Christine's Blog

Christmas 2015


Dear Dad,

I celebrated another Christmas without you. The tenth Christmas without your smile. 

I came across a quote today: Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory. When I was young that quote certainly applied. You were my dad, you were always there, it never crossed my mind that one day I would have to celebrate without you.

It’s been ten years since I sat next to you at Christmas dinner. Did I ever tell you that was one of my favorite Christmas moments? Every year as we sat down for dinner, me in my chair to your left, you smiled at me, that great, big, warm, beautiful smile of yours, the one that made me feel loved and cherished, the smile that I felt was mine alone. 

For many, many Christmases I looked forward to that very moment. And every year, as I returned a smile that was yours alone, I thought how fortunate I was to be your daughter and how much I loved you. I’m so grateful that I recognized how precious those simple smiles were, and that I never took them for granted. 

In over fifty years of Christmases, we spent only a handful apart. I know you worked hard for all the presents that Santa brought us throughout the years, and I’m sure it brought you pleasure, watching us rip open the packages and squeal with delight. And although I did enjoy those presents, it was never about the gifts.

One Christmas, I don’t even remember how old I was, maybe 8 or 9, I went with you and your friend George to pick out our tree. I felt so special to be included, and I can still picture that night so clearly. As we drove I pressed my face against the car window and watched the Christmas lights twinkle on the houses and stores. When we arrived I hopped out of the station wagon to a wonderland of pine trees. It was a frigid night and my excited breath came out in small white puffs. You held my hand and we strolled among the aisles of trees, examining them from all angles until we found the perfect tree, which you and George tied to the car. 

It was a big tree that filled the corner of the living room and trailed the scent of pine. We decorated it with the big-bulbed, multi-colored lights, that were popular in the sixties, and sparkling ornaments, some of which decorate my tree today, and lots and lots of tinsel! It was a beautiful tree, and the memory makes it even more so. 

Those are the memories that have stayed with me, Dad. The ones where your quiet presence kept my world in place. So on my tenth Christmas without you, I want to acknowledge all you have given me: all the special moments we shared, all the love and laughter, and to tell you I will always miss you. Always. Forever. And every Christmas, when I see your empty chair at the table, I will smile and remember your great, big, warm, beautiful smile, the one that was mine alone.

 Love, Chris


The Big 6 Oh

I turned sixty today. And I have to admit I'm having a tiny problem with this milestone. First, let me state how incredibly grateful I am to be here in my life: healthy, happily married, kids grown with lives of their own, grandchildren, my dogs. BUT, I'm SIXTY!! The voice in my head keeps screaming, "I can't be sixty! Mom is sixty. Sixty is OLD! I can't possibly be that old, it all went way too fast! HELP!"

I tried to quiet that voice as soon as I crawled out of bed this morning. After looking in the mirror and realizing those gray strands had been very busy multiplying overnight, I grabbed the box of color on my bathroom counter and got started straight away. (Really I'd been procrastinating the color thing because its messy and smelly, and well, because I'm a procrastinator.) 

I checked my phone, 730, to make sure I had enough time to complete this process before my granddaughter called at 830 for a ride from her sleepover at a nearby friend. We had planned to spend the day together. Sure enough, as I squeezed the last bit of color from the bottle, my phone rang - my granddaughter, Madison. I left the house with the smelly, messy color in my hair and honked the horn in the driveway, waiting for my granddaughter to emerge. I did have a wicked thought: knocking on the door in my present state just to see the look of horror on my thirteen-year-old granddaughter's face, but I'm not that kind of grandmother. 

After finishing the color and showering I headed to the farmers market anxious for this seasons first crop of strawberries. My granddaughter opted to go back to bed rather than accompany me on my errands. (Teenagers!) As I stepped up the curb at the market my sandal caught and I tripped, my first sixty-year-old trip, my purse flew from hand, contents scattered along the sidewalk. I did the casual sideways glance that all fall victims do, checking to see who witnessed my klutzy move. No one there. Whew...or so I thought.  

I purchased the strawberries and wandered around the market, enjoying the beautiful weather, trying to pretend I wasn't feeling sick. My denial ended when I had a coughing spasm that made me feel like I swallowed fire. I headed to the drugstore, scanned the shelves, found what I was looking for, and quickly headed to check out. There, I was approached by a woman who said, "Excuse me Ma'am, did you know you have a large hole in the back of your pants?" I was horrified as I realized it probably happened during my old lady trip up the curb. (My apologies to everyone at the farmers market! Oh, the visual: hacking up a lung with your ass hanging out!) I exited that store as fast as my sixty-year-old legs would go. 

OMG, I thought, is this what sixty is going to be? Tripping, ripping your pants without realizing it and walking around oblivious with your ass hanging out? Then I heard my phone ding. I had a voice mail from my mom. She sang, Happy Birthday,  in her message. She told me that she couldn't believe I was sixty, when she was only sixty-five! She told me that she loved me and wished me a wonderful day! 

I cried when I heard her message, so thankful that I missed her call. My mom is not sixty- five, she's eighty-one. You would never know that from looking at her or talking to her, but she is. She is extremely social, still has her sharp sense of humor, her outspokenness, and her generous spirit. She still never sits still. She is what my sister and I call, "a clean freak" a term that she accepts as a compliment. She's quite the gossip (I mean this in the nicest way, mom) and always knows what is going on in the lives of those around her. Because she cares. Because if you need anything she's the first one to come knocking on your door. 

Inside myself I can see some of my mother: her outgoingness, her outspokenness, her bossiness. (I am an oldest child after all) Unlike her, I'm quite comfortable sitting on my ass doing nothing for long periods, and, except for the precision "towel folding" thing, my mother's passion for cleanliness has escaped me. (Otherwise, I'd be vacuuming up the "tumbleweeds" of dog hair lingering in every corner instead of writing, and for that I'm grateful.) 

As much as I hate getting older, I really hate my mother getting older. She lives in Florida now, and I only see her once a year. Every year I can see how she's aged; it makes me feel like a little girl afraid of losing her mommy. When I listened to my birthday voicemail, I realized that on every one of my future birthdays I will be able to hear my mom singing me happy birthday! I can always hear her voice say, "I love you!" What a priceless 60th birthday gift! 

Maybe sixty won't be so bad after all. 




The Downhill Slide

Every dog owner knows it will come: the day we must say goodbye. Most of us manage to keep that knowledge on the periphery, off in the distant future. How can we do otherwise? The hole that is left after such a loss can be brutally deep. And yet there are moments when the inevitably of that goodbye is unavoidable. I had such a moment today. 

In a previous blog, Space for Kyra, I shared the unusual circumstances that brought Kyra and I together. I have yet to express, in any piece of writing, the depth of her spirit or how much she means to me. But I feel it. 

Kyra was diagnosed with hip dysplasia when she was 3 years old. Our vet recommended she be evaluated by a specialist at the University of Wisconsin. The possible hip replacement surgery, thankfully, was deemed unnecessary. We were told that her hip could be managed with regular exercise, supplements and medication. For years we have followed those instructions: morning walks in the park, (weather permitting) supplements and pain meds given daily. Kyra voluntarily comes every time she hears the rattle of the pill containers; she allows me open her mouth and slide the pills down her throat. 

She is now 9, and it seems that the supplements and exercise have done little to slow the deterioration of her hip joint. I hear clicks in both her hip and knee. Awful sounds. I try to blink away tears when I see the expression on my vet's face and hear his words, "Bone on bone...cartilage worn away...very painful." She is experiencing bouts of nausea, and blood is drawn to rule out kidney damage from years of taking pain meds. My vet supplies tiny white pills for the nausea and new pain meds. He informs me of treatment advances in the form of weekly injections. Quality of life is discussed. I want to turn my head away. I don't want to hear any of it. I want her to live forever. Without pain.  

The new pain meds don't work as well, but the nausea is subsiding. The blood tests come back normal. No kidney damage. I am relieved and grateful. Still, I see pain in her eyes at times. I stroke the silky fur behind her ears, just the way she likes. I whisper soothing words. I sit with her on the floor, her head in my lap. Our walks in the park have shortened in length and are interspersed with frequent rest periods; I toss her ball much closer.

Last night my husband and I had dinner with friends, and I drank too much wine. (It was very good wine!) I awoke with a headache and a queasy stomach, feelings hardly conducive to a pleasurable walk in the park. My goal this morning is to get home as quickly as possible so I can lie on the couch and close my eyes. But Kyra is not cooperating, her many rest periods seem to drag on. And despite my knowledge of her deteriorating joints, I find myself becoming impatient with her. I think, "Come on already!"

I have walked with her trailing behind me "off leash" for many years, letting her sniff and walk at her own pace, while I periodically stop and urge her to catch up. Today, when I turn back and say, "Come on Kyra!" she does something unusual. She rises from her grassy patch in the shade and heads toward me. Then she stops, sits in the sunshine, and looks at me. I notice the abnormal tilt of her leg and feel a rush of guilt. I look at her face expecting an expression of pain; instead, she smiles and tilts her head up, as if she's caught a pleasurable scent on the breeze. My gaze follows hers, and for the first time today I notice the sky. It is my favorite sky: a deep cerulean blue overhead with small, fluffy clouds dotting the horizon. I feel the pleasure of that sky and the tangy, spring breeze on my face. I notice the vivid green that covers the park: a carpet of freshly mowed grass, newly sprouted leaves covering the trees and bushes, my favorite row of majestic White Pines. It all comes into focus. I breathe deeply and take it all in. I feel Kyra at my side and place my hand on her head. The sun has warmed her fur. 

Kyra has taught me many lessons. Important lessons. The exact ones I need.

Will there be other spring days like this one? Yes. Will I be here to see them? Probably. But there will never be another day that will unfold in the exact same way. I realize that Kyra has brought me to the present moment, to the awareness of how important it is to pull myself from all the unimportant distractions that fill my mind and be present in my life: to look up at the sky, to notice the unique green of spring, to treasure walks in the park and the precious company of my dog.

We sit for a while, Kyra and I, under a tree, in the shade, together, content. I put my arm around her, press my face into her neck and inhale her familiar, heady, dog smell. I feel gratitude and loss welling up inside bringing hot tears, knowing that despite my most ardent desire, these moments will not last forever.

We leave the shade of the ancient Oak tree and walk back to the car. I ease her hind legs into the back seat, and we drive home with the radio playing and Kyra's smiling face hanging out the window. 





The Question Mark

   I wrote this piece years ago. It is the creative spark for my new novel, which (for now) is titled, I Am That Mother.               


As I open the door an alarm announces my entry to the garage waiting room. In the harsh glare of florescent light, I see rows of blue chairs hugging the walls and two vending machines standing guard side by side swallowing up the space in the corner. The room is devoid of life except for an old couple huddled together on two of the blue chairs. I walk to the service counter. A mechanic appears and after a brief exchange about my car’s flat tire, I take a seat as instructed and wait. 

My attention is drawn to the old couple seated across from me. The man is small and stiff, his body contorted in the shape of a question mark, a shape mimicked by the tarnished cane he holds. His head is covered in a green cap, tufts of gray hair protrude around its edge. He feels my scrutiny and lifts his head, painfully it seems, as it breaks out of that question mark mold to meet my eye. I acknowledge his gesture with a smile. He returns a smile that splits his face and warms his watery gray eyes. It is an odd moment that lasts too long, lingering far beyond a normal greeting between strangers. Still I cannot look away. 

  “Stop flirting with the pretty young girl,” his wife says in a teasing tone. I shift my smile to her, thinking, I would not describe myself as “a pretty young girl.”  Clear oxygen prongs are visible in her nostrils, the excess tubing coiled at her feet like a snake, the end connected to an oxygen tank at her side. Her tightly curled bouffant looks as if it would survive all of our recent hurricanes—perfectly intact. Like her husband she is also small, but unlike him her body is relaxed, her posture straight.

     I like her smile. I like her raspy voice. But there is something in that openness, like the extended eye contact with her husband, that causes a slight unease. I know this about myself: frail, sick, elderly people make me feel vulnerable and a little sad. There is no hiding the failing bodies, so evident now in this couple before me. How can this be the reward for a life, to be trapped in a body that you no longer recognize as your own? 

    Almost as if she reads my mind, she says, “Don’t believe what they say about the golden years, there is nothing at all golden about it.” 

 I look at the tubing that presses across her face from nose to ear. And again she reads my mind—or my obvious open face—and answers my unasked question. “I smoked for years, too many years. Now I can’t breathe.”  An expression of sadness passes over her face and is quickly replaced with a vacant look.  

 The service station attendant calls their name. The man rises out of the chair slowly; he shuffles his feet and taps his cane as he makes his way toward the door. This time his head does not lift to meet my gaze. His wife gathers up the coil of tubing at her feet and pulls her oxygen tank behind her as she follows her husband toward the exit. She smiles at me once more, and says, “The blind leading the blind,” then chuckles softly at her own joke. I rise and open the door as they slowly exit.

The room is now empty, the book I brought waits unopened. I wonder about the old couple. What caused the man’s body to become imprisoned in that question mark posture?  Was it genetic? Osteoporosis? Did his raspy-voiced wife start smoking in her youth? Was she addicted before the surgeon general imprinted each cigarette pack with a warning label? Has she accepted that oxygen tank as her constant companion, or does she regret each puff that robbed her of breath?

Perhaps the changes in the old couple came from circumstances more complex than the ordinary events I imagine. Maybe they survived a tragedy, a heartbreak that they were unable to escape. 

I pick up my book, try to lose myself in its pages, but it doesn’t hold my interest. I close my eyes and rest my head back against the chair. My mind returns to the old couple, and I daydream.


The son she cradles has had his fill and falls asleep, his downy cheek resting against her breast. His sweet mouth still making small suckling motions. Her heart swells, bursting with a love she never thought possible, every cliché come to life within her. She is alone in the room, save for the baby, her husband asleep in the bedroom upstairs. She treasures this precious time with her son. She talks to him, whispering of the life he will have, the perfect life she will make for him. 

His son is two, a rambunctious two. Blond haired, blue eyed, the apple of his father’s eye. They walk in the garden together; it is early spring and the ground is still partially frozen. The father is talking to his son of the plans he has for their garden, the vegetables they will grow in perfect little rows. The son looks up at his father, talking his baby talk, only some of his words recognizable. The father smiles and is delighted with his boy, not at all discouraged by his lack of understanding. He looks to the future and sees all the wonderful things they will do together.

It is his fifth birthday party, the warm September day attracts bees which cause the son’s friends to shriek in terror. The party is moved inside. Proud parents join voices with their son’s young friends singing Happy Birthday while gathered around a strawberry birthday cake topped with five flickering candles. They look into each other’s eyes over the boy’s head, their faces alive with joy and love.

Half way through the boy’s first grade school year, the woman receives a phone call from her son’s teacher and an appointment is made to discuss the son’s school work. The couple discusses the appointment later that evening, after the son is read his bedtime stories and is snug in bed. Neither is concerned; they presume it is just a formality. Perhaps the teacher wishes to discuss the curriculum. They are wrong. They sit in miniature chairs dumbfounded as the teacher discusses the details of their son’s learning problems.

He is in fifth grade and now occupies a desk in special “LD” classes. How the couple hates those words: learning disabilities. The learning problems have progressed into behavior problems, the boy’s anger increasing as his body grows. His parents are unable to understand this new boy who seems to have overtaken their son. Raised voices and outbursts of anger and frustration occur with regularity. They seek outside help, school counselors, professional tutors and therapists, but they make little difference in the son’s behavior. 

The parents feel helpless and work to control their own anger, each coping in their own way. The man choosing to walk away, his head bent toward the floor, unable to look at the son he loves, his posture a portrait of sorrow and loss. The woman removes a cigarette from the pack that now sits beside her coffee cup. She places it between her lips and lights it, inhaling deeply before blowing smoke out of her mouth and nostrils. Her face is devoid of expression, her heart numb.

The son enters the high school LD program. He has grown tall and strong, gone is the softness of his youth. A mixture of pain, sorrow, and anger live in the young man’s eyes. The eyes of his parents look much the same. Their once peaceful home has become a chaotic combination of resentment, desperation and fury. The son slams the door on his way out. The man assumes his shrinking bowed posture and walks away. The woman lights her cigarette, her face a blank mask as she stares out the window. 

There is no high school graduation, no celebration or tears of joy. The son is expelled from high school while his parents watch as terrified spectators. They have long given up even the pretense of control. The sound of the phone, once a welcome sound bringing voices of friends into the kitchen, now forms a ball of anxiety in the pit of the woman’s stomach. She often ignores the shrill ringing, instead choosing to walk away from the sound, leaving the painful words and a trail of smoke lingering in the empty room. 

The police frequent the phone and the doorbell—never good news. The man can no longer lift his head to meet the officer’s eye; he answers the door in his stooped posture, staring down at the floor in shame. His wife is left to handle to situation, her face sober and sorrowful, a cigarette snug between her fingers. Smoke curls up around her, a barrier to the anguish of the officer’s words. 

The room is stark, chilling, surreal. Their son is lying on the bed attached to a ventilator. The nurse’s voice is muted by the hissing sound of the machine keeping him alive. The old couple stand frozen, stunned by the realization that their son, whom they haven’t seen in twenty years, now lies on the bed before them. The nurse guides them into the hospital room, to the chairs placed beside the bed. The man’s shuffling gait is aided by a shiny silver cane. His wife wheezes softly as she takes the seat beside him. Silent tears blur her vision.


The garage attendant calls my name, and I pay for the tire repair. I walk out the door, the same door I opened earlier for the old couple. My car once again rides smoothly. The feeling of satisfaction I have as I drive home ends abruptly when my cell phone rings. I look at the screen and see his name flashing—my son Lucas. That familiar ball of anxiety forms in the pit of my stomach. My finger hovers above the button, hesitating, before I answer his call. 





Kinder than Necessary

Failure is one of my least favorite words, and the sinking feeling it generates is all too familiar. I don’t think I’m alone; it’s pretty safe to assume, if you’ve lived past the age of 6 or 7, that you’ve had a few up close and personal encounters with failure. Sometimes you can see it coming, far off in the distance, edging ever closer, and other times it arrives with no warning. Yesterday, I had anticipated a great day off from work, instead, failure paid me a visit. It swooped down and smacked me in the face. 

I was returning home after a bike ride with my 10-year-old granddaughter, my left knee and shin covered in Band-Aids (more about that later). I spotted The Man walking his two Alaskan Huskies as soon as I pedaled onto my street. The Man, as wide as he was tall with oddly blunted edges, reminded me of an oversized coin. If tipped unto his side, I imagined him rolling down the sidewalk, the two Huskies nudging him along.  

I slowed my bike and watched one of his dogs stop right in front of my house, squat and do what dogs do on walks. My gaze shifted back to The Man; his plump hands held only the leashes, not a poop bag in sight. He waited for the dog to finish his business as I approached on my bike. Then he walked away leaving behind the souvenir.  

I said, “You do know you are supposed to pick up after your dog." His response: a stream of obscenities unfit for print. That response did not surprise me. I thought back to my first and only face-to-face encounter with The Man. 

Every morning I walk my two dogs Kyra, a glossy-coated Golden Retriever and Abbey, a black and white terrier mix with a wild natural mohawk that perfectly portrays her personality. We often stop along the way in the open field on the corner to play fetch. Kyra is a pathological ball player. On that particular morning, I was accompanied by my sister who was visiting from Indiana. We stood in the middle of the field simultaneously talking and throwing the saliva-covered ball. Abbey, who thinks playing ball is a complete waste of time, ran around smiling and panting, reveling in her temporary off-leash freedom.  

Directly across the street, The Man exited his house with the two Huskies straining at their leashes. Abbey, not the most dog-friendly of dogs, spotted the Huskies and headed straight toward them, almost flying above the grass. I took off right behind her. Unfortunately, I don’t move as fast as a 20-pound terrier, nor am I as graceful. 

I slipped in the dew covered grass in an unattractive, embarrassing and klutzy tumble as I skidded along the ground first on my side then coming to a stop on my belly. I looked up to see Abbey in The Man’s front yard barking her head off. The Man was red faced, his arm straining to hold back the growling, lunging Huskies. 

With legs covered in dirt and grass, I raced across the street, leash in hand, intent on retrieving Abbey. The Man looked angrier than his dogs. A stream of obscenities flew from his mouth, and had Abbey not needed rescuing, I would have immediately fled. “You stupid bleeping bleep, get your bleeping dog, and get the bleep off my Lawn!” The man roared above the barking dogs.

I might have laughed at the absurdity of the situation if I wasn’t scared for both my safety and Abbey’s life. I spoke to The Man, “I’m sorry. I’m trying to get her!” I wondered; did he miss me racing like a lunatic trying to grab my dog?  I managed to nab Abbey, despite the throbbing pain pulsing through my entire right side. The whole while The Man kept screaming; his ability to articulate the most vulgar obscenities was truly amazing. 

 My sister remained in the field holding Kyra’s collar, keeping her in place until I returned with Abbey in my arms. “What is wrong with that man?” she’d said.   

I’d spotted him several times since, walking the Huskies, and always headed in the opposite direction. I suspected he did the same. Now, with prickling trepidation, as I rode my bike up my driveway and dared to comment about his failure to pick up after his dog, I realized my reprieve was over. And my response, this time, was very different. 

In our first encounter, I did not react to the verbal abuse. I remained focused on the task at hand: rescuing my dog.  I did not lower myself to his level, did not take the bait, did not utter more than a few sentences to The Man—an apology and a confirmation that I was trying to get my dog—and I was proud of that response.  

Unfortunately, my behavior during the second encounter was the opposite. The Man’s ugly words were like gasoline thrown on a fire, igniting my anger. I was immediately transformed into someone I didn’t recognize. I opened my mouth and parroted back every expletive. And when he threatened my dogs my anger escalated, heightening the creativity of my word choices. 

My husband, having heard the raised voices, met me at the front door. I briefed him on the disturbing interaction. My husband is usually very calm and easy-going, but my first encounter with The Man had angered him; he would not tolerate the same behavior a second time.  He was out the door in a flash and the shouting match continued, profane language included. My husband instructed The Man, in his authoritative police officer voice, to return and remove his dog’s deposit.

Although I felt uneasy listening to my husband exchange angry words with The Man, I thought I had valid reasons for my bad behavior. My knee was a throbbing, bloody mess, my shoulders aching, my palms tender from the spill I had taken earlier when trying to navigate my bike off a curb. The bike baulked. I flew over the handle bars onto the street and scared the bejeezes out of my granddaughter. Not wanting to cut short our much anticipated bike ride across town to the Dairy Queen, I convinced my granddaughter that I wasn’t “going to die.” And after a short pit-stop for first aid—she lovingly applied both antibiotic ointment and several Band-Aids to my battered leg—we continued on our way. When I arrived home I was irritable, in pain and experiencing the first symptoms of stomach discomfort, compliments of the ice cream. I used all these reasons to convince myself that my behavior was justified.  

Then I thought about the plaque that hung on my bedroom wall, Be kinder than necessary. That plaque is the first thing I see when I climb out of bed each morning. I’d purposely placed it there as a reminder of my quest to become a kinder person. I released a sigh of regret and realized that despite my attempt at rationalization, there was no excuse for my behavior.  

I never thought The Man would return, but a short while later he did, poop bag in hand. When my husband slipped out the front door again, despite my plea that he stay put, I felt shame, and hearing their angry voices intensified that shame. I took a deep breath and followed him out, determined to redeem myself. 

The Man held the plastic bag containing his dog’s droppings in one hand, and a black night stick in the other, as angry expletives continued to fly from his mouth. I eyed the menacing night stick and thought, all this over a pile of dog crap and my inability to handle this situation like a rational adult.

I interrupted the shouting match. I spoke in my professional voice, the calming nurse voice I use for out-of-control women who are about to give birth. “Sir, please. Can we handle this in a more productive manner?” To my surprise both The Man and my husband stopped speaking and looked at me.  Their faces held identical, dazed expressions.

We talked. I don’t remember the exact words, but I do remember none of them were obscenities. It took awhile but somehow we ended the encounter peacefully. Still, the bad feelings lingered.

Later that night as we got ready for bed my husband said, “What a crazy nut case!” I agreed.  I also thought of how easily I’d slipped into the oblivion of bad behavior, and I silently rededicated my resolve to be part of the solution. I did not want to add to the multitude of bad behavior I witnessed each day: the increasing violence and hatred reported on the nightly news, the road rage on my drive to hospital, family dramas at work, with language and anger very much like The Man’s: my private version of Jerry Springer’s, Who’s your baby’s daddy? 

I sighed, climbed into bed and nestled into my husband’s embrace. My eyes grew heavy, but before I fell asleep I glanced at the wall and read the plaque again. Be Kinder than Necessary. Maybe tomorrow.