Monday, January 30, 2012

X Games- Xtreme Parenting

If I’ve learned anything in my twenty years of being a mom, it’s that parenting is a roller coaster of extremes. When a newborn lives in your house, you vacillate between severe and utter exhaustion and severely incredible awe and joy. The toddler who can’t seem to figure out the potty chair can make you want to scream one minute, then melt your heart the next, when he proclaims, with his most sincere voice, “Oh, I just WUV you, mama!”

It continues into elementary school, then high school. And I guess I thought it would all even out, once they graduated from high school. This week I found out I was wrong.

My last post was about a heart wrenching night I had with my young adult daughter. Our life is in flux right now, and both of us are feeling it in our own way. A series of circumstances left both of us crying ourselves to sleep, until morning light could help us clear the air. The next day we took a trip to Sonic, and as we sipped our Slushees, we hashed it all out. I felt much lighter as we drove back home and dove back into our chaotic temporary living situation.

But it changed me just a little, as every upsetting (and joyful) parenting moment does. The familiar doubts about how I’m failing these children as their mother crept back in. I had to pull out the standard pep talks, to remind myself of the things I’m doing right, and to pull myself back up to get back in the game.

I love parenting older kids, but it’s also very hard. This fact didn’t surprise me, since I’ve been pretty much terrified of raising teenagers from the moment I laid eyes on my first newborn. I’m a toddler/preschooler kind of person. I got a degree in Elementary Education, but only partially because my college guidance counselor wisely reminded me that it would ‘go farther’ than a degree in Early Childhood Education. I’ve never, ever dreamed of teaching any child over the age of 10. Those double digit kids were hard to teach, I was sure, and even harder to parent.

But then my kids started turning double digits and I still liked them. In fact, they got funnier, since they could understand grownup jokes (finally) and the conversations we had went deeper. I could truly discuss things with them, and pour into them life lessons about love and relationships, knowing they might actually remember my words. I quickly learned that if I were flexible enough to adapt my parenting style, to respect their need for independence, there didn’t have to be a lot of yelling and slamming of doors.

But I also learned that the hiccups in our relationship could also go deeper and hurt on a whole new level. I became more vulnerable, as we started to form more friendship- like relationships. I find myself stepping back sometimes, and watching my two older kids, wondering who they are (one of them just turned 20 and the other turns 19 tomorrow). A good chunk of their life is outside my nest. They have friends, experiences, and interactions that I’ll never know about. Their lives are full of inside jokes that I’ll never understand, with people I may never meet.

I used to be in complete control of their play dates, friend choices and daily comings and goings. Now I’m a spectator, sometimes craving a peek inside. I feel like I’m on a tightrope some days, balancing the relationship, as I soak in stories they casually tell (if I don’t pry too much), then turning around and making their dinner and meeting their basic needs, like I did when they were six.

So back to my weekend of extremes. One night I’m crying myself to sleep, wondering how I once again failed my own child, and wondering if we’d ever find our middle ground, and then a mere 24 hours later I’m standing on a sunny hillside, watching three of my children have one of the best days of their lives (because of something *I* pulled off).

That part of the story started a few weeks ago, when I noticed that the Winter X Games were taking place just a few hours from our new home. We are a family of outdoor sports, mostly winter sports, and mostly extreme versions of those sports. Winter X Games is our Academy Awards, especially on years when there are no Winter Olympics to watch. Those athletes are our rock stars.

Last year, as we watched the Games, on our couch in New York, I made a mental note to myself. If the Colorado job came through, and we ended up moving there, we were most definitely going to be attending in person when 2012 rolled around. Then suddenly, the big move had happened, and the X Games were on the horizon.

My youngest was psyched. He is an excellent skier, and a beginning snowboarder. He can ski for six days straight, then want to turn around and ski the seventh. He’s all about the jumps at the terrain park, and dodging trees in the woods. Every event at the X Games makes him excited.

The two older boys were okay with going, but not as thrilled as I had hoped. It’s been a year since we saw the Games on TV and they’ve become involved in their regular lives here in our mountain town. One of them truly preferred to stay here, to be able to hang out with his friends, over driving to Aspen, to see the Games.

I had to go with my gut. I made them go.

I was deeply suspicious that once they got there, it would be a day they’d never forget. Their sister had planned to stay home alone, and have the apartment to herself for a whole day. I had no problem with that. She has her own (girl stuff) world , and the more space I give her, the happier she is. But the boys…I knew the boys needed to see at least one X Games in person, especially since we live so close to them. I had to insist they all attend, even the not so enthusiastic.

Saturday rolled around, cold but sunny. We crawled out of bed very early (terrible mom comments all around - waking up EARLY on a SATURDAY?) and hit the road. Within a half an hour we had to change plans. The highway headed west was bumper to bumper with ski traffic. There was no way we’d make it if we sat in that mess.

So hound dog husband found a smaller, side road, and we spent a few hours winding through the amazing scenery of Western Colorado. I couldn’t stop taking pictures. The sun streaming in the windows, the boys in the back, laughing and joking with each other, and suddenly it started to become one of those once in a lifetime days you never want to forget.

We stopped at the tiny store near South Park to get our favorite fudge. We found it on our house hunting trip to CO, nearly a year ago, and it has become family tradition. We made our way through small mountain towns, where you have to wonder where the residents buy their groceries and gas, and then down long roads with breathtaking views. Eventually we caught up with I-70 once again, and were relieved to see that the ski traffic had all found their resorts and cleared off our path.

The shuttle parking lot was right where the online directions had said it would be, and before noon we were walking under the big banner that graced the big blue X. Ahead of us were the things we’d only seen on TV. The Super Half Pipe. The Big Air jumps, made of ridiculously tall mountains of snow. The rows of vendor booths, giving away every kind of ski and snowboard related trinket you could think of. The awe started to finally sink in for my older boys.

By the end of the day my mommy gratitude tank was topped off. I’d stood at the base of the Boarder Cross race with my little guy, and been sprayed with the snow of the finishing racers, exchanging ‘Can you believe it?!’ glances with him. I’d watched my oldest son, my stoic boy, just at the edge of giddy, as he got a prime spot to watch the skiers fly 100 feet over his head. I was possibly more excited than he was, when my middle boy saw one of his few life heroes (a legend in the BMX world) and raced up to him with a sharpie to get an autograph he’ll probably keep in his possessions until he’s my age.

It was an amazing day. The athletes were awe inspiring. Seeing the X Games up close was a dream. But for me, the mom who is in a constant game of ‘am I doing right by them?’, it was perfect.

There was excited sharing of stories, as we stood in line, waiting for the shuttle bus to take us back to the parking lot. And it continued, as we drove the long dark road home. As we stopped by a Taco Bell halfway home, to feed empty tummies something warm, the magic was still in the air. The easy laughter my children shared, that I’ve seen so many times in the past, when conditions are right, filled up my soul.

I can’t say I ‘m thankful for extremes. When the pendulum swings to the bad side, I’m rarely considering the good parts of parenting. But oh, how sweet. How very, very sweet it is, when it finally swings back…so far back…and once again fills up my tank.


Friday, January 27, 2012

A Mother's Anguish

It played out like every stereotype, when it comes to raising a teenage daughter. Even though mine just celebrated the birthday that ushered her into her 20s, the emotions and issues linger. The reason for the falling out isn’t really important. Misunderstandings, hurtful things said, many, many tears. None of it life and death. All of it breaking my heart.

It made me crave a good, deep weeping session. But we’re living in very tight quarters now, and there is just no place to go, at 10 o’clock at night, when one needs to get away. I have an 11 year old, who is very tender hearted, and internalizes everyone else’s stress, to get to bed. Hopefully in peace. Right now he’s even sleeping in the same room as I am, so there was no ‘crying myself to sleep’ to be had.

I go into the bathroom, run the water, and try to quiet the sobs that want to erupt from my core. This girl I adore, my one and only daughter, has the power to cause me such anguish. I’d poured my mothering heart out to her and been stabbed in the back in return.

My patient and wise hubby brushes back my hair and reminds me that she’s going through a tough time herself. Her life is in huge upheaval with no certain landing pad. She acts out of grief and fear herself, so we need to just be patient and love her through this.

He’s right. I know he is. All I can manage is a weary shake of my head, to let him know I hear him, through the tears that run down my face. Then I head off to bed, knowing the sunlight in the morning will help resolve this painful mess.

I settle in next to my baby boy, who is quietly reading his chapter book. I turn to face the wall and pop in my ear buds. Jim Croce is cued up on my phone and I am comforted by his melodies. These are the songs I went to sleep to when I was a fifth grader myself. These are the songs that make my blood pressure go down, in stressful times, because they remind me of childhood. They remind me of my mom, who loved her Jim Croce and his Bad Bad Leroy Brown, even though they didn’t exactly fit into the strict Baptist lifestyle she embraced.

Just as the tears seem to be drying, a fresh batch erupts. It’s times like these that I desperately miss my mom. She’s been gone for 18 years, and I still miss her mothering. I lay on my wet pillow and try to fight the longing, but it does little good.

So I play the logic game. If she were alive today I wouldn’t have necessarily called her when this night turned so sour. That’s not the relationship we had. Or at least that’s not the relationship we were beginning to have, as I had just begun to be a mother in the years before she died.

Instead, I would plow through the hard day, then spill all my frustration out to her, days later, when we’d finally meet up. She’d sympathize, then laugh, as she remembered her own trying days as a new mom. And her laugh would heal me. It reminded me that life went on. New days meant new tries and maybe new frustrations, but always new hope.

And I also realize that I have no idea how she would have reacted to this latest trial with my all-grown-up girl. I don’t have the years between to tell me how our relationship would have evolved and changed. This girl, who I know she would have adored, grew up without that doting grandma, who would have grown and changed with her. They didn’t have the preschool or elementary school years, to get to know each other.

My mom never got to encourage my girl, when she got braces, that she looked beautiful despite the metal in her mouth. And she never got to gush with pride as the braces came off to reveal a suddenly older young lady. She didn’t sit in the bleachers with us, as our girl marched across the stage, long blonde hair falling out of her bright blue graduation cap.

My mom doesn’t know my daughter. That’s a hard pill to swallow. I yearn for her comfort, her guidance in our latest speed bump. But I have no guide wire, no indication as to how it would all play out, if she were still here. She knows nothing of this grown up girl, nothing of our life.

And that fact makes me even more sad. So I do the next logical thing. I text my oldest sister. She’s four states and one time zone away, but thank goodness she replies. She’s the mother to three daughters. One of them was 12 weeks away from being born when we lost our mother. This sister understands my grief, and my anguish, and my occasional frustrations with raising my girl.

She needs no details of the events that led to my text. She just senses my sadness and says the exact right, encouraging words. She reminds me that it’s temporary. This spell will pass, and some day, we will see the fruits of our labor. Not today. But some day.

Fresh tears come, with her compassion. I sense the comfort that my mom used to provide, coming through the device I hold in my hand, a bit of technology that didn’t exist in the days when my mom was still here. We don’t have to call each other anymore, to ‘be there’. A simple text can sometimes do the trick.

And it does. A few tender volleys of words I needed so badly to hear, and I’m able to relax and drift off to sleep. This mothering thing is so complicated. It’s wrapped up in our own mothers, and the mothers that our sisters are to their children.

It’s a network I’ve yet to figure out, but has saved me more than this once.

It’s now a new day. Time for new starts. Time for a chat with my girl, to sort out the mess from last night. Time to build our relationship with one more brick of experience. I find myself hoping that some day, a few decades from now, I can be on the other end, when my girl is in tears, brought on by her own baby girl, and once again the tables are turned.

I want to be there, through text, or skype, or phone call, to remind her that it’s all just a part of mothering.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chewy Feet

It came around again.

That’s what happens when twelve calendar months fly by. Once again it’s the anniversary of my amputation surgery. A day I’ll never forget. A day I dreamed about for years, even decades. A day I did years of research about, so I would have no regrets.

And it worked. Not only do I have no regrets, I’m still just as happy with my new foot, as ecstatic as the day I got it.

January 12th. It’s my ‘other’ birthday. The day I got to start over. I had a lot of trouble finding a doctor who would do the surgery for me. It was a ‘healthy’ foot, after all…no disease, no imminent threat to my health…just a serious threat to my long term mobility, which I guess doesn’t count in orthopedic medicine.

But I finally found my man. He was skeptical, but willing. He was brave enough to trust that I wouldn’t sue him, if I found that having one foot missing wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

So every year, on January 12th, I send him another thank you card. In it I tell him all the things I’ve been able to do that year, because he believed in me. Sometimes I send him pictures, to prove my stories. I don’t want him to ever forget how important he was in my story.

Most years I try to commemorate in some way. It’s a birthday, in a sense, and should be celebrated. But I don’t want to bore my kids to death, since to them it’s ‘just mom’s foot’. So I try to make it fun. In past years we’ve had feet shaped cake or a huge foot shaped cookie. Last year we made regular cupcakes, with the outline of feet on them. My kids joked that the ones I messed up on were my ‘old’ deformed foot. We ate them after dinner and no one complained about having extra treats that day.

This year life was crazier than usual on January 12th. One of my four was in Texas, visiting friends. One had a racquetball court reserved and wouldn’t be home until late. My oldest son and youngest son were all we had left. And it was the night of the big Middle School Open House. That had to be a higher priority than my foot celebration.

But after the Open House, my youngest wanted to celebrate the night by going to McDonalds. We realized we’d never been inside our local McDonalds since we moved here, six months ago, and he had gift cards he’d gotten in his birthday card in October. They were burning a hole in his pocket.

So we went to visit the Golden Arches. It was past eight, in the evening, so we practically had the place to ourselves. My oldest son and I had discussed the occasion of my foot birthday, as we’d run errands, earlier in the day. He brought up the topic, as we sat around the table, eating our fries. Then he decided we should have a contest.

To commemorate the day, we should do something new. Like see who could carve a regular, flat McDonalds burger into the best rendition of mom’s foot. He’s a teenager, and this seemed like a very logical way to make the night special.

Each boy was given one burger and one plastic knife. They brainstormed for a few minutes, then dove in. This is what one of them came up with (blood and all, since it was ‘post surgery’). I won’t tell you which one, so I don’t alter the judging.

This is what the other came up with (turn your head to the right, the picture is sideways). He nearly perfected the large humped big toe I used to have. Both are pretty impressive, I think, considering the medium and available tools.

And then, the ultimate winner emerged.

“Wait! Wait!”, my oldest son proclaimed, waving the plastic knife in the air, “I’ve got one more entry! Wait, just a second…”

He proceeded to tear open a packet of artificial sweetener and make a pile on the tray. Then he took some small pieces of straw wrapper and curled them into tight little knots. Once he placed the knots strategically in the middle of the powdery pile, he announced, “There! That’s PERFECT! I WIN!”

It took just a few minutes before we all got it.

But in fact, my big boy had indeed won the challenge. Because the reality is, my foot was taken from that hospital room, to a mortuary, and cremated on January 12, 2003. It now sits in a velvet box in my closet. Some day soon I will throw those ashes off a beautiful mountainside, in a grand gesture to say goodbye to my old life and welcome in my new one.

But for now it’s a pile of ashes. And it looks a lot like the pile of Sweet N Low with wrapper bits sprinkled throughout. We know. We’ve looked in that velvet box.

Another year has flown by. Hopefully, and almost definitely, this will be the year the book about my journey to mobility will be published, and available to give to others who might be facing some hard life choices. And before I know it, another January will be rolling around. We’ll find a new way to celebrate, I’m sure.

But something else I’m sure about - it will, without a doubt, not ever be as creative and ketchup covered, as our celebration in January of 2012.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


This is a picture of a McDonalds that sits across the parking lot from one of the two grocery stores in my town. It’s obviously seen better days. I have no idea why it’s being torn down, or what exciting business might be built in its place. But the first time I drove by it, as the back hoe began its work, I smiled. It’s a good sign to me.

I have nothing against Ronald’s place. We don’t go there very often, but I will boldly admit I do enjoy his food every now and then, especially his amazing French fries. But seeing his building falling to the ground made me happy because it’s a step in the process of feeling at home in my new hometown.

When we first drove around Evergreen, a year ago, we took note of where the groceries stores were, which fast food places existed in our mountain town (hint: not many), where I could find the local post office, and which roads led to the ski resorts. I did the mental mapping I do every time we move. Where will I go to run my daily errands, and which roads will I use to attend school functions?

This very McDonalds went on my mental map, mainly because it had a Red Box machine sitting out front, and it’s currently our favorite way to rent new movies.

Then autumn came, and we slowly but surely moved here. First the boys and Jeff, then I joined them. In December our daughter made the trek across the country, and we all officially became Colorado residents.

I’m still at the place where I rarely see someone I know in the grocery store. Our downstairs neighbor works at the floral department, so I sometimes get a wave from her. I often see people I think I know, because they remind me of someone I knew in New York, or Utah, or Missouri…but it’s never ‘them’. The reality is, I know about six people in our entire small town (not counting the checkout clerks, who I eagerly chat with every single week).

Meanwhile, I notice the other shoppers around me, greeting each other and giving hugs or handshakes, as they exclaim, ‘Hey there! It’s been a while since I’ve seen you!” I know someday I’ll have my first moment, my first, ‘Hey, I know you!’ moment as my cart crosses paths with a familiar face.

But the McDonalds being torn down, to be replaced by another building, gives me hope. Someday, maybe a year from now, maybe five, someone will ask for directions, and I’ll be able to say, “it’s down there, you know, by where the McDonalds used to be…” I’ll be an old timer. I’ll be a person who has watched our town grow and change. I’ll have memories of things that used to be here, but were replaced by other things.

Just this week I answered an ad from the free section of our local Craig’s List. I scored a huge tub of hypoallergenic (expensive!)laundry detergent that gave the woman’s daughter a rash. In the course of our meeting, we discovered our sons go to the same school, and are in the same class. In fact, my son’s best friend has a huge crush on this woman’s daughter.

We chatted about teenagers and shared some stories about our lives, and I now look forward to seeing her in the grocery store.
Who knows? Maybe she’ll be my first grocery store run in. I’ll come around the end of an aisle and realize I recognize someone.

Then I’ll be the one who pulls my cart to the side and says, “Hey! I know you!”


Friday, January 20, 2012

Why He's Home

The end of January is coming at us like a brisk winter wind. I’m supposed to be taking my college boy back to the dorm. In fact, all of his besties from his first semester of dorm life have already returned. They text him like crazy, with messages along the lines of ‘we miss you, bro!’ (if that’s even the current lingo).

But my boy is still here, crammed into this tiny condo with us. He’s had a change of plans and suddenly it meant I was blessed with a few extra months in his company.

If you’ve gotten lost in the saga of our life this past year, I don’t blame you. I feel like I need Cliff Notes myself, just to remember the craziness we lived through in 2011. But here’s the nutshell (granted, the biggest nut you can think of).

Michael has always loved planes. His bedroom walls and bookcases were filled with posters and books about planes, from every war and every country. He also loves running, especially in the woods. He endured the two other track seasons, so he could be in shape for the only one that mattered, cross country.

He loves math and science (and hates English, books, reading…all the things his mom enjoys). As a child he was constantly figuring things out, taking things apart, putting them back together. When he was seven or eight, he walked through the kitchen and said, ‘Mom, you’re putting the dishes in wrong.’ At a glance, he could see that the way I loaded the plates in the dishwasher was ‘backwards’ from what the designers intended. I rarely load the dishwasher these days, without thinking about that moment. The moment I knew for sure my boy had an engineer’s brain.

It was logical that he would go to school for something plane related. He also wanted, very badly, to get back to that perfect snow in Utah, the place where he’d learned to ski and fell in love with the powder . Soon he found out that one of the top aviation programs in the country was at Westminster College, in Salt Lake City. He had no ‘second choice’, when he applied to colleges. It was Westminster, and their amazing flight program, or nothing.

He was also sure that he wanted to fly in the military. Eventually he might settle for commercial planes, but all the exciting flying happens in the armed forces. We spent a year doing everything necessary to apply for an ROTC scholarship, with no luck. The program has become extremely desired, as college tuitions rise, and the selection process has become very tight.

When the money didn’t come in for his freshman year, but his desire was stronger than ever, we made a deal with him. We’d help him pay for the first year, with the understanding that he’d do everything he could to get the 3 year ROTC scholarship to cover the rest. That one year would cost us the equivalent of four years at our local state school.

We drove him to Utah in early August, and checked him in. He spent the next four months making lifetime friends, the kind you can only create in a dorm situation. As he settled into college, the rest of his family slowly but surely moved from New York to Colorado. It was nice to have him only a day’s drive away, when the Thanksgiving holiday rolled around.

While we were distracted with a million move related details, Michael was doing research. Not just school research (drat, those stupid English papers!), but life plans research. He was talking to recruiters, professors (many who were pilots), and school guidance counselors. He started to realize he needed a new plan for the next four years.

With the military being in a wave of cut backs, those scholarships are becoming more and more rare, especially if you went to an expensive, private school. Even if he finished his four years of college, with an exclusive aviation degree, there were no guarantees he would be able to get a spot in flight school in the military. Some years there are very few openings and you take what you can get. We heard this from so many sources that we started to believe it.

So, as I spent a harried week in NY, organizing the moving truck logistics, trying to get our old house’s heater to turn on before the pipes froze, and doing house sales negotiations over the phone with an assortment of realtors and attorneys, my boy called me from school.

He had changed his life plan and wanted my advice. Because, you know, I had nothing else going on…

Long story short, here’s his new plan. He’s jumping straight into the military. In May he’ll report to boot camp, then one of the longest training programs they have, in the EOD field (explosives). He’ll give them four years. In those four years he’ll get valuable training (which will use his incredible math and science skills, which pleases his mother), then possibly move to a flight related job when the openings come up.

At that point, four years from now, he can choose to stay in the military, if the EOD training agrees with him as much as I think it will, or he finds a flight path that suits him. Or he can choose to get out, and go back to that flight degree, this time with everything paid for. Either way, if he wants, he can be in his mid 20s, with a pilot’s license, and a wide variety of career options.

It was hard to swallow, at first. Especially as I sat in the middle of the chaos of the family relocation. We worked so long and hard to get him into the program and Westminster, and it’s an amazing school. But once we talked about it more, and I talked to the recruiter more, it all did seem to make a lot more sense.

Yes, I worry about his safety. Not only is he signing up for training that involves explosives (you know, stuff that blows up…) but he could very likely be sent overseas, where the locals might not treasure his life as much as his mama does.

But he’s excited. He is confident in his choices, and pumped about his future. Even as hard as it is to see his friends go back to that party- central dorm room without him, he’s stayed focused. He runs every day and lifts weights, to be ready for his next step.

He can’t wait to see other parts of the world, and be that guy who knows which wire you cut when there’s ten seconds before the bomb goes off (is it the red one or the blue one?...I always forget…)

And now that I’ve had some time to digest the new plan, I see other benefits to this timing. His younger brothers have now gone back to school. During the days it’s just me and him, and his older sister who is hunting for a job. We get to hang out, run errands together, and share life stories. I’m loving it.

And, another bonus. This mountain town we’ve moved to is not my son’s hometown. His high school memories will always reside in New York, and other school memories are scattered through the various states we’ve called home. Evergreen Colorado is only a place he visited with his family, back in April, as we took an early house hunting trip.

But now he’s having time to explore this beautiful town. He’s running her trails and running mom’s errands, learning where to find the nearest Red Box and groceries. Every day that passes, he builds more memories here, and it becomes a bigger part of him. I want him to go out into the world with a sense of ‘home’. If he didn’t have these four months, with nothing but time to explore, it would have taken a lot of school breaks and holidays to finally feel like he belonged here.

So that’s why my son is still in my household. It’s why he still shows up in pictures I post on Facebook, when all of my friend’s college aged kids have disappeared from their shots of daily life.

It’s not a life change I saw coming, just a year ago, but neither is our current family life situation. A lot can change in a year. But there’s nothing that says unexpected change can’t end up being a good thing. A new path. New opportunities. Hey, who knows where life will find us just twelve months from now.

I guess we’ll just have to keep our minds open, and patiently wait and see.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Book Deal

For most of my life I dreamed of getting rid of my left foot. When I was ten, it started twisting and turning into something that embarrassed me, scared me, and eventually had the power to shape my self esteem and character. I spent a good part of my life trying to hide it. I spent many weeks on crutches, after repeated surgeries did nothing to change it. It wasn’t until I was tucked safely into an encouraging marriage, to a man who didn’t care about my foot, but instead about my heart, that I was able to exhale, and stop letting it rule my life.

Once I got brave enough to get rid of it, eight years ago, I never looked back. Through all the ups and downs (mostly ups) that have come with adjusting to a metal leg, I have never, for one micro second, wished I had my old foot back. My worst day on this new leg is still a hundred times better than the best day on my old flesh and bone limb.

I have always loved to write, and when the kids were little I poured that hobby into writing essays and stories. Once I was propped up on our king sized bed, waiting for amputation stitches to heal, it suddenly occurred to me that the journey to becoming an amputee might be something good to write about. It actually happened something like this (an excerpt from the first chapter of my book):

We were laying in bed, watching TV, the cat curled up in the place where my calf would have been, if I had a lower left leg. The title amputee was still new and the results of my radical decision still up for grabs.

"I really think I want to write about this," I said to my life mate, out of the blue.

"Write about what?"

He could not connect my comment to the episode of the Daily Show that blared across the room.

"My surgery. My decision. The reason I had it cut off."

"Oh." He turned to face me. "Yeah, that'd be good. Write it all out. Get down the details. Tell your story."

His encouragement made the wheels of composition turn in my brain.

"But where do I start? Last year? The year before that? When we first began letting our family know I was choosing to lose a limb?"

He was quiet, reflective. Jon Stewart had been muted and my man was fully engaged in this new conversation.

"No…you need to start at the beginning. The very beginning. There's no other way to do it."

"But why?" It seemed excessive, vain.

"Well, because….because for someone to understand how you could be happy to lose a leg, they have to see the sadness that came before. To understand why a grown woman would beg a doctor to perform such a drastic surgery they first have to see the little girl who hid on the playground and forgot how to run. They first have to witness the life you had, the years you had, with a limb you grew to hate."

His answer made me silent. He was right. I had to start at the beginning. There was no other place to start. To understand the decision I made at age 37 you first have to understand who I was at age five.

And so I dove in. So much of my decision came from the events in life that shape who you are. I was raised in a big foster family, which made our natural family of seven constantly in a state of super sized flux. I noticed my foot starting to grow wrong, but hated bothering my overworked parents about it, knowing they had bigger things on their plates.

I hung out in the middle of the commotion, happy to fly under the radar, as I silently questioned and feared what that twisting foot meant for my future.

Years of doctors visits and quizzing any medical professional I could, about the idea of cutting it off and starting over, only to be told it was a foot with a pulse (not diseased) so amputation would never be an option, beat down my resolve.

Then marriage came, to the first man I had ever shown my naked foot (and he valiantly said, “What’s the big deal again?...”) and children arrived. More medical issues arose, this time not concerning me, but my mother and then my newborn son. I learned to step up, and fight for medical answers. I learned that doctors are just people. Many of them are heroes, but many of them are misinformed. It was up to me to decide my own fate, when it came to my wayward foot.

Finally, through a series of other events, and eventual access to a bigger and bigger internet world, I decided to have that surgery, that so many doctors had told me would never be possible.

And I love my new leg. I love my new options. I love sharing my story. It’s about much more than a leg that I lost. It’s about never giving up, on getting the life you really want. For some people it might mean losing that extra weight. For some it might mean working on the quality of their marriage. For me, it meant losing a limb.

It was scary. But it was so worth it, in the end.

I wrote the bulk of the manuscript for my book, that I’m calling “Just One Foot: How Amputation Cured My Disability”, then spent months researching how to get it published. This was over five years ago, when the publishing industry was just starting to wobble. E books were coming on the market, and everyone was scrambling, to figure out what it meant to traditional books.

I got many nibbles, many notes of encouragement from publishers, and lots of flat out rejections, but no takers. Life picked up in intensity, and the manuscript was buried in the back files of my computer for the past couple of years.

Then, for some reason, in the middle of this chaotic move from NY to Colorado, I pulled out my files again. I found a great memoir on the new book shelf of our local library that inspired me. I wrote the author and told her I loved her book, but that something about it had also inspired me to pull out my old files.

She kindly replied to my email (as many of my favorite authors do, something I’ll always be grateful for) and encouraged me in my own writing. She also shared with me that she had self published her book, then was picked up by a traditional publisher.

I’ve toyed with self publishing in the past. The main reason I’d dragged my feet about doing it myself, was the respect factor. I was in a wonderful writers group in NY, filled with published writers, and it just seemed like, to be picked up by a traditional publisher was the standard to meet. It meant your work was worthy and edited well. It meant it ‘deserved’ to be in print.

But in the past few years I’ve heard more and more stories that contradict that advice. Some really great books have been self published. My book can be a great book, without a traditional publisher, but it’s just up to me to make sure it’s right. The editing needs to be spotless. The layout needs to be professional. The cover needs to be perfect. And at that point, what’s the harm in getting it out there ‘myself’?

I’ve now decided I’ve reached the point where I’d rather have it out there, than wait for the stars to align, and have the Manhattan guys calling my number. I’d love to get my story into the hands that need it. The people who approach me at the gym and say, “My nephew just got back from Iraq and lost his leg. How can I encourage him?” The people who are brave enough to ask about my lost limb, then fascinated when I tell them I chose to have it taken off (there is just not time in the aisle of Walmart, to give them the deep reasons for my decision). And the friends I grew up with, many of whom had no idea I had anything more than a slight limp, as we navigated the years of middle school, high school, and college.

I truly believe, in this age of constantly changing technology, that my story will not be the exception, in years to come. The foot I wear today was not created a handful of years ago, when I was getting my first leg. I can’t wait to see what technology will bring me in the future. I see it in the same light as hip replacements and organ transplants. The old part didn’t work, there are parts that can replace it. Why would we not choose to start over?

I’d love to get my story out there, at the beginning of this new age, to introduce the idea to our changing world.

Because I really and truly believe in the subtitle to my soon to be published book - amputation most definitely cured my disability.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Thank you, por todo

“Thank you! Thank you! Por todo! Por todo!”

The little man scurried in and out of the crowd of men that surrounded him, saying these words over and over again. Each man nodded in acknowledgement, as they shook each other’s hands. One turned to put the tow rope back in his trunk. Another kicked the small tree limbs to the side of the road, so vehicles could once again pass by.

We happened upon the scene just as it was unfolding. As we rounded a hairpin turn, on the mountain road we’d chosen to explore in our new home state of Colorado, we saw a commotion. Two small SUVs were parked on the right shoulder of the road. They were only half off the road, since the shoulder dropped off to a steep cliff. Huddled in front, between, and behind the vehicles was an assortment of dark skinned women and young children, all dressed in their holiday clothes, since it was Christmas Day.

On the left side of the road was the problem. A group of well dressed young men, in their shiny best shoes, surrounded a small truck, that had fallen off the side of the road, into a deep snow bank. Behind the wheel of the truck was a tiny, elderly Hispanic man. It was not clear which people knew each other, and who had just stopped to be good Samaritans. But it was immediately apparent that few of them spoke English.

We stopped, of course, because our vehicle contained three strong men, who could contribute to the rescue operation. One was my husband, who always seems to be the one to step up when someone needs rescuing, and the other two were my tall teen sons, whose characters are very similar to their dads. They eagerly jumped from our truck and hurried over to the action.

What followed was a series of tries, pushing and pulling that little truck, trying to release it from the grip of a greedy snow bank. With every attempt, it seemed to become more lodged into place. My sons, not understanding most of what the other men were saying, gestured and nodded, as they thought of new ideas, and followed the pantomimed instructions of the people around them. At one point my oldest son decided to hike a bit up the side of the hill, to retrieve some branches to use for traction. The snow bank that had the little truck trapped was thrilled to grab my boy’s legs, and when he sunk up to the top of his thigh with his second step, there were hearty laughs all around, no translation needed.

For almost an hour the effort continued. A group of people, pulled together in a common mission, in the middle of a sunny holiday afternoon. Finally, a truck came around the corner, that had another willing helper, but this time one who owned a tow rope. Our big Suburban had been no help, when there was no way to tie it to the little truck. Within minutes the two vehicles were attached and with one big thrust, the tiny truck was dislodged.

In the middle of the road, finally free from his bondage, the small Hispanic man jumped out of the truck and eagerly thanked the crowd around him. Most of them barely acknowledged his words. Men who choose to be silent heroes are generally not the accolade type. They were just content to pack up their gear and be on their way.

But their effort meant the world to one small man, who only spoke broken English. “Thank you! Por todo! Thank you! Por todo!” It was all he could say.

And I came away from the scene with just as much gratitude. We have tried to raise our children to be open and accepting of all people, no matter the color of their skin or the size of their wallet. For my fifteen year old, who rarely sees the value of his tedious Spanish classes, it was a lesson in how very valuable having language skills can be. And for my maturing teen boys, who both walked away feeling two feet taller that day, it was a great reminder that we’re all put on this earth to help each other out. Even if we don’t share a common language.

Someone needs help. You help them. And it feels good to everyone who comes out the other side.

To the precious little Hispanic man, who was so very grateful for the kindness of strangers, I have a message for you too. Thank you for giving my boys an opportunity to open their hearts on a sunny Christmas day. It’s a memory I know they will carry with them for a very long time. So gracias, for everything.

Thank you, por todo.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012



It’s a small word. Non assuming. Just four little letters that every kindergartener knows. So simple, and yet it has the potential to make me weep.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard a song by this name, sung by an adorable artist named Michael Buble. Its lyrics cut through my soul and immediately emptied out the reservoir of tears I hold in my heart.

May be surrounded by
A million people, I
Still feel all alone
I just wanna go home
I miss you, you know.

The first time I heard it, and it’s achingly beautiful tone and melody, I cried for my mom. For almost two decades she was my home. And I miss her, so desperately. She left the planet when I was in my mid 20’s- a new wife, a new mom, a brand new adult. I had planned to know her in a new way, and a sudden stroke took her from me.

With her loss came a loss of home. She was the glue that kept our family together. She’d organized our huge household for decades, and she put the magic in every holiday. I instantly felt at home, with every greeting that met me at her front door. I can still hear her voice, calling out in pure joy, as I’d come home from college. “Ju - deeeee! My Judy’s home!”

They’re three simple words I miss, as much as I miss the home base she embodied.

I envy my friends, who still have their parents, and because of it, their home bases. My dad remarried an amazing woman, who keeps him healthy and happy. But their home together is a place I visit, not a home I return to.

Let me go home
I’m just too far
From where you are
I wanna come home

And so I was forced to move on, and create my own sense of home. For the past decade and a half I’ve thrown myself into making a nest that my children can feel safe in. We’ve changed houses, moved from state to state, but my first priority, even before the moving truck shows up, is making my children feel at home. I want them to remember how my voice was filled with adoration as each one of them walked in the door, whether their bedrooms were unpacked yet or not.

Home. It sometimes takes a while. In our Utah house, the newest house we’ve ever owned, we were settled in quickly. Surrounded by a street full of friendly families, we felt very at home, in a few short months.

Then we bought our fixer upper in New York. It took several years to feel like we belonged there, as we tore down walls, sanded sheetrock, and built a new kitchen from the ground up. All four kids were in school, from kindergarten to ninth grade, and life got crazy. There was little time to do the things that make someone feel like they’re home. Many holidays came and went, and as we built new traditions, surrounded by those specific walls, home started to grow on us.

And here we are again. The New York house now has a new family creating their own memories surrounded by its renovated walls. Our furniture has been cleared out and moved to storage. Our pictures no longer hang on the walls. The only hint that we once lived there is the growth chart scratched in the dining room trim board. It snakes up the wall, a reminder of all the growth that took place there.

Another airplane
Another sunny place
I’m lucky I know
But I wanna go home
Mmm, I got to go home

Home. It’s time to find it again. We’re in a new state, a place that we love, but we still feel like visitors. The skiing is great. The views are amazing. But we don’t feel like we’re home yet. It doesn’t help that we’re stuck in a very small condo, the six of us trying to make do until better arrangements can be made. We were sucked dry by the New York house sale, financially, and it just might make sense to stay put, in this lower cost living situation, as we try to recover. But we’ve already been here since August, and we are all ready to move out, move on, to find our new nest.

Another winter day
Has come and gone away
In even Paris and Rome
And I wanna go home
Just let me go home

We’re still crunching the numbers. Technically we could go ahead and find the rental house we’ll call home, until we recover all the equity we lost in the house sale. But the bite it will take out of our monthly budget could be used, at least for now, to pay down the debts we owe from our nightmare year of 2011. It’s a hard decision to make. Move into a more home-like place, and be in debt forever, or make this arrangement work, and get on top of the finances faster.

We all crave home. I crave it when I’m reminded of things my mother is missing, with every year that my children change and grow. But I also miss it, as my children do, when it applies to our everyday surroundings. Having a place that feels like ‘your own’. Having somewhere that you can let your hair down at the end of a hard day. Having somewhere that’s filled with people who know you well, but love you anyway.

This week we’ll decide. Either we’ll extend our contract on this small condo or we’ll find a more permanent rental house in town. Both decisions come with big implications. But I’m telling you this - if we decide to stay in this place, this lovely small space that has always felt temporary to me, there will have to be some changes made. We will use a bit of money to tweak this place, to personalize it, to turn it into a place that isn’t just a safe place to sleep and eat.

We need, we crave, something that feels like home.