10 (plus another 4) of the 40 (make that 44) Moments of my Life – Part 4


10 of The 40 Moments of my Life – Part 4 (And I’ll throw in an extra 4 to round things off)

**It’s interesting to note that it’s almost as difficult to hit publish this time as it was 4 years ago. But, it only makes sense to finish moving this post over to WordPress.

And so here we are. My 30’s. This is by far the hardest of the 40 moments to write. Mostly because I haven’t had enough distance from events to have really processed them fully. It’s much easier to laugh, cry or analyze situations that have occurred 20+ years ago. But the closer in time the events are to the present, the harder it is to reflect upon them. So bear with me…..

31. Moving Out and Moving On…Again: So I left my marriage and my 20’s behind in the same month. In January of 2001, I moved all of my belongings into a studio apartment in the exclusive downtown Kennett Square apartment building known as 131. Thanks to my good friend Steve Warner, a spot in this very exclusive apartment building was made available to me. Complete with its own entrance through a sliding glass window that you stepped down into off the porch, this studio signified my new life as a single woman. I have to say the first few years of my 30’s were an intermingling of healing a broken heart and a whole lotta fun. 131 was kinda like a college dorm for my friend Wendy and me. We lived 15 feet apart (she had the fancy 1 1/2 bedroom), were steps from the Kennett Square Inn and spent our evenings watching bad TV over the phone. We dated interesting (in the broadest sense of the word) men and drank a little like we were 22 years old. We had fun. And I needed to have some fun.

32. September 11, 2001: Just like our parents, we will always remember the moment the planes hit and our world changed. I am still dumbstruck to this day by my naivete as to the evils of the world before the morning of September 11. I was positive it was a huge mistake. I was positive it was a huge mistake even after the 2nd plane hit. It wasn’t until they hit the Pentagon that I realized this was real. And I distinctly remembering that the world would never be the same. And it hasn’t been.

33. Stephen and Max: One of the most life changing moments in my life is meeting Stephen and subsequently having Max. I had known who Stephen was long before we really knew each other. He used to wait on me and Mark when we would dine at the Farm House at Loch Nairn. And we loved for Stephen to wait on us. We felt special and taken care of when Stephen waited on us. So years later, when I went to work at the Great House (which is also at Loch Nairn) as a bartender I slowly came to know Stephen. He had forgotten about me and Mark until I jogged his memory. Apparently, he was in high demand and all of the requests run together. To make a long story short, we started dating and a few months later….surprise….I was pregnant. I will address this now because I get this question at least bi weekly; I truly believe Stephen and I are able to maintain the largely positively relationship that we due to the mere fact that we weren’t together for long before we got pregnant. We knew we were taking a chance on each other. And we trusted each other. By the time we figured out that we weren’t going to work out, we had developed a deep commitment to Max and each other as a family unit. Stephen is and always will be my family. God had a plan for us.

34. Motherhood: And then there was Max; all 9.6 lbs and 23 inches of him born after 18 hours of labor and an emergency c-section. I remember Stephen coming back from the nursery when I was still high as a kite and in recovery, and me saying to him in a panic and crying, “Where’s the baby? You can’t leave the baby! He’s never been alone before!” I was instantly in love, an anxious mess and sleep deprived to the point of mental breakdown for the first 13 months. I suffered from some pretty severe postpartum depression that I didn’t even recognize until I went postal on my boss. I have said it before and I’ll say it again – Motherhood is hard; by far the hardest thing I have ever done (in fact I wrote a blog about it). But the rewards are beyond any measure. I have never loved another human being the way I love Max. He is the exact child I was meant to have. And I feel inadequate and honored every day.

35. Back to School: Having Max put many things in perspective for me, one being that I finally needed to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Becoming a role model to Max became the catalyst for going back to finish graduate school. I wanted to be the person I knew I could be but never had the nerve to be. I never had the belief in myself to move forward in a career in psychology. There are alot of reasons for that but ultimately I think I had an incredible fear of failure. After having Max I decided I couldn’t be afraid anymore or I would be teaching him fear. So I went back to school and completed my Masters in Clinical Psychology. And then actually got a job in my field. Which is much more impressive than getting the degree.

36. Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone: About 4 months after starting graduate school, I had another falling out with the same boss (we had issues) and abruptly left my job. I stopped on the way home, grabbed the paper and started looking for a job. And there was an ad for a TSS. I had heard about TSS’s but didn’t think I had it in me to work with kids with developmental disabilities. I had this perfect little boy and I was afraid of how I would feel being around kids who weren’t perfect (or so I thought). But I also knew I was working on facing my fears so I went and interviewed and got the job. And they sent me to this orientation with the county that my current boss at Devereux facilitated. I thought the whole idea behind the orientation was to train me on how to be a TSS. In actuality, it teaches you what a whole bunch of acronyms like IEP, PDD and ODD mean. On the second day, I raised my hand and asked, “When are you gonna teach me what I’m going to be doing?” I was assured it would be on the job training. And it was. But the most powerful and profound lesson I was taught on the very first day with my little 3 year old girl with autism was “Always Assume Intellect.” And I did. And that lesson has served me well. It has allowed me to expect great things of people most others assume will never amount to anything. And I have never been disappointed by the abilities of those who are considered intellectually or developmentally delayed. They are some of the smartest, most adaptive people I know.

37. Moving Out and Moving On….for the umpteenth time: Over the years, Stephen and I drifted apart and it became clear it was again time to move on. Again – many people don’t understand why we aren’t together but we get along better apart than together. It is hard to break up your family unit and I feel like we were forced to make Max grow up faster for it. But we both felt like staying together for Max would send him mixed messages about what a healthy relationship should look like. We handled it as a family – proposing it as an arrangement in which Max would have 2 homes instead of one. Which he conveyed to others in a manner that implied one was our primary home and one was a vacation home. While he was and continues to be sad about the situation at times, he has done remarkably well with it. If I can give any advice to anyone going through a split when kids are involved it is this – your children deserve to feel loved, respected and complete in every sense of the word. If you make your shit your kid’s shit, you are screwing with how they see the world. And they deserve better than that.

38. Losing My Brother: Many of you reading this probably feel like you really got to know me through the fact that my brother died. And I told everyone. All the time. And I still do. Losing my brother Ralph was the most profound loss I have ever experienced in my life. And you have to remember, I have experienced a lot of personal loss. I lost my father, I have lost close friends, I lost my marriage. And I got through all of those things. But after Ralph died, I hit my lowest low. I have explained it before but I’ll do it again; I oozed grief. It poured out of every part of me. And I didn’t believe it would ever stop. The first year was incredibly hard and I will admit I still cry almost every day. I miss him. I took him for granted but I have needed to forgive myself for that in order to move on. Because there was one thing I knew about my brother. He believed in me probably more than any other person in my life.  He had a faith and a belief in me that never wavered. All of the doubt and fear I carried around was lost on him. He expected great things of me long before I had ever dreamed them possible.

39. Finding My Voice: I believe wholeheartedly that the greatest gift my brother gave me in his death is that I have finally truly found my voice. The night my brother died, I came home, went on to Facebook and poured my heart out onto a note and hit “share”. In the midst of all of the grief, for the first time I truly did not care what others thought of me. At my most vulnerable, I laid my heart and soul out for all to see. And the response was overwhelming. One of my biggest fears over the years was being perceived as weak and vulnerable. But I was and I am. About six months after Ralph died I finally started this blog; something I had always wanted to do but was afraid of what others would think.And it goes deeper than that – I suddenly felt incredible free; freer to be me than I ever had been in my life. And I was happy again. Happy to know that even in tragedy you can be given a gift.

40. Count your Blessings: And here I am. At 40; a moment that I fully embrace and yet I’m faced with another painful realization that life is what happens while you are busy making plans. I had decided about a year ago that I just needed to get to 40 and it would all be ok. I could leave the pain of my 30’s behind and start over new. And I would be happy and finally find everything I was looking for. I was shedding a lot of old baggage and putting things to bed. I was planning a party to celebrate moving on. A few days before Christmas, my mother became ill. It came on suddenly and hard. High fever and very weak. My sister took her to an urgent care center where they did an x-ray. They discovered a tumor which has since been diagnosed as lung cancer. Over the past few weeks, we have learned that the cancer has metastasized and her treatment options are limited. The interesting thing is what sent my mother to the urgent care center that day had nothing to do with the cancer and she has since recovered. But she now knows that she has cancer and it is not going away.

Remember how I said this decade was the hardest to write? I struggled with even disclosing this. It is too fresh and too painful. Unlike the shock of my brother’s death, my family and I are now left with the realization that we are at the beginning of a journey to a goodbye. And the fear is great, the pain is deep and we have to learn how to continue to live knowing that my mother will ultimately die. And she doesn’t deserve this. But then I realized I had to disclose this (with my mother’s permission) in order to begin to move forward in the process.

In my grief, which feels never ending at times, I have to learn to continue to live. I have to focus on all that is good and pure in my love for my mother and reconcile it with the imperfection of the relationship. And I need to forgive myself for being less than perfect in that love. And I have to count my blessings.

So anyway, when I conceptualized doing this 4 part blog, I never dreamed the last entry would be this. But it is. And I have to learn to live with that. Thank you for coming along on this journey. Thanks for being my friends. Thanks for listening.

41. The Loss of My Mother: When I finished this blog days after I turned 40, all I knew was that my mother was sick with a terminal illness. The doctors gave a prognosis of 1-5 years. Of course, we chose to believe the 5. In reality, less than 90 days later, I got a call at work from my sister to get home now. My mother, who had been coherent, serene and happy 24 hours earlier, was letting go. She had returned home on hospice 2 days earlier and in our denial, we believed there was still time. There was not. The next 18 hours were excruciating, chaotic and drenched in anxiety. We just did not understand what was happening until the hospice nurse explained the process and left us alone to sit in the dark with our mother. I will admit to total hysteria, to the point that my mother used the very last of her words to say “Carol, stop.” I couldn’t. In the middle of the night, I went to my brother who sat by my mother’s side and told him that I couldn’t do this. I could not stay. And he told me it was okay to go. I learned that night that the hearing is the last thing to go. As I whispered to my mother and told her what I needed to do and what she needed to do, she turned towards me and shook her head, giving me permission to go. My mother knew me. She knew I couldn’t be there at the end. And I wasn’t. I don’t regret that. My mother loved and understood me. As I’ve said, motherhood is a powerful force.
42. Continuing to Live: As my mother was being diagnosed and we were firmly entrenched in our denial, I was surprised by an offer to teach a developmental psychology course at Immaculata University. I had wanted this opportunity and even though I only had 3 weeks to prepare and was reeling from the idea that my mother might be sick, I jumped in with both feet. I have learned so much about myself through teaching. I learned it’s hard. You think you know more than you do when you first start. You think everyone will find you as charming as you know you are. You think everyone will be as committed to the learning process as you are. And you will learn that you are wrong. (Or at least I did). I have found teaching as rewarding as it is infuriating. It can leave you feeling defeated but then some 20 year old sends you an unsolicited thank you for being my teacher email and everything else fades away. I’ve learned not to reinvent the wheel and to stop taking the Millennial propensity for trying to make you feel they know more than you do, not too personally. Unless, it’s week 13 of the semester. Then, I am more likely to take it personally. 4 years later, I’ve somehow managed to teach 20 classes. In spite of all of the changes of the past few years, I have continued to live.
43. Redefining My Family: It’s amazing that you can hit your 40’s and have to examine how you are going to relate to your family of origin, but that’s where I’ve been for the last 4 years. My mother’s death (coupled with my brother’s death) pulled the rug out from under my definition of family. My mother was “the glue” that held us all together; her house was the North Star. Now, we have neither. Two of my sisters have moved away and that big family that has defined me doesn’t look the same. It’s been a hard transition. I’ve relied heavily on my friends to fill the voids. And I’m lucky to have such great friends. And Max.
44. Lupus or No Lupus: It only seems appropriate to include my near Lupus diagnosis as one of the 44 moments of my life. After surviving a root canal performed by a man with brain cancer, I proceeded to be subjected to three rounds of attempts to install crowns on two of my front teeth. In the process, I developed a dry mouth that naturally would lead a dentist to believe you probably have Lupus. I am happy to report that I am Lupus free, but still suffer from an irritated mouth 7 months later. My extensive internet research has resulted in a call to a holistic nutritionist to see if he can vitamin me back to health. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

10 of The 40 (or 44) Moments of My Life – Part 3


10 of The 40 Moments of my Life – Part 3

Still trying to decide if I will take this further in Part 4…..

I must say, that while I would not relive my teen years, I could do a little “Groundhog Day” on much of my 20’s. I loved my 20’s. A great deal of my memories revolve around a lot of drinking but something about it all of that was just plain, good old fashion fun. I was a very serious teen in many ways and I really let my hair down in my 20’s. For the first time in my life, I truly lived in the moment. And what a moment it was….

21. Moving Out and Moving On: While I moved to State College when I was 19 to be with Mark, I  hated it there and spent most of the time wishing I was back at home with my friends and family. It wasn’t until I was back home, transferred to Neumann College and learning how to live without Mark, did I really move out and move on. I distinctly remember the day I moved out of my mother’s house. In fact, I’m pretty sure I spent that morning journaling. I knew that I would never live under that roof again. Not because I wasn’t welcome, but instead because I knew it was my time to move on. I moved into an apartment in Kennett Square with my childhood friend Laura and went about the business of really growing up. Of course, there is a huge learning curve on that one.

22. 12 – 2 Scum Club: Many of you reading this will know what I’m talking about while the rest of you will wonder WTF. There is this counterculture that exists still today. It is made up with all people that don’t fit society’s mold and expectations about what your life should look like. Because the prevailing cultural message is that the good life requires you to follow the rules, settle down, get a 9 – 5 job and play along. Then there are the rest of us (yes – I still consider myself one of them). We never followed the rules. We didn’t like getting up in the morning. We liked our happy hour to start at midnight. And the best night of the week to go out drinking was a Sunday night. We were/are the people who needed to work all those other hours so that the 9 to 5ers could live the good life. So we served your food and made your drinks. Or we built your houses or installed your plumbing. And we loved to hang out in the Chadds Ford Tavern from 12 – 2. Then someone made the mistake of calling us scum. Then, I, with all my wit and charm, though maybe we should make some shirts and wear them on the bartender who attracted on the scum’s last night and do a reveal at midnight. So all night long I sold 12-2 Scum Club t-shirts out of my car at a 50 cent per shirt profit (stupid me). And at midnight, the whole bar pulled a superman and viola….the club in all their glory!

23. Life at the Chadds Ford Tavern: While the Kennett Square Inn has been a mainstay in my life since I was 15 years old; the Chadds Ford Tavern was the backdrop to much of the drama that unfolded in my early to mid 20’s. Having older siblings who were “regulars” there combined with working in the restaurant business at an early age, no one seemed to notice or care that I was a very young looking 21 year old who only drank fuzzy navels. Three years later, when I actually did turn 21 (and had moved on to Tangeray Sterling Vodka Gimlets, shaken not stirred), I handed my drivers license down the bar. It passed from one patron to the next until it ended up in the bartenders hand. He looked at me and said “Shit. You gotta be kidding me. Can I buy you a drink?” I spent ALOT of time in that bar. This was back when they would still lock a select few in at 2am and we wouldn’t leave until the sun was up. One night, my friend Don (you know the guy who installed my toilet – see earlier blog), who was a bartender there, and I stayed in the bar until about 6am drinking and listening to music (I swear that’s all). Then we thought it would be a great idea to go to Hank’s for breakfast. So we grabbed a few splits of champagne and headed down the road (I know…very irresponsible). He went into one bathroom; me in the other and we popped the splits and then poured them into our orange juice. Then, since we hadn’t had enough to drink, we thought it would be a great idea to drink some more. So I headed to his house while he went back to the bar to pick up more booze. I woke up on his couch to find him staring at me drinking a beer and holding a bottle of vodka. I looked at him like he was crazy and rolled over and went back to sleep. A few hours later I woke up and his roommate refused to let me leave. Apparently, he was the only smart one in the building. And there are plenty more where that came from.

24. Becoming a Speed Bump (another Tavern story): I will be the first to admit, I drank alot in my 20’s, especially my early 20’s. I didn’t drink alot in my teens, unless you count the part when I was hanging out in bars in my late teens. So I guess I made up for lost time. Anyway – let me preface this story not only with the fact that I drank alot, but I was also suffering from what I like to call “frontal lobe disorder”. “Frontal lobe disorder” is a common disorder that affects ALL young adults between the ages of 18 – 24. It cannot be avoided. You see, research has revealed (for real) that the frontal lobe of the brain, which is responsible for things like impulse control and the ability to make good choices, doesn’t fully develop until your mid 20’s. So all of those really dumb decisions you make in your late teens and early 20’s can be blamed on “frontal lobe disorder”. So “frontal lobe disorder” is what lead me to engage in a year and a half relationship with a guy who ultimately ended up running me over with his car. This guy (who many of you know) was not a bad guy. In fact, he was a pretty good guy (waaay deep down) who partied too hard and liked women. I was stupid enough to make myself available to him whenever he wanted. And he was fun and we really did get along. But eventually, I grew tired of being used and abused and decided to confront him.I was kneeling next to his car in the parking lot of the Tavern talking into the window when a nearby car went to pull out. Since those who drink and drive tend to have reflexes that tend be a little off the mark, what transpired was him throwing his car into reverse and my attempt to push out of the way turn into my knee getting caught under the wheel. I think the kicker for me was that after his car stopped about 100 feet away, he jumped out of the car and yelled “Are you ok?” followed a milli-a-second later by “I didn’t hit you. You fell down.” Which followed with me jumping up and running on a slightly dislocated kneecap towards him screaming “You did hit me. You hit me with your car.” And then I unloaded all of my frustration of a year and a half on him (because when you are suffering from “frontal lobe disorder” that is the most important thing). And I will tell you this. My frontal lobe has fully grown (or so I think) and I now realize what an ass I was. And about a year ago I contacted him and let him know I forgave him. Because after 18 years, it was finally time to let it go.

25. Graduating from College: By far, my greatest accomplishment to that point in my life was graduating from college. Not only graduating but getting a 4.0 my last 5 semesters. After leaving Penn State after 2 1/2 years, I transferred home to Neumann College where I finished my bachelors in Psychology. I thrived in the small environment (12 people in my program) which focused on critical thinking skills. I didn’t take tests. I wrote papers and I was very good at it. I remember the day I graduated feeling the most centered I had ever felt in my life. Like all was right in the world and that I was responsible for it all. Plus I had a killer party at the Kennett Square Inn.

26: Figuring out Graduate School was not for me: After graduating from college with a Bachelors in Psychology, my career options were limited. Let’s remember, I was bartending at the time, making really good money for a 24 year old. There was no way I could justify in my “frontal lobe disordered” mind that taking an entry level job for $8/hour was a good idea. So I did when most psychology majors do; I went to graduate school. I started at Villanova in their Counseling Psychology program specializing in, of all things, addictions!! Funny thing – my professor and mentor and Neumann, as well as the head of the honors department both told me I was making a huge mistake going into Villanova’s program. Both insisted that I needed to be in a program that really supported the thinker in me and that the counseling program was not that program. I insisted that I was sick of school and need to get a job. I needed a program that would produce a job at the end. I insisted they did not know what I needed. They were right. I was wrong – Damn Frontal Lobe!!! I’ll never forget when it happened. I was sitting in Giordano’s, where I was bartending at the time, talking about school when it hit me. I hated it. I wasn’t going back next semester. I just decided in that very moment. And I called my mother the next day to tell her and she said, “I was waiting for you to figure it out. You aren’t nearly as excited when you talk about your classes as when you were at Neumann.” So I took my finals and withdrew. And didn’t go back for 7 years.

27. Dewey Beach: Since I had all this free time now that I had dropped out of graduate school. I figured that I might as well become a beach bunny. I honestly have no idea how it came to be but I ended up in a summer rental with 2 of my girlfriends, Jimmy, one of my customers from Giordanos and these other 3 people I had never met. We split the house by bedrooms so the men got their own, so as not to have anything interfere with all the hooking up they would be doing.  My one friend and I were usually only there Sunday through Tuesday and we rarely even made it out on to the beach. I think we just drank alot. And danced at the Bottle and Cork. And we had no air conditioning in our house, so everyone, especially Dale, complained alot. I can remember sitting in the chair one night, closing my eyes, then opening them and it was morning. And in Dewey was, and is the only time in my life I ever blacked out from drinking. The only thing I can attest to is waking up and my hair was wet. I was in Dale’s bed and he was in mine. When I went in and asked him why all he said was “go look in the bathroom”. And I did. And it was bad. The only part of the story I am willing to disclose in the blog is that I went into the bathroom and they heard a thump. When they came to the door, I said “don’t come in” but they did. And I was in the tub. With my feet dangling out. And I had gotten sick. But that’s all I’m saying.

28. Reconnecting with Mark: So the winter after the summer spent in Dewey, I reconnected with Mark, the college boyfriend who had left me devastated and destroyed in the parking lot in State College many years before. I was at work one night and got a call from my mother. She said “guess who called here looking for you?” And I said “Mark.” I have no idea why I knew it was him, other than I couldn’t possibly think of any other person who would call my mother. He had become a State trooper stationed out of Avondale and drove by my mother’s everyday. She gave him my number and we made a date to go to lunch. When I got there he told me that he wanted to let me know that his girlfriend had just broken up with him and that he was really hurt by it. And that now, he understood what he had done to me all those years ago. So after lunch, I got in the car, smiled and waved and began to cry. I was so devastated by his nonchalant attitude.But after a few days I had come to see it as closure and put it to bed. A week later, he called me and asked to see me. We married a year and a half later. I will say this – I loved him wholeheartedly.

29. Losing Jimmy: Finding out that my friend Jimmy had committed suicide was by far one of the most devastating moments of my life. In many ways, I looked at his death as even harder to handle than the death of my father. I mean, my father didn’t choose to die. How could anyone make a conscious choice to give up on life? I felt hurt, anger and guilt all wrapped into one tiny little package. How didn’t I know? He had come to see me, out of the blue, about a month before it happened. He wanted to let me know that he knew he had a drinking problem and that he had stopped. I remember really trying to encourage him. Then I remember seeing him about 2 weeks before he died at a party. He had been drinking and he came over to me to explain. I told him “You have nothing to explain to me Jimmy. One day at at time. You need to just take it a day at a time.” I called him a few times after that and he never returned my calls.  So when I heard that he had killed himself, I was heartbroken. I cried for days. I didn’t think I would ever stop crying. All I kept thinking about was that he was alone at the end. And that broke my heart. And it still breaks my heart. Because he really wasn’t alone. He just thought he was. Suicide is such a waste.

30. Losing my Marriage: And so my marriage wasn’t meant to be. Maybe I’m just tired but that’s the long and short of it. There wasn’t a day of my marriage that I didn’t believe that I was going to be married until the day I died. Not until the day Mark came home and told me he didn’t want to be married. There’s a funny thing about divorce. By the time it actually happens, usually one of the partners has left the building. And it was clear that Mark had left the building. It was very unceremonious and matter of fact. He couldn’t understand why I was surprised. But I was. Because while he was stewing in his discontent, he never once told me. Looking back now, I see signs that he was pulling away but they were very subtle. Our work schedules were opposite (I had moved on to the 9 – 5 life while he was on a permanent midnight shift) and he had recently spent alot of time away with the reserves. I just assumed that if he was unhappy, he would have let me know about it. But he didn’t. So the divorce was shocking, hurtful and incredibly painful. I felt betrayed and like my entire life was a lie. I won’t pretend that I was perfect but I am a firm believer that nothing in life is easy and you just don’t walk away because it gets tough. But he disagreed. It was just like a death.

10 of the 40 (or 44) Moments of My Life – Part 2


10 of The 40 Moments of my Life – Part 2

 Gearing up for my 44th, I’m reposting the 4 blogs that I wrote in preparation for my 40th. I really love this whole series.


Live Aid

Ahh, the teen years….Not a period of my life as a whole I’d like to live over. Adolescence is marked by such personal uncertainty. You have no idea who you are. Do you take a stand or follow the crowd? Are you pretty enough, smart enough, do you people like you? Yes – I had alot of great times as a teen. I made alot of great friends. But I am certain of one thing; the only way I would go back and relive my teen years is if I could take everything I’ve learned along the way and bring it with me.

11. My Father’s Death – Unfortunate but true, the second decade of my life began with the death of my father. I was 11; he was 44. It was the first day of summer vacation, a Friday and early in the morning. I had walked into my parents room to drop off the paper as I did most mornings. Both of my parents were asleep but what was unusual was the fact that my father was laying upside down in the bed. My mother told me later that he had been having trouble breathing and had put his head at the bottom of the bed, which was closer to the open window (no central air back in those days) in an attempt to get some fresh air. A few hours later as my mother sat in the living room, talking to my sisters and me, my father yelled her name. It was the last thing he ever said. He suffered a massive heart attack in my parents bed. My younger sister and I ran to the neighbors, who were nurses to get help, while my other sister called for an ambulance. We stood in the living room and watched them try to shock his heart back into a sustainable rhythm, which never happened. I can honestly say, it was the first heart break of my life. It has colored my life in innumerable ways. Interestingly, for many years I believed that because I was 11 when my father died, I had somehow been spared the brunt of the full impact of his passing. My siblings lives appeared to be influenced in much more profound ways but it is only with time and lots of therapy that I came to realize that being 11 when your parent dies will impact your life in a rudimentary way. At 11, self image is really just beginning to form in a way that defines lifelong personal identity. My family as I knew it (crazy as they could be) ceased to exist. My security was ripped from me at the exact developmental moment in which I was supposed to asking myself  “who am I really and where do I belong?” Heavy stuff for a prepubescent girl.

12. Taking the First Puff – As ridiculous as it seems, only weeks after my father died of a smoking related disease, my friend Lisa and I decided that we should doing a little experimenting. So we stole some of her dad’s Winston Lights that he kept in his pickup truck and went out behind the shed and lit up. We did this on and off for a few weeks until somehow, someway, we were busted. While I don’t remember the specifics, I remember smelling like cigarettes and being mortified. I also remember telling my mother (in an attempt to garner understanding and sympathy) that maybe if my father hadn’t died, I wouldn’t have smoked. That didn’t go over real well. Unfortunately, that first puff led to many other puffs, which eventually led to a regular smoking habit by about age 16. Which went on for about 15 more years until I had Max. Dumb, dumb, dumb….

13. Discovering U2 – I have told this story many times but it never gets old. Not to anyone who remembers the moment they figured out that music could “change the world.” I was about 12 or 13, sitting on the floor in my living room, watching MTV (back when they played actual videos). “Sunday Bloody Sunday” came on and Bono marched across the stage at Red Rocks like he was marching into war (which I think was the actual image he was trying to portray). I was mesmerized. I cannot stress the level of mesmerized I was experiencing enough. My brother Ralph was standing in the dining room, watching me, watch Bono. And he, who believed that music was the root of all that was good and right with the world, knew I was hooked. And I distinctly remember the look on his face. It was almost one of pride that said “She gets it. I always knew she’d get it.” Bizarre but very true.

14. Taking the First Drink – I am happy to report that my first drink was not quite as exciting or enticing as the first cigarette. I think I had my first beer at about age 14. Again, with Lisa (we were always getting in trouble) and it was Moosehead beer. It was disgusting and I may have only drank 1/3 of the bottle. On the other hand, Lisa thoroughly enjoyed it. I will say, that experience taught me that I never really wanted a drink bad enough to drink a beer. So I never did. In my life, I have drank, maybe, a total of 2 bottles of beers (and that’s all the sips added up). Although I have developed an affinity for vodka.

15. Live Aid – It wouldn’t have mattered how old I was when I attended Live Aid (the original one; not the “remake”), it would have made it on to my list. The reasons may have differed but it truly was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m so thankful that I was there. I was 14 and at the height of my “music can change the world phase”, which was being reinforced by the whole social climate. There was no advance notice of when tickets went on sale; they just announced on the radio one day. Either Ralph or I heard; not sure which one but he made a run for the car and we were off the Granite Run Mall to hit the Ticket Tron. Of course, all good Ciliberti stories require a comedy of errors, and we aim to please. About 3 miles from home, and 1/2 a mile past Leader Sunoco in Chadds Ford, we ran out of gas. I don’t remember if we walked back to the gas station or if we caught a ride but eventually we made it to the mall, running as fast as we could to ensure we got our tickets before they sold out. There were about 3 people in the store and no one looked terribly excited. Except for us, of course. I still am in awe of the fact that my brother, 26 at the time, took me and my teenybopper friend Laura to the all day Woodstock of our time. And he didn’t party like it was Woodstock. In fact, I’m pretty sure he didn’t “party” at all but of course he could have hid it from me. I mean what 26 year old music loving Dead head wants to take his 14 year old sister to Live Aid. And be responsible?? But he did and for that, I am very thankful.

16. Concerts in General – Concerts really do deserve their own mention on this list, especially during my teen years. My sister Joanie took me to my very first concert, which was U2, a few months before Live Aid. I don’t give her as much credit as I do Ralph, because she was always responsible. But I saw U2 at least 6 times in my teens, including at the Amnesty International show at the Meadowlands (another one my brother took me to). I also fell in love with Peter Gabriel as a teen and was lucky enough to see him about 7 times. And I must say I ventured into a few Dead shows in my day, including the very last one before they tore down JFK. But while I loved the music, I found the counterculture just a little too to the left for my taste. Not by much, but enough that I passed on the hit of acid I won when I bought the soda from one of the many encampments that had the “X” on the bottom of it.

17. Stepping Foot into the Kennett Square Inn – All I wanted was to make a little money, not change the course of my life. But I got both. It’s interesting when you take this walk down memory lane like I’m doing and you start to see all of moments that really changed who you were. Going to work at the Inn at 15 altered the course of my life (Steve – I can see your head expanding right now so please grab a pin and pop it). I was pretty lost at 15. My father had died, my mother was still very much in the throws of her grief and I wasn’t getting alot of direction. I had gone in and filled out an application in October of 1986 and it wasn’t until a few months later in January of 1987 that I got a call from a guy named Zack, asking if I still was looking for a job and could I start at 4:30 that day. So I said hold on and I asked my mom (which I find pretty comical looking back on it). And so the story goes. I really could write a book. Over the next 25 years I worked for Steve about a total of 12 years. I consider him to be one of my closest friends and many of the people I worked with and who were customers have become life long friends. They have seen me through the highs and lows of my life. We have fought like family, drank and smoked way too much and laughed all along the way. This may be one of my most grateful lifetime moments.

18. Falling in Love  – There is nothing worse than a teenage girl who thinks she is in love. NOTHING. And unfortunately my first love ended with the tragic notion that he didn’t really love me. And he was way too old. And it kinda grosses me out just thinking about it. But I am grateful that it is steeped in my memories of my first days at the Kennett Square Inn, spending time with other people who truly made me happy. I realize that alot of people who were older and wiser than me at the time had to sit by helplessly and watch me get my heart broke, as the rite of passage requires. And I love them for doing it. But there is something absolutely beautiful in the art of falling in love for the first time – something pure and good that you will never feel again in your life. Because when it happens again, you’ve already learned that the world can be a cruel place. Thanks to your first love. Thanks. Thanks alot.

19. Going to College – I am the first and only of my siblings to attend and graduate from a traditional college. I grew up in an environment that did not place emphasis or importance on higher education but rather on a strong work ethic, which all of my siblings have. So while they didn’t attend college, they have all done very well for themselves in their respective fields and I admire each of them for that. But I knew from the time I was very young that I wanted to go to college and become a teacher, which later changed to a psychologist. The problem I encountered was this: no one in my family had every gone to college. I had no role model. I had no support in the sense that there wasn’t anyone there to lead me on this journey. In fact, my mother told me that, while she was ok with me going to college, she thought I was too young to go away. She refused to visit colleges with me and ultimately the underlying message of “don’t leave me” won out and I chose to stay home and commute the first 1 1/2 years. I loved college. And when I say I loved college, I mean I loved learning. Forget the partying, I had already done that at the KSI. I was there to learn something about everything. Except Math, which I really hated. The interesting thing is (and I’ll expand on it in my next installment) is that while I knew I wanted to go to college, I was ill equipped to take that education and use it in a way that one would expect. I couldn’t figure out how to get out of the blue collar mentality I was born in to. I wanted the education but not the job that went along with it. I was perfectly fine waiting tables and tending bar. And I’m still very much that way – I often scan the parttime want ads and think “Hmm. Maybe I’ll pump gas one night a week.” There’s something very powerful, moral and good about being raised in a working class home.

20. Meeting Mark – I was 17 when I met the man who would later become my husband, and then my ex husband. I was a freshman in college and he was a “forever junior”. He was in my Math class (remember I  said I hated Math) and the teacher was brutal. It was dumb people Math – for the people who had no aspirations of ever doing anything which involved numbers and we still cheated. But anyway, it was a slow start to a strange relationship. I thought he was a bit of a geek but he appeared to admire me in a way that no one really had before. I ended up falling very deeply in love with him and we had a nearly 2 year relationship that was marked with some very stormy moments. I admit that by the time the relationship ended, a role reversal had occurred and the guy who I always thought loved me a little bit more than I loved him, left me devastated and destroyed in the parking lot of a dry cleaner in State College. And this all happened before we got back together in our 20’s and married. But you’ll hear about that later.

10 of the 40 (or 44) Moments of My Life

In an effort to move the old stuff over from my last blog address, and archive the important ones, I’m reposting the series of blog posts I put together for my 40th birthday. I may get brave enough to add 4 more by the end of January when I hit the big 4-4 but we will have to see. In the meantime, I think these ones are some of my best work.


10 of The 40 Moments of my Life

I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately so when that happens I often think of witty, interesting, thought provoking things I can blog about. Knowing I wanted to do something about turning 40, I decided that I would compile a list of the 40 most important or memorable moments of my life. Then I thought that would probably be a really long blog and people would lose interest after about 10. So I decided I would break it up into 4 entries over the next few weeks as I countdown the last days before I hit the big 4-0. Some of this will be funny, some thoughtful and some sad, but as I’ve come to learn lately, this is what life is; a combination of all of these things sprinkled across the lifespan.

3rd grade
Right Before the Hair Pulling Incident
Mrs. Christensen’s 2nd grade class

1. My Birth – While I don’t remember it, I cannot downplay its importance in the scheme of things. The fact that I was born into this sometimes crazy, often infuriating family has shaped the very core of who I have become. And believe it or not, I would not change a thing. Although, I may change their personalities.

2. The Day I Pulled My Sister’s Hair Out –  I was about 4; she was 18 months old. Anyone who knew us as small children can attest to the fact that I was the docile one. She was a little lunatic; nicknamed Gunkaberti and Cookie Monster. I still remember that day. She was pestering me, following me down the hall. The hair that had alluded her for the past 18 months had finally begun to grow in; a spotty mess of black kinky Ciliberti hair. While I do not remember exactly what sent me over the edge, I do seem to remember turning around, grabbing the top of her head and taking hold of the small tuft of hair that had begun to form. With all of my might, I tore it out. Just like that. And then the shit hit the fan. She was screaming, my mother was screaming. Some of that could be a memory born out of a story that is told and retold over time. What is a clear memory for me is laying in a dark bedroom crying, positive, as my father entered the house that I would be beat. But I wasn’t. Secretly, I think my parents couldn’t believe it took me that long to lash out against Gunk.

3. The Day I Learned to Swim – I was deathly afraid of the water. My mother had tried in vain to teach me to swim. I kept a death grip on her neck, convinced I would die. She sent me to swim lessons at the YMCA in Wilmington. The teacher instructed the class to, on the count of 3, go underwater as a group. One, two, three and they all went under as I waited with my head above water, never realizing that my dry hair would be a dead giveaway. Later, they forced us off a diving board with a styrofoam bubble strapped to our backs. I still remember screaming underwater, eyes wide open. My mother let it go shortly thereafter. It was about 2 years later, at about 6 years of age that I clung to the side of my neighbor’s pool as he and my father had a conversation that did not include paying any attention to me. And then I pushed off the side of the pool and began to swim. Simple as that, with no one even looking. My parents built a pool a few years later.

4.The Day My Sister Bought My Parents the Original VCR – My oldest sister is 14 years older than me and was married when I was 5 years old. For Christmas that year, she and her husband bought my parents the original VCR, priced at $1200!! It came equipped with a video camcorder that required a tripod and a slew of wires attached to the unit. The first tape my parents ever owned was Patton, which cost about $80. My father enjoy throwing back a few and then watching the speech Patton gives with the American flag serving as a backdrop. My father used to drag us into the living room and make us listen to that speech, which if I’m not mistaken, is strewn with profanity. The camcorder was used for many years, capturing Christmas mornings, an unfortunate slip and fall and the news productions me, my sister and our friends were known to do. Unfortunately, we lost those tapes when my mother’s house burnt down in 1995.

5.Our many road trips to Disney World – I have no idea how my father managed to do it. Six kids, a homemaker wife and his own businesses. I think we did Disney about 3 times before my father’s death when I was 11. And we drove each time. My mother refused to fly, so we would pack up the Buick Riveria (never owned a station wagon) and the 4 younger kids (once it was just 3 of us) would do the 2 day road trip down I-95. We took turns sitting up front – no seat belts, of course. It was usually over Easter break and I think we incorporated Ft. Lauderdale, where my grandparents lived in the winter, into our trips. And I don’t remember there being such a thing as sunscreen either.

6. Educational Vacations – Unless we went down to Sea Isle City for a week at my uncle’s house (who I found out around age 10 was not really my uncle but instead a close family friend), every vacation incorporated some kind of educational or historical focus. Outside of Disney (of course Disney is educational), my father insisted that we visit the fort at St. Augustine in Fla., the Wright Brothers Museum, Williamsburg, Gettysburg, etc. American History was an important part of our upbringing and that has stuck with me even as an adult. My sister Crissy (aka Gunk) recently went to Massanutten, Virginia and took a day to visit Luray Caverns. We were there this summer and did a side trip to Jefferson’s home Monticello. The kids loved both and it made me realize that the things that stick out most to me out of every vacation I went on as a child, is that I learned something. This has influenced the way I spend my vacation time with Max. Especially since social studies seem to suffer in an environment of  “teaching to the test”.

7. My teacher Mrs. Christensen – Norma Christensen was by far the most influential teacher in my life. Not only was she my kindergarten teacher but she was my second grade teacher as well. She was about my mother’s age and had 6 kids, just like my mother. I loved that woman as much as you can love any teacher. She made learning fun and exciting. My father bought her classroom an electric pencil sharpener back when that was very high tech and I remember feeling so important. I really believe that in all my years of growing up, it was in Mrs. Christensen’s classroom that I felt smarter and more self assured than I ever had or did again until many years later. As an adult, I ran into Mrs. Christensen when I was waiting tables at the Kennett Square Inn. The second I said my name, she threw her arms around me. Like I said, I love that woman.

8. The First Time I Felt Really Bad About Myself –  This moment has stuck with me for several reasons. What’s interesting is that growing up with very curly, very red hair, I often struggled with feeling different. In my father’s eyes, its what made me extraordinary and beautiful. That went along way with me. I can remember being called “carrot top” and retorting “carrot tops are green”! I had made it through much of my preadolescence with my ego firmly intact. I was pretty comfortable with who I was and while shy, thought of myself as a fun, smart, tomboy who loved to hang a group of classmates I had known since kindergarten. It was about 4th grade when the lines really began to divide between the boys and the girls and the idea of liking a boy or being liked was even entertained. The incident in question involved me sitting at my desk next to a boy I had known since kindergarten but had developed a crush on recently. As I talked to him, I put my knees up on the front of the desk and tipped my chair back slowly as we often did. Now, if I had been a supermodel, I would have known better. But I was not and this accordion position at my desk had caused a large (at least in my memory) roll of fat to protrude from my shirt for this young man to see. I distinctly recall him looking at my stomach and then looking disgusted. Viola – a poor self image is born…..

9. Living In My Sister’s Shadow – My sister Patti’s nickname was Patti Perfect. Everything she did was easy. She didn’t try; she thrived. She was petite, blond, brilliant and athletic. I was average, redheaded, smart and liked to play dodgeball. Patti had the opportunity to skip both 2nd and 4th grade, although my mother wouldn’t allow it. She ultimately graduated out of 11th grade. She was a natural gymnast, doing ariels, as I struggled to get myself up out of the backbend. At one gymnastics meet, she won 1st place in 3 of the events; 3rd in the last and best all around. At another field day event she came home with 13 medals. So my father did what any good father would do. He made her give me some of them.

10. Dealing with Living in a Volatile Home – I loved my father but he was a difficult man. My mother recently told me she believes that he suffered from bipolar and she is probably right. For every good memory of the first 10 years of my life, I probably have a bad one that usually involved the mood instability that plagued my father. It was all highs and lows with that man. There was never any even keel. And that’s a hard way to live. It’s a difficult environment to raise children in. My father was a man who is often remembered as a larger than life personality. As an adult, I have run into grown men who hear my last name and tell a vivid story about a man who died in 1982. Those stories portray my father as a brilliant, fun loving, honorable, generous man. And he was all of those things. But he was troubled. And its hard listening to all of the joy he brought to others when you know that he inflicted a lot of pain on the people closest to him.