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Adventure.

November 29, 2014 1 comment

The other day, my friend told me he hoped I would write an insightful blog post about Thanksgiving. Now, he doesn’t know this, but the Holden Caufield in me immediately rejects ideas that other people want me to write about. My response is usually something flip like, “Sounds like you want to write that blog post.” However, here I sit at 3:07 in the afternoon on November 29th with absolutely nothing to do except indulge in some reflection.

But this isn’t, like, really about Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is fine. I usually have fun on Thanksgiving. This is more like a statement of appreciation dedicated to my cousin, Noah. Noah is among my homegrown heroes. He stands as an example of someone who takes risks, who is curious, creative, and industrious. He loves the people in his life wholly and can connect with anyone. Observing Noah maneuver through his life always makes me want to step up my game. I admire him tremendously.

The thing is though, Noah is also a giant goofball. This quality might be as important to me as his industriousness. Noah and I come from people who make horrible, cringe-y puns and our joke-telling delivery is influenced by grandfathers in recliners. So while Noah and I can easily spend hours discussing how different cultural narratives can impact art and literature, we can also spend hours engaged in our own two-man vaudeville show while those around us roll their eyes and quietly leave the room.

Since Noah is equal parts Renaissance man and goofball, I can do anything with him and it will be awesome. Noah currently has a art piece in the African American Museum in connection with one of their exhibits. I missed the opening, but I wanted to see Noah’s work. I told him I was going to ride my bike down to the museum and check it out today since I had this nice four day weekend. Noah immediately responded, “I’ll go with you!” Now, it is 4.1 miles from Noah’s house in the suburbs to my apartment in West Philly. Then, it is 4.4 miles from my apartment to the African American Museum. On a crisp autumn day, this bike ride to and from the museum could be just perfect. However, I picked a day where it was going to be 28 degrees when we left in the morning. When I saw how cold it was and thought about our bike ride, I was relieved because I knew that among all the people in my life, Noah is the least likely to call me up and say, “Man, Lori, it’s freezing out today! It’s too cold to ride bikes. I’ll pick you up and we’ll drive down.” I knew that Noah, like me, would stay committed to the plan, whether or not it was a good plan. When Noah showed up, I laughed to myself because he was dressed like someone who was going to an art exhibit and I was dressed like someone going on a bike ride.

It was a pretty, quiet grey ride to the museum. We rode over the South Street Bridge, which is my favorite bridge to ride over. Although Noah is a grown-up man–husband, father, career person–he rides his bike as recklessly as a 13 year-old. He made me nervous at first, but then I decided to channel his freedom and audacity. I relaxed. We got to the museum and I felt ashamed that it was my first time there. Noah has been working with the African American Museum in some capacity for as long as I can remember. I shook it off though so I could take it all in. It was great to see Noah in this part of his world, gliding confidently through the building and introducing me to his co-workers. The exhibit itself was powerful. Then Noah showed me his piece. The African American Museum sits right across the street from Philadelphia’s Federal Detention Center. Noah’s piece takes up about 3/4 of the expansive second story window which faces the detention center, evoking what it means for an African American cultural institution to share public space with a prison. Seeing Noah’s work made me feel small, but not in the bad way.

Afterwards, we went to the Reading Terminal Market. We drank fresh pineapple, ginger, spinach, and kale juice while talking talked coffee and all the things we like to eat (both reoccurring topics), which developed into a conversation about Ferguson, Black Friday, and the power of the Black dollar in capitalist America. Then we grabbed coffees for the road, and I soon had to abandon mine because I quickly learned that I’m not coordinated. We reached my apartment, gave each other a massive a hug, and Noah sped away on his bike, which used to be my bike when I was in high school, and therefore is way too small for him since I am 5’0″ tall and Noah is, like,  6’2″.

By 12:00 noon, I’d already had a fulfilling day. I stand 1,000% content. I feel the way you feel after you spend time with someone where neither of you has any expectations. You’re just in it together because you both know that any experience, large or small, can be an adventure. Maybe that’s part of the reason why Noah and I each have a compass tattoos. We are family, but we are bound by our sense of adventure.

All for me and all for him.

October 26, 2014 5 comments

Today is my brother’s birthday. If he were still alive, he’d turn 35 today. No matter how I’ve tried during the 16 years since he died, this time of year still crushes me. I never consciously anticipate how I’ll feel. Something happens around the third week of October. I’m suddenly crying for no reason. I break my routine. I’m distracted. I can’t figure out why I feel so out of control.Then I’ll remember. Scott’s birthday is coming, then my birthday, then the anniversary of his death, and another new year where I don’t have my brother. I think about how he won’t be there if I ever get married and have kids. I think about how he didn’t get to be there for his best friends when they got married and had kids. Now, I’m thinking about how Scott wasn’t at my dad’s wedding, and he should have been, and it’s stupid that he wasn’t there. It’s all selfish thinking. I don’t want the memories. I want to see him, face to face, and talk, and be idiots together.

In my field of social work, we are always talking about re-framing, narratives, and meaning-making–ways you can take your difficult experiences and transform them into something empowering and healing. For the last few years, I have tried to do this each time October comes and I find myself crumbling. I don’t want to kid myself and jump over the sadness I feel, but I don’t want to get lost there. That terrifies me. So I have been trying on October 26th to make the day in the spirit of my brother. Last year, I competed into a jiu jitsu tournament on October 26th, and my dad was there. It was a hard but good day. It felt right. But nothing special was supposed to happen on October 26th this year. There was no built-in purpose.

My brother always did exactly what he wanted to do. Yes, he could follow orders. No, he was not selfish. If you were his friend, he’d do anything and everything for you. But Scott put a lot of focus on the things he loved (physics, engineering, cross country, track) and couldn’t get distracted or pulled away from that effort. His days were exactly as he wanted them to be so he could do all the stuff he loved. So today, I’m doing a Scott day. I’m only doing things I want to do and things that I love. So this morning, I did laundry and made almond butter before judo because I wanted to. Then I rode my bike underneath a perfect sky and over the Gray’s Ferry Bridge to judo practice. I loved every moment. Later, I will make my breakfast and lunch for the week and I’ll find joy in the method and routine of preparation. I”ll do a bunch of squats to rehab my hip flexors. I’ll go to the gentle yoga class I love at 6:00 PM for restoration. As I write this, I am listening to Nirvana. We used to sit at the dining room table, both engrossed in our school work, not talking, but feeling each other’s presence. He always picked the music, since he was older and asserted that right. It was usually Nirvana or Wu Tang. Sometimes Radiohead. Sometimes Marilyn Mason, which I will not listen to today because I hate Marilyn Manson and I don’t want to.

All for me and all for him.

meandS

Our faces pretty much stayed the same.

That was May, This is June.

June 7, 2014 3 comments
Me and Mr. Latimer of his big day.

Me and Mr. Latimer of his big day.

May. I couldn’t wait for May. March and April had been hard and weird, but May, that’s when all the good things would happen. As April ended, all I cared about was that on May 3rd, my dad and his girlfriend were getting married. My dad’s marriage seemed like the biggest event to happen in our family since my mom’s death in 2006. Before 2006, the biggest thing to happen in our family was my brother’s death in 1998. Finally. Something good. Something new. Something hopeful.

May 3rd. I couldn’t wait for May 3rd. Although my dad and his girlfriend, Jeannie, had been together for several years ago and shared a home, I felt excited for it to be official. I know both my dad and Jeannie have struggled in their lives. Now in their 60s, they have the chance to build something meaningful with each other. I felt relief knowing that my dad could finally settle into a good life. A calm life. The life he deserves. There’s something about us humans where we don’t say how we really feel until something big happens. Usually we need something horrible to push us to that state of vulnerability. With a wedding, I could tell my dad and Jeannie my love and hope for them during something joyous. So I think I wanted May 3rd to happen so badly because it was an opportunity for me to tell my dad how much I admire him and how much I love him. I never took a moment to tell him and Jeannie how glad I am that they have each other, but May 3rd could be that day. Since I asked my dad if I could be his best man and he said yes, I gave the speech for the wedding toast and was able to say all the things we don’t say in day-to-day conversation.

In my own selfish perspective, I was pumped to officially inherit a new family. Jeannie has two sons and a daughter-in-law. Over the last few years, we’ve spent holiday, birthdays, and just days together. After losing my brother and being raised by a mom who was pretty unstable, I couldn’t get over how relaxing and natural it felt to sit together as a family. I also missed having a brother. While I will always miss my big brother, I like knowing that I now have two brothers and a sister.

 

Our new crew.

Our new crew.

My dad’s wedding was just the start of May. Two weeks later on May 15th, my cousin, Noah, graduated from his Master’s program. In 2012, my cousin moved his family from Miami back up to Philadelphia to earn a degree to push his career in a better direction. It was a big risk, but a necessary one. Noah was nervous since he had done no academic writing in over 10 years and his highest degree was an Associate’s. He was worried he wouldn’t have the skills to succeed, forgetting his valuable his years of professional experience would be. So he worked. Man, did he work. And it paid off, since he was offered an exclusive fellowship for the summer after his first year. At the beginning of his second year of school, Noah and his wife, Shawnette, had their second child. Noah struggled to be a dedicated, reliable husband and father while trying to balance the demands of a Master’s program. Noah’s family had his back though, and wanted him to achieve. When Noah graduated in May, his program selected him to be the student commencement speaker. When his program director talked about Noah during his hooding ceremony, she fought back tears of pride. It was clear. Noah didn’t just succeed, he flourished.

Me and NoNo on his big day.

Me and NoNo on his big day.

As for me, I didn’t think anything great would happen for me specifically. I was thrilled for my family, but in my own life, I felt frozen. I was fighting to decide if I should take a risk like Noah. Since my supervisor left in Mid-March, I felt compelled to evaluate my own place in the agency and what my next steps as a social worker could be. It was hard for me to accept that my growth at the agency had pretty much come to the end. While I still loved my clients, remaining in my current position would mean stagnation. I started exploring my options and in less than two weeks, I found a new job. I never thought it would happen that fast. I mentally prepared to stay at my agency for another three to six months. But life decide to rocket blast me to my next step. I submitted my resignation letter on May 27th.

Now it’s June. I’ve had an official new family for a month. It does feel different when I talk with my dad, Jeannie, and my new brothers and sister. I can’t quite describe it, but maybe it feels more comfortable, more certain than it did before. Noah can finally get some sleep and be present with his family like he wants. He has options now, real options to pursue his passion and build a life with his family. I look at myself and sometimes I get scared. I have two weeks left with my clients. I started to say goodbye last week and it’s been ripping my heart out. It hurts just as much to hear a client tell me they are mad at me for leaving as it does when someone says they are happy for me, wishing me the best. I know they are smart, resilient individuals, which is part of what makes it hard for me to let them go. It’s strange, but as I move forward to meet a new set of standards, expectations, and challenges, I want to make my clients proud. My new opportunity would not have been possible without my last two years with my clients. They taught me and pushed me to be the kind of social worker I strive to be. I feel like I owe them to do well. June. I must be patient with June, since once July arrives, so does the start of my new life.

Haikuesday 03.25.14

March 25, 2014 Leave a comment

My dad’s the best dad.

Keith Mars is a close second,

but still, no contest.

Me and Pops.

Me and Pops.

Mr. Latimer practices self-acceptance. And you should, too.

January 21, 2013 1 comment

Part of the reason I like my dad is because his behavior is 100% predictable. His voice messages will always say, “Hello, daughter. This is your father.” When we eat out at restaurants, he will always blow his straw wrapper at me. He will never wear his seat belt. He will not eat chicken. These things are constants.

And part of the reason I like my dad is because his behavior is 100% unpredictable, like when we’re talking on the phone and he tells me spent his weekend participating in a shooting competition. World War II rifles only. While we know that he likes guns, what was surprising is that the hyper-competitive Mr. Latimer seemed at ease with the fact that he only hit one bulls-eye. He reflected on the fact that he’s wanted to compete for some time and was simply glad he finally got around to doing it.

Old dogs can gain new perspective.

I come from a woman who fought.

January 6, 2013 5 comments

Today is my mom’s birthday. Last year on this day, I was on an Amtrak train to visit a friend in Washington, DC, and I wrote a post about my mom’s suicide.  This year, I spent most of December feeling anxious on how I would feel this year on her birthday and how those feelings would manifest. December kind of sucks anyway. December 19th marks the anniversary of oh my brother’s death. In the 14 years since he died, I’ve acknowledged December 19th to varying degrees, which frequently included forcefully ignoring its significance. This December felt particularly difficult, since both staff and clients at my job lost family and friends almost weekly. Some clients were coping with anniversaries of lost loved ones of their own. But I kept my anniversary quiet at work. When I realized how closely January 6th followed December 19th, I started to worry that January 1st wouldn’t feel hopeful at all, and would simply drag all those complicated, anxious feelings that December harbors into the next year.

For most of today, January 6th felt pleasantly unremarkable. Then about 30 minutes ago, I realized how unremarkable today felt and subsequently busted out crying.  My mom died in 2006 and now in 2013, I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do today. I don’t know how to acknowledge her. Of course, I recognize their is no formula for grief and loss. It’s not a linear process. There is no time line. In a lot of ways, there is no end in coping with my mom’s death.

As I try to sort through my mom’s death, I think there’s such a balance of letting go and holding on, of allowing myself to actually feel horribly upset, but to not get lost in it.   I have to let myself feel profoundly sad , but I can’t let that sadness paralyze me. At the same time, I don’t want to kid myself and keep pushing through each year as though I’m some supremely optimistic, indestructible individual who has never felt overwhelmed and helpless when I think about the fact that mom committed suicide. I have to constantly remind myself that sadness does not equate weakness.

My mom was a profoundly sad person, but I would never call her weak. I know that some people would consider my mother’s suicide weakness, but those people didn’t see her fight. My mom was such a complicated person, and I think that’s why figuring out how to deal with her death feels complicated.  But I come from a family of scappers. So now, I keep thinking about all the times my mom tried to do something different with her life, concentrating all she had to try to make herself better. I’m proud of her for that.  I’m proud to know that I come from a woman who fought.

 

 

Categories: Family Tags: , , ,

Levity provided by Mr. Latimer

September 8, 2012 Leave a comment

I just spent the last hour writing a post about my dead mother, so now I feel compelled to lighten the mood.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————–

A scene from my lunch with Mr. Latimer.

Me: Oh, Dad, guess who I saw last night?

Mr. Latimer: Who?

Me: Daffodale from my AmeriCorps term of service.

ML: Oh, yeah? Where at?

Me: Down in Old City at First Friday. Her boyfriend was one of the other group leaders we worked with, and Mr. Mike was there setting up with his band.

ML: Mr. Mike, huh? What did the kids call you? Mr. Lori?

Me: What? Why? Oh my god. Whatever, Dad.

Mr. Latimer barely stifles his laughter, so pleased with himself.

End scene.

Categories: Family Tags: , ,