Island Boy Finds His Once Upon A Time

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The last few weeks this true story has come up on more than one occasion, so I thought I would dust it off and share it once more. Enjoy!

The sound of the waves, the sand beneath his feet, the warm ocean breeze were all a part of him, ingrained into his very soul. He was a true island boy, climbing palm trees in the blink of an eye to retrieve a coconut, catching fish with his homemade spear in the most primitive manner. It was the only manner he had ever learned…not from his father, as he had never met the man who had given him life. His mother never spoke of him. He carried his questions in his little heart, the one place they couldn’t cause the fleeting glimpse of pain he sometimes saw in her eyes…the pain she thought she hid so well.

Puerto Rico, Army Jeep, Black and White Army Military Photo

He studied the only photo of his father he possessed, memorizing every detail. Even when he closed his eyes he could still see the way his father looked in his uniform, the way he slightly leaned into his military jeep as though someone had caught him on his way somewhere. Where was he going? Who held the camera that provided the only piece of the puzzle that was his life, his story? He held the tiny black and white photo, yet held not a single memory of this man…a stranger to him.

Mike and Mom Rita early to mid-1950's

It came as no surprise when the little island boy grew to be a soldier as well. He and his mother moved to the United States so he could join the army at the age of eighteen. It wasn’t long before the island boy fell in love, married and had a family of his own. His young bride, wanting to know everything about him would ask him to tell her about his father. She wanted to know if he ever thought of him, if he ever wondered what became of him, if he was ever curious to meet him. His response never wavered. He had a good life, a loving family, and no need for anything or anyone else. After years of seeing the hint of pain in his eyes, she stopped asking him. Many years would come and go before she would tentatively broach the subject once more.

It was the age of computers now, when the internet was becoming all the rage and she had embraced the technology. She loved being able to communicate with all the friends she made during their numerous military relocations. And, she had become interested in a genealogy website where she could build a family tree. Once again, she asked her husband about his father. This time, he handed her the tiny black and white photo his own mother had placed in his small hand a lifetime ago. She scanned it, placed it on the site and listed her husband’s name as someone looking for his father. Neither one of them thought anything would really come of it. Yet, life has a funny way of making connections so intricately weaved, they leave us mere mortals astounded.

Across the ocean, a secretary at a military base happened on that very website. She gasped when she saw the photo and immediately printed it. Her boss arrived shortly after, and headed straight to his office. The first thing his eyes landed upon was a printout of a tiny black and white photo of a man in military uniform. There was no mistaking it was his father. He immediately took the contact information his secretary provided, and made the call that would forever change the life of a little island boy. He never doubted for a moment this man was his brother. Their father had shared a story with him, and the time had finally come to share it with his brother.

Their father had been stationed on a small island and had fallen in love with a young girl. He had returned home at the end of his assignment, but headed back to the island during the first military leave he had only to find that young girl gone. He questioned friends, family, neighbors to no avail. In the end, he found one person willing to talk. The news he was given was heartbreaking. The young girl died giving birth to a baby boy who also didn’t live.

Their father had refused to believe it. In the following years, he made several more attempts to find what his heart believed to be true, but all attempts ended the same. With a heavy heart, he returned home, went on with his life, married and had children, never returning to that island.

Somehow his heart knew what no one was willing to tell him when he sought answers so many years ago. His son lived, and one day he would know their story. He had hoped to look in his son’s eyes, and share this history with him, hug him and let him know he had gone back for them. While on his death-bed, coming to terms with the fact he would never get that opportunity, he shared this story with his youngest son. Their father requested when the brothers finally found each other, the story be shared with the son he never met.

There was silence on the other end of the phone line as a lifetime of questions were finally answered. The island boy, whom my husband calls Dad and my children call Pappa, found a family he never knew he had and a story he never believed could be his own.

Island Boy Finds His Once Upon A Time

Island Boy Finds His Once Upon A Time

Lover

Goodbye Nightmare Lover!

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The nightmare took over. It came to me night after night, tiptoeing into my peaceful sleep and curling up beside me like a longtime lover. Quietly climbing into my bed, slowly inching over my body, not near enough to touch, but close enough to hover over my warm skin, its breath upon me. Beginning with a gentle caress, it traveled over me, inch by inch, plying my body to its will, allowing no resistance until the moment arrived when it entered me in my weakened state of slumber. At first came only a moan, barely audible, but enough for my brain to register it was happening. In denial, I ignored it and settled deeper into the mattress, rolling over, the universal sign for “not tonight, please…I’m tired” but with its one track mind it seemed to draw strength from my unwillingness to participate. The more I resisted the louder the moans came, until…

Lover

MOMMY!!!!!!!!!!!!! MOMMY!!!!!!!!! MOMMY!!!!!!!!

They were the screams of my daughter and they came from down the hall. The nightmares were hers, this routine one I was all too familiar with and one I was sure I could not physically keep up with much longer. While she had always been one of those children who didn’t require a lot of sleep thus never slept through the night, through the years her lack of sleep was taking a toll on my own. I like sleep. I need sleep.

Yet, every night after an exhausting bedtime routine of prayers, stories, and night lights, kisses and hugs, questions and comforting answers, more kisses, more hugs, more night lights, I dreaded allowing myself to fall into a deep sleep knowing it wouldn’t last. The nightmares would arrive, the fear would take over and the screams would begin.

I tried everything – night lights, prayers, staying with her until she fell asleep, each night putting a bit of distance from her until I sat in a chair right outside her door – Dr. Phil recommended it, claiming it helped to progressively reassure the child you were still there. Obviously, Dr. Phil had never met my kid!

As our daughter got older, my husband introduced her to one of his passions, Superheroes. He started telling her stories about his favorite Superheroes and eventually started watching some of the movies with her. He explained that in his dreams, whenever something bad was about to happen, he pretended he was a Superhero and changed the course of the dream, fighting off evil and sending villains back where they came from.

My Superheroes

One thing we never did was discuss her nightmares in the middle of the night, believing she needed comforting more than we needed a play by play in that moment. Thus, many a conversation over breakfast consisted of our dreams, nightmares, and ways we could control them. My husband insisted our brains could be trained to control our dreams as he described his often becoming quite animated. He depicted scenes in which he picked up a villain, dropped him on his head, and his cartoon teeth flew out. My daughter soaked it all up like a little sponge, but the sleepless nights continued.

One morning, I woke to the smell of toast and the realization that I had slept through the night. Not sure if I was in dream state or reality, I shuffled my way to the kitchen to find my daughter and husband laughing and hugging over breakfast. When she sensed my presence, she rushed over to me. “Mommy! Guess what?! I had the best dream last night!”

To me, sweeter words had never been spoken. Words tumbled out of her mouth as she described a dream in which terrible, scary things were starting to occur, fear tried to envelope her and she almost succumbed to it. “Instead, I became a superhero and flew above it all! They couldn’t reach me up in the sky and once I realized that, I flew around the city. You should see the view from up there!”

In dreams we set aside the rules of real life. We are in control and can be anything we want to be. Believing in superheroes cured my daughter’s nightmares. What tools have you used to control your dreams?

I Slept With Him For Years…featured on Erma Bombeck website

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I am honored to have my piece, “I slept with him for years for fear of being alone” featured on the Erma Bombeck website today.

Please check it out and share away!

Hope your weekend is filled with love and laughter wherever you may be!

I Slept With Him For Years For Fear Of Being Alone.

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He came into my life at a time when I needed him most and without a second thought I clung to him for many a night. It wasn’t like we had a relationship, the kind where you want to spend every waking moment together. It wasn’t like we would get lost in conversation, uncovering deep-seated feelings that connected us on an emotional level. We didn’t go to dinner. We didn’t catch a movie. We never went out – were never seen in public. Truth be told, I didn’t give him much thought as I went about my day, but as night would begin to fall I felt a yearning inside me I knew only he could satisfy. As I climbed in bed, I needed him with every fiber of my being. The thing is, I don’t regret a single night with him.

Stormy Night by Kalense Kid

For most, childhood memories of bedtime present images of favorite jammies, soft blankets, a certain bedtime story that could be told time and again before drifting off to sleep.

Not me.

Bedtime was always a tough time for me as my imagination without fail would choose that specific time to kick itself into overdrive, instilling fears in me so powerful I would hide under the covers ensuring not a toe or a brown curl was unprotected from what lurked in the dark shadows of night. I would stare at the inside of my Strawberry Shortcake blanket, focus on the pattern of my warm breath…inhaling…exhaling…inhaling…exhaling. Once drenched with sweat, gasping for air and believing I would face a fate worse than what existed beyond the safety of my blanket (passing out into permanent darkness),  I would peel a tiny corner of the blanket away from me, turn my head, and take in a large breath of fresh air before returning to my former state. At some point I would pass out, not from lack of oxygen or imagination but from sheer exhaustion.

It wasn’t until Louie came into my life that things changed for me.

Prior to Louie, I would choose one or two stuffed animals to join me each night, but with the innocent mind of a young girl I felt guilty each time I chose them. It was bad enough I would have to face all the night’s scariest creations, I was subjecting them to the same rather than leaving them cozied up in the basket with the rest of their friends.

Which is why when my grandmother presented me with Louie the Monkey on my tenth birthday I was relieved – no matter that I was probably well past the age when children cuddled up to a stuffed animal. He was soft and brown, and looked into my eyes with a hint of a smile on his face. He was about the size of those body pillows they sell nowadays, or maybe that’s how it seemed through a scared little girl’s eyes. With Louie, I no longer hid under the covers. Instead, I held on to him for dear life. The fears were there still, but somehow they seemed a little less daunting with Louie by my side. I breathed a little easier and found a bit of peace before drifting off to sleep each night. His presence helped me sleep better through my high school years and even some of my college years.

Some nights, after a particularly rough day, I still yearn for Louie. I miss him. Not in the physical sense, but in the sense of peace he gave me so many years ago. As grownups, we take so much to bed with us each night with no surefire way to let those fears, those worries, those feelings just sit on a separate plane while we relax and get the rest we so desperately need. Wouldn’t it be nice to find something that would ease our minds each night?

I still have Louie, though you’ll be relieved to know I no longer sleep with him. He is in a box in the attic which does make me a bit sad now that I think about it, but he served me well. Ironically, he was the first one I thought of when my daughter was younger and had nightmares.

He served her well too. How was I to know at the age of ten that my nighttime companion would one day ease my daughter’s fears as well?

Did you have a Louie in your life?

Final Toast

The Final Toast

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The first date read Sept 9, 1986 – Carmine’s. Being that it was their first date, they weren’t sure what to toast to exactly so they awkwardly raised their glasses while he mumbled, “to the future” and they both laughed thankful the waiter approached to take their order. They were young and hopeful, in love with the idea of love. Yet, by the time their Tiramisu arrived she had slipped the wine cork in her purse. Now, she rolled the cork around in her hand, not wanting to let go of the memory or the faint smile on her face.

She listened for sounds down the hall, before reaching for another. This one made her blush before it even made it out of the jar. Dec 31,1987, Hilton Times Square- a night she would never forget. Not a big fan of New Year’s Eve celebrations, she’d always watched the ball drop while cuddled up on the couch in her favorite jammies. Just like him not to ease her into it, instead going all out for their first New Year’s Eve as a couple. He had made all the arrangements and delivered a magical night she would relive every year on December 31. Watching the ball drop amid a sea of people was a bit nerve-racking at first, but when they embraced and shared their first kiss of the new year it was like they were the only two people in Times Square. After a little too much champagne they stumbled back to the hotel where she was greeted with a trail of rose petals down the hall leading to their room. It was in that same hall, where he pretended to drop the room key and got down on one knee to propose. A sigh escaped her lips as she dropped the champagne cork back in the jar.

Wine Corks

She never tired of this trip down memory lane, one cork after another, though she seemed to do it more often these days.

December 31, 1988 – Wedding Toast

July 8, 1996 – 1st Cruise Vac

Dec 13, 1993 – Our son

Thanksgiving 1995 – Lake Tahoe

June 7, 1990 – Our daughter 

Feb 14, 1989 – V Day 

January, 2005 – Dave Matthews

May 1, 1991 – Promotion

So many memories contained in this jar, memories of love, of family, of perseverance. They weren’t all celebrations, but even the bottles uncorked after an argument led to a celebration of sorts in the end. Off to the side, she stared at the blank cork she refused to date. She pushed it with her finger, and over and over again it rolled back toward her. Mockingly, as if to say, “there’s no denying my existence.”

Final Toast

She had prepared a special dinner that night, his favorite. The kids were away at camp, and it had been way too long since they had a night at home alone. He was due any minute having left the office early for once. She imagined he was as anxious about their evening as she. As she heard his car pull into the driveway, she was overcome with a nervous feeling. She almost rushed back to her closet to change clothes, suddenly feeling silly for putting so much effort into her appearance tonight. As she went to greet him, she wondered if she’d gone too far with the new red lipstick she had spontaneously picked up today.

Seeing his face as he walked through the door, all those thoughts were replaced with a gut wrenching fear in her stomach. In a couple of steps, he had crossed the living room and wrapped her in his arms. Words tumbled out of his mouth no matter how hard he tried to keep an even tone. Doctor’s appointment. Test results. CANCER. More tests. Follow up. She knew he was providing details, diagnosis, and prognosis yet all she heard was CANCER and still somehow she refused to process what was happening. Walking away from him, she headed to the kitchen to pour them some wine, catching a reflection in the mirror of a woman she didn’t recognize…a woman who just hours before had dressed and primped without a care in the world only to have that same world come crashing down around her.

She remembered him standing in the kitchen doorway, leaning against the frame, quietly pleading with her to listen. If she closed her eyes, she could still hear his voice telling her there was hope…there was always hope. He was going to fight this, and he believed they would be okay in the end. It was the first time she had ever doubted him in the years they’d been together.

Jar of Corks

After many tearful promises, a forgotten dinner and empty bottle of their favorite wine, they had made love all night as though nothing could ever separate them.

She quietly slipped out of bed and into his work shirt like she had done so many times before. She stood in the kitchen looking out the window, imagining all their neighbors sleeping peacefully tonight while she faced the scariest day of her life. Inhaling deeply, she closed her eyes trying to stop the wave of tears she knew would eventually come. As she placed her hands on the counter, her finger brushed up against the cork. A sob escaped her as she reached for it and unlocked the dam that held her tears.

Months had passed, and many a night she had stood rooted to this very spot. Some nights she prayed, some nights she argued with God, some nights she felt nothing…so numb was she from the pain. The nights she journeyed through the corks providing her the strength she needed to face another day. Now, she stared at that blank cork once more knowing she would never date it, yet also knowing she would never throw it away.

She wiped the tears and took a deep breath. She dropped the single cork in her jar of memories. As the sun came up once more, she quietly walked back down the hall to wake her children for their father’s funeral.

Previous Stories by Little Miss Wordy:

“One Ring To Rule Them All”

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Wedding-Ring2The digital clock on the nightstand read 3:43 am, as I awoke from a deep sleep to the sound of what could only be bad news. Phones ringing in the middle of the night don’t often carry with them the promise of anything good on the other end, especially when your spouse works the night shift. Still, I hesitated to answer it as I looked around the room as though looking through an old window covered in a thick, grimy film. Three rings, then four rings. On the fifth ring, my arm stretched out in a wooden motion as though someone was holding the marionette strings that were forcing my body to perform the actions my mind was trying so hard to resist. I picked up the receiver, and before I could say a single word was inundated with an avalanche of words tumbling out in a voice I was more familiar with than the very palm that held the phone. I inhaled deeply, filling my lungs with air, slowly lifting the weight that seconds earlier was crushing my chest. My relief at hearing his voice didn’t allow me to focus on his words. In his endless string of hurried phrases strung together with pauses to catch his own breath, I could only make out a few words. Wedding. Flood. Ring. Elevator. Almost died. That last one caused me to bolt out of bed, my feet oblivious to the icy tiles they landed upon as they paced the tiny bedroom that was our first as bride and groom. The room that held pillow talks long into the night of memories, dreams, and all the whispers that forever join two people together now closed in on me as I pieced together the story of how my husband almost drowned for fear of losing the very symbol of the love this tiny room had seen in our first years of marriage.

He worked the night shift at the hospital, and had headed down to the basement for a snack to keep him awake, as the sounds of hours of thunderstorms and falling rain had begun to lull him to sleep. As the ding announcing the elevator’s arrival sounded, the doors opened only a couple of inches, but enough for a steady stream of water to gush through and begin to fill the elevator. No matter how often or how forcefully he pounded the elevator buttons, the doors wouldn’t budge and the water kept rising. He worked his hands into the slight opening and with what could only have been the force of an adrenaline rush, pried open the doors enough to slip through into the flooded basement and find the nearest staircase. A few hours later, he realized his wedding ring was no longer on his finger. For most, panic would have set in as the elevator flooded. As he describes it, the moment he realized his ring was missing was when the real panic set in for him. He headed back down to the basement, and waded his way through the water for what seemed like an eternity, searching desperately for a small piece of gold that meant the world to him. As emotions threatened to overcome him, in the small corner of the elevator he saw a glimmer of hope and something else as he reached down and pulled his wedding ring to the surface.

A wedding ring is only a material item, a piece of metal with more sentimental value than monetary value. However, for the two people who place that ring on each other’s finger in front of all their loved ones, it is so much more. It is a shout from the rooftops declaring their love for another. It is a vault of memories and special moments shared by just the two of them, that each carry close to their heart, reliving those moments with a quick glance at their hand. It is a constant reminder of the love shared by two human beings. It represents a lifetime commitment to share in the good with each other, to support each other in the toughest of times, and to add more love to this sometimes dismal world of ours. How could that ever be a bad thing? Why should that ever be denied to anyone just because they are gay? What right does our government have to deny this and so much more to a couple simply because they happen to be of the same sex? Why should they jump through rings to be allowed the same rights heterosexual couples are automatically given?

The ring isn’t necessary for two people to show their love for one another. It isn’t necessary to join two people in marriage. The ring itself doesn’t guarantee anything really except the promise of love. How can anyone believe they have the right to forbid a union based on love, when the very essence of love is something that can’t be controlled?

Weekly Writing Challenge: The State of the State

The Littlest Knight With The Biggest Heart

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Photo Credit: littlemisswordy

Photo Credit: littlemisswordy

He may not be tall, dark, and handsome. He may not come riding in on his white horse to save the day, and the sword he holds to protect his princess from all things evil may be a plastic one. Nonetheless, he is her knight in shining armor. She towers over him, but in her eyes he is bigger than the darkness she fears when she needs to retrieve something upstairs, and can’t bear to face the second floor alone. He is bigger than the sounds of night when she asks him to accompany her to take the trash outside. She begs him to sleep with her every night, as if the sheer warmth of his tiny body pressed up against hers is enough to protect her even in her nightmares.

Her little knight takes his job seriously. He discusses movie options with her, and together they choose one they can both lose themselves in for a couple of hours, popcorn in hand, both occupying one half of the couch. The chosen flick must be one of adventure, but can not include anything too scary. His knightly duties are many, and he carries them proudly on his tiny little shoulders. He is the littlest knight with the biggest heart.

I recall one day when I walked up to the school, and he was standing next to his Pre-school teacher. It was the week of Halloween, and all the children had their faces painted at school that day. As I approached him, about to share the appropriate level of excitement over his face art, I slowed my pace. I could only see black smudges across both cheeks. Amateur face painting or the 88 degree temperature? I didn’t have time to ask before his teacher offered an explanation that has stayed with me ever since.

You see, the little knight stood in line as excited as his little friends anxiously awaiting his turn for face painting. One by one, his peers walked off with smiling faces, and admired the masterpieces bestowed upon their sweet little cheeks in a handheld mirror the teacher held up to them. When it came to be Evan’s turn, he made sure to stand perfectly still, a difficult task for a four-year old knight accustomed to being in constant motion. Once the piece was complete, he walked off to the mirror and took in his reflection. He looked at his teacher, looked at the artist, and kindly asked for the face paint to be removed. They convinced him to keep it on for a bit, I imagine in hopes he would get used to it. Tears ensued as well as much face rubbing. Hence, the black smudges I came upon that afternoon. After much prompting, he explained to his teacher that while he really liked the artwork, there was no way he could go home with it on his face. You see, my sister is afraid of spiders, said the littlest knight with the biggest heart.

It Was Just A Matter of Time

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Do you remember? For the year and a half we lived with an ocean between us, we send this image back and forth to each other. Sea otters hold hands when they sleep so they never drift apart.

For the year and a half we lived with an ocean between us, we sent this image back and forth to each other. Sea otters hold hands when they sleep so they never drift apart.

Do you remember? I was a Resident Advisor in the girls dorm and you in the boys. We were from different worlds, living in separate towers, but it was just a matter of time before our paths crossed. No matter that you had spent your life traveling the world as the son of an Army soldier. No matter that I had remained in the same town I was born for the first seventeen years of my life, with never an illusion of going elsewhere. It was just a matter of time. You spoke up during a weekly meeting, and our eyes met across the room. I would later learn just how outspoken you could be when you believe in something. You’re always up for a good debate, and passionate about your beliefs. I love that about you.

Do you remember? We danced the nights away, every two-step taking our friendship to a deeper level on a path to a future we never imagined. Well, you did from the start didn’t you? It was I that needed convincing. It was I that was too fearful of losing my best friend by wading into uncharted territory of romance and stolen kisses. Yet, I was chest deep from the beginning without even knowing it. It was just a matter of time.

Do you remember? You worked the night shift at the front desk, and rushed up to your room for a little sleep. Most mornings you woke to the phone ringing and my voice asking you to come down for breakfast with me. I would wait in the Commons Area sometimes ten minutes, sometimes longer. Then, you would exit the elevator, sleepy-eyed and ruffled hair, missing your warm bed I’m sure…but you would always come. It was just a matter of time.

Do you remember? We planned a road trip to visit my family, but the day before we were scheduled to leave my car broke down. We booked two tickets on the Greyhound bus. Two poor college students, with a bag full of change we hit the vending machines at every stop while the rest of the passengers enjoyed a warm restaurant meal. The bus stopped at every tiny, out-of-the-way town. It took us twice as long to reach our destination, but for us it was the ride of a lifetime. It was just a matter of time.

Do you remember? Early on in our marriage, we would walk the store aisles creating a wish list of items with which we would one day furnish our first family home. We dreamed of the day we could afford it all, sit back, and take immense pleasure in watching our children enjoy it. We had big dreams, and spent years making them a reality. It was just a matter of time.

Do you remember? My dad was diagnosed with cancer, his battle lasting only four months. I moved back home to help my mom sort things out emotionally, physically, and financially. The morning of my departure, I rushed around aimlessly trying to get packed while I was completely out of sorts. You made me stop, played our favorite song as we slow danced in the living room, savoring each moment, not knowing how long we would be apart. Six months later, you picked me up at the airport with flowers in hand and I ran into your loving arms. It was just a matter of time.

Do you remember? You asked for my dad’s permission to marry me, when you realized his days on earth were numbered. You said you wanted him to rest peacefully knowing his daughter was loved and cared for…you weren’t yet a father, but you knew what it would mean to him. Some thought we were rushing things, but we knew we would eventually marry. It was just a matter of time.

Do you remember? I remember all these moments and so many more that have left an indelible imprint on my heart and my soul. Our love is made up of these memories, these moments, telling a love story like no other…our story. “For better or for worse.” “In sickness and in health.” “For richer or for poorer.” Marriage vows one speaks without truly understanding the meaning of them at that moment. Ceremonial words shared easily at a time when we can only imagine a bright and carefree future. Eighteen years later, we have lived these words and gained a deeper and first hand understanding of them. It has made our bond stronger, our life fuller, and our love richer. It was just a matter of time.

Happy Valentine’s Day My Love!

Here are a few more Valentine’s Related Posts:

Sixteen and Never Been Kissed

Adam and Becca’s Virtual Valentine’s Date

A Letter To My Curly Headed Valentine

The Politics Of Giving Valentines

Valentine’s Candy Messages For The Cynical Single Person

Daily Prompt: Cupid’s Arrow

Butt…Butt It’s Valentine’s

Pearl Jam meets WrestleMania

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Photo Credit: deviantart.com

Photo Credit: deviantart.com

As a mom, there’s nothing sweeter than seeing your kids showing each other some love. Those moments when they are hugging each other and smothering each other in sweet smooches is priceless. However, on more than one occasion that loving moment can quickly turn into a full-blown scene the likes of which WrestleMania can only aspire to achieve. The eerie thing is how quickly it can take a downward spiral into the depths of screaming and torturing. I have witnessed my two children perform this incredible feat several times and each time sit in awe (after I have intervened and sent them to their separate corners) at how two human beings can so quickly fluctuate from love to what I know in my heart is not hate but paints quite the picture of all things hate. There is nothing worse than being in public when the love fest begins because I then find myself holding my breath waiting for the tables to turn, especially when some complete stranger takes an interest in the two little angels love for one another. I can’t even enjoy the compliments being expressed to me, the perfect mother of these cute cherubs (truly you would have to be perfect or deranged to be able to raise children who never fight), because I am holding my breath waiting for my kids to reveal their true selves and in turn my true self since they are a reflection of me after all. I find myself repeating that moment’s mantra “just breathe, just breathe, just breathe” and hearing Pearl Jam in my head.

How many times in our lives do we hold our breath waiting for the worst? How many moments do we miss out on because we’re too busy worrying about the other shoe dropping? How many genuine messages of love and admiration have we skipped over because surely there must be something more to it right? Surely, there must be some ulterior motive behind someone’s compliment or kind action? They must want something right? There’s no way they’re just being nice. It will surely morph into WrestleMania at some point, so why enjoy the moment? Why bask in the glory when something terrible must be right around the corner? We’ve seen the pattern, been there done that, we know how it ends.

BUT

What if something really great is around that bend? What if something nice is actually followed by something nice or maybe even nicer? What if this time is different? How will we ever know? And how can we enjoy the moment if we’re so worried about what’s to come? I say, show ‘em your best smile and remember to just breathe.

What song or mantra gets you through those moments when you need to remember to just breathe?

A Heart Full of Ketchup Packets

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Just a little thing, he couldn’t have been more than six or seven with dirty blonde hair and big eyes that took in every detail of his surroundings as though his very survival depended on it. Maybe where he came from it did…I don’t know. I didn’t know his other world and had never experienced it. I met him in this world, my world. I was in my twenties and living life like a twenty something year old, with little regard for my environment and nary a worry in the world. My world was full of fast cars, good times, and excess around every corner.

Photo credit: rachelleb.com

Photo credit: rachelleb.com

He entered my world on a Saturday afternoon, with his innocent face and those eyes that told a story of things I had only heard of in stories. I met his parents and older sister for the first time that day as well. We took them to a local restaurant for dinner that evening, and the adults around the table made conversation and future plans for this brave family. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I noticed he cleaned his plate, savoring the cheeseburger as though it was a feast fit for a king. Between bites, those eyes took in his surroundings. I’m not sure he even heard the conversation. I, myself, was only picking up bits and pieces when I noticed him carefully placing ketchup packets in his pockets. One by one, he slid them to the edge of the table, glanced around and filled his pockets until they looked about to burst. I knew what those pockets felt like because at that moment a blurred vision of a true survivor came to life before me and my heart filled to capacity. I wondered how many ketchup packets would be enough? Did he know? Did he have a number in mind? How many would it take to make his heart as full as his pockets?

No one noticed the change in my emotions, nor the little boy’s actions that caused it. I remained silent, lost in my thoughts only glancing up to find him studying me. After dinner, I stayed behind and walked out with him. I told him he didn’t need to take the ketchup packets, but how do you explain to one so young that they will never go hungry again? How do you convince them that this new world he has just arrived in less than twenty fours ago, is one where ketchup will be presented to him in overabundance? How do you describe a feeling of contentment to someone who has watched everyone around him make do with so much less than my world is accustomed? There are no words, only experiences and actions that in time create the safety net he craved.

That little boy is a grown man now with a wife and two beautiful little girls. He is successful and lives a good life. I’m not sure he even remembers those ketchup packets…it’s been so long. I, however, have never forgotten. Every time I’m tempted to throw in some extra ketchup packets with my order I think of him and his full pockets. My heart fills with pride for the man he has become, and I hold on to those ketchup packets much the same way he did so many years ago. They are my life preservers too. When I think I need more, when I think what I have isn’t enough, I conjure up his ketchup filled pockets and the look of sheer peace that came over him when full pockets meant a full heart. And, I pray that my focus will always be on achieving a full heart…even when my pockets are empty.

Do you have a “ketchup packets” story in your life that serves as a reminder to you?