Tag Archive | family

Fatherly adventures of being your children’s +1

This past weekend I had several hours alone with my three children. Normally we have full family outings on the weekend but it helps keep our family healthy if my wife gets a break from being around children for at least a few hours each week.

There was a Twist & Sprout festival at the Queens Botanical Garden and I decided this would be a good place to take our three daughters. We had been there last year and it was a good time with plenty to offer the kids.

After getting my girls out of the van and dropping off some compost, we set off to explore the festival. Arriving at the Queens Botanical Garden with my daughters is like being a celebrity’s date at an award’s ceremony. Because they are there at least twice a week for the Forest Explorers program, my girls know a lot of the people who work there. One of the teachers at the program recently graduated college and gave my girls big hugs. Other employees waved hello to us from their zooming golf carts or from arts & crafts tables.

There was a puppet show and the puppeteer was the mother of another one of the students at the Forest Explorers program. Other parents stopped to chat with me; they recognized my daughters and asked where my wife was. It was all very friendly, but I was definitely a stranger among them. I was appreciated for bringing my girls there. No doubt they are the better life of the party.

While I pride myself on being a good Dad, the point was driven home that for most hours in the week, I am largely absent from my daughters’ lives. I am out the door to catch a 6:30 a.m. bus in the morning and with afternoon rush-hour traffic I am usually not home before 7 p.m. It is dinner time soon after I arrive home and time for bed soon after that. The weekends are when I try to catch up and cram a lot of living into two days before the cycle starts up again, at least on most weekends (sometimes I have to work on the weekends).

Since 2014 I have been my children’s +1. In theory I could show up at a family gathering without them, but I’d face an extremely disappointed crowd. There’s no substitute for adorable young children.

Case in point: my reception at the Queens Botanical Garden was warm and embracing, which would not have been the case if I had shown up on my own. No one would have treated me poorly, but no one would have known who I was or given me a second glance. When fantastic little girls are your posse, you are a 100% winner wherever you go.

Our children are better versions of ourselves, bright and new to the world with endless possibilities in front of them. When we’re well received based on being with them, it reflects their position in the world and how they’re being raised.

We’re doing something right.

Banana in the tailpipe

It was the mid-1980s and my brother and I were visiting my mother in Yonkers and going to the Westchester County Fair. She lived within walking distance to Yonkers Raceway where the fair was held every year. But this particular Saturday night my mother and I left the fair early so I could watch the movie Beverly Hills Cop on cable television.

We ran through the crowds at the fair and down the quieter streets off of Central Avenue to get to the house where my mother’s apartment was. We made it just in time.

There’s a point in the film where Eddie Murphy’s character makes fun of the way someone says “banana in the tailpipe” that I found uproariously funny. I perhaps laughed harder than I had every laughed before.

From that time forward, if I was taking life too seriously or my mother wanted me to smile in a photograph she would whisper “banana in the tailpipe” and despite my efforts at serious, curmudgeonly dignity I would eventually smile. She had long ago decided that life, even at its most solemn moments, should be met with a certain levity. When I danced with her at my wedding and she looked as if she might be overcome with emotion, I got to tell her “banana in the tailpipe,” to keep the occasion’s needed levity.

My mother was a theater person and that’s how she and my father met. My brother and I are proud to be descended from theater folk on both sides of our family. My mother’s life was an extension of her love for life upon the stage. For her life was a grand performance where she relished every part she played and interpreted each role in her own unique way. She lived life with the expectation of celebration and a disdain for conventions that would get in the way.

When I learned my mother had ovarian cancer, I was hopeful. They were doing surgery, and that’s a sign of hope for ovarian cancer, which is often detected very late. I started planning the victory party early. We would do the T.E.A.L. 5k Run and Walk and have cool t-shirts made up about my mother making cancer her bitch. We’d enjoy a jack-o-lantern show every year from then on out to make up for the one she missed when she first became ill. Things would go back to normal, I was sure of it.

I made the mistake that is so common; I thought I had more time. I thought that my mother would be able to see her grandchildren at least once more, that I could say goodbye to her in some organized way that would leave me with no lingering regrets. I didn’t know that the last time I saw her or spoke with her would be the last time. I don’t really remember the conversation that well. She told me she didn’t have long to live and I believed her, but I left that conversation thinking we had a few more weeks or even months. Two days later I got a call from my stepfather informing me that my mother had passed away the night before.

If there is one moment in time with my mother that I could somehow freeze or replay forever, it would be the moment I went to the waiting room at the hospital after our first two girls were born, and seeing my Mom as a grandmother for the first time. I don’t know if I ever saw her happier than at that moment. I had made her dream of becoming a grandmother come true and she had years of happiness ahead of her as a Grandma.

While I mourn my mother’s loss and regret all that we have lost with her, I’m comforted by the fact that our older girls were gifted with very early memories of her and saw her almost every week of their lives until she was diagnosed.

A few weeks ago, we held a memorial service for my mother at Bear Mountain. Bear Mountain was a popular place for us to meet up and it was the last place I saw my mother. Friends and family from all over came to remember how my Mom had held a special place in their lives. I had a few prepared remarks that I kept brief, and signed off with this:

“My mother did not believe in funerals or being memorialized with an engraved stone. She left it up to us, her family and wider family of friends, with the lives we live and the love we share, to create her monument. We thank you for joining us in this.”

Thanksgiving roll call 2017

A pre-Thanksgiving “Tofurkey Trot” charity run on Randall’s Island was overcast and blustery, with high winds making logistics a difficulty. Opening the back door of the van sent various pieces of paper, old candy wrappers and other flotsam and jetsam of family life spraying across a parking area, prompting the awkward conscientious shuffle to step on and pick up every piece of litter before they could blow away and make us the city’s environmental villains of the day.

My wife and I arrived with our three children just as the event was getting off to a start. We got our numbers and soon were off, trailing most of the runners and walkers with our two strollers.

This particular Tofurkey Trot was cosponsored by My Dog is My Home, a charity that helps homeless people find shelter that will accommodate their pets and was vegan themed. The organizers were friends who had a fun vegan wedding at an upstate animal sanctuary earlier this year. It was an example of how life can be interesting and varied at all times: the day before the run I had spent in the woods hunting deer, now I was at a vegan event. I didn’t even see a deer—maybe I had been hexed by some vegan mojo—but free doughnuts from Cinnamon Snail makes for terrific comfort food.

My wife and I had our goal to make sure we were not last, and that meant we had to jog a bit now and again while pushing strollers. We were able to stop and chat with friends who were either running or manning the doughnut and water stations at the 5k. It was a chance to see Manhattan from Randall’s Island, a place we rarely get to visit. The run took us over a small footbridge called “Little Hell Gate Bridge” to part of Ward’s Island, which is now connected to Randall’s Island by landfill. The run went past the grounds of the Kirby Psychiatric Center, a state hospital for the criminally insane.

We feasted on doughnuts and got to visit with friends, and it was a great way to start the day. We even won a gift certificate for a Tofurkey meal in a raffle, which we sent to a vegan friend. It was a satisfying start the Thanksgiving season.

Gratitude is a helpful practice and it is good to keep a running list all through the year of things you are thankful for. Refer to that list when you are going through some dark times, and it will help you to see things through with a more balanced view.

Here are some things I am thankful for in 2017:

A wife who loves me and our children and who has infinitely more patience than I do. She signed us up for the Tofurkey Trot and has made me a better person.

Three great children who make me proud every day.

A wonderful extended family that has been there for me in the worst of times.

Great friends who represent the best of what friends have to offer.

The creative urge. Losing the will to create means losing the will to live, because life without literature, art, and music would not be worth living. No matter how burdened with work or other obligations I may be, that spark stays alive somehow. For that I remain grateful.

A roof over my head, a job, and my general health.

I’m thankful that I’ll spend this Thanksgiving having a meal with family and enjoying more time with my wife and children than I normally would get on a Thursday.

Happy Thanksgiving.

20 Years Back in New York

Twenty years ago this past week, I started the drive to move to New York City. I hadn’t lived here since I was a baby though I grew up visiting frequently. Both my parents were raised in the five boroughs and I felt that my life’s dreams were big and grandiose enough that it justified entering the crucible of the Big Apple.

My friend Matt helped me pack all of my worldly possessions into a small rental truck and I began the 900 mile journey from suburban Atlanta back to the city of my birth. I stopped in the Washington D.C. area that night at the home of my friends Ryan and Scott and set out early the next day to finish the trip. I remember being shocked at having to pay $8 for the honor of crossing the George Washington Bridge (a moving truck crossing the GWB today would pay a $34 toll off-peak) and drove up to Westchester to my mother’s house. The fall leaves were gorgeous and I felt like I was home.

My directions were mailed to me by AAA and included maps with highlighted sections on it. The moving truck didn’t have a tape deck so I brought along a boom box and listened to lots of cassette tapes on my way. I got off the highway in a rural part of North Carolina to tell my friends how far away I was and to get the score of the Georgia – Florida game (Georgia won in 1997: a promising omen).

I arrived here with dreams of being a famous writer. I have not achieved the literary fame and fortune I set out to make here in the city but I’m still here, still keeping that dream alive in some way. With this column I have one thing that every writer needs the most: a deadline.

I’ve had the honor to indulge other creative urges as well: I took up music and went farther with it than I ever thought I could and miss playing punk rock regularly. I’ve also had a hand in some comedy that has been well received. I can lead somewhat of a double or triple life sometimes. One hour of the day I may be laying out a media plan for promoting a financial product, hours later I may be playing bass while people careen into one another in an orgy of music, sweat and beer; it’s amazing.

I can honestly look back on the last two decades and be proud of where I am in life. I’ve got a great wife and children and lots of excellent friends. The biggest lie I could tell you would be that I got here completely on my own. If it weren’t for family and friends, I would not have anywhere near the good life I have today. I’m sure there are people in this city who arrived completely broke and alone and pulled themselves up with no one’s help; I’m not one of them.

The city and the world are much different places than when I came back to New York in 1997. Two decades from now they will be different still. We’re at a very volatile time in our history relative to where we were 20 years ago.

One thing that is also different is that I still have a tremendous amount to be thankful for. Moving to New York was a homecoming of a sort but also a very new beginning in a city that I had never known as a resident.

Thank you all for being part of this great adventure with me. I promise the next 20 years will be just as great.

Looking to snap out of a slumber

It wasn’t too hot when I had a few minutes to catch up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a year. We brought our kids to Francis Lewis Park, where there is a playground with a sprinkler and a view of Flushing Bay and the Whitestone Bridge.

“I don’t know how you own three of these things,” he said as my two older girls played with his son. Our youngest is only a year old and he and his wife have a three-year-old son.

“I don’t either.”

Having children is something that everyone is terrified of but no one regrets. Spending time with your kids is a great thing and you’ll regret not getting in every minute with them. But when they are as young as ours are, it leaves you too tired to do anything else. Many a night began with great plans and ended with me falling asleep on the couch at 10:15 p.m.

At the park our children go different ways in the playground. I don’t mind staying back and sitting down and watching the kids from a distance. You can’t be hovering over them all the time. But the world being the way it is, you don’t want to let your kids out of your sight for too long. A few times I lose sight of one of the girls and I start to get worried looking for her and just before I break out into a fearful disaster sweat she’ll come into view. This happens a few times and it wears you down a bit further.

My friend and I talk music, mutual friends, and the itch to be creative and make music. His son wants to go down to the water, to where there’s a great view of the Whitestone Bridge and a miniscule beach at the end of a small boat launch. I and my two older girls accompany them. We are disappointed by the amount of garbage on the beach and in the water but the view of the bay and the bridge, makes up for this.

One of my girls isn’t wearing any shoes since she was running through the sprinkler in the playground and I don’t think anything of it until we get to the boat launch and see some broken glass there. I curse myself for letting her come down here with no shoes on. On further inspection this turns out to be sea glass—glass that’s been in the water long enough that it’s been made smooth. Sea glass makes for a nice collectible and I tell the girls I will take this home for them to enjoy later. New York City will disappoint you and impress you in quick succession.

A lot of my friends also have kids but I also have many friends who are smart, creative people, the kind of people who should be doing more reproducing, but aren’t. I highly recommend having kids, though I realize it’s not for everyone.

My friend and I talk a bit more, discuss doing music again, what our schedules will look like later this year, and how we have the itch.

The itch, the need to produce art in some form, it never goes away and is a call that has to be answered. Children, jobs, the multitude of tasks one has to perform just to keep a roof over one’s head and the bills paid on time, these will slow you down, but they can’t kill whatever fire drives you to create.

Thankful in 2015

Thanksgiving is coming up and there are a lot of things to be thankful for. It is easy to look at the state of the world and feel that our generation got the short end of the stick and that things were better years ago. The human species has a habit of romanticizing the past to a fault. The present always looks lacking to Americans in general and New Yorkers in particular because we are an ambitious people who always see better possibilities.

But if we are living safely with food in our stomachs and a roof over our head, we should be thankful; there are a few billion people who would gladly trade places with us.

Here are some things I am particularly thankful for:

Family. I am lucky to not only have a wife and kids who love me but numerous other relatives and step-relatives who love me also. I can tap into the wisdom of several aunts and uncles, cousins, and my amazing grandmother, the indomitable matriarch who is our rock. My family has demonstrated time and again how to persevere through hardship and loss with grace and strength. I am lucky to be of such strong blood.

Health. No doubt my steady diet of weekend egg sandwiches has left me the worse for wear and my back is a scramble of slipped disks and strained muscles, but compared to many people, I am in very good health. I know too many family and friends who have suffered bad setbacks to take my health for granted.

Employment. While I have known great unemployment and underemployment in my time, I am currently gainfully employed at a stable company. Having worked as a journalist for nearly 15 years, I crossed over “to the dark side” of public relations last year. I landed in a good place with smart, friendly co-workers; a lot of people can’t say that.

Creative Ambition. One of the reasons I am lucky to have the family I do is that I’ve inherited my family’s desire to create. My family is full of writers, musicians, actors and more and I am honored to be among them. Being creative gives you a constant reason to live even when all else looks dismal.

America. While the American Empire is deep into its twilight, the America I grew up with and love is very much alive though casting a cautious eye towards the future. America is the greatest nation on Earth because it is my country. We have a lot of problems, but we have a lot of freedom that many people never see.

New York City. No city inspires as much simultaneous love and hatred from its inhabitants as New York. There is no other place on Earth that is constantly rewriting its own mythology and acts such a magnet for creativity and ambition. New York will outlive us all. As much as we hate to see New York change, we know it will never die as long as the Earth remains intact.

A Bronx Zoo Tale

The Bronx Zoo is not on everyone’s to-do list but should be. No year in New York City is complete without at least one long visit to this great zoo, which insists on calling itself the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The Wildlife Conservation Society has a Run for the Wild 5K run/walk every year to help raise money for its conservation efforts. Each year has the theme for some endangered animal and this year it was gorillas. In the past it was fun to run the 5k and then spend the day at the zoo. Nowadays the wife and I walk the 5k with our babies in a jogging stroller and then spend as much time as possible at the zoo until our offspring become too tired and cranky to make the zoo pleasant.

So it was a fun family trip to the zoo and we of course got there much later than we expected. We parked in a field farther away from the starting line of the 5K than we had hoped but in the process of finding our way to the 5K starting line, we happened to walk on the Mitsubishi Riverwalk, a nature walk with a lot of informative displays about local wildlife. It opened in 2004 and totally free and open to the public every day.

It’s a rarer thing to find stuff to do in New York that is both family-friendly and free. It was nice to see waterfalls and woodlands and know that you are in the Bronx.

We did a brisk walk for the 5K though there were lots of slow-moving people, parents and grandparents seriously lacking in stroller-parking etiquette, and mobs of people stopping to gawk at the animals.

We still finished the 5K walk in good time (I assume, who really gives a shit) and we collected our prizes, which included stuffed gorillas for our girls. Then we began traversing the zoo and seeing as much as we could while letting our 15-month old girls walk. Walking with them while also steering a double-wide jogging stroller is a new and unique challenge. It is like other parenthood skills in that you will master it just in time to not need it anymore.

The Bronx Zoo now kind of nickel-and-dimes you at every turn though. Lots of the cool exhibits cost an extra three or four dollars, which can all add up if you want to see the more popular animals. We were lucky in that we got a zoo membership as a gift, but also running the 5K gets you discounts during your zoo trip.

There were long lines at the World of Asia Monorail line, and you get to know people waiting in line just because your kids are interacting with one another and you have to be minimally sociable. A couple of parents with very well-painted faces were asked a half dozen times where they had their faces painted. A bald father with tattoos on his head berated his children and joking (I hope) offered to exchange his daughters for ours, although his daughters weren’t behaving badly at all. An Asian grandfather in the family ahead of us shot me a look of insulting contempt every time my crankier daughter cried and fussed. I hope my devil baby put his panties in a bunch. Full disclosure: his infant grandson was an absolute angel.

For all her fussing, my older daughter became quiet and seemed to be enjoying seeing the animals on the monorail, but that was because she fell asleep. That was our signal to head home after the monorail ride.

Luckily we got to swing by the bison on our way out. After viewing animals from every corner of the globe, it feels right to visit the bison, the great and very American animal that we have here in our own land. They are not native to New York, of course, but I vow that one day I will travel west and see buffalo in the wild. Until then I will be happy to conclude my Bronx Zoo visits with them.

Loss of Laughter and Singing: RIP Lizzy O’Donnell

My father is one of seven children born and raised in the Bronx. Growing up with many aunts and uncles is great. Aunts and uncles are adults who are not your parents and so they are automatically cool and interesting from the time you are a kid. Being taken to see ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ off-Broadway by my uncle Tim remains one of my happiest childhood memories.

Our family lost my aunt Liz this past week. She suffered a massive stroke one morning and never regained consciousness. She was only 55.

We are lucky to come from a very creative family. My family is saturated with musicians, writers, actors and lots of people for whom creativity is second nature.

Liz loved to sing and had a beautiful singing voice. One of my earliest memory of my Aunt Liz is going to see her play music. This was back when my grandparents and several of my aunts still lived in The Bronx. There was a street fair of some kind going on. There were rides and games, and music. Liz sang and she was great. I remember watching her sing and thinking how cool it was that a relative of mine was so loud and awesome out here in front of all these people.

Years later, she was driving me to the train after a family visit and she popped a CD of a recent recording of her singing into the car stereo. She hadn’t lost a thing in the 20+ intervening years. It was a comfort knowing that whatever else was going on in our lives, contending with the routine hassles of raising families, paying bills, staying employed, we remained true to the creativity in our blood.

Liz dealt with a lot of the usual unpleasant crap that abounds in the modern age: divorce, being a working single mother, unemployment, underemployment, illness and the like. But through it all I never remember going to a family gathering where I couldn’t share a laugh with her at some point.

She and my other aunts made a habit of playing Scrabble together whenever they could. Years ago at a family party I joined them and since I was new to the game, asked for leniency in how we judged words. Liz noted that “Fffft!” was not a word. We all had a good laugh at that, and since then whenever I play Scrabble, Words with Friends or any similar word game, I can’t help but think of Lizzy’s admonition that “Fffft!” is not a word.

Liz never lost the joy of singing and making music. A few years ago, Liz’s band, Coyote, got back together for a reunion. They played in The Bronx and the show was packed. It was wall-to-wall people and my wife and I managed to scrap our way through the crowd to be close to the stage area. Before Coyote played, Liz and my Uncle Danny (who plays guitar) did a short set. It was great to see them play together again. I remember being a very young child watching them sing and play guitar at a family party. Coyote was true to form and seeing my aunt play to a packed crowd made for another great family memory.

The news of her death was a shock. Lizzy’s passing came suddenly and too soon. There were seven brothers and sisters my father’s side of the family and now there are six. Six: the number seems obscene now, unfair.

But where my family has been unlucky it has also been strong. Liz’s daughter, my cousin Kerry, is a rock. I hope I can raise my daughters as well so that they love me as much Kerry loved her mother. And if they are half as strong as my cousin, they will be set for life.

My awesome Grandmother should not have had to bury a daughter, but her resolve to comfort others in the midst of her grief proves we are made from stern stuff.

If my family has any official spokesman or representative, I’m glad it is my father. He has been the one to most eloquently voice our grief and our pride both this time and years ago when we lost my Grandfather.

My Dad recounted his happiness in seeing my aunt sing in the Bronx at the street fair and described her contagious laughter, generous spirit and her incredibly tenacious nature. When Liz caught a pickpocket trying to steal something from her bag on the subway, the police had to pry her fingers from the would-be thief’s arm.

Seeing my father and cousin speak about my departed aunt was as proud a moment as it was sad. In the midst of this tremendous loss, I was reminded of how lucky I am to have had an aunt like Liz but also how lucky I am to come from a family that produces such people.

And true to form, the last thing my father heard from my aunt was a joke that he declined to repeat in church. But anyone who asked outside of church was granted the wish of hearing it. I heard it at the restaurant later where we all gathered for lunch. It was topical and funny, and completely in line with the good humor of Aunt Liz.

No family gathering will feel the same without Lizzy’s laughter, but her passing has served as a reminder of what a great family we have.

Alice and Dave’s Wonderful Adventure

The roads and parks this spring and summer are filled with tourists and our highways are busy with people driving through our great land. Among them are my aunt Alice and her husband Dave Siewert.

Dave and Alice are going on a giant road trip and are seeing some of the great beauty of the Western United States. There are no people more worthy of experiencing all of the natural beauty of America than Alice and Dave. And this road trip is special for them because it will be their last together.

Bad news came fast for them at the end of last year. Dave was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and has not been given long to live. Alice is a cancer survivor and Dave had heart surgery years ago. They have more than paid their dues to the trials of medicine; they have endured enough health hardships to last two lifetimes already. This just isn’t fair.

If you look up the definition of “balls of steel” in a proper dictionary, the entry will have Dave’s picture next to it. Dave is facing certain death and has doubled down on embracing life.

No one would blame Dave if he holed himself up in a dark room and gorged on cheese curds like some kind of Midwestern Howard Hughes. Not a soul would find fault with him if he numbed himself from the specter of his own approaching death.

But that’s not how he does things.

Alice and Dave acquired a camper and set their sights westward, making the journey from their home in Wisconsin to Yellowstone National Park. Early on they had an accident due to a blown tire that delayed their journey. But what is a little traffic accident when you’re spitting in death’s face every day?

Dave has to return to Wisconsin every six weeks so his esophagus can be dilated to prolong his life. Yet he’s out there, rolling down America’s highways with no regrets and no apologies. He is boldness personified and the baddest badass cruising America right now because I guarantee you the toughest trucker or biker on the road today is not staring death in the face like Dave is.

At a time when it would be easy to voice bitterness or rage at life’s unfairness, they have remained a moving example of grace and love. The way they insist on living life to the fullest and refusing to be beaten down is itself like a great work of art. Like all great artists, they make it look easy.

But no one who knows them is surprised. Alice and Dave were married outside on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year. It somehow didn’t feel that way though. The breeze was just right and no one seemed to notice the temperature. Alice’s vows included a promise to support the Green Bay Packers. After the ceremony, Alice and Dave enjoyed their first dance together as a married couple. Before their song was over, Alice beckoned everyone to join them on the dance floor. She would tolerate no slackers. Even those guests who normally do not like to dance at weddings happily obliged.

Alice created a Facebook page to document her and Dave’s travels. She is a gifted writer and has posted comments and photos. “We can feel the petty retreating by the hour,” Alice wrote in a post. “This has not so far been a year too full of laughs. Yet we have been laughing and crying and learning things about ourselves and each other that the world of cubicles and chemo bays muffles somehow.”

“We are witnessing natural things that were previously beyond my imagination,” Alice wrote me in an email. “Talking stops and all one does is stare dumbly at a magnificence that renders your life, worries, ego all meaningless. It is fun to be on the road. But some day we come home for good. And that is a principle to wrestle with the starry night through.”

Great New Yorkers: My Grandmother

babies are nothing new for Great GrandmaThis past weekend the wife and I packed our two baby girls into their car seats and drove upstate (upstate defined as north of the Bronx/Westchester border) to celebrate the 90th birthday of my Grandmother, Mary Sheahan.

They don’t make New Yorkers like Mary Sheahan anymore. My Grandmother immigrated from Ireland and went through Ellis Island as a child in 1925. She grew up in the Mott Haven section of The Bronx. She raised seven children in The Bronx and is a grandmother to nine and a great grandmother to three. My Grandmother remained in The Bronx as long as possible and then stayed a little longer. She has never been far from the city and still visits frequently. Her last child left the five boroughs only a few years ago (after living in the city more than 60 years) and she has two grandchildren living here now.

No person I have ever met represents unconditional love and the joy of living and loving family like my grandmother. You would be hard pressed to meet a better person in all of the world. Go ahead and try. You might find someone you think is pretty good but they won’t hold a candle to my grandmother. If you think you’ve got someone who can compare in kindness and sweetness I’m sure you’ll find something terrible if you dig a little deeper, like they torture cats in their spare time or something.

My grandmother is so sweet she even gives homes to insane dogs, like her current pet, Misty, a friendly but mentally ill and hyperactive beast who would be put into Kung Pao form in no time if it were up to anyone else other than Grandma. I don’t know how she manages to walk that crazy animal at age 90 but she manages somehow. I always make a point to walk that damn dog when I visit her so she’ll have at least a few hours of freedom from it.

But that’s one of the minor points about my grandmother’s excellence. Having her as my Grandma has been a great privilege. In my younger years, especially when I was a teenager, I was a jaded and angry person who hated the world. Even today I find it hard not to consider much of the world and the people in it loathsome. But no one can keep that disposition for long in the presence of my grandmother. Even in my angriest and most obnoxious teenage years when I thought it might be cool to murder my parents and live the life of an itinerant assassin for hire, I could never find it in my black heart to think a mean thought about my grandmother.

My grandmother’s wit is sharp as ever and she stays active. She can still drive and she walks under her own power, and I still try and promote the idea that she secretly runs a criminal empire and is just successful at not getting caught. It would be fun to learn that my Grandma has strangled mobsters with piano wire and brained drug lords with shovels.

It was great to introduce my own daughters to my grandmother and to take photos of her with her kids, most of her grandkids and all of her great grandkids. Grandma was happy as ever to have so many of her family in one place at one time. Her children and grandchildren now live all over the country. Family flew in from as far away as Georgia and Wisconsin to celebrate Mary Sheahan’s 90th birthday.

I am exceptionally lucky to have the family I have. And my family is exceptionally fortunate to have Mary Sheahan as its matriarch.

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