic family (youngest of 8), and I draw on my life experiences and mishaps to inform and guide me in motherhood. Then I write about it. I'm happily married to a Sicilian from New York City and we have two boys, a year and five months apart. These are my published stories...
Dr. Christina Yang, Sandra Oh, has just finished her last episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I have to mark the occasion. The bright hopeful light in my Thursday nights has just dimmed.
I want to personally thank the show’s creator, Shonda Rhimes, for not killing Dr. Yang off. I don’t think I could’ve handled it. Life is hard enough. I don’t need to see my favorite character of-all-time die some horrific, unimaginable death. I’m honestly grateful that I get to see my sister move to another country to pursue her career and use her God-given talents.
I know, I’m talking nonsense. She isn’t my sister. She’s a fictitious character, made up ten years ago for a one-hour drama centered on the personal and professional lives of five surgical interns and their supervisors. The thing is, she felt like a sister. She was written and portrayed with such truth and humanity, such complexity and strength, such intelligence and vulnerability that I felt like I knew her… like a sister.
Sandra Oh gave me something to look forward to on Thursday nights. She was my portal to a choice that I didn’t make, but one I admire, to become an extraordinary doctor. (Who doesn’t want to be a kick-ass doctor?) Each Thursday night, I got to watch her personify courage, acceptance, focus, drive, humility, unprecedented ambition, and finally love and all of its complications. Sandra Oh played Dr. Yang with such intensity and aplomb that with one look, I would understand her intentions and choices completely. We didn’t even need to talk. She completed me. Alright, I’m kidding. But she had the ability to make me feel deep seeded emotions with one look (the way my three sisters can). Heck, I’ll even go so far as to admit that many times, I even sobbed during her scenes.
I’ve read the interviews to see what will happen to Sandra Oh and where she’s going. I know she’ll do some plays and some films and continue to be extraordinary. Whatever she decides to do, I plan on supporting her. I’ve been in a friendship with her for almost ten years; it’s the least I could do.
I’m not sure what will happen to Grey’s next season (true fans drop the “Anatomy” part). I like the new hooks and possibilities. The rest of the cast is exceptional as are the writers so I’m sure they’ll give us some goods. I’ll keep watching to find out.
I could go on gushing. But on this momentous occasion, after years and years of watching this show, I just want to say, “Thank You” to Shonda Rhimes, for creating a strong, brilliant, twisty, fabulous character for all of us. We will miss her dearly. Seattle - Grace will never quite be the same.
And to you, Sandra Oh, as you take your journey, picture millions of us in our living rooms, on our feet, giving you a standing ovation. Thanks for the memories. We will never forget you.
This year, with hesitation and fear, I signed my boys, Tommy, eight, and Frankie, nine-years old to play Pop Warner, tackle football. I strongly believed they would ruin their lives, get concussions and break their growth plates but agreed with my husband to let them play. Soccer would not be happening this Fall. It was time to ramp things up a notch.
“Hello gentlemen!” Coach Doc, the head coach of their Mighty Mite team bellowed at Frankie and Tommy at the first meeting and weigh-in. “Oh yeah, this is going to be a fun season,” he shouted as droves of boys came to weigh-in and to pick up their equipment. “Are you ready to play some football?” he roared into the wide-open air. “Yes coach!” young players anxiously screamed, all eager to remind him that they were all-in.
“Jeez!” I thought. “This is going to be intense.” I looked down at Frankie and Tommy and their eyes grew wide with anticipation. I quietly panicked. Testosterone joined the party.
Am I really letting my boys play tackle football?
Coach Gervy, the offensive coach, introduced himself, then Coach Rick, the defensive coach, then we met Coach Dave, Coach Chris, and Coach Jon. I couldn’t believe how many coaches there were! Without warning, we were moving headfirst into unchartered territory. There was no turning back this locomotive!
The coaches buzzed around, getting the boys excited. They learned my sons’ names quickly and shook their hands firmly. “What position do you play?” Coach Gervy asked. “Umm,” the boys answered while looking in my direction for help. I had no idea! At the time, I didn’t even know there was an offensive and a defensive team to every football team. I thought the quarterback was the only one running on and off the field?
“That’s okay boys, we’ll figure it out as we go,” he gently replied, registering the fact that my boys had never played before. Yes, okay, we will figure it out as we go!
Practice started. It was organized. The boys were singing like Navy shipmen by the second practice. “We are the Torreys….We are the Torreys…Mighty mighty Torreys….Mighty mighty Torreys…!” I giggled as they ran by in a tight group. Aw. It was cute.
“Tomorrow come to practice in FULL PADS!” The email from Coach Doc went wide, to all the parents. It was time to start hitting.
My heart tightened. All my years of teaching my boys to “use their words” would not work here. Stories of Jr. Seau and paralysis haunted my every thought. I was scared. I couldn’t sleep.
My boys began learning how to hit and tackle. Unfortunately, so did their teammates. Each practice, my sons were the ones on the sidelines with tears pouring down their faces.
Dear God. “What have I done?” I softly said to myself as I paced out of everyone’s view, one eye on the field, the other glaring at my irresponsible parenting choice.
It took a few practices for Frankie and Tommy to learn how to plant their feet. While learning, they got slammed. Hard.
Tommy got laid out - flat. “Wait until Coach Doc calls you over!” a mom cautioned, but I was already in a full-sprint onto the field! I caught myself just in time to pretend like I was running from a bee. I swapped at the air.
“Coach and Tommy both see you. Coach just wants to connect with him before he runs to you,” the mom continued. “This is how they develop a bond and a trust.”
Okay. I breathed through my nose. He’s in good hands.
Tommy took a knee on the sidelines. He looked over at me and said, “I’m okay,” and waved with his little boy hand. He was still crying. His big brown doe eyes expressed, “I’m not really okay but I’m going to be tough." l gave him a thumbs up, then gave him our sign language signal, “I love you,” the one we use when words aren’t enough.
Right then, I wanted to cry my eyes out. “He’s okay,” I quietly said to myself. But I wasn’t.
I wasn’t ready for him to be “okay” without me. I couldn’t believe that it was already time to start letting things happen to him. I knew it would come. I knew eventually I’d have to let him and Frankie live through things on their own and experience the good and the bad of situations. It just seemed to happen so fast.
But it was time. I had to let go. And I did.
And all the coaches, eight of them, grabbed on and held my boys closely. They looked over them. Practice after practice they built them up and inspired them to be the best version of themselves. They praised them and yelled at them and every single player thrived and rose to the occasion.
Practices were three days a week, for two hours at a time. We all came early. We all stayed late.
The Torrey Mighty Mites started the season in a showcase game before the Chargers/ Seahawks preseason game in Qualcomm stadium in front of thousands of football fans. The Mighty Mites looked so small and played so big. The team used that incredible experience and momentum and went undefeated all season.
My boys were the ones who put on their pads and helmets and tied up their cleats. They did the work. They believed in their own ability and pushed through walls of boys to carry the ball forward. They participated and gave it their all and in that, they had the time of their lives.
Each play counted. Each game was our own little thrill of victory. Each game, my boys walked taller.
The season is now over. Last Saturday night, they won their Championship game in front of hundreds of people under the lights at Jr. Seau Sports Stadium. Their team became the only team in La Jolla Pop Warner's history to ever go a whole season undefeated and became the best Mighty Mite team in all of San Diego.
They won and quite frankly, I feel like I did too. I’m not so afraid to admit it anymore. My kids play tackle football. It looks as if on this occasion, the rewards far outweighed the risk.
Yesterday, my boys Frankie and Tommy had their end-of-the-season soccer tournament. Their coach is in the Navy and had shipped out, without a specific date or time when he would be returning and asked me to step in for a majority of their practices, and yesterday, for their tournament.
The coaches I had at my boys ages, 8 and 6, made the biggest imprint on my adolescent athletic possibilities so I knew it was a big honor and responsibility. As I watched and encouraged each of them from the sideline, I knew I had played a part in their future. I was given this unexpected gift, and had the opportunity to help them be the best of themselves and they were. Despite the other teams talents and size they played their hearts out, each and every one of them.
We didn't win the tournament, but the joy and pride they had for how they played was worth a lot more than a trophy.
My mom and dad grew up in New York City, N.Y., during World War II. Meat and gas were rationed and a pound of sugar was like a pound of gold. As children of Depression era parents, their belief was “Save everything because you just never know when you might need it.”
Shortly after my parents married, my dad, who was in the Navy at the time, was stationed in San Diego, California. My parents truly believed they had landed in paradise. Once having tasted of the beauty and climate of San Diego, they couldn’t imagine going back to New York winters. They thought, “We’re going to save our whole lives to retire in a place like this. Why wait?” A couple of months later, they bought a house in La Jolla.
My parents bought the house I grew up in on a cul-de-sac in 1962 for $33,000. They borrowed on a life insurance policy to come up with a $4,000 down payment. The house was on a three-quarter acre and had a huge, sweeping backyard with a playground and a little sidewalk for trikes to scoot around.
They raised eight children in that house, and most of my childhood memories are embraced in that location. My parents have since sold that house, bought another smaller house, sold that house, moved into several different apartments and moved my dad into and out of an assisted living facility. Since my dad passed away last August, my mom is now moving again but this time, into a smaller place with just her stuff.
For the past three weeks, I have been helping her pack everything up. The first week into it, we were both very gung ho, eying the weekend for a gigantic garage sale. Only as the clock ticked closer to 9 p.m. on the Friday before the garage sale was to take place, we realized there was no way we were ready.
My mom was still holding on tightly to every pair of pants she owned, the skinny ones from the 1980s to the heavy ones from the 1990s that she might need down the road. She wasn’t ready to part with her office supplies, unopened ab-burner exercise chair and athletic equipment (did I mention she is 76 years old?) or her crock pots. We had to continue sorting.
We prepared all week and my dear friend Jamie helped us to organize the chaos. You know you have a true friend when that person helps you with anything that has to do with moving. Quite the garage sale expert, she gave us tips on where to place boxes and what prices we could get for different items.
Then we posted our ad in the garage sale section of Craigslist for 10 a.m. Saturday morning. We chose 10 a.m. so we could get organized in the morning before people came. Jamie told us to post it earlier but we didn't listen.
What amateurs! What fools we were! You never begin your garage sale at 10 a.m. because folks will knock on your door at 7:0 a.m.! And they did. They knocked. And then they waited as my sister and brother and I dragged box after box out to the front yard to be sold.
Once we placed everything down, they rushed us. Carloads of people came. “Do you have Tiffany? Silver? Jewelry?” they asked as they swept the tables. They were frantic. We couldn’t tell them the prices fast enough. They wanted everything...and I mean everything.
My mom stayed inside the whole time. She lost her hearing aids and looked for them for the first two hours of the sale, pacing this way and that. It was a great distraction from watching strangers pilfer her stuff.
Jamie ended up finding the hearing aids and mom ended up making a nice chunk of change. Only my mom didn’t have that elation most people do when they come into cash.
“Are you OK?” I asked when I found her sitting in a chair, surrounded by boxes, gazing at more of her belongings, enveloped in sadness. “They took my memories,” she said.
“No mom, they took your old sheets, Tupperware, ramekins, pantyhose and coffee cups. Your memories are still with you and they are with all of your children, too. They only took your junk.” That was as poetic as I could be at the moment but I think she got it.
Since the garage sale, my mom has let go of a lot more stuff. We moved her into the new place today and I’m sure she’ll get rid of even more. Perhaps without all of the boxes and material clutter, she’ll be able to see her memories a little more clearly.
Thanksgiving is here and, especially in November, life has a funny way of reminding me what to be thankful for.
“Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving,” the guy with the “please help” sign said after I gave him a few dollars as we waited for the slow light to change to green.
“You’re welcome. And Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.” I replied, wondering whether he was going back to a shelter or to a house with a three-car-garage after his stint on the corner.
Honestly, I really thought about it.
If I have any cash in my wallet, I usually help someone out who’s asking with a sign. And if you ask me with a baby on your hip at 10 p.m., standing in front of Target the night before a holiday, I’ll give you a boatload. At that point, I don’t mind if I’m getting scammed. The baby does it for me.
Things have got to be pretty rough if you’re out in the cold, peering through people’s windows or toting your baby around. hoping for a little help. I believe these people need it. Something must have gone wrong somewhere along the way. Maybe my little bit of money will get them a ride on the bus or a warm cup of coffee; perhaps a pair of socks or a warm blanket? I choose to be hopeful that they are not taking my hard-earned money to buy themselves an i-pod or drugs and alcohol.
There never seems to be enough time to talk to the people asking for money to learn about their story, but they must have one. I want to ask them what happened. “How’d you get here?” “Do you really have a pregnant wife at home?” “Which war are you a veteran of?” “Are you really hungry?” But I don’t. I wish them well and go on my way, grateful for my life and its abundance.
On Sunday, a family was in the back of church, standing around an older man in a large wheelchair. His eyes were alive but his body was still. His wife stood next to him, holding his hand, and his son and daughter stood behind him, with their hands on his shoulders. I walked by and smiled at the family, hoping I wasn’t being too intrusive as I gazed at them, remembering what it was like standing behind my own father in a wheelchair at Mass.
In the parking lot, I ended up walking behind the family. The wife was two steps in front of me and I said, “Pardon me.” “Yes?” she replied. And I asked, “What happened to your husband?” She stopped walking and said, “Two years ago, he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.” I told her I was sorry and told her it was so beautiful to see the love they have for him in their caring gestures. We then said goodbye and as I started to walk away, she stopped me and said, “Thank you so much for asking.”
I’m sure two years earlier, her husband’s life was just as normal as anyone else’s. He probably had a job and a wonderful home life. And then, he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and his world came crashing down around him. He’s debilitated and in a wheelchair now, but he hasn’t always been.
I’m sure that the men and women who are asking for help on the streets probably haven’t always been in their dire situations either. Like the man with Lou Gehrig’s disease, they had a life before they found themselves in their present state. They all spent Thanksgiving around a table with their families giving “thanks” and probably “giving” as well.
Not only during the holiday season, but throughout the year, I truly believe that everyone down on their luck could use a bit of kindness. Maybe it’s a few dollars handed through the car window at a stop sign or just a simple acknowledgement and a smile. A little can go a long way.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you on the cement islands looking for a little help and to the family caring for their father and husband with Lou Gehrig’s. It is because of you I am softly reminded to be grateful for the life I have had and the life I am yet to lead.