On Writing a Will-Kerry E.B. Black
February 11, 2017
Although it will sound like an oxymoron, I discovered a will is a living document. My latest health scare spurred me to create a will. I have children to protect somehow, after all, and although I’ve little to provide for them monetarily, I at least need to offer some small guidance for once I’ve shed this mortal coil and left them to their own devices.
As I wrote, I realized how little of monetary value I would leave behind. I am a woeful provider. I’ve worked most of my life, yet I have little to show for the efforts. I own a flooding house where the once-beautiful yard is now reduced to a swamp. The cars are not in my name. I own little jewelry, and what I have is not worth much money. Certainly, nobody should fight over —-Read more
November 14, 2016
Today, our nation votes for a new president. Here, a senate seat, several local officers, and a poorly veiled referendum will be decided as well. I took my sixteen-year-old to witness the voting process, as I have since she was small. She will be eligible to vote soon, just like her idealistic college-age sister.
Then there’s my nineteen-year-old. My Bear. She is biologically eligible to vote, yet because of her mental impairments, I hesitated when it came to registration. She and I talked long and hard about the state of the country and the candidates. We discussed the duties and importance of the offices. She twirled her hair, overwhelmed. Read more …
September 5, 2016
Imagine a road-weary traveler mere miles from home whose car breaks. When she shimmies underneath, she sees something broken, dangling, and dripping fluid. She pushes from beneath the car, feeling as though its weight crushes her chest. Her children – there are three with her, and their dog – whine about the heat even as she wipes sweat from her pre-menopausal brow.
No signal for her cell phone, since the road upon which they are stranded is rural and deserted. No houses nearby and the nearest sparks of civilization wait about a mile and a half from where the car rests, engine ticking as though in apology. She collects her elder daughter’s crutches, grabs the service dog’s leash, takes the six year old’s hand, and beckons to the recalcitrant teenager who manages to roll her eyes in a perfect imitation of Disgust from Disney’s movie “Inside Out.” Read more …
August 8, 2016
Involved parents know their children. They feel their kids’ plights even when the children don’t use words to convey problems. Like sensitive barometers, moms and dads feel changes in their progeny and use their intellect and intuition as guides for action.
When my S-Bear failed to crawl as an infant, doctors showed little concern. Children develop at different rates, and she was meeting all of her other milestones, they said. Even in my inexperience, I had a feeling they were wrong. I read everything I could, and before her first birthday, neurologists determined my beautiful girl had Cerebral Palsy.
Since her diagnosis, she’s endured countless surgeries to help her walk, attended hours of therapies to best use her body, and suffered some severe trauma. I stay with and support her every step of this convoluted journey. Read more …
July 27th, 2016
At my uncle’s memorial service, I saw grief hollow my cousins’ eyes. I recalled these people as the beautiful children with whom I spent countless hours playing every game we could think up. All mourning begins as an internal agony, and although I couldn’t intrude on theirs, I wanted to ease their pain. Before taking my seat, I stumbled over condolences and embraces while feeling deficient.
During the service, the pastor asked, “When your time comes, what will people say about you?” Read more…
Chance Encounter with an Old Friend
July 20, 2016
While delivering fundraiser items for my daughter’s school trip the other day, I stumbled upon a friend. We reminisced, as old friends do, inquiring about each other’s well-being and families. We laughed over remembered silliness. After sharing photos and updates of the children, my friend expressed disbelief. “No, these grown people can’t be your children. I still remember your pregnancies.” With a hand stretched out at hip level, he said, “They must be about this tall, right?” Of course, all but the youngest is much taller than his estimate. Read more …
July 7, 2016
I’m a struggling suburban housewife. Our car is broken and our basement and yard flooding. We scramble to pay bills, like many in the United States, yet we get by. We remain relatively healthy and seek education. We attend church and act as morally as we can. We are typical in many ways, blessed in others, and lacking in some small areas.
Bombs don’t fall from our skies. We don’t huddle in caves with neighbors, cringing at sounds and praying for food. We drink fresh water and launder our clothing and clean our skin and hair. We care for pets. We don’t scavenge for life-sustaining supplies. We dose needed medicine and can seek medical attention without fearing our hospital will be bombed. Read more …
June 23, 2016
I’ve been blessed by having some amazing men in my life.
For years, my father worked two jobs to provide for his family. He poured love into the activities we shared, from weekends in the Laurel Mountains to family picnics at parks. He rescued me when I’d climb too high and, like a kitten, become stuck and frozen. The smell of his aftershave reminds me of the times I sat at his feet as he prepared for work, ridding his face of thick, dark hair. He listened for our breathing when we were infants and watched over our swimming, wary and ready. He set off fireworks to delight us and, to our dismay, ate anchovies on pizza. My father is a man of few words, yet a strong person with deep convictions. Read more …
May 30, 2016
My Pap Pap hesitated when talking about the worst aspects of the war. No matter how much I asked, he evaded. I knew he served in the US Army during World War II, so I chose my words with care when asking about his deployment. However, as the father of fifteen children and grandfather to thirty-five, my grandfather had mastered the art of conversational deflection.
He’d answer a question with, “I thought of your grandmother the whole time I was overseas. She’s such a beauty. Here, look at this photograph. Doesn’t she look like a gypsy?”
I’d try to steer the conversation back to history. “Did you storm the beach at Normandy?”
He’d respond with, “She came with me to Texas where I had Basic Training. We eloped. Boy, was her mom mad! That’s why we have two wedding anniversaries. Read more …
May 23, 2016
I think everyone gets there, that point where the weight of the world threatens to crush us beneath. We are not Atlas. We are not designed to shoulder the burdens of a beleaguered world. Yet we strive. We impose upon ourselves and take on responsibilities. We plan and do our best, yet sometimes, oftentimes, or occasionally, we crumple. We drop to our knees our bodies riddled with jabs and blows dealt by an ever-present threat. Like a used tissue, rough winds roll us to the trash mound.
But by the morning, we straighten. We press the creases and try again. Read more …
May 17, 2016
Winter damages many plants, leaving gardeners to prune dead branches. Without such attention, the rot can infiltrate, and the entire plant might die. One fine day last week, I attended to some of my perennials, cutting stalks until I reached the green quick.
When I moved to this doll’s house, I planted a hydrangea. It bloomed pink among fuchsia-bright rhododendrons. The year I gave birth to my littlest son, it bloomed blue. I know the soil PH determines the color of hydrangea’s blooms, but in my sentimental state, I interpreted the changed color as the yard welcoming my little boy to his new home. Read more …
May 9, 2016
It’s Mother’s Day here in the United States as I write this letter. Flipping through the cable guide, I came across a number of irreverent television offerings, including “Mommy Dearest.” I’ve heard people say they didn’t want to be like their mothers. “You’re growing into your mother,” is an apparent insult.
It’s funny, but I wish I were more like my Mom.
I’ve been blessed with amazing parents. The example they provided formed the foundation of who I am and gave a benchmark for what I hope to someday become. Read more …
May 2, 2016
I love Sir James Barrie’s adventurous “Peter Pan” stories. Peter acts as the spirit of youth, joy, and adventure, the child who escaped the fate of aging using Pixie Dust and by traveling to a magical Neverland.
I took the three youngest of my kids to see an excellent production of “Peter Pan” at a local high school renowned for their theatricals. Peter flew into a nursery and spirited away the Darling children. A sparkling, tinkling light represented Peter’s devoted fairy friend, Tinkerbell. The orchestra performed beautifully, the cast sang and danced like champions, and the production will doubtless win Woodland Hills High School plenty of acclaim.
My S-Bear’s birthday approaches, her last as a teenager. Her enthusiasm for attending the Peter Pan musical dwarfed our excitement. For almost two weeks, she rocked with excitement. Read more …
Sportsmanship and Selflessness
April 25, 2016
Today, M-man took the field for his first day of T-ball. He overcame shyness, prying himself from my leg, and donned his LA Dodgers uniform. He looked adorable as he imitated his coach’s stance, gloved hand on his knees. He fielded and hit and ran the bases, though he did forget to drop the bat after batting. The whole time, he grinned.
In fact, the enthusiasm of all the children on the team left me energized and charmed. They patted each other on the back as they rounded bases and embraced at home, although they only met a brief few minutes before.
The afternoon reminded me of one of S-bear’s horse shows. She participated in an adapted riding program, and in the autumn, the stable hosted a show with judges and ribbons. The kids quivered with anticipation. Read more …
April 18, 2016
Make no mistake. Divorce does not only involve the couple separating. I’m not talking about the unfortunate children caught up in the drama. Theirs is a particularly painful and messed up odyssey even in the most amicable of splits, and an entire psychological team wouldn’t be able to do justice to their plight in the span of a single letter. I don’t feel equal to exploring their saga in such a format.
The purpose of this letter concerns friends and family of a divorcing couple.
Memories of my divorce vacillate between pain-dulled to raw and visceral, but the utter abandonment by many I considered friends shocked me. Read more …
April 11, 2016
I have a little girl I adore more than I can say. Her bright curls cage the sun, and her vivacity and unique approach to life captures my heart.
As with all of my children, I pour love into her cup each morning, pour until it overflows and spills to puddles at her feet. Most days, she leaves the cup on the counter and goes about her day. I set the cup aside, clean it for use when she comes home. When she returns, I reach for her, long to embrace my growing beauty, but she stiffens and dodges. “Oh, Mother,” she says.
“I love you,” I tell her. I write the words in notes and unanswered texts. I end every conversation with the words that consume my heart. “I love you, my daughter.”
Read more …
April 5, 2016
In a society obsessed with image, where care is taken to produce a nonchalant selfie…
Despite hiring an attorney, facing the court to petition for guardianship for my S-Bear, and filing a ton of yearly paperwork, I was informed I needed a photo id for my disabled adult child. So, I took her to the DMV.
There was a wait, as anticipated. The surprise came in the “do not use cellular phones, electronic devices, or earbuds” sign. I stowed the devices in my purse. Beside the sign was another issuing a probation against eating and drinking. To keep from annoying the others caught in the purgatory that is the DMV, we sat off on our own. I did my best to occupy two short-attention-spanned young people. We petted S-bear’s service dog and talked with two other bored little girls. We played “I Spy,” but the prison-like walls offered little to entice wandering imaginations. I painted S-bear’s fingernails pink and M-man’s clear, ignoring the glares from people who apparently found the smell of polish offensive. We played word association games as the clock ticked a maddening progression.
An employee announced a state-wide problem with the computers. The lines would be shut down until they could be fixed. She hadn’t a clue how long that would take. “Sorry,” she said without a trace of remorse. Read more…
March 28, 2016
This Easter morning, I rise with the sun. Nursery pink mingles with grey-blue stratus clouds, fading to salmon and gold as day breaks. I wait for the breakfasts in bed we ordered last night, but they don’t arrive. I check the hall outside our hotel room. Nobody wheels carts our way. I wake my husband and ask him to call the kitchen while I take my S-bear’s service dog outside.
Plans change, even those prepared with care. The kids will have to eat breakfast in a hurry because of the mistake. We’ll dress in our Sunday best and follow the GPS to their grandparents’ church. The service is different than our home church’s. No kneelers or pews. No priest or communion. Instead, we sing with a praise band.
Different. It is a different kind of Easter for my family. Read more …
March 21, 2016
I wasn’t always as boring as you perceive me. I notice your rolled eyes and patronization. I suppose to you I am a doddering fool whose grasp of these modern times is tentative at best. Indeed, some people found me interesting once.
You see, as a young person, I volunteered at several riding stables, exchanging my labor for horsemanship lessons. However, a growth spurt dashed my aspirations of becoming a jockey. (Five foot seven is far too tall for a jockey.)
I loved theatre. Makeup and costumes allowed me to be close to the stage until I built up my courage and assumed roles. Read more…
March 14, 2016
Today has been a rough day. All parents have them, days that jackhammer the foundation and cover every experience with the dust of broken hearts, crumpled promises, and decimated plans. Like wrecking balls, the kids go toe-to-toe with words and blows like boxers in an arena, as parents step between their progeny, more like punching bags than referees. Indeed, today made me long for the serenity of a long, lonely drive – perhaps I’d drive far enough north to see the northern lights dance before returning home.
Instead, I fed them and sent them off to bed. I nestled my 5 year old M-Man close for his bed time story. His actions during the hellacious experience involved only minor naughtiness. He put his head to my chest. “I hear your heart.” Read more …
March 7, 2016
Sometimes, life hits us in the gut, slamming us with hard choices. We must decide how to respond, choose our course of action despite the push and crash. Will we do the right thing or will we run, cowards when faced with our own crimes?
My eldest daughter is a young woman of twenty-one largely sensible years. On Super Bowl Sunday, she watched the commercials (certainly not the game since she’s not a football fan) at her boyfriend’s house. She promised to be home by eleven, but a less-than-sensible aspect of her composition includes a blatant lack of time management. After the evening news ended at eleven-thirty, my husband climbed into a warm bath and I nestled into my corner of the couch, comfy in my jammies, to catch up on the world of social media.
A sickening sound outside made my insides jumble. I leapt from the sofa and threw open the front door. Cold blasted through my insubstantial robe. Read more …
February 29, 2016
I live in the City of Bridges. Pittsburgh has over 450 of them. Most of these monstrosities of steel and stone bear marks of their Victorian era heritage, and inspections prove many unsafe. Yet, we “Yinzers” trust the girders and bolts to hold the weight of our cars during rush-hour stand-stills. We notice the city crest clutched in the talons of carved eagles or the peregrine nest spanning the Allegheny River. Gone are the smokestacks of Andrew Carnegie’s steel mills, but the stain of hard work and sweat leave lasting marks.
Close to my home, a new Hulton Bridge supplanted the old lavender-colored structure. My children and I watched the implosion of the unsafe, old structure. Bald eagles who make the overlooking hillside their home retreated to hunt when the prowess of engineering dropped all but the support posts. Read more …
Viva the Vampire Slayer (and Family Unifier)
February 22, 2016
As a parent, we often do things we’d otherwise never consider, simply because the action might benefit our children. We eat the inedible breakfasts in bed and Easy Bake creations for the sake of their self-esteem and smiles. We listen to hours of monotonous tunes until our brains turn mushy and adult interaction seems an exotic allure.
As they age, we read books of their liking to hold discussions on the subject. We become experts in archery, fencing, martial arts, or color guard. Knowing we must “go” where their hearts reside, we learn about their friends. We attend school plays and PTA meetings that we might chaperone field trips. We camp beneath snake pits at the zoo when our Harry Potter fans wants to try out parseltongue. We endure unhospitable weather for scouting trips, all in the hopes of relevance and relatability. We do anything, even risking life and limb, to give them unforgettable experiences. There’s not one of these experiences I’d give up, because they matter to my children. Read more …
February 15, 2016
In February, seed catalogues arrive with their promise of spring. I have always enjoyed browsing, circling favorites, setting a budget, and placing my order. Pleasant anticipation and daydreams accompany my wait until the day the seeds and young plants arrive.
This year, however, I see no reason to open the glossy pages, no call for expending hope. I’ve little soil left after all the flooding at our home. My yard is largely a bog now, the result of the watery incursion. Although it would delight Shrek, I am not an ogre (despite my children’s assertions to the contrary) and find no pleasure in squelching soil or drowned and decayed plants. Read more …
February 10, 2016
Students at Penn Hills High School filmed an assault against Isaiah Wooding, a sixteen year old main-streamed student who battles Cerebral Palsy. As may be anticipated in this share-happy society, some enthusiastic schoolmate posted the video. It features a large boy kicking Mr. Wooding in the chest. Isaiah Wooding fell back and slammed his head on the ground. Most disturbing of all, the sound of gleeful laughter assails the viewer, adding to the hurt of the experience with additional ridicule. When interviewed at the hospital, Mr. Wooding admitted to frequent victimization but feels his education is worth the risk of harm to himself. His mother, Margaret, sees the incident as a teachable moment that affects everyone. Read more …
February 1, 2016
If I am a hoarder, it is a hoarder of experiences. Because I don’t trust my recall, I collect memories. Photographs pressed into scrapbooks and photo albums. Smiling faces transformed into personal artwork behind ornate frames.
We inhabit a small place, and little dwellings have limited wall space. Thus, my collection of memories must be slimmed to allow displays. I overlay older eight by ten glossies with updated smiles. Opening the back of a picture frame is like a mini-time capsule or an archaeological dig site. Years strip away from family members. Eleventh grade, tenth, ninth, and on to kindergarten. Darling smiles lose teeth, exchange milky baby grins exchanged by the tooth fairy for orthodontically-enhanced grins. Styles evolve. Hairstyles change. Maturity replaces baby fullness. I run a finger along the changed profiles, recalling the peculiarities particular of each age, each person. Read more …
January 25, 2016
In 1976, huge blizzards hit the east coast. Here in Pittsburgh, traffic slid to a crashing halt. Schools cancelled until the school boards worried students would never serve the required 180 days. Thus, because the weather refused to show mercy, they declared delayed starts. Beginning later allowed plow teams a couple of extra hours to clear the roads, and the weather could warm a bit.
I attended elementary school at that trying time. My family lived on a main road in our community, and nobody could keep up with the accumulation to keep the sidewalks cleared. For safety’s sake, I trudged through yards. As a slight-built child, I could often skim along the iced-over top of drifts. Read more …
January 18, 2016
There is always music in my head, an ongoing soundtrack accompanying my every task. Sometimes, I’m baffled by the tune my brain seizes. This morning, for instance.
I went to bed last night dreading the morning. Batten down the hatches, because here comes the snow. In truth, I feel bad complaining, because the season is getting a late start this year. Many times, the kids trick or treat through the frozen white stuff, so beginning the storm watch mentality in January is a blessing. Still, at 6AM, nothing sounds finer than wrestling a reluctant teen out of bed, and then hurrying to clear the walkways and parking area. Timing is tricky. Her van arrives at 22 minutes after 7. Yes, they are anal about the schedule. Thus, I have to have her bracing in place, medicine dosed and taken, winter appropriate attire wearing, fed, groomed, exercise-completed, and ready to go. All of this while shuffling in the extra time to clear the necessary paths. Read more …
January 11, 2016
I can’t breathe. My life is reduced to anticipation of a beep on the monitors. Lines reflect bedraggled heartbeats. The numbers leap into dangerous zones, then recede like a storm-swept tide.
I watch a man, once a fount of strength, fade into bleach-thinned pillows. I can’t sleep. When I close my eyes, he lurches forward with accusation, his thin frame trembles, and the wounding words reverberate like a remembered thunderclap. Read more …
January 4, 2016
My husband Andy asked why we bother to celebrate the New Year. Andy’s not much of a party-guy. He pointed out, “It will still be 2016 tomorrow morning even if we allow the kids to go to bed at their normally scheduled time.” With a mischievous look, he added, “Two of them aren’t that stable with telling time yet, after all.” You see, to ring in 2016, my mother invited us to her house. My siblings and their charming families would be in attendance. By nature, Andy is a homebody, and the thought of leaving our house on the evening renowned for drunk drivers left him twitchy.
Indeed, the year would advance whether or not we marked the occasion with clinking glasses and banging pots and pans. He acquiesced with a sigh, though. Our College Girl had plans of her own, and Bear’s anxiety reached a crescendo with a regrettably familiar cacophony. Read more …
December 28, 2015
I write as rains pelt the roof and winkle their way into my basement in streams that engulf my ankles. The weather’s pitter-patter used to soothe me, a comforting lullaby that made me enjoy the comforts of a warm blanket and comfortable couch. Not any longer, though. Each splash on the window panes sinks my stomach. My arthritis flares, but worse, anxiety nauseates me. I’ll need to run the wet vac more tonight than usual to arrest the encroacher’s flow. I’ll be forced to devote another day’s efforts to the futile pursuit of a watery interloper. My shoulders and back complain, thinking of stooping and reaching and emptying burdened vacuum canisters. My psyche yearns for comfort, and the child in me wants to run away from the whole muddled mess. Read more …
21 December 2015
I have a theory. When distilled into its simplest essence, holiday decorating is about bringing light to a dark time of the year. Winter Solstice, which falls somewhere around 21 December, marks the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere. Around then, we set our world aglow. It is as though the world unites in its desire to drive back the cold and welcome the light.
We deck halls and trees with twinkling lights, transforming winter into a glistening fairy land. Gutters and windows lined like gingerbread with glowing icing brighten winter evenings. Miniature villages glow with train displays. Germanic children carefully balance wreaths of candles on their heads as Saint Lucia or Christkindle. Read more …
December 15, 2015
It is a trend here in the United States to position a plastic-faced, limp-bodied elf doll about the house to inspire children to do as asked. The elf watches with its insipid grin and sidelong glances, and then (or so the story goes) rushes off to the North Pole to fill the Big Guy in on the children’s goings on. The tattling of these elves can land non-compliant children on the Naughty List. The frighteningly innocent-looking doll determines the children’s fate.
However, if you can’t trust the reporter, how can you trust the report?
You see, a cursory glance through Pinterest will reveal Elves leaving shelves to go on benders. They indulge in questionable behavior with other dolls, draw mustaches on family portraits, and engage in all sorts of unsavory activities. Read more …
December 7, 2015
I am not as strong as my children, particularly my Sarah. In an attempt to understand what my girl goes through, I borrowed her wheelchair for an afternoon of shopping.
Dirty hands. I wore her gloves, yet the gunk accumulated. When I wheeled into the restroom to wash up (what an experience that was!) I found blisters. I now understand Sarah’s thick callouses. To leave the restroom required filing a logistical flight plan and a ten-point turn.
I wondered how Sarah shredded her clothing. I now understand. Read more …
November 30, 2015
I spent today putting up Christmas decorations. I’ve lost some to our continued flooding. Water is insidious, and it breeds mold and mildew. Still, we put together a little tree, hung stockings, and set up the manger scene.
Yes, our house continues to flood, but we have a plan to prevent further incursions come January. (Thank God for my parents. I am truly blessed.) Despite the interloping H2O, we have a place of our own with electricity, internet access, heat, and running water. We have our own bedrooms, private, albeit small. Our cars have oodles of miles, but they run well, and everyone enjoys reasonable health during this newest flu season.
I have a friend named Anna Dobritt whom I met through an online writers’ group. I’ve admired her determination and dedication. Although disabled, she labors daily, increasing the word count on her works, and yet offering constructive critique to any who ask for her help. Read more …
November 23, 2015
Starbucks. The people purveying expensive, addictive, and delicious coffee find themselves the center of a free advertising campaign – I mean controversy. Why? Their cups.
In previous years, Starbucks decorated their cardboard with such winter themes as snowflakes or snowmen. This year, the company stated their plain, red cups provided canvases for their guests to create their own seasonal memories.
A pastor somewhere released a video complaining about the company’s stance against its employees wishing “Merry Christmas” or other such phrases. Read more …
November 16, 2015
This killing must stop.
With each terrorist attack, I shake with anger, but anger’s not what the world needs now. Terrorists who harm and frighten my fellow man are bullies without the backstory, bullies who adulterate religion for their own purpose. Their aim is against entire nations. With every attack, we must become a world united against such tyranny.
I feel gut-punched, gasping wisps of air into shriveled lungs, quaking with reaction, but fear’s not what the world needs now. Even during the worst atrocities, there are saints marching in to help their fellow man. Hands pull survivors to safety and comfort the grieving. Instead of cowering, thoughts turn to how best to help one another. Evil winds braved for the sake of fellow men and posterity. Read more …
9 November 2015
I circle them like a moon and they my planet. I’m always there, even when their suns eclipse me.
My children gather stars to their breasts like a brilliant bouquet. Each solar bloom bursts upon their scene. Friendships, frenemies, and nemeses supplant family bonds. Activities interfere with household interactions. A new level of self-absorption engulfs my darlings as youthful dramas embroil their passions. The solar landscapes change. Friends revolve out. Avocations, vocations, and academic pursuits shuffle. My children’s rotations wobble, escalating and erratic as the changes in their growing bodies. Read more …
2 November 2015
Autumn’s always been my favorite time of year. The changed weather and vibrant colors invigorate me. My heart delights in hills of trees bedecked in russet and amber finery. The air holds a tang, and I reenact favorite childhood memories with whichever of my kids will indulge me. Trips to pumpkin patches, crisp apples dipped in sweet, sticky caramel, Halloween costumes and gentle scares. We rake leaves into piles and delight in dispersing the work with a jump.
The garden prepares for a winter rest. I dead-head flowers and prune the roses. Mulch blankets perennials. Chrysanthemum blooms provide pops of color in an increasing mono-chromatic landscape.
My little M-man recites “Five Little Pumpkins” as we march outside. The grass engulfs our ankles. I’ve not cut the lawn for a while. Tending to the mess inside the house has taken priority. We’ve been taking on water since June, and the damage leaves me disheartened. In need of a break and a bit of time with my son, we study leaves made colorful from a loss of chlorophyll. Squirrels chatter at our intrusion, shaking their tails from their lofty vantage. Read more …
October 26, 2015
Why do worries consume you? Late at night, you jolt awake in a cold sweat. No nightmare could achieve this result as efficiently. Your worries seize you. The realities that you try to release to God consume your peace. You force yourself into rationality as your heart rate steadies. There’s nothing to be done at 3:30 in the morning. Relax. It will be handled in the dawn. You say a prayer, and then another.
Yet sleep alludes. You drift between consciousness and concern, never dipping into rest. Minutes swell like a wave, and before you realize it, the alarm announces the beginning of the day. You march through the motions of daily activities, a brain-numbed robot striving for a return to joy. Read more …
October 19, 2015
Time. It flies, right? When bored, my kids complain it drags. Yet time remains in essence a commodity.
I’ve never been great at time management. My personality becomes embroiled in projects, lost in a labyrinth of my own devising. Like the resident of a fairy realm, time works differently for me. A task which should require fifteen minutes reveals itself as an hour-long project. Somehow when pressed, I squeeze out projects in fractions of expected time. I linger over what I love and drag my feet when faced with a task I hate.
Unfortunately, my kids seem unwitting recipients of my flighty and sporadic grasp of Chronos’ realm. Read more …
October 12, 2015
I find myself assailed by dark waters again, pooling around memories and claiming their markings. Tears splash, creating a perverse dance of ripples in the smelly intruder. I know better than store belongings in my basement, but within my house, there is nowhere else to keep them. I thought I’d managed better, kept things up from the ground and encased in plastic, but laziness and accumulation found boxes exposed to this latest flood.
I hate how what seems solid becomes pliant as cardboard when exposed thus. By nature, water is insidious, able to creep into the most secure of hiding places. A black garbage bag collects treasures I wished to preserve. Read more …
October 5, 2015
Dear “Good Samaritan” at the store this evening,
Imagine yourself shopping. Your comfortable pace allows you to read the labels, and when you find something of interest, you stop to peruse.
While you’re enjoying the afternoon’s diversion, a well-intentioned person pauses, smiles, and flings you over his shoulder.
You protest. “Hey, wait, what are you doing?”
The stranger deposits you in the check-out aisle, pats your head, and walks away with a “You’re welcome.” Read more …
September 28, 2015
It has been an honor to participate in this project. Although I joined as a guest in December and didn’t become a regular contributor until January, I’ve avidly read and found inspiration in the letters presented throughout this year. To think an entire year concludes seems premature. I’ve enjoyed reading the introspective and interacting with the talented OYOL crew. Through the words of the amazing featured authors, I’ve examined life from other perspectives.
I tend to be a private person. Writing about myself is difficult for me. Read more …
September 21, 2015
My dear Andy,
Today we celebrate our anniversary without fanfare. We haven’t the discretionary cash for even a trip to a coffee shop alone together. It’s been a rough year, but as long as we support one another, we’ll survive.
You stumble in from work, exhausted. The kids scramble to greet you before they head off to bed. I snuggle into the crook of your arm, grateful for the steady beat of your heart. Your hand plays in my hair, making me realize why cats purr. I run my fingertips over the palm of your hand. The callouses there tell of toils. Titanium rings your left finger, proclaiming our bond. Read more …
14 September 2015
Coins. They weigh down the pocket and make music when we walk. I delight in finding unusual offerings in my change, be it a bicentennial quarter or a wheat penny. I find coins interesting and think of their journey and their many handlers. There is a heft and dignity to the metal discs that I admire.
I used to roll coins to add to the children’s savings accounts, when our financial situation was better. It wasn’t long ago, really, but now, I roll coins to survive. The unusual become encased in the paper wrappers, lining up with their modern compatriots.
Yesterday, while at the grocery store buying the ingredients for the daily meal, the total escalated quicker than I calculated. My breathing grew labored, and I prayed the coupons I’d clipped would make the bill more manageable. S-bear and M-man fidgeted, bored.
“Momma, can I have a new magazine?” S-bear asked. “I want candy,” M-man added.
I wiped sweat from my forehead, eyes glued to the reducing bill. “Not today, guys. I’m sorry.” Read more …
September 7, 2015
As a reward for a week of excellent school work, I took Matthew to see “Antman.” The Marvel superhero adventure flick provided a fun distraction, and we shared giggles. The premise of the movie involves an ex-con who finds walking the straight-and-narrow difficult. The poor fellow could not hold gainful employment despite his advanced engineering degree, since none of the companies would hire an ex-convict. Thus he became embroiled in intrigue and eventually donned the Antman costume.
The plight of the protagonist brought to mind one of my favorite characters from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Jean Valjean could not find gainful employment as an ex-con, either. Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption also explored the difficulties of reintroduction into society after incarceration. Even though they served the required time for their infractions, society withheld trust and confidence from the released prisoner. Read more …
Uno No More – Kerry E.B. Black
31 August 2015
Sleepovers are misnamed. Perhaps I should have realized when my insomniac children asked to host a sleepover that little if any sleep would be in order for the evening. Ever the optimist, however, and since the cicadas sing announcements of summer’s end, I agreed. Three kids hosted three others the same day my eldest girl went on a date and my husband an important job interview.
With the eldest girl on a date and the husband on an important job interview, the little people vastly outnumbered me. It was okay, though. I’m tough. I’m accustomed to being outnumbered. I live it daily.
I’m not accustomed, however, to the variety of childhood needs encapsulated in the little society we established for the evening. “Gluten free” and “no nuts” I anticipated. “I don’t like that” surprised me. Read more …
17 August 2015
Tonight, I lounge on my deck, a cool breeze caressing my hair. I stepped on my basil plant, and its spicy, clean smell lingers. Crickets serenade as my family sleeps. My neck strains, the result of a collapsed disc and strained rotator cuff, so I adjust, eyes Heavenward. Always searching Heavenward.
Meteors fall, brilliant streaks across an inky sky. I feel at once microscopic and united with these bits of space. We hurl through our lives, hurried in pursuit, only to end as cosmic dust. The message resonates within my soul. How bright my flash? Read more …
August 10, 2015
Today, my five-year-old son held the door for a woman in a full burka. As she walked by, she said, “May Allah be pleased with you.” My little dude nodded and said, “You’re welcome.” I found the experience interesting and a little exciting, as though this heavily veiled woman allowed me a glimpse into her beliefs.
I know from friends “blessed be” is a wish from wiccan and pagan practitioners. I have a friend who wishes, “Karma be kind.” I’ve heard, “Love and light visit you” and “Aho, all my relations.” Read more …
New Neighbors- Kerry E.B Black
August 3, 2015
Four hawks moved into our yard this summer. They whistled and shrieked and made themselves comfortable.
When I first moved here thirteen years ago, red tails nested in the corner maple tree. My girls and I watched their antics with interest. About six years ago, they moved on, abandoning their giant nest to the ravages of weather and invaders. No “see you later.” No “Thanks for the time.” The hawks were just gone.
With their departure, squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits returned to frolic in our yard, multiplying. The rodents grew bold, including a fluffy-tailed squirrel tapping on our dining area window to solicit treats. Read more…
The Cookie Table- Kerry E.B. Black
July 27, 2015
Here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, we have a quaint nuptial tradition. Our weddings boast a cookie table overflowing with homemade confections. Family members pull out favorite recipes, sift the best ingredients together, and pour love and devotion for the happy couple and their guests into beautiful treats. Sometimes, a friendly rivalry arises among the baking team, fueled by proclamations like, “My gingersnaps are the best ever,” or “wait until you see my perfect apricot pinwheels.” Some anxious bakers even hover near the table during the festivities to keep tabs of whose delicacies were quickest consumed.
Recently, my cousin married. This dynamic young woman pulled out all stops to create a magical evening of celebration. She rented the entire Heinz History Center as the venue. Individualized touches, including postcards from places she and her groom visited, revealed their adventures. Read more …
July 20, 2015
As a kid, I climbed anything, reaching great heights only to become trapped atop by my own fear. Like a kitten, I became treed, paralyzed until my father scaled the heights to rescue me.
Today, my girl had an appointment in the South Side of Pittsburgh. While driving over the bridge, I spotted a kitten trembling among the rusting yellow girders, mouth stretched in a desperate ‘meow.’ The kids and I agreed. The kitten needed a hero. They decided I was that hero.
After struggling to find parking, I set out on this steamy, humid day, conviction in my steps. It would be worth a tardy for the appointment if we saved a life as a result of the mission. The kids’ cheers filled my ears until I strode onto the bridge.
Pittsburgh is the City of Bridges. We have 446 of them, many dating to 1818. Few are in tip-top repair, either, and several received failing safety marks. As Traffic whizzed by on my right and a drop to certain death loomed on my left, the roar of the rain-swollen river filled me with fear. Read more…
July 13, 2015
The other day, I took two of my little kiddos to a Members’ Night at the Zoo. Matthew and Sarah bounced and squealed, excitement uncontained. “We’re going to the zoo! We’ll see animals and have so much fun!”
The skies threatened, but rain is our dreary companion this summer. Heavy traffic and no handicapped parking available, I wheeled Sarah onto one of the only “on-ramps” to the sidewalk and walked about a quarter mile to the end of the line, feeling like salmon swimming upstream. I assessed the number of guests and decided it prudent to discover what mattered most to them both. Read more…
If You Can’t Say Something Nice
July 1, 2015
Tonight, after putting the littlest members of the family to bed (for the fifth time), you sat to write while your husband and oldest daughter watched television.
Your daughter commented, “He’s looking old.” Disgust registered on your beautiful twenty-year-old’s face as she considered the celebrity on the television. You glanced up to see a man about your age whose youthful energy sparked from his eyes.
“If you can’t say something nice…” Read more …
June 22, 2015
Summer is here, the time for flip flops and swimsuits. To prepare for the season, I tried on a cover for my one-piece, a sarong of teal with peach lotus flowers. My reflection plunged me into a memory, a formative experience from high school.
As a high school kid, I loved theatre. Our school had a vibrant program, and I tried out for every production, from musicals to one act plays. I loved the thrill of assuming another role, stepping onto stage as a different person. To quote a line I delivered during Rand’s Night of January 16th, “My real name is Ruby O’Toole, but nobody ever calls me that.”
One year, we put on South Pacific. I donned a teal floral sarong and danced with a chorus of girls. We sang about ‘washing men out of our hair’ and ‘talking about things we’d like to do.’ Rehearsals lasted late, but I loved the work.
A friend from drama club flopped down before class one day and buried her head in her arms. I asked, “What’s wrong?” Her voice broke. “They asked me to drop out of the musical.” Read more…
15 June 2015
All my life, I’ve struggled with my own self-image. I’ve been told time and again I’m unimportant. People scoff, saying I’m naïve in my hopes and beliefs, especially when I see the best in people.
As a little girl, I looked on everyone as a potential friend. I opened my heart and hugged hello’s, welcoming people into my life if they wanted to take part. Some did, and I treasured them. Many did not; instead, a large group targeted me for my sensitivity. They ridiculed and harassed with contradictions.
Every young girl experiences doubts about their looks, and my classmates dredged up every insecurity until I believed myself hideous and unlovable. Read more …
Monday, 8 June, 2015
My daughter celebrated a milestone birthday. If she had any interest or understanding in such matters, she is now eligible to vote. If she possessed the faculties, she could try for a driver’s license. In the eyes of the law and of the medical community, she is now an adult. Such dramatic changes, all because of another year of living.
These changes became effective at the stroke of midnight, 27 May.
Despite the changes, much remains the same. She still adores Harry Potter and High School Musical. She wishes Santa would leave the Christmas gifts on the back porch because she’s uncomfortable with anyone, even a saint, wandering the house after hours. Watching Disney vacation videos on You Tube remains her favorite past time, and not a day goes by without her asking to revisit her favorite princesses. Read more…
1 June, 2015
When I was a kid, I wanted to try my hand at kite flying. Nobody bought one for me, so I made them from paper and Popsicle sticks. Too heavy to fly, the kite required a redesign. I used willow and tissue. Still, no flight resulted. Repurposing and engineering, then like hope, I set it free. It fell to earth with a quiet crush.
I determined my children would experience the thrill of kite flying. I bought a kit, and we put together the box kite. Once we attached the tail, the pirate skulls painted on the nylon grinned, ready to soar. On a windy day, we unfurled the string. The kids took turns setting it free. Winds lifted it high, a triumphant ascent toward the clouds. It tugged, wishing greater rein to aspire to greater heights. I feared, like Icarus, aspirations might outstrip wisdom. “Reel it in a bit,” I suggested. My eldest daughter laughed, filled with the youthful certainty of her own immortality. She laughed at me and rushed away, setting free more string. Read more…
May 25, 2015
Dear sentimental Kerry,
On the back of my car is a stick figure family acquired while we vacationed. Each family member smiles, eldest to youngest, with pets interspersed, we parents flanking the group. My husband’s figure looks military-straight, while dweeby me waves. Somehow, that seems an accurate description. However, a strange thing has happened. The real kids have grown, and of course, the glass stickers remain unchanged. Read more …
18 May, 2015
Social Media has been a blessing in many ways. It allows ease of access to family and friends. We post photos of our children, share good news, and convey greetings for occasions special and ordinary.
It also provides a source of angst within me.
I’ve watched people post specifically to hurt another. For instance, after a disagreement, a splinter of a group of friends Instagram-ed their fun-filled social outing, dubbing themselves “the Three Musketeers” to emphasize the ostracization of the one left behind. “I love these girls,” they gushed. The quart of the quartet wept, then grew angered by the purposeful attempt to harm feelings. Read more…
11 May 2015
While outside enjoying a pleasant afternoon, my son rushed to me, a big grin on his ruddy face. Clutched in his grubby fist was a bouquet that reminded me of gathered sunshine. “For you, Momma. I wuv you.”
I accepted his offering with a hug and a smile. He smelled of the outdoors and active playtime. I kissed the top of his sweaty head. “I love you, too, my little man.”
With a smile and a wave, he ran off to pursue another delight. Read more …
Even the rockiest soil can produce beautiful flowers.
4 May, 2015
Even the rockiest soil can produce beautiful flowers.
When I bought my house, the yard influenced my choice. Lush grass speckled with blue flowers swept to a tree line. A mini fern forest meandered up a slope to the right, and a wooded hill bordering the left provided a home for myriad species of wildlife. I planted a garden where hundreds of sunny-hued daffodils bloomed in the spring. An antique holly, a fragrant English lavender bush, and a brilliant pink Queen Elizabeth Rose stood proud at the center, presents from beloved friends. In late spring, peony pinks, vibrant lilies in summer, and chrysanthemum through the fall bloomed, framed by a wall of Pussy Willow, Curled Fern, and Honesty. My kids and I spent happy hours enjoying the display in our private sanctuary.
Then Hurricane Ivan ripped through our community. Read more…
April 27, 2015
I’ve heard planting a garden represents a supreme act of hope, and I believe it. I’ve spent a small fortune and tremendous hours composting to amend the clay in my yard. Flats and seeds, bulbs and plants I place with care, researching ideal sun exposure and zones. I dig and weed, prune and train each plant with care. I lavish attention and resources to see a success. With each back-breaking labor, I imagine plants ripe with luscious fruit or swollen with bounty and beds brimming with fragrant offerings pleasing to all the senses. I welcome the blooms as friends. My heart leaps at the sight of new growth and mourns the insect-eaten or unsuccessful. Read more…
20 April, 2015
Sarah has a formal dance to attend. She loves the idea of looking like a princess, gown sweeping the ground as she glides across the parquet floor. We study her teen magazines and favorite books. “I love Cinderella’s gown,” she tells me. “Do you think I could look like Belle?” she asks. “Taylor Swift always looks so pretty, don’t you think?” She rocks in her chair with a wistful smile. She hums, imagining a waltz with a fairy-tale prince. “I want to wear a dress like that one.” She points to a confection with gems sewn to the bodice, cutouts at the waist. Read more …
I feel like a cloud stretched thin, strands of cotton candy pulled across an azure sky. Acquaintances interpret the shapes I’ve been stretched into, their own ink-blot testing. Some of the assessments are kind, taking into account the challenges of motherhood and personal life; others deal harshly in whispers heard from miles away.
I listen and try to recompose myself into an acceptable shape.
Clouds develop by gathering water in the right atmospheric conditions, whereas people amass formative experiences. Read more …
Three little monkeys stand before my imagination. One covers his eyes, one his ears, and the third his mouth, representing “see, hear, and speak no evil.” My Grandmother loved the image, so it makes me think of her when I stumble upon its representation.
The problem is, there is evil, of course, and we can’t cover our eyes to it. To do so would be like children hiding our heads under a blanket to protect us from a monster prepared to do us harm. The monkeys from the statue don’t mean turn off the news. They don’t represent insulating from reality. Read more…
March 30th, 2015
You need a prank, something to remind yourself and your kids that although there are serious aspects to life, there are also little joys. April Fool’s Day approaches.
You favor foods for your fun. Last year you iced and decorated individual sponges, creating a delicious “after school snack.” The year before, you found an intriguing way to present rice cereal wrapped in fruit leather. It looked like a tray of sushi. A couple of drops of food color transformed a pitcher of milk a lovely shade of blue. Gelatin in the glasses rendered the morning ‘orange juice’ unsippable. You still giggle recalling their surprise. You have repurposed rubber spiders and snakes from Halloween to startle and delight. A palm-sized black spider on a fish-wire web placed behind the shower curtain got the best reaction. Read more…
March 23, 2015
The other day, my brilliant oldest daughter Dylan dumped puzzle pieces from their box. “It’s been a while since we’ve done a family puzzle,” she said.
“You’re right. The last one was that “Wizard of Oz” monstrosity.” That puzzle’s complexity had left miniscule puzzle pieces littering our table for weeks. We laughed as we turned each cardboard bit of this present work to its shiny, colored surface.
“This one looked like it would be easy,” she said.
I considered the box depicting a rather steampunk-influenced Cinderella. Lots of blue and white and the pieces, though only 550 in number, were small. I didn’t say anything. Read more…
As you quake with reaction to today’s distressing events, you must remember something – Your children are superheroes.
Sure, that sounds like a bold statement, especially when the little stinkers can be selfish, inconsiderate, and down-right mean to one another. Still, when important, their inner hero lights shine. Read more…
By reading a short, negative review, your confidence shook.
“I don’t think your style lends itself to short fiction.”
Although you hope everyone will enjoy your tales, everyone knows tastes vary. Still, you experience moments of insecurity. (Perhaps ‘moments’ might be better defined as ‘periods of crippling fear.’) Quite frankly, you question your own writing chops, worry about squandering your limited time. Read more…
You gaze at a photograph of the beautiful Kirsten, your cousin’s tow-headed daughter. She smiles with confidence, prepared to accept her high school diploma and march into the hallowed halls of academia. She banters about scholarships and declared majors, and you marvel that the child you used to carry in a laundry basket prepares for such adult undertakings. Misty-eyed, you congratulate her, wish her well, and know in your heart she will experience success. Read more…
To Kerry, the ever bemused,
My littlest gave me a card that professed his love and a foil-wrapped, crown-wearing, milk chocolate frog for Valentine’s Day.
“Did you give me a frog prince, my darling?” I asked.
“No, Momma. It is a queen. See the crown? I got this for you because you are like a queen.” Read more…
To read more of our letters, click on The Path!
It is humbling to remember your age.
An amusing illustration of this occurred which bears preserving. You engaged in a conversation with your fifteen-year-old daughter which pointed to generational differences.
She leaned on the kitchen counter beside you as you chopped onions for dinner. Without preamble, she launched in. “Mom, I ship Jack Frost and Elsa.” Read more…
To read more of our letters, click on The Path!
“The Dreaded Birthdays Ending in ‘0’”
Today is your sister’s birthday, one ending with a dreaded “0.” The day distresses her, though other birthdays passed without her concern. This one, this year, struck at her and forced introspection.
When you asked her why this one bothered her so much, she choked up. “You know, I pictured my life differently.” Read more…
To read more of our letters, click on The Path!
Face it, kid. You’re odd. Your older children point this out daily. Nothing new; no breaking story here, actually. Since childhood, you’ve skipped instead of marched to your own drummer (or is it a bagpiper? I guess it depends on the day and your whim, really.) Mom mentioned with a humoring smile, “You really could spend a bit of time with reality.” Reality often sucks, though, and imagining pleasant scenarios peopled with charming friends really appeals to your romantic nature. Read more…
To read more of our letters, click on The Path!
Rain falls, encasing the ground in a coffin of ice. Footing proves treacherous. You must hold handrails to progress, must cling to the car as you chip chunks from the windows and around the door. The cold bites your cheeks and nose, but soon the comforts of a warmed car envelop you.
You see your daughter safely inside, mittened hands covering her ears. She rocks like a metronome, marking time unattended, each moment a mini-torture. She rips the knitted cap from her head, throws the mittens to the floor, and wraps her fingers in her hair, twirling the dark mane until it rips from her head and sprinkles her lap. Read more…
January 22, 2015
You need to remember that you’ll get nearly nothing done the day before you change Sarah’s schedule. The day of the schedule change will present its own problems, as well. Selective amnesia or an eternal optimism make you forget.
School delays and closings, though beyond your control, cause just such a disruption of her need for a regimented schedule, as do the holidays. Holidays present challenges for anyone, but for your young lady, their delights cause angst. Read more…
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