My 9/11 story.

Most people remember where they were and what they were doing when they first got the news of the 9/11 tragedies. I remember. One hundred fifty miles north of the World Trade Center, I was driving down the highway to train my successor for the job I quit a month before. I had no replacement job; my new title was Stay-at-Home-Mom. My sons were ten and fifteen.

I was starting a new life of hope and promise when so many others’ lives were shattered. That day made me realize how grateful I was to have woken up to my priorities before it was too late.

I quit my job because Matthew—my fifteen-year-old— was having a painfully slow recovery from the damage caused by his brain tumor, diagnosed four years earlier. I needed to focus on him, focus on healing our family, and focus on healing myself—physically and emotionally—from the ordeal. My career came last. Or it should have, but it didn’t always. 

My position had been Student Assistance Counselor in a K-5 elementary school. I taught lessons on feelings and problem solving and decision making, and ran support groups for sad or angry or floundering students. I loved the kids, loved the job, but the job didn’t always love me back. Too many needy kids needed me too much. After nine years, it sucked me dry. My sons and my husband got the dregs of my energy and attention, whatever was left after I gave at the office. 

It’s too complicated to explain here how this imbalance happened; someday, you’ll read about it in my memoir. Too many Americans have much harder stories to tell today, and I don’t want to grandstand.

Today, I hope we can remember to focus on our priorities before a crisis or tragedy strikes. And if our world crashes down, literally or figuratively, I hope we find ways to grow as we heal.

It’s a good day to remember. I will.

Thirty-two years ago…

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Thirty-two years ago today, when I became a mother at 7:32 PM, on Wednesday, August 13, 1986, I had no idea of the difficult road ahead. No parent-to-be knows for sure what to expect in their new role, of course, but there’s a continuum of “typical” and there’s off-the-child-development-charts “unpredictable.”

If you’ve followed my story, you know where my motherhood experience fell.

I thought I was ready to be a mom. I had loving role models in my parents, I was an attentive big sister, and I babysat as a teen. I had a supportive husband, a fulfilling career, a cozy house with a crib, and a changing table stocked with onesies, cloth diapers, and blankies. I took my prenatal vitamins and shunned alcohol and attended LaMaze and breastfeeding classes, and read every page of What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

I was prepared for a typical child. And I expected to be a perfect mom. Matthew and I were neither.

But we’re resilient. Matthew’s recovery from his brain tumor, diagnosed when he was 11, is profound–unpredictable in a good way. Every time I see him, I think he’s smarter than the last time, and the last time, he was reading The Communist Manifesto. 

He’s one remarkable human being. I am so blessed that he is here today so I can wish him:

Happy Birthday, Matt.

Love, Mom

Reframing my reflection.

Telling the story about my son’s brain tumor is the easy part of writing my memoir.

I first wrote most of the dramatic scenes over fifteen years ago, within a few years of his diagnosis at age 11. Had I not written them, I would still remember. The trauma created new neural pathways in my brain, and the memories travel them frequently.

I’ve shed so many tears over the years as I scribbled and typed away, there are fewer left now. It helps that Matthew is about to turn 32, and he manages his minor deficits so well, you’d never know anything had ever been wrong.

A mother knows. But that’s what mothers do–they know, when others do not.

During the three years that Matthew’s slow deterioration remained a medical mystery, I knew, deep inside, that something was wrong. But I didn’t listen to my gut. I didn’t stand up for what I believed to be true.

The hard part of this memoir is to tell that story: that motherhood exposed my flaws, and those flaws jeopardized my child.

At this point in my writing, I’m struggling to understand who I was as a mother, as a woman, as a person. I’m struggling with forgiveness.

Today, as I stepped out of the shower, an insight hit me like a blast of cold water, and I ran around in my towel, dripping on the floor, trying to find paper and a pencil. I scribbled my thoughts down; here’s what I’ve written:

I was a flawed mother, but I didn’t give up and I didn’t fail. I pulled my family through our ordeal, and we survived, not unscathed, but stronger and wiser. And by grappling now to understand who I was then, when my children were little, I’m coming to peace with my flaws, and realizing my strengths. What better example can a mother set for her children, even though they are now grown?

I looked in the mirror, and for years, all I noticed was the jagged crack running through the middle. Shards of glass occasionally splintered off, drawing tears and blood. Now, I have sealed the crack. It left a scar. There are some chips in the beveled edges, and the antique glass is wavy. Black splotches show through where the quicksilver backing has worn away. I see character. As an antique, the mirror is more valuable with its flaws intact. The cheap frame, however is moldy, and needs to go. I put a new one on, and it changes my reflection. I love what I see now, flaws and all.

If you are on a quest of forgiveness, for yourself or others, can you reframe what you see?