Sunday, September 15, 2019
One of the things I feared with intensity when Joe was diagnosed with cancer was the possibility of having to send our unborn son to school without his Dad by our side. Those fears started even before we knew that our child was to be a boy and his name was to be Domani. It seemed like a ridiculous place to land, but as I was holding Joe's hand in his hospital room just after his emergency surgery, I remember that fear being what crept in. As he slept, I whispered to him that he couldn't leave me. That he had to be here for our child's birth, for this kid's first birthday, for the first day of kindergarten. I stopped there because at that point we hadn't even heard a diagnosis yet and, if I was being honest, I couldn't see past the next five minutes, let alone the next 5 years.
We had just found out two days before that I was pregnant. I hadn't even been to an appointment with my midwife yet to confirm it. And, already, I felt it all unraveling. How would I ever be enough for this kid? Our happily every after would not be what I expected and I was worried about how our child (let alone me) would ever make it through.
Joe was there for Domani's birth. He was there for his first birthday. But just two months later, only a few weeks before Christmas, he died. He died in the bedroom of our home where, if you look just out the window, you see the entrance to what is now our son's elementary school.
When we decided to buy this home in Jamesburg it was the proximity to the school (and to the lovely local businesses in town) that won us over. Now, after being here for 11 years, this place we call home means so much more to the two of us left behind after Joe's passing. It's the neighbors who have been there for us in immeasurable ways. It's the convenient and challenging running routes I have come to know as I trained to run 5ks and then half marathons and then, eventually, the Boston Marathon. It's the education I see my son receiving in that school which 4 years ago seemed so daunting a life stage.
There have now been 4 first days of school for Domani at the elementary school across the street from where Joe and I decided to plant our roots in 2008. Joe hasn't been physically here for any of them, but he has been here with us in many ways. I have begun to realize that what I feared so desperately in 2010 is not so scary now that Domani and I are doing it. Domani is surrounded by people who are interested in him and provide him with an education that includes learning in Spanish, after care that is both fun and educational, and a whole school community that shows its care daily. He impresses me more and more each day with the ways that he is growing and learning, with his ease of making friends, and with his excitement for everything around him.
I have also found my own place as I've become more and more active in his education. As Domani made friends, so did I, and Jamesburg became more than the place we live, but our community. That doesn't happen everywhere and I am thankful it happened here for Domani and me.
So, at the beginning of last year, I decided to act on that and I put my name in to serve a one-year term on our local School Board. That year was a defining experience for me. I saw in a clear way the impact that decisions of the Board have on the young people in our schools and our community at large. When my term was over at the end of 2018 and the Board was officially downsized to seven members I remained open to serving again at some point in the future.
As I attended Board meetings this year and spoke with friends and neighbors, it became clear to me that the time to throw my hat in the ring has come sooner than I thought. I decided to run this year because I feel it is an important time for my voice to be included. As a single mom of a 3rd grader in the district, I know both the importance of a strong education for the children in our community and the stress of making ends meet as a homeowner.
I am excited to take this next step and know that even though he isn't here physically, Joe is cheering me on.
Saturday, June 22, 2019
Tonight I finally found myself with a couple of free hours at home that happened to coincide with daylight and a lack of rain. It was as if the universe was telling me - MOW THE GRASS. Well, grass is probably a tad generous since in my yard I mostly mow weeds, but that's another story.
About halfway through I was tired. It was the kind of tired where you just want to collapse wherever you are and not get back up for twelve hours. The kind of tired where all of your muscles feel like they're on fire and every once in awhile you zone out and forget what you are even doing.
But, since I knew that the next time I would likely have the "clear sky-daylight-free time" stars align would be at least a week and a half from now, I pressed on.
It didn't take long before my mind turned to Joe. At first it was definitely a "dammit why was I left stuck with this task" thought. Then, I thought about how excited he was to have a yard of our own that he could work in. He always took great pride in doing work in and around our home. And then I remembered that last summer.
Eight years ago now.
He was a year and a half in to his cancer diagnosis. That meant a year and a half of chemo treatments. An ostomy bag. Slowly accumulating fluid in his lungs.
And yet, I remember him mowing our grass that summer. It wasn't as frequently as I know he would have otherwise and sometimes he had help. But he did it. He did it all without the self-propelled mower I ended up buying myself last year. (Although I do remain convinced that if Joe were still here mowing grass today he would have gotten himself the same setup I did.) And he did it with the pride of home ownership and care for his family pushing him along.
So tonight, as I yanked and pushed the mower up and down the mean slopes of our yard, it hit me.
Here it is seven and a half years after he died and I am realizing a new way to appreciate him. How is that even possible? But it's what happened. The work of mowing reminded me just how super our Superman really was to us.
I realized it because he's gone and the chore now falls to me. It's not the first time I've mowed the grass so it's a little weird that it took me this long to get it, but I guess the point is that I finally did.
That realization got me thinking about other things I am missing in the people around me. What else is going on right in front of my nose that I'm not fully appreciating?
It took me over two hours to mow the grass so I had a lot of time to think.
I started talking to myself (hot tip: when you're using a lawn mower, no one can hear you talking to yourself), but once the ideas started flowing they kept coming.
My Dad's humor, generosity, and faith displayed in a hundred different ways even while he has faced health issue after health issue. He makes jokes with the hospital staff, buys books for his grandkids, and listens to God's prodding on issues even when it's difficult.
My Mom's willingness to always find a meaningful way to help out. There are never dirty dishes in my sink when she leaves no matter how many were there when she arrived and my yard would be nothing more than an assortment of dead things if not for her.
The fact that not only can I talk honestly with my sisters about so many pieces of our lives, but that we can also travel together and actually have a great time (even with the kids).
That Erin will talk with me about death and not be weird about it and that she can be counted on to provide the nudge I need to really take a vacation.
That Julia always has an open door, a bottle of wine in the fridge, and a listening ear.
That people in my life like Sara and Heather still remember the tough days with a text or a call or a card even so many years later.
Co-workers who always seem to find a way to push forward even when the deck is stacked.
Friends new and old who step in with support and advice when I'm about to try something new.
Domani, who can lighten my mood in a million ways, whether it's a funny joke, his own laugh, or a conversation about black holes and Trans-Neptunian objects.
I'm glad it took me as long as it did to mow the grass and even happier that I don't have to wait until I do it again to look for things I can appreciate about the people around me.