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Sunday, December 29, 2013


So, Christmas happened.  It was nice…enough.  Obviously, considering the circumstances, things – holidays, joyous occasions, events, etc. – just aren’t going to be amazing, wonderful, great.  I don’t know that I’ve used any really pleasant adjectives to describe anything over the last month.  (Unless it was a full 50-50 mix of awful and yet wonderful like the day of dad’s funeral). I think when people have asked how something was, I give a kind of pause-sigh, exhilation, “Good” type of response.  And I follow it with a mumbled, “You know, fine” or “OK.”  I suppose I’ve occasionally experienced surprise when – for a few moments I’m able to ignore reality – and do feel a little fun, a little joy.  I say, “I actually had fun.”
But Christmas this year wasn’t fun.  It was nice…enough.  It was quiet.  We were already planning on hosting it here which was a first.  We’ve often done Thanksgiving but Christmas has always been at mom and dad’s.  We’d decided pre-Thanksgiving and pre-dad’s passing to switch it up this year.  So, I suppose it was good that we had a change in scenery, a shift in the Christmas routine. 
Mom and Chris came over around 10:30; we opened gifts, played a couple of games, helped mom check email.  Mom had a bad headache and napped while I made dinner.  It was quiet.  Nice…enough.
Mom made all three kids look alike mini-me gingerbread cookies.  She spent a lot of time on them…and then, of course, the kids devoured them pretty quickly.  So much for all her hard work, but I suppose she knew that would be the end result.
What should’ve/would’ve been the most exciting gift presentation of the day was a little anti-climatic.  We gave the kids 2014 calendars – the boys got Lego ones and for Kayli’s was Disney princess themed.  For February 16-22nd, I’d printed and pasted pictures on each day’s square – an airplane, Disneyland pictures, Legoland and another airplane.  That’s right – we’re going on a trip!!  We’ll get to see Mike’s dad and stepmom and hopefully my uncle and aunt as well.  Anyway, the kids got to the pictures and just stared blankly at them.  It was a dramatic, LONG pause before they finally figured it out.  When they did they were pretty pumped…as the pictures show!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sometimes going through the poop is worth it

What we needed was an actual night of family holiday fun.  And a trip to Santa.  I told the boys happily in the morning that we were going to FINALLY get to the mall to see Santa that night (thinking this would thrill them, of course).  Well, I didn’t get the reaction I anticipated.  Matthew bursts into tears.


“I don’t WANT to see Santa,” he sobbed. 


After I got over my shock from this unexpected reaction, I listened to him continue on, “I just…I’m just so nervous…I just don’t know what to say!”


Great, here we’re at our first year where chances are good that Kayliana won’t cry but now I had to worry about my ten year old falling apart.


In the end, visiting Santa, went well.  All kids smiled and talked to him (though the picture – of course – didn’t turn out ideal, it was at least tear-free).  After, our Santa visit, we went downstairs to a sitting area of the mall while we decided what our next activity would be. And that’s when it happened.  The unimaginable.  The inconceivable. 


I sent the following letting to the mall info email address the next day.  I will let my email deliver to YOU the news of what happened to us on our much-needed holiday family outing.


“I'm sorry to write an email like this, but our night was ruined this evening by a surprising and disgusting occurrence while at Bellevue Square.  We took our three young children to Santa and for a photo.  Afterwards, we were resting for a moment in the small cluster of chairs and sofa just outside of Helzberg Diamonds.  I was sitting in the chair, when my seven year old discovered a huge pile of dog poop on the ground right next to me.  This wasn't just dog feces that someone had tracked in on their shoes, this was 'a dog had full on done its business on the mall floor' dog poop.  Now, normally, I'd be able to think, "Well, hopefully it was a service dog and the owner was unaware or unable to clean up after it." 


However, we'd seen not one but two NON-service dogs in the mall before we saw the dog pile.  One dog was sitting on a chair with its front paws on the table outside of Specialty's CafĂ© and Bakery.  I wouldn't want to be dining at a table that had a dog on it.  Again, this was no service dog.  It was a little lap dog. 


Earlier, when waiting in line for Santa photos, our son pointed out the sign that said, "No pets allowed."  Well, two groups after us, people exited after having their photo taken with Santa -- along with their holiday sweater vest-wearing dog.  Again, not a service dog but this time a small chihuahua. It sure gives a mixed message when a sign says, "No pets allowed," and a minute later people are leaving after having their dog's picture taken with Santa.


Now, sorry, to be descriptive, but the pile of dog poop we saw probably couldn't have come from either of these small dogs, but I was already astounded to see dogs so freely allowed in the mall.  Is this a new policy?  If it is then I suggest you supply dog mess clean-up bags that are provided at outside parks.  I'd also request that you supply santizer wipes everywhere as, after discovering the dog poop -- a little too late -- we found that one of our children had dragged his coat in it.  And I'd set my purse down next to the chair in some of it that someone else had tracked from the bigger pile.  By the time we got home -- our car stinking of dog feces -- we found dog poop on my purse, my wrist, my shirt, my 10 year old's pants' knee, my 10 year old's coat hood, my 10 year old's hand and my 7 year old's shoes.  We're not idiots.  We didn't roll around in the pile of poop, yet it being where we weren't expecting it caused a major problem.  This was like a full-on dog poop attack and it ruined our night out for some holiday family fun.


After discovering the feces, by the way, my husband, placed one of the chairs over the pile so others would not step in it.  We also went straight to Guest Services and informed them of the mess. 


Please put an end to the poop problem -- pronto!

Thank you”


So, yeah, that’s how our night went.  The next morning, the boys and I were rushing out the door to get to the bus.  Zach’s shoes were still wet from being depooped and cleaned.  He got in his rainboots.  Matthew pulled on his tennis shoes only to discover that somehow a rather large poop situation still lingered on one of his shoes.  I told him to grab his old shoes and we ran out the door.  We ran down the hill to the bus stop and made it JUST in time.


I told a couple of the moms about our poopy experience the previous night.  One gal said, “Oh! I was just at JCPenney a couple of days ago and totally saw someone walking their dog through the store.”  She also went on to tell me that she’d worked at a winery for a while and the dog situation had become quite a problem there.  People take their canine companions into stores, restaurants, establishments, etc. knowing that most of the time the establishment won’t say anything for fear of being accused of discrimination lest the dog actually be a helper dog.  She said, “Oh yeah, people will just say, it’s my comfort dog…I have stress.”


“Then I’m going to start carrying around an open bottle of wine and telling people it’s my comfort wine…I have stress,” I said.  Plus, as someone pointed out upon hearing my new plan: the bottle of wine won’t leave a trail of poop.


As I walked home from the bus stop contemplating all this poop business, I looked down and noticed a rather fresh pile of the exact substance about which I pondered.  “Oh…poop,” I thought.  “I wonder if the boys and I ran through that on our way to the bus.”  My shoes were clean though.


When Matthew got home from school he glumly told me, “When I got to school, I found some MORE dog poop on my shoes that were supposed to be the clean ones.  When I went to wipe them on the grass, I looked down and was wiping them next to another huge pile of dog poop.”


OH MY GOSH.  There is a dog poop curse upon our family right now.


After all this frustration, I was amazed and in awe when I received a quick response from the mall.


“Jenny,                                                                                                                                                               Thank you for bringing this to our attention.  I am beyond disgusted for you.  We do not allow pets in the shopping center and we absolutely do not allow them in the Santa booth.  I actually made those No Pets Please signs myself after there was an issue with someone bringing their dog in and the staff there feeling “uncomfortable” saying no without the signs.  So to find out that they’ve been ignoring this rule again, is frustrating to say the least.  I am contacting the proprietor this morning to… discuss.

As far as the dog with the paws on the table… I really don’t know what to say to that.  I’m dog lover, but I just don’t understand this bringing your pet to the mall thing.  I have forwarded your email to our Facilities Director who is currently working on the best way to provide sanitary wipes for customers in convenient locations for times when our facilities staff is not in that particular area to clean a table or seating area.

I also sent this to our VP of Security to have him reinforce with his staff our rules and what they should be telling people who bring their pets in.  My  General Manager and I would like to send you $200 in gift certificates and a free car detail service.  Also, if you could let me know how your experience at Guest Services was reporting this, I would appreciate it. 

Please give me the best address to send the certificates to.                                                                                       Best Regards, Anna”

A Christmas miracle, indeed.  I immediately emailed Anna back and started with this: “Anna,

We're touched and so pleased with your genuine concern, response and generosity in making it up to us.  I didn't share this part of the story, but yesterday marked three weeks to the day that my dad suddenly passed away.  (He -- in perfect health -- had a massive and unexpected heart attack on November 26th).  My parents lived (my mom still does) walking distance from Bellevue Square and every year we make an outing to Santa and many trips to Snowflake Lane a tradition.  Yesterday, was the first chance we had in the three weeks since my dad died to actually take the kids for the fun outing.  So, needless-to-say, the frustration we dealt with was just extra...frustrating.  Thank you SO much for your very kind reaction.”

She, yet again, responded with such sweet sincerity and went on to tell me the changes that they’d made just since receiving my email.  The security staff had already had a meeting, someone was busy at work producing bigger signs explaining the dog policy, they would be providing more kiosks with hand sanitizing wipes (you know, just in case) and they’d researched the ADA/Service Dog laws so they know how to ask someone without risking lawsuit or complaint.  BOOM!

Now THAT, my friends, is customer service. 


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My story

Last Wednesday, was dad’s rosary, funeral mass and reception.  I can honestly say – like so much about this – it was an intense combination of awful and yet wonderful at the same time.  The funeral was beautiful.  It was such a perfect celebration of who dad.  We were so touched that all of dad’s siblings could make it (from Chicago and Connecticut) and one of mom’s sister’s (from South Carolina) joined us as well.  For a mid-week, late morning service, the fact that over 250 people came to honor dad is just amazing.  What a guy!

Kayliana made quite a scene at the funeral.  There we were in the very front pew, with Kayli – in her gorgeous Christmas dress – with her left arm covered in neon hot pink cast (yeah, that’s been going on too).  She had an impeccably timed cry (upon seeing one tear escape Mike’s eye – she’s used to seeing my eyes leak, but some liquid coming out of daddy’s freaked her out).  This cry brought the house down.  It was right after Deacon Frank talked about my dad as “D-dad” to our kids.  How they’d said he’s now, “Saint D-Dad.” And a moment later, Kayli let out the most window-shattering sob.  The drama.  Not a dry eye in the house.

We’d made a picture slide show (Mike, my brother Timothy and I) to play at the reception and had Irish music playing.  My Timothy and his wife Rebecca had made beautiful centerpieces for the photo table.  They were little glass dishes of all sizes full of sand and shells with a lit candle suspended by wire above each one.  Dad always loved the water and the beach.  We spent a lot of time there.

Time has turned into a strange phenomenon to me.  It’s going too, fast yet I feel like I’m moving at snail-speed.  Christmas Eve is a week from today.  Normally I’d be beyond excited – thoroughly enjoying every aspect of the Advent season.  Obviously, things just aren’t going to be the same this year…and will never be the same again.  My new normal has changed.  I’ll forever feel this – at least the memory of this – what it was like to have dad die two days before Thanksgiving.  This season has been eternally changed.  But not for many other people.  Other people – while saddened by the loss of their friend or knowing that I’ve lost my dad – they’re affected but obviously not to the depth that we are.  They’re still enjoying the holidays.  They’re still sending out their joyous Christmas greetings and smiling photos.  I had picked what picture would go on ours (down below).  But there won’t be a mailed out greeting from us this year.  I just can’t do it.    

I told Mike that right now the most I can give is about 70% to anything.  I have a constant 30% of me that’s just devoted to pain and sadness.  I never stop thinking about it.  It’s always there.  The second someone stops talking (or even while they’re talking) or there’s a lull in activity (or no lull at all) something pops into my head and the pain swells in my heart.  I’ll just feel it.  Or sometimes I’ll instantly replay three weeks ago today.  Especially the morning.  Especially when Mike called me on the phone.

I’m going to attempt – today – to go back to my beloved Spin class at the gym.  I haven’t exercised in these past three weeks.  The irony is, in some ways, I will be recreating that exact morning.  I’ll go to Spin and then I think I may actually force myself to go to the shopping center.  (I do have a little bit of Christmas shopping to do still and I feel like, well, I might as well go there).  The mall where – standing in the parking lot and about to get Kayli out of the car to go in – Mike called and over the phone said the two life changing words, “Your dad.”

That day was awful.  That day was hell.  And yet, in a weird way, part of me wants to relive it.  I don’t want to forget it.  I was talking to Rebecca about this – wondering why I’m such a wacko and want to relive the worst day of my life.  She, as so often, understood me before I did.  She said, “You’re still there.  In your heart, you still feel like you’re in that day.”

And that’s exactly it.  Everyone else will move on.  And I know that eventually this will get easier, this won’t always hurt this much.  There have been many, many moments where I’m able to 100% enjoy something – with the 70% of me that’s available right now to experience enjoyment…

People say weird things.  Again, I get it.  I understand that people just don’t know what to say.  The worst?  A guy (who I’d just met who was assisting with the catering for the funeral reception) said, “You know, at least you didn’t have to watch him suffer.” [Yes, this is true.  I know this.] “He could have gotten really old and miserable like my dad.  I had to change his diapers.  It was awful.  You just hate to see your parent in that situation.  Let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty.  He and I both cried the first time I had to change him…So, you know, you just think about that.  You think about how you didn’t have to change your dad.  Just think about me changing my dad’s diapers.” 

Um, no thank you.  He literally ended the conversation with this…with this awful painted picture.  Thanks, I’ll pass. 

Another conversation that sticks out in my mind is with one of my neighbors.  Tom said, not in a rude way, but in a quite matter-of-fact kind of way, “You know, pretty soon, all you’ll have of your dad is happy memories.  The pain will go away and this will just become part of your life history.  It’s part of your story now.”

Yeah.  I don’t want it to be part of my story.  This part sucks.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Dad's Obituary

If you are friends or family and haven't seen my dad's on-line obituary yet, send me an email and I'll give you the link.

Monday, December 02, 2013

If only

It was a week ago today that I saw my dad alive for the last time.  Of course, I had no idea that it would be the last chance I ever had to talk to him.  Kayliana had no idea that it would be the last time she’d ever see her Grandad (“D-dad”).  None of us could have known how much our world would be changed in just a matter of hours.

Because the last six days have been such a blur – such a foggy haze of confusion, shock and emotion – I really haven’t thought much about last Monday.  Until today.  Every Monday, I take Kayli over to my parents’ condo and then I go teach music.  Last Monday, like many, I went over early so we could have lunch together. 

As dad sometimes would do, when we arrived, he got down on his knees, spread open his arms and Kayli went running at him.  The hug turned into a full-on knock-down, tickle, wrestling-situation.  I don’t know how they spent their time together while I was gone; I just take comfort in the fact that they did.  Plus, last week, I picked up the boys before getting Kayli (something I don’t do everytime), so Matthew and Zachary got to see him as well.

When we were getting ready to leave and head home, once again, dad got down on the floor, opened his arms and Kayli ran repeatedly into them for hugs…to the point where, I was getting frustrated because she wouldn’t stop.  I’m sure I prodded her with impatient comments: “Come on, Kayli.  Alright.  You already got your last hug.”   I was, of course, in a rush to leave.  The fighting through traffic, getting home to dinner and homework just seemed SO important.  Like it just can’t wait any longer.  Like it’s what matters most.  If only I’d known.  If only we could always remember and be aware of what really matters most. 

The boys had already gone out the door.  As Kayli and I exited and I pulled the door shut behind us, she and dad called repeated, “Good-bye!”  “Good-bye!”  “Good-bye!”’s to each other…all the way up the stairs until they couldn’t hear each other any longer. 

If only.