Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Want to Make American Great Again? Then Get Off Your A**.

I've been pondering this for many months and today I felt compelled to share. Lucky you!

If you are a person who believes we need to make America great again (and even if you are not), then I'm here to provide some marching orders. Get off your chair. Get involved. Get to know your neighbors. Get to know a stranger in your midst. Be a leader by example. Stop shouting rhetoric and start acting GREAT.

So many folks have talked about how America is the opposite of great today. They see it as a political slam. I see it as a personal slam. For the past eight (plus) years, I haven't had time to whine about my country feeling/looking tarnished, I've been too busy investing in my community by:
  • working every day to support my family
  • volunteering in my child's school
  • supporting local non-profits who have a direct impact on the people in my community (and by support I mean that time-tested trifecta of time, treasure and talent)
  • helping my neighbors
  • organizing regional networking and support opportunities for entrepreneurial businesswomen
  • pitching in when needed for my family and friends on a personal level, we all need a little help sometimes
This is not to say that I'm perfect. I'm far from it. But, I wonder how many armchair quarterbacks posting about the dismal state of our country have done the same?

Today my wish is to see more sharing about the day-to-day efforts each of us has accepted responsibility for and less about how much we want to see from a politician who doesn't share our space every day. 

No. More. Excuses. 

Too many times I've heard about our young people and how lazy and uninvolved they are. Its no wonder when they listen to the adults in their lives pander about how (insert any political figure's name here) is an idiot or incompetent or a liar. I value transparency in business and politics (and by transparency I don't mean a flood of shared click bait faux stories about politicians or businesses or celebrities). I also value personal responsibility. Being displeased about something is perfectly acceptable. But, that reaction should spur engagement and involvement, not whining and blaming. 

Teach tomorrow's leaders how to lead by actually doing it in front of them. They won't just grow up to be effective family, community, business, and political leaders on their own. They need those closest to them to show them how. Start small. Act local. But, keep that world view in sight. 

America is Great. The question is: Are YOU?

PS: No Republicans or Democrats or Libertarians, Tea Partiers, or Green Party Followers were harmed in the drafting of this message. Trust me, it's truly non-partisan. Everyone needs to get off their a**. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

An Even Dozen

The build up to today has been monumental. For weeks there has been a countdown. A list of everything that would follow...all designed to make me get misty eyed.

My son turns 12. This guy. My one and only baby.

Here are 12 things that make being 12 years old decidedly joyous for him and cause me to sniffle most of the day. These have been shared with me by a very knowledgeable source.

1) Only 365 days from becoming a teenager. Holy cripes!

2) He is now older than most of the kids in his class. Bragging rights rule.

3) The numbers go in order. Get it. 1-2. Yep, think of it as a 12-year-old boy. Ahhh, now it's awesome!

4) Kissing kiddie menus goodbye. It is practically a crime to order from one when you are already 12, even if you really, really, really want the mac and cheese.

5) You need more privacy. Sure, you've been walking in on your mom in the bathroom for the past 12 years, but now...everything...has...changed. Get it?

6) At 12 you are practically 13 so all of those movies that are rated PG-13 are completely within your reach. Or so I've been told, over and over and over.

7) Just three more years till drivers training. And, only four more years till the coveted license. If I start taking Xanax now, I should be good then. Right?

8) Being 12 is just so much better than being 11. It just sounds like you are ready for everything that a middle schooler would do. That's just the way it is.

9) Twelve year olds should really have their own phone. Not just any phone. An iPhone. Really. No, really. (This still hasn't happened in our house. Really. No really.)

10) When you are 12 your mom doesn't need to smooch on you any more. Unless you are scared. Or you get hurt and are bleeding all over and need an ambulance. But, otherwise, I should just kiss his dad. But, never in front of him.

11) Halfway to 24, when he'll be done with college and have his own place and his own dog. Living the dream, baby! I just pray that he's doing his own laundry at this point.

12) Even though you are 12, you can still hang out with your parents sometimes. If they are doing something cool. And, they don't do anything embarrassing. As if...

Happy birthday to you, Connor. I'll see what I can do to honor some of these elements. But, really, don't for a minute think I'm going to stop dancing at times that freak you out (like in the car...). And, when I see your precious face (I can hear you groaning, stop it!), I can't promise I won't still give you a little kiss. After all, I've only been a mom for 12 years, I'm still in training! God Bless You, Buddy.

Monday, March 23, 2015

We Are Family (not a sing along!)

We all have interesting and unique definitions of whom we include in our families. Depending on your culture, religion, or ethnicity, that definition could be wider or more narrow than someone else.

This weekend I had the immense pleasure of witnessing a family wrought out of caring and love for each other regardless of the circumstances that have transpired previously. I am a part of this tribe. This family of friends, relatives, spouses, former spouses, neighbors, and coworkers. We are rather like a spider web, woven tightly with delicate threads that alone are vulnerable but together form a miraculous safety net.

Angie's Army ready to show our support for Angie Gildea at the Irish Jig 5K Run in Grand Rapids. The race supports colo-rectal research efforts.

Our mission this weekend was to cast this safety net out into the universe in protection of Angela Nauta Gildea (check out her blog here and follow along on her journey toward a cancer-free life). Angie was diagnosed only two weeks ago with colon cancer stage IV, the cancer has spread to her liver. Angie is a spunky, busy mom of two young ladies (ages 9 and 10), a professional, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a neighbor, a Christian. And, according to the group gathered on Saturday, Angie is destined to be a SURVIVOR. 

Angie cheering on her team at the finish line of the Irish Jig 5K in Grand Rapids.

The complexities of the family gathered to support Angie are unusual. Yet, also representative of the diverse lives we all live now. My son considers her to be Aunt Angie, even though she is not related to him through traditional family ties. But, when the chips are down and the need for one more set of hands clasped in prayer seeking healing work both spiritually and at the hands of a seasoned medical team...we are all family. 

Angie's Army of BELIEVERS gathered after the race at Derby Station to celebrate her future success.

Like most families, we tease, we banter, we call each other out for silliness and downright dumb-headedness (it is a word, trust me!). We forgive when merited. And, ultimately we circle the wagons and call in support to help when one of our own is down.

The heart of Angie's Army and our Family of supporters are the Chick-Lits, our book club. We were missing a couple of ladies, but they were with us in spirit.

As Angie wages her battle, this family will keep our web woven tightly and at the ready to catch her when she needs us...or just to provide a playful bounce now and again, like at the trampoline park. We will not let her down because at the heart of everything is the common denominator of love for someone special and a sincere desire to lift her up in success and happiness.

We all have our roles: the serious one, the goofy one, the smart one, the one who cooks, the one who cleans, the one who dances in order to evoke get the picture. Ultimately our roles do not define us, they are just one more element in our wacky family tree. A part of the nutrients that are needed to establish deep roots. 

Now, that is a family. That is my family. You are welcome to join us, as long as you have heart!

A word about colo-rectal cancer...screenings begin at age 50. But, recently we've seen an increase in the number of people diagnosed with this disease before that age, Angie is only 41. So, be aware of the symptoms and take action if you notice them! Please.

Monday, January 5, 2015

My Singular Focus as a Parent

Clearly I'm an expert parent. I have more than 10 years of experience at the job. Therefore, I now share with you the Golden Rule of Parenting as derived from my vast collection of training and personal experience. You may want to print this out and hang it on your fridge for future reference...or bookmark it so you can easily access this brilliance electronically in the future.

My job as a parent is to assure that my child does not turn out to be a jack-wagon.

That's it. Lesson over. Get out there and get focused, people. 

What? You thought you would be charged with some list of 25 steps to empower your child to express himself with balanced maturity and mental acuity? Or something more exciting (and complex sounding like that). Nope. Just assure that your kid grows up to be someone whom others do not feel compelled to call a jerk. 

You see, if you raise someone who is a jack-wagon they are likely to treat others poorly, cheat at cards or sports, fail to practice good personal hygiene, spit in public, ignore social justice responsibilities, hit into other foursomes on the golf course, use more than their share of resources of all kinds, chew with their mouth open, participate in overly exuberant public displays of affection, drive their vehicle without regard for posted laws or others sharing the roadway, lie, talk loudly in public places, be required to participate in a paternity test on a talk tv show, steal others ideas or property, wear an excessive amount of perfume or cologne, spend time in jail/prison, spill beer on the people sitting nearby at sporting events, humiliate people who are not like them, disrespect parents, the elderly, officers of the law, and military personnel, or push a personal agenda without regard for polite discourse. 

I've got too much going on to remember or enact one of those lists of the top ten things to do to assure that my child becomes a rock star at whatever. Those lists just overwhelm me. But, my foolproof plan is simple and can be implemented by parents of all socio-economic backgrounds, reading levels, nationalities, and mental capacities. It doesn't require a weekend retreat to learn. Just apply this litmus test to every crossroads and conversation with your kid: If I do/don't do this now, will my child grow up to be a jack-a**? If you answer in the affirmative, then regroup and get things going in the opposite direction. Pronto. 

Together, we can do this. We can raise the first generation of youth who are not jack-wagons as adults. Stay focused, parents. Don't get distracted with loving with logic or whatever the latest trend may be...just stay true to this one goal. Go.

You are welcome. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Dyslexia Doesn't Mean You Are Dumb

Connor has dyslexia. 

He's asked me to write about it for the past year. I have tried. Nothing sounded right. Every word that I typed felt forced and either super perky or full of dismay (depending on my mood or the horrors of that day's homework drills). He is the one who suggested that I just start with the basics. Smart kid. 

So, again, Connor has dyslexia.

Dyslexia (and the other language processing disorders like it) isn't terminal (we get that there are kids dealing with all kinds of scary stuff out there, today in our family this is our scary stuff). Dyslexia is chronic. You can't make it go away. It is a beast that Connor and between 10-20% of all people wrestle with daily and always will. I describe dyslexia as a misfire between what the eye sees and the brain processes regarding language. He interprets the letters on the page differently than I do. In order to read and comprehend the written word, Connor has learned skills to decode and rebuild each word so that his brain will recognize its sound and meaning. 

Yeah, I'm exhausted just describing it. Imagine how busy his brain is to process everything that takes place during a typical day at school and keep pace with his peers.

Connor and his Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Lisa Kurlenda
Connor has been working incredibly hard for several years (we discovered this in Kindergarten thanks to his amazing teacher) to catch up to his peers and gain confidence with his reading and comprehension skills. This has involved tutoring and extra lessons to practice decoding skills, in addition to a review of each day's lessons at home in order to gain confidence with the content. He is still nervous about reading out loud in class but his confidence has skyrocketed this year and he is working hard to overcome what he calls "chicken legs."

We are quick to applaud him for his innate creativity, something that continues to astound us. Connor is a three dimensional thinker and doesn't hesitate to create something purposeful from duct tape and fishing line combined with whatever he finds around the house (sometimes to my dismay!). Over the years since his diagnosis we've learned that these traits are often found in people with dyslexia. He loves to learn about people with dyslexia who've done amazing things, like Albert Einstein and Steven Spielberg. 

In spite of dyslexia, Connor is a storyteller. I love the way he infuses facts with humor and goofy side comments. He is most successful when he can share his thoughts verbally. But, teachers can't grade everything on verbal testimony. In his 5th grade reality he needs to master the written word. So he musters through, often reciting the first draft of his reports (while flipping cartwheels and practicing hip hop dance moves) while I type his every word. This process allows his real voice to shine through in his writing, something that is quickly stifled when he gets overwhelmed with the tedium of decoding words in order to commit them to paper. 

Connor and his 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Tanya Kooistra

This weekend we were traveling to visit family for Thanksgiving. On our two-hour-drive Connor was pounding away on his Google Chrome Book in the backseat. When Rick and I asked him what was going on, he shared that he had a great idea for a story that he just had to get out. Holy hotcakes! No words can effectively express our giddiness and pride. Get it out, Connor, get it out!

He typed and typed and read us segments over and over on that trip. His story was funny. It was interesting. It was scary. It involved dialogue. It was a masterpiece when he read it out loud. It also was a hot mess of misspelled words and dangling sentences when he proudly unveiled the written document to his grandma that night...crap, we hadn't looked over the writing before he showed it off! 

Like I said, dyslexia is a chronic condition. And our lives are not a Lifetime movie with a miracle ending. Just because he's excited about the content doesn't mean that he will magically have the ability to transfer ideas from his brain to paper or the computer screen without needing some extra work to polish it up. Like most parents, we are just thrilled to see him showing so much enthusiasm for something that we know is challenging. 

To learn more, click on these fast facts about dyslexia from the Dyslexia Center of Utah. 

And, here are some fast facts from Connor about dyslexia:
  • Dyslexia doesn't mean you are dumb.
  • You can't catch dyslexia from another person.
  • You can still read, it just takes longer and you have to work a little to understand everything.
  • Never tease someone who is struggling to read out loud. That is just mean.
  • Sometimes having dyslexia makes you feel alone. Nobody wants to tell their friends about it.
Thanks, kiddo, for encouraging me to share some of your story. Because of you, other people with dyslexia will know that they are not alone. 

Connor and his 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Melissa Swider
PS -- Giant thanks to the amazing professionals who've walked this road with Connor, Rick, and I over the years. We don't know where we'd be with the fantastic tutors and team at SLD Read. Every day I say a special prayer of thanks for the teachers who've lit the way for him and believed in Connor. What a terrific team at his school, especially Mrs. Melissa Swider, who has always found the perfect way to help leap a previously insurmountable barrier. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Cigars and Phone Calls

The other day I was trying to explain to Connor why the smell of cigars always makes me smile. He couldn't understand it. He's been a rapt student of the "Smoking is Dangerous" school of thought (I'm not complaining about that, to be clear...) and thinks that cigars smell a bit like poop. For me, the stuffy and somewhat acrid smell of a cigar, with its lingering aroma that is equal parts pungent and earthy, is a clear reminder of my Dad. Not that my Dad could be described in that way...of course!

John Joseph Fitzgerald Sr. loved his stogies. They were as much a part of his description as his black curly hair or his teasing sense of humor. One of my nieces recently commented that when she thinks of Grandpa Fitz she pictures him with a cigar in hand, that was just who he was.

Dad (far left) holding his ever present cigar in 1956 with his three siblings and father. L-R back John, Donald, Edward; front Michael and Mary Fitzgerald Reed

The cigar smoking man was the Brother, Dad and Grandpa we knew at home. That was his relaxed and carefree self. Sure, he and I had several snotty rows about the stinky habit in my outspoken teens when I hated smelling like his ashtray at school. But, today I can better appreciate his need for some sort of respite and relaxation, even though it left a bitter after taste for his darling children!

As intimately as I connect the memory of my Father with his cigars, those who worked with him over the years rarely glimpsed that man. Even in the era when people smoked in their offices, my Dad never did. He never lit up in restaurants or bars. Somehow that would ruin the nuance of his stealth mode of relaxation -- and trust me, as a man raising nine independent-minded children, he needed every ounce of carefully crafted moments of relaxation!

Dad's favorite place to relax and escape reality, his little green cottage in Mecosta County!

Now, the man that my Father's coworkers and staff saw each day was a bit of a rainmaker when it came to pulling people in to support his mission. I remember his long-time secretary commenting at my Dad's retirement that every day he would arrive at work early and pick up the phone...calling any number of people and leaving messages about what he needed. Then it began, the litany of return calls pouring in for hours after. Dad wielded his sense of humor and supportive nature like a fishing net, casting wide with a skill honed over many years and reeling in with just the right mixture of patience and urgency. People responded when he called.

Every time I get a waft of cigar smoke (a rarity to be sure these days) or reach out into the world of my connections and make an appeal for anything...a charity, a work project, a networking opportunity, anything...I think of him and I smile. Dad, you are missed. Unlike the slowly dissipating scent of your beloved cigars, the lessons you taught are firmly rooted and live on today in your children and grandchildren.

While I have no desire to smoke a stogie in your honor (trust me, my older brothers and husband handle that task with pleasure often enough!), I promise to network with your passion and good nature. Just the way you modeled for me. This I will pass on to my son and assure that he knows who my mentor was.

PS -- In honor of the upcoming annual celebration of your Irish heritage, Slainte, Dad! I can picture you now with a pint and a cigar and smile on your face. But, not a stitch of green apparel to be seen. As you often said, "I've got Irish blood, who cares what color clothes I wear?" Perfect Irish logic, if I've ever heard it!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Celebrating Love and Living Large -- October 5

This weekend Rick and I will celebrate 22 years of wedded bliss...and what better way to toast our togetherness than challenge a group of friends to join us and walk a few miles to raise money for the American Diabetes Association. Am I right?

Our marriage journey has carried us about 2/3 of the way through my own personal journey with Type 1 Diabetes. Honestly, I can't imagine walking this crazy path with anyone else.

I was diagnosed on December 13, 1978, at the tender age of 11 (here's a fun fact, I started dating Rick just 5 years later...holy smokes!). Apparently I wasn't just developing high cheekbones as I thought. The extreme loss of body fat, leaving my cheekbones protruding more like an emaciated prisoner of war than a super model, was the result of my pancreas shutting down production of the hormone insulin. When this happens the body can't transform the calories you eat into energy to fuel your brain, heart, and muscles, instead it delves into the stored energy secreted away in our fatty tissue. For me there wasn't much to begin with, but by the time I was diagnosed I was a walking skeleton (honestly, I imagined that I'd finally come into my own and soon would be swapping stories with Brooke Shields at a Seventeen magazine photo shoot!).

My diagnosis led to a week long hospital stay to help me adjust and assure that I didn't slip into diabetic ketoacidosis thanks to the incredibly high blood sugar numbers I was experiencing. During that week the nurses and my doctor taught me how to think differently about food and helped me learn to give myself injections. Home monitoring of blood glucose at that time was accomplished with urine glucose test strips -- yeah it really is just what it sounds like and for a young girl it was super disgusting! Everything they shared with me then still applies today...but the semantics have certainly evolved dramatically.

I now have an insulin pump that I wear 24/7 so that it can administer insulin in micro-bursts throughout the day or I can program in the number of carbohydrates that I've just eaten and give myself a bolus of insulin to cover that food. I also have a trusty glucose meter that allows me to determine my blood sugar level at any time (mine even communicates with my pump via radio frequency). Using those tools for a finger prick of blood took me some getting used to, just ask my post-college roommate Lynn Heilig Faber who was present when I acquired my first ever glucose meter. Lynn would poke my finger for me to avoid my squeamish fainting spells. Back in 1978 when I was first diagnosed, I went to the doctor's office every Friday morning for a blood draw...and I passed out every Friday was fun!

The road I've traveled has been littered with highs and lows and plenty of debris to maneuver. I am not fond of eating pretty much anything green; I have never met a glass of wine or a pint of beer that I didn't appreciate and enjoy; and I'm a lousy example of a solid commitment to physical fitness. But, the consistent element over these 35 years is that each and every day I have chosen to live and therefore I've committed myself to doing whatever is needed toward that purpose. Since my body would simply stop functioning without the artificial infusion of insulin, I am ridiculously grateful to the crew of egg heads who toiled away in their laboratories in the early 1900s to discover insulin and determine a way to administer it.

I laugh every time a friend or family member reminisces about a time they witnessed me experiencing an episode of low blood sugar (the result of administering more insulin than is needed for the carbohydrates in your system). Those singular moments when I wasn't in perfect control of the disease that challenges my body have become somehow synonymous with me and my health in their minds. It is too bad. Those rare experiences are but a small collection of the more than 1,104,492,410 seconds that I have managed this disease perfectly. When everything runs without need for intervention (99% of the past 35 years) the challenge that I face and master alone each day is forgotten.

But, I, and the nearly 26 million other Americans living with diabetes, know it is there each and every second, waiting like a stealth leopard to pounce and devour it's prey. We know it because if we don't acknowledge it's reach and depredation -- and act on it -- we will simply succumb. And, trust me on this, I rarely lay down when a fight is brewing!

After 35 years of tackling a killer head on and 22 years of sharing that load with Rick, we celebrate this Saturday. We celebrate survival. We celebrate love. We celebrate the medical nerds who unwind the complications of our genes and cells and seek solutions. We celebrate every single person who has ever donated toward the research that allows me to kick ass and take names each day as a healthy member of my community.

Be a part of this celebration by contributing to the American Diabetes Association and help me fund a cure that will change millions of tomorrows. You can contribute to our team (we are called Team 2-2; select any one of our team members, including Rick, Connor, and me) here. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

PS -- I will post a few photos from our walk next week. We are dressing up in our fanciest wedding attire for this shin dig...should be fun!

PPS -- Check us out! What fun we had.